Zine Quest – Why Kickstarter?

Previously I wrote about ‘Why ZineQuest‘, but let’s back up a bit and ask why Kickstarter?

In late 2018 I was getting the urge to scale down the freelance writing I was doing, and start working on projects of my own. This led me to start development of a large fantasy RPG: Ashmerl, and a collection of smaller RPGs. I wasn’t sure about what the the best way to sell these games was. Just whack them up online for purchase? Look at fleshing some out for self-publication? There were many potential avenues and I was undecided. Then Patreon announced it was changing it’s fee structure…

In mid 2019 I accelerated my plans, had a logo designed, set up Caradoc Games, and launched my Patreon. I did it because Patreon were changing their fee structure and getting in before that happened meant I could avoid some of those fee changes, having a uniform identity from the start would prevent messiness later on, so I did it all at once. In the months after setting up my Patreon I wrote and released four micro-RPGs, both in basic and expanded versions. The goal was this: To write basic games that people could download for free, and include links in each to my Patreon. On Patreon my patrons would have access to the expanded versions of these games. Simple: drive traffic to Patreon in the hope it would encourage people to sign up as patrons in order to get the expanded games.

It did not happen.

I might have been a relatively successful freelancer (well, busy at least), but I did not have an audience. My email list languished, the views on my site were minimal, on the upside the number of downloads were great, but the next step, getting people to Patreon… it did not happen. This could be related to the audience, it could be related to the quality of the games, it could be that I didn’t or don’t market it well, it could all manner of things. To be honest, I think a lot of games that get downloaded for free don’t end up getting played a whole lot. Read perhaps, but played? Maybe I am thinking too much about the number of games I download vs the number of games I actually manage to get to the table, but it is also a potential reason, so… Obviously this is something I need to spend some time considering. Is it worth going back and rethinking how I am doing my Patreon? Is there something I could be offering or doing that would see a change? I think there is, but that is a subject for another day.

Originally Corsairs was intended to be one of the Patreon games. It would have been a smaller game than it is now, but that was the goal when I first started to develop the idea. Then whispers starter to circulate… ZineQuest was coming back in 2020. In October/November I knew this was something I wanted to take part in, for all the reasons I wrote about in my previous post. Namely: it offered the potential for an audience I lacked, it offered the chance to try Kickstarter with as many elements tilted in my favour as possible, and it challenged me to actually do something different, and learn a whole slew of lessons in the process.

With the methods I had been trialing in the middle of 2019 broadly unsuccessful, here was an opportunity to try something different, during a promotion that I hoped would help provide me with the best opportunity to be successful.

Of course, while the timing seemed ideal to trial running a Kickstarter, crowdfunding offers other benefits. With an upfront injection of capital I would be able to do things that I could not have justified otherwise. It allowed to me to trial printing physical copies, something I would not have considered otherwise. I mean, I could have printed physical copies of course, but what would I do with a couple of hundred copies of my game sitting in a box? Hope to sell them slowly? Set up a webstore to sell them? Sell them through my site? eCommerce additions to WordPress cost money, as they do through any other platform. If it was a book to be sold through Amazon or similar, then I might need to consider getting an ISBN and barcode, which costs more money, and I would have no way of knowing (without an audience remember) whether I would sell even half a dozen copies, let alone more than 100.

Upfront capital also allowed me to commission an artist, in the case of Corsairs: Felicity Haworth. Without the upfront capital I could have commissioned an artist, potentially, but it would be a cost I wasn’t confident I could recoup. Prior to running Corsairs I spent hours and hours drawing all the artwork seen on the Kickstarter page myself. Now, I’m can put together a reasonable drawing, although I am better with a pencil than a stylus, but being able to hire someone who is far more capable than I is going to give Corsairs a quality and life I couldn’t have achieved on my own.

Of course, assuming the risk in the hope of reward is how businesses have run since Glob decided to sell amber beads through Ötzi. But Crowdfunding provides opportunities for small time businesses and indie creators to take risks on their ideas through a safer and more defined pathway. For me, creating an indie game, having a small or next-to-nonexistent audience, and wanting to create something that looked nice and could be physically handled, was going to be cost prohibitive. Kickstarter provided a vehicle through which I could mitigate the financial risks, and have a greater opportunity to grow and connect with an audience.

