Amanda Palmer is doing it. So are some of the biggest artists, writers and indie-publishers out there. I’m talking about using Kickstarter, the crowd-source funding option for the masses that is allowing people across the world to raise money for their projects. Kickstarter has seen some amazing results and backed some fantastic projects (including Order of the Stick and this feminist fiction anthology recently featured here on Tor.com).
One of those projects was a recent success story from Evil Hat Productions, a staple in the indie roleplaying game industry who’s titles include The Dresden Files RPG, Don’t Rest Your Head and Spirit of the Century. When they wanted to create a trilogy of novels based on their Spirit of the Century line, they went right to the fans and Kickstarter with astronomical results.
This is their story.
Evil Hat Productions is known for creating quality roleplaying games. In an industry often represented by big companies like Wizards of the Coast and giant mainstay games like Dungeons and Dragons, Evil Hat is a small house with great big talent. So when they wanted to create their first fiction line based on their pulp action tabletop game Spirit of the Century, company head Fred Hicks and his team set up a plan to reach out to the Kickstarter community and their fan base to make it happen. The book was called Dinocalypse Now and it would take readers into the pulp era of psychic dinosaurs, jet packs, talking monkeys and globe-trotting adventure. They set their goal for $5,000 with a video describing the project, rewards for every level, and plans to expand the project into a trilogy if they blew through their initial goal.
“The plan was always three novels, actually,” says author Chuck Wendig. Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, author of Double Dead and Blackbirds, and co-writer of the film HiM and the Emmy-nominated digital fiction, Collapsus. He is a mainstay in the roleplaying game industry and the author of the Dinocalypse trilogy: Dinocalypse Now, Dinocalypse Forever and Beyond Dinocalypse. “The question was, in terms of publishing it, would the audience be there for a head-first dive into Evil Hat’s full-frontal fiction foray? Hence where Kickstarter came in to see how viable it was to complete the trilogy — apparently quite viable! It felt great that Evil Hat’s fans and my fans came together in a sonic boom of crowdsourcing goodness.”
The sonic boom was earth shattering. When the Kickstarter finished its run, Evil Hat had generated a whopping $42,769 from people eager to get their hands on the thrills, chills and spills of Century Club heroes Slick Sally, Jet Black and Mack Silver. Yet once the first three books were funded, Evil Hat had to look elsewhere for what else to release their fans and reached out to other authors to create other pulp novels in the Spirit of the Century line. By the time the Kickstarter was completed, supporters helped fund not only the Dinocalypse trilogy, but additional SotC novels by authors Brian Clevinger, C.E. Murphy, Harry Connolly, and Stephen Blackmoore. Altogether, seven novels were funded, making the Evil Hat project one of the most funded fiction-based Kickstarters to date.
Evil Hat’s lead man Fred Hicks credits the company’s connection to their fans for a great deal of their success. “We decided to go with Kickstarter because the project lives outside our immediate area of expertise — roleplaying games. We know books, but fiction is another beast entirely. That meant we needed to do two things: find an audience for Evil Hat produced fiction, and find out what sort of demand there would be for such a thing. Kickstarter gave us the ability to do both, and at least partially fund the fiction line while we were doing it.”
Hicks took to social media including his Twitter, his blog, and Facebook to put out the word about the project. “We put a lot of work over the past six years into maintaining a strong, highly communicative relationship with our fanbase. We absolutely would not have done as well as we have without that social network. We’ve taken years to build it up. But we didn’t just use our social network. We chose authors who had sizable audiences of their own, ones which didn’t necessarily overlap with ours. Very deliberate! By fusing multiple audiences together, we generated a lot of extra heat.”
That resulting heat is the hallmark of this growing crowdsource movement by artists and creators to get their projects off the ground. Even well-known names like Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls fame recently launched a massive Kickstarter project for her new album which was funded in under a day. Known cyberpunk roleplaying game Shadowrun wanted to create a video game and went to Kickstarter looking for a whopping $400,000. At the close of their Kickstarter, their game Shadowrun Returns had generated an astronomical $1,836,446 with 36,000+ backers. The list of success stories goes on and on.
So what does that mean for small companies, individuals and creatives out there interested in funding their projects?
“I think Kickstarter is another strong option for authors — one that came seemingly out of nowhere,” says Wendig. “I Kickstarted two more novels in my edgy young adult Atlanta Burns series (think Veronica Mars on Adderall) and the first novel, Bait Dog, was 100% funded in I think it was 10 hours? So, for authors with a fanbase or a voice, it’s great. Though, it remains to be seen if Kickstarter will become part of the overall art-funding ecosystem or if it’ll be a bubble soon to pop. I hope the former.”
Hicks says that he and Evil Hat won’t be Kickstarting every project in the future, though the option is tempting. Their next dark urban fantasy anthology, Don’t Read This Book, will not have a Kickstarter. They do have plans, however, for a family-friendly board game in the SotC universe called Race to Adventure! which will. And seeing the response garnered by their fiction, I can only imagine the Kickstarter results.
“Kickstarter more than anything to me is a currency exchange,” says Hicks. “[It is] where you can bring social capital and get it turned into financial capital. That’s simply revolutionary. You have to handle it smartly, treat it like a business, assess your costs, think about marketing, and all that. Kickstarter is a marketplace, not a magic bullet made of money — but it’s really changing the game.”
For the sake of independent creators, let’s hope it stays that way. Meanwhile, I’m strapping on my adventure goggles and diving into some psychic Dinocalypse fun. Without Kickstarter and the hard work from Evil Hat, we would have less two-fisted pulp in the world and that would be a tragedy. I look forward to whatever we see from Evil Hat in both roleplaying games and fiction in the future.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.