Living in a Bubble…

Corsairs launched on Kickstarter on the 1st of February, 2020. It was a ZineQuest project that would run for 14 days. I had the game written, I had made a bunch of art myself, engaged a professional artist in the event we crossed that stretch goal, and had put a lot of planning and thought into how the project would run. What I had not put a huge amount of thought into was how I was going to market Corsairs… how I was going to get word out there… how I was going to get prospective backers to see it. Some context…

An exciting and daunting email to read, all in one…

Before the Kickstarter launched I had a mailing list that was in an infancy, with fewer than a dozen subscribers. I had a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter, and posted very occasionally on indieRPG forums on Reddit. I’m not sure now of the exact metrics, but I had a Facebook page for my company with almost zero likes on Facebook, but I was a member of, maybe two, Facebook groups of relevance. I think I had somewhere around 650 or so followers on Twitter. I did not have a presence on Instagram, or any other social media service. Twitter and Facebook, those were the two largest social media presences I could use to spread the word when my project went live.

Of course, in addition to whatever audience I could generate on my own, being a part of ZineQuest, and tagging posts about Corsairs appropriately, meant that there was a ready audience that could be tapped into; people who were knowledgeable about the ZineQuest, and keen to see and support zines connected to it. Many of these were also creators of their own ZineQuest projects.

What did I do when Corsairs launched? I posted everywhere I could think of… I posted on Twitter, on Facebook, on my company page on Facebook, I dashed off a company email, I blogged about it, I tagged everything with #ZineQuest, and I launched my project the second ZineQuest went live. I launched my project the second February rolled around (and that would mean half a day ahead of the US given my location) in the hope that being early in, would mean that there would be fewer zines up, meaning Corsairs would be jostling with fewer projects for notice. I was hesitant to post too often to Twitter, as I didn’t want to pester my followers, but with hindsight I think that next time I would post more.

I had also been writing a series of blog articles journaling my progress and planning with the Kickstarter, with two key reasons in mind:

  • I wanted to provide a series of articles (and this one is part of that series) that would, I hoped, be useful and interesting to creators looking to do ZineQuest for the first time.
  • I wanted to produce useful content. Useful content being something that others can use, and that also serves to get my project out there. I hoped that not only would I achieve the first point, but that people reading my content for tips or to follow along might also consider backing the project or supporting Caradoc Games. Content might get shared by those keen to see you do well, useful content might be shared by those keen to see you do well, and who found the content interesting or useful, or thought it might be useful to others.

Corsairs launched on the 1st of February, 2020. By the end of the first day it was over 50% funded, and passed the funding goal early on the third day. It wasn’t a ‘Funded in 3 seconds’ Kickstarter, but it funded pretty quickly, and more quickly than I expected. It had a relatively high Funding Goal compared to some ZineQuest projects, but not excessively so.

I posted updates to the Kickstarter page. I shared them on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else I could think of… Then around day 6 the project slowed right down, and the flow of backers dried up. I had posted lots of places, I had said: ‘Hey! Check this out!’, and I had said it in as many places as I could think of. I was running out of places to say things, and the influx of backers slowed to a trickle. I had hit my bubble…


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.


I remember clearly sitting at my computer and thinking to myself that I had yelled about my project everywhere I could think of… that the people who follow me who might back this project have either already done so, or are not going to… What now? I thought to myself in that moment. What now?

I felt that yelling again about the project was going to achieve nothing, the people I was going to reach through the avenues I had used had already been reached. I had filled my bubble with the announcement, and all who had ears to listen had heard it… had backed it or hadn’t. I had hit the limit of my social media reach, I had hit my bubble, and no amount of yelling was going to reach more people. It was a surreal feeling, a tangible sense of the intangible networks we surround ourselves with. Social media feels like it is a cavernously vast space that our voices can echo through endlessly. To feel edges, a boundary, was strange… What now?

Update number 3…

One of the things I loved most about the ZineQuest experience as a whole was the opportunity to interact with other creators. It felt like a very communal experience, with the vast majority of the people I was lucky enough to engage with overwhelmingly supportive of each other and each others work. From the start I had decided that I would take an active role in that communal spirit, it was laden with an energy and hope for success. Amplifying other voices, the work of other creators poses an interesting problem, I wondered to myself how many people who would potentially back my own project would I lose if I started sharing links to other zines… From the beginning, when I decided to take an active role I decided that I would place my hope in the old maxim that the rising tide floats all boats. In the last paragraph, I wrote of the moment I sat wondering, in the small hours one evening about 6 days into my Kickstarter, what now? Well part of that answer happened naturally out of my choice to try and like and share other projects. As I liked and shared other projects I found, unexpectedly, that other creators liked and shared mine in return. It wasn’t something I had planned, it wasn’t something I asked for or expected, but slowly the trickle of backers grew.

