08 July 2012

Kickstarter: Part 1 - Introduction, Dungeon World, Division, Project Ninja Panda Taco, Shadows of Esteren, Synnibar and Project: Paradigm

This is the first part in an ongoing series on crowdfunding. Overview and Index.

Kickstarter (as well as IndieGoGo), for those not already familiar, is the newest way for independent publishers (and even established publishers) to get their product into an ever increasingly uncertain market. The process by which this works is simple: The project has a funding goal, a funding deadline and pledge options. You can pledge any amount and you may select a reward based on the pledge you give. Which functionally means you select a reward and automatically pledge that amount, but it does not necessarily work that way; e.g. for the Mecha Combiners Kickstarter I pledged $58, but selected the $40 reward and communicated to the author that I wanted the $18 pledge as well. If the total pledges meet the funding goal by the deadline you are charged your pledge, and you can manage your pledge entirely through Amazon. For Kickstarter you are only charged if the funding meets the goal; if it does not, then nothing happens. This means that there is no risk for any party if there is not enough interest in the product. A downside to Kickstarter is that it is currently only available through the USA.

IndieGoGo allows for people outside of the USA to access a similar framework, with some slight differences. It doesn't go through Amazon and also allows for the option to still collect pledges if the project fails to reach the funding goal; a Flexible Funding Campaign with that information being clearly displayed. There are likely other differences that I am not aware of, though would enjoy having that information if any reader cares to share.

An inherent potential danger in the process is that you really do not know what the finished product will be like, or when it will arrive. Three of the projects I have backed have delivered the primary reward (the book), but none have delivered all of the rewards/stretch goals (I might be wrong on one of those, as the stretch goal was a PDF adventure that may be buried somewhere). This is not to say that I am unhappy with this state, publishing is a monumental effort, particularly for a someone new and indie, just that I want full disclosure to anyone that may be influenced. Real information on the system, which for some may be the selling/unselling point, is also hard to get at times. An exception to this is Dungeon World where you could get the beta from the writers by simply asking them. Madness! This could also be a reason for the prevalence/popularity of games/supplements for established systems (e.g. Pathfinder and Savage Worlds seem to be of particular popularity).

Well run campaigns tend to have clear rewards as well as nice stretch goals. Stretch goals seem to be crucial in gaining additional funds beyond your goal and providing your supporters with something extra as the additional numbers allow for reduced costs.

One of the regular features that I intend to have are updates regarding the projects that I am backing and maybe a little why, what interests me. I might get into some projects that I am not backing and why if there is interest in that. There is some fairly significant research into what makes a Kickstarter (I'm going to be using that term for all such projects, much like Kleenex is any facial tissue) successful, so I don't think that road needs to be trod again in any meaningful way.

To keep things relevant right now, for this post I'm going to talk about the ongoing campaigns that I am backing. As a note for anyone thinking about starting a campaign: I like books, not PDFs (I won't back if you only offer a PDF), and particularly like hardcover; though lack of the option won't unsell (if the money doesn't work for a hardcover at anything less than $75, the project had best really speak to me).

The Division RPG by Act Ten: A setting that blends a dystopian future with the supernatural in a distinctly different tack than Shadowrun. I'm going to be honest, I am something of a sucker for books with angels/demons as themes. No particular rhyme or reason, though more than one game has been acquired for that reason alone. The "cyberpunk" as presented is more contemporary that what is more prevalent in the genre as a whole: e.g. augmented reality being a key feature, the debt crisis and actions by hacktivists. I don't quite know what to think of the system, and that inherent in the Kickstarter process as a whole. An inexpensive softcover ($20 compared to the average of $25) and ridiculously cheap PDF ($1), though the project as a whole is having funding issues. The higher level rewards, which tend to yield a significant chunk of money as per the research above, don't offer much in the way of tangible things in exchange for the funds. No hardcover option can also hurt, though to expenses there may be prohibitive. Also, sadly, people may not want to get involved with what is perceived as being a loser at this stage in the game.

Project Ninja Panda Taco: I'm not entirely certain what this game is about. Though the brief description "Masterminds taking over the World and the Minions who try to help" certainly presses buttons. It also lists it as low-prep, lighthearted and collaborative and I cannot help but think it may be perfect for a one-shot or when friends are hanging out. Also, it has Panda and Ninja in the title. I am weak. A full-color hardcover for $30 is nice, even if slender at 24 pages. The PDF is $10. The rewards for higher pledges really didn't speak to me on this one.

Shadows of Esteren: Traditionally I have really enjoyed French games, even if I don't actually understand them. This one describes itself as "a medieval role-playing game with a horrific and gothic influence", which implies a darkness and mood that appeals to me a great deal; I really quite go for dark fantasy and is really one of the only ways I find myself enjoying low fantasy. The art is also lovely and mood and art can really go a long way to selling a game for me. The system sounds intriguing, promising simple resolution with the twist that your attributes are more attitudes than qualities (referred to as "Ways": Combativeness, Conviction, Creativity, Empathy and Reason). Along with dangerous combat and insanity. An additional good sign is that this game has already been released in France and this is simply a translation/printing effort. The first two stretch goals weren't terribly exciting; an additional scenario is certainly good, but not much to get excited over and wallpapers are... wallpaper. That said, the map that has been met sounds nice. The pledges have PDF at $10 with more goodies at $15, then the book (hardcover) is at $50, which is a fairly standard price at this point. At $65 you get an adventure, which I really wish had been part of the lower pledge, it is included in the $15 PDF after all and it is not in print. Basically, I wish that the art rewards came a little after the game rewards. At $90 you get the limited edition of the book, which looks very nice and the price isn't bad, just a little too much for something that I don't know how much I will like it.

Synnibar: A new edition of possibly the most gonzo game ever (flying grizzly bears with laser eyes are a thing here) and often put in the same boat as Rifts. Which is not inherently unfair, though, and I feel weird saying this, Rifts is the more playable of the two. The author is synonymous with his work in a way that few ever can be, given that the "About the Author" section is perhaps the most famous excerpt and it does not disappoint. When this Kickstarter was first posted, it was noted that the goal ($55,000, which is quite a lot) was impossible to reach by the limited rewards posted by ~$30,000. Since then the rewards have been cleaned up considerably, but it is still spare on details. What are in these books? How has the system changed? Why am I ordering your novels on here? I'm here because I enjoy a good trainwreck, and I know I'm not the only one because, for a while, the total pledged and the backers added up to mean someone had pledged $1 (which does not get you any rewards) just to receive all of the updates. The PDFs don't appear to be bad at $15 for the book and atlas, while $25 will also get you the Book of Fate (what are these things?). $35 gets you into the physical books realm, at $60 you also get the atlas and $80 the Book of Fate as well. This are actually potentially reasonable prices, but I don't know how big they are, could they have been combined into one book? What the hell are they? I cannot stress enough how few details there are. The funding on this one doubtful at this time.

Project: Paradigm: This one sets my Mage: The Ascension senses all a-tingle, which is a good thing. The homepage is spare on details, but update #2 provides some more meat. Not a lot to go on here, but I like what I see (Matrix + Mage). There are no PDF rewards and the softcover is $30. Below that are art prints for $10 and at $50 above are the more vanity awards (name printed in special thanks, likeness included, those things). While the softcover is a bit above average, the name included as thanks works as a slightly higher award for me. That way not everyone is there and those that really, actually want it, are specifically willing to pay for it, actually get it. Me, I'm just after the book, no need to really thank me. The funding on this project has been met and there does not appear to be any stretch goals, so pledging to this is nearly a straightforward transaction.