Tuesday, 4 September 2012

DriveThruRPG's Crowdfunding Policy and How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Another quick post about Kickstarters and crowdfunding and then I'll get back to the fun. ;)

Amidst other news, like the mighty Sean Fannon moving on from DriveThruRPG (Sean has managed the RPG downloads site since it's beginning, prepared newsletters and fielded many publisher and customer queries personally, so it'll be strange to see him step away from the helm...Good Luck, Sean!)  -there's been a change of policy with regards to the use of crowd-sourcing by publishers.

Now, I wasn't really aware that they had a policy on this, but I suddenly feel a little vindicated in the fact that crowd-funding and straight-forward product selling can sometimes appear be at odds with each other.  It's also nice to see that OneBookShelf Sites (DTRPG, RPGNow, Wargames Vault et al) recognize that crowdfunding, despite my paranoias, is now playing such an important role for small games publishers.

DriveThruRPG and Crowdfunding
In the past, we have maintained a strict policy regarding publishers who use Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or other such crowdsourcing platforms: No publisher has been allowed to use our tools or infrastructure to distribute news or links about projects being funded and distributed via Kickstarter or similar sites. To put it simply, DriveThruRPG is a business modeled on driving sales through our marketplace, not sending customers elsewhere.
However, we also understand the power and appeal of crowdfunding for you, the independent publisher. And while formats may change, crowdfunding is not going away any time soon. With that in mind, we have established a new policy regarding projects funded on Kickstarter and Indiegogo:
We welcome publishers who will use Kickstarter and Indiegogo to fund their projects, and we will be happy to work with any publishers to handle product fulfillment and distribution via our site, whether in PDF or print. Our publisher tools can easily mail out coupon codes for electronic copies to all or any subset of your backers.
For POD fulfillment, we won't charge any fee beyond print and shipping costs: Simply set up your title using our print program (and note that your first title we will prep for you at no additional cost); supply us with the data of what book goes to whom; and we will have the books printed and shipped to your backers. 
If you have any questions or feedback regarding this topic, please don't hesitate to contact Scott Holden (scott@onebookshelf).

I find it interesting again that they're highlighting the print-on-demand service, which implies to me that they recognize that publishers are partly turning to Kickstarter to fund bulk print runs.

...It keeps occurring to me that if a company like RPGNow/DTRPG could ever bundle Letter sized boxes into the POD mix, many of the dreams of games publishers will be fullfilled, especially in the nostalgia market, where we want our games to all look like D&D Original or Basic Sets (name your artist and style).  But I digress.... 

The point here is that maybe we're all moving at different speeds.  Personally, I'm slowly coming around to the idea that crowdsourcing is actually good news for the RPG industry, because this is a niche hobby which relies on word-of-mouth exposure to gain new customers.  Kickstarters seem to be a effective way of making people aware of pen and paper games, of unpainted fantasy figures by independent sculptors and so forth - because popular kickstarters quite literally "go viral".  Still, I assert that crowd-funding shouldn't always be the first choice whenever anyone has a new idea or a publisher wants to immortalize a product in a special format.  Crowdfunding should be one of many options.  I can see why it's tempting to go for it first, and I'm still see requests for pleding as a type of ungentlemanly hard-sell - but that is merely my preference.  Whether or not crowdfunding hype alienates customers is up to the individual publisher/project leader.  I'm now less convinced that kickstarters will wipe out traditional markets, no more than eBay did - in fact I guess that online traders can adapt very quickly to change, if required.

From all of the feedback I'm getting regarding my stance on my being opposed to crowdfunding/sourcing with RPG products (especially where POD will do the job), it seems that backers are extremely discerning about how they pledge and what for, and that the people running projects are even seeking advice on the best ways to be good to their pledgers without falling into traps, such as promising too many handcrafted dice bags as perks (for hypothetical example).   -On Facebook I was invited to observe Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned  - which I recommend checking out if you're planning to set up a project, or have experiences you'd like to share with others.

