Cosmothea: How Kickstarter can impact Design Decisions

I thought I’d take a departure from talking about the setting and game elements for a moment and discuss how Kickstarter can affect the way you design an RPG. As part of our trend toward transparency, I’ll dip behind the scenes into what we’ve been up to, and why we’ve made some of the decisions that we have. I’ll also talk about how Kickstarter has both opened some doors; and also created some detours in our design process.

As a small, startup company, QT Games recognizes that most people haven’t heard of it, despite its presence on many sites, holding contests over the years, numerous Play-by-Post games and other efforts we’ve made. We’ve made no attempt to publish our Cosmothea Roleplaying Game, insisting that the game retain high production values and excellent quality, rather than focusing on getting publishing credits.

Anyone can publish with a bit of elbow grease, but not just anyone can put out a high quality product. As I’ve said before, we’d rather not publish anything, than to publish something that can’t respectably sit on a shelf next to games made by bigger publishers. This is very ambitious I know, but at the same time, it isn’t blind devotion to a product line. It is a commitment to quality. I’d rather set aside the roleplaying game than to make huge compromises on quality.

This commitment to excellence has meant that despite being not much younger than D&D or Star Wars, (we’ve been playing Cosmothea in one version or another since 1979), we are still an unknown and on our 5th complete overhaul of the game. It’s been a learning experience and with very limited finances and support, I’ve never pursued the game commercially, though I have always intended to pursue Cosmothea through novels and short stories and hoped one day the roleplaying game could get on the market.

When the US economy fell into the gutter, it dragged us down with it somewhat, and it seemed like our chances of publishing Cosmothea in any form were quickly vanishing. Kickstarter opened new doors for a lot of people and small companies, and so we are hoping that will turn things around for us. We still believe in the product line we’ve scheduled and are as excited as ever about the game and setting, but as we slowly prepare for a Kickstarter campaign, we realize that relying on Kickstarter and preparing for it is a bigger thing than many people probably realize.

If you are an unknown startup like QT Games, that means that your Kickstarter campaign will likely fail if you ask for a pile of money – they aren’t a bank after all – not really, and you have to pay fees for using their services – and this comes out to a hefty amount, all said and done. Which of course means that you need to ask for even more money, so that you can cover the fees and things like promotion, but asking for more money to cover such things also cuts into how much you have for actually doing your project if you do fund.

Thanks to following great blogs like Caffeineforge and some of my own research, I’ve taken a step back and am carefully considering the path we will take and am not rushing into a Kickstarter Campaign.

The more you ask for, the less likely your odds are of getting funded. But here’s the rub: The less you ask for, the more likely you have to adjust your product in order to keep the price low enough to have a decent chance of funding. This isn’t really a problem for known publishers and well established industry figures like Monte Cook who asked for $20,000 to fund his RPG (at least $10,000 over the “safe” zone for a Kickstarter Campaign – rather, the odds aren’t great at $10,000, but the number of successful projects that fund apparently go way down when you start hitting over that amount), and ended up getting enough money to build a small gaming empire ($497,255 more than he was asking for).

No, while some fund and some fund way over the amount they requested, the rest of us need to go into a Kickstarter asking for as little as possible, because no one’s heard of us. As such, and in addition to revamping Cosmothea yet again to increase its viability and to improve the game and setting all the way around, we need to shrink the size of the product somewhat. This means smaller page counts and less art. I’m not willing to go with cheaper artists and skip editing or skimp on the production values just to get funded, so this means carefully pouring over every detail to see what we can trim out without hurting the game. Now, some of these things I’m really hoping I can put back into the game via Stretch Goals, but since those aren’t a guarantee, I have to be very careful and wield a bigger knife than I’d like to and cut a bit deeper than I’d prefer.

Where has that left us? Well, it’s a good thing to try and chip away and polish until something shines, and it’s good to be very careful so that in your trimming, you don’t cut off all the branches — no doubt. But it means we are left with fewer races and career paths than we were hoping for, and some of the options we wanted to include, may not appear until a later release. We had a big adventure planned as part of the Initial Release, and that’s being pushed back to our Second Wave.

