The mistakes I make managing a KS while I was working.
My name is Daniele Fusetto and I am a freelance corporate storyteller and a game / narrative designer, as well as a teacher of Narrative Design at AIV Milano. As a designer, I work in the tabletop and tabletop rpg area, while my daily freelance work is related to e-commerce and product companies.
Today I am here as an independent RPG author and as a manager of the Kickstarter that I will launch on August 30, 2022, Daily Dread.
I want to share some thoughts and findings from this adventure, ideally in three parts:
- before launch (this post);
- during launch;
- after launch.
Before starting, I want to clarify that everything you will read in this very, very long post is based on my personal experience, which may not match that of other people who have managed Kickstarter while they worked!
Some info about me
I started developing tabletop RPGs in 2007, but my first big title (at least for the Italian market) was in 2018: it’s called Le Notti di Nibiru, written with Luca De Marini. It is a science fiction game, set on a planet with 3 months of light and 12 of night, thousands of years in the future, and with characters who can transform into large animals and use the planet’s atmosphere to cast spells.
In fact, I’ve been helping friends with their RPGs since 2014 when I started an Italian blog called Storie di Ruolo. Wonderful things have happened with this blog. I wasn’t alone, though: with me was Edoardo (author of Little Katy’s Tea Party), his current wife Vanessa, our friends Ivan (a fan of fantasy and RPG) and Francesco (who is the author of fantastic RPGs and LARP).
In 2016, the blog started to catch on, so we aimed to create some content: small 5th edition adventures and one page or minimal RPG translations (mostly those of Grant Howitt, plus something of Storybrewers), of course with the permit!
It was so interesting to translate foreign titles that we got carried away. From 2018 to today we have collaborated with Italian publishers to adapt titles such as Pigsmoke by Chris Longhurst, Dialect by Kathryn Hymes and Hakan Seyalioglu, Blades in the Dark by John Harper and many more to come.
I then participated in other projects as a game designer consultant (Shintiara 5E and Blood Sword 5E the two most recent), but I never had the opportunity to manage my Kickstarter.
Yes, I’ve been part of the team of 5 different Kickstarter projects, but simply being in the cockpit of the plane is nothing compared to having the joystick in hand.
During other Kickstarter projects I have mainly dealt with design, community posts, translation and adaptation, but I have never seen the Kickstarter interface in action, nor have I dealt with the financial and printing parts.
I took Tommaso de Benetti’s awesome course (find it here), and read many other guides on Kickstarter, but still: it’s like being a tent tactician while soldiers fight on the front line.
Since I’m starting to get job offers mainly from the board game industry, I think Kickstarter management is a gap I need to fill. I will never work as a Kickstarter manager in the future, but I need to know how to do a Kickstarter in order to better help others!
So what are we talking about? First of all, strategy
This series of posts stems from the fact that I am not a Kickstarter manager!
The choice to do it was all mine, and it was specifically made to learn from mistakes and improve. It is part of a strategy that, although it may prove flawed in the future, is always better than the alternative — having no strategies.
Obviously, the Kickstarter was not born only from this personal strategy, but also from one linked to the project itself.
Daily Dread is in fact the prequel to Human Sacrifice, a saga written by Zeus Longhi since 2017. Ever since Zeus (one of Notti di Nibiru playtesters) told me about his idea, my game designer and worldbuilder mind started to move its gears. We soon began to develop a system adequate to the setting, based on traits with 3 colors and a bag full of tokens. We have developed a game around it, called Via Crucis, set in the world of Human Sacrifice.
Our goal was to develop the system, test it quickly, publish a newsletter and see what would happen. We did it and, well… there was a lack of enthusiasm. The game itself was great, but the mechanics were a little too cryptic and feedbacks were too kind.
We then did further rounds of playtesting, and we also realized that the themes of the saga were delicate to say the least: Via Crucis is a tribal punk game set in a wild and lush land, but without any civilization, where crimes are the norm.
This, combined with the fact that the setting seemed very suitable for the international market and… well, that we are unknown in this market… prompted us to opt for the strategy you are involved in: a Kickstarter-prequel.
Daily Dread started out as a 2-page game for Storymancer, released last year on our Patreon, and with a slight enthusiasm from friends and gamers. It also seemed like a great way to introduce the setting, as this prequel has a very focused story and gameplay experience (more in a further post).
Being so “zine-y”, this prequel was the perfect minimum product for the saga, as well as for Zinequest .
The strategy is therefore to use Daily Dread as a way to get attention on “Human Sacrifice” and, in a year or so, to launch a second Kickstarter campaign for the Via Crucis. That’s why, even with all the necessary attention, we took the liberty of making some mistakes in the path, and managing the Kickstarter in parallel with other works.