The process of running a Kickstarter, gaining backers, and getting funded, cuts out many of the uncertainties. I know how many physical copies I need to get printed, I have budgeted for art, I have budgeted for shipping costs. All of these things have been considered and accounted for. Running a Kickstarter has defined what my budget parameters are, and given me the exact number of zines I need to print (plus a margin for error). There may be complications along the way, and Kickstarter is by no means a perfect solution, but it is a very useful one, especially for small time creators trying to share their work with the world at large. Is it also widely used by big companies, you bet, and I can see why, but that’s a different topic.

Corsairs hit Kickstarter as a part of ZineQuest. What was going to be a small PDF-only game released on DriveThruRPG and Itch, as well as to Patreon, has grown to a 32 page Zine. Kickstarter has allowed me create something that will be printed, with high quality art from a professional artist. In the process it has also allowed me to learn about laying a document out, printing processes, commissioning an artist, fulfillment, and perhaps more important than all of the above, gain an audience of over 200 backers. I am pretty happy with this humble beginning…

Why Kickstarter? Well, if you managed to make it this far I hope the answer is clear!

Zine quest – Why Zine quest?

To start the series of articles here reflecting on my experiences with the ZineQuest, I’m going to delve into the question why?

Why ZineQuest?

I think the most honest answer to this question is the most obvious: ZineQuest has an audience.

ZineQuest was a promotion I heard about last year at the tail end of the promotion. As February 2019 was coming to a close I started to look at the games that had been released on Kickstarter as part of this odd looking, but interesting promotion, and wished I had heard about it earlier. As someone who had already started drafting and developing various role playing games, the ZineQuest promotion was something I was very keen to explore. Why? Because I hoped that by launching something as a part of a promotion like ZineQuest, I had the best chance of getting funded. People remembered the 2019 ZineQuest, people were planning for, and excited about, the prospect of a 2020 ZineQuest. These were people who might look at Corsairs, who would likely never have looked at Corsairs had it launched as it’s own thing at some other point in the year. To me there seemed to be a clear marketing advantage in being part of such a promotion.

Let’s be honest, while I had worked as a freelance writer for more than 5 years, and had written for a reasonable number of RPGs and miniatures games, while I had previously had a life as a podcaster in the board gaming community, I was not well known. Those that did know me were a mix of board and role playing game people, and my potential audience was extremely limited, especially for a project that lacked professional art, and had no budget for marketing.

A promotion like the ZineQuest offered the potential for me to get more people to look at my project, people on Kickstarter for ZineQuest, looking for Zines. I still had to create a game and a project that I hoped would be good enough or interesting enough to get those people to back it, but more eyes means more potential. So that, in essence, is why ZineQuest.

ZineQuest also seemed to me to be a safer place to experiment with creating a game than outlaying the money up front to do it at some other time (or creating a Kickstarter at some other time). A high percentage of of the projects created for the first ZineQuest reached their funding goals, and I believed that while this percentage would be lower in 2020 (due to there being more zines), the number would still be higher than the average outside the ZineQuest promotion. All of this meant that ZineQuest felt like a safer time to try Kickstarter. To learn about planning a project, putting it together, launching it, running it, and getting a feel for how it all works. It meant it felt like a safer time to experiment with printing something: writing, getting art done, laying it out, and having it printed. Something manageable for a first time creator: something that is not a luxurious hard cover book choc full of glorious full colour art. And of course, it also meant I had a chance to experiment with fulfillment, and to learn about the costs and processes involved with that. Some of these things are lessons I have learned, some of these are still ahead of me.

Putting up a project for the ZineQuest was also a challenge to myself. Everything involved (apart from designing and writing the game) would be new to me. I hoped the project would fund of course, but I didn’t imagine it would explode, and so I would be left with a funding level and number of backers that would give me a chance to learn the processes without being overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to need to print 1000 copies, but I tried to be optimistic, without being unrealistic. I believed I could write a game that people would enjoy, I believed I could put together and run a project people would get behind, and I hoped I would be successful. But I also had a voice in my head whispering that if my project did fund, it would not be so huge that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

So there it is, that’s the why. ZineQuest offered the potential of an audience I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get, and challenged me to learn how to create, print, and fulfill something that was manageable. Lessons, lessons, lessons.

ZineQuest – Ruminations…

Prior to launching Corsairs as a part of the ZineQuest, I went through a fair amount of planning and preparation for the Kickstarter, quite apart from the job of writing and testing Corsairs. I tried to catalog some of my thoughts and processes in a series of articles here, all of which can be found by going to the ZineQuest page, here.

