Road to Kickstarter Episode #3 - The obstacles on our way, and how to handle them
In 2021, through my label The World Anvil Publishing (TWA), I’m going to launch a new tabletop RPG game on Kickstarter, Evolution Pulse Rebirth, for the English market. This series of articles documents the process from now to Day 1 of the campaign.
The previous article explored what are the measurable objectives for both the crowdfunding campaign for Evolution Pulse Rebirth and the overall project — in short, why are we even doing this thing. If you missed it, go back and read it!
With those objectives established, we’ll get now to the juicy part of our ROP (Rebirth Operational Plan): the obstacles on our way, and what resources do we have at our disposal to overcome them.
Six problems to solve
The way I laid the Obstacles out the ROP is an initial slide with all the Obstacles, and then an additional slide for each Obstacle where I also list potential ways around it. That seems to be an excellent way to present these issues, so I guess I’ll do the same here. These are the categories I identified:
- Do we have the right product? I’ll admit, this is a bit of a quintessential question, and it doesn’t come from a place of doubt about the intrinsic value of Rebirth. Instead, it comes from the uncertainty of how it will be received outside of Europe. In my experience, there are significant differences in what players like to play and how they like to play based on their location and gaming tradition, and Rebirth is relatively “new school.” Its system, MONAD Echo, is a streamlined version of its predecessor MONAD System, crunchier and possibly more familiar to traditional RPG fans. While Echo is in no way a purely narrative system (say, Lovecraftesque), it does require some abstraction, and it might not be for everybody. For example, there is no traditional concept of HPs, replaced by Injuries (can be physical or psychological), limited to 2+2 for all PCs. There are sound design reasons behind this approach, but if you come from D&D, they might not be obvious. Will people from other gaming traditions like it? We’ll see.
The second risk element is how Rebirth looks. The outstanding work of Daniel Comerci, heavily inspired by the work of Sergio Toppi, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, and others, has a very distinct feeling, and it’s 100% black and white. Will we find out that people place less value in something that is not full color and far from, say, what Tyler Jacobson did on D&D? Again, I don’t know.
- Fixed costs for translation/promotion. No matter how many backers we manage to attract, some expenses are fixed. Translation of the core book and all bonus material, for one. Strictly speaking, we don’t need to take care of the whole translation before the campaign is funded. Still, we do need to translate some material: the campaign itself, all previews, landing pages, and corollary content (more details on those later on). I also think it would be smart to commence translation of the core book before the campaign starts so that we can promise a reasonable delivery date. It’s a big book after all (300+ pages), and when you pair translation, revisions, and editing, we’re talking months of work before we have the super-duper-final version in our hands.
- There are financial risks. I can’t stress this enough: running a crowdfunding campaign is always a financial risk. There’s a particularly delicate moment: landing on the delta between the public and the internal goal. Imagining the scenario where the campaign surpasses the public goal but not the internal one, you’d find yourself in the situation where the product must be created and delivered unless you pull the plug. Still, the funds collected after fees are not enough to cover all expenses. That delta, as explained in Episode #1 of this series, is what you’re willing to invest from your own pocket to get things done correctly. Unless the campaign is a smashing success from Day 1, there’s always gonna be the chance that costs are covered only partially. This might still be a win, because even recouping most of the expenses is usually a good thing, especially if your objectives do not include getting rich. The critical factor is keeping that delta within reason.
- We don’t have an English-speaking user base. This one is big. When we opened the website in 2015, we were so optimistic about our potential on the English-speaking market that we debuted with English versions of all our blog posts, mostly focusing on our first big IP, Nostalgia: The Nomad Fleet (that’s the English name). Over time, we started to think that we were rushing way ahead of our reach and that slowing down and focusing on our home market first was the right thing to do (Narrator: it was). That gave us the opportunity to:
1) Learn how to take part in and survive exhibitions and events
2) Build a solid local fan base, and gather feedback on the products
3) Write and produce several game books
4) Connect with other creators and potential partners
All this stuff is crucial because now we know how to do it, at least on a small scale. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of having to learn all that now, on top of running an international campaign.