Sure, this strategy will fail on some points, but it will be a way to learn and a better one for the next.
Head down, but not too much
Managing a Kickstarter while you work is a job in turn, and a one of precision.
Consider that we had this idea in late 2021, when they announced that Zinequest 4 would be in August!
In the meantime, we didn’t leave ourselves empty handed: in addition to continuing the development of the system (more in the next points), we have constantly kept up to date on the RPG and Kickstarter market.
What does an indie and zine-y product do with market and marketing data? Well, I know that many think that marketing is badly suited to an independent “grassrooted” product (approximately). The truth is, even if you don’t care about marketing, marketing doesn’t care about you. I am of the opinion that it is in the nature of people to follow certain principles of marketing, and that what is seen as “ugly and bad marketing” are deliberate manipulation and corruption.
In fact, Michele and I (part of the Daily Dread team) have done an analysis of other Kickstarter projects similar to ours to better understand what to expect. Analyzes of this type obviously do not serve to “copy” others, at least not directly. They serve to stand out and position themselves: Daily Dread is, for example, a very rare example of RPG with a “dystopian” tag in the name.
We have never done development and design head down, however.
When we were designing the system for Human Sacrifice, in the meantime two games with similar mechanics (colored tokens extracted from a bag) were published in Italy:
- Omen by Alberto Tronchi, a beautiful game about horror and mystery;
- Not the End by Claudio Pustorino and Claudio Serena, friends of Fumble GDR.
One can imagine a human reaction to publications like these: “well, they thought about it, there is no more hope. Let’s pull the curtain on this project”. But we have never felt this way.
Both games were real revelations for us. We were thrilled to see how other people we knew had solved the problems we might have had or done things differently. Eventually, playing both games, we also found that ours was not that similar to theirs, so the urge to develop returned.
But there was never envy, nor the desire to hide.
I truly believe that trying other people’s games and being open to your local RPG community is key to designing good games. I remember when Flotz came out on the Italian market: one of the main reasons why the game was not successful was that there was a disconnect with the “market” of the moment, which it did not appreciate and indeed criticized systems that used too many dice (there’s a great Italian post-mortem by one of Flotz creator on Medium, for those who can speak italian).
I’m not saying this in a marketing key, but a human one: your players should come first, and if you lock yourself in the lab without looking around … it’s hard to come up with something that you understand and play with.
Therefore, we were thrilled to have other games similar to ours in Italy, for several reasons:
- they would open the market for token extraction games;
- they would have been a useful inspiration for our system;
- we could have learned from their publishing methods (Omen was released in retail, Not the End via a Kickstarter);
- we could have asked players of those games to try ours, simplifying playtests;
- we could also have read how other authors wrote the rules, to understand the best way to explain ours.
Of course, having a similar game on Kickstarter around the same time could be problematic, but it could also be an opportunity to partner with cross-stretch goals! And in fact, both Alberto Tronchi and Claudio Pustorino will write an unlockable Scenario for our Stretch Goals.
It takes time, in every sense
As I said at the beginning, I do this Kickstarter not only to present the Human Sacrifice saga, but also for personal growth and a sense of curiosity. I need to know how it is, how it feels every day of the campaign, what are the mental processes that the campaign manager goes through… and there are so many.
When they tell you it takes time to run a Kickstarter campaign, multiply it by two and then again by ten. Then meditate on it a little.
To help those who may find themselves doing a Kickstarter while working, here is a list of the essentials and related commitment of a project from Zinequest (larger projects will take more time). I calculate all the activities assuming that you have already designed the game and defined the components and information about the book (type, pages, color…).
Since it is a post for those who work, each timing is calculated assuming that you will not spend all your days working on the Kickstarter: if you read “2 weeks” it means “the spare time or space you can have in those 2 weeks of work”.
At the same time, the weeks can overlap each other, so you may be working on component costs in parallel with building the website, but it will require more focus on the project. I was very limited in activities, practically going on a budget. You would probably need to add 2–3 tasks to the list.
You have to check the cost of each component. Time: about 2 weeks per component. If you have a publishing partner like us (the amazing people at Grumpy Bear), you can even think about 1 week per component.
- I suggest you request more than one quote from different services.
Find them and write to each one: 1 week per component.
- You get an answer: it depends, but at least 1 week per component.
You can find yourself starting the Kickstarter project without a precise idea, I strongly advise against it.
You have to work on your numbers, collect data, compare yourself with other Kickstarter projects to define commitments and extend goals. Time: 6 weeks per component.
