Looking back at my recent posts I see that a lot of ‘em have been about Kickstarter campaigns and suchlike crowdfunding projects. Many of these have been ones I haven’t even been involved with, so crass hucksterism alone can’t explain the phenomenon. It’s not just me; crowdfunding has so caught the attention of everyone professionally or semi-professionally involved in RPGs that the Fund Your Game Project With Kickstarter panel I’m part of is just one of three such seminars at Gen Con. I know for sure lots of “industry insiders” are intensely interested in Kickstarter right now, and since I have been and will be talking about ‘em a lot I hope there’s an audience who shares this interest.
My pet theory is that as RPG types we’re specifically excited by the potential of crowdfunding because we have a lot of experience launching campaigns. When I moderated the panel on roleplaying games and theater during the run of SHE KILLS MONSTERS, it seemed to me that RPGs are a performing art where you can bring in as many or as few elements of a theatrical production as you like, and do ‘em all yourselves. In college I knew a number of people who were actors or directors or costume designers, who always seemed to be having a better time than I was as an audience member. RPGs offer a unique degree of involvement – everyone at the table is simultaneously creating the production and enjoying it as a spectator – and you can bring to it whatever creative talents you want to exercise. If you’ve got someone who’s a ham actor, and someone who likes building scenery, and someone who likes drawing character portraits, there’s room for all those things to enrich the gaming experience. But unlike a theatrical production you can get involved in all of those things; they’re not designated, inflexible roles. Or no one can do any of ‘em, and the show will still go on.
Working for an established game company is like having a job in a stage production. As a freelancer, I’d be given a script and a date by which I’d have to have my lines ready. There’d always be some degree of room for improvisation, but not for stepping into a different role; marketing and art direction and everything else is someone else’s job. Starting your own company gives you a lot more latitude to wear different hats. Something I really enjoy about Autarch is getting to do so many different things and add my two cents to the way our game looks, reads, and communicates with its fans. But a business is still like a theatrical production in that some parts are non-optional. You can’t just decide not to worry about taxes or fire codes.
Launching a crowdfunding campaign is much more like starting its RPG equivalent. You just put up flyers for whatever you think will be cool, and if enough players or backers show up you’re good to go. I think this anarchic, DIY spirit appeals to us personally – kicking down any restrictions on player agency is a big part of the appeal of the schools of roleplaying I belong to – and is a natural continuation of the indie movement, for which “creator-owned” has always meant “no one gets to tell me what to do because I’ve got new technologies for reaching customers directly.” For the Forge, that meant desktop publishing, print-on-demand, and direct sales via your own Internet webstore; nowadays it’s Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and the like.
With all that said, let’s check up on the LotFP Grand Adventures Campaign, which is ending today around midnight, and see what things can be learned from it as per my earlier musings on why the campaign matters.
Here is how the funding stands as of the time of writing:
|$6,865||Seclusium of Orphone||Baker|
|$6,590||Broodmother Sky Fortress||Rients|
|$4,693||Horror Among Thieves||Green|
|$2,176||We Who Are Lost||Kreider|
|$1,630||Of Unknown Provenance||Curtis|
|$1,220||House of Bone and Amber||Crawford|
|$870||Machinations of the Space Princess||Desborough|
|$710||Depths of Paranoia||Steen|
|$690||Strange & Sinister Shores||Bingham|
|$650||Normal for Norfolk||Seppälä|
|$500||Land that Exuded Evil||Miller|
|$470||Red in Beak & Claw||Särkijärvi|
|$320||I Hate Myself for What I Must Do||Pohjola|
Stuff to note:
- Two authors have already met the funding limit – Jeff Rients and Vincent Baker. If you’re looking to pick up an adventure by either of these guys, you can pledge for it now and be sure of getting it. My guess is that their success is a mix of subject matter and communication skill. Both dudes have earned a loyal audience of readers, and picked compelling topics for their adventures that are either just what you’d want from them (the gonzo Broodmother Sky Fortress) or a revealing glimpse of a previously unseen side (the Vancian Seclusium of Orphone).
- Backers want to know that they will get the thing they’re pledging for. Kelvin Green’s Horror among Thieves is doing well enough to have a shot at making the $6K target, and without seeing the curve I’d bet that it saw a big uptick when Green promised to deliver the adventure whether or not it gets funded - which in the latter case would mean giving it away for free to backers who had their pledges returned at the end of the unsuccessful campaign.
- Backers are not strongly motivated by getting free things that are different from what they’re pledging. Monte Cook is offering free PDF copies of his magnum opus Ptolus to $100+ backers of his adventure The Unbegotten Citadel, but it’s still not doing as well as Kelvin Green’s – a disparity that’s all the more striking given that every D&D player knows Monte’s name and I only know Kelvin’s because I’m a Fight On! fan. Likewise, the global offer of a free sandbox by Rob Conley and an adventure by James Raggi to all backers at certain levels doesn’t seem to have had a big impact; these things are undeniably cool, but adding more guaranteed-but-different flavors to the smorgasbord doesn’t seem to have brought many extra people to the buffet.
- An unspoken part of wanting to be sure you get the thing you pledge for is trusting the author to deliver it. Professional experience in RPGs would seem to me to be the best guide here, but it doesn’t seem to factor into backer decisions. GWAR guitarist Dave Brockie has zero previous gaming publications, but Towers Two still has more pledges than Monte Cook who’s designed more successful projects than you can shake a stick at.
- The synergistic effects of running multiple campaigns simultaneously are balanced against the negatives of making the audience choose between backing so many horses each with uncertain chances to win. By my count, the Grand Adventures Campaign has raised $33,094 in pledges, more than twice the LotFP Hardcover and Adventures Project‘s $16,240. Although it seems likely that many of these pledges won’t be collected because they were for adventures that won’t meet their funding goal, this still reflects an overall increase in LotFP’s audience and crowdfunding power. I don’t think that the Grand Adventure Campaign represents an ideal way to deal with the various problems of shipping and ordering multiple crowdfunded projects, but it does look to me that with this one Raggi has lost many battles but still won the war.