Matt Colville: The King of Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a crowd funding website focused on creativity. The name comes from the direct definition, which is something that “provides an impetus to start or resume a process,” such as the device to start an engine with a downward thrust on a pedal. 1 It has launched hundreds of campaigns and has become a household name in funding, although in recent years it has also become a place where already large established American companies are able to put up new products for extra sales and marketing. It has repeatedly had campaigns that have cracked into the many millions, and for some it has launched incredible opportunities and their own companies. A new addition to this is the proclaimed King of Kickstarter Matt Colville. The name has been used a little tongue-in-cheek, and Colville (although being honoured) has tried to ignore this title. Yet in many ways it is very apt for a man that raised over 2 Million US and made it onto the elusive Top 100 Kickstarters list (only just scraping in at 97th) for an unofficial supplement to a pen and paper role playing game. Yes, the RPG is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which has experienced a recent revival with its Fifth Edition (5e), but still the product is just a supplement on how to build your own stronghold in an imaginary game. So why has this been so successful?

The cover image for ‘Strongholds & Followers.’ Conceptopolis.

Strongholds & Followers

Firstly, let us discuss the actual framework of the Kickstarter (KS) and the product. On February 9th 2018 Colville launched his KS with the demure goal of $50,000 to allow for his D&D 5e supplement for building strongholds and attracting followers, with the secondary focus of raising money to livestream his next D&D campaign. The book titled Strongholds & Followers was promoted as an additional activity to undertake within a campaign, touted as: “There is more to the game than fighting monsters. Build a stronghold, and influence the world.” 2 The KS was fully funded (met their initial goal) 32 minutes after launch, their first million by February 15th, and closed on March 11th having successfully raised US$2,121,465 with 28,918 backers from around the world. Along the way new stretch goals were unlocked, which will be discussed later, and what was a small campaign to raise money from fellow D&D fans became a phenomena. Previously the record for an RPG Kickstarter was John Wick’s 7th Sea 2nd Edition that made just over $1.3 million in a month. 3 All facts that make Colville worthy of the title, but the question remains: how did he do this?

Number 1: It is still a business

There are a number of factors to successful KS and many of them are simply about engaging in good business practices. Interestingly a breakdown of Colville’s KS actually reveals a very well thought out and diverse campaign, including a thorough social media presence. What then are the successful factors of Colville’s KS? The factors include that: it was not an out of the blue project; it had a built in audience; it was multilayered; and it was “professionally” handled throughout. Included in this is the careful decision-making that led to Colville choosing to use KS as his launch platform, when in fact he could have gone with a Patreon or RPG download site and still had success (but not to this level). For those who have followed Colville, however, it is not a real surprise as he has disdained the use of exclusive pay-to-access avenues. For instance all his Twitch shows are immediately available, he chooses to upload to YouTube all his videos rather than restrict content, and his own novels are available for purchase through Amazon rather than through a third party publishing company. Profit from the sale of his books going directly to the upkeep and improvement of the resources he uses for his videos. As such it is not surprising that this man who is a “river to his people” would prefer an open crowd funding option to launch his supplement.

Colville engaging with chat on his Twitch channel

At the heart it was successful because it was a well-planned project. Forbes suggests, and this is reflected in much of Colville’s discussions, that the success for any crowdfunding is linked to the amount of hard work put into testing and refining an idea long before launching the campaign. 4 The amount of time Colville has spent on this idea is perhaps beyond the scope of most people, however, it is a contributing factor to the level of polish present in the work being put forward. The book in fact is a concept Colville has been working on since 1985. 5 In an interview for Geek & Sundry he states that the book is a “variation of the rules I used in the 80s,” which he has updated with each new edition of the game. 6 As I said, not necessarily the time frame most people have to put into a project. It is also a concept that has already received some play testing. Present in discussion in his earlier attempts to stream his D&D campaign, it has already been the source of some discussion on his Twitch stream, YouTube channel, and Twitter. As well as a rather stout response titled ‘The stronghold rules will be done when they are done’ to niggling from fans over a year ago on Reddit, where Colville posted that he had been talking about the rules for strongholds during the last year, but had been too busy to get it up and running. 7

Colville is a man known in D&D and gaming circles for a number of different reasons. He is known for his connection to Matt Mercer and Critical Role, not only for various interviews they participate in, but also a friendship he holds to Mercer and other cast member Liam O’Brien. Colville is also the writer for the Critical Role six issue comic book. This fact, and the promotion his campaign received from both the players on Critical Role and Geek & Sundry has seen a rise in his own followers and fans, but also an associated leap in the KS backers. His own YouTube channel already has over 180,000 subscribers and well in advance to the launch of the KS, Colville was commenting on and promoting the coming campaign. Equally important, Colville is very active on Twitter with around 40,000 followers, and this paid off. In the first 30 seconds, before even sending out the official email alert that had been set up for his YouTube subscribers, it had two backers. As Colville explains it was “because I told folks on twitter when I submitted the project for review and that it would take three days, they reverse engineered “Friday” and have been refreshing the Kickstarter New Campaigns page. Later, folks on twitter would confirm this is what they were doing.” 8 It was actually on his the drive from home to work that the KS was fully funded and all stretch goals were completed in two hours. Colville himself argues that this success is purely due to the online community he is a part of, stating: “The success of the Kickstarter is the success of the YouTube channel….I realize to me, now, this hobby is something that happens at the table, but the community happens on twitch and youtube and reddit and twitter. Those are my native environments.” 9

