Levels and Goals…

Today I want to ramble about funding goals and backer levels. In the last post I listed what the costs would look like in an ideal scenario. I mean, in an ideal scenario I would get half a million backers, but what I mean in this case is an ideal scenario in which I printed 200 copies of Corsairs, and would sell close to 200 copies through the Kickstarter…

Playtesting Corsairs back in 2019.

Questions that needed answers were: What should the funding goal be? What should the backer levels look like?

Before trying to math out either answer I looked through a slew of the ZineQuests from 2019. It’s one thing to have an idea of how much the game might cost, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Customers have expectations, and setting too high a funding goal, or setting the backer levels significantly higher than what has been charged in the past for similar products is going to turn potential backers off. Underneath all of this too, was the concern about the shipping costs. Shipping from Australia, as I wrote in my last post, is expensive. Whatever price I set for the backers who wanted a physical copy had to respect the fact that an additional cost was going to be tacked on, and for international backers, that was a significant amount ($2.20 domestically, $8.30 internationally).

In my last post I broke down the costs as I had worked them out so far, here I want to look at what they would be per copy of the zine. So what were the costs looking like in an ideal scenario?

  • Printing ($675 for 200 copies ($3.38 per zine) (all my calculations were on my original printing quotes)
  • Envelopes ($100 for 200 ($0.50 per zine))
  • Shipping Labels ($30 ($0.15 per zine))
  • Shipping Domestic ($2.20 per zine)
  • Shipping International ($8.30 per zine)
  • Margin for screw ups (?)
  • Kickstarter and processing fees (10% ish)

Overall it looks like the cost of printing the zine, as well as the cost of an envelope, a label, and the portion of shipping I was absorbing would add up to around $5.13 per zine. Not bad. Remembering of course that I was rounding the cost of shipping down, and Kickstarter takes 10% of the shipping money as well… $8.30 for an international backer was rounded to $8, of which Kickstarter would take $0.80, meaning I would get $7.20, and I was absorbing not $0.30, but $1.10.

Okay, so that all makes some sense… but it is not as simple as all of that. I could order print runs in multiples of 50 (50, 100, 150, etc). I wanted to take into account a margin of 10% losses in shipping, meaning that 10% of the packages would get lost somewhere en route, and I may need to resend them. I accounted for this by essentially saying to myself that if I get within about 10 of the next multiple of 50, I would print the next level up. With 30 backers I would print 50, but if it climbed to 40 backers I would print 100, I would have enough therefore to account for any losses. This introduces some issues, if I got close enough and printed the next amount up, but didn’t get too many more backers, the costs would be defrayed over fewer backers. The per zine costs above are only if I actually sold all 200 copies. If I sold only 140, the trigger point for raising the print run from 150 to 200, the costs would look like this:

  • Printing ($675 across 150 copies ($4.50 per zine))
  • Envelopes ($100 for 200 ($0.67 per zine))
  • Shipping Labels ($30 ($0.20 per zine))
  • Shipping Domestic ($2.20 per zine)
  • Shipping International ($8.30 per zine)
  • Margin for screw ups (?)
  • Kickstarter and processing fees (10% ish)

Overall, for printing, envelopes, labels, and the absorbed shipping it would be around $6.47 per zine, a jump of around $1.30.

If we hadn’t hit the first Stretch Goal backers would have been saddled with my art…

So in the worst case scenario, and betting on 200 copies printed, Corsairs would cost me $6.47 to produce. I have a margin for screw ups in there, and a margin for Kickstarter. Everywhere I read suggested something around 10% for a margin for error is a reasonable calculation. So that’s a 20% increase between Kickstarter fees and margin for screw ups. That leads to a cost of about $7.76 per zine.

In all of these calculations I haven’t included any costs for labour. The design, writing, editing, layout, none of that is included. Profits on the zine equate to pay, so I was content to leave it at that, but had to ensure I set the appropriate backing level. The other thing to consider is tax, but I’ll write a tangential note on that another day.

