Hello, everyone! Today’s article is a little tricky to categorize but is strongly related to a lot of what I write on TBM Games. This article is about how I decide whether or not to back a Kickstarter campaign, and some general insight not necessarily into what makes a campaign successful, but what makes supporting a campaign successful for a consumer.
One of the most significant issues that Kickstarter campaign creators face during their campaign is exposure – a lot of campaigns “begin” well before the page is ever live on Kickstarter. While I often trawl Kickstarter itself for projects which interest me, you have to keep your ear to the ground to find projects you’d like to back – this includes signing up for companies’ e-mail lists or following them on your social media of choice, as well as more traditional word-of-mouth communication. Because I have backed about a dozen successful campaigns, the “Recommended for You” suggestions are only loosely matched to my tastes. Instead, I check gaming forums I frequent for discussions about upcoming Kickstarter campaigns, such as Giant In the Playground’s General Crowdfunding thread, or look to Erfworld‘s Kicking it Forward section on the main page. Additionally, I’ve subscribed to Kobold Press‘s email list, which (in my opinion) sends fascinating historical articles and product updates roughly twice a month, but also includes featured crowdfunding projects which they are following(as well as announcements for their own crowdfunded projects).
For example: Shortly after Tome of Beasts shipped, Kobold Press’s newsletter included a mention of Nord Games’ Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde. Prior to this mention, I had not heard of Nord Games, despite their consistent history of successful Kickstarter Campaigns, and as a result of that newsletter mention, that signal boost led to my backing one of my favorite 5e supplements to date.
Realism and Risk
You should be incredibly wary of the campaigns which claim that they don’t have any risks going forward. Frankly speaking, a team would not be doing a Kickstarter campaign if there were no risk in a project. Look for honest assessments of a team’s capabilities, which don’t undermine the promise of a project. If a risk is serious enough to severely impact a project, look for what the creators say they’re doing to mitigate those challenges.
For example: Mysteries of the Yokai, a tabletop RPG developed by Warding Circle (good friends of mine in Redmond, WA), faced several challenges as first-time RPG publishers, such as printing logistics, a need for additional art, and closing rounds of playtesting. Without delving too deep into the specifics of their solutions, Warding Circle addressed these issues and how they believed they were equipped to handle them. As a result, while there have been delays in the project, backers have been kept up-to-date in the developments regarding the book, and Warding Circle has delivered
Rewards: Prices and Delivery Dates
When considering whether or not to back a Kickstarter campaign, you’ll naturally think about how much you’re willing to contribute towards the campaign, and whether or not the promised rewards are worth the price tag. Kickstarter’s mantra is “Kickstarter is not a store,” but let’s face it – almost everyone is a backer anticipating the campaign’s rewards. Not only should you consider how much you’re willing to spend and what rewards the campaign offers at that pledge level, but whether that promised reward seems to match the contribution required. Barring extras, backing at a print level for a 5e supplement should cost roughly the same(or a little higher) than an official 5e product of comparable size. If a price is significantly lower than you would expect, it can be an indicator that the Kickstarter campaign is being managed by someone less experienced. If a reward’s price is significantly higher, the project creator may be padding these numbers for safety or to compensate for a higher production cost.
Another important aspect of a campaign to examine is the delivery date for the rewards you’re interested in. Since digital rewards are almost free to reproduce and deliver, you should expect digital products to have much faster release dates and lower price tags than their physical counterparts. Kickstarter campaigns almost never deliver on-time, so pad any delivery date and don’t make any plans involving the product until it is firmly in your hands.
For example: The only campaign I have seen delivered squarely on-time has been EN5ider’s A Touch of Class, in which the physical product was practically ready to ship before the campaign began. Because EN5ider finished developing the supplement’s content long before A Touch of Class came to Kickstarter, they e-mailed digital copies of the supplement to all backers immediately after the campaign closed and mailed physical copies within the month. If a creator states that a product is ready to ship, that can be a good sign, but be wary! “Almost ready” is NEVER the same as “ready,” and that assumes that additional complications won’t crop up.
Let’s say you’ve found a Kickstarter project which interests you, it offers a reward for an amount of money you’re comfortable pledging, and its delivery date sounds reasonable. Before you start entering your payment information and confirming your pledge, consider the team producing the product. While Kickstarter and other crowdfunding venues can democratize the creative process, crowdfunding opens the floodgate to individuals who may not be able to deliver on overambitious promises.
Dissect a creator’s history on Kickstarter – have they executed crowdfunding campaigns before? Have they been around before the beginning of this project, or is this their first attempt at a product? What experience or skills does the team have? If they’ve attempted a crowdfunding project in the past, be sure to examine that campaign’s page.
Serious red flags could be:
- cancellation before a campaign closed, indicating lack of interest in the project or other life factors
- multiple severe or unexpected delays, long periods of inactivity from the account
- consistently irate comments after a project’s funding period has concluded (Take these comments with a grain of salt! Commenters are the backers with the most overwhelmingly positive or negative opinions).
For example: Hunters Mark, a Kickstarter which funded in September 2016, estimated a delivery date for physical products in January 2017. When I backed the project, I noted that Game Natural had prior crowdfunding experience, two canceled projects, which I should have considered to be a warning sign. At first, the creator delayed the product’s release, claiming to have burned his hand in an accident, to a specific date in April. That creator-imposed deadline passed by, and months more, with no word from the creator. The lack of communication left the community feeling incredibly distrustful, and several backers came to assume that the project was either a scam or abandoned. As of October 2017, Game Natural has released the digital version of the project and has started and completed another wave of crowdfunding(for more print copies of the same book) with no discussion about delivering the physical books. Whether or not the project will ever deliver final copies has yet to be seen, but my biggest regret about backing the project is ignoring the warning signs that I had observed when researching Game Natural.
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of “too long; didn’t read,” so even this summary section will be a bit lengthy. Crowdfunding is a potent tool which has made it incredibly easy for a creator to test the waters before committing too much money to a project. However, this accessibility also means that a consumer must account for the fact that they are backing the development of a product rather than purchasing it. When considering whether or not to support a project, make sure to do your homework – you may find a good deal for an exciting product, but you are always taking a gamble when you pledge money. Don’t make pledges with firm expectations regarding dates – Kickstarter is not a website to buy gifts for a particular event or holiday, and you’ll have to be flexible about delays once your money has left your hands. Since the website doesn’t verify any claims made by a project’s creators, Kickstarter will not offer you any protection for a campaign. Use your best judgment and support projects which earn your confidence.
Speaking of crowdfunding, it would be negligent of me to not mention TBM Games’ Patreon. Your support through Patreon helps me sustain this site and continue to write quality articles.