How to Distribute Game PDFs to Backers

This entry is part 7 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 seventh post, “How to distribute PDFs once the Kickstarter is done?.” 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.

How does one distribute PDFs to many people if the PDFs are beyond the scope of email allowances?

Typically email isn’t going to let you send or receive files above 20 megabytes, so if you have a PDF that is bigger than that you need another solution to distribution.

You could do it through RPGNow, but to go that route you’d either have to give the PDF away for free, or send vouchers to customers which you have to purchase from RPGNow, which means your not getting any real funding from the crowdfunding project, or at least RPGNow is getting a 30% cut.

Eventually you would want to have your PDF set up on RPGNow for regular sales, but this is just an issue for getting the files to the backers of the crowdfunding project.

There are other routes, such as Dropbox, but you don’t have much control who’s downloading the files, and it requires the backer to get a Dropbox account.

One could raise a lot of philosophical questions about file sharing with this topic and whether a creator should even be that concerned with who gets the file, but I guess I’m just more interested in figuring out if there is an inexpensive technical solution to the problem.

Does anyone know of some kind of media sharing inventory service, so you can share files and know when/if your customer was able to download the file?

My Thoughts

This topic is very timely for me, as Psi-punk officially released less than one week ago. Just a few days ago as of this post, I had to deal with distributing PDFs to my Kickstarter backers and get the word out to new people.

I am distributing Psi-punk via OneBookShelf (OBS), which means it’s being sold on both RPGNow.com and DrivveThruRPG.com. Set up for both sites is identical and setting up on one site will get you set up on the other — it’s all one system now, they just have different color schemes.

If you’re uploading your first product to OBS, you need to give it some time to go through an approval process. This can take 1 to 2 days according to the website. I uploaded my first product, Colors of Grey, back in January so I thought I wouldn’t have an approval timeframe anymore but sure enough Psi-punk still went into a holding zone for a couple of hours.

While I was waiting for OBS to approve my product for sale, I decided to send the PDF to my backers via e-mail. This process is much simpler than it was even one year ago, assuming all you care about is getting your product to your backers and not monitoring how many people access your files. Here’s the method I used:

Distribute via Google Drive

If you don’t have a Google account, they’re free and easy to set up. They also come with a Google Drive account, which lets you host files and send download links to as many people as you’d like. I found this to be fast, straightforward, and much easier than using a service like Dropbox or GitHub. No super top secret passwords or additional login credentials are required.

Upload and Set Sharing Permissions

First, upload your file to your Google Drive account.

Next, right-click on the file you want to share and select “Share…” then “Share…” again. If you’re using a Mac, well, I’m sure there’s some other way to access the Share menu.

On the Who Can Access panel, select Change… This will let you change the permissions for the file.

Distribute the Link to Backers

You’ve enabled anyone you share the link with to download the file. You can now do one of two things to get the link to your backers:

1. Copy the link on the Share Settings panel and paste it into an e-mail or Kickstarter backer update.

2. Use GMail to attach the file. In GMail, you can now directly attach Google Drive files without having to re-upload them, and without the need to worry about attachment size limitations.

I chose the latter option because not every Kickstarter backer was going to be receiving a full copy of Psi-punk, so I didn’t want everyone to have access to the link. This posed its own set of challenges.

First of all, I had to get everyone’s contact information from Kickstarter into my GMail contacts. That means setting up my own contacts database.

How to Import Contacts from Kickstarter to GMail

First, generate a backer report from Kickstarter. KS will create several spreadsheets for you — one for each backer reward level you offered. These will have usernames, e-mail addresses, and contact info that you received from your backers when you sent out your backer survey (you did do that, right?). You can copy those into one CSV (comma-separated value) file and import them into GMail.

Here’s a tutorial on how to do that.

Once you’ve imported your contacts, GMail will place them all in a Contact Group with a name such as “Imported Contacts [today’s date].” I’d recommend renaming that to something more useful, like “KS Backers.”

