ZiMo Retrospective – Signal to Noise

The campaign for Signal to Noise has come to an end over on Game on Tabletop so I wanted to do a quick post focusing on my first thoughts about how the campaign went. I did this for Project Cassandra last year and found it really useful – both as a reminder for myself and as a way to share my thoughts with others. This post is likely to be a little rambling and only lightly organised so reader beware! Also, while I will report on various numbers I’m going to avoid any formal analysis, so any conclusions I do reach should be interpreted in that context.

First up, some raw data. The campaign ran from the 8th of February until the 26th of February on Game on Tabletop. I had an initial goal of £300, no formal stretch goals and money was collected at the time of pledging rather than at the end of the campaign. The available tiers were PDF only (£5), Print+PDF (£10+p&p), Itch upgrade (£5+p&p) and private game (£50+p&p). I also offered copies of Project Cassandra as an add on, in both PDF (£6) and Print+PDF (£8+p&p) formats.

The campaign raised a total of £817 from 61 backers. By comparison Project Cassandra, my 2021 ZineQuest project, raised £1830 from 175 backers. Both totals include shipping. It’s common to collect shipping when the project approaches fulfilment but I chose to include it upfront for two reasons – I expect the turnaround time on this project to be relatively short and while global shipping is still a mess the rates for small zines shipping out of the UK is relatively stable.

This campaign was all about funding art for the game. I had already commissioned 1 piece using existing funds. Thanks to the campaign I’ll be able to add a further 4 pieces of art to the game, all by Val Sannais, who did the fantastic piece below.

So how do I feel about it all?

The answer to that is mixed. I moved off of Kickstarter due to their general disregard for creators, both in terms of non-existent commitment to ZineQuest and the proposed move to the Blockchain. That decision almost certainly cost me backers and money. It was, therefore, frustrating to see just how many people stuck with KS. I appreciate that some creators rely on the platform to make a living but most don’t and after all the outrage that had been flying around I’d hoped more would move to alternative platforms. If we want to make a shift to a more diverse funding environment then the community is going to have to step up and take those early hits.

As an alternative to Kickstarter I chose to use Game on Tabletop (GoTT), a European crowdfunding site that predominantly cater to the non-English speaking market. They offer a mix of crowdfunding, pledge manager and marketplace options with a robust toolset and more options for customisation than Kickstarter. It’s honestly a little embarrassing how much KS have fallen behind in terms of features given their overall dominance of the space.

For Signal to Noise I chose to use the basic crowdfunding approach, collecting pledges as they were made rather than at the end of the campaign. This may have put some people off but in the event we didn’t reach the £300 goal I planned to release a print version of the game anyway, just without art. The trajectory of the campaign funding looked like this:

There’s the initial early push and the usual flat middle that I’ve come to expect from KS but what I didn’t see was a final 48-hour boost that I’d hoped for. While GoTT let you sign up to be notified when a project goes live or enters the final 48 hours they are separate. If you sign up for the first you don’t automatically receive the second, which some users may not have realised. It’s a point I’m going to feedback to the GoTT team. I also didn’t have the benefit of being able to draw in previous backers – if I’d stuck with KS then everyone that backed Project Cassandra would have received an email letting them know I’d launched a new campaign, so again that was an audience I had a limited ability to tap into (I did let them know via a project update but avoided spamming them with messages using that approach).

Game on TableTop

Using GoTT was, for the most part, relatively easy. The interface is pretty clear and the main project page tools give you plenty of options. The site does appear to rely on some older code based on the visual appearance and option to embed flash animations but overall that’s not really an issue. Obviously, more customisation does make it a little more complicated if you’re not familiar with this sort of interface so it’s worth taking your time in building the page.

One thing that I really appreciated about GoTT was the level of support that I received. When I signed up for a creator account I was emailed directly by a member of staff and offered a one to one video call to walk me through using the site. While I didn’t go down this route I did email them a number of times and always got a quick response. There were a few language issues, possibly related to the use of online translators, but given English will be a second language for most if not all of their staff it wasn’t a major issue. I will have earned the site all of about £25 (they take a 5% cut of pledges but not shipping) so this is a phenomenal level of support. Contrast it to KS where I’m not sure whether a human ever looked over my details or campaign page and the difference is massive. I hope the site is able to maintain that level of customer service as it grows.

Promoting Signal to Noise

Promotion wise everything felt much harder this time around. I think I can attribute that to multiple factors. For Project Cassandra, I had been talking about the game for years so people had heard of the game. We were also approaching a year into the pandemic and riding what I think was a bit of a peak. That lead to a very active ZineQuest and loads of engagement, all boosted by the broader KS ecosystem. This year things were very different. Signal to Noise was a smaller, less traditional game that was harder to pitch. It also felt like the bubble had burst a little on zines. I was still seeing engagement with tweets and posts but they weren’t leading to pledges in the same way that I had seen in 2021. I’d be curious whether others got the same impression. Obviously being off of KS didn’t help in that regard.

The final factor was me – I didn’t go into the campaign with the same energy levels as I had last year and crashed faster, something I need to keep in mind when I run the next campaign.

Thankfully I had help in getting around the challenges. Firstly, I have to say hats off to the other zine month creators who were a constant source of energy and helped spread the word by sharing tweets or mentions in newsletters etc. Secondly, I was fortunate to do two interviews, the first with the Effekt podcast and the second as part of the Yesindie’d chain reaction series. Both were great fun and definitely brought in backers – they ended up releasing on the same day and I saw an increase in pledges over the following 48 hours. They were also just really enjoyable experiences, as a solo publisher it’s rare that I just get to sit and chat about my games, especially with the limited number of face to face gaming over the last few years.

Alongside the interviews, I used a few other tools to promote the campaign. I ran two adverts on Yes Indie’d, one before the campaign launched and one during. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a clear boost that I could link back to them so it’s difficult to say how effective they were. The new to me approach was a press kit that I was sent out to various sites. This resulted in the game receiving coverage on sites such as Cannibal Halfling Games and Dicebreaker as well as being featured in a number of newsletters. Again, difficult to say how many backers that brought in but I feel like it was a worthwhile endeavour and one I’ll use again in the future.

In Conclusion

With all that said the campaign was worth it. I’m personally going to make virtually nothing from it but after all is said and done this turned into a very personal campaign. Signal to Noise is very much a game that only exists because of the pandemic. The emotions that the game touches on are raw and personal. Making it was cathartic and getting it to print is part of that process. As with Project Cassandra, I am going to approach a few retail outlets to see if they are interested in stocking the game. It would be a nice bonus but not essential. I’m still working out what I want to get back from the publishing space so right now earning something is a bonus but not a requirement.

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