Hey, I’m Liam. I’m the lead designer at Sandy Pug Games, and I’ve successfully kickstarted 4 projects, and my 5th is looking pretty good. Kickstarter is kind of the door to indie publishing right now, and lets a lot of people make some amazing things without going through the traditional publishing route. I get asked a lot of questions about the platform and how to succeed on it. Lets chat.
Before we start, I wanna preface this with a quick note. I attribute an enormous percent of my success to luck and factors entirely outside of my control. The answers I’m about to give are opinions, and the only real, honest and completely true answer I can give is “I don’t know, but here’s what I think.” The scary truth is no one really knows how to win Kickstarter other than “start with a big following and a lot of money.” This info is also gonna be inherently all about tabletop RPGs, that’s where my experience is.
Question 1: How Do I Figure Out My Budget?
I was kinda surprised at how often I get this one, but I can see why it’d be confusing. There’s a few pitfalls I see people falling into too, like forgetting taxes and such.
An exact accounting is going to take a bit of time, and you’re gonna wanna do a lot of research on your options. I start with an excel or google sheets file and make a list of everything I’ll need for a project — a rough idea of my artist’s rates, my writer’s rates, my cut (PAY YOURSELF), printing costs, any stretch goal ideas, etc — and then I get to work getting solid numbers for each of those. Then I add an overestimate for the taxes I’d owe on the project. That last part can be hard to do, and you might wanna talk to an actual accountant for it. Remember that just because you’ll be paying people doesn’t mean you won’t owe money to the IRS. You don’t want tax season to roll around and eat the money you set aside for yourself or some part of the project!
I take all that and add an extra 20%, affectionately named the “Uh-Oh” fund. Primarily this covers Kickstarter fees (10%, basically), then gives me a lil wiggle room in case of problems. I will expand this fund if its a project I’m maybe not super experienced in, or if I perceive, for some reason, a larger risk.
And that gives me a basic budget.
Aside: A lot of people get twigged with shipping. Shipping is a nightmare to estimate especially if you’re doing international shipping. Always overestimate, always have a backup fund. Double and triple check your shipping numbers cause nothing sinks projects faster than this.
Question 2: How Much Do I Need To Make In My First 48 Hours/How Much Can I Expect In My Final 72 Hours?
The easy answer here:
20–40% in the first 48. 20–30% in your final 72.
The more complicated answer is “It depends”. You can succeed on a project if you’ve missed that window. Its a hard, uphill struggle, but I’ve done it. You need a lot of community, and you need to bust your ass, and you’ll age like 10 years and you might still miss cause so much of this is down to luck. But you don’t have to give up.
Here’s a link to a report that digs into the exact numbers. Really helpful. Big takeaways is that the final 72 is tilted towards being underwhelming, so keep that in mind.
In my experience, one thing you can count on is about 20–25% of your followers backing in the last 72 as well.
Oh, and just because I can’t fit it in elsewhere — I don’t see a bump when the project funds. A lot of people say that funded projects get more backers than unfunded ones but that seems a little tautological.
Question 3: How Do I Promote My Project?
Start as soon as you have the idea. Join communities, discords, facebook groups, twitter circles, subreddits and post. Post your thoughts about games, shitpost, talk about books and movies you like. Whatever. Get involved, make friends. Then in 2–3 months talk about your Kickstarter that’s launching soon.
I recognize this is absolutely useless advice to anyone preparing for a kickstarter soon, I do. I read this sort of thing years ago and was frustrated by it. I’m starting my project next week damnit! Help!
And, well, sorry. It sucks but there is nothing that can replace this as your primary source of backers. Be genuine, be yourself, make friends, and ask them for help.
Otherwise, reach out to every podcast you can find that fits your project and write a personalized message about why you think they’d be interested in your project. Record a short video of yourself and your friends playing your game to show it off and post it around when you promote the game. Post about your game on the various Kickstarter News groups out there. It’s often frowned upon to post about your own projects on, like, Reddit and RPGNet, so just do what everyone else does — get a friend to do it. This means you need a friend with a reddit account or an RPGNet account tho.
I’ll say straight up here though — the rate of return is pretty low on podcasts and being featured on websites. I’ve had my games linked on Geek&Sundry and Forbes and gotten pretty minimal bumps in traffic. Now, maybe my games just suck, but the Trad Games forums on SomethingAwful funded 10% of Americana by themselves, and the San Jenaro Discord chipped in 25% of my funds and are probably responsible for that again purely in links and shares.
The Key, in my experience, is genuine engagement. You can be on the biggest podcast in the world but if the host doesn’t really care, and they don’t promote the episode hard, and you’re not right there in the comments waving your flag? Does nothing for you.
One other thing I do too, as someone without a lot of cash, is scrape together what I can to pay for some big splashy image that shows off the game, world or project in a big exciting way. This can often double as your book’s cover too. Then I use that as the main promotional material when I show off the game.
There’s a really easy myth to fall into that if you can only get a big name on twitter to post about it, you’re gold. This is uh, well, it depends on who posts and how much effort they put in. A retweet from a 10k account won’t make your KS. An impassioned post from a 100k account will take you from a nobody to a minor TTRPG celeb overnight. You can’t rely on this, either way though. These people get a million links a day.
