There has been a lot of attention this year on crowdfunding gaming projects, with Kickstarter being the overwhelming choice of crowdfunding swervice provider. For TJI we decided to go with a different service, IndieGoGo, and given there hasn’t been that much talk about this website I wanted to talk about my experience using it.
Both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are crowdfunding sites giving project managers the tools to hold such campaigns. The biggest difference between them is in the manner in which they handle funds contributed: Kickstarter is a pledge-driven site where unless the set goal is met no funds are disbursed to the project creator, while IndieGoGo is a donation-driven site where funds are disbursed immediately to the creator, with a small bonus if the goal is met before the deadline.
The first question I get asked is, why did we go with IndieGoGo? Kickstarter has a lot of brand recognition in gaming circles due to some high profile projects having reach record-setting funds.[ref]Daniel Solis’ Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Happy Birthday, Robot; Jeremy Keller’s Technoir.[/ref] This decision was one Rich and I discussed at length, trust me. In the end we chose IndieGoGo for one big reason: every gaming-related crowdfunding campaign so far has been for a book, ours would be for a media project.
In short, I wasn’t 100% sure that we would be able to meet our funding goal. With Kickstarter, if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t get any of the pledged funds, meaning our entire strategy of going for fan support instead of corporate backing would’ve backfired and quite likely TJI would not have happened. With IndieGoGo, even if we didn’t meet our goal, whatever was donated was immediately given to us, so we could count with some funds at least.
Did using IndieGoGo hurt us? Hard to say. I know I had to do a lot more explaining about what IndieGoGo was than had we used Kickstarter (and usually I defaulted to, “It’s another website like Kickstarter.”), though the fact that Graham Walmsley had recently completed successfully a campaign on IndieGoGo for his book, Stealing Cthulhu, meant there was some name recognition out there already. I also don’t know to what extend the way funds are handled by IndieGoGo affected our campaign. I have heard/read comments that people prefer the pledge model to the instant donation, but I have no concrete evidence to support that and no comment was ever said to me to that effect (though I’d love to know if that is the case).
In the end we met our goal and even passed it by 33%. I was pleased as punch, honestly, and humbled that people did believe in us enough to give us their money for a product that is topical and of limited duration (unlike, say, a game book). We set a number of reward levels so there would be something for everyone (a lesson I have learned from seeing other crowdfunding projects), and even so on the first day we had a suggestion to modify one of our levels (Sponsor) to make it more affordable and in the end better for us.
The pattern learned from other campaigns, a lot of action at the beginning and the end with a slow-but-steady stream in the middle, held true. We got our first backer in less than an hour after launching and our first Sponsor on the first day. We picked up our Patron before the first week was over. Along the way we had a good number of backers in the default $10 level and the “deluxe” $50, and right at the end, with two days to go, we picked up three Sponsors, including a local Indy business! We even had one backer upgrade to Sponsor level (see below about upgrading) and then cede that slot to a favorite company.
We also sweetened the rewards by reaching out to friends in the game design community. I first reached out to Jeremy Keller, whose Technoir RPG was just about to close when we launched, and asked if he would be interested in helping us out. Jeremy agreed and we added an exclusive Indianapolis Transmission for Technoir[ref]Though this Transmission is indeed exclusive to our campaign, all Technoir Transmissions are released under Creative Commons licensing, so there will be ways to get it even if you did not participate in our campaign.[/ref] to our $10 reward level. I then reached out to David A. Hill, Jr, whose Guestbook RPG provided the perfect opportunity for a neat exclusive reward given its single-page-character all-you-need format. Rich’s co-host on The Voice of the Revolution, Brennan Taylor, then jumped in with a new adventure for his new sci-fi RPG, Bulldogs!, and a new campaign frame for Mortal Coil. These were all added to the $10 reward level in order to make that level enticing. Lastly, Chris Perrin offered a full PDF copy of his MECHA RPG to all $50 reward level backers, as well as a custom-made setting supplement to the Patron level.
We ended up with 48 backers, broken down by levels as follows:
- Fan of the Show ($5): 4 [one upgraded to Friend]
- Friend of the Show ($10): 26
- Supporter of the Show ($50): 9 [one upgraded to Sponsor]
- Sponsor of the Show ($125): 6/7
- Patron of the Show ($500): 1/1
I have not used Kickstarter so my comparison here is based on what I have seen as a backer of other campaigns.
Overall IndieGoGo was very easy to use and provided good tools to manage the campaign. Setting up the campaign was a matter of filling out a series of blanks over a number of tabs/categories, ensuring I hit all the necessary information. The hardest part was coming up with all the reward levels but that’s gonna be an issue for any campaign regardless of site used, I think. Financial info setup was extremely easy as I was using PayPal as my account; I had also the option of using a bank account but PayPal just made things a lot easier, especially as final funds for the campaign would be divided among three people. This is one of the biggest differences with Kickstarter, which uses only Amazon Payments.[ref]For non-US residents, IndieGoGo is the only option, as Kickstarter also requires a US-based bank account.[/ref]
Once the campaign launched, I had tools to promote it right from the campaign page, including sending out notices to social media, embedding widgets (see the image above), and sending emails. I could also create Updates that would post on the site and go out via email to all backers, as well as a section for Comments, which allowed us a way to interact with our backers more publicly. The dashboard has a little To-Do link that keeps you updated on things to do to promote your campaign when it launches and as it progresses, which I found handy. We also received some help from IndieGoGo via their Twitter account, which both re-tweeted one of our tweets and then featured us as the Twitter Campaign of the Day on July 7th.