It's admirable that a site like DriveThru is acknowledging the changes in publisher habits.  To an onlooker like myself this helps establish crowdfunding is becoming a respectable acceptable part of game publishing.  One of my fears was that some parts of the customer base, tradesmen and some publishers would see kickstarters as somehow being "dodgy" or "a way to make a fast buck" or somehow disreputable, or that innocent dreamer/designers were allowing themselves to be seduced into taking part in unforeseen nightmarish production and distribution scenarios.  Also, I'll be honest, by not being involved with crowdfunding I'm avoiding the "fatigue" in advance and saving myself a lot of time by sifting through all of the hundreds of zombie board game ideas (I'm guessing, I think a friend recently made a joke about there being so many zombie related projects) - but that's really more about me trying to simplify my life rather than sufficient reason to boycott kickstarters.

In summary, it's good to see a site like DriveThru moving with the times and supporting small publishers with the new realities of crowdfunding, and this helps old fashioned folk like myself learn to trust that crowdfunding isn't actually a harbinger of some sort of apocalypse for consumers. ;) Intriguing ...


  1. I find quite puzzling the idea that anyone considering a Kickstarter project would then turn to PoD service, like DriveThru, to produce physical books. The whole point of PoD is that a big hunk of cash is not needed up front to publish, quite the opposite of the crowdfunding model.

    1. I think that's my point. It's a totally different mindset. Why bother your fellow gaming with a pledging campaign, if your needs are actually met by PoD? Some publishers seem to be acting as if kickstarters are the only way to get ideas into print - a couple of people have told me that products will "never have existed" if it wasn't for fund raising - but it the case a simple text based rulebook with a handful of illustrations (as opposed to a boxed game with plastic figures) Lulu and DTRPG/RPGNow can provide a point-of-sale and a polished article, but I guess there's no guarantee on the numbers sold - but that's old fashioned selling for you. The writer gets "published", the customer still gets "choice" (indie products) and perhaps there'll be some profit in there for the publisher/writer eventually. It's because of this that I'm totally turned off by printing-cost related Kickstarters.
      However, one thing I am noticing is that book-printing-costs-only kickstarters are rarer than I thought. Many writers and publishers are throwing in quite a few unique perks, gifts, objects, subscriptions etc. Also the buyers are healthily aware of quality for money or just like supporting a community cause, which I'm learning can be an okay thing. I'm still on the fence really. Thanks for commenting).

  2. I've got mixed feelings about crowdfunding efforts. It seems to be side stepping the traditional routes of getting a loan ( having colateral ) and can come off a little "dodgy". I feel this way particularly with outfits that have been functioning fine without Kickstarter up to this point. Who are they accountable to to stay on schedule and use the money wisely? Maybe the project will be funded and completed, but you're out the cash for some unforseeable time. It also seems a little too easy. Yes, they still have to sell the product in order to get it funded, but this is a site unseen product for the most part. The backers are taking all the risk for questionable results/returns. Maybe it's not really any different with POD, but I might be able to get a review on the product before purchasing it (that's what's nice about DriveThru and Lulu). I can see this coming down to the "service"-side pressures on the market- Who can most reliably meet the demand for a product in a timely manner. You may soon see your very own RPG Home Shopping Network (: This was a interesting series of posts BB.

    1. Absolutely! I think you're right - with every method of trade it may all come down to how protected the the buyer or pledger is.
      When I'm talking about publishers, writers and PoD, I'm often thinking of fairly small markets and self-employed efforts which require a minimum upfront costs. I'd be surprised if many of the smaller PDF publishers I talk to routinely ask for a bank loans for a single game. In fact, avoiding large upfront costs and lending in a Recession is probably good advice to borderline garage businesses/ entrepreneurial hobbyists. Thinking "small" is what a lot of us do well. Kickstarters blow that way of thinking out of the water, and I reckon ambitious individuals are blinded by possibilities - to the point that simple online solutions are eclipsed by the kickstarter juggernaught. One minute you have an idea and three weeks later you're collecting a lot of money for a product you may not even have storage for. (I think I've said all this, I'm getting stuck in my own dogma... ;) ) Thanks for the comment.
      Make Kickstarters Safe! Use Protection, Folks! :D