I think a project is also like a rolling stone, a project gaining backers is like a rock gaining momentum, and engaging those backers and being active on social media were, I think, the key things that kept my project rolling.

Had I been organised I could have gone on podcasts, tried to use Facebook advertising, had social media goals linked to the project, or any number of other options. But I didn’t really consider the fact that I exist within a bubble, and what I could do to market the project outside of that bubble. I wasn’t prepared for it, will I be next time?

Crossing the finish line felt great!

I think a few things I have learned from Corsairs are that I don’t need to write so many updates, and that equal to that, it is ok to share an update more than once on social media. Next time I think I’ll aim for fewer updates, and more active use of social media to share and share again the project. If I share on Monday morning my time, that might mean it’s hitting American followers just before midnight Sunday… By the time they wake and check their social media, that post is long gone. It’s ok to share things multiple times, and its’s ok to share and amplify the voices of other creators.

Corsairs taught me a lot, it also grew my social media following, increased my email list, and grew the audience that I had. I think, in reflection, that this is one of the more powerful things a running a Kickstarter, especially if you are a small time creator, has to offer. It can increase the list of those who follow you, allow you to reach more people in subsequent attempts, it doesn’t burst the bubble, but it does help it grow.


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.

Updates! Get your Updates here…

Keep your backers engaged. That was the advice I got from several people who had experience running Kickstarters: Keep your backers engaged…

The most obvious vehicle for keeping your audience engaged is through updates. Updates require content, and take time to create. In December and January, well prior to the February launch of the Corsairs Kickstarter, I made a list of ideas I could write updates about. Updates about the progress of the campaign, naturally. Any milestones crossed, like being funded, reaching stretch goals, these were obvious, and I wrote last time about my planning for Stretch Goals. But what else could I write updates about?

The main page for the Kickstarter already contained an overview of the game system, and with a 36 page role playing game, if I expounded too much further on the specifics of the rules I may as well copy paste the rules book to the Kickstarter Page. I decided to take a mixed approach, keeping those ‘in-between the highlights posts’ about the setting of the game and some of the rules that I thought were neat aspects of the Corsairs system. With the mantra of ‘keep your backers engaged’ echoing in my head, I also decided that for the two weeks the Kickstarter was running, I would post one update every day.

Yes. One update every day. Over the course of the Kickstarter, from launch to two weeks later which marked the end of the project funding period, I wrote 22 updates. More than one a day, and more, by a long way, that I think I should have. It was tiring, of course, but I also wonder now whether the constant barrage of updates could have been off-putting to some prospective backers. This is a question and quandary that I don’t have an answer to, unfortunately.

Updates is one vehicle for keeping backers engaged, but there are other options. I decided, given that the Stretch Goals I had settled on mostly involved more content for the game, that I would run a poll for every stretch goal. These polls would ascertain which of the expansion zines would ‘make the cut’. I started using Survey Monkey, but found it didn’t suit my purposes quite as well as I had hoped. I soon switched to Google Forms, and found that a much more flexible and easy to use platform.

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.

One other thing I decided to do during the Kickstarter was to include a shout out to at least one other ZineQuest zine every update. There was such a huge array of awesome looking zines, I thought it would be good to highlight as many other creations as I could. I do have to admit that I was worried I might lose some backers, who might choose a highlighted zine over Corsairs, but I also thought that some of those highlighted zines would end up leading more potential backers to the Corsairs page as well – swings and roundabouts. In end I decided that to hell with whether I would get a loss or boost out of highlighting other products, ZineQuest had a very excited and communal feeling to it, and a part of that was a slew of creators sharing each others stuff – something I was very glad to take part in.

So… 22 updates over the course of the Kickstarter, that ended up being around 12,500 words all told. I ran four polls, and across those polls tallied some 220 odd votes. In those updates I highlighted 23 other zines that took part in the Zine Quest. What did I learn?

39 updates to date…

I think next time I will try and tone down the frenetic pace of updates. So many updates hitting the inboxes of my backers was possibly, in retrospect, annoying. Being excited about something is one thing, sharing details and sneak peaks is one thing, but do it too much… I don’t know if any of the backers found it annoying, if you were one, perhaps comment below with your thoughts, but I think toning down the number of updates will not hurt. Don’t get me wrong, a Kickstarter needs updates! But I don’t think it needs quite so many.

