Fate Core Kickstarter or How to Make $50,000 on a Free Product

I’m a fan of Evil Hat Productions. They do good work in RPGs and have expanded into fiction and board games. Last night, around 10pm central time, they launched a third Kickstarter campaign. This is for Fate Core, the newest edition of their RPG system Fate.

Their previous Kickstarter campaigns have been successful by all measures. Fred and Rob are savvy businessmen and have designed their Kickstarters specifically to help fund the end production of things they are already bringing to market. To that end, Kickstarter serves very particular functions for Evil Hat.

First, Kickstarter is essentially a pre-order system for their products. The design work is finished. The only thing left is print and distribution. The traditional reasons for accepting pre-orders of a product are to:

  1. generate buzz,
  2. gather information about demand, and
  3. take in sales revenue ahead of production.

Kickstarter campaigns by their very nature generate buzz. Crowdfunding largely relies on word of mouth advertising to be successful. There’s an element of social media to the process. Making a Kickstarter campaign and running it correctly will generate buzz about the product. (Running a Kickstarter correctly is a whole other issue I can’t get into right now.) A successful pre-order will also give you some idea about what the demand for your product will be after it is available. This is mostly guess work but, generally speaking, a strong pre-order indicates a strong demand.

I imagine the most important part for the Evil Hat guys is generating sales revenue prior to production. I’m not saying that the first two aren’t important but Fred and Rob have a very strong community already and they know how to communicate to their fans. They can make buzz and figure out demand. Fate Core would be a success without Kickstarter. Evil Hat can do that. So what makes Kickstarter important to them, the reason they turn to Kickstarter, is that they can pay for the print run of Fate Core without dipping into the company coffers. While there are some sunk costs involved with design and editing already, the big lump cost of a print production are a more serious one-time drain. All the profits they’ve made from the Dresden Files RPG can continue paying the bills (and the designers and editors) as Fate Core pays for itself right out of the box. Evil Hat ensures that their product is 100% economically viable from the outset. That’s a winning strategy for a business.

Setting the funding goals for Dinocalypse and Fate Core intentionally low reflects this strategy. While Evil Hat could reach a higher funding goal, having a lower goal practically guarantees they will be funded (and thus collect the money) and allows them to engage their customers for more stretch goals.

Secondly, and more interestingly, Kickstarter is a way to generate discussion about the product. This isn’t just buzz, as above. Specifically with Fate Core the Evil Hat guys are engaging the backers to make sure their product is as perfect as it can be when it gets printed. In essence, Evil Hat is crowdsourcing editing and playtesting for two months prior to publication. They are working directly with their core audience to give fans what they want. All backers get the current PDF (no art, page numbers not finalized) as soon as they back the project. The top tier of backers get to work with Evil Hat directly to create a Fate Core implementation for their home campaigns. Essentially, Evil Hat will help you build the game you want to play.

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Screenshot of the Fate Core Kickstarter.

So what? It’s just a gangbusters RPG Kickstarter, right? We’ve seen plenty of those before. Well, not really. See, Evil Hat has some Kickstarter experience leveraging the popularity of their existing IP for adjacent markets. Both the Dinocalypse Trilogy and Race to Adventure! were successful forays into new territory – fiction and board games. Race to Adventure! took in more money ($52,000 vs. $42,000) but Dinocalypse had more backers (1,516 vs. 884). Both of those projects ran for 30 days.

In under 18 hours, Fate Core has racked up over $50,000 in pledges with more than 1,600 backers. It’s also set to run for nearly two months. And here’s the craziest thing: they’re giving away Fate Core after the Kickstarter. The PDF version will be released on a pay-what-you-want model after the book gets printed. That model includes a free download if you don’t want to pay anything. In the course of a day, Evil Hat has collected $50,000 in payments for a free product. Who else has done that? No one I can think of.

Why is this noteworthy? Because Evil Hat is now focusing on its core product: RPGs. Specifically the Fate system that put them on the map. We’ve seen them run strong, successful Kickstarter campaigns in the past. They’ve demonstrated the ability to reach out beyond their target market to grow interest in their company and their IP. Now they’re doing the same thing and more with their best offering. I’m interested to see how far this one goes. They have a strong fan base and word will spread beyond their existing fans over the next two months. All in all, it’s exciting to watch unfold.

About PK Sullivan

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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2 Responses to Fate Core Kickstarter or How to Make $50,000 on a Free Product

  1. Tom says:

    To be fair, the vast majority of backers (such as myself) are pledging at levels to get the printed book, not just the free pdf. Had they not run a Kickstarter, I would have bought the book once it came out, but this way I can participate in its creation and then be assured of getting a book afterwards. If the Kickstarter only offered the pdf, which would be free afterwards, pledges and demand would not be as high.

    • PK says:

      Tom, that’s absolutely true. RPGs are in a unique position as a product in that the content of the book is often offered for free (or discounted) digitally while the consumers often pay only, or a premium, for the physical artifact. There isn’t any pressing need for Fate Core to be a physical book. Fate and Fate 2.0 existed as free PDFs for years and established the Evil Hat brand. Fate 3.0, also known as Spirit of the Century, is also free online as an SRD. I was mostly commenting on that unique situation of RPGs.

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