If you need to exclude certain e-mail addresses, you can remove them from the group by hand or simply not include them in your CSV file to begin with. I recommend the latter. If you really need those contacts for another reason, you can create a separate Contact Group for those e-mail addresses specifically.

Send Your E-mail Using BCC

Finally, now that you have your e-mail contacts and your file ready to go, you can create a new e-mail to send to everyone. GMail makes it easy to e-mail everyone in a single Group; simply type “KS Backers” (or whatever you named your group) into the Bcc: field of your e-mail window and it will import everyone’s contact information.

Important: Use BCC, not To or CC when sending bulk e-mails. It’s not polite to share everyone’s e-mail address. BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy, where the Blind part means nobody will be able to see one another’s e-mail address.

Paste your Share link or attach your file to the e-mail and send it to your backers.

Note: Your e-mail will wind up in some peoples’ spam folders. Many e-mail clients will flag it as spam because you sent a BCC to 100 or so e-mail addresses. You’ll want to send a Backer Update through Kickstarter now to inform people that they should expect another e-mail from you and they should check their spam boxes if they didn’t receive it. If anyone contacts you saying they didn’t receive the e-mail, verify whether or not they were supposed to get it to begin with and send them the link on a case-by-case basis.

Create a Special Discount through OneBookShelf

Before you get started sending out e-mails through GMail, pay attention to this. If you plan on selling through OBS at all, make sure you mention that to your backers in your initial e-mail. You’ll get a lot of questions from people asking whether or not they can get a free download through OBS if you don’t. I learned this the hard way and had to spend valuable time responding to peoples’ questions about it.

When a customer purchases a PDF from OBS, it is placed into their permanent download locker. They can always retrieve the file at a later time, and many people like that peace of mind. For the backers who already have an OBS account or don’t mind setting one up, this is a huge benefit. It’s free and simple to set up a free download link, and if you can send the link in your original e-mail to everyone then you’ll avoid a lot of complication and follow-up e-mails.

Generate a free download link using OBS:

Log into your account at RPGNow.com or DriveThruRPG.com.

Click Accounts at the top of the screen.

Scroll down to your Publisher Menu.

Under the Promotion section, select Create or edit special discounts.

There are several drop-down menus and text fields on the page. Select your product and product options to choose which file you’d like to apply a special discount to. Then, under Special Price enter 0.00. That’s the price your customers will pay for the product using the link you’re about to generate. YOu can create other promotions later by following these same steps and entering a different price.

The choices in this form are optional and I recommend leaving them blank. You can time-limit your special promotion if you’d like to limit the amount of time your backers have to download the file for free, but you may then need to send the file to individuals who didn’t get around to downloading it in a timely manner.

Click Create Special Discount to generate a new link. Your page will refresh and you’ll have a new section entitled Current Special Discounts.

Copy your Discount Link and send it in the e-mail with your Google Drive link (or an additional e-mail if, like me, you just couldn’t wait). The link looks something like this:

http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?discount=78690

Bonus! If you’ve read this far, give the link above a try. Clicking it will take you to RPGNow and place Psi-punk in your shopping cart for $15.99, a 20% discount off the cover price. The special discount link is only good through June 4th.

What’s Next?

You’ve now distributed your game to backers in two different ways: through Google Drive for anyone not using OneBookShelf and through OBS for those who do. Now it’s time to promote and sell. OBS will handle all of your distribution from here out, unless of course you choose to host your files with other websites as well. Shop d20pfsrd is another great website for selling electronic books, and they’re especially great if you’re selling Pathfinder, Sword and Wizardry, or Mutans and Masterminds products.

Conclusion

There are many other ways you can distribute your files to backers, but the examples above are both free and easy. You could set up a file on a hosted server and set a password-protected download link, or you can upload to Dropbox or any number of other cloud storage sites. If you find something that works better for you, then by all means give it a try.

If you enjoyed this post or have anything to add, leave your feedback in the comments. Also, tune in next time for part 8 of this series: “The Book Title – How should it be made?”

Series Navigation<< Crowdfunding Campaign Marketing 101Designing a Book’s Logo/Title >>

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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