Gamebook store

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Some like the perfume in Spain...

Listen carefully. I shall say this only once...

Who am I kidding? I'm sure to keep saying it. Jamie and I would love to continue the Fabled Lands series. We have some ideas of our own, and more importantly we have a team of trusted writers who we could work with so that it wouldn't take till the first peal of eternity to get it all finished.

Here's the but. Writers need paying. Even if Jamie and I don't pay ourselves, as we often don't, the writers and artists we work with have mortgages, kids, cats and goldfish to feed. I know what you're thinking. Feed the goldfish to the cats; it's a logic puzzle. Unfortunately, mortgage lenders don't accept repayment in the form of children, however much we all wish they would.

So, what about Kickstarter? The sonic screwdriver of funding, answer to every problem.

I did a post this week over on the Mirabilis blog about using Kickstarter to fund a publishing operation. (The t-shirt version: you can't. The longer version: unless you're famous.) This is not to say Kickstarter isn't a grand idea. You may remember that our good friends at Megara used it to launch their Arcana Agency gamebook, The Thief of Memories, and that was a very successful campaign. My buddy James Wallis used in to get the ball rolling on his Alas Vegas role-playing game. And just today - just today! - Sandy Petersen raised $231,000 for his Cthulhu Wars boardgame.

Let's not try to draw the graph that goes through that last one. It's Cthulhu, after all, and Mr Petersen has a track record adapting Mr Lovecraft's creations to a gaming context. It's an average of $195 per backer - significantly higher than usual for a game project. That doesn't necessarily mean Sandy will be on a Gulfstream to the Bahamas this weekend. The money "raised", you see, actually has to pay for stuff. Manufacture of playing pieces, a board, payment to the artists, postage.

In short, a business with a turnover of a quarter of a million is not making a profit of a quarter million. Or anything like.

Most gamebook Kickstarters begin with books that are already written, or (as in the case of Arcana Agency) that are being funded by enthusiam and willing work as much as by upfront cash. The snag about Fabled Lands is that we have six books to write, each around 750 sections. And then there's the art. Six lovely colour paintings - well, we can't get Kevin Jenkins back, much as I'd like to, as he's an art director at Framestore now and FL couldn't even pay for him to do a sketch on a napkin. And call it a hundred and twenty interior illustrations. Once those are all in, we can set somebody to do the typesetting.

And after all of that is done, we can launch a Kickstarter.

Jamie and I do plan to do something on Kickstarter. But to begin with it needs to be with books that are already written. If we raise some staggering sum and if, after parcelling up all those copies of Blood Sword or whatever, we are left with anything resembling a profit, you can be sure we'll plough it back into new projects.

What Kickstarter really is, and what it works brilliantly at, is a combined tool for pre-subscription sales and publicity. (Hmm, could that be why they gave it the name? Exactly what it says on the tin, right?) Moreover, this is publicity that generates money instead of costing money - though admittedly with a strong upfront risk component. So that's how Jamie and I are planning to use it. We want to build awareness of our many classic gamebook series. Yes, I know you know, but if we expect to get all the way across the Violet Ocean we're going to need a bigger boat. So expect to see some of our work appearing in Kickstarter campaigns over the next six months. And, if you like what you see, throw a few shards our way. You can have a free ride on our Gulfstream, honest.

30 comments:

  1. Hi Dave. I only recently discovered Fabled Lands, started playing the first 3 books some month ago, and will order the 3 other books. I really hope we will see 6 more, but couldn't you complete them one at at time? Anyway I was one of the backers of the Holdfast gamebook on kickstarter recently, and they made some $30000+ without having a big name and not sure how complete their book is. You must be able to make many times that per book and it looks like they could hire some pretty good artist(s)? Anyway until you get there I am sure to buy everything gamebook-related you guys do (though I just got most of the Virtual Reality books off eBay, I will make sure to get the ebooks anyway).

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    1. Hi Pelle. $30,000 is pretty impressive, but I guess that's only a profit of $6000 at most. We couldn't produce a whole book for that - Jamie and I don't know enough artists and writers who'll work for nothing, is the problem :-) But we'll test the water with some of our out-of-print books like Blood Sword and see how that goes.

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    2. “Holdfast” is the most successful gamebook Kickstarter that I know of except for the two Zach Weiner books, and it’s probably no coincidence that the campaign was also the most relentless that I've seen in terms of updates and backer interaction, so $30,000 could well represent an upper limit for this type of project in the absence of an established “name” or brand to heighten interest. It will be interesting to see how the budget and schedule hold up: the stretch goals were all expansions of content, and by the team’s own estimation the final gamebook, which will be illustrated, will have over 1100 paragraphs… and not only that: there will also be some backer-contributed content, which means a lot of work both creatively and editorially. Another interesting test case could be Jonathan Green’s “Beowulf Beastslayer” gamebook, which I understand he plans to launch on Kickstarter later this year.

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    3. Based on the high quality of Jonathan Green's other titles, Beowulf should be very, very good.