- Search for other similar projects: minimum 1 day.
- Expected number of supporters, goals, expectations: 1 week to design, 1 day to review it once, another day to review it one last time.
- Design stretch commitments and goals: at least 4 weeks, 1 day to review it once, another day to review it one last time.
- It is necessary to cross the costs and the possible absorption of the market: at least 1 week.
Make your total campaign budget and costs work. Time: all pre-campaign. There is no time limit, although it is important that the costs are obviously balanced before leaving.
You need something to show. Time: variable.
- Graphics: you need a logo, a series of wallpapers of various sizes (4: 3, 16: 9 and 1: 1) and separators that never hurt. From 4 to 10 hours.
- Product mockup: about 4–5 hours.
- Layout: you can download something and quote the artist, 30 minutes.
- Design: Includes mockup image and layout adjustment, 120 minutes.
- Quickstart or downloadable beta: approximately 6 weeks.
- Text: at least 3 comfortable weeks.
- Layout: from 3 to 15 hours, if you know how to layout. If not at least 3 working days.
- Editing and revision: minimum 5–6 days for projects in 30 folders (60,000 characters including spaces).
- Sensitive Reading: not to be underestimated at all! Minimum 1–2 days for projects in 30 folders. In our team, in addition to the sensitive reading by Marta Palvarini, we also had a quick accessibility reading by Roberto Villa.
- Note on exporting files: beware of file size! We often forget about this detail, which comes up at the worst moment, when you are in a hurry and have to upload files to the drive!
You need a place to host the material to show. Time: 2 weeks.
- Press Kit Drive Folder: a couple of hours per language to get started, then at least 1 week of file updates.
- Drive folder for promotional materials: a couple of hours per language to get started, then at least 1 week of file update.
You need a website. Be smart, fast and reliable. I’ve been creating a wordpress site since 2012–2013, but you don’t need that level of complexity: Google Site has been improved lately, it’s stable and good enough to have a page in a weekend’s time. Time: minimum 3 days.
- Google domain: search for it, buy it, 15 minutes.
- Getting familiar with the user interface– yes, you don’t jump right into it, even if you’re competent! At least 15 minutes.
- Graphics: the brand icon (the one you see next to the title in your browser tab), at least 7 images per page (count them in 2 languages), plus ready-made graphics. About 3 hours to create everything (if you use Shutterstock or Midjourney like us), plus 1–2 hours to build and finalize the site.
- Review and update: 1–2 days. Show the site, run it, collect feedback and update. But the site is not finished…
You have to create the Kickstarter page. It takes Kickstarter 3 working days to approve a project and only after this phase can you generate a reminder link that people can sign up for to be notified at launch. So it’s never too early to prepare the page! About 2 weeks, only 1 if you have all the data ready.
- Texts: 1–2 days, if you have already prepared the press kit you can paraphrase and start from there. The KS Page has a very high, but unknown word limit, so consider entering certain information in the form of images (it has another utility as well).
- Pledge: the time has come to close all the data! And turn them into an image to put on the page.
- Stretch Goal: Not all information is required to be approved, and this is not. While it’s always best to have everything ready, you don’t have to put the information on the KS page right away. You can also do this the day before launch, and update the backers during the campaign.
- Images: most of the page is in the form of images, so at least 3–4 days to prepare them. You may have to redo them several times: inserting them in the KS interface is not enough to understand if they are good, you will always have to see the preview of the project if you get high on the images.
- Implementation: at least 9–10 days.
You need a way to collect emails from interested parties, such as Mailchimp or Typeform, before the Kickstarter “save a project” page is up. Time: 1 to 3 weeks depending on the app used and the team.
- Mailchimp: takes time, 1 week. The graphical interface and the user experience are not the best unfortunately, I had to spend a few days to understand it well. Why not ask for help? You don’t always have the budget for this.
- Page “save a project”: before obtaining it you have to prepare the Kickstarter page and the Pledges, then send it for review. It takes at least 3 working days to be accepted.
Send requests to contributors. About 4 weeks. I call contributors all those who could create stretch goals or content for the Kickstarter, in order to attract attention and embellish the project. Here it is also possible to make “de core” choices, at least we did it: we wanted certain creators, certain personalities of the sector that we consider friends or of whom we have great respect (and that we would have been honored to have in the project).
- Budget and timing calculation: have a specific idea of how much you can invest in time and resources on contributors, about 1 week.
- List of contributors and email contacts: about 4–5 days to get them, especially if you have to collect them from other social networks.
- Project presentation email and FAQ: about 1 day, with all the necessary information inside.