If I had set the backer level at $10 for the printed zine, with a cost of around $7.76 per zine, I was worried that if anything went wrong I would end up losing money. What could go wrong? The costs could go up of course, the price of printing, or shipping, any of those things. But of biggest concern was the exchange rate. All of my calculations are in Australian dollars. If that loses or gains value against international currencies it could lead to a big impact on the money raised, in Australian dollar terms, which is what I would be using to pay for everything. The exchange rate was also in my favour, with the Australian dollar weaker than the US dollar and the UK pound, meaning, I hoped, a more attractive price for international backers. But the risk of increasing or decreasing the money raised due to fluctuations in the currency was there. In the end I settled on a backer level of $15 AUD, which would roughly equate to $10 USD – very much on par with the cost of other Zine Quests.


INSERT OBLIGATORY PLUG:

If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details.

The supplement, Smoke and Oakum, is also available at DriveThruRPG and Itch.io now!

END OBLIGATORY PLUG.


The logo for the Kickstarter page…

But what of the Funding Goal? Using the ‘worst case scenario’ above:

  • Printing ($675)
  • Envelopes ($100 for 200)
  • Shipping Labels ($30)
  • Shipping Domestic ($2.20 per zine ($0.42 absorbed per zine))
  • Shipping International ($8.30 per zine ($1.10 absorbed per zine))
  • Margin for screw ups (+10%)
  • Kickstarter and processing fees (+10% ish)
Felicity’s wonderful art. If you look carefully you can see the name of the ship: The Fyrerider. This was the ship of the playtest group…

If I assumed that in the best case I would get 200 backers wanting the physical copy, I would be spending around $250 on absorbing shipping costs, the total costs based on that estimate, and using the ‘worst case scenario’ for the rest of the costs, adds to $1055. Add 10% for Kickstarter and 10% for screw ups and that comes to around $1266. There are also other costs as well – test prints, software, ink, all the other bits and bobs I spent while drafting and making Corsairs. In the end I settled on a Funding goal of $1500, after all, many of the Kickstarter FAQs advise setting a thicker margin for error, because…

Another thing to consider is dropped backers. After the dust has settled and a Kickstarter has finished, there are a number of backers who, for whatever reason, drop out. While a funding level may look like it got $1000, it may in fact have only raised $850 because a number of backers have dropped out. A drop of a few hundred dollars in lost backers could have a significant impact overall.

So with all the mathing out of the way I had settled on my Funding Goal of $1500 AUD, and the backer level for the printed copy at $15 AUD. I decided to drop the price for the digital only copy to $10 AUD (about $6.70 USD when the Kickstarter launched), because that seemed on par with the costs of other zines in the 2019 ZineQuest.

Two things changed over the course of the Kickstarter: 1) I swapped my printer to Mixam, which meant a significant drop in the cost of printing. And 2) I realised that Kickstarter would take 10% of the shipping fee as well (yes, I was stupid), luckily I built in a margin and had a reduction in the printing costs.

So how did it wind up? Corsairs ended with 149 backers wanting physical copies, which was high enough to push to the 200 copies I was hoping to print, but was also close to the worst case scenario in terms of costs for printing that many copies.

Ending by writing that the Kickstarter resulted in a worst case scenario sounds gloomy and ungrateful. This is not the tone I intend, Worst case scenario in this context was my short hand for the different calculations I was using. I don’t mean ‘worst case scenario’ in a bad way – Corsairs funded, has been fulfilled, and exists in the world – believe me when I write that I was elated when it funded and am thrilled still!


This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for ZineQuest, you can find the other articles in this series here.

Certain of my uncertainty

When I decided to run a Kickstarter as a part of the ZineQuest, I was pretty sure that the only thing I was certain about, was that I was uncertain. I was uncertain of so many things. But… let’s start with what I knew:

The original test print with the original art (drawn by my own hand – the backers are lucky we found Felicity! 😀 )
  • I knew I would run a Kickstarter for ZineQuest.
  • I knew that it would be for the game Corsairs, which was designed, tested, and written.
  • I knew that I would do the layout, editing, and to begin with at least, the art for the project.
  • I knew that I would have three funding levels – one thank you, one digital only, and one print and digital.

