Learning From Kickstarter

My RPG, Parsec, is currently up on Kickstarter.  So far things are going great – we’ve over 100% funded and still going strong.  I’ve found that I have preposterously generous friends and family, and that somehow my project got onto a French BBS which resulted in hundreds of dollars of support from people I’ll probably never meet.

In this whole process, I have learned a few things, and I thought I’d share them here for anyone who might want to put up their own Kickstarter project.  I am by no means an expert on any of this – this is my first project, and I have just gotten lucky in a lot of ways thus far.  However, if you haven’t put anything up on Kickstarter before, or maybe if you have but it wasn’t successful, something here might be helpful.  If you want to add anything you have learned, please comment.

Kickstarter is awesome

I know this isn’t really advice, but Kickstarter is truly awesome.  There is already a built-in community of generous people, it is only becoming more popular as time goes on, and the software you use to set your project up is easy to use and understand.

Enthusiasm is infectious

If you love your project, and you should if you want others to love it, don’t hold back in talking about it.  Talk about how it came about, where the ideas came from, why you think it’s awesome, and so on.  I have proven to be a terrible salesman previously in my life, but because I was excited about this project, I think I was able to communicate that enthusiasm.

Do your homework

Spend plenty of time looking at successful and unsuccessful projects in your own caregory, and look at what they do.  How often do they post updates?  What kinds of rewards are they using?  What does their video look like, and what other images are they using on their site?  Do they seem available to backers for conversation through comments?

In my case, I looked through many projects in the Games category – not just other tabletop RPGs, but also video games, board games and card games.  I looked carefully at what they did, and how, and what the result was.  I think that this homework prepared me to put together a pretty good project page at first, and that may have been part of how I got early momentum for Parsec.

Structure rewards carefully

One of the cool things the Kickstarter site gives you to track your progress is the Dashboard – basically, it is a breakdown of your backers.  How many do you have, what is the average contribution, how are they finding the project, and which rewards account for the largest percentage of your overall support.

I can already see some mistakes that I made.  My rewards should, ideally I think, fall into something like a nice bell-curve.  My curve is vaguely bell-like, but quite bumpy.  I have many times more $5 backers than I have $10 backers, and looking at the rewards I can see why.  I under-priced the PDF of the game at $5 and didn’t make $10 distinctly cool enough.  (That being said, I also might have more PDFs total out there as a result of under-pricing them, which puts my game into more hands, which might be an advantage later on.)

My goal in building the rewards was to keep in mind what it would cost to produce each reward – if you spend all of your support on rewards, you won’t have enough left over for the actual project.  One thing I didn’t take into account was the cost of shipping internationally.  Honestly, I just didn’t imagine that I would have a lot of international backers, but I later learned that on a Kickstarter project, often as much as a third of your support (as an American) comes from non-US sources.  I’d say this is the case for me as well, and I had to do some re-assessing of  how I would handle shipping costs.

Keeping an eye on cost, I did try to make each level as cool as possible.  I tried to cram them with rewards, including ones that cost us little or nothing, like thanking people by name in the final book when it is printed, or signing books before we send them out.

For each level, think “Would I read this and think it was cool?  That it was worth my money?”

Visual presentation is king

Even for a project like Parsec, which is a book, visual elements were key.  I got a friend who is skilled with video editing to put together a video using artwork from the book.  If you have art, put it all over your project page, even for a work that is not primarily visual at all.  Visuals are catchy, and can communicate a great deal very quickly, even at a glance.  If possible, team up with people for the project who are artists.  Split some of the proceeds with them in exchange for some artwork up front.  I can’t over-state how important the visual elements seem to be.

It’s a huge help to be known already

Whatever creative community you are part of, it is a huge advantage to be known already, to have a name and a reputation that people know and respect.  I didn’t have this advantage, and had to weight other things in my favor as a result.  No one knows who I am, and I don’t expect them to.

For those who are known in their given community, though, the sky is the limit.  Well-known writers and game designers continually leverage the recognition they have on Kickstarter to get new projects off the ground.  Most of the advice that I got was that the most powerful element of a successful Kickstarter project is to already have a community that supports you.  In my case, that community turned out to be my family and friends – but I know many of them are probably tapped out at this point, meaning I cannot depend on that next time.

Don’t spam, but promote the crap out of it

Go on forums and boards, join groups, send emails and Twitter messages, post Facebook updates, contact friends and family, talk to people who are working in your creative field, and make sure people with an audience are aware of your project – bloggers, writers, social media types, podcasters and so on can be incredibly valuable, and a lot of them are awesome people who will help you out for nothing, or maybe just a promise to help them out sometime in the future.

That’s one more thing I am continually learning – creativity and generosity often go hand-in-hand.

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