Polls were great fun. I liked using the polls, and I really liked watching the results roll in. It gave me a sense of the number of backers engaging with the project in real time, and helped me work out which stretch goals the backers wanted to see most. Corsairs, with a majority of its stretch goals being for additional PDF content, was well suited to the use of polls. In another project, it might not be so well suited or relevant, but for this ZineQuest Kickstarter it was good fun.

Highlighting other zines was something I was very glad I did. The jury is out on whether I lost backers through it, or gained any, but it was just a good thing to do. I truly hope that some of the projects I highlighted gained backers off those updates. If I was running a Kickstarter outside of ZineQuest I would consider doing this, though not as often. Perhaps focusing on friends who were running Kickstarters in the same space as my own, or to projects or creators I admire. As a part of the ZineQuest though I felt it was something that fit really well. ZineQuest was a time of buzzing interactions, lots of liking, sharing, and resharing of links and posts between creators. With the general mood of this year’s ZineQuest being one of excitement I felt that it was fundamentally a good thing to do, and something that played into the spirit of the ZineQuest in general.

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.

Stretch Goals

Should I, or shouldn’t I?

That was the first question I asked when thinking about running my Kickstarter. The answer seemed obvious: of course I should! What Kickstarter goes live with no stretch goals? What even is a Kickstarter with no stretch goals? Stretch goals are such a pervasive and common aspect to almost every Kickstarter I really felt that I couldn’t run the Corsairs Kickstarter without them.

Now I’m not so convinced, but more on that later.

Ok, so Corsairs was going to have stretch goals… for what, exactly? What would they be? I started, conversely, with what they shouldn’t be:

  • I didn’t want to add any weight to the zine. So no extra pages of content, no hard cover option, no extras that would go in the envelope…
  • I didn’t want to break the ‘rules’ of ZineQuest. So no colour cover, no colour art.
  • I didn’t want to be ordering things from multiple companies. So no bookmarks (I assumed these wouldn’t add a significant amount to the weight, so waived that consideration), and no stickers (see previous), because Mixam didn’t do either.

Ok, so now we have a start, a list of things I didn’t want to do. But why didn’t I want to do them? Simplicity. As this was my first Kickstarter, my first time printing anything, my first time fulfilling anything, I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible. Keep it simple, keep it straight forward, keep it within the cost parameters I had already worked out.

The last point there is really the most significant, I wrote about shipping in a previous post, and on backer levels, in both I had already costed out the options. Shipping particularly is an issue. From Australia to overseas shipping was going to cost $8.30 per zine, if I added anything to the zine (like extra pages, postcards, etc) and the weight tipped over the magical line of 125g it would cost me, even with the backers paying for a set amount of shipping. If it tipped over the 125g line shipping would jump to $13.50, and that would mean I would be inadvertently be absorbing and extra $5.20 per zine. That’s a significant amount.

So we have the why I didn’t want to do those stretch goals… what could they be instead?

Art by Felicity…

The first was always going to be art. My art was… ok. But professional art by a professional art doer was always going to be better. I had been in talks with a number of artists, and settle on Felicity Haworth. I loved her style, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to work with her. She has given flesh and bone to Corsairs in a way I could never have hoped to achieve on my own.

I settled on the idea of PDF supplements. This is not an uncommon thing in RPG Kickstarters – get to a certain level and the supplement on the ‘acid spitting borer beetles on Zargon XII’ becomes a reality! Ok, so this was a tested path for RPGs, Corsairs could do the same. It would serve three key purposes: it would provide stretch goal material, it would allow me to expand the Corsairs line, and, just as importantly, it would allow me a vehicle through which I could engage the backers. Yes! Do you want to see ‘Acid Spitting Borer Beetles of Zargon XII’ as the next supplement, or ‘Knife Wielding Voracious Voles of Seragon IX’? Vote here! Sounds like I am not taking it seriously, and that’s not the tone at all. I thought it would be a great way of involving what I hoped would be a growing community around the Kickstarter in decisions and choices – what did they want to see next? What aspects of this little zine about Sky Ships and piratical adventures would people like expanded upon? It would also help me create content for the game that people actually wanted. Was it background material? Was it a campaign to play through? Was it more rules on area X, Y, or Z? I wrote down the ideas for about a dozen different potential supplements, and then refined it to six:

Strange Customs

Strange Customs is a Corsairs campaign. A customs and storage company in Teboa has been transferring goods coming into port to storage sheds in the interior of the island. A quartermaster with the Corsair ship ‘The Harlequin’ has noted some discrepancies in the log notations. A number of Corsairs captains want the matter brought before the Council, but some proof is needed to add credibility to the claim. Is the customs house skimming off the top? Or is something deeper unfolding?