- Send the email: I recommend making personalized emails with the press kit and / or promotional material. About 1–2 days.
- Answers, information gathering and PR: at least 3 weeks initially, then for the whole campaign. You will probably need a photo, a bio and an idea of the stretch goal that the contributors could make.
Send the press kit to magazines, websites, industry personalities. About 2 weeks.
- Collect the contact list: 1 week, not all email contacts are available and some you will have to fill in the form on the site.
- Shipping: about 2–3 days.
- Public Relation: at least 3–4 days after submission, then you will have to continue the whole campaign.
Create hype and attention. The whole pre-campaign and campaign, dotted with live, videos, posts, interventions. Here are the important ones pre-campaign (about 3 weeks):
- Useful posts: content like this you are reading requires at least 1 week to be written and finalized, while social posts a bit full-bodied about 1 day.
- Sharing: divided into two phases! First of all, collecting the places where you can share information (Facebook groups, Telegram channels, Reddit subs, etc.) takes about 1 week. In some of these places spam is not allowed, beware. The actual share can take from a few hours to 1–2 days.
- Video Gameplay: very important, at least 1 per language to be included on the site and on the Kickstarter page. You don’t necessarily have to have them all for the start of the campaign, so consider at least one night to record them, plus 2–3 days to have them ready.
- Live and play with contributors: it is important to cultivate relationships with people, so dedicate at least 2–3 evenings a week to online matches and meetings.
There is definitely something I missed in the list, such as the video campaign. For reasons of timing and implementation we have decided not to use one, so I will tell you in the next few days how this hypothetically influenced the project.
In our case there are many deadlines that I had to skip and postpone for three main reasons:
- it is summer for everyone, so times are expanding and there is also GenCon in the middle (to be super considered with regard to foreign contacts);
- I worked practically 6 weeks out of 5 between the end of July and today, and sometimes I arrived late in the evening without having touched the Kickstarter (but I had prepared some elements in advance at the end of June, a few because even in June I worked a lot and I had to move Kickstarter activities);
- it’s a semi-one man job, so there’s attention and precision, but also “we’re human” — sometimes you don’t get it, which is why you need a team.
I repeat: you need a team. Especially if the project is large and important. Now, it’s not that the team has to be there for you 24 hours a day, but you need people to ask for advice who don’t dismiss you with a “that’s okay with me”. I have a team for anything not related to Kickstarter, so here it is with due thanks!
Zeus Longhi (he/him), the co-author of Daily Dread and lead author of the fantastic setting, which we have often turned around for the week! He also designs other games, and plays a lot.
Roberto Villa (he/him), our Editor & Accessibility Reader, archaeologist by training and writer, has been collaborating with Storymancer since 20220 for which he writes and reviews texts and games. Always ready for our foolish ideas!
Marta Palvarini (she/her), Sensitivity Reader. I am really proud and honored to collaborate with Marta, who is co-founder of the publishing house Asterisco Edizioni, author of Dura-Lande, and curator of Outside the Dungeon. Super kind and super fast!
Michele Bosio (he/him), our Jack-of-all-Trade, with whom we have dealt with content design for the game, but also with benchmark analysis!
Simone Miraldi (he/him), who will be our Proofreader, game creator and from 2022 also in Storymancer, we have used his incomparable anxiety to find in advance problems that no one had yet noticed.
A huge thank you to our editorial partner, Grumpy Bear, especially Flavio Mortarino (he/him) who helped us manage print and fulfillment, and who took many questions from me on Kickstarter and contributors.
Some things are better than you expect
At beginning of July I talked about Daily Dread with my brother Samuele, who is doing a PhD in electrical engineering. I explained to him the basic mechanics, namely the extraction of colored tokens from the bag, and that this was related to the setting — where Rorschach’s Machines exist, based on a corrupted version of the theories of the famous psychologist.
These machines are similar to public telephones: you pick up the handset, talk to a Rorschach Operator, and let them read you the weight and consequences of the actions you will perform. The result is a sequence of three colored LEDs which, in a cryptic way, correspond to adjectives.
As a joke I asked my brother if it was possible to make a Rorschach Machine with Arduino and an electronic board… and it was possible.
Not only was it possible, but also with little effort. In 2 weeks we made the electronic scheme, ordered the components and started assembling the machines. They will be equipped with a USB socket for software updates, and powered by 9 volt batteries. They will also have a 3D printed shell, also made by my brother.
Here’s a photo of the boards.
Like this, our physical pledge with a real electronic led machine to simulate the extraction of the tokens of our key mechanics, which I thought was a joke and complex to make, has become our (relatively) easier pledge to create.
