Crowdfunding Campaign Marketing 101

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Game Publishing Lessons Learned

Introduction

In April 2012, Neil Carr, a member of the RPGGeek community, started a series of Amateur Kickstarter discussion threads. These discussions were partly his way of bouncing ideas off of the community and partly his way of getting advice about how to get started with a Kickstarter project he had in the works. I took part in these discussions and learned a lot of great lessons from them myself.

Now, one year later, I wanted to reflect and share what I’ve learned from those discussions and from my own experience since then. The more we can learn from each other, the better off the industry as a whole will be.

In this series I will recap, post-by-post, each of the 10 or so discussion topics raised by Neal. I’ll touch upon the topics discussed in each thread and elaborate with new knowledge I have gained since then. This article will feature his sixthpost, “How best to market your funding campaign?.” Use the Series Navigation links on the right to find other posts in this series.

Original Post

I’ve stepped onto the path of being an amateur RPG publisher via Kickstarter. I want to see how far I can travel from zero-to-hero and I’m looking for help along the way. These series of posts are in part just me thinking aloud, but also asking specific questions as I put the pieces together to achieve rpg publishing victory.

What about marketing your crowdfunding project? What should you do? What I’ve already gleaned from copious forum reading is that you should start with a “soft launch” prior to the actual funding campaign to begin. You send out press releases, write on forums and basically announce that a funding project is going to begin soon. You take every opportunity to talk about the project and just start spreading the world. That way when the funding finally begins there is hopefully already a pool of people ready to contribute.

So where do you broadcast?

Obviously you do it on the Geek. Send off a geekmail to one of the RPG newscasters, post something in the press release forum, and depending on the specific item your producing, there might be other places on specific system or game pages that might fit.

The Geek is great, but you have to range much farther out. Next go to RPG.net and post in the stickied thread there that covers RPG crowdfunding projects.

Giants in the Playground’s forums also have a general RPG area where you could post an announcement.

After that though, at least from my corner of the net, things begin to contract into more specialized sites devoted to certain genres of RPGs. At that point the kind of product you’re creating may fit within that game’s culture. If you’re making some kind of D&D offshoot product, perhaps under the OGL then you still have plenty of places to post. Paizo for Pathfinder related material, Dragonsfoot for OSR material. Enworld for a little bit of everything D&D related.

Once you’ve spread the world through forums you’re going to have to consider if advertising on RPG websties is worth your time. I’m seeing plenty of Kickstarter ads now so plenty of creators think it’s prudent. RPG.net sells in $25 chunks. The Geek doesn’t publish their prices, you have to contact them directly.

You could also consider using Google and Facebook as advertisers, not because it is necessarily dramatically effective, but rather because the price is very cheap. You can set your budget very low, like a dollar a day, and have thousands of impressions get tossed out each week. With Facebook in particular you can drill down and target very specific demographics, so the benefit there is that you could spend $30 over the course of a campaign and hopefully the highly targeted ads will keep hitting RPG gamers over the course of that month, it could be a little reminder which they eventually click on.

You should have a page on Facebook that is devoted to your product or publishing studio and promoting that as best you can devise in your own social network. Likewise having a Twitter account needs to be assumed, and just tweet updates galore.

As for banner ads, presumably you’d have some artwork already developed by the time the funding campaign begins. It seems like standard practice to just crop a part of your cover art, add in some text, or if you get fancy create an animated gif. Since reaching that 30% mark early in the funding period it seems fairly persuasive to at least pay for advertising to cover the first week of the campaign and then the final week.

Overall my impression is that it make sense to budget around $100 for advertising for the campaign, though that’s just my own vague read of it. Perhaps you ought to be spending more, but at least in my situation that would mean cutting deep into the budget for the initial artwork that would be getting presented on the Kickstarter page.

That brings us to the core part of the marketing is the crowdfunding page itself. You really ought to have something compelling and presentable on the page when it launches. In the previous question about artwork, it was pretty clear that there is a huge variance in what you’ll get with your dollars from artists, so it’s possible that you could pay someone $25 and get a fantastic piece that lights a fire under the backers. Still, it seems far more prudent to spend at least $100 on art. I’m aiming more towards $300 spent by the time the campaign begins.

Questions

What other RPG sites should people be paying attention to when they want to post to forums and promote their work? Aside from the Geek and RPG.net, are there any other big generic RPG sites?