The dashboard let me track all funds by backer/reward level and also kept track of all the backer’s info which I could then export to a CSV spreadsheet. Since funds donated are immediately disbursed, I could keep track of all backings as they happened via email. The funds would go into my PayPal account,[ref]E-checks, of which we got one, take a couple days to clear, but that’s a PayPal end-of-things issue, not an IndieGoGo one.[/ref] the fees to IndieGoGo would be automatically paid via PayPal as well, freeing me from having to calculate and remember to pay them. IndieGoGo’s fee is 9% of any funds donated; if you meet your goal before deadline, they give you back 5%, effectively making their fee only 4%. PayPal charges its own fees on all payments as well, which would vary whether the payment was made via PayPal balance or credit card. In general, we got about 90% of the funds donated, the other 10% being fees.
There were two drawbacks that I found dealing with IndieGoGo:
- No Way to Upgrade: Because IndieGoGo deals with actual money disbursed and not pledges, upgrading between reward levels isn’t as easy as with Kickstarter. I offered the option to upgrade by telling people to donate the difference between their current level and the one they wanted to upgrade to, and making a comment about their intent. I had to keep track of that info myself, as the comments were not a field included in the info gathered by the dashboard. Thankfully there were only two upgrades so it was easy. I would like to see IndieGoGo address this. The system can track what you already funded, so it would be a matter of adding the option to add the difference to a higher reward level.[ref]I say this not knowing a fig about what it would take to code this feature, but I am sure it can be done.[/ref] A lot of potential money is left on the table because this option cannot be exploited, and I have seen firsthand how effective it can be in some Kickstarter campaigns.
- No Way to Contact Backers Post-Campaign: Updates do indeed go out via email to all backers, but post-campaign you sometimes need to get in touch with them for info like their shirt sizes, mailing address, etc, which you ideally want to do in private. As a Kickstarter backer, I know that website offers the option of sending out an email with a questionnaire where all this info can be requested. IndieGoGo had no tool for this; actually, it had no tool to email all my backers, period. I had to download the CSV spreadsheet and gather the emails myself, then send out batches of BCC emails to my different groups of backers asking for their info. This was tedious, especially because I know it can be done by the service provider. This is another feature I truly hope they implement as soon as possible.
Overall I was very happy with IndieGoGo when all was said and done, and would probably run another campaign using their service if their particular set of features were the best match for my project.
There were two holes in our reward levels we did not exploit: between the $10 Friend and $50 Supporter levels, and between the $50 Supporter and the $125 Sponsor level. That’s something to keep in mind for the future: don’t leave gaping holes like that open, offer something there as an option.
I was actually very surprised that we did not have more backers at the $10 Friend level. I set that one as default and piled on as many as the rewards as I could on that level because I wanted to make it an affordable and attractive option. In terms of net profit, the $5 was better for us, since with fees and rewards costs taken out the $10 was really netting us about $6-ish, but I also wanted to give something back to the backers. Yes, we did get 26 backers at that level, but I thought we would get a lot more.
We did end up with one Sponsor slot “unsold” which surprised us, given the relatively low price to promote your product to a fairly good number of listeners in a target market.
I would’ve loved to have seen our campaign soar over the set goal like many other ones have, but I wasn’t really expecting it as it goes back to the reason why we went with IndieGoGo in the first place. Rich and I also thought that we would get totally funded within the first week–two weeks tops–but it wasn’t until the end of the third week that we met our goal. Again, this goes back to the reason why we chose IndieGoGo at all.
It will be interesting to see how other non-book gaming-related crowdfunding projects do in the future. I don’t think we set any records or broke new ground here, but we did prove that it is possible to do with the right project.
Final Funding: $2025
IndieGoGo Fees: -$182.25
PayPal Fees: -$78.03
IndieGoGo 5% Bonus: +$101.25
Rewards Expenses: -$683.90[ref]Shirts, stickers, artwork, shipping.[/ref]
Net Total: $1182.07
The Net Total is to be divided between Rich, Ryan and myself (I will keep the percentages private as I’ve not cleared with the other two). I don’t think we would have gotten this kind of funding had we gone with seeking traditional corporate sponsors, even though the work involved in making the show does deserve that kind of backing, if not more. Once funds are divided, both Rich and I are getting more than what Ryan did in previous years[ref]Funny enough, even though Ryan is getting a smaller percentage than Rich and I–I consider it a Licensing Fee for the TJI brand–he’s making almost as much as he made last year with a miniscule fraction of the work involved. That should give you a ballpark idea of how little was being charged for sponsoring TJI.[/ref], which, while it doesn’t cover our entire Gen Con travel & rooming expense, does help significantly.[ref]At least in my case, it accounts for about half of my expenses.[/ref]
Thanks to all our backers, from our hearts. I hope that you will all enjoy this season of This Just In… From Gen Con because I am very much looking forward to bringing it to you.
If there’s any other question you have about our IndieGoGo campaign, please just ask in the comments and I’ll answer it as honestly as I can.