Lone Wolf, collaboration, domain changes, and lessons learned

April 19, 2015

It is interesting and tricky to put so much on Kickstarter. Important to remember is that there are many ways to raise money and they are not all equal. For instance, the biggest Kickstarter videogame projects make millions of dollars, yet they need to warn backers that a million-dollar budget . . . is a small videogame budget. Then there are other sorts of productions, such as the books we in Megara Entertainment keep making. Author Dave Morris has a post on the Fabled Lands blog about Kickstarter and the impractical costs in publishing: to make enough Kickstarter profit off of books to pay everyone, you’ll need tremendous numbers of people to pledge for your books.

Recently, we started collaborating with Greywood Publishing to make Lone Wolf – The Board Game. That’s a domain change from game-in-a-book to game-on-a-board. How it is different? Mostly in that we are collaborating now and therefore communication needs to go through yet more people. The question of expenses is the same: per Dave, great masses of money would go into paying people for months of effort. It is fortunate that Gary Chalk personally wants to make the game, while Jamie Wallis of Greywood personally wants to prepare layout and publish it, and thus neither is a salaried employee. And then there’s me, the one who personally wants to share the excitement of Lone Wolf.

So we succeeded with what should be our bare monetary needs. We’ve said “thank you” all over the place, put together most everything for the final product, and kept posting project updates, not all of which really belong on this blog. The most relevant is my traditional “lessons learned” post.

I’ve posted these before: The Way of the Tiger I copied onto this blog while Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories can be seen on the original Kickstarter. As per usual, I’m writing all this for people who want to go forth with a similar project. Who are those? Anyone for whom Dave’s words are a wake-up call, sure, but I like to think any reasonable reader can see where the principles are universal. Reading posts like these was incredibly helpful as I tried to understand Kickstarter, so I pass it along in case somebody in the future is saved some hassle. The post is online here and I copy it below:

Lessons learned

Let me start with . . .

A recap

I didn’t make up the stuff in those other two essays: almost all of it came from known Kickstarter and/or business principles. And it all applied to Lone Wolf:

Publicity is a full-time job. Kickstarter consumes your life and you will have no time to do anything else.

Finding the right audience means looking both outside and inside Kickstarter. Outside, there are communities dedicated to your areas of interest, and your challenge is to convince them to sign up for Kickstarter to pay you money. Inside, people have already taken the first step, and your job is to find the ones that care about your areas of interest.

All of this outreach requires politeness and care on your part. Many people will ignore you anyway (who wants to listen to ads?), but if you don’t care about the people you contact then they have even less reason to care about you.

Both “big name” recommendations and individual forum posters matter. Both big pledges and small pledges matter.

Early communication (like a soft launch) is important. Regular communication (including responding to feedback) is important.

And the mechanics of Kickstarter still matter: the natural flow from a “beginning rush” to a “final rush”; the attention from user profiles, the “Popular” category, or “Staff Picks” (though we didn’t get into the last one); the importance of a project video; and so on.

What happened this time: finding people

It was difficult and remarkable. First remember that Kickstarter is a publicity campaign, not a storefront. For each project I’ve kept a file of all “promotional material” I’ve posted on forums, e-mails I’ve sent to reviewers, and so on. Some pieces were applied with copy-and-paste to ten or twenty places. Even with that compression, it’s almost a hundred pages (single-spaced). We were featured (sometimes multiple times) on thirty-to-forty forums, blogs, and fellow Kickstarter projects, and an equal number said “sorry, not interested.” And this doesn’t even include Twitter and Facebook.

As I’ve said before, every single time we got a surge in new pledges I could point to somebody who posted about us. It was very predictable and precise. If, say, a new mention meant an extra $500 on the day it went live, then we reached almost 2/3 of our funding goal this way, with lingering effects as future visitors came by to see the posts. (And wow are we grateful: thanks again for spreading the word, everyone.)

Giving them a good welcome

I probably don’t have to tell you that having a professional artist helps in making a page attractive. We also took a lot of feedback from fans during our soft launch to improve the content.

One thing went better than it did in our last two projects: the project video. Kickstarter emphasizes this for making a connection with potential backers. For Arcana Agency, site stats showed only about 15% of people who started watching the video bothered to finish it. That went up to 20% for The Way of the Tiger. At its best, Lone Wolf saw 25% of plays complete, which sure says something.

One thing went worse: communication. At the base I mean internal communication within the team, but of course that hampered communication with you, the readers. Normally, working with Mikaël Louys online (this is Richard S. Hetley, here), we have to deal with a difference in time zones. Anything I needed urgently for The Way of the Tiger would suffer a one-day delay. That’s annoying but okay if you’re planning a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule of posting new material on Kickstarter.

When we started working with Jamie Wallis and Gary Chalk, it got worse. We all have full-time jobs. As noted, Gary has been suffering from fluctuating internet access. Anything urgent faced a two-to-three-day delay, and that just made things difficult. We were saved only by our advance planning (hooray, soft launch) and that fact that half of us were experienced in Kickstarter enough to keep posting anyway. (So, sorry for the delays in communication, and we’re grateful for your patience.)

What they gave in response

Elementary economics tells us that different people have different budgets, and if you sell products or services you’d be wise to offer choice to match. On Kickstarter, that means offering pledge rewards from just a few dollars up into the high reaches: if someone WANTS to pledge $1000, you’d jolly well better be ready for it.

What you kind backers gave to us was unexpected . . . inasmuch as I’ve never seen such a clear demonstration of the principle. The $3000 reward level accounted for around a sixth of total funding. The $50 reward accounted for around a sixth of total backers. The $65 reward accounted for around a sixth of both. The numbers go on and every pledge mattered. What if we’d left out one of those levels? If people couldn’t find something to match their interest (and budget) then we would have earned ourselves a nasty hole in funding.

Today and into the future

How do you think about project success? Unless you’re one of those lucky few who makes a million dollars, you measure “success” as “we made enough to cover our first guess for how much money we’ll need.” That’s what we did and now we can afford the first print run, covering backer rewards and providing stock to sell in a proper storefront in the future.

This lets me make a final point. If you had any doubt, the project and components will go on general sale in 2015. It’s alarming to note how, for all three of our Kickstarter projects, people have asked persistently “will there be any way to buy it after the project is over?” The answer is “of course.” My alarm comes in that some of these people are seasoned Kickstarter backers, and therefore there must be enough other projects where the answer is “no” for them to feel this doubt.

What kind of businessperson engages in a massive and stressful publicity effort for a retail product only to STOP selling the product? Ostensibly, on this site, your product just needs a “kickstart” and then it will live on. For some people this life is defined differently, such as those funding a theater renovation which has a discrete endpoint, but even then they intend to use their efforts to do yet further business in the future (in this example, doing productions in the theater).

We hope Lone Wolf will live on now that you’ve “kickstarted” it, that the remaining stock will find good homes in 2015, and that the game will be popular and profitable enough that all the expansions we’d started detailing in stretch goals (but didn’t yet reach) can be produced someday. That’s the plan.

So thank you, again, for helping make it all work thus far.

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