So now we have 12 races, down from 16, and fewer career paths to develop (in addition to trimming the game and setting down in other ways). We will continue to look at ways we can trim the size of the RPG and setting down a bit more to lower the cost without compromising quality. Now, whenever you spend a good amount of time deeply analyzing something, you are also likely to spot ways to improve it, and while I miss what we cut out and hope to bring much of it back one day, the extra time that was spent analyzing the product line and searching for ways of trimming it down in size has revealed some cool elements and allowed us to tweak some concepts that I feel have actually strengthened the product.

Our Advanced career path, the Professional, for example, is a concept with far more potential than I ever realized, and opens the doors to a lot of cool options for players in a way that’s also more exciting and meaningful than I thought, and trimming down the game some means that it will also take less time to complete, without sacrificing quality. And of course there were other revelations, so this has been a good side effect of preparing for a Kickstarter.

Getting back to Monte Cook’s Numenara for a moment — it was well funded (astronomically funded), but it also had 4,658 backers. I doubt half that number even knows we exist, and as I’m not a celebrity writer, I’d be delighted if we got a fraction of that number of backers, but to even get that, we need to continue to increase awareness of and appreciation for Cosmothea. Unless you have rich relatives, you need more backers to help support a larger campaign, and while we won’t be asking for a dime more than we’ll need (I’ve already shelled out a pile of money for getting this far), to put out a high quality RPG, you need some serious bucks.

As such, we’ll need to spend more time bringing Cosmothea as far along as we can on our own, and spend more time increasing the fan base for Cosmothea before we go live with a Kickstarter Campaign. What this means, is to increase our odds of getting our Initial Release funded (and I’ll go into more detail in time as to what we have planned for that Initial Release),  we need to focus on shedding more light on Cosmothea.

To that end, we have begun working on the Cosmothea Anthology. This anthology will share a number of stories revealing cool details about the people and places that make up the Cosmothea Universe so that people can get a good taste of what the setting and game are about, and with any luck, we’ll publish other anthologies down the road; and I still have the Nexus Gates Trilogy to finish, among other big stories to tell.

We have 3 writers on board thus far, and I will be opening the doors to others in the days ahead, and will provide a detailed Guide to Cosmothea (for any writers that aren’t intimately familiar with the setting at the start). We are still sorting out the details for the anthology, but have begun writing, and we’ll still need Kickstarter funding to help pay for everything, so we aren’t rushing into it, but this pre-Cosmothea, Cosmothea Kickstarter project won’t cost as much as our RPG Initial Release, and as such, our odds are greater that we’ll be able to fund. And since we already have lots of great story ideas, paintings and a big RPG and setting to lean on during development and the anthology Kickstarter, we have plenty of details to help people get a decent grasp on just what Cosmothea is, why we are excited about it, and why we think many others will be too!

Since the beginning, I’ve been writing short stories about the setting and have written a novel and a half, and outlined several others, so while this is a new turn for QT Games, it’s something that I’ve been planning for a very long time. I just didn’t know it would happen before Cosmothea got on the market.

Like most everyone else, I’m constantly growing and improving at what I do, which is why we are on Cosmothea 5.0 now, and why I’m not about to just snag some of my old stories and publish them, hoping for the best. No, while I will be revisiting some of Cosmothea’s existing stories with fresh eyes and more experience, most of the stories in the anthology will be entirely new, so as to maximize its impact and quality, drawing on decades of refining the game and setting concepts and providing several different voices for the anthology rather than only my own. We’re still moving forward with the game, but the Cosmothea Anthology is taking the front seat.

Kickstarter has definitely impacted our design decisions in numerous ways, and I can say that it has done so for the better, because it forced us to take a hard look at what we’re doing, find ways to improve, and helped us realize what we need to do to plan for the days ahead. These are exciting times. More to come!

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About Bob Whitely/QT Games

Welcome to QT Games! Mission Never publish junk or waste people's time. Publish only high-quality fiction and games. 'Nuff said. Company Overview QT Games LLC was created to publish blended-genre (fantasy blended with sci-fi, etc.) fiction, board, card and roleplaying games for a discerning gaming community. Unlike most small press, we have very strict standards: Only pro writing, pro editing and pro art. That means that if we can't get it right, we find someone who can. We pay well for what we don't do in-house. We don't cut corners on quality. This means we stand to make less money than other small publishers, but that's okay with us. We value your time and money, so we're willing to take the bullet. We've designed a large number of games and written a pile of stories. Now we're polishing some of them and getting them out the door. 'Bout time, we know. Good stuff ahead!
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