Part 1: The Big Picture
This survey looks at 150 crowdfunding projects from websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo that focus on role playing game related material. The bulk of the projects were found through a forum thread on RPG.net, though a few came from other sources on the internet. They cover a time period from April 2011 to April 2012.
Why do a survey of RPG related material?
There is a growing body of excellent advice on how to run crowdfunding drives, however the advice is looking at the entire catalog of material on places like Kickstarter. The average numbers cited in these existing articles and blog posts draw on too many different categories that are unrelated to the role playing games hobby. Performing a survey of projects that focus on the RPG market gives more clarity on how this particular funding niche behaves. As an example, the Kickstarter website cites that the average pledge is around $70, but for this survey the average backing was $46.51. That difference, among others, is important for RPG authors who are planning their crowdfunding campaign.
Broad Overview of Survey
Backers: The total number of backings for the project.
Goal: The funding goal for the project.
Raised: The amount of funding raised for the project.
Updates: The number of updates that the author gave for the project.
Video: The project had a video as part of the presentation.
Image: The project either had a main image as part of the video, and/or had additional images attached to the project
Industry: This represents projects which denote some indication that the authors of the project have some established connection to the RPG publishing industry, either with a large publisher, or who have a previously established catalog of material that they sell in the market. This survey factor was much more subjective in gathering data.
FAQ: The project had a FAQ attached to it.
Statistics Separated from Successful and Unsuccessful Projects
The numbers on this report are not always 100% accurate, this is due to some of the ways that the patronage websites present the results:
This report is focusing on the numbers over the specific rewards. I would like to see a more in depth report comparing levels at which PDFs are sold, versus soft cover and hard cover books, however that would require another exhaustive sweep of the survey details. There is already plenty of information here to analyze. Perhaps at a future point an additional report will be generated on specific products being offered in the survey.
Looking at the Data
Dollars per Backer: This is an interesting comparison because the values between the successful ($45.64) and unsuccessful ($46.99) projects are very close to one another. Backers were behaving in a similar way in terms of the amount they were willing to fund projects, regardless of whatever perceived quality of the projects, and so the average of the entire survey ($46.51) is a solid value to use in analysis.
In contrast, the average number of
backers between the successful (167.78) and unsuccessful (17.71)
projects is dramatic. The general trend is that there is either a
compelling project being offered and supported by a wide base of
backers, or it only catches the interest of a small subset (around
just 10% of the crowdfunding audience) who are willing to back the
Less is More: One contrast that
immediately stands out is the average goal amount. The successful
projects averaged to $3483.78, while the unsuccessful projects
averaged to $5700.66. That is a 64% difference in project goals.
When the amount raised is looked at there is an extreme flip. The
successful projects on average raised $8251.31, while the
unsuccessful projects only raised on average $1058.88. This amounts to a
679% difference in performance. Beginning with a modest lower goal
and having a compelling project can reap great success. On average a
successful project raised 230% more than the initial goal.
Industry Experience: The
credentials of the projects authors also has an impact on
success. In the successful pool 68% of the authors had some previous
RPG industry experience, whereas only 25% did in the unsuccessful
pool. As with any paid employment, your previous work experience can
have a huge impact on whether you get the job or not. If an author
is new to the publishing field the amount of upfront work that
needs to be done, both in terms of the product development and how it
is communicated, is likely going to have an impact on the success of
a project. Those who have previous publishing credentials have a
track record that proves they can produce quality results and thus generates an increase in the
confidence in the projects goals. Without that track record, a more
modest goal or compelling message needs to be presented.
Patterns in Unsuccessful Projects: The Kickstarter website provides analysis on how projects perform. One important target is reaching 30% of the project goal. Those projects that do are successful 90% of the time. This is clearly reflected in the unsuccessful pool's average goal of $5700. Thirty percent of that average is $1710, however the average raised was only $1058.88 . Taken as a whole unsuccessful projects were only reaching 18% of their goal.
Performance on different crowdfunding websites: More unsuccessful projects used crowdfunding websites other than Kickstarter. This can be a real challenge for some project authors because Kickstarter requires US residency in order to create a project. While five different crowdfunding websites were part of the survey, Indiegogo is the one that best can be compared to Kickstarter in participation. Indiegogo had 27 projects, compared to Kickstarter's 120. Indiegogo had 18 projects which were unsuccessful. However among the successful Indiegogo projects, all of these did very well. These projects either hit above average goals, or flew well past their modest goals. Thus, Indiegogo can be a viable way of crowdfunding, but only if a strong project is being offered.
