Kickstarter Reflections #4: Fulfilled?
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In many ways, designing a game is the easy bit. Certainly when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns, the bit that you’re likely to be least familiar with (assuming you got into all of this as a gamer then as a game designer) is the business of actually getting stuff into the hands of backers, or Fulfilment. To me, Fulfilment was one of those things that I’d never really considered how it might work until I came to do this myself. Much like plumbing, and chocolate, they’re just things that happen by magic.
And like those things, there are people in the world that have a very good handle on how to make them happen. If you’re considering running a Kickstarter yourself, there are basically two options you can take – either you get a specialist company to do this for you, or you do it yourself. Companies like Spiral Galaxy, GamesQuest, Easyship, QML and Funagain are just some of the most popular specialists in this field. For you, at its simplest, this is a straight choice between money and time, although with a more complex project it may also be a question of whether it’s actually possible for you to do the job sufficient justice.
For my recent Kickstarter campaign for Ukiyo, I decided to do the fulfilment myself. This was for two reasons, both deriving from the small size and weight of the game. First, the games and their packaging wouldn’t take up a ridiculous amount of space in my house (assuming the campaign was modestly successful rather than a surprise viral hit) and second, the postage cost for a small package was very cheap if I did the shipping via the UK’s national postal service, Royal Mail.
Basically, if you involve a specialised fulfilment service (and there are many very able and experienced companies available that can help with this), they have a tiered pricing structure based on the weight of the package. And the minimum size is usually 500g, with the price only gradually increasing up to several kilos. So for a ‘big box’ game, this is great. But as an 18-card mini-game, Ukiyo only weighs 42 grammes (and only 60g even when it’s in a padded envelope), so this isn’t a great deal – no backer is going to pay £10 or £15 shipping for a game that only costs £7. So I went with Royal Mail, and assumed that if it was more successful than expected, that would be a ‘nice problem to have’.
This left me with the small matter of around 400 padded envelopes to fill, check and send. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will pass on some tips and observations in case you’re considering doing this yourself:
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of the packaging as well as the postage. For each package, I needed a padded envelope, a compliments slip, a company logo sticker and a customs label. This worked out about 40p per backer – not a cost that makes a big difference to a backer, but it’s a big extra total cost for you if you’ve not planned for it.
Customs labels are a chore. From the UK, any package going to any other country needs a customs label, which has to be filled in with the details of the package to avoid any annoying delays or packages getting stuck in customs. In my case, this meant writing out 300 labels by hand.
And then there’s the Post Office – I definitely annoyed a few local people by monopolising the Post Office counter for hours with my 400 parcels. But then again, they weren’t spending over £1500, so I didn’t feel too bad…
Know your restrictions and ‘de minimis rates’. In other words, for each country you’re sending to, what is the package value above which the recipient is going to have to pay tax or customs duty? It’s different for each country (here’s a great guide). If you’re working with a fulfilment company, you make arrange to have the VAT collected by them, and either you or they then claim it back. But if you’re not using a company, or you’re not VAT-registered, you can’t do this, which might mean a nasty surprise for your backers. On my campaign, I listed up front what backers should be paying in taxes (thankfully, in most cases, it was nothing).
More positively, Mailmerge is great – this is an automated means by which you can take your spreadsheet of backers’ details, and use it to automatically print out address labels. MS Word has a tool for doing this; I ended up using Avery’s own online tool (Avery make the sheets of labels that you print onto). It probably took an hour to set up the spreadsheet, organise the data and get the formatting right, but then being able to bulk print saved six or seven hours of handwriting.
6. All this takes time – again, absolutely fine during a winter lockdown, as time is something I have right now. I might have felt differently if it was a July without movement restrictions!
7. Also, don’t forget about the space in your home – with a small game and a relatively modest number of backers this was just a case of having a few boxes lying around for a week. If you have 5000 backers for a sprawling, story-driven epic, where will you put them all?
8. Finally, the most important thing is getting it right. You want to be absolutely sure that every one of your backers gets what they were expecting, without mistakes. That means having a slick enough process and workflow so that you’re confident that you’ve got it right, and that you’ll spot any mistakes before packages get sent. If you’re not one for detail, or if you don’t feel like you need that kind of hassle, think carefully before committing to doing the fulfilment yourself.
In conclusion, this ultimately comes down to your appetite for what’s involved. There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s all on you if anything goes wrong. But it’s also a great way to learn, and there’s something really rewarding about doing the entire process of game creation, from having an idea right through to sticking on the stamps and posting the parcels. You can personalise the package (in my case, I hand-wrote a thank-you on each one); it can also save your backers money, as using your national postal service can often be the cheapest way to ship something, particularly if it’s small and light.
Just make sure you think about what you'll do if your 100 backers ends up being 2000...!