If you are just joining the article, make sure to read part 1 as this is part 2 :)... I am picking up right where I left off.
Once I had started to get things on my creative list finished, I started to look at printers, online vendors, and other third parties who could take the content from digital to physical. I looked at a ton of printers online. I sent files to printers and checked the results to see the quality of the work. I literally had physical copies of the work in my hand before the KS ever even started. I'm not bragging here. What I'm saying is that I went to KS after I knew I had a nearly complete product. I knew where that product was coming from and how long shipping took and the price of them shipping the product to me. I also looked at their customer service, how long it took them to respond through email, if they answered their phone, etc.. Here's an example of part of this process.
I wanted to provide boxes for the four FAL paperbacks so I went to a PoD place online and ordered a box. Two months later I had heard nothing. I sent multiple emails and got a response about a week later. They had an 800 number that I called multiple times but their mailbox was always full. Even though the place had some good reviews, I found their service to be terrible and I eventually cancelled my order and got a refund - nearly three months after the order that they had promised in about two weeks. Needless to say I decided not to do business with them, even though I wanted boxes - I just couldn't make it happen. And I think that was a good lesson for me in the FAL KS. There were certain things that I wanted and I just couldn't find a way to do them for whatever reason. So I had to say okay, what else can I offer.
Here are the businesses I used for the FAL KS...
The books were done through DriveThruRPG who use Lightning Source. I had initially looked at having LS do the printing and found that it wasn't really for a project of my size. So I went with DTRPG and I love them. Their service, in my experience, is awesome. They have always responded to my emails within a day. They have worked with me answering questions on shipping and pricing, sometimes even giving me hypothetical answers for hypothetical situations. The proofs they sent me were good quality and their turn around time was consistent (over the course of the project I ordered three sets of proofs from DTRPG). I also did the Monster Cards through DTRPG. I think the card quality, price, and turn around time is great. I have nothing but good things to say about this company and I will use them in the future. Plus, they can be used as a PoD distributor after your KS is finished. I have been working with them since about 2008 and I have always had a good experience.
For the posters, prints, and maps, I used a local printer. The place is called Minuteman Press and it's located in Louisville Ky. The people there worked with me on my project, gave me free proofs, gave me great quality stuff, had fast turnaround times. They let me order as little or as much as I wanted. If you live in the Louisville (KY) area, this is a great little business to do up some small print runs. Plus they are local and really nice.
I had wanted to provide some custom dice. I looked at Chessex who have great prices. I sent them a design and they sent me back photos of the prototype within about a week. In the end I decided that I didn't want to add another piece to the KS - so I opted out on the dice. I considered t-shirts as well, but again, too much (plus the proof shirts I ordered - I hated my design).
So I outsourced FAL reward stuff to two reputable companies. These were companies I knew first hand to be reputable because I had physical products sitting in front of me that they sent me in a good turn-around time. There was no guessing. Also, it was nice to only have to deal with two companies instead of books from one place and cards from one place and prints and maps and posters from another. Consolidate. Elegance.
Before the FAL KS ever went up, I had the books finished and proofs in hand. I had a deck of Monster Cards. I had proofs of all my prints, posters, and maps. I also had reputable companies I was working with. One of the thing that is great about having proofs is that you find problems that you don't see in digital. Some of these problems are printer problems and others are layout issues. While I spent some money on my proofs, I found that it was better to order three or four of something than 100 and find a mistake after the fact. That thought plagues me to this day. Proofs are a must - there is no leniency on this rule.
From my experience, I don't think I would ever do a KS project that I wasn't completely ready for. By this I mean, I don't think I would do a KS where I wasn't at least 80% ready, or at least ready to the point of only small changes needing to be made or additions to the current materials/rewards. If I was reliant on others for help, I would make sure that I knew they were trustworthy and could get a project done by the date I needed.
Another thing I did was setup a business to catch all of the KS funds. I wanted the money brought in from the KS to be separate from my own income so I created an LLC. In Kentucky it's fairly easy to do this. Other states are different but I would seriously suggest keeping funds separate. Why you may ask? Because that money you make during a KS project is not tax free and if you want to be on the up and up, you are going to need to report your earnings. In the Post KS section I will talk about fees (that's right, you don't get all that money). Also, I wanted any of my screw-ups or business money to remain separate from my personal finances.