Jewel of the Molten Sea 

A background zine to Teboa including details on the island, the main port, trades, piracy, the influence of empires, important people and places, and adventure hooks every step of the way.

The Molten Sea 

A background zine to the Molten Sea including details on the dangers and places, rumours and stories of fouled ships and lost treasures, and an exploration of the people and denizens of the floating islands.

Speed, Strength, and Wits 

Expanded rules for Corsairs with a particular emphasis on character development. It will include advancement tables to extend character development and growth.

Smoke and Oakum

Expanded rules for Ships and Sailing, including modifying ships and special ship abilities.

Batsh*t Crazy 

A Corsairs campaign. The chance discovery of guano smugglers has much bigger implications than anyone could have guessed.


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.


Of course, I had no way of knowing whether we would hit any of these stretch goals. But I knew I wanted each to have it’s own art. To that end I asked Felicity to quote me for art for these supplements, and I included that in the stretch goal ‘price’. Originally I set each stretch goal to open at $1000. This would cover art, as well as the cost of writing, layout, and everything else they entailed. At some point during the Kickstarter I decided I wanted to reach more of them, and dropped the ‘levels’ to $750. In the end we unlocked three stretch goals, new art, and two new PDF supplements.

To decide what those supplements would be I turned to surveys. These I sent to backers via ‘locked’ updates. First I tried Survey Monkey, but this platform just did not work the way I had hoped it would, and I shifted to Google Forms, which worked perfectly well. These surveys maintained a solid engagement, and helped me identify which supplements people wanted. Anyone following Corsairs will know, Smoke and Oakum was the most highly voted for. Once that had been locked in the next clear winner was Speed, Strength, and Wits.

Google Form results for the second supplement…

I had assumed that the campaigns might have been near the top, potentially the background book on the main island in the setting, so it is fair to say I was surprised that both the most highly requested supplements were for expanded rules. I was surprised, but in a good way. Smoke and Oakum has already been released, and Speed, Strength, and Wits is not too far away from being ready for release as well.

So I wrote at the top that I wasn’t convinced about stretch goals. This may be specifically for the ZineQuest, maybe they are more important for a standalone kickstarter… But I am torn. On one hand it has given me the opportunity to add some really neat content to the game. It has also, I hope, added some serious value to the price backers of the Kickstarter got from their pledges. On the other, I wonder: how many of those backers joined (or didn’t leave) thanks to the stretch goals. Maybe some? I’m not convinced that too many would have joined on the basis of the stretch goals. Maybe that is down to marketing, maybe it is down to being a zine format game, and maybe it is down to being a ZineQuest game, and that stretch goals would play a larger or more ‘felt’ role in a standalone kickstarter. Food for thought… I think if there is another ZineQuest, I would take more time to ponder the question I first asked myself: Should I, or shouldn’t I? For the ZineQuest my jury is out. For a stand alone Kickstarter, I still think they are a valuable addition to the campaign.

What did I think of adding supplements as stretch goals? I was paid to write them when the funding goals were met, the amount I was paid was reduced by the Kickstarter fees, and then by the dropped backers, but I was paid, and if I planned well, then I was paid appropriately. Smoke and Oakum released a month ago, and a majority of the audience who might buy it already did – that is both a good thing (providing the stretch goal level was priced well), and needs to be considered when looking at subsequent sales. If I release a further supplement for Corsairs, one that wasn’t a stretch goal, will people buy it? Well, we’ll find out in the future, and maybe I’ll finish this train of thought then…


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.

Pixels and Pages

One of the things I assumed when creating the Corsairs RPG Kickstarter, is that the digital (PDF) copies would be a more popular option than the physical copies.

I was wrong.

Nevermind that I was wrong for now… why did I think digital copies would outsell physical copies?