So what didn’t I know?

  • I didn’t know what money amount I should set the funding goal at.
  • I didn’t know what price I should set the backer levels at.
  • I didn’t know what the costs involved would be.
  • I didn’t know how many updates to plan for.
  • I didn’t know if I should do Stretch Goals? If I did, what would they be?
  • I didn’t know how to advertise my Kickstarter, or get the word out beyond posting it on my social media.
  • I didn’t know how big the envelopes would need to be.
  • I didn’t know how much shipping was going to cost.

And soooooo many other things…

I started with one thing: what would the costs for printing be? I inquired at a local printers and looked at Mixam online. From the local printer and from Mixam I looked at printing quotes for 50, 100, 200, and 300 A5 zines with a range of paper qualities and cover types. In the end I knew that I had to settle on something, so I chose to run with an internal book of 32 A5 sides, printed on 115gsm silk paper, and a 4 side cover in 250gsm with a laminate finish, saddle stitched. This was the book all my prices were based on, and the book I would eventually print. I had no intentions to including stretch goals that added colour, special effects, or anything of that nature. My reasoning? This was a first experiment at a Kickstarter: keep it simple the first time around, follow the ZineQuest guidelines, and get it done successfully.

Originally I was going to use a coloured card cover, but to have it laminated locally was going to involve a second business, and that was going to push the prices up higher. Going local was something I wanted to do, but with fewer options available, and a much higher cost for printing involved, I ended up going for Mixam. This was a final choice I made during the Kickstarter.

The finished booklet! So good!

If I was to print 200 locally, it was going to cost around $675, through Mixam with the same paper weights and laminated cover, it was going to cost a little over $400. With uncertainty the name of the day, especially around the costs of everything involved, I decided to go with Mixam. I had read good reviews of Mixam’s printing quality, and while I would have liked to support a local business, I made the choice to go with Mixam.

While I was working all of this out I became painfully aware of how much international shipping was going to cost. So how to price out a funding goal? I made the assumption that international backers would tend to go for PDFs (I was wrong), and assumed that the printing costs therefore were likely to involve a smaller physical print run. The cost of printing overall goes towards working out the funding goal level, but divided by the number of booklets printed it contributes to the price of the backer level. For the Funding goal calculations I decided to hope, and chose to use the prices for 200 copies. For the backer level prices I decided to go conservative, and run with the per zine cost of a print run of 50. I was hedging my bets, hoping that the price of the larger run wouldn’t make the funding goal too high, but trying to ensure that the backer level prices were high enough to cover a worse case scenario. I was happy I made those choices…

That worked out, what else did I need to know to work out the Funding Goal? What were the other costs involved?

  • Printing ($400)
  • Art (?)
  • Envelopes (?)
  • Shipping Labels (?)
  • Shipping (?)
  • Margin for screw ups (?)
  • Kickstarter and processing fees (10% ish)

While I was researching the costs of printing, I was also working out the costs of shipping, but… I think I have written enough for now. The next part will come next time.

INSERT OBLIGATORY PLUG:

If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details.

The supplement, Smoke and Oakum, is also available at DriveThruRPG and Itch.io now!

END OBLIGATORY PLUG.

This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for ZineQuest, you can find the other articles in this series here.


How things Change…

I started developing Corsairs as an idea back in the middle of 2019. I wanted to make a game that mingled the ideas of pirates and freedom fighters; rebellious sorts who wanted to strike a blow for freedom against the machinations of heartless Empires. Tropes common enough in modern takes on pirates in film and TV. So the setting was born, and the game systems evolved from that. I might take some time in another post to talk about the evolution of the mechanics, but today I want to talk about the game itself, as a thing, and about ZineQuest in general.