Get the Word Out
I want to talk about the lead up time to the KS project. I knew I was going to start my project around the beginning of the year (2014) so I started being more active in forums talking the project up a bit. I also started to post some artwork, rules previews, and other stuff in forums and on Facebook. I was already in a bunch of Facebook gaming groups and FAL had had an FB page for a while. I can say without a doubt that my decision to spend several months talking up my project helped out. Here's why.
1. People hear about it and recognize the name before its ever released.
2. It shows you are serious and not just throwing up a project on a whim - that you have put in the time and the work and made something that is legitimate.
3. People talk about your stuff and you don't even know it. Interest and word of mouth really helped FAL early on. In fact, I didn't even know a single person personally who was talking up FAL. I didn't even know people were talking until I did a Google search and found Far Away Land was being discussed in a couple of forums.
4. It makes your project real. By talking up your project, showing people that it is in the works and you are making strides to accomplish your goals, you are a creating a tangible presence.
Here's some other stuff about forums. I was already a member of several rpg forums and had been participating before I ever said anything about FAL. I put my FAL links in the sig of name and posted threads about big events in the project, but a lot of my posts were about other things, other people's work and ideas. Also, I never bashed anyone else's work or ideas or even compared my game with another. I never said FAL was the greatest game of all time or the end all be all of rpgs. I knew FAL was a fantasy game among a sea of fantasy games. I was hoping that some of the elements that I included in the game would set it apart but I never had the intention or the mindset that what I was doing was revolutionary - because it wasn't. I love the game I made and I was proud that I had accomplished such a lengthy project, but I wasn't detached from reality. I tried to embrace early comments and critiques. I tried to listen to what others had to say and to use the cumulative cultural knowledge to add to my own knowledge. There are a lot of great games out there and humility goes a long way, especially for the relative newcomer.
I also did some very light advertising on Facebook. I'm still not sure how successful this advertising was as far as reaching random people in a certain age/interest demographic. I do know that just by talking up the project in FB gaming groups, showing a bit of artwork and participating in various discussions with others, I definitely got the word out and had several people back FAL. But, as far as paid advertisement goes, I have no idea - I think the reach and response was very limited, at least from click statistics.
Goals and Deadlines
While creating a KS to get your idea out is great and all, and creativity and all that. There are some very real tangibles that you have to keep track of. For example, if you set a delivery date, you have to coordinate with everyone you are working with. At the same time, those people have to have deadlines so that you can deliver final products by a set date. For example, you have three artists who are producing work. You have to have that artwork way before your delivery date because you have to layout and format, edit, proof, etc.. It may seem like common sense but it's integral to staying on time. In other words, you have multiple goals and deadlines set for not only the people you are working with, but for yourself as well. If one of these artists fails to deliver, you have to have a backup plan.
I understand that a single person doing every single aspect of a KS project may seem farfetched, and during the FAL KS I just happened to be a in a special position in my life where I could dedicate a large amount of time to the game and the project. Not everyone will be in the position I was, and most will require outside help. Run your project like a business, because it is a business. Set deadlines for those who are providing their services. Make sure you communicate these deadlines. Keep in constant contact with the people you are working with, make sure they are producing, ask to see updates. It's your project and if it fails, you will take the fall. You are dealing with money and trust - other people's money and trust. Failing to deliver means you are hurting yourself in the long run - not to mention dashing the trust of those who showed faith in you - that's a big deal. Plus, as of late, there have been some lawsuits against projects that failed to deliver.
Here is a list of what you have to keep in mind as far as your expenses go.
1. Cost to produce the materials/backer rewards.
2. Cost to have rewards shipped to you.
3. Cost to ship rewards (both internationally and domestically).
4. Cost of shipping materials (like boxes, labels, packing materials, etc..)
5. Cost for anyone you are paying (artists, layout people, writers, editors, etc.)
You have to have a cushion on your costs. There are all kinds of things like shipping materials, tape, boxes, international rates (which are insane), etc.. You need to have a margin for error in case you mess up or someone else messes up. The goal is to finish the project, send out the rewards, and make sure your backers are happy. Anything less is uncivilized.