Shipping. In the simplest of terms, the answer was shipping. Shipping is expensive. Shipping from Australia is especially expensive. A couple of posts ago I wrote about the costs of shipping. Last post I wrote about the different backer levels, and the prices I came to for each of those. But to summarise: I had decided that the backer levels would be set at $10 for a digital only copy of Corsairs, and $15 for a physical copy, with the cost of shipping added after the Kickstarter had funded. Now, these prices are in Australian dollars, and so translate well into the US and UK currencies, which I assumed would be my largest sources of backers. Shipping domestically would add a cost of $2, and internationally would add a cost of $8. Bringing the total for a physical copy domestically to $17 AUD, and internationally to $23 AUD. At the end of the day this is a price that is more than double the cost of the PDF. Based on that I would completely understand, and expect, that a majority of international backers would opt for the digital reward level.

Yes, currencies play a key role, and $23 Australian dollars in US dollars or UK pounds is a better proposition (at the time of the Kickstarter it was around $16 USD for the shipping and the physical copy combined). Compared to the cost of the digital backer level, it was more than double. Based on this, I assumed that the digital version would receive more backers than the physical.


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.


As I wrote above, I was wrong. At the end of the Kickstarter Corsairs had 236 backers, funding at 274% of it’s goal. Of these, 80 backers opted for the digital only level, while 148 opted for the physical level. 63% of backers opted for the physical level, representing 79% of the funding for the project. Compared, only 34% opted for the digital only level, representing 20% of the money raised. With the final percent coming from the few lovely people who backed but opted for no reward.

Interestingly, and annoyingly, the Kickstarter Fulfillment tab gives you the number of backers by country, but no option to filter that by backer level. So I had 236 overall backers, and 148 backers for the physical copy, and the fulfillment tab tells me that 149 of those were in the US (that’s obviously 149 of the 236, not the physical copy). But it’s interesting data nonetheless. Counting by country I had the following:

  • US – 149 backers
  • Australia – 28 backers.
  • UK – 18 backers
  • Germany – 10 backers
  • And a whole bunch of other countries with 1 or 2 copies, from Spain to the Philippines, from Norway to Puerto Rico.

So… why did people opt for the physical game?

I have no idea. I think the most likely answer is that many people, when they can afford to, prefer to have a physical thing, a manifestation of their pledge, and a book to thumb through. I know personally that I like to have physical copies of the RPGs I own where possible. I can’t explain why, but I prefer reading a physical copy than a digital one, and there is a visceral element that plays a key role as well.

Ok, so what does this mean?

Well, on one hand it’s nothing more than an observation. On the other, I think I would be very hesitant to run a Kickstarter that offered no physical copy. It seems that people like their physical books/zines, and that neglecting that would potentially turn away a number of backers. How many of the 148 backers I had, that opted for a physical copy, would have backed for a digital copy I will never know, but some, perhaps a significant number, would have been lost, of that I am sure.

So the next Kickstarter I run, and there will be one, whether for the next ZineQuest (presuming there is one) or independent of it, I will make sure to include a backing level that is for a physical copy…


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.

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.

Shipping a game about Ships…

One of the biggest costs for any Kickstarter that is shipping a physical product is… well, shipping. This is especially true when to or from a country like Australia, where ordering a game from overseas can cost more for postage than for the game itself. I was seriously worried about the costs of shipping, seriously worried that if I got the weights or sizes wrong, the parcels I was sending would be bumped into a different category, and therefore end up costing significantly more per zine. As I wrote in my last post, one of the only things I was certain about in the beginning, was that I was uncertain of so many things…

Many Kickstarters absorb some or all of the shipping costs by wrapping them into the backer level prices. I thought I might be able to absorb some of these costs, but that if I tried to absorb too much, the price of backing for the physical zine would balloon to a point where it was ridiculous. I decided, after much uncertainty, to add shipping as a cost after the Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows you to set an amount for shipping, and I set one for domestic shipping, and one for international shipping. I could have used a service like Backerkit, which would have allowed me to collect pledges after the campaign was over. But these have fees, and I thought the cost of doing so would not be much different than doing it through Kickstarter.

It’s important to note, and it may be obvious, but Kickstarter has fees – usually a bit more than 10% of the money raised. Shipping is included in this amount, so whatever you charge through Kickstarter for shipping, will be included in the money raised before Kickstarter takes it’s 10%. I said this may be obvious, but when you are setting backer levels you may easily remember that 10% will be taken as fees. But when you are setting the shipping costs you need to remember this 10% (approximately) applies to them as well.

