It’s traditional in video games for the developers to write post-mortems after a game has shipped. These briefs provide folks with a way to talk about what went right and what went wrong during the development cycle. Usually, they call out unexpected surprises (such as “synergies”) but also shine a light on bumps in the road, flaws in the process, and areas to be reexamined and/or revised.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Streets of Bedlam, Kickstarter, and the good and bad of this whole process which gave me the idea to do my own post-mortem, a coroner’s report, on the SoB KS.
Now, overall, I feel the Kickstarter was overwhelmingly positive. It allowed me to create a setting I’d been brewing for years, gave gamers some (hopefully) fun and useful tools for telling their own blood-soaked crime operas, and helped some creatives financially in the process. But it wasn’t without its hiccups. As parts of the Kickstarter are winding down and I’m able to focus more and more on the last remaining bits (looking at, Five-Story Drop), I thought I’d take a moment to talk about what went right and what went wrong from my perspective.
What I Did Right
I minimized my own additional work. Especially in regards to Stretch Goals. I’ve seen other projects where the main contributor gives herself more work with each Stretch Goal. I already felt like I was taking on a lot with just the main project so I looked for ways to give backers new, cool things without putting big projects on my plate. Now, I added a fifth episode to Five-Story Drop (originally Four-Story Drop) and put together some exclusive Archetypes but these are rather minor additions in the grand scheme. I didn’t promise a third book, another chapter in the corebook, or anything like that. As each Stretch Goal was smashed, I brainstormed ideas for a big finish, something to reward backers for being far more awesome than I anticipated. This led to commissioning a soundtrack from Ed Lima. Not only is this a huge thing for Bedlam to have but it’s something I could not have done without the support of KS backers.
I gave some unexpected perks. Originally, I was going to buy some generic bulk dice from Chessex for those backing at the 60+ level or higher. But after asking some industry friends, I learned custom dice are actually quite affordable. So I commissioned a run of custom d6s, bundled them with some black, white, red dice, and packaged them inside a sow’s ear. Nice. I try to overdeliver whenever I can and I feel that a custom set of dice in its own bag is a huge plus.
I hired Shawn Gaston. I think we can all agree on that, yeah? I honestly had no clue who I was going to get to illustrate the book. I knew I wanted a distinct and gritty illustrative style—nothing photorealistic, nothing epic—to convey the characters and areas of Bedlam. I knew I wanted the illustrations to use key characters that I would build up throughout the book and the supplements. Beyond that, I was at a loss. The two artists I thought of first were both too busy (one with a new day job; one with personal stuff), leaving me clueless. And then Shawn sent that fateful tweet back in December and away we went.
What I’d Do Differently
I would pad the delivery date. The April date was realistic, y’know, if I lived in a world where I had no distractions, no sudden health problems, no amazing day job opportunities crop up, no sudden out-of-state move. But I did have all those things and each one pushed Streets of Bedlam further and further out. As of this posting, over half the folks who pledged should have everything coming to them, and the rest should have the bulk of what’s due to them within a couple weeks. But that’s ten months-plus out from when the Kickstarter ended back in mid-January. You all have been amazingly gracious—but you shouldn’t have had to be. To that end:
I would have the writing done beforehand. I didn’t feel I could do that back in November last year as I was considering my project for 2012. I was working as a full-time freelancer and any time not spent writing for other people was spent on short, immediate-sale projects (such as the Campfire Tales for Little Fears Nightmare Edition). Launching a new line would require setting aside a large chunk of time that was unpaid. At the very least, I decided, I couldn’t launch SoB in the red. That meant I needed to have the art and publishing costs covered even if my own time wasn’t. The initial goal on the Bedlam Kickstarter, $3000, was to cover those two things. Once that goal was hit, the game would launch in the black. The extra money went towards the stretch goals and covering my contribution to the household budget. This time though, I’m not dependent on freelancing to cover my bills. If I did launch a second Kickstarter, and I’d like to, I would have the writing done. That way, it would only be a matter of accounting for art, editing, and layout time.
That’s the list I have, off the top of my head, so now I’m looking to you. What are your thoughts? Where did I fall short? Where did I succeed? Do you regret backing the Kickstarter? If so, why? I’d love to hear your thoughts, warts and all, so that I can learn for next time—and maybe some folks launching new projects can learn from these lessons as well.