Colville Tweet launching the campaign.
Mercer Tweet supporting Colville.

He is also known within the larger gaming community. Working as a Lead Writer at Turtle Rock Studios, he has spent more than ten years working in the Tabletop RPG industry, 10 and been involved in the creation of a number of games himself. Including Evolve, Mercenaries, the original Dune CCG and the RPG, as well as working on a Star Trek RPG, a range of third party books for D&D Third Edition, plus designing Knights of the Dinner Table card game and Red Alert! Star Trek. 11 He is known as a Dungeon Master (DM) with a series of informative videos through his YouTube channel that helps teach new DMs some of the tricks of the game. Touted as a “celebrity” DM on par with Mercer. 12

The final advice often given in crowdfunding articles is that the campaign must become the top priority 13 and the producers must engage with backers individually. 14 Both of which Colville handled in a professional manner. From the start Colville approaching the KS with the support of his emerging team (Lars Bakke, Jerry Bennett, Jeff Tidball and Anna Coulter) with a plan. Beginning with research he “made a list of successful Kickstarters in this category, big ones, small ones, some specific to 5E, some not, and asked Lars to datamine all of them.” 15 They also sought advice from a number of places, including a partner company for printing who suggested the lead-in social network campaign. As success of the KS continued they also began to contact trademark lawyers, accountants, etc. as it became evident that not only was the KS a success, but it was going to be a large enough success to launch MCDM as a company. Even having made such a successful splash the entire team were cautious about overextending themselves, and with good reason. A number of KS have crashed after their successful funding by over-promising and under-delivering. The only addition made to the KS was a final stretch goal to carry it to the title of most successful RPG KS, which was the pirate ship. Colville suggested “What about a silly stretch goal? If we beat John’s record, I’ll include rules for a pirate ship stronghold. I already sort of know how it would work, it would be very little writing (maybe an hour or two) another no risk goal. And we’re going to beat his number, anyone can look at the public KS data and see where it’s going.” 16 The idea was very successful, it promoted a little more buzz, allowed for some great discussion online, but did not undermine the validity of their success. It also allowed for further discussion by Colville to his backers about the desire to focus on meeting the terms of the KS and provide that extra assurance needed for KSs now, which is that the three promised items are already moving ahead. The mini designs were being finished, Colville shows one off on Twitter and YouTube; the book is well underway and Colville discusses in a couple of YouTube videos what the followers are and how they work. In fact they produce 19 videos and four livestreams in 28 days. 17 All of this is reassuring and the campaign comes to a close with resounding success and goodwill.

Number 2: Finding a niche

Promotional image from Colville’s YouTube channel on learning to be a DM.

One of the top pieces of advice for a successful crowd-funding campaign is to solve a real problem. 18 This is not a new suggestion, but rather the basis of most entrepreneurial business. However, what does this mean when talking about a project related to something as diverse and well-resourced as D&D? After all D&D has a plethora of free and fan-based modules and supplements that address a range of different needs. Yet still Colville managed to find a niche in the market, a small area that had not yet been fully imagined and developed. The idea of creating a stronghold has of course already occurred in many people’s games, but what he offers is a concise user friendly (often an oxymoron in a lot of D&D literature) guide to doing this, with the edition of attracting followers. Part of the creating a new solution is to “ride the wave of an emerging trend” 19 and with the revival and rise of D&D especially in relation to streaming and online fan interactions, this is a trend on the rise.

The KS was a multilayer campaign. Colville was not simply looking for backing for the production of the supplement book, but also funding to support the livestream of his next campaign. Colville had previously attempted livestreaming, which in his own words was terrible. 20 After reviewing this result and examining the level of quality he wanted, in conjunction with friends at Turtle Rock Studios, a second better attempt was made, but still left Colville with bigger ambitions for success. Mainly in the realisation of the need for their own studio space, a fact laid out clearly in the KS campaign, including providing some layouts for a filming space. Realising the larger costs of setting up a livestreaming space it was suggested to him to roll the cost of studio space into the KS. Initially Colville was unsure, asking “Could we do that? Could we launch one Kickstarter for two unrelated products? Seemed…seemed like cheating. But maybe…maybe I could figure out a way to charge enough for the book, that the proceeds would pay for the space?” 21 Yet the concept is actually, arguably, part of the success. For the first time a KS would not just raise money to pay for the development of a product and make money for the producer, but would actual fund an ongoing company that would be able to continue to create “free” products for the larger fan base.

