Monday, May 20

Our Kickstarter Experience

If you've been reading this blog for years you'll know I was very wary/disparaging of Kickstarter in the past. Last November Paul and I ran a Kickstarter and we're now just over half-way through fulfilling 325 backers with lovingly hand-crafting board games.

So what changed? What was it like eating humble pie? Now that six months have passed how do I feel about it?

As I've said in the past there were a few things about Kickstarter that put me off:
  • It lowered the bar to publishing so low that games that possibly shouldn't have been made are being made,
  • As a publisher, you go into it not knowing what you're on the hook for until it closes, and
  • You owe people stuff for months (or maybe even years).

So how do those concerns tally with our experience?

I still maintain there are a lot of games being made that wouldn't have seen the light of day via a traditional publisher. Arguably FlickFleet is one of them. Some people will say that's a good thing, removing the gatekeepers and letting more projects see the light of day that would never have been picked up. Others will say that there are too many games being released and lots of those are weak. I don't really play enough new games to be able to make an informed decision on this, but probably lean towards the latter despite having benefited from the former!

My concerns about what you're getting into were mostly around stretch goals. You see loads of projects that have a vast range of rewards and various expansions or extra pieces or upgrades that become available as stretch goals. Had we run one of those campaigns (FlickFleet was a pretty vanilla campaign), I might have more opinion on this; but it's related to the biggest negative for me and Paul: will we/won't we. For all but the last 4 hours of a 720 hour campaign our project hadn't funded. Even for those last four hours we were still so close to the target that a couple of cancellations (of which we had loads including a couple after funding!) could have sunk us. The toll on our mental health was terrible. It was so stressful. I was checking the funding total on my phone at a very unhealthy frequency. We'd had to set quite a high target to fund the laser cutter and all the materials, plus leave enough in the pot after Kickstarter fees to cover shipping 275 games - it was a stretch, and one that we only just managed to reach.

All of that was very stressful. Even the green bit!

The final concern is something that is probably not a concern at all for most people, but I don't like owing people for things. On the day we funded we were suddenly indebted to 319 people to the tune of £11,891. I'm not comfortable with that. I've chosen to clearly spell out how much we owe in our bookkeeping so I can see what is hanging over me and watch it decrease by a few hundred pounds every week. This affects other decisions I make too - we've had numerous people ask to upgrade their pledges after the Kickstarter closed. We're not using a pledge manager, so I've just been making a note against their pledge. We could charge them at the point they requested it, but that would increase the debt, rather than reduce it - and I'm not fine with that. So instead I've been charging people at the point that I'm ready to ship their pledge. We'll probably lose a few upgrades that way, but I'd rather that than sit on people's cash for months and add to my mental burden about the debt.

So was there anything good about Kickstarter? There were definitely benefits! Kickstarter allowed us to make 400 copies of FlickFleet for a personal outlay of £480, rather than a £10,000 one. Which made it a possibility. In addition, about 35% of the backers found us through Kickstarter - we went into the Kickstarter with a mailing list of 136 people: way, way too small to be successful. Plus the Kickstarter timeline encouraged our supporters to help us raise the money in time, focusing their (and our) efforts to get us the backers we needed to be successful during the funding window.

In hindsight, it was an awful experience (due to the stress) and a lot of my fears were realised, but FlickFleet wouldn't exist without it, so on balance it's a good thing!


Alex Bardy said...

I have always been on the fence about KS because it's a double-edged blade, and a dangerous one at that. This was an honest assessment of 'the state of play' for FlickFleet, I think, but you do make a good point that KS enabled all of this. I genuinely believe no other crowd funding platform could have achieved this for you, and a loan from the bank would have left you with a debt lasting much longer than you'd ever be comfortable with, and with no guarantees that FlickFleet would have made any impression at all on an unforgiving and largely transient audience if it had happened at all. If nothing else, the KS platform deserves its status as a vehicle to help make creative dreams a reality. I appreciate KS campaigns are fraught with difficulty and extremely stressful (unhealthily so), but I guess the only caveat is whether you as the creator (or one of them) believe it was all worth it. By the sounds of it, you do, which is great. The bigger eye-opener would have probably been how you would have dealt with a failure to fund, but to be fair KS allows you to do this with minimal outlay, albeit maybe a battered ego! The strength of the platform (and those who choose to use it) is in giving people the chance to get back up again for a 2nd or 3rd go if they have the drive and conviction to do so. That all said, I'd agree that some projects probably should never have become a reality, but alas that comes down to people's choice. The best thing we can hope for is that the good ones (like FlickFleet) rise above the clutter instead of forming part of it. Well done, and congrats again on a great project and a cracking game.

Jackson Pope said...

Thanks Alex!

It is indeed a double-edged sword. You're right about the no other platform bit. One of the reasons my previous company, Reiver Games, failed was the ongoing drain of loan repayments slowly sapping the capital I needed for new projects. Kickstarter's community of game-backers were a large part of the reason FlickFleet was successful - allowing us to share our project with them and get them interested and excited about FlickFleet was definitely key to our success, in a way that throwing life-savings or a bank loan at the problem wouldn't help with at all.