Kickstarter Post-Mortem: Three Days Until Retirement

Last fall, we ran our first-ever crowdfunding campaign to fund our first-ever game, Three Days Until Retirement.  The project was incredibly successful, raising $9,925 on a $3,000 goal.  We ended up with 351 backers, 253 of which received physical goods.

Having fulfilled the Kickstarter (with the exception of a tiny amount of physical content shipping separately to about 30 people) and amassed the numbers, I now have a much better idea of the margins and cost and hopefully a few ideas/lessons worth sharing.  Here goes:

The numbers

  • Gross:  $9925
  • Top line: $9100 ($8900 after KS cut, Amazon cut, failed payments, plus $200 for additional payments from paypal)

Wow, $9100 seems like a lot of money!  It is a lot of money!  But, if you’re in the indie publishing business, that money has a lot of claims on it.  Let’s break down the expenses.

  • Art:  $4279 ($3579 for illustrations, plus a pre-paid $700 for the logo and “sample” art for the KS page).  Art was the single largest expense, which is fine with me.  Nikki Burch is an amazing artist and her illustrations are integral to the feel of the game.  I’ll talk some more about art down below in the “lessons” section.
  • Editing:  $200 and a damn steal.
  • The game book:  $940 (approx) for 300 copies. Copies were $2.55 a piece from Ingram spark, but then there’s a $70 print-readiness fee, around $100 in shipping, a $1.50 handling fee and $31 sales tax.  On the plus side, I have an extra stock of 50-100 to sell, which is AWESOME.
  • The handbook:  $753 for 600 copies.  This was tremendously more expensive than I had planned.  The short lesson here is “if you’re going to offer four copies of something to your backers cut it way back from 50 pages).
  • Patches: $548 for 350 patches.  That’s about twice what I needed, but the price break was good and I wanted extras for later sales.
  • Coozies:  $322 for 900 coozies (500 of one run, 400 of the other).  I planned on spending about $300 on coozies so I did, vastly overordering.  I like coozies as promotional products and have lots of them left over for distribution and sale.
  • GOLD TIMEX 1:  $242 for 200 copies (90 cents a piece plus sales tax).  Supply Concepts Inc in Fenton did a great job on these, I will use them again for small runs.
  • GOLD TIMEX 2:  Probably $75 for 50 copies.  Printing these next week.

So our production cost was $7,359, and I have approximately $1000 (cost value) in merchandise available for sale/distribution.  Not too shabby!

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM TIME  How you gonna get all this shit shipped to your delightful backers?
Not going to lie, shipping kept me up at night once or twice.  I ran a few estimates but had no real idea what to expect.  I’m going to help y’all out though and give you weights, costs, etc.

  • Domestic Shipping: $954.32 (approximately) in postage.  I anticipated about $5 a package, which was a low-ball because of the coozies/patches as well as the weight of the deluxe packages.  Since the fan club kits had things other than books, I couldn’t ship them media mail, immediately increasing their price of the $25 tier from $2.69 to about $3.80.  It raised the price of the $40 tier from $3.19 to between $5.89 and $8. OUCH!
  • International shipping:  $487.11, which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought (primarily due to printing postage online).  I will lower my international shipping rates in the future.
  • $100 (ish) in packing supplies, labels, gas to the post office, etc.

That brings our total cost to: $8900.43.  Subtract that from $9100, and I got to LIVE THE HIGH LIFE on $199.57!

So what did we learn today?

  • Kickstarters are for launching and developing products, not for paying yourself to do so.  Granted, I was rather profligate with my stretch goals and and generous with my art budget.  But the absolute takeaway here is don’t expect to live on kickstarter proceeds.  Instead, use the money to finish a product you can sell professionally, then live on that money.
  • Buy a nice printer and then print all of your postage online.  Since the $40 packages weighed 21 ounces (holy crap!) I could have saved a lot of time and a lot of money (easily an extra hundred) printing their postage online.  I saved over a hundred on international postage as well.  The $25 packages I think I could have shipped for slightly cheaper, but the savings would have been somewhere around $40.  That’s $250 saved on mailing 250 packages, and you can get a decent office printer for less than that if you find a sale.
  • Figure out your highest quantity item is, then make that fucker small and cheap. I figured the book would be the most expensive thing to produce, and in a way it was, since it cost $2.55 a pop to do a print run of 300.  BUT since I had 600 copies of the zine to ship, I should have focused more on dropping the cost and weight of the players guide.  Fewer pages would have easily done the trick.  I like the Players Guide as is, but the margins on it are terrible relative to everything else.
  • Don’t promise content if you don’t have a plan for making it:  I offered two expansion content booklets, and their production were the single biggest contributor to the delay of the kickstarter.  Had I outlined them in advance I would have been more cautious about offering them, or I would have pushed the deadline out further.
  • Be careful with your stretch goals.  Or maybe don’t: I would have made more money at $3,000 than I did at $9,925.  BUT the gamebook for Three Days Until Retirement is much, much better as a result of the stretch goals:  three times as much art, a fully-illustrated color cover, all sorts of weird fan club physical goodies (I’m a sucker for tangible things), two pieces of expansion content, etc.  Almost every stretch goal ate up a significant portion of the money involved in getting to it:. A huge amount of the “earmarked for Stuart” post-production cash went to extra art, more/better content, physical goods, etc.  I regret nothing.
  • The overall lesson here is: Know why you’re running the kickstarter.  You’re not running it to get rich.  You’re not running it to make a living off of your creative juices (bad mental image, but whatever).  You’re running it to produce a high-quality product for people who believe in you enough to give you money in advance.  My kickstarter backers are among my favorite people on the planet and I am proud to have spent virtually all of the money they gave me on a beautiful, fun, interesting game that I know they will enjoy and that they can’t get anywhere else.  Thanks, backers!
  • Figure out how to sell outside of kickstarter.  Since you’re giving your backers a great deal, you need to figure out how to sell your creation online, at cons and in stores. That’s when you, the creator, finally get paid. Hopefully.

Will I do it again?  OF COURSE.  I’m launching a kickstarter for our next game, Beasts of Burden right… about… NOW!