In 2019 I started a Patreon, with the idea that I would make a series of micro-games and people would flock to my Patreon, and… no. Not really. I started a Patreon, and released a few smaller games through that, and subsequently on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io. You can find them on the ‘Our Games‘ page if you’re curious. Corsairs was originally intended to be a part of that, one small game in among many. But… As I designed these smaller games they grew… Freedom or Toaster was the first, and each game subsequently grew a little… Part of that was the idea that I would have ‘exclusive content’ in the Patreon version, while the base game would be on DTRPG and Itch. As I was writing the beginnings of what would become Corsairs it was already becoming a ‘larger thing’.

Early character sheets. Originally the game was made in an A4 layout.

Then Kickstarter announced it would be doing ZineQuest again. ZineQuest was a thing I wanted to do. A thing I wanted to challenge myself to do. I had a choice. I could develop a new game specifically for the ZineQuest, or I could continue to develop, test, and make Corsiars into that game. I was honestly torn. Corsairs had already had a bit of work, and if I had pushed I could have quite easily released that and done something else for ZineQuest. It’s not like I’m lacking in ideas.

I decided not to do two things almost at once. Running a Kickstarter for the first time, actually writing, getting art, laying out, printing, and shipping a game would be enough work. I’m glad I chose to focus on Corsairs, because it gave me time. I had time to finish the game rules in September and November of 2019. And that gave me time to do a ton of research into all the things I didn’t know I needed to know for producing a game. Writing one I could handle, producing one, that was new. I’m glad I gave myself time, because there was a lot to learn.

A test booklet, all blank, and the incomplete print of an early draft.

So I decided to do ZineQuest, and that changed things. It changed a lot of things. What was going to be a coloured A4 PDF needed to be a two tone A5 booklet. What would that even look like? What is imposition? What size envelope would it need? How much would that cost? I made some early prototypes, just to get a feel of what size it would be and how much it might weigh. Would it be under 50g? That would make shipping very affordable! More than 50g and the price nearly quadruples. Australia, woo!

Without hitting that stretch goal, Corsairs would have looked like this…

What would I do for art? How much art? How much is art? What rights and rules are there around using art? All of these were things to consider. I drew the first cover, it was the image that I used for the Kickstarter. I knew I wanted to get a professional artist to work their magic, but that was only something I could afford to organise if the Kickstarter was a success, it was only something that could happen if I met the funding goal, and then the stretch goal for professional art. Thankfully it did.

The physical copy… final.

With the rules already written and tested, I could spend the latter part of December and January preparing for the Kickstarter, researching, working on costs, and trying to nut out a plan of how I was going to actually run the Kickstarter itself. This involved a lot of emails to artists, to people who had previously run Kickstarters, and looking back at the games that were released in the last ZineQuest. I knew the ‘rules’ of ZineQuest stipulated two tone, saddle-stitched booklet or loose pages, and a few other conditions, but I also knew that plenty of the games that had been in the 2019 ZineQuest had broken those rules with impunity. There was colour galore and a few hardbacks in there too. Still, I wanted to do the thing, and I wanted to stick by the guidelines, for 2020 at least. I could, maybe even should have had a colour cover as a stretch goal, but I love what it looks like now, so I’m happy.

How things change… Corsairs grew from what was to be a small micro-rpg released on Patreon to a 36 page saddle-stitched booklet with professional art funded through the Kickstarter promotion of ZineQuest.

The final Character sheet, a little different from the A4 version above…

INSERT OBLIGATORY PLUG: If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details. END OBLIGATORY PLUG.

Running the Kickstarter for ZineQuest was a great learning curve and a wonderful experience. I won’t pretend it wasn’t a lot of work. It was. I won’t pretend I didn’t spend a lot of hours writing updates, comments, getting the word out there, pushing, pushing, pushing. I did. But it was worth it. Not terribly worth it from a financial point of view – that might be the subject of a later post. But worth the experience. It was a learning curve, and I did a lot of things I had never done before. I commissioned art and got to work with a wonderful artist, Felicity Haworth. I got to buy a large quantity of envelopes after working out which ones were the right size. I got to lay a document out, and decorate it with ink spatters and mess. I got to price shipping for the UK, the US, Iran, and China. I got to work out costings, incoming and outgoing, and then hope like crazy I hadn’t made some egregious mistake in there somewhere. I got to communicate and interact with a huge number of zine fans and indie TTRPG folx. All of it was a great experience, and yes I would do it again. Yes, I am planning on doing it again.

