Ecognomics of a Kickstarter

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Later this year, our group hopes to launch a grand kickstarter for

the Skeleton Crew PRG. We’ve got high hopes. We’ve got big dreams. We want to do it just right; so much so that we’re launching a second kickstarter before it, just to test the waters. I’ve read all of the blogs, heard the panels.

I am still shaking like a newb.

So, this is not a blog from a kickstarter veteran, saying how they got all-the-moneys. Rather, this is the step-by-step brainstorm, so you can see the planning process for yourself… specially, in how to avert Ecognomics.

What are Ecognomics?

Some of you might be old enough to remember the South Park episode with the Underpants Gnomes. If you’ve never seen the episode, the pivotal scene with them plays out as follows…The underpants gnomes, after amassing a large amount of stolen underpants, present their cunning business plan:

Phase 1. Collect underpants

Phase 2. ???

Phase 3. Profit

It’s a silly bit, but I’ve heard that economists and business theorists have actually latched on to it in serious lectures. Personally, I call it “The Underpants Plan,” or Ecognomics.

Who is Guilty of using Ecognomics?A lot of independent artists and creators, sadly. I’ve been on a lot of web comic panels, in which someone in the audience asks, “How do you make money?” The knee-jerk reaction from artists is to laugh, but that could be out of nervousness.

The problem is many creators think that there’s a direct correlation between Product and Profit. They have Phase 1 and Phase 3, but they fail to consider part two. Of course, at least those artists have gone ahead to think about Phase 1: a Product. I remember before the Dot-com bubble burst, some people thought you could launch a website, slap a Paypal donation button on it, and they’d be showered in money.

With Kickstarter, the same pitfalls occur. There are people who think that all they need is a product, launch a kickstarter, and you’ll have a profit. (Again, some don’t even think too hard about the product.)So, I don’t have all three phases planned out, but I’ll walk you through my ponderings.

PHASE 1 – COLLECT UNDERPANTS (Figuratively Speaking)

The first part is to clarify what the product you are selling is. With us, we’re relatively confident about this: it’s an rpg book, using the Fate Core rule system. The setting is based on our webcomic series, Skeleton Crew. Of course, there are still a few things to figure out.

Labels – This issue is mostly resolved, but it wasn’t when we started the project: we had to clearly define the genre of the setting in order to best promote it. We originally called it “Comedy / Horror,” but that didn’t seem to go over well. While there are definitely a few horror elements in the comic, and optional rules for running scary adventures, my cowriters convinced me that the “horror” tag wasn’t accurate. We’re now promoting the rpg as “Supernatural Comedy.”

Stand Alone or Supplement – Shortly into the RPG’s production, we settled on using Evil Hat’s Fate system- it wasn’t too crunchy, we (a bunch of writers) loved the story-telling basis, and the creators were generous to offer it to the Open Gaming License, making it free to use. To add icing to the cake, the Fate Core kickstarter practically exploded.

hipster elves

<hipster moment> Yeah, you heard me- we liked Fate BEFORE it was cool </hipster moment>.While I’ve seen a few kickstarters that offer to add other systems on as a stretch goal, we have decided NOT to make SC for any other system at this time (except a possible FAE side version). If your book can be so easy ported from one system to another, then how much attention did you really pay to that system?The question becomes whether to make it as a “supplement” or as a stand-alone. It’s a fat book already, roughly 350 pages. To make it a “stand-alone” book would require adding additional 100-200 pages, greatly raising the print cost. It would make it more accessible to newcomers, but most of our target audience is experienced gamers who already own the Fate Core rulebook anyway. We’re polling playtesters for their opinion. Speaking of which…

> Playtesters & edits– The last steps are to playtest the stuffing out of it, and edit the feedback into a cohesive book. Easy, right? *nervous cough*

That’s it for the Underpants. On to…

PHASE 2 – ??????

If this were a REAL economics plan, I suspect the middle area is for revenue. For non-business folks like me, that’s “money made before factoring cost.” In regards to kickstarter, it also means, “having a variety of backer levels and add-ons, providing each backer an opportunity to spend exactly the amount of money they are willing to part with.” If the only levels are cheap, you risk losing potential profit. If the only levels are expensive, you risk it all. I’m leaving the ???? in, as it also covers all sorts of other pre- & mid- Kickstarter factors. Like most brainstorms, and keeping with the ‘YES AND’ spirit, the “????” section shall include any ideas, no matter how ridiculous. This is the “yes, we can!” section… (save the “no, we can’t. Really.” for the “Profit” section.) I’ll start with our thoughts for the kickstarter levels.Backer Levels – The first thing to consider for the kickstarter is the basic backer levels. These are the Core levels, ignoring other “throw in one more thing!” Here are the very basic, platonic levels:

  • Impulse Buy
  • Electronic Version
  • Paper Version
  • Special Edition
  • More Money Than God Version

Impulse Buy – Costs a very small amount, which is very good for people who are unsure of the product, broke, or are generous relatives who want to help but could care less about the product. For our version, I think we’re going to take a lesson from Tianxia’s fantastic kickstarter, and give anyone who pledges a small amount ($1-2) gets a copy of the rough draft Beta rulebook pdf. It’s a great way to lure impulse buyers, costs us nothing, and gives the backer a product immediately after they pledge (rather than having to wait for months until the product is finished before the backer receives anything.)

