It’s September! A slight bite in the air, days shortening, and the kids are off to school. Quick, go look for crowdfunding campaigns now that you have a spare moment! September marks a change in the season but also a change in focus among RPG crowdfunding coverage as ZineQuest 4 wraps up. ZineQuest 4 puts the bow on what was a really messed up year in RPG crowdfunding, so I’m going to talk about that a bit. Beyond that, there are some ZineQuest campaigns which are still trying to finish off strong, and of course there are plenty of full-sized campaigns across Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Gamefound, and Backerkit.
ZineQuest 4 Post-Mortem
Other than some of the projects that launched towards the end of the month and still have time, ZineQuest 4 is done. Before getting into the numbers of the event, I wanted to share a few observations. For one thing, the level of enthusiasm here was lower than any of the other Zine events I’ve covered, Quest or otherwise. I think between the fact that ZineQuest was moved, Zine Month took a lot of the lingering energy from that move, and the fact that Kickstarter has received quite a bit of negative press since the beginning of the year, this all makes sense. Kickstarter’s own promotion is likely at least a little bit to blame as well; the announcement that ZineQuest 5 would move back to February before August had even started was a tacit acknowledgment that the handling of the event this year was botched. That botch, though, seemed to follow with a lower level of outreach overall.
I’m going to say something and many will hate that I even say it, mistaking it for endorsement. That all said, ZineQuest 4 was the first ZineQuest without Luke Crane at Kickstarter. Now, it was actually ZineQuest 3 that led to Crane’s ouster, as that was when he tried to use his ‘Perfect RPG’ campaign to foist the rehabilitation of his friend Adam Koebel onto an unsuspecting hobby (something which I agree was a pretty shitty thing to do). But, regardless of that, ZineQuest, the original ZineQuest, was an idea that Crane championed heavily in 2018 and 2019 when he was still Head of Games at Kickstarter. The fact that zine campaigning in aggregate stopped growing the first year he wasn’t at the company means we have to cast an eye at Kickstarter, the company, and ask some questions about whether or not the event will continue to be as successful without one of its core champions. I don’t think Kickstarter needs Luke Crane, but I think someone needs to step up more than the current staff has if they actually want this to be a successful and repeatable event going forward.
So what are the numbers that make me say this? Well, ZineQuest 4 was actually more successful than I thought it would be; as of this writing it’s cleared $835,000 of funding, edging out Zine Month’s $825,000 but by a statistically irrelevant margin. More importantly for the RPG and RPG zine market overall, the two events combined failed to add up to ZineQuest 3’s total and, more damning, 2022 was the first year that ZineQuest didn’t have the 90-100% growth rate that ZineQuests 2 and 3 enjoyed. Keep in mind, I’m talking about ZiMo and ZineQuest combined. It’s impossible to predict how many campaigners would have had to drop out if Zine Month hadn’t occurred, but it’s a fair assessment that if Kickstarter had a) kept ZineQuest in February and b) announced it around the beginning of November as they did for ZineQuest 2, the total revenue would have likely eclipsed the two events combined, even if the growth rate would have almost certainly been smaller.
ZineQuest 5 will be back to February, and provided Kickstarter don’t do something really dumb like double down on their blockchain plan in the midst of a cryptocurrency crash (being silent on it, while not smart, is at least corporate), it will bounce back to at least the size of ZineQuest 3. I don’t know the ceiling of the zine market ($1.6M is more than 1% of the North American RPG market, which is pretty impressive), but based on the growth trajectory we had prior to 2022 I think more growth is possible, this year’s fiasco notwithstanding.
And what about Zine Month? I think Zine Month could continue at the $100-$150k volume (to be clear, roughly a sixth of where they were this year) as an event that builds its purpose around using platforms other than Kickstarter. That said, there will probably not be another event like ZiMo 2022 again. While ZiMo did an impressive job at splitting the market, it was dependent on Kickstarter’s unforced errors. Nearly three quarters of the ZiMo campaigns used Kickstarter anyway, a sign that the underlying agenda of the event was besides the point for most campaigners. If Kickstarter gets their act together and runs ZineQuest 5 like they did ZineQuest 3, then the median campaigner will have a 15% better chance of their campaign funding using the brand name version, making an anti-Kickstarter agenda the only reason to campaign with Zine Month. All Kickstarter needs to do to keep their monopoly is not screw it up again.
