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Crowdfunding Report: Nystul's Magic Aura Fades, Dwarven Forge hits it big, and other projects new and old

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As regular readers of the RPGG news feed know, crowdfunding projects have become very important to the industry as a whole, and many of us take a strong interest in them. We'll therefore try to follow them somewhat systematically, with regular updates on new projects and other issues. Unlike our "What's New?" series, this one won't necessarily be weekly - we'll have to see how often newsworthy items appear. You can expect a mix of "quick hit" announcements (as at the bottom of this article) and longer stories on particular issues of importance (with which we lead this week).

For a list of more projects and an opportunity to discuss each on its own, we recommend RPG Geek’s geeklist, Kickstarter RPG Projects - 2013.

Too Much, Too Fast

What a year it's been for [company=23597][/company]! Although Mike Nystul has run three hugely successful Kickstarters (Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon, Axes & Anvils, and Cairn), and despite a long track record in the industry, he has run out of funds to run the company: he has now admitted that the $75k raised through the three Kickstarters has been exhausted.

His first solution was - you guessed it - another crowdfunding project. The Build the Castle Indiegogo campaign was designed not to produce a new product but geared toward providing basic support for his company:

Mike Nystul wrote:
What do we need?
Essentially, a war chest. I ran three successful Kickstarters but as many pundits have pointed out, success carries it's own burdens. I brought on more overhead than I should have, it took longer to deliver than it should have and there have been and continue to be endless hidden costs that gnaw away at us. I have read that something like 40% of all funded RPG projects never deliver and most of those never even offer refunds. Because of this climate and how long it has taken us to deliver on our initial offerings we are facing fears of vaporware. I will not allow anything like that to happen.
I’ve no idea where the 40% number comes from – certainly fewer than that deliver on time, but complete failures are certainly rare enough to merit a great deal of attention these days.

The Indiegogo campaign has proven to be a flop, raising only $110 with a few days to go, and it's generated both questions and negativity. Yesterday, then, Nystul sent the following to backers of his biggest (in terms of funding) project:

Mike Nystul wrote:
So here's the thing. I screwed up. I started a game company and proceeded as though the cash flow and production speed would keep pace. They did not. I’ve tried to keep you informed and up-to-date, but most of all I’ve tried to deliver on expectations. So far, all you’ve seen are delays and broken promises. I take this situation very seriously.

The long and the short of it is that Cairn and Axes and Anvils have become troubled projects. We are out of money, due to some poor decisions on my part. People have asked for refunds I can't possibly give them....

I believe in these games. I will move heaven and earth to get it out, and into your hands. Every promise made will be honored – every tankard and every last stitch on every last plush. This company and it's products will NOT be numbered among the 40%. I and everyone involved in the project are completely committed to that notion. All I can do is be completely honest with you, and ask you all to forgive my my stupidity and bear with me as I make it right.
This is really a rather old tale of how too-rapid growth can kill a company. The new twist in the crowdfunding era is that you no longer necessarily control how fast your company grows – and, for the ill-prepared, scrambling for stretch goals can leave you in the lurch when you later realize how expensive those can be.

Still, in this case Nystul’s choice to pursue two additional Kickstarters before the first completed must clearly hold most of the blame, not overfunding and stretch goals. He has refused to state where the money did go.

What's next? Without any money left to fund printing, etc., it's hard to see how any physical rewards can be fulfilled. But so long as Nystul tries to complete the project, he won't - according to Kickstarter rules - owe refunds to anyone. The comments on his latest update are mixed, with some angry backers but also quite a few willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He seems committed to follow through...but how that will happen is a mystery, even to Nystul.

Full disclosure: This reporter (Steve) signed on to Axes and Anvils at the $10 level. And, yes, I regret it.

Quick Hits

The big Kickstarter of the week is not an RPG but an accessory: the Dwarven Forge Game Tiles. It surpassed $150,000 in the first day (beating not only the initial goal but also the first three stretch goals) and is now approaching $250,000. It looks like a good candidate to blow up completely over the next 35 days, as the stretch goals (at least so far) give out more and more tiles for those who purchase two full sets. It introduces a new line of 3D terrain sized for the usual fantasy mini games.

The huge Fate Core Kickstarter turned a lot of heads early this year, of course – and with the game released under Creative Commons, you can expect a lot of games to follow that are built upon the Fate 3.0 foundation. Amongst the first of these is Apotheosis Drive X, a mecha RPG from Olivia Hill and Filomena Hill. It’s already funded and has a large list of stretch goals ahead, drawing in a number of other game designers – clearly trying to capitalize on the same approach as Fate Core and Hillfolk. (There have also been at least two Fate Core-driven stretch goals in other projects - we'll have to see just how far Fate goes!)

Jason Pitre is Kickstarting an intriguing new RPG called The Spark. Jason worked on the aforementioned Hillfolk and is also the host of the excellent RPG Design PanelCast. The Spark is about building a world that produces characters with strong beliefs, then seeing how the world changes the characters as the characters change the world.

From a business standpoint the reward structure of Blade of the Iron Throne is intriguing: instead of offering books itself, the campaign asks funders to pay for the privilege of purchasing the book (from Lulu) at cost rather than at retail price – for a mere $22. Despite the game’s pedigree – based on the critically acclaimed The Riddle of Steel – and releasing a beta version for free (Blade of the Iron Throne) it has so far struggled to catch fire.

We often post announcements of new Kickstarter games, but how often do we follow them through to the end? Heads of State (which we covered in December 2011) has finally started making it into the hands of backers, over a year later. It was a small project, with around 80 backers, and the text mostly already written. The project offered three different print formats and a PDF, which for such a small group of backers must have resulted in layout and proofing headaches. The PDF took about 6 months to come out, the hardback a year, and the two softcover formats are still in progress. What do you think -- are you happy to wait to get the format you prefer, or would you rather every backer got the same product at the same time? Do deluxe formats tempt you to back a project you might otherwise skip?

Have any other projects caught your eye in the past week? Let us know in the comments! And if anything strikes you in the next week, please feel free to Geekmail me about including it in the next update.

A huge thanks to RPGG Newscaster 'zine for writing much of this article.
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