Does anyone have tips or suggestions for software that deals with creating banner ads? Sure you can make these in Windows Paint if need be, but are there more flashy packages that will help the novice create an animated ad that grabs the eye?

What about initial budgets? What sounds like a good amount to budget for advertising? What kind of initial art budget should be aimed for before the campaign launches?

My Thoughts

Marketing is a big investment of both time and money, but it’s important when you’re trying to get your voice heard. Word of mouth remains the most powerful marketing method, but how do you generate that buzz to begin with? And how do you do so without breaking the bank?

I’ll let you in on a secret: Other than the $100 I spent on the preview image for Psi-punk, my total marketing budget for the project was $0. I spent not a penny and wound up with a successful project. That being said, it wasn’t easy and I only reached 103% of my funding goal, and I honestly couldn’t have done it without some generous support from close friends and family. If I had to do it again I still don’t think I would have spent money on advertising, I am not sure I would have paid for marketing banners and advertisements, I just would have began buzzing sooner and offered more hands-on perks (such as playtest and preview drafts of the book) as Kickstarter backer rewards.

Here are some tips:

Start Blogging Early

I started blogging about Psi-punk about 7 months before the Kickstarter began. That seemed like sufficient time to generate some content that I could later point people toward if they wanted more information about the game. You’ll find links on the Psi-punk Kickstarter Page that point back to many individual blog posts which discuss the setting, the world, and the game’s mechanics.

Originally I only included a link from Kickstarter to the main blog page. It didn’t help me much. When I updated the Kickstarter page and added a list of links to several specific posts which talked about the game world, setting, and mechanics, I noticed a strong uptick in both traffic on the blog and Kickstarter pledges. People are lazy and don’t want to have to work for their information, so remove those barriers and they’ll be more likely to behave the way you’d like.

Having a blog set up for your game also helps you push out updates to readers after the funding campaign ends and gives you a place to ask for continued support. I received 4 additional pledges and 1 upgraded pledge through PayPal as a direct result of offering the option through my blog. The funding doesn’t have to end just because the KS campaign does.

Finally, get hooked up with related blog networks like the RPG Blog Alliance Network. Every time you publish a new blog post, they send a tweet to all of their followers on Twitter.

Social Networking

Now that you’re blogging about your game, you need to have eyes on it. This is where social networking comes into play.

Here’s another secret: I’ve long hated (hated) Facebook and Twitter. I used to believe they were stupid websites where people went to talk about what they had for breakfast, complain about work, and share stupid cat pictures. While that is still the case, you don’t have to get involved in that crowd.

There are actually a lot of great people on Twitter, Facebook, and especially Google+ who are into RPGs. Get to know these people, follow who they’re following, circle who they’re circling, and just begin talking like a regular person with all of them. You’r better off getting involved sooner, rather than later — I didn’t sign up for Twitter or Facebook accounts until just a few months before my Kickstarter campaign, and that meant my social presence on those sites wasn’t very big.

For Twitter, get involved with #RPGChat, a Tweet Chat event held every Thursday night. I met a lot of great people in #RPGChat, including my editor, my layout artist, and several other great individuals who’ve helped boost my signal.

On Google+, get involved with various RPG communities. Circle and follow folks and join the discussions. Consider yourself lucky; these communities weren’t there even one year ago when I got started. Here’s a list of a few communities you should get involved with:

RPG Designers Network
Tabletop Podcasters
Hangout RPGs
Pen and Paper RPG Bloggers
Tabletop RPG Kickstarters
RPG Community

As for Facebook? You’ve still got me there. I still only have 12 followers on my Facebook page.

Interviews, Designer Diaries, and General Hub-bub

Now that you’re building contacts within the community, use some of those to your advantage. Many people you now know are podcasters, website owners, and bloggers who would love to help you spread your word. Talk to some of the Tabletop RPG Podcasters about doing an interview on their show, ask about submitting a Designer Diary to their website or blog, and so forth.

Roleplayers Chronicle features a weekly designer’s diary column. Contact Aaron Huss and ask him if he has room for you to submit one. Contact him well in advance so you can secure a date that coincides with your funding campaign.

Try to do as many interviews as you can, and try to get them in different formats if possible. If you’re able, do a video interview, podcast interview, and e-mail interview — or do more than one of each for better results. The more you talk about your game, the more interest you may generate.