If you are at all interested in running a Kickstarter, or participating in the ZineQuest, I have tried to keep a record of many of the helpful sites, links, and online posts on the ZineQuest page here. These helped me greatly. There are also links to the articles I have written on this blog, charting my thoughts, plans and experiences. Articles I plan to continue with, and will continue to link there.

So final thoughts? If you’ve ever considered writing and making an RPG ZineQuest is well worth trying out. Check out the ZineQuest page on this site, and do your research. It is a lot of fun, and well worth doing.

Sailing on Fair Winds…

Corsairs has been shipped. After receiving everything, my wife and I spent a couple of days packaging the games up, printing labels, and preparing, and today I took them to the post office and off they went…

Before

It was a surreal and uplifting feeling, handing them over in their stacks – this stack to Aussie addresses, this stack to the UK and Europe, this to the US… but it is done! I do not doubt there will be delays, given the pandemic sweeping the globe everything has slowed down and mail is one of those things that has been impacted, but the journey has begun!

After…

Shipping, all added together, was the most expensive part of making Corsairs. Over a quarter of the money made from the Kickstarter went toward paying for shipping costs. I would have loved to have been able to charge less, but shipping from (and to) Australia is expensive. It was one of the reasons I had both a PDF and physical option on the Kickstarter, and I was honestly surprised that far more people wanted a physical copy, than backed for the PDF only. I have to admit that I really like having a physical copy of my games and books myself, so I shouldn’t be that surprised! I really hope that when Corsairs arrives you enjoy it. That you enjoy reading it, enjoy the feel and look of it, and enjoy playing it.

If you get the chance, please consider heading over to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io and give the game a rating; ratings and reviews help immensely!

In any case, with that out of the way I am now focused fully on Smoke and Oakum. The final draft is mostly written, so things are getting close! I am hoping to have Smoke and Oakum out by the end of August, but we shall see how we go! The art is in, and it’s looking amazing. I can’t wait for you to see it!

I’ll be writing a bit more about Smoke and Oakum in the next update, until then I wish you a fair wind!

Seven Bells…

Corsairs hit DriveThruRPG and Itch.io on June 2nd, and has since been downloaded 348 times across both platforms. There have been a few extra sales, which has been nice, but almost all of them have been downloaded by Kickstarter Backers.

If you are a backer, and have not received your email, please reach out and let me know!

So what’s with the seven bells? Bells were a way of keeping time on a ship at sea, bell times were used not just to signal the passage of time, but eight bells would signal the end of a four hour watch…

So seven bells?

I left Corsairs ‘open’ for a period of time after the digital rewards were fulfilled. The object was to gather any feedback or corrections, and to generally ensure Corsairs was as tight as it could be before sending it off to the printers. That time is fast approaching. There are but a few days remaining before I ‘close’ Corsairs, and send the files off to the printers.

This is exciting, daunting, and generally thrilling moment, as I take a step I have never taken before – to send something off to be printed, and prepare for the fulfillment of the physical rewards.

This means of course, that the window to get in any feedback is fast closing. If you have had a chance to look at Corsairs, and have noticed any embarrassing slip ups or mistakes, please let me know at caradocgames@gmail.com using the subject line: Corsairs Errata. I have had some feedback already, and it has been much appreciated!

So with the seven bells rung out, we wait the approach of eight bells and the changing of the watch… Corsairs will be sent to the printers, and the next stage of our little Kickstarter will begin in earnest!

Preparing for launch…

It won’t be long now before the backers of my Corsairs RPG Zine Kickstarter get their backer surveys, a short hop from there to the digital copies being sent out, and another short hop to the physical printing and shipping…

Things are starting to move!

For now the most exciting thing I wanted to share is the cover for Corsairs. This piece of art was created by Felicity Haworth, and I think manages to bring the setting of Corsairs to brilliant and exciting life!