Crowdfunding has become a viable option for raising capital to complete a project. The tabletop gaming industry has a strong presence in crowdfunding. For game developers this presents great opportunities and unique challenges. Not every crowd funding campaign is successful. So how do you determine if crowdfunding is right for you and how does it work?
To Use or Not To Use, That is Your First Question
You should first decide if you want to use crowdfunding, and if it is right for you. It is not for everyone. There are several criterion to consider in deciding if crowdfunding is something you want or should do. You might even decide to change your mind as you work through the process in one direction or the other.
Crowdfunding takes time and energy. Not everyone is suited for or desirous of running a business. This might not seem like part of crowdfunding. However, crowdfunding is part of marketing, which is part of having a business. If you're looking at starting a campaign to raise money, then you are going to be involved in the other parts of business management. Some developers want to focus on designing games; therefore licensing or having someone else publish their game might be a better option.
Are you looking to create a one-off sale or build a business? The campaign you are looking to run will be different if you are working to create a brand that goes into other projects. How you invest your money in the campaign and from the campaign will be different along with how you want to manage your communications and growth.
How much control do you want, or can handle? This is along the same lines as having time. I've met developers who want full control of their final product. Those who want that level of control like self-publishing and building their own business. Others don't want to have to be involved in concerns that are not about game design. Again, licensing and finding a publisher or partnering with someone who wants to do that has worked for them.
Some projects are not well suited to crowdfunding. A good project for crowdfunding meets the needs of price point, availability, and the ability to create buzz in the desired community. One point emphasized was your product needs to meet expected return on value. If your game has a $20 value and the cost of making a copy is $50, you most likely won't have a successful campaign. If you do get the funding and you haven’t priced it correctly in the campaign, which leads to availability problems.
Some crowdfunding campaigns are about getting sponsors who will invest in the development of a project, like a movie. For games, running a campaign is more like placing pre-orders. You should have a product ready to move into production. You can find many stories about how people and companies have been blackballed by the gaming community because they weren't able to meet the dates they promised. Those projects created excitement and then a major let down.
Consider if you have a project creates excitement, and to what level. Do research on similar games that have been campaigned on your chosen platform and other platforms. You should be looking to create a buzz about your game and your campaign which will get people talking about what you have—create enthusiasm through the community by talking about it in other locations. Your campaign needs to meet the expectations created in the buzz, so be certain that you are able to deliver on any promises made.
Before Going to a Platform
Know what your short and long-term objectives are. Before you start your campaign, you need to know if you're working to sell this one game or if you are starting a business to sell future games. If this is a one-time project, you are going to need to approach it differently. One-time events will have different levels to consider and will have a different business plan. Again, this seems like a simple question to answer. Remember that a crowdfunding campaign is part of your business, providing a level of marketing, no matter which way you are planning. It needs to be integrated into what you want to do. It is not the end all of your project, only one of the steps.
After you build a plan for your project or business you need to determine who is going to take which actions. You might want to do everything yourself, get a few select people, or hire someone as an employee or contractor. The only right way to do this is to know what you want to accomplish. Matching people's skills to your needs can be difficult, but the rewards of putting this all together can pay off.
I've interviewed several developers on their Kickstarter campaigns outside of these panels. The main reason given for unsuccessful campaigns was not having a clear understanding of what they wanted and a plan of how to get there.
Don't give everything away. Pricing is an area you need to research. How much is everything going to cost to produce, print, package, ship, etc. There are horror stories out there of people who undersold their products and then ended up not being able to fulfill their commitments. Some have even driven successful businesses into bankruptcy. This goes for not only the basic product at the base backing level, but for the incentives you plan on providing. Know what you have and how you are going to deliver to your backers.
Don't promise something you don't have. Stretch goals are a part of many fund-raising campaigns. They can bring in a lot of extra money into a campaign. At the same time, those incentives can kill your project on the backside. If you don't have something ready for delivery, you might want to hold off promising it as an incentive. Promotional materials need to be delivered when promised to build your credibility.