Play Your Game With Others

You have a game. You want people to play it. Make that happen.

Take your game to local conventions and let your players know how they can find more information about it after they go home. I took Psi-punk to a local convention several months before the Kickstarter campaign. I honestly didn’t know if anyone who played the game wound up checking out the Kickstarter project until I went back the following year to the same convention. I ran into one of the people I ran the game for the previous year and he said he’d been receiving all of the updates about the game and he was looking forward to its release. Nice!

Virtual conventions are also becoming pretty popular. Most of these use Google Hangouts and Roll20.net to facilitate a weekend of convention-like gaming. Check out Indie+  (for conventions and  gamedays), AetherCon, and the upcoming VirtuaCon (hosted by RPGGeek).

When running con games, remember the 4 Ps: play, play, play, and pimp. Your game should be more about having fun and showcasing how awesome it is than talking about your funding campaign, but don’t forget to at least let people know it’s coming (or already happening). If they genuinely enjoy your game, they’ll follow up on it. If they get annoyed by marketing pitches, they probably won’t.

Friendly Local Game Stores

Many FLGSs have message boards where you can post flyers or leave business cards. Before leaving media pinned to their board, ask the owners (or employees, at least) if it’s okay to do so. Make sure you leave a compelling flyer with some kind of art, a link to your website or blog, and a Kickstarter funding date. You can use a URL shortening service like Goo.gl to make a short-hand version of your Kickstarter URL that people can more easily access, and you can place a QR Code on the flyer that people can scan with their smartphone to go directly to your site.

Here’s an example of the flyer I made for Psi-punk:

Psi-punk Flyer

I made this using MS Publisher, but you can use GIMP, or even MS Paint if you need a free, simple solution.

Also on the topic of FLGSs, don’t forget that you can offer retailer rwards through your Kickstarter campaign. I e-mailed several game stores in my area and offered to run a game of Psi-punk in the store after the game’s release in order to help sell the product they receive as part of the Kickstarter campaign. Two of the 6 stores I e-mailed also pledged.

Finally, Forums

This partially goes along with Social Networking, but I saved it for last because there are a few key considerations to make when posting about your game on web forums.

For starters, nobody likes a spammer. Don’t just show up, spam your game, and go home. Certainly don’t do this more than once.

Many websites have a dedicated Kickstarter announcement thread or forum where people can advertise their games. It’s okay to post in these forums. Post only when you have updates to make that are significant: when you announce your campaign will happen, when you announce your campaign is now happening, when major milestones are met, and when the 48-hour final push begins.

It is best if you actually join some RPG communities and frequent them as a regular person even before your marketing begins. This is similar to the advice on starting your blog several months to a year in advance or gathering followers on social networks. It’s okay to let people know you’re working on a game, to post a URL to your blog in your forum signature, or to occasionally post an announcement about it. Do not simply spam your announcements every chance you get though, or you’ll encounter a fair amount of resistance.

My personal favorite forum is RPGGeek (surprised?). They have a Kickstarter Announcement Thread, a Kickstarter GeekList,  and occasionally post updates about ongoing RPG Kickstarters in their news section. As an added bonus, you can get your game set up in the RPGGeek database and start using game-specific forums to post updates, images, preview files, etc.

RPG.net, EN World, and Paizo all have very strong communities behind them as well. Consider getting involved and posting announcements on those forums.

Finally, make sure you submit your Kickstarter campaign URL to the RPG Kickstarters Tumblr. I believe they also post to EN World when they post a new project, so that’s double exposure for you.

Did I Miss Anything?

These are just some of the techniques you can use — and should use — to promote your game. They’re all free, provided you have the time to devote to their efforts. The bonus is that you’ll not only gain exposure for your game and your funding campaign, you’ll meet a lot of great people along the way.

Conclusion

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to successfully fund a campaign or market your game. You do need some internet etiquette and some time to devote to marketing, but your effort will pay off both in terms of funding and friendship. I have tried to be as inclusive as possible with this list, but it’s hard to catch everything all of the time. If you have additional suggestions on how to market your games, let me know in the comments!

Also, check back next week for part seven of the series: The Book Title – How should it be made?

Series Navigation<< Hardcover, Softcover, or Both?How to Distribute Game PDFs to Backers >>

About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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