So sometimes throwing yourself into things pays off, in fact…
Don’t lose any chance
So, to resume the discussion, we came close to the Kickstarter in a hurry, with the graphics improved at the last, with a stable number of weekly hours of development, and everyone’s work: my freelance job occupies me from 6 to 8 hours a day, to this are added the jobs as game design or writer, plus the activity as a professor (and coordination of the new Narrative Design Course). Obviously we are a team and certain activities are delegated, but not too much: everyone has their commitments!
But despite everything, we have not missed a single opportunity given to us to improve.
I’m not just talking about carving out at least an hour a week for updating, but also about taking advantage of problems or obstacles to learn something.
And let me anticipate: to paraphrase a certain Italian publisher, “sviluppare duro” (hard development) pays off.
Zeus and I have collected 100+ hours of development online, recorded and often replayed to improve the regulation and its use. This equates to roughly 65% of the work done on the game, the rest is all playtesting. Yes, in my mind I would have preferred to divide equally between development and playtest, but already in this way we have grown a lot.
The system is mature, as is the setting, and it can be seen perhaps from how we explain it to people, because we anticipate and resolve doubts and misunderstandings. We did some fair and took our fair share of criticism, recording every word from the players. The system was born in 2017–2018, so we have tested the heart of the system hard — and I want to thank very much the associations that have helped us, in particular Tarantasia where we have often brought the game by exploiting their evenings of GDR al Buio (an initiative I created in 2014 with some friends, similar to Indie Games on Demand).
And we didn’t stop. During the playtests of the last few months, every time we talked to someone we wrote down not only the feedback on the game, but on how to present it: every moment you can explain your game is an excellent opportunity to improve your “presentation discourse” and minimize any misunderstandings that you may generate in the listener.
Now we have stopped to curate the Kickstarter, but we never stop learning and push ourselves a little further each time.
Things I would have done differently in the pre-campaign and how I plan to remedy
First move ahead and prepare the Kickstarter page and the “save the project” page in time.
There was an interlock between my work commitments and Kickstarter, which prevented me from starting immediately on my Kickstarter profile. This meant reducing the pre-campaign to just 4 weeks and without a “save the project” page, just by subscribing to the newsletter.
The website has been visited, but the mailing list has received only a handful of subscriptions (we will find out why later, for now we know that there have been no technical problems).
However, this delay allowed us to partner with Grumpy Bear, who fulfilled their latest Kickstarter (Little Katy’s Tea Party) just in August — releasing his Kickstarter page for Daily Dread. In fact, another thing to remember, Kickstarter blocks creator profiles until they give proof of fulfillment.
As a resolution we plan to do a 23-day Kickstarter (until September 21st), of which the first 7 will be essential for attracting the audience. I want to clarify that it is not a practice that I recommend, but a choice dictated by the problem solving on the timing. We will see how it goes: the Kickstarter is also used for this, to do some tests and see how the platform works.
Secondly, I would prepare graphics and videos in time, and ask friends to record two gameplays. There was physically no room for this in June-July, and we only recovered minimally in August. To make up for these shortcomings, we activated the press kit, sending it to various Italian and American newspapers, but without success (I assume that the problem is August as always).
And here comes the last piece of the puzzle: I would never do a Zinequest again in August. Caveat: not international, at least. Zinequest’s projects are peculiar and many, usually filling the green platform with colors and inventiveness. The feeling I got from this Zinequest, which takes place in February, is that it has been a bit subdued. There have been a dozen projects with high quality and interest around them (the Italian Last Sabbath, Sunderwald and A Torch in the Dark, to name a few), but few others have moved the web as it usually happens. And this could be felt even before Zinequest started.
This, in addition to Kickstarter’s announcement a few months ago that Zinequest would return in February 2023, prompted us to place the launch date at the end of August. The choice is due to the idea that there will be few live in Zinequest and that, despite other years, there are still many players eager to discover new projects.
Obviously this strategy could be unsuccessful, but we have an added advantage: we have nevertheless collected the interest of numerous Italian and foreign contributors, and in my opinion this balances any delay and increases the quality and value of the project.
Some may even think that, should the project deflate, there is an extreme possibility of pausing the project and restarting on the first day of Zinequest 5, in February 2023 — rather than waiting a whole year. Even if I expect not to, it is an option that is legitimate in my opinion to put on the plate and that anyone who would be in our place would think.
But we are very ready to start! Tomorrow 30th August 2022 at 5.00 pm our campaign will start! I’ll try to update on many other topics, so follow us on all our social networks by visiting www.dailydreadrpg.com!