31
Jul
12

Learning from the LotFP Campaigns

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:

Pledges   Adventure Title Author
$6,865   Seclusium of Orphone Baker
$6,590   Broodmother Sky Fortress Rients
$4,693   Horror Among Thieves Green
$2,355   Towers Two Brockie
$2,176   We Who Are Lost Kreider
$1,630   Of Unknown Provenance Curtis
$1,390   Unbegotten Citadel Cook
$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
$645   Escaping Leviathan Alfrey
$540   Dreaming Plague Vuorela
$500   Land that Exuded Evil Miller
$470   Red in Beak & Claw Särkijärvi
$440   Pyre Pett
$340   Poor Blighters Sparks
$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.

20 Responses to “Learning from the LotFP Campaigns”


  1. July 31, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Tavis, great insights. I think it was a total gamble but you’re right about Raggi losing the battle but winning the war. I think it raised the awareness of folks inside the gaming community about creators tangentially related, but doing things outside of gaming that is worthy of consideration. As for myself, it does not look like my project will fund, but that does not mean it’s the end of my project nor do I feel like it was a loss for me, quite the opposite in fact. For me, it helped people become aware that I’m not just an artist, but a designer and writer as well (this hackneyed post aside;) ).

  2. July 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I had assumed going in that Monte Cook’s adventure would not only make its target but be the first to do so, and I’m astounded that it hasn’t. I don’t think we’ll ever know why, but the results of this campaign will be worth analysing, I think.

  3. July 31, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Good observations. I’m pleased that, with one exception, the adventures I most wanted to see funded (including, just now, Kelvin’s) have been funded. I find it strange that Michael Curtis’s adventure hasn’t gotten more attention given the popularity and high quality of Dungeon Alphabet and Stonehell.

  4. 4 Adam
    July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Like everyone else, I’m kinda shocked that it looks like Monte Cook’s adventure will miss, and by a wide margin. But I’m not sure that I agree with your analysis of free add-ons not making a big difference, Tavis.

    I’ve been watching the curves pretty carefully. There was a huge explosion of interest in Kelvin Green’s game when the guaranteed delivery came in. The other big explosion of interest I saw was in Vincent Baker’s game when he offered free copies of his previous games. I’m currently in the middle of having bought a new house, so I didn’t have a lot of money to put in. But when I realized I could get “In a Wicked Age,” which has been on my “buy this at some point” list for ages, and get Seclusium, all for the same price as either one… that seemed like a no-brainer, and I jumped on. As far as I can tell, that’s right when lots of other people were jumping on, too. Sure, Baker brought a bunch of his own fans to the table anyway–but I’m not sure he would have made it without the add-on offer. I’m fairly positive that Kelvin Green wouldn’t have without his (brilliant) guarantee of delivery either way–he rocketed past many adventures that had up to that point had much larger amounts of pledges.

    Likewise, Dave Brockie’s was going nowhere until the GWAR specific perks got added–well more than half of his pledges (by numbers–more than 2/3 by money) are at either the $50 (get a GWAR shirt and poster) or $75 (meet the band) levels. So that says to me that the add-ons were key. Before that got added, Two Towers was among the least pledged adventures. I think that name within the community makes a huge difference, but that people are more interested in seeing Jeff Rients’s first adventure than Monte Cook’s 20th.

    I’m not sure what explains Monte Cook’s not picking up more steam, especially once the Ptolus. My working theory is that it’s a matter of value, which is something that I think should be considered for the whole campaign. $10 feels like a lot for a 32-page adventure in PDF–an adventure that would retail for roughly $10 (the official estimate is 10-13 Euros, which is about the same as $10) in print in a store. To get it in print, you have to pay $20, which seems like a ton. I’m not saying that LotFP picked the wrong price point, just that I think it may have made some marginally attached customers hesitant. Why buy this adventure for $20 when you could get a different, comparable length adventure by Monte for closer to $10? When you take that into account, then I think I understand the Ptolus thing. If you start with the assumption that Ptolus is reasonably priced, and that the LotFP adventures are reasonably priced, the grabbag for Monte Cook’s adventure seems like a great deal. Get 3 or 4 adventures, maybe even 5, plus a couple of neat add-ons, plus Ptolus (worth $60), all for $100–that’s like $160 of value for only $100. But if you assume that most people who think Ptolus is worth $60 in PDF (given their financial resources) have already bought, and that the other adventures are worth roughly $10 in print (again, given their financial resources)… then the whole package starts looking like $40 worth of adventures plus maybe $30 worth of add-ons. Still not a great deal. Plus, of course, for many of us $10 or $20 is an impulse buy, but $100 not so much.