Electronic Version – A digital version- in this case, a pdf of the finished product. Fortunately, Tangent Artists is lucky enough to have a publishing miracle-worker on team, so the layout can be done in house. A pdf is beautiful thing, in regards to profit, but more on that in Phase 3. At the moment, the goal is to have a B&W book with lots of art. For a creepy setting like ours, B&W is perfect, in that it helps capture the mood, and easier on the artists. We plan to have original art by one or two artists, supplemented by art from the webcomic itself. This would likely be in B&W, although, if we’re pulling images from the webcomic, we COULD make the pdf B,W & red.

Paper Version – A physical version of the book printed and mailed. Unless we hit ALL DA STRETCH GOALS, it seems unlikely that the supplemental material will be in print form.

Special Edition – This would be supplemental material tied in directly to the product itself. Some brainstormed ideas:

Art – Prints of the art itself. (May not do this, as shipping art without creasing it is a pain). Maybe the cover art for the book?

Comics – We’re hoping to do a big compilation book of our first few issues of the Skeleton Crew Comic, in a volume called the Necronomnibus. Likely in B&W, to save cost. Luckily, this one doesn’t require much in the ways of creating a new product, which is nice, and it printing in bulk is much cheaper than individually.

-Gaming Extras – If our Kickstarter for Fate Accompli, dry-erasable Fate cards, is successful, then these would be a great add-on.

-Artsy Odds-and-Ends – Any other art-related material, such as keychains, postcards, etc. As I am not an artist, I won’t insist on these, nor will we make these a priority if there’s not demand for it.

However, I remember one kickstarter panelist, who shared a great nugget. He advised against writing new novels as stretch goals to an rpg book. This was his litmus:

– if the supplement is stand-alone (i.e. doesn’t require / build on the base kickstarter), and requires work as much work to finish as the base kickstarter, why doesn’t it have a kickstarter of it’s own?Thus, adding a stand-alone novel is way too much energy to invest on something that doesn’t add to the product. (Of course, if you wrote the novel already, that might be a different matter.)
-Rules Supplements – This is where I have even BIGGER plans and schemes. Here are some wild ideas. These would expand the current rules for new locations and subgenres. Some of the ideas we’re batting around include:

– Guest Authors – Getting outside authors to write additional material for the setting. If we can get well known authors, to draw in more backers, all the better. And while we’re dreaming the impossible dream, we even hope to PAY our staff and guest authors. This would definitely beat the old system of having writers work for free, for credit, or for reassurances that their loved ones will be returned safely (mwah ha ha).
-Adventures – One-shot adventures for players. I’ve definitely a few that I’ve run before that would be great, including Fright at the Museum and the Revenge of Blackstache.

– New Locations – A fairy-focused setting, set in the West Coast, written by our very own Rachael. Several working titles, including “Triskelion.” We’re also considering: a Road Trip Campaign book (WIP title: Highway to Hell, Globe-rotters), with scatterings of monsters from all over the USA or the world; also, a setting focusing on beings from Japanese and Chinese myths.

-New Sourcebooks – A Lovecraft book (because, as we all know, if you want a kickstarter to succeed, throw in an Old One)… the working title is “The Madness of the Color on the Doorstep of the Dark”; a sci-fi 1950s B-movie book “It Came From Science!”; a source book on ancient religions, demigods, demons, cambions, nephilim and angels; a setting in the land of Cockaigne.

-New Twists – Several ideas: Paranormal Investigators – A procedural, monster-of-the-week setting, a la X-Files & Nightstalker. Would likely use a system similar to Atomic Robo’s “Brainstorm” mechanic, assuming our version wasn’t TOO similar (Robo isn’t in Open License); a rule-set for familiars and lesser demons, with a Pokemon-esque “snatch-em all” rule set; Giant, city-smashing monsters (because: giant monsters).

-Rule Adaptations – Attempts to incorporate existing rules from other Fate Core games into SC, assuming we are not violating or infringing on any rights. These might include: Skill modes; super powers / super stunts; Fate Accelerated version.

– Supplemental Info – Languages – A guide to the many real (and fictional) ancient languages, from Rongorongo, to Atlantean, to Epoch. Might have rules, but possibly rules agnostic.

– Characters – Extra mortal states and professions that didn’t fit in our (already bulging) rulebook. We might release it by itself, or might save some of the characters to drop in with supplements that fit the theme.

-Campaign Books – Fate doesn’t really lend itself really well for pre-made campaigns, but I would enjoy an expanded setting based on the Lost Continent of Lemuria.

More Money Than God Version – Generally, these are levels that most people can’t afford, but would be fun anyway. And since we’re not throwing out any ideas here:

– Personal Touch – I, Dave Joria, will official skype / drive / fly / paraglide to your living room or game store to run a game for you.

– Commission Normal – Our artists will draw every member of your party.

– Commission – Published! – Our artists will base one of the character designs in the finished book off of one of the pre-constructed characters off of YOU.

-Comic Star – We will write and draw a 4-page comic based on your skeleton crew characters.

– City of Dreams – I will create a brand new city location just for you and your party.

– Sup it Up – I will design an entire supplement for YOU- rules, characters, monsters, settings, plot points, you name it, we make it.

– We’re Really Reaching Here – I will dress as a zombie and do a happy little dance just for YOU!

– Unholy Rites – I will build a dark shrine to your honor, and sacrifice a goat, chicken or watermelon to you, while chanting in an Eldritch tongue (and film it.)

That’s all of the odd-ball ideas I have for the moment. Next year, I’ll be crunching Phase: Profit!

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