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!

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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!

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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!

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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.