Oh! Make sure you have a preview set of rules for your game. A basic PDF is fine, just show off the system a little.
Question 4: How Do I Price My Tiers?
As high as you think people will pay for it, as low as you think you can go while still getting paid.
Deeply unhelpful, I know, lets dig down a little.
Come up with a number for your base product. Do some research, figure out what similar people price their books, or games, or whatever. Now divide your budget by that. That’s how many backers you need to find for your project to succeed. Is this a number you think you can pull to the project, given your reach, communities and so on? If so, congrats, you know what to price your tiers!
If the number seems too high or too low, you might want to fiddle with the pricing, see if there’s room to fix that without cutting into your production costs.
As for other tiers — I like to have a $1–5 “Follow Along” tier, and I usually donate that cash to a local charity or cause. I tend to have a Print and Play or PDF option, with a “Down on your luck” option if possible that has a small discount for people struggling to make ends meet. I’ll often put a “Signed Copy” option where applicable for folx who want to support the game and get my dogs pawprint and price this at around 40–50% more than than the base copy.
I also like tiers that put people into the book. These are super useful if you get clever and factor them into the base art budget of the game in the first place. People, in my experience, are willing to pay up to $250~ to have their OCs and portraits in a game they like.
What I don’t see working very often are expensive “Play the game with the designer!” tiers. Unless you’re Matt Mercer or someone very popular, skip these. Consider instead a “Design something for the game” tier. They tend to work better and are cheap for you to implement. My current project has a tier where, for $150, people can give me the name, animal and class for a card. It’s sold out, and cost me $0 extra to bundle in.
Question 5: Are Paid Ads, Streams, and Podcasts Worth It?
Nah. At least on the lower end of things.
At least for the budgets that I have and what I assume you have, the best ads I’ve ever had were on Facebook, using hyper specific targeting. Otherwise they were a waste of money. The Facebook ones tended to get me enough backers to make back the money I spent and then a lil more. That might be worth it for you. I’d be cautious unless you have a bulky ad budget.
I paid $600 to several outlets to livestream one of my projects, and saw less than 10 backers from the effort. There’s some value in having the videos themselves, and having some noise about the project from the people posting it, but it’s up to you if that’s worth the asking price.
It’s worth mentioning here though — most of these people aren’t scams or anything. They’re just running a business, and how much their services are worth are, ultimately, up to you. Look at their Twitters and Facebooks, see how engaged their fanbase is. Don’t just look at follower counts, look at how many comments and shares and likes they get. 25k followers means nothing if every project they plug gets 1 retweet and a comment saying “SPAM?! HOW DO I UNSUBSCRIBE!?”
Question 6: Do I Need A Video?
There’s a stat out there somewhere on the Kickstarter info pages that says something like
“70% of all successful projects have a video”
What I want you to take away from this question is that this statement doesn’t say “70% of all projects with videos succeed”. Projects with videos succeed more often for a ton of reasons. They’re often run by people with more initial funds, it tends to indicate the people running the project have put more work generally into the pitch, etc. A video is a very valuable asset, but its misleading to say you need one to win.
That said, I do recommend you make one. My advice would be to try and break the mold a little. Everyone makes videos of themselves talking directly to the camera, explaining their game in a dry tone. I get why they do, its easy and low-cost, but it’s also boring as hell. Try and spice it up a little. I’m lucky enough to know a lot of acting and video production people, so the videos for Americana, Disposable Heroes, and Heists, were all like mini movies, but even the video for Orc Stabr was a funny little goof-fest designed to get people sold on the concept.
Avoid slideshows, try to make something fun that tells people what kind of a creator you are and shows off how optimistic and excited you are for the project. Maybe even try and show off the world a little in a clever war. Dress up, get your friends to help. Have fun with it.
Question 7: What Can I Do To Break Through The Mid-Campaign Slump?
Let me start off by explaining what this is.
Weeks 1 and 4 are an electric time on the platform. Numbers are going everywhere, people are (hopefully) talking about your project, podcasts and reviews are going up, comments are coming in. It’s exhausting, but its a thrill.
Weeks 2 and 3 are also exhausting, but with absolutely none of the fun.
Try to relax, take some of these days off for yourself. Take care of your mental health as best you can. Maybe have some friends over to distract yourself from the project — there is really only so much you can do, and endlessly tweeting or refreshing isn’t going to help one way or another. I know this may seem silly to anyone who hasn’t run one of these, but those 2–3 weeks are genuinely some of the most mentally damaging experiences I’ve had in my professional career. Do the best you can and take some comfort in knowing you’ve done everything you could.
Make up magic spells
We wear them like protective shells
Land-mines on the battlefield
Find the one safe way
And stay alive
Just stay alive
There are more questions, of course. I just get these ones a lot. Ultimately I was very lucky to succeed where I did, and I have a lot of my friends to thank for that. If you’d like some help with your project, you can always reach out to me at @SandyPugGames on twitter.
Liam Ginty is a games designer at Sandy Pug Games. Writer of Orc Stabr, Americana and The Roleplayers Guide To Heists. When he’s not writing games or refreshing his latest kickstarter, he talks about Space Settlement, reads about hardware hacking, and tries to get around to beating Panzer Dragoon Saga.