On the other hand, with international audiences never properly served or at least teased (the English website has been redone just recently, after two years of inactivity), we are on “square one” of community building. With just some months separating us from the launch of the campaign, we need to answer the following question: how do we get people that don’t know us curious about Rebirth?
- Shipping abroad. Shipping is by far my least favorite part of this whole venture. Even when we are serving customers within Italy, there’s always some struggle with shipment companies: maybe they didn’t pick up the package on the right day, or perhaps it’s been a week, and the order has not been delivered yet with no explanation. What’s worst is that my options are limited, for a couple of reasons:
1) cost, which needs to be kept manageable for both the customer and us, and
2) once I give the package to a shipping company, it’s out of my control.
If something goes wrong in their system, there’s literally nothing I can do except spend hours on the phone trying to get them to do their job. A poor job done by a shipment company reflects poorly on TWA, and that’s the last thing I want. Now imagine doing that, but for the whole world. Add in customs, and rising prices all across the board. Oh, and now there’s the COVID19 emergency as well, further complicating the logistics. Will we be able to keep costs acceptable for all parties and not go mad in the process?
Stay tuned, and you’ll find out.
- Schedule. Ah, the eternal question. When is it the right time to launch a crowdfunding campaign? Besides, we have some bureaucracy to take care of. Our previous campaign was run with the help of some friends, but this time we need (and want) to set up a company and do things properly. You might wonder, “ok, but how did you do business until now?”. Well, it isn’t straightforward, but the short version is that I live abroad (Finland), and we’ve run the business through my Finnish Business ID. Unfortunately, Kickstarter campaigns can’t be run from Finland (don’t ask), so I need to open a company in Italy and run all the financials through there. If you want to run a Kickstarter, you’ll also have to deal with some bureaucracy. That’s one complication, but it can be solved just paying an accountant, some fees, and waiting for things to be operational. More pressing matters, in random order:
1) We need time to prepare
2) We need time to get people interested and
3) We also have the Italian market to cover with new games
With all this stuff running in parallel, and an unprecedented international health emergency impacting manufacturing and delivery, we think 2021 is the most likely year when stars will align. Long story short: at the time of writing we’re targeting January, but since so many other pieces need to fall into place, we’ll reserve the right to push it back until we are sure everything is in working order.
How to tackle all these potential issues
Now that you have at least a general idea of my main preoccupations, we come to the part where I list all the resources at our disposal to either solve the problem or go around it. It’s all work in progress, of course, but while I was writing the document, I was happy to see I didn’t hit any writer’s block, meaning: there are at least some ideas on how to tackle every single issue on the table.
Do we have the right product?
- The Quickstart PDF is out now. Reactions have been positive, but we can always do with more feedback. If you end up downloading and playing it, let us know your thoughts.
- We are making cultural adjustments to some details, as specific topics seem more charged in other cultures (e.g., in Rebirth, there’s a whole playable Caste enslaved by the Empire, and it’s very central to the setting). While this is clearly a work of fantasy, we’re doing our best to give as much context as possible and never be gratuitous, but we also want to avoid unnecessary drama, something the RPG scene is prone to. If a change is relatively painless to do, we’ll do it. We won’t, however, alter the core of the setting — at the end of the day, we have no interest in building worlds by committee, and we’re ok if someone thinks this is not for them.
Fixed costs for translation/promotion
- We already have an affordable translator, and you can see her work on the Quickstart. To make sure everything sounds like it should, we also did a native speaker pass before the layout. Feel free to let us know if you’re happy with the result.
- We have set aside a marketing budget from the very beginning (somewhere around €2K). These funds are to be used mostly around the campaign launch and to push the Quickstart over time. While this amount it’s not gonna buy us much, it’s the best we can do at the moment.