I plan on writing a series of articles here over the coming weeks that run through the processes and choices I made during the Corsairs Kickstarter, and some of things I think I have learned along the way. I will add links to these to my ZineQuest page, and hope that someone considering running their first Kickstarter, or entering next years ZineQuest (I hope there is one) will find them useful in some capacity.

So to that end, if you have any questions about running a Kickstarter, about the Corsairs campaign, about ZineQuest, or anything connected to those, I’m here for them! While I have a list of topics I want to cover, I also want to try and make this a useful resource, and there is every chance (in fact a certainty) that there are things that should be on my list, and that I have overlooked. So ask away!

You can add any questions you have to the comments here, find and ask me on Twitter @caradocp or @CaradocGames, or email me at caradocgames -@- gmail.com.

Corsairs – Set to Sail

14 Days. That was the length of the Corsairs Kickstarter Campaign for the ZineQuest. Before launch I had my worries, I had my doubts, I had a cynical and self-deprecating voice in the back of my mind telling me Corsairs would fail. It didn’t.

236 Backers raised over $4000 AUD to help make Corsairs a reality. We hit a funding level of 274% and unlocked three stretch goals. We unlocked a better quality zine, improved art from Felicity Haworth, and two further PDF zines that will expand the Corsairs rules and setting.

I’m not sure how I feel. On one hand I am stunned, shocked, thrilled and excited, and on the other I am daunted by the challenge that lies ahead, and the worry that I can still muck it up. Replacing the concern that no-one would be interested and that the Kickstarter would languish unnoticed and forgotten is the concern that people who get the zine will be largely unimpressed. Such is the journey of anybody who creates content in the hope that others will like it I suppose! I cannot sit in a puddle of idle self-doubt, I have 236 people to thank and a successful Kickstarter campaign to celebrate! So onward!

An early test print.

Over the course of the Kickstarter campaign I wrote 23 updates counting something like 13,000 words all told, I did one interview, tweeted a lot, and gave shout outs in my updates to 23 other Kickstarter ZineQuest campaigns. I got a lot of feedback, a huge amount of support, and was stunned when the campaign funded on the second day, and hit 274% of the funding level by the time it wound to a close.

It’s been a roller coaster. I have learned a lot, and I recognise that I have much yet to do and learn. I am looking forward to the chance to officially commission Felicity to complete the artwork for Corsairs, and excited to see how it will all come together including her wonderful artwork. I have two source-zines to write: Smoke and Oakum, which will expand the rules for sky ships and sailing, and Speed, Strength, and Wits, which will expand the rules for characters. Through both I hope to also expand the setting and lore of the Molten Sea and the famed Floating Islands, as well as layering in as many adventure seeds as I can. All in good time! For now I have some freelance work to complete while I wait for Kickstarter to process the campaign. Once this is done I will be taking time out to finish Corsairs, and make the rules book and the source-zines that follow it as wonderful, and full of value for my backers as I can.

Playtesting was a lot of fun!

All in all Corsairs has me wondering about the viability of running a small zine campaign again later in the year. Yes it would be outside of the ZineQuest promotion, and that I have no doubt would significantly impact visibility, but I had a great time running the Corsairs kickstarter campaign… I got to interact with a wide range of wonderful and supportive people from gamers to designers and fellow zine-questers, and generally had a lot of fun. Then again, maybe I should instead focus my attention on my larger fantasy RPG: Ashmerl… Decisions… we shall see!

Corsairs has funded!

Wow, I have been busy with the Kickstarter page, and completely neglected the website. Last I wrote here, only a few days ago, Corsairs was sitting at 87% funded. Since then it has gone past its funding goal, and just hit the first stretch goal! I can’t believe it.

So far I have sent out 7 updates on the Kickstarter page, including information about the setting, the rules, and added a poll for backers yesterday in which they could vote for the next PDF Zine to be released for Corsairs.

I am honestly stunned with the level of support and encouragement I have received: it has been unbelievable. I’d love to hit another stretch goal or two as we move into the final week of the Kickstarter, but whether that happens or it doesn’t, I can remain content that I managed to do a thing. There is plenty of work ahead, don’t get me wrong, but I was doubtful I we would make it this far. Crazy!

I have learned so much on the journey so far, and look forward to what the next steps and twists have to teach me. It has made me think, maybe making some zines throughout the year might be an interesting and fun thing to do… Hmm.

If you haven’t yet, check out the Corsairs Kickstarter here. It has been more successful than I had dared to hope it would be, and that is thanks to everyone who has jumped on and supported me, and supported Corsairs!