Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Temptations of Kickstarter

Not a week goes by that I don't see some new Kickstarter for a gaming product pulling in beaucoup dollars and I think ... why not me? I currently have two projects in the works that could probably work as Kickstarters - the Tome of Monsters (about 90% written, and for which I need art art art - more on that later) and GRIT & VIGOR (about 60% written, and for which I need almost nothing, since it can use great public domain art for the most part).

Then I think about the downside of the Kickstarter projects. First and foremost, they don't work well with print-on-demand projects. I did a Kickstarter with Mystery Men! to pay for the art (which may have been one of the earliest RPG projects to do a Kickstarter) and it worked reasonably well. I think I was aiming for a big $210, and I managed to rake in a whopping $290! (Which bought me a couple extra black and white illos!) The trick to be successful on Kickstarter, though, is in the premiums. For MM!, it was a free copy of the e-book and inclusion of the donators name in the product, as well as a thank you letter. I considered sending out hard copies of the book, signed by the author (natch), but when I calculated in the cost of buying the books and shipping them, I realized I'd need to ask for quite a bit more money in the Kickstarter, and given how new the idea of kickstarting a niche RPG project was at the time, I was afraid the project would fail to fund and I'd be out of luck.

After MM!, I started making enough money selling NOD and other products, that I felt comfortable just paying for art out of my profits. Since publishing is a hobby for me, I don't have to live off the proceeds of my work - I'm happy just to keep the hobby paying for itself. Blood & Treasure was a big project for me and cost a pretty penny in terms of art (at least for someone as small time as me), but it worked out and I made a profit on it (though just barely). While printing my own books and selling them would probably make me even more money, and make Kickstarters a more realistic proposition, I really prefer print-on-demand; less overhead for me, less fuss, and it keeps publishing a hobby rather than making it a second job I do not have time for.

The other drawback, to my mind, is that once you take that money, you're pretty well locked in to making a product and getting people's premiums to them. Oh, I suppose you could find a way to abscond with the filthy lucre, but given that I'm neutral with lawful good tendencies, I'd have a hard time doing that.
Let's take ACTION X as an example of why this can be a problem. Imagine I ran ACTION X as a Kickstarter. It funded, I started paying for art, and in the middle of the process I started realizing the game just was not working for me. Well, too bad sucker - you made promises and now you need to finish what you started, like it or not. Now, that actually did happen to me in the course of writing ACTION X (though without the binding promises, thank God), and I would have hated to be locked into the project after my passion for it faded away. As it is, I was free to ditch ACTION X and transform it into GRIT & VIGOR, for which the creative juices are flowing quite nicely.

For me, avoiding Kickstarters for my products boils down to freedom - freedom from the overhead implied in offering premiums, and freedom to proceed with a project as my passion takes me, without having promises I'm bound to fulfill hanging over my head.

So, what do you folks think about it?

And on a related note - The Tome of Monsters. This book will be a compilation of monsters that I've published in NOD over the years, including the multi-hued dragons, and the demon and devil lords from the Hellcrawl, with a few unpublished beasts as well, and maybe a few other bright ideas as they come to me. Oh - and each monster will be rounded out with a lair like the one's I've written for the S&W versions of the Tome of Horrors in the past. The book is almost completely written (since it is a compilation, after all), so the trick for me is the art. Some monsters already have art, since they appeared in past magazines. Most do not, and I'd dearly love to illustrate everything. The question, of course, is how?

At this point, the book contains approximately 300 monsters. Even if I could secure art for these monsters at $5 a pop (and I can't), we'd be looking at a $1500 investment. More realistically, I'd be looking at $20-50 per monster - so now we're talking about dishing out over $10,000 for art. I figure if I'm lucky I can sell 100 or 200 of these books, making maybe $3-5 per book sold - so investing $1500 to make maybe $300 to $1000 is not tenable. Remember - I'm not looking to get rich, just to break even.

I thought one way of making ends meet would be, of course, a Kickstarter campaign, but as you've read above (unless you strangely skipped to the end of the post), I'm leery about Kickstarters.

