5 Lessons Learned from a First Time Kickstarter Project that Funded

The Wyrd of Stromgard is my first major project as a game designer. It’s still hard to call myself that, given my inexperience, but after a nervous breakdown and leaving my ‘normal adult’ job, I’ve kind of thrown all my chips into it.

Stromgard started out like any other TTRPG setting- it was a rough-spun campaign I had made up for a Norse themed Dungeon World campaign with a heavy focus on the literary myths I’d studied as a college student. It had spent some time on the shelf before my partner and I realized we might be able to flesh it out into a fully published project. Because crowdfunding options are more flexible and plentiful now than ever before, we had a straight shot to take this campaign and develop it into a fully formed TTRPG supplement.

We learned a ton, of course, and here are five things you should think about before setting your board game or TTRPG concept up onto a crowdfunding platform.

1. Scope: It was really important that we manage our time well as we deliberated on what would be an appropriate funding goal and project size to work with. As a new publisher, we wanted goals that were satisfying for backers but also feasible for us- a two person team with limited resources. At the end of the projects, we spent hundreds of hours designing, writing, publishing, and marketing and we scraped very slim profits (significantly less than minimum wage per hour worked) after everything was said and done. We did expect that, of course, and we consider the project to be a success, but not a lot of people are open about final numbers and the cost of running a similar project. The bottom line is that if you don’t manage your project’s scope from the onset, you’re going to work a lot more for less. Stromgard’s success hinged on our achievable funding goal and making sure that we were committed to our goals as far as depth and intricacy went in the game itself.

2. Advertising: You have to do whatever you can realistically afford but it needs to be relevant, and high quality. For Stromgard, we used Reddit ads, built a mailing list by asking people on social media to join and leaving a sign up form on our website. We also tried to engage with audiences in meaningful ways- we’d contribute to discussions about RPGs as opposed to leaving links to the project everywhere. Places like Reddit are especially leery of self-promo so we made sure that when we posted or submitted articles they were high quality and relevant. We had a very small budget for advertising so we had to rely on “guerrilla” marketing. The mailing list turned out to be one of the more effective tools we leveraged- you can use a service like Malichimp for free and people who are earnestly interested in the project can sign up for your tailor-made newsletters/updates. We had the highest conversion rates here, almost everyone who signed up for our emails backed our project.

3. Pre-Production Numbers: This might be the most important pre-launch factor in deciding to pursue a board game or TTRPG to publication via crowdfunding. For Stromgard, we had to research every single minutiae of the project’s full and entire scope. We wanted to offer bonuses for backers in the form of GM screens and printed maps so not only did we need to research publishing costs, book dimensions (for shipping), and packaging solutions, we needed to consider artwork, separate printing/shipping/packaging costs for each extra physical item we wanted to ship. Figuring out how to efficiently collapse items also gave us a better idea of what we were working with. It’s really difficult to get these numbers 100% accurate at the planning stage, but the more research you do the more you can maximize your project’s funds. Also, you’ll want to research what to do in case your project is a wild success and you end up needing more robust production/shipping options. Just in case. 🙂

4. Shipping is a Nightmare, Prepare Now: If you plan on shipping internationally, you’ll need to do some research into the wide world of customs importation laws, VAT taxes, and costs. Domestic still has its challenges of course, and you’ll want to leverage low-cost options if your country offers them (the United States offers a low-cost Media Mail option for books and educational materials, for instance). Consider reaching out to fulfillment centers to save some money on long-distance shipping, though they may have minimum order requirements. You’ll need to factor every single cent you could spend on shipping as accurately as humanly possible and include that as part of your funding goal. Many indie (and even mainstream) board games are designed entirely around boxed shipping dimensions to maximize product for shipping costs incurred. The bottom line is, the more you know at this stage, the better prepared you’ll be to deliver a product without spending all of your funds on outrageous shipping costs.

5. Engage, Engage, Engage: I’m always surprised this is a repeat topic when discussing Kickstarter games. Backers don’t like being left in the dark about a project’s progress so make sure you keep them updated regularly. We were very lucky to have very fun and interested backers during Stromgard’s campaign and their enthusiasm helped us maintain sales after the initial crowdfunding was over. During the weeks the campaign was live we sent out a backer update once a week going over the campaign status PLUS another update for any funding or backer milestones they hit just to keep them up to date. We also personally thanked each backer privately for supporting us, set up a Discord channel for them to talk to us or ask more questions, and responded earnestly to feedback. During the shipping phase, some logistical misunderstandings happened that gave our Australian backers a four-week delay on getting the product. We emailed each one immediately to explain the situation and preemptively thank them for their patience. They were very understanding, of course, but it goes to show that being a little proactive in keeping communications open can circumvent a PR disaster. Even now that the campaign’s over, I still send out mailing list communications about once a month, detailing where Stromgard’s at now and other relevant projects they may be interested in and almost no one has unsubscribed.

Crowdfunding is a fantastic avenue for board games and TTRPGs to find their market and now it’s easier than ever before to put a viable project together and get it in front of interested backers. The Wyrd of Stromgard went from a one-off campaign to fully fledged setting, published and shipped internationally thanks to a relatively small number of generous and committed backers.

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