One Year and GBP177,557 Later: The Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter Story
Achtung! Cthulhu's Chris Birch looks back on his Kickstarter success.
Back in early 2013, Modiphius Entertainment's Chris Birch launched a Kickstarter for his tabletop World War Two horror miniatures game project that, he hoped, would bring in £8,000. He and his team agonized over that figure; perhaps they should ask for £9,000? But £8,000 seemed the more realistic target, and Birch was in a better position than most to judge: before Modiphius he ran merchandising webstores for Battlefield 3, Mirror's Edge and Day Z, and had co-founded Holdup Heroines, an events/cosplay extravaganza. He knew product, and he knew what it took to run a business; but when Achtung! Cthulhu made its target in a little over a day, and went on to raise £177,557 total, he found himself with more cash than he'd dreamed of and a much bigger project than he'd anticipated.
"We didn't by any stretch of the imagination think we'd get there," Birch told me. "It just goes to show that the planning we did in the lead-up, lots of promotion, really paid off." Modiphius researched similar Kickstarters exhaustively before trying its own, and made sure to talk to just about anyone it thought would listen. That meant bloggers, podcasters, news outlets, and of course the customers it had already built up through sales of its .pdf products, giving it not just a clear idea of what its customers wanted but also a means of reaching many more people.
"A lot of people think that to promote a roleplaying game you go to RPG net," Birch, who spent 4 years in PR, says. "We found about 800 press, podcasters and bloggers and journalists, people who write in bigger magazines and smaller magazines, gaming websites ... we set about talking to them all, really working hard to get some attention."
After the Kickstarter - and all the heavy workload that implies - comes the thing itself. Delivery is a traditional Kickstarter bugbear; delays are common, and in Achtung! Cthulhu's case it had the added burden of delivering its product to a customer base half of which were overseas. Modiphius is a UK-based company, but about 800 of its backers were in the States while another 100 or so were in Australia and New Zealand; only 400 of its 1,972 backers were in the UK. Yet although there were problems - the initial product shipment went out about 3 months later than planned - when product went out in December 2013, customers in the US got what they'd asked for in time for Christmas.
"We knew we had to do the job properly," says Birch, whose 12 years in marketing helped Modiphius prepare for this challenge. "You can't afford mistakes when lots of people are concerned, because it will just spiral out of control. Pay that little bit of extra money and make sure you have a very good warehouse on board that can cope with the volume. We managed to do it all in 2 ½ days ... we [Birch and his wife] physically packed about 10,000 miniatures components, so we could say [to backers] we've seen them go, we were involved, and here's a picture. It's a good feeling!"
Extra money isn't just a shipping and warehouse issue; Birch soon discovered that it applied on the creative side as well. The miniatures were relatively simple, since the creative team was small - artist, 3D designer and a printer equals entire Nazi armies - but books are people-heavy projects. Modiphius wanted to give new writers a chance, and in any case needed to have separate creative teams plus editors and proof-readers for each of its many books to have any hope of hitting deadlines. That led to problems, as the newer writers didn't deliver on time, and their work often needed significant edits.
"The thing with people is that you have people problems. It's a fact of life that if you have a lot of people involved in a project someone's going to have a problem," Birch admits. "But you just have to say 'that's life' and cope with it. We keep repeating to everyone that we're not making life saving equipment. We're making toys - great toys - and it's not the end of the world if something goes wrong."
In the end, Birch says, Modiphius found that the best way to deal with the problem was to bring in a much more experienced writing team, which means paying more money. It's a tactic that's worked well with Mutant Chronicles, Modiphius' latest Kickstarter. There are still problems - "again, that's life," says Birch - but not as many, and the ones that do crop up are easier to deal with.
"Our final shipment's going to be early August," says Birch. "That's when we close the door on this chapter of Achtung! Cthulhu and start looking at the next, which is growing the world, adding to the miniature range. We've got a full standalone board game coming out in time for Christmas in partnership with Devil Pig Games ... the world is growing!"
Image sources: Modiphius, Scott Baker Flickr collection