Friday, 3 July 2020

Gamebook Friday: What I learnt from running 6 gamebook crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter

If you check out the About page on this website you will see, under the simple rules and indisputable truths, "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience? Well that comes from bad judgement."

So for today's Gamebook Friday blog post, I am going to discuss how experience with previous Kickstarters has guided me, or encouraged me to adapt, when running new Kickstarters. To date I have run 14 crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter, but for this piece I am going to focus on the six ACE Gamebook Kickstarters.

Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland (ACE Gamebook #1)
This was my third Kickstarter, but it was the first time I had tried crowdfunding a gamebook, and a gamebook that wasn't connected to a pre-existing series or that made use of a known ruleset.

What I learnt...

  1. Properties that are out of copyright can provide you with a very fertile creative field to plough.
  2. Use a tripod when recording yourself for a Kickstarter video.
  3. People are more likely to support a project if it is strongly connected to an existing popular brand.
  4. I should have bought many more copies of Shadows Over Sylvania before it was removed from sale.
  5. A well-known brand can have global appeal.
  6. Gamebook readers really have had enough of mazes!
  7. Chooseco, who publish the Choose Your Own Adventure brand, really don't like you using the phrase 'A Choose Your Path Adventure Gamebook' on your book and will threaten legal action.

The Wicked Wizard of Oz (ACE Gamebook #2)
After Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland was published, people asked if I was going to write a sequel, which got me thinking about which other classics of children's literature would be suitable subjects for gamebook adaptation. As it turns out, quite a lot.

What I learnt...

  1. Just because a brand is popular in the US doesn't mean it will have the same following in the UK.
  2. Having bonus content contained within the book that is only intended for Kickstarter backers only annoys people who buy the book via conventional outlets after it is published. (I have since made the Oz bonus material available here.)
  3. Allowing readers to play as one of six different characters means writing a lot of extra sections.
  4. Readers want a meaty story. Just because you've written a lot of different scenes, doesn't mean that on a single playthrough a reader will get to enjoy many of them, so narrative design is key.
  5. Proofreading is vitally important. Don't let anything go to print until you have checked the final layout of the book. (You can download the errata for The Wicked Wizard of Oz here.)

NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters! (ACE Gamebook #3)
Having learnt from my mistakes with The Wicked Wizard of Oz, I made sure that there was no game content that was reserved solely for Kickstarter backers, and I made sure that everyone's adventure would be a satisfying experience, and not too brief, no matter which character you played as.

What I learnt...

  1. Drawing your own maps might be fun, but painting them is a whole other matter.
  2. Make sure you have all your physical rewards ready before you start sending out book rewards because...
  3. People really appreciate it if you send out high level rewards first, or at least at the same time as everybody else's. And yet, all too often these are the ones that get sent out last.
  4. It is very hard to get people to write and post Amazon reviews. (185 backers on Kickstarter, 13 review on, 3 reviews on
  5. People can get funny when you change the cover design of a series.

Beowulf Beastslayer (ACE Gamebook #4)
This was a book I had been wanting to write for a long time, but in that time my approach to the adventure had changed quite dramatically. It was not as long as NEVERLAND - Here Be Monsters! or The Wicked Wizard of Oz, but it was still probably my most ambitious published gamebook to date.

What I learnt...

  1. Not everyone will appreciate you going to the trouble of writing in an epic, poetic style, if all they really want you to do is rehash past glories.
  2. People who back gamebook projects in general aren't all that fussed about miniatures.
  3. Having a celeb give you a cover quote for your book is really cool.
  4. Having the original illustrator of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain illustrate your book is really really cool. (It pays to approach the masters. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen? They might say no. Then again, they might say yes.)
  5. External Pledge Managers can be useful.
  6. Teachers don't like to have to pay for teaching resources.

'TWAS - The Krampus Night Before Christmas (ACE Gamebook #5)
I have a long held fascination for the history and legends of Christmas. (I even wrote my History A-level extended essay on the origins and history of the Christmas carol.) I am particularly fond of Krampus, the Germanic Christmas Devil, and so it was, I suppose, inevitable that one day I would write an adventure gamebook featuring the anti-Santa as the Big Bad.

What I learnt...

  1. If you can afford it, commission some art before launching the Kickstarter, so that people can buy into your vision for the gamebook right from the start.
  2. Greyscale computer-generated art can work in an adventure gamebook.
  3. If you write a book tied very strongly to a particular event, or time of year, do not expect strong sales all year round. But on the plus side, you have the perfect occasion to promote your gamebook every year.
  4. Obscure European folklore may mean that your book finds a new market elsewhere, outside of the UK.
  5. While external Pledge Managers can be useful, sometimes it's quicker, cheaper, and easier to do it yourself.
  6. If your book is thin enough, it can be sent through the post as a large letter rather than a small parcel.

Dracula - Curse of the Vampire (ACE Gamebook #6)
This is the ACE Gamebook that, as of writing this blog post, I am still in the process of writing. I am sure I will learn a lot from this one too but for the time being here's...

What I learnt...

  1. If you can, and you are confident the Kickstarter will fund, start writing the book before running the crowdfunder; people will be more likely to back your project if there is a sample of it that they can try out for themselves.
  2. Don't just promote your Kickstarter to your target audience. For example, someone who loves vampires, and is a member of a Gothic-themed Facebook group, might have played gamebooks in their youth but is unaware they are still in print. So spam up those Gothic groups as well as the gamebook and RPG ones.
  3. People love the idea of playing as the Bad Guy.
  4. It's worth offering people the chance to place a Late Pledge.

What other things should you bear in mind if you are planning a crowdfunding project of your own?

You need to keep promoting your project. Kickstarter is not an effective promotional platform. You are the platform; Kickstarter is merely the means to collect people's pledges.

Timing is important too. Apparently the best times of year to run Kickstarters are March and October, which are both far enough away from the two big spending periods of people's lives annually - Christmas and the summer holidays.

Budgeting is vitally important. Bear in mind that you will spend a lot of time simply promoting and fulfilling your project, let alone creating the finished product. If you're happy to do that for free, fine, but it you want to be paid for your time you will need to factor it into your budget. To help keep costs down, where possible offer digital rewards rather than physical ones. And always include a contingency fund! There's always some unexpected cost that will crop up before the day is done, and if you don't actually need it, then that's your reward for running a successful and efficient Kickstarter.

Once your project has funded, keep people up to date with your progress on said project - once a month is enough - even if it is only to tell them that there is no news; at least that shows your backers that you haven't forgotten about them. And if you project is going to be delayed, the sooner you can let backers know the better, and keep updating them. Don't go quiet on them.

But the most important thing I have learnt from crowdfunding gamebooks (and other things) is this: under-promise and over-deliver. Too many Kickstarters come unstuck because project creators do the exact opposite - they over-promise and under-deliver. If you think it will take you nine months to complete the project and deliver it, tell your backers it will take twelve, because you never know what issues might arise during that time. Worst case scenario, you deliver the book when you said you would. But if there aren't any setbacks, you'll get your rewards out early, and I've never had any backer complain because they received their books sooner than they expected.

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