    Anyway, I don’t pretend to have this all figured out. But those are how my thoughts differ from Tavis’s on bonus items not mattering.

    —–

    One interesting aspect of this is that, while we saw some of the downsides of a non-integrated campaign, we also saw some of the advantages. Imagine that this had been constructed like a ladder: it’s all one campaign, one module gets funded at $6000, two at $12000, etc., with the modules being funded in the sequence of their predicted popularity. That would have been better than this campaign in that $33K of pledges would have funded 5 modules (probably 6 by midnight–I’m guessing it will break $36K), instead of probably 3. But the modules that would have been funded would have been very different. I’m guessing that Monte Cook’s would have been first on the ladder. I don’t know that Jeff Rients’s or Kelvin Green’s would have been in the top 10. (I don’t know, but it wouldn’t have been obvious to me that they would have ended up finding as much success as they did.) Because people could vote with their wallets, we saw some of the less famous but awesome authors getting their games out, which is really cool and very much part of the crowdfunding vibe. (I suspect Vincent Baker’s adventure would have happened under either system, but his might be the only game that would happen under either system.)

    —–

    My one last question is how the $160 and $180 pledgers (on the campaigns that funded) feel. I can see two possible results. If they think of themselves as patrons of the arts–“my money made this happen, and I got a little swag in exchange”–then they probably feel pretty good. They might even feel really good–but for me, this wouldn’t have happened. If they think of themselves as having gambled to get a good value–“if half of these fund, I’m great, and if more than that fund, I make out like a bandit!”–they probably feel pretty burned right now. Not in the sense that they were misled, but in the sense that they made a bet that turned out pretty bad. This will matter for future campaigns–particularly by LotFP, but in general. If they feel happy, then they’re likely to be part of the core of funding future campaigns, but if they feel burned, they may never take a risk again. I’m pretty sure that there are people in both categories, but I don’t have any sense as to their respective sizes. We’ll have to see.

  5. 5 Adam
    July 31, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Heh. While I was writing this, Kelvin Green’s adventure funded. Congrats!

  6. July 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Ay yi yi, this was not fun for me. I am a huge fan of LotFP but ended up making a last minute decision to back Kelvin’s at a higher level than I should have.

    If there were only, say, 6-8 adventures total, I think they’d all have likely all funded as the thresholds that get you a copy of all of them could have been lower. I kept hesitating because I wanted all of them, but not knowing how many were likely to fund made it tough to know how much it would cost to be a completest.

  7. 7 Ramanan Sivaranjan
    July 31, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    People are contributing at the $100+ levels right now, despite it being clear there are cheaper ways to get these modules. I suspect a lot of people at that level are in the “I’m a patron camp.” There are also some exclusive adventures from Raggi now, so he might be attracting collectors.

  8. July 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    @Adam

    Raggi tried the ladder approach first with the LotFP hardcover project. Most of the stretch goals were modules. It didn’t do very well. I suspect this was because many people were interested in the stuff at the top of the ladder, which was too far away from being funded.

  9. 9 Adam
    July 31, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    @Brendan: That’s true, but that was also as stretch goals for a rather different project (the hardcover). I had no interest in the hardcover, but I am interested in adventures; conversely, there were probably people who wanted the hardcover, but didn’t care about the stretch goals. A ladder for modules, without the hardcover as the bottom rung, would have been different.

    That said, I don’t disagree, really. I think that the shotgun approach was specifically intended to contrast with and experiment with the ladder approach.

    It’s also worth noting that some of the pledges were probably made with an awareness that many of the projects likely wouldn’t fund. There were some people who put $10 on everything, and I think at least one retailer who put $250 on everything. I bet that was based on a “they probably won’t all fund, but we’re happy to get a stack of books to sell for whichever ones do fund, and if we can help more of them get momentum.” So the total number may be a little misleading.

  10. 10 David Macauley
    August 1, 2012 at 12:32 am

    I have to agree with Adam’s comments on pricing. When the average price for an old school module in pdf is around the 5 to 7 dollar mark, $10 can make people think twice. Another blogger recently asked people what they’re willing to pay for pdf’s and most respondents said $10 was their upper limit for a module, with many adding that it would have to be getting rave reviews for them to spend even that much. But of course there are no reviews on crowd-funding products, not unless a preview has been released, and I don’t think the power of a preview can be overestimated.

    Then there’s the business of charging $20 or more for a softcover module, a price normally associated with a rulebook or decent-sized supplement. That speaks for itself.