The Remaining Zines
There are still a few zines campaigning this week, and some really solid projects at that. I of course want to highlight full-fat games, but there’s also some really neat supplements out there, for systems other than the typical 5e (though yes, there’s plenty of that too).
First, coming in right under the wire, we have the Bakers with the fourth installation in the Wizard’s Grimoire series, The Thief and the Necromancer. Like the other games in the series it uses a dice pool variant of Powered by the Apocalypse, and has a tight focus on its eponymous characters. This is going to be good, and I’m highly curious if The Wizard’s Grimoire will become an integrated product down the line. The Thief and the Necromancer ends on the publication date (9/7/22) at midnight, so if you want it, click now. Continuing down the PbtA line is Hell, Inc., a comedy RPG where your dull corporate job is literally hell. This game has an interesting twist to the PbtA dice mechanic where doing well can be just as bad as doing poorly on any given roll; you need the right balance of getting things done and slacking off, lest you attract the ire of your boss or your coworkers. Maybe not the bones for a deep campaign, but for a 32 page zine I think it’s perfect.
Continuing their ascent over the past year there are a few interesting solo games still in the running. Memoirs of a Hunter takes the monster hunting genre and gives it a solo twist, having you write up the story of tracking a monster until the encounter happens. Instead of hunting a monster, Transformation has you becoming the monster, and journaling that process. The Conduit provides an even spookier premise: you are a medium, receiving messages from a source you don’t fully understand. If that’s not enough, you can go straight into WE ARE LEGION, a solo game about summoning a demon.
Another favorite project type for me is the setting agnostic sourcebook; these little gems help you create things you didn’t even know you wanted to create for your games. Case in point: The Adventurer’s Guide to Political Lobbying. Did you want lobbyists in your fantasy game? Maybe not. Are you thinking about it now? Well I am, and that’s good enough for the article! A more grounded how-to comes in the form of Line of Enquiry, a zine about how to run murder mysteries. For another new twist, check out Medieval Modern, a zine about neo-medieval settings and fusing medieval fantasy with modern elements for your next game setting. For the last smattering of zines, there are a few system splats I saw and liked. First, CY_BORG, which is still fulfilling their print run for backers, has already seen a lot of enthusiasm in the fanbase. Two zines are campaigning now; CY_OPS, an in-universe zine a la Cyberpunk’s Solo of Fortune, and TIME SCAPE, a module inspired by The Terminator. To cap off all of this, I leave you with one more: Hello, My Name is Adam, and I Am Dead. In this module for Mothership, you help a man solve his own murder. Almost makes you want to dust off your copy of Eclipse Phase while waiting for the Mothership box set to arrive.
There are a few other full-size projects currently campaigning, though the start of September is thin and with good reason. The large, supported projects from the likes of Free League waited until ZineQuest was almost over; the negative press surrounding Free League’s The One Ring Kickstarter during ZineQuest 3 was enough to make them think twice before campaigning during the event (although, statistically, it didn’t hurt any zine campaigns and based on completion rates it would have helped them if anything). Indeed, Free League waited until exactly August 31st before starting their campaign for Dragonbane. Dragonbane is a new edition of Drakar Och Demoner, Sweden’s first breakout hit tabletop RPG. Drakar Och Demoner was a Swedish translation of the Chaosium game Magic World, but it took on a life of its own in Sweden and became an immense success, spawning about a dozen different editions over the last 40 years. The biggest thing that Free League’s new version does? It’s the first version of Drakar Och Demoner to ever be translated to English. The campaign is about halfway over and already past $500,000; if you want to jump in a PDF is about $23 (SEK 248). Also campaigning is Demon Dog, the latest from Nightfall Games, creator of SLA Industries. Demon Dog is a hack of/love letter to Mork Borg, taking the Swede’s heavy metal aesthetic and replacing it with some punk from the British Isles. The result takes the tight and dark Mork Borg aesthetic and mashes it with the exact sort of violent party you’d expect from the creators of Mr. Slayer. $14 gets you a PDF.
September is a chill time, both with the weather and with the calm in the air after both GenCon and ZineQuest have concluded. The zines are still falling like autumn leaves, but soon all will be normal again. Have any other games I missed to get you through the chill of winter? Something upcoming that I shouldn’t miss before Halloween? Let us know, either in the comments, on Twitter, or by email. In the meanwhile, get ready to bundle up, and be sure to join me next month for another Crowdfunding Carnival!
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