There are financial risks
- We have internally agreed that we’re willing to invest money out of our pockets if we hit the public goal but not the internal one. We’d do this even at a loss because our main objective is not to make a profit. Instead, we want to create an English-speaking community for our games and lay the groundwork for the next English campaigns. That is why laying out the campaign objectives beforehand is of the utmost importance — what we can or cannot afford is tied to shared guidelines. That said, we’ll do everything in our power to avoid this scenario because no one in our team can afford to burn cash without some mild real-life consequences.
We don’t have an English-speaking user base
- As mentioned, a Quickstart in English is now available. This is a fairly standard way to get people to download a playable (reduced) version of the game and get a feeling for the kind of experiences you can expect from the final product. I’ve debated with myself if it would have been wiser to release it closer to the campaign and concluded that while I do not know the right answer, starting things earlier is probably smarter. According to the feedback we’ll receive, we can also make adjustments, and perhaps expand the basic Quickstart.
- I’ve been in touch with the founders of World Anvil (the platform). I first reached out to them because of the similarities of our names, just making sure we weren’t gonna have issues down the line. They’re incredibly likable people, with a massive community behind, so I thought, “why not?” and opened a world dedicated to Rebirth on their platform (please note: this is 100% Work in Progress). This world will be expanded over time with more lore, and even community-created bits. Moreover, some sections are likely to become exclusive to Kickstarter backers, so the possibilities there are precious. In short: if you like tongue twisters, there’s gonna be a The World Anvil Publishing world on World Anvil.
- The series of articles you’re reading is also part of our reach-out strategy. I try to be as informative as possible and as transparent as I reasonably can, so these pieces will actually be useful for people interested in crowdfunding. Secondarily, these articles are also designed to make you curious about Rebirth. There, I said it, no manipulation at work here!
- We have options for collaborations with European creative teams that went through this same community-building process. The more we can learn from others, the better.
- I have a good stand on the RPGGeek forums, where I ran a couple of long games in the past (Blades in the Darkand Vampire The Masquerade), and I’d like to run there an Evolution Pulse Rebirth game, in addition to publishing these articles. It’s a small initiative, but Play by Forum games are “permanent” and can always be linked back in the future, so it’s a good time investment. I tried to suggest one game a couple of months ago, but upon further reflection, I think it would be met more positively once we push the Quickstart a bit more aggressively.
- One of the creative teams we’ve been in touch with is responsible for a HUGE license most RPG players are familiar with. In recent years they released a new edition of the IP in question, and their campaign was a smashing success both in Europe, the US, and more remote areas of the world. They’ve been kind enough to clarify some of our doubts regarding worldwide shipping and deliveries, pointing us in the right direction and sharing their learnings. This info will likely save us a lot of headaches going forward and is definitely a good starting point for our shipping plan. NOTE: no one actually knows how COVID19 will reshape the shipment of games going forward, for now we assume we’ll reach a “new normal” were shipping is still affordable. If that will not be the case, then we will need to seriously rethink our plans.
- Because I spent the whole of 2019 putting together a game crowdfunding course, I also had to do a lot of research related to post-campaign delivery. It was a must to include relevant info on that even if we didn’t have to do it for our first campaign. The most pertinent document I’ve found was put together by Jamie Stegmeier, designer of Scythe, Viticulture, and other great board games. It’s freely available HERE.
- Another team we’re friendly with has shipped to the US through a friend living there. That is also an option we can discuss because, as far as I know, this solution worked well enough in the fulfillment of at least a couple of campaigns.
- Our schedule needs to be flexible for the time being, because we don’t know how well the things we have lined up will work. In the worst-case scenario (= we are not generating enough interest), we might have to reevaluate our plans and move things further back. What I don’t want to do is launch without confidence than someone will show up (and neither should anyone).
This is about all we have to share for now. Hopefully, it makes sense, even on the other side of the screen.
Stay tuned for the next Episode!
Want to learn more about Evolution Pulse Rebirth? Get the Quickstart PDF HERE.
I also run a couple of crowdfunding courses focused on games HERE, take a look.
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