Part 3 of this article will take a look at the creative/technical process of the FAL KS as well as a look at the actual running of the KS project.
So, I thought I would do a series of articles on my experience with Kickstarter. Throughout the FAL Kickstarter I kept notes on the experience in case it was successful and in case anyone in the future was interested in using my experience as a reference for creating their own KS project. While I assume that some of my KS experience is for tabletop games only, I think some of it is applicable to a wide variety of projects. So, here we go.
My goal for the FAL KS was initially going to be in the summer of 2013. FAL had been playtested and I felt like I was ready to put it out for others. By that time it had already been in development for a while and the core of the game was finished. However, the stuff included in the Companion Rules was unfinished and the Tales of Awesome wasn't even on my mind. Originally, FAL was going to be released as a sandbox sort of game with broad general rules for micro and macro gaming and there was to be no defined setting (although a lot of the setting was woven into the game - like FAL specific races and such). So I started researching other KS projects and what it took to put a project together and what I needed to have done on my end. And probably, within a few hours of researching and looking at other projects, I realized I was nowhere near close to being ready for a KS project.
My research consisted on looking at projects that were both successful and those that weren't. I read a ton of articles and lists on how to go about setting up a KS and how to do it right (I only paid attention to those who had successfully run a KS). I looked at projects similar to my own, tabletop games, cards, rpgs, etc.. I spent a while looking at similar KS projects and what those people were doing and the outcomes. I looked at what projects were offering, the pricing, the delivery dates, the number of backers, what reward levels people were purchasing, etc.. I kept a word document with notes and links and constantly updated with new information. While I was doing all of this I was looking at what the "experts" had to say as well. I tried to pay a lot of attention to the various areas of a KS project and start from a core. Since the culmination of the FAL KS, I have found that the project really existed in three stages: the prep stage, the KS stage, and the post KS stage.
The Prep Stage
The prep stage of the FAL KS was the stage in which I was getting all of the materials together. This was the stage where I was working on the game, the mechanics, the rules, what I wanted to include (and eventually exclude), etc.. Since FAL had been in different forms (an old web comic, a terrible novel), I had already done some of the leg work as far as the idea went. And by the time summer 2013 had come around, FAL was pretty much finished on the micro end (when I say micro I'm talking about stuff like combat, character creation, monsters, etc.). But that was really just the beginning of the prep.
I knew I wanted to include a bunch of stuff in the KS. Stuff like books, cards, shirts, dice, posters, prints, maps, etc.. When I had planned on launching the KS in summer of 2013 I didn't even have the books finished, let alone the cards being done, the posters, shirts, or anything else. After reading some horror stories of successful KS projects that failed to deliver, I decided to postpone the FAL launch. I decided at that time that I would only release the project once it was finished, or at least so close to being finished that I could deliver barring only a huge catastrophe. By finished I mean I had the books and cards in physical form in my hand.
So, what I did was to make lists of everything I wanted included in the KS. From that list I began the process of creating each item to be included for FAL. Luckily for me, I have experience writing, editing, drawing, using various content creation software, doing layout work, etc.. I knew I was going to do all the artwork on my own so there was no need to hire an artist. I knew I was going to do all of the writing, editing, proofing on my own as well. I had entertained the idea of hiring someone to do the layout but quickly realized that I would be making changes as I went in the project and I didn't want to hire someone that I would drive crazy. I also realized that the scope of the project had grown to the point where five books would be created and there was no way I could afford to rely on someone to do layout. I couldn't hire someone because I had no money (although I had offers to do it for free or wait until the KS finished to determine the pay).
Basically, I decided against any outside involvement, at least on the creative end. My decision for this was based on two things. The first was I was capable of doing the majority of the work, and what I was incapable of doing I could probably learn with help from Google searches and some study. My second reason was that the majority of projects that I saw that failed to deliver often relied on multiple people. For example, you hire several artists online to do work for your books and they all tell you that they are going to have an image by this date. Or you have an editor who says this will be done by this date, or a layout person. I was afraid of putting that power in someone else's hands. I was more afraid of creating a project and taking people's money and relying on people I had never met. So I decided to do everything on my own.
Pt 2 will continue with the Prep phase. Thanks for reading.
Blogs I read...