Before I go too much further there are three key things I was trying to work out at this point. How much would a backer pay for a physical copy, what would I put for the shipping costs (domestic and international), and how much would the funding goal be? Getting one of these right doesn’t necessarily mean the others are correct, and setting either the backer level or funding goal too high would turn off potential backers. The backer level needed to be priced in order that the money gained from a backer would cover the costs of producing the game for that backer. Of course, the economy of scale is at work here (the more zines I print the cheaper per zine they are), and I needed to be able to price out a range of things before I could settle on a solid figure for either. I wrote in my last post that I decided to set the funding goal around a print run of 200 copies, with the idea that if we got more than 200 backers who wanted the physical zine, the excess of funding would cover the next step up in the printing. I also decided to base my backer level costings around the idea that I might only print 50 copies, in which case the cost per zine would be higher. I feel these were conservative choices, and they were partly driven by the idea that more international backers would go for the digital only rewards than the physical rewards (spoiler: I was wrong).

Not the most beautiful tests, but they were a beginning…

Setting a funding goal meant I had to be able to make a good estimate for what it would all cost – if I printed 200 copies, and included a little of the shipping, envelopes, everything else required, a safety buffer, and the Kickstarter fees – how much money would I need to be able to hit print? So what were the costs?

More research was called for. The biggest hurdle was postage… What was the size of the finished package going to be? What was the weight? These things impact the cost of shipping significantly. I printed test copies off to see what the weight might be – but the tests were not the right gsm, not the right cover card, the envelope I added wasn’t the same as the ones I would use in the end, but these tests gave me a good idea.

Shipping from Australia Post is based around the size and weight of a package (surprising, I know). For a zine, I could get away with sending them as letters. Given the size of the envelope I had the following costs…

Domestic shipping through economy post, using a large letter (which would be the size of envelope), would cost me:

  • $2.20 if it was up to 125g.
  • $3.30 if it was more than 125g and less than 250g.

Internationally sending a large letter through economy post would be:

  • $3.20 if it was less than 50g.
  • $8.30 if it was between 50g and 125g.
  • $13.50 if it was between 125g and 250g.

I did not think it would be more than 250g, but it could easily have been more than 125g, the envelope counts too of course. While the difference between 124g and 126g in costs for shipping domestically is small, it jumps by more than $5 internationally, which is not an insignificant leap. Especially when I did not have an exact idea of how much the zine, envelope, etc would weigh, just a rough estimate.

Once I had settled on Mixam as the printer, they were kind enough to send me estimates of the weight of a single book, I also bought a few envelopes and used the heaviest for my calculations. Despite all the tests and estimates I still wasn’t 100% sure what the prices were going to be until I actually walked into the post office and was relieved to find I was right – it is within this size of 260mm x 360mm x 20mm, and less than 125g? Well, I’m not 100% because I haven’t had them printed yet, but I estimate that is the correct sizing and weight to be…

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.

With the tests made and weighed, adding in a heavier envelope of the correct size for good measure, I made the judgement that the zine would, in fact, weigh less than 125g, but more than 50g. This would mean that shipping domestically *should* cost $2.20 per zine, and internationally *should* cost $8.30 per zine.

Getting ready to pack the printed zines ready for shipping…

When I looked for envelopes I found plenty of options, but the ones I found early were quite expensive, at about $90 for 200, including shipping I rounded to $100, and that meant $0.50 per zine. Shipping labels I found for $30 (I could have gone cheaper, but wanted to be able to print them out – more on this in another post).

So what were the costs looking like given the ideal plan of shipping 200 copies?

  • Printing ($400 for 200 copies)
  • Envelopes ($100 for 200)
  • Shipping Labels ($30)
  • Shipping Domestic ($2.20 per zine)
  • Shipping International ($8.30 per zine)
  • Margin for screw ups (5-10%)
  • Kickstarter and processing fees (10% ish)
All packed up and lots of places to go…

I decided to absorb a small portion of the shipping costs by rounding the cents down to the dollars, $2.20 and $8.30 became $2 and $8. Ahh! But… Kickstarter collects that shipping as a part of the funding total and then applies it’s fees… so 10% (roughly) of each of those values was taken by Kickstarter… a point I initially (and stupidly) overlooked. Luckily I had built a margin for screw ups.

Of course, if I got 200 backers all of this would work out perfectly… which is why I based my final choices for the backer levels and funding goal on the more conservative estimation based on printing only 50 copies, where the costs would be defrayed over far fewer backers, meaning less profit margin on each zine. More on that in the next post though…

In the end, after all was done and dusted, Corsairs ended with 149 Backers wanting a physical copy. I posted those out a few weeks ago, and it cost a little over $1100 to do so. Meaning, of course, that a bit less than a third of the money raised by the Kickstarter when into postage.

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.