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    4. It's an interesting question. What does make a gamebook KS successful? In the case of many KS campaigns - comic books, for example - the key is to have an obvious high concept. (Sherlock Holmes meets pirates. Steampunk meets zombies.) Yet in the case of gamebooks and RPGs it's often more about selling an old skool concept (lots of dwarves and goblins, fifty levels of dungeon bash, etc). Where does Beowulf fit - or The Good, The Bad & The Undead - or Fabled Lands books 7-12..? Who knows.

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  2. Blood Sword! Kickstarter! Awesome! Huzzah!

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    1. We can't do a stretch goal to continue the series, unfortunately, as Book 5 concluded with the end of the world. But we could maybe get Serpent King Games to do the Swords of Life and Death DW campaign as an extra bonus. And, taking a leaf out of James Wallis's book, there's always the Krarthian major and minor arcana.

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  3. Actually, Mr. Morris, I think you're severely underestimating the abilities of KS. The question is whether you've got public awareness within the circle of people that would potentially be interested in your work. That's gamebook fans.
    And you wrote BloodSword! It's hard to get more public awareness. Once a KS starts, the participants spread the word via the social media, after all. Add the name recognition, and it looks good. Personally, I'd expect your KS for a FL7 book to get around $50k with some luck. Especially if you can throw in some PDFs of the Fabled Lands RPG as add-ons, and/or PDFs of the Bloodsword series.
    It's probably worth considering again, I'd say.

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    1. Hmm, why does everybody think I am so down on Kickstarter? On the Mirabilis blog, Kevin was saying, "I hope you overcome your doubts..." Well, for the record, I really don't have any doubts. Kickstarter is brilliant and - as you say, Asen - it can turn into a snowballing publicity exercise that spreads the word about a project. I don't doubt it, I don't underestimate it, I've seen what it can do even for quality projects like Megara's Arcana Agency that didn't have famous names attached.

      But (see above post and the Mirabilis blog one) "raising" $50,000 for FL7 doesn't mean having $50k to spend on FL7. With a profit margin of 20% (surely anything beyond that would be sheer exploitation) that would leave $10k to pay the writers, editors, artists and typesetters. That's a great way to fund a hobby, but it doesn't look like a sustainable business.

      Now, if we could raise $100k, we're getting nearer to what's needed. But to get there we need to build awareness. Zach Weiner did well with his gamebook, and good for him, but he did start out with a pretty good platform. So far, we maybe have a few hundred diehard FL fans around the globe. If we can turn that into a few thousand, we're in business.

      So, to recap: we're going to start off with some of our classic series. These are the ones like Falcon and Blood Sword that were published in the heyday of gamebooks and are much more widely known than FL. We can't flood the market, nor do we want to exploit our readers by demanding $20 for an autograph or anything like that, so we will build in a modest profit margin. We'll work with friends like Megara to ensure a high quality of design and production.

      Then, if those KS campaigns succeed, we'll be spreading the word so that by the time we get to doing an FL campaign, we might seriously be able to raise $100k or more - meaning that, even after printing and shipping are paid for, there's enough left to pay everyone involved for all their work.

      In short, we'll get there - but it has to be by the right path. I know that FL fans are keen for books 7-12, but right now the demand doesn't exist for those. There is huge enthusiasm, but FL fans are few in number. With Kickstarter's help, not forgetting partners like Megara, we hope to change that.

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  4. There been some surprising winners and losers on Kickstarter. A unique selling point is often crucial, as is perceived value - if the rewards are poorly structured and priced then not even a star name may be able to convince prospective customers that a pledge represents an "awesome once-only deal". Value-for-money is king.

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    1. Value for money - yes indeed. That's why the "profit margin" of a campaign cannot be set too avariciously. A Kickstarter that raises $50k might only yield enough spare cash to pay for 20 interior illustrations and a cover - unless I draw the pictures myself, of course, but I don't think anybody would pay for that :-)

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  5. Let me tell you Dave, one of the rewards tiers would be the inclusion of "amateur" writers section (10-15) or so.

    Not only would you get super input from your readers, you would get it for free and people like me, would actually give money to have a tiny piece of your book :)

    Just my two thoughts.

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    1. I agree. Other rewards include: naming a character after a contributor, getting them to come up with a scene, having them in a piece of artwork, having their name in a list. I've seen all of these in Kickstarters and people have paid for them. The Survivor gamebook is an example:

      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/232063970/survivor-an-elite-dangerous-gamebook?ref=live

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    2. Actually, that worries me. A gamebook based on Elite and it only raised $7250? Although I see you had to pledge $100 to get an actual printed copy of the book, so presumably they did have a hefty profit margin there.

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    3. Davide, I'm interested by that idea as to me it sounds counter-intuitive. If I pledged $50 to Neil Gaiman to write a new Sandman comic, for example, I wouldn't want him to tell me that a couple of pages would be written by whoever bid high enough. I guess, having spent my life fighting for creative control against producers, I don't think money should ever buy creative input. I recognize that this is nowadays a reactionary view, of course. It certainly makes our life easy - if enough is pledged, the whole book will be written by the backers and Jamie and I wouldn't have to do a thing!