    Finally, from a personal perspective, Indiegogo is simply inferior to Kickstarter as a model for crowd-funding. Kickstarter allows the customer to pledge money on the hope that the item will be produced. He doesn’t pay anything until 90 days have elapsed and then only if the campaign succeeds. Indiegogo on the other hand requires the customer to pay upfront for an item that may never come to pass – that’s money out of your bank account on a vague promise. I’m sure an expert in the psychology of retail customer spending would have a lot to say about the differences between the two strategies. Sure, Indiegogo will give your money back if the campaign fails, but the fact that you have to pay upfront for something that isn’t even guaranteed to happen, unlike Kickstarter which will only take your money when they can give that guarantee, must be some sort of psychological barrier to many. It certainly is for me (I’ve pledged to several Kickstarters, but only one Indiegogo).

    On the subject of Monte Cook offering the Ptolus pdf to big spending pledgers, it seemed to me to be a fairly lame gift at a severely high cost to the customer when it’s not in fact difficult for any man and his dog to grab a pirated copy of the pdf online (that’s not a recommendation folks, just an observation).

  11. August 1, 2012 at 2:01 am

    @David

    I believe that they went with IndieGoGo because Kickstarter is only available in the US.

  12. August 1, 2012 at 2:22 am

    Tavis, I think you nailed it with the observation that once you know you’re getting something, you’re a lot more likely to pitch in. All the biggest kickstarters campaigns fund early and then pick up steam. I think we can take the observation even further, though, especially combined with something else.

    One of the things I loved about ACK’s kickstarter (and part of why I pitched in in the first place) was that even the minimum $5 got me access to things no one else had: mainly, the updates, beta rules, and forum. I got to pay my $5, check out how things were going, take a look at the rules, and get to see the art as it came up. The other thing you guys were great at was engaging your backing community. The frequent updates kept it in my mind, and I liked the art enough that I eventually upped my pledge to the visionary level. So not only did you guys get me to pitch in the $5 to begin with, you got me to eventually pay $70 (IIRC).

    The key term here is engagement. You guys got me to buy into the idea of what ACKs stood for. Baker answered questions and made me like him and want to contribute. Baker, Kelvin Green and David Broockie put their own money (so to speak) where their mouth was. On the other hand, I never heard a single update from Cooke himself, even though he has the clout to push this out to a much wider audience than almost any other author.

    So I think you guys hit on the magic formula: Create a very low barrier to entry that get the funder something related to the content (if not the content itself), and then use that channel that they’ve opened to communicate with them about how great your product will be. Involve them in the process. They’ll want to see it fund that much more and so act as marketing channels, and maybe even kick up their funding a notch.

    And maybe it’s worth keeping the original goal low enough that it will fun early and easily? Although that’s a business decision that involves more than just the kickstarter/indiegogo campaign.

  13. August 1, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Edit: to be clear on a few things.

    I contributed to only a few campaigns myself. A small personal emergency means I’ve been strapped for cash. I’ve still managed to pitch into two that, at time of pitching in, were not funded but were on the brink. Hopefully I can help move them over.

    Also, it is completely possible that I’ve heard nothing from Cooke because of the parts of the internet that I frequent don’t correlate to parts he does. However, considering that I hear news of other things he’s doing that are far afield of my main RPG interests (that is, old skool gaming), it would be mildly surprising to me if he’d been running his own effective PR campaign about his RPG campaign.

  14. August 1, 2012 at 2:37 am

    And maybe it’s worth keeping the original goal low enough that it will fun early and easily?

    That’s a good point, and I think it was one of the reasons that the Dwimmermount and Rappan Athuk kickstarters were both so successful.

    even the minimum $5 got me access to things no one else had

    Yeah, if you want to sell a project as “patronage” it helps to give out special things like access to help shape the final product. Even cost-free perks like being able to name NPCs or something can take people out of the simple value calculation.

  15. 15 jimlotfp
    August 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Cook was active on Twitter/G+/etc in promoting his project. He came up with a bonus at the end when he didn’t have to. He was more active than some of the other writers and most of the artists in promoting his campaign.

    He did decline to go on Jennisodes, but that’s because he’d just recently been on.

    I’m satisfied with his involvement in the campaigns, I’m just rather perplexed that he was never really a frontrunner to get funded.

  16. August 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for the extra info, everyone – glad to see others find this as interesting as I do – and congrats to all involved! It’s a victory for the OSR as well.

  17. August 2, 2012 at 12:40 am

    > I’m satisfied with his involvement in the campaigns, I’m just rather perplexed that he was never really a frontrunner to get funded.

    Thanks for the note, Jim, happy I get to eat crow on this one even if it does act as a counter-example to most our theories.

  18. August 29, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Barrowmaze 2 kicked ass, though (which I have work in)!

    http://www.indiegogo.com/Barrowmaze

  19. November 8, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Hi there,after reading this amazing article i am also cheerful to share my
    familiarity here with mates.


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