To Kick or not to Kickstart?


It’s been one of my ideas since the beginning of the Chronos: RTCS/Unchained Heroes Saga that I would do a Kickstarter. My friends and family can attest to that (and would probably inwardly roll their eyes each time I mentioned anything about it). The first time I thought about it and began discussing it was in 2010, but I was not ready for prime-time. I thought I was, I had an official Copyright and I was “done”, but it wasn’t “finished”, I know that for sure now. Through the years I continued to talk about a Kickstarter and even planned for it, but in 5 years a lot of things have changed.

What didn’t Change…

I would like to begin by mentioning what has not changed. I have a Tabletop Roleplaying Game that I would like to see put into production and placed in the hands of people beyond my immediate tabletop “family.” I want to produce a slick looking, top notch TTRPG that people will enjoy and if I make a few bucks off of it, all the better. There is nothing I want more than to see a matte cover with glossy callouts and flip through a book with that high-quality paper feel like we find in 13th Age, Numenera, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is my enjoyment of the game. Even through all its tweaks and versions, I still love the game so much that I continue to enjoy working on it and playing it.

I still haven’t lost the support of my family and friends, either. They are behind me and interested enough to listen to my ramblings. We have more than a few Unchained Heroes games running and they continue to stand behind me when things get tough and hurdles appear.

I still want to build the world of Unchained Heroes through an online community. I want to see people get excited and make their own Floating Realms, tweak Hero Classes, and come up with exciting House Rules.

The list of things that has changed is much more lengthy, however. Putting aside the version changes and other adjustments for a while, I will focus on my views on Kickstarter specifically.

My First Impression of Kickstarter (2010)

When I heard about Kickstarter in 2010, it was a dream come true for me. A platform for people to get funding to launch their dream projects was everything I could hope for and more. It gave me an opportunity to create a game and get people excited about it, just like I was. It also gave me a platform to raise money that wouldn’t mean I have to go broke to pursue my goal of publishing my game.

I would buy artwork, get it edited, and have the shiny book I always wanted with the help of many people in the greater gaming community. There was nothing to lose (as long as I was funded).

Things start to turn (2012)

I still hadn’t released my game and it was 2012. There was still too much I needed to tweak and I wasn’t happy with the mechanics as a whole. Personally, the mechanics were too crunchy and I needed to take Occam’s Razor to a few more things. I was thinking about distribution at the same time I was thinking about rebuilding mechanics of the game.

I thought of Kickstarter as my best option for distribution, but in two years, it was different than it once was. It had morphed. It was more popular and something completely shocking had occurred by then: established publishing companies were using it. Those companies with the time, resources, and staffing to create games without Kickstarter were using it as a delivery platform. This was a drastic change to what I felt Kickstarter was meant to represent. I am still on the fence on if this was a good thing or not, but it overall it was probably more positive than negative. It was getting games in front of a wider audience and helping these companies produce products that they may not have had the monetary resources to craft on such a scale before.

I had just gotten a new job, a baby was on the way, and we were looking for a house. Was this the time to be focusing on a Kickstarter for the then Chronos: RTCS? Was it ready for more than just my game group? These questions permeated my thoughts and before I knew it, 2012 came and went. I kept thinking about Kickstarter though and talking about it to anyone that would listen, even if it something about it nagged at me.

Chronos: RTCS morphs with Kickstarter (2013)

In 2013, I was a sliver away from being ready to produce Chronos: Real Time Combat System and get it out to the masses. I had consulted publishers for costs, I had a soundtrack for my Kickstarter video, I  had a website, a Facebook Page, and I had what I thought was the final revision for the game, but an epiphany in the game design put it on hold. That epiphany set me back another 6 months and Kickstarter continued to morph as often as my game did. It was 2014 before I would truly be ready to release the game as Chronos; RTCS to the gamer community and I had to think really hard about distribution.

Time for Distribution (2014)

In the beginning of 2014, distribution was a serious sticking point for me. I had to choose my channels and Kickstarter had morphed even further into a world where big and small companies alike competed for the crowdfunding resources of the mass market. I didn’t like what I was seeing for Chronos in the Kickstarter world. Sure I had great artwork, I had a polished product, and I had a tested game, but at this point the expectations attached to a Kickstarter were through the roof and I was very intimidated. Was Kickstarter still an avenue for the small publishers? How about Indiegogo? What does it look like we need to do to get funded?

As a one man shop, I didn’t know if I had enough time and product to meet the new demands tied to a Kickstarter. I didn’t have the graphic design skills to build a flashy launch page and I was only just getting my social media feet underneath me. Kickstarters were a phenom now. Taking a look at the majority of Kickstarters at the time would show you many great looking games, with ambitious stretch goals, lovely rewards, and teams of people working on them. They had fantastic banners, amazing videos, and community management aspect built in. The project management side of me, thought that this was all great, but I was concerned on the community management. On top of all that, I had a personal impression that Kickstarter was becoming a pre-order system rather than a launch pad for projects. I had a product, but would I be able to deliver a product that might match the typical expectations for a Kickstarter at this point?

I had these questions and more knocking around my head and then I came to a realization: I would not be releasing Chronos via a Kickstarter. The markets I had available to me through DriveThruRPG and would be sufficient for me to get my game out there and I would be able to do it in a cost effective manner. There were Print on Demand services like DriveThruRPG, Amazon, and Lulu on top of the digital distribution methods that didn’t require capital costs. Was Kickstarter really necessary for my goals? Not at that time; a Kickstarter had morphed into something far beyond what I felt I could handle then.

Rebranding, Renaming, and Re-releasing (2015)

This brings us up to the present. It’s 2015 and I am getting ready to relaunch Chronos: Real Time Combat System as Unchained Heroes and the Kickstarter question is rising to the forefront again. Do I or don’t I run a Kickstarter? Is Unchained Heroes a “Kickstarter” product line and will I be able to take the plunge?

These questions are hard to answer. My design skills have leveled up, so I think I could produce a quality launch page. I am better versed in the world of publishing, so I know some of the pitfalls now, although I need to be careful of sophomoric thinking–I can’t get overconfident. The time commitments might be eased somewhat. The product is finished, but there are always things I would like to have more money for such as: hiring an Editor, buying more Artwork, getting a massive new Cover Piece, and purchasing a high-quality print run with glossy page stock. Those three things are at the very top of my list, but are they necessary for the way the game is right now? I don’t believe so. They would be nice, but not necessary. What about stretch goals? What did I have in mind and would I be ready to create them?

When I think about stretch goals, I get very excited. I am full of ideas that I would like to produce, but there is a cost of time and money involved that I need to calculate. Things like a DM Screen, Player Companion Guide, New Classes, New Races, New Monsters, More Magical Items, splat-books on the Floating Realms and more are all options for me to design and create. This would also give me the opportunity to get the shiny high-quality print book that I wanted with glossy paper stock and an enhanced cover. What to do… what to do…

Posing a Question to You (2015)

So now, after throwing my thoughts onto the page, I ask of you all: what do you think of Kickstarter? What makes Kickstarter a good fit for a game? Would you kickstart a project of your own in this age of the Kickstarter world?


Thank you all and I look forward to hearing your thoughts,

-Turk Zapt


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