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  6. I would suggest Kicking It by Monte Cook and Shanna Germain. It seems to have a lot of good ideas on crowdfnding from two Kickstarter veterans and is worth a read at a mere $5.99 for the pdf (It was much cheaper on Kindle, but Amazon says pricing info not available at the moment). The links are here http://www.montecookgames.com/kicking-it/

    It is true that Zach Weinersmith had about 10 years to build up a fanbase with his webcomic, but gamebooks in general and Fabled Lands in particular must have more than a few hundred fans. People might fund for nostalgia reasons. I've heard that nostalgia is a powerful thing (The Trial of the Clone Kickstarter page mentions 'those books you played as a kid' on paragraph 2) and if you search for gamebook on Kickstarter, there seems to be a few gamebook kickstarters appearing and all but one have been funded successfully and some have done extremely well. Also, it seems that more recent gamebook Kickstarters are doing much better. Early ones got 102% or 108%. Now they're being funded before the end of their deadline.

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    1. I've heard good things about Kicking It, so thanks for reminding me, Stuart. Jamie and I have a couple of partners for upcoming gamebook Kickstarters so we're just hoping that those will reach their targets. One is a classic series, one is all-new - so we're trying to strike a balance.

      The problem that Fabled Lands has faced is that it was launched after the original gamebook craze had died down. So, whereas each Blood Sword or Falcon title sold a hundred thousand copies worldwide, FL probably didn't exceed twenty thousand per title. The knock-on effect is that sales of the reprinted FL books have been modest. It's a great series, it just suffers from obscurity. I doubt if most of the people backing gamebooks on Kickstarter are even aware that it's possible to do something like FL using the gamebook medium. We need to raise our profile there first.

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  7. Hey man, far be it from me to tell you how to run your business, but I think you're underestimating both Fabled Lands and Kickstarter. To me FL looks like the perfect KS candidate - you already have 6 books out there, you need funds to finish the series. Do a KS campaign for book 7 on it's own, and I bet you'd make a success of it. Repeat 6 or 7 more times.

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    1. Hi Alan - as I said to Stuart above, FL came late in the gamebook cycle of the '80s and '90s so it never got the recognition that it deserved. That's probably why sales of the reprinted books have been so disappointing. With Kickstarter's help we can fix that. We are lining up two campaigns: a classic series from the '80s and an all-new gamebook. The all-new one will be familiar to readers of recent posts as it's the book Jamie was supposed to write last year ;-)

      If those are successful, we'll look at doing a Fabled Lands KS. Everyone who pledges $10 gets to write 15 sections, for $20 they get to do one of the illustrations, and whoever gives us $100 gets to paint the cover. (Hmm, there's something wrong with this picture somewhere...)

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    2. Not just one but *two* gamebook Kickstarters? That is good news!

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    3. Ooh, I just knew we'd not seen the back of Undeadwood! If this is just a tease consider yourself in trouble though Morris!

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    4. Would I lie to you, Mike? Ashton Saylor and Jamie are working on it right now. Not a dream, not an imaginary story :-)

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  8. Thanks for the comments Dave. I guess you have the big picture view. From where I'm standing FL looks a niche product with a ton of nostalgia on its side and a natural gap to be filled - perfect for KS.

    Still, you're the one making those Gulfstream repayments :) Good luck with the KS plans!

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    1. It's definitely niche, Alan. I wish KS had been around in 2010, as it would have made more sense to do the reprints of books1-6 that way. As it was they kind of dribbled out with no fanfare. But that won't stop me flying my Gulfstream to Monaco (using MS Flight Sim, that is!).

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  9. If it is any consolation - a fabled lands KS campaign is the only one which I would be willing to throw a real decent chunk of cash into (perhaps alongside a Starcontrol 4 or Firefly TV series reboot campaign). I'm talking like $500 per book (assuming we are talking the ultra-deluxe version in the same production quality as the original books). And I'm sure I'm not the only one in that position...

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    1. I appreciate the vote of confidence, Campbell, but if Jamie and I asked $500 for one book then I don't think we'd get many takers! Not even Zach Weiner's fans are quite so spendthrift.

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    2. James O'Grady2 November 2013 at 01:31

      I got into FL when I was a student and missed out on Book 3 as by the time I tried to buy it it was out of print. Ended up paying through the nose on ebay, which was obviously more expensive and Dave, Jamie, Russ didn't see a shard... Even so I wouldn't be able to spring for that. Unless I manipulate the investment markets in Yellowport somehow...

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  10. winners and losers on Kickstarter. The USP is often very crucial I believe. If somehow the rewards are not properly structured, even a big name would not be able to convince the prospective customers to get a fair deal. After all, value for money is actually everything for each one of us mortals, right?

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