The Way of the Tiger, Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories, and lessons learned

November 7, 2013

Most involved parties likely have heard the news already, but the Kickstarter project for The Way of the Tiger with Megara Entertainment closed as of the start of this month. The usual large round of “thank-you”s has been dispensed and all has settled down into complete inactive silence, excepting only that those very last words are blatant fiction.

Now we begin (have already begun) the extensive, protracted, all-enveloping work of making eight books come to pass. I’ll have a good number of essays to write on the development which will appear as project updates. Those don’t necessarily belong on this blog, so I’ll just post the most relevant thus far: today’s material on what it meant to run this Kickstarter.

The update was written for people with projects similar to ours on whatever dimensions. It would be fundamentally different for, say, renovating a movie theater or funding a dance tour. Below is my post, which is online here:

Lessons learned after doing two projects

First comes the “meta-update” or “lessons learned” from running this project. It turns out to make for a “mega-update,” really. So those interested are advised to grab popcorn and sit back.

See, I’ve found it invaluable to read Kickstarter advice from other successful projects. I tried such a post after Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories, too:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1615043334/arcana-agency-the-thief-of-memories-a-full-color-g/posts/374140

I’ll assume that if you’re interested in running your own Kickstarter then you understand all the basics, and everything in that old post, so I can get straight on to the new lessons, alright?

No, wait, that’s a terrible assumption

People accustomed to Kickstarter might think it’s all “obvious,” but it isn’t. If you watched the rise of The Way of the Tiger and thought “wow, I can do that myself, only better!” then it’s time to read up.

Read everything in “What is Kickstarter” and “Help” and, most importantly, in “Kickstarter School.” Understand that you are running a PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN and not a STOREFRONT. Understand that Kickstarter will CONSUME YOUR LIFE and you will have NO FREE TIME to work on the project you’re funding. Understand that if you don’t FIND an audience, and don’t give pledge levels they’d WANT, and don’t even EXPLAIN YOURSELF WELL, then your project will have problems.

Now I’ll assume you have the basics.

And now to dispel one lingering illusion

This will make a good segue, honest. Let me get into principles of “publicity” and “finding the audience” via advice I heard more than once during our campaign. The advice was being misused.

It is “remember your connections with friends and family.” Yes, absolutely: Mikaël has connected his Facebook account here and he has hundreds of friends. Those people can tell their friends and so on. Great stuff for finding your audience and getting funding.

But the way I heard it, some creators believe the advice is “you get most of your funding from friends and family.” That’s the opposite. If you think you’re going to get MOST of your funding from friends and family, then why are you on Kickstarter? Why aren’t you on the phone asking your parents for $10,000?

If nothing else, Kickstarter and Amazon Payments take fees: do you want to tell your parents “by the way, I’m going to throw out $900”? I hope not.

No, you’re on Kickstarter to use what avenues you have available to you (“remember your connections with friends and family”) and find NEW audiences. This is a publicity campaign. If you’re a big-name celebrity, a single message to your fans may get you a million dollars, but even then it spreads out: your fans hit forums, you personally hit news outlets, and the word spreads.

You plan, you spread the word, and you run the project. Now let’s get specific.

Finding the audience

I discussed in the Arcana Agency post how we found audiences both inside and outside Kickstarter.

Our audience was just a bit different this time, despite the similar product. Project creators get this great tool: “Check dashboard.” Among other things, it has a referral log for pledges. Of those with known origin (the majority of you), 54% came from inside Kickstarter. During Arcana Agency, that was a whopping 70%. Why? One reason is that Arcana Agency became a “Staff Pick” and The Way of the Tiger did not. Nothing we could do about this.

But there was plenty on the side that we could and did do. One category on our dashboard was new to me: “Watched project launched.” What this means is . . .

Soft launches are powerful

Arcana Agency was unknown. The Way of the Tiger was known. But The Way of the Tiger was more expensive, so we figured we’d preview the project with a “soft launch” two months in advance, spreading the word across every site we could imagine had interest. People then “watched” the project. Sure, “Watched project launched” referred only 3% of known backers, but we got something else from the experience: TONS of helpful advice to change pledge levels, prices, and book art before launch. (Yes, we’re listening to your feedback on the gamebooks. Remember you’ve joined us on a journey?)

Anyway, giving advance notice let people know a “Full Collection” would be available at collector’s edition prices. Some might save up for it. We figured we’d get a few backers that way.

Granted, we also got feedback that we were “doomed to failure” because “the world is divided into people who buy full collections and people who buy nothing at all.” That struck me as silly. Since when do you buy the full set if you don’t know you’re going to like it? On Kickstarter, you expect pledges at the minimum necessary to get something interesting: just search our front page for the words “SO FOR EXAMPLE” and you’ll see a fraction of the ways this could work.

But it turns out I misestimated.

Backer perception is key

We launched a series, therefore almost half of our backers pledged for a series. I have to wonder: without advance warning from the soft launch, how many of the “Full Collection” backers would have had the money to spare? Or even gotten over the sticker shock?

Then there are the lower (and more expected) pledges. I can’t speak for all of you, but there are some for whom the issue wasn’t “getting over the sticker shock” as “trying to understand what in this whole project was worth getting at a low, normal pledge level.” This was a real delaying force. In Arcana Agency’s dashboard, there’s a category for “Ending Soon (Discover)”: people who saw us on Kickstarter’s page when we were about an hour from closing and jumped right in. We have NO ONE in this category on The Way of the Tiger. No one.

(Note: if you’re familiar with the “48-hour reminder e-mail,” this category was helpful in both projects. These represent people who had enough time to think.)

This meant that the time course of funding was a little different, and yet . . .

The known principles of Kickstarter funding still hold

As per usual, this Kickstarter made disproportionate amounts of money in big surges at the start and the end. 48% of funding in something like 5 days.

In the middle, we relied on the same principles as in Arcana Agency. I have another list of over 30 websites, blogs, forums, and social media pages where we sought the mythical “gamebook audience,” and another massive file where I saved all the text used for copy-and-paste purposes (and this doesn’t even include text used by other team members). The dashboard shows results: 8% of backers (who could be traced) came from Facebook, 4% from the Fabled Lands blog, 5% from sites with interviews, and 7% from all forums.

So do the math: one-half of backers came from publicity inside Kickstarter, one-quarter from specific locations and communities outside, and the remaining quarter from miscellaneous sources like search engines. This assumes the unknown sources fall in similar proportions, of course.

Still, it makes sense and says a lot about how to budget your efforts. I’ve mentioned multiple times how invaluable Kickstarter’s internal publicity is, and that comes down to the wonderful community on this site. I could go on point-by-point here, but I said all this in the Arcana Agency post.

Which means we’ve covered almost everything learned THIS time around, so that’s enough for this update.

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