For the other three websites, Rockethub, 8-Bit Funding, and Fundit, each only had one project on those sites and only one of those was successful. The 8-Bit Funding project seemed to be successful due to having an average funding goal, and the author has been a successful online blogging and forum presence for over a decade, and so was able to tap into an existing following to help with spreading the word.
Kickstarter is the default crowdfunding website. Because of this the ratio of successful versus unsuccessful closely matches the overall average of the survey. Beyond being very friendly to the large US RPG market, it also benefits from how it collects money. Funding only occurs if the project is successful, unlike Indiegogo (and perhaps the others) where funding occurs regardless of reaching the goal or not. Thus Kickstarter protects the backers, avoiding potential losses on projects that can not be properly funded. Likewise it helps scrupulous project authors from needing to tediously refund backers if a project is not successful.
Presentation: To video or not to video, that is the question. The Kickstarter website stresses that videos help a lot with project success. However with this survey the results are not as strong as what Kickstarter suggests from their data. With this survey 75% of successful projects had a video, while 66% of unsuccessful projects likewise had videos. Quality of videos could have an impact, but surprisingly not as much as one might expect. High quality videos that were artfully constructed did indeed produce solid results, however there were also plenty of successful projects that had videos that were not in and of themselves particularly compelling, consisting of the authors speaking to a camera, sometimes at great length.
Some of the other presentation features did have a higher contrast between the successful and unsuccessful pool. Having both a video and image was more distinct, with 28% of the successful projects having both, compared to only 7% of the unsuccessful. Having multiple visual representations does seem to have some impact, though not to a degree that ensures success. However it does evidently help.
Communicating with your audience also has an impact. In the successful pool 51% had a FAQ, while this was only 21% in the unsuccessful pool. Being able to anticipate what the audience is looking for with information will help resolve some issues that might otherwise prevent people from committing. Further responding to good questions about the project by creating further FAQ entries will show your paying attention and being responsive to concerns.
Updates are more challenging to interpret. Successful projects had 12.89 updates on average, where unsuccessful projects only had 4.8 updates. While it seems clear that more updates help, there is also an issue of timing. Successful projects might have more updates after the funding period is complete, providing information to backers on the progress of the project now that it is funding. How much this activity is represented in the difference between successful and unsuccessful is not clear. As a general principle though, communicating with your audience ought to help promote the project.
The BIG Numbers: This survey is covering crowdfunding RPG projects over a twelve month period between April 2011 to March 2012. In that period there were 16,763 backings that committed $834,920. Of that amount (and ignoring the Indiegogo funding approach of charging backers regardless of the funding goal's success or not) $775,623 went towards successful projects. There is clearly a healthy amount of money being exchanged within the crowdfunding model, and this is only an emerging business model within the RPG industry.
From this total amount $177,172 went
to projects which this report discerned were done by an author that
did not have previous RPG industry credentials. So while industry
professionals are definitely dominating in the crowdfunding model,
there was still plenty of money flowing towards amateurs. It should
be stressed that this is a bit fuzzy because what is considered an
“industry professional” had a great deal of leeway. The amount
of money flowing to people who are not career RPG professionals, but only do this part time or as a hobby is
likely much higher.
This is an exciting time in the RPG hobby. The barrier to entry as a publisher of RPG material has drastically fallen. If one is modest in your ambitions it might even have fallen all the way to zero, assuming one has the skills to assemble a product in a compelling manner.
While RPG crowdfunding has been occurring for several years now, during this last year the number of offerings has accelerated and likely will continue to climb in the years to come, perhaps to the point where it will become the dominate format for publishing. Already mainstream RPG publishers, such as White Wolf and Adamant Entertainment have created successful projects. The opportunities to reduce financial risk will allow for more risks to be taken and allow designs to emerge that go beyond what the conventional market expects.
What is clearly emerging is that there are core strategies to running a crowdfunding project that one should follow. Much of that can be learned by reading the blogs at Kickstarter, but this report is hopefully giving evidence on what specifically should be done within the RPG market.
Up Next in Part 2...
This is the first part in a report on the survey data. Up next we will be looking at the smaller numbers in greater detail such as how the backings distributed over the 150 projects, where those numbers clustered and the general performance at different funding levels.
- Neil Carr
You can get a PDF version of this report here.