I've also thought about commissioning the art in the form of full page illustrations depicting multiple monsters, maybe locked in combat with some of the characters that first appeared in Blood & Treasure and The NOD Companion - though I'm not sure this would (a) work and (b) actually be any cheaper than lots of small bits of artwork.

So - what to do with the art for the Tome of Monsters? At this point, I'm leaning towards commissioning some great art from great artists for as many monsters as I can afford, and just accepting the fact that I ain't Wizards of the Coast.

Oh - and if you're an artist who would love to receive a commission for cold hard cash or a trade, let me know in the comments or by emailing me. I'd love to feature as many artists as possible, with as many styles as possible to make this thing more than just a collection of monster stats but also a fun community project.


  1. My take on it is nobody should even launch a Kickstarter unless they have a finished product (maybe minus the artwork, or with placeholder art that they're hoping to upgrade) and they just need the funds to get it printed. There's just too much stuff that can go wrong otherwise, and losing enthusiasm is just one of those things.

  2. Yeah with a monster book a KS is ideal. Finish, complete apart from layout and art, the book. And launch a KS for just the art, I guess your create juices won;t matter so much if it is done and only art work needed! Maybe talk/contact Joseph Bloch of adventures Dark and Deep who did a KS for his Monster Manual. I worked well and made the product that much cooler.
    Good luck!

    1. This is what I was going to write. You've written the text so now you want money for the art.

      I'm down with the KS for that. It meets my make or break anymore for a KS: finished text.

      The trick to be successful on Kickstarter, though, is in the premiums.

      Here I fundamentally disagree. The trick to a successful KS, defined as ships reasonably on time as opposed to funds, is to minimize premiums. The two KS I've put the most into were driven by premiums. The least behind will optimistically ship a year late.

      There is one premium system I've seen on monster books that worked well...look at Joseph Bloch's KS for the Adventures Dark & Deep Beastiary. Funding got a certain amount of baseline art and each X above that did another monster. People who pledged high enough got to pick which monster they funded and so on.

      The other secret is time. Make an honest estimate of how long to get all the art and do layout. Then double it. Then add 10%.

      List the KS as six months later.

      I'd certainly back a KS for your Tome if it was just an "art for a finished book" KS. Sure, if more monsters come into your head while you're waiting for art add those but the KS is about art and nothing more.

  3. What I would really love is to see someone do a Kickstarter like the Sin Nomine guy did with Spears of the Dawn - he did one to pay for art which he could put into public domain

  4. I would like to do some art! Consider my online gallery of samples.

  5. I essentially agree with Joshua, but I am suspicious of kickstarters - I think it's often seen as a way of circumventing all the hard work that goes into just producing something for the love of it. And I tend to think that the labour of love that is creating art for free always has the potential to forge something special, which kickstarter works against.

  6. I would consider the idea of trade if you haven't got the $. The reason being that the retail value of the books versus what you yourself could buy them for and give them to the artists would save you some money I suppose. It seems from what you say though that you don't make too much per book. I expect that's Lulu for you. If you didn't need variety of binding types, CreateSpace offers far higher commission & you can buy the books for yourself for an exceptionally small sum. If you use a crowd-funder, just make sure you don't include postage in the pledging: many people forget this and end up giving the books away. If you do use a crowd-funder, consider CreateSpace instead to print them. But I'm with you on being leery of KS: they got an F rating with the BBB; you can look up why if you want.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I think the trouble you're going to have if you go down the Kickstarter route is how much to charge for a printed copy of your books. At the moment, I'm guessing you only charge only a little over cost as they are very reasonably priced but if you go the Kickstarter route and you want to cover printing costs, shipping costs and make some money for art then you will have to charge more than you normally do...and then after the Kickstarter has ended you will have to keep the cost relatively high as you can't really charge everyone less for the book afterwards. That's not necessarily a problem as I'm sure people would still buy the book...but it would have an impact on how many.

    Perhaps, you could do a Kickstarter where you only offer the e-book and then sell the print book separately later via Lulu as per would get you less money for art but at least you would get some in advance and then you'd still be able to sell print copies as you always have.

    1. I'd fund KS for art with free pdf in exchange and me buying my own HC later if I liked.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...