How a velociraptors vs. cockroaches showdown raised $105,881 on Kickstarter

Kickstarter Advice

When Newton-based game designer Kevin Kulp wanted funding to turn the text manuscript of TimeWatch, a tabletop “Investigative Time-Travel” role-playing game, into a printed/digital book, rather than look to the game book’s publisher, he turned to crowdfunding site Kickstarter for “backers” — people who would pledge money for the project.

The web page for Kulp’s TimeWatch campaign went live — visible on Kickstarter.com and ready to accept backer pledges — at noon, Tuesday, January 21, 2014.

Thirty-five minutes later, reports Kulp, “the campaign had met the base goal of $4,000 — the minimum amount I’d set.” (If your campaign doesn’t meet that goal, Kickstarter won’t collect and pass along the pledge money.)

By midnight, pledges from 421 backers had brought the total to around $19,000, “unlocking” the first half dozen of the additional “stretch goals” milestones that Kulp had defined.

And by the end of day 31 of the campaign, the TimeWatch Kickstarter campaign had received pledges from 1,980 people, in amounts ranging from $1 to $2,500, for a grant total of $105,881 — 2,647 percent of the original target, and gradually unlocking over fifty stretch goals during the campaign.

Tabletop RPGs: Roll the dice and play

The TimeWatch RPG revolves around alternate history, says Kulp, and “is about sci-fi investigators with a time machine, high-powered weapons and a whole lot of history to save.”

In creating TimeWatch, Kulp used an existing RPG rules system created by Robin D. Laws and designed for running “investigative scenario” games. Pelgrane Press, TimeWatch’s publisher, has half a dozen other games also created using Gumshoe.

In tabletop role-playing-games like TimeWatch, a group of players convenes, typically at a table in either at a player’s home, or at venues like gaming stores and cafes, libraries, after-school clubs, at gaming conventions like Boston’s PAX East and at science fiction conventions like Boston’s Arisia and Boskone. Or, if need be, via phone/webcam videoconferencing. All that’s needed is one or more dice, pencil and paper, and a rulebook, like Kulp’s. The biggest recurring expense is likely to be snacks.

Hundreds of fantasy RPGs have been written, and while many gamers have shifted to computer/online, many — of all ages — still happily get together face-to-face to play tabletop RPGs, along with board- and card-based games.

Milton Griepp, President of ICV2, which provides news and information for pop culture retailers, estimates “Up to a million across the United States might be getting together one or more times a month to play a tabletop RPG.”

“The two ‘big dogs’ of the tabletop RPG world on Pandemonium’s shelves are Dungeons & Dragons, and Pathfinder, followed by another ten or twenty printed book titles,” says Matt Arnold, games manager at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge.

Base and Stretch Goals: Committing what pledges will be used for

Unlike the often general-purpose fund drives from public broadcasting, Kickstarter campaigns must identify what the requested money is for.

“TimeWatch’s base-level goal of $4,000 is for art, layout, production and other freelance services, and having money in hand to pay a printer,” says Kulp. “This makes TimeWatch an ‘it can be done right now’ project, rather than ‘be prepared to wait a year or even two.'”

Like many crowdfund campaigners, Kulp defined a series of “stretch goals” beyond the base level of his campaign’s fund goals. These additional goals get “unlocked” one by one as the pledge total rises.

“Getting more money meant being able to do a hardcover color book instead of a black-and-white perfect bound edition, along with adding over 100 pages of additional material,” says Kulp. Other “unlocked” stretch goals include a tablet-optimized PDF, rules and guidelines for combining Kulp’s time-travel rules with other Gumshoe-based games, a 96-page campaign supplement, and audio add-ons.

Rewards: What the backers get

Many Kickstarter campaigns offer backers “rewards” — something in return, based on the amount pledged, and Kulp’s campaign was no exception.

“For the minimum one-dollar pledge, every backer gets immediate access to an unfinished but playable draft of the game,” says Kulp. $40-and-up backers will get a copy of the TimeWatch book, when it’s printed — and those reward copies will now be hardcover with color, not the originally-planned black-and-white paperback.

Rewards for larger pledges included “Wish You Were Here” TimeWatch postcards, an embossed faux leather cover for the rulebook plus a signed color book plate, custom-written “200-500 word fast-start adventure hooks,” and cameo character requests in the game’s artwork.

And for $2,500, Kulp offered six copies of the book and its extras… and, for backers within North America, “I will come to your home city and run a game for you and your game group,” along with supplying “awesome snack food and/or barbecue.” (Kulp got two backers at this top level.)

(In case you’re interested, although the Kickstarter campaign has closed, it’s not too late to get one of the backer rewards, or upgrade — Pelgrane Press has a web page with their PayPal address and related info.)

One novel twist Kulp included for pledges was that “each dollar also counted as a vote in determining whether the “bad guys” for the initial TimeWatch scenario would be the psychic time-raptors or the giant mutant radioactive cockroaches.”

How to succeed at Kickstarter? By really trying

According to Kickstarter’s Stats page (as of March 6, 2014), only 1,151 of the 57,358 successfully-funded project (ones that met their base goal — versus the 74,590 that didn’t) raised more than $100,000, putting Kulp’s TimeWatch campaign among the top 2 percent of overall Kickstarter campaigns, and within the top 10 percent of the roughly 3,000 games Kickstarter campaigns.

What’s Kulp’s secret? Answer: a mix of preparation, planning, an existing enthusiastic base of fans and connections — and an often-near-full-time direct involvement before and during the month-long campaign.

First, of course, it’s important to understand crowdfunding in general and the one that you plan to use. (There are dozens of crowdfunding sites out there.) Good learning resources include KickStarter’s own Help Center, School and blog. Kulp also recommends Kulp the e-book Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding, by Monte Cook & Shanna Germain($5.99).

Then, plan. “I spent several hours a day for about a month creating and planning the campaign,” says Kulp. The main to-do’s, advises Kulp:

  • Make sure the finances make sense.
  • Plan the stretch goals.
  • Plan the pledge levels and pledge rewards.
  • Record a video and write all the campaign front-page text.

Publicity and awareness is an important part of success. “You can’t just turn the page on and expect people to discover it and pledge,” says Kulp. “You have to promote, and start in advance of opening day.”

Kulp’s pre-campaign publicity was, he says, mostly word-of-mouth via the play-testers, plus some outreach to leading game sites and other forums … plus promoting TimeWatch and the Kickstarter campaign via social media, like to @KevinKulp’s ~1,800 Twitter followers, as well as on Google Plus.

And all this takes time. During the month-long Kickstarter campaign, Kulp estimates he spent an average of four hours a day doing everything from monitoring campaign activity, using KickTraq’s tool, and interacting and answering posts on various RPG fan sites and messages boards and on his own social media accounts.

“The first few days of the campaign I was at my computer and phone almost non-stop for ten to twelve hours,” says Kulp. “You can’t just post your campaign page, sit back, and expect to be noticed, you have to be ready for a lot of one-to-many and one-to-one interactions and responding.”

Although Kulp had made a list of stretch goals before the campaign started, he deliberately initially listed only the first ten or so. “I added the rest throughout the month, as the pledge total passed existing goals,” says Kulp. He typically revealed only three or four new goals at a time — a rate, he says, designed to keep interest high.

For Kulp and Pelgrane Press, the book’s publisher, the crowdfunding planning and campaigning have been worth it, says Kulp. “We’re able to do a more comprehensive, better-looking book, fans will be getting a lot more game to play, and we go to press knowing the book will be financially in the black.”