I have an experience with a backing I did when everything was delayed. The game came out late. The promised special pieces were later, the promised expansion was even later. It wasn't until after all that happened that backers found out the project had been delayed because the developer ran over cost (bad plan and price point). They produced some games to start fulfilling their commitments and others to sell to raise money so they could fulfill the rest of their obligations. They also informed us the promised expansion had challenges that came out during playtesting and needed to be redesigned. I felt slighted on multiple levels.
This is also an example of needing to keep in touch with the people who are interested in your game.
Before the campaign begins, communicate to your base of supporters about the upcoming events you have planned. That means you need to collect contacts. To collect contacts, you need to be playtesting and sharing your game. Schedule time with local game shops. Attend conventions. Find those people who are interested and like your game and how to keep in touch with them. Then let them know about the progress you are making in the development.
Before the campaign begins is when you need reviews done. Reviews help people make a decision. Find good ones and get the game in their hands so they can get the review out. My fellow panelists at SaltCon urged having video reviews. They also agreed with me that you should look for other outlets like podcasts and written ones. These all address different audiences and usually focus on different aspects because they are produced in different media. There is also a difference of opinion about paying for a review. Some were for it while others pointed out that a paid review is an advertisement. You have to decide what is best for you—so research reviewers.
During the campaign, you should be sharing new information daily. This is work time. This is really important if this is your first campaign and haven't built credibility with a large audience. Be responsive to questions and concerns. Work with your team to spread the word as far and wide as possible. The objective of communication during the campaign is to keep people talking about (buzz) and coming back to check on the campaign. If you hit new levels in backing, tell everyone. Remind them what is now part of the release and what the next level has. Some people will go back and increase the amount of their backing if the campaign is closing in on something they want.
After the campaign closes you still need to keep in contact with everyone who showed interest and who has backed your project. The next few days can mean a lot in terms of additional sales of the original items and associated material. It was reported with the proper follow up, some campaigns increased by 50% with after campaign sales. You also need to make sure you have correct shipping addresses for all of your backers. But don't stop there.
While the project moves forward, keep everyone updated on the progress. People have now invested their money in your project and many of them will look at it as their project. Treat them that way. Let them know the progress and set backs as you get closer to fulfillment. This information will go a long way in providing satisfaction and building a reputation for your next campaign.
This is a time when all sorts of products and services are raising money through crowdfunding. Some of them are solid products and projects while others are nonsensical. None of that really matters though because your project is yours. You have to feel right about what you are doing.
Crowdfunding is an option you can use. If it is a viable option or not, is dependent on what you want to do with your project. There are people and companies who can help with a campaign in terms of coaching and providing resources. Go into a campaign after doing your research and developing a plan.
No matter which path you take, total self-publication, licensing, or selling the game outright, I wish you the best and hope your desires are fulfilled. I look forward to seeing your name on the game shelf.
LTUE (information from program guide)
Marion G. Harmon is the author of Wearing the Cape series and the writer of Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game and the Barlow's Guide to Superhumans sourcebook. wearingthecape.com.
William L. Munn is a writer and tabletop gamer. Will has written for gaming companies lie Gallant Knight Games, where he contributed to Tiny Frontiers: Revised and Cold Shadows. Currently, he's working on Zorro the RPG as a writer and producer. Will has a deep passion for storytelling, gaming, and writing. In his free time, you'll find him playing and running tabletop games with family and friends. liamwrites.com.
L. Palmer is the author of The Pippington Tales, where motorcars bump down old city lanes and fairy godmothers are disguised as high-society gossips. In between exploring fantasy worlds, she works in public service and lives in South Texas. lpalmerchronicles.com.
Daniel Yocom runs Guild Master Gaming, which has supported tabletop gaming and other things geek. It includes reviews of games, books, and movies. Articles also appear on other websites. He has short stories published and is working on his first novel. guildmastergaming.blogspot.com.