A previous attempt at livestreaming a campaign.

The inclusion of the usual extras, such as shirts and stickers, were expected and a normal part of many KS. However, the inclusion of miniatures was a further brilliant idea, as it is a product with its own fan base. Colville added these since he “wanted something new, and minis excited me. As a backer! I believed they’d excite the audience. And I wanted to learn how to make minis.” 22 Indeed they did excite the audience, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as Colville identified there is already a market within KS for the production of minis and a number of campaigns had already been successfully funded for this product. It was also a brilliant concept to set up the backing levels, with FAQ and informative YouTube videos explaining this, so that a backer could select one of the lower levels, if they were not interested in the book, and when the pledge shop opened they could then purchase the minis they wanted. Those experienced with KS knew to do this, but Colville produced a short video explaining this a number of different ways to ensure those who were only interested in the minis could understand how to access them. Beyond the draw of the minis, what Colville actually introduced here was not just another set of little minis based on current 5e mythos, but the reinterpretation of a type of dragon not seen since the early 2000s. It is a third category of dragon, neutral Gemstone Dragons, with the concept that these dragons focus on lore, knowledge and magic and as they age they become progressively more gemstone than flesh. Currently in D&D there exist the chromatic (evil) and metallic (good) dragons. Thus the revision of an entire category is different enough to engender interest in new players, while promoting nostalgia for older gamers who may remember the introduction of Sardior the Ruby Dragon back in 1980. 23

Adult Ruby Dragon. Kickstarter Promotion Image.

Number 3: The man behind the campaign

Another factor to consider, and perhaps really the key factor for this KS, is that the backers were supporting more than just the production of a supplement, they were supporting the man behind the idea. Colville has a legion of fans that support his work in a myriad of ways, as such it is unsurprising that so many would choose to back his project. Much of this has, I believe, to do with the man himself. Colville is a very humble creator, an attitude that has appeased and appealed to many fans. In relation to the success of his KS he stated:

I dreamed, I dreamed we might do $300,000 in a month. But I thought there was a 50/50 chance we’d never reach the final stretch goal.

I know the Kickstarter is a smash, it may end up being a record-breaking smash for this category (tabletop RPGs), but to my way of thinking… we haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t made a book. We haven’t made minis. We haven’t streamed our game. Only if we succeed at doing those things and then those things are reasonably popular will I consider this a success. Until then, all we did was raise a lot of money.

So that is what all my thought is bent upon. Getting the book done, making it good. Streaming our game, making it good. 24

It helps that Colville came into the KS from a position of his own fandom and enthusiasm for D&D. A fact that resonated with his backers. In his own justification of the decisions behind the KS, Colville wrote:

There are a dozen threads that lead here but really I think it started back in August when Lars was pestering me about when we were going to get to play D&D again.

At the time it seemed impossibly distant. I knew I wanted to stream it, and that’s an obstacle right there. I have a lot of reasons to stream our D&D game. There’s an electricity in the air when we’re playing live in front of an audience. And everyone at the table focuses a lot more on the game, less table chatter. That’s nice.

I also love new challenges. They keep me focused and optimistic, especially during those times when the world makes it hard to be an optimist. I like having new problems to solve. 25

The overriding humble message that kept coming through from Colville was “I hope I don’t let you down,” 26 which I believe is what in the end made this man King of Kickstarter.

Works Cited

  1. Kick-starter. (2018). Google Dictionary. Retrieved from www.google.com
  2. Colville, M. (2018). Strongholds & Followers. Retrieved from https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/255133215/strongholds-and-streaming/description
  3. Morrus. (2018). Are we looking at a new RPG kicstarter record? Retrieved from http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?4947-Are-We-Looking-At-A-New-RPG-Kickstarter-Record&styleid=18
  4. Diallo, A. (2014). Crowdfunding secrets: 7 tips for kickstarter success. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/01/24/crowdfunding-secrets-7-tips-for-kickstarter-success/#757ddf956d8d
  5. Knox, K. (2018). Be the king of the castle thanks to the king of kickstarter, Matt Colville. Geek & Sundry. Retrieved from https://geekandsundry.com/be-the-king-of-the-castle-thanks-to-the-king-of-kickstarter-matt-colville/
  6. Knox, K. (2018). Be the king of the castle thanks to the king of kickstarter, Matt Colville. Geek & Sundry. Retrieved from https://geekandsundry.com/be-the-king-of-the-castle-thanks-to-the-king-of-kickstarter-matt-colville/
  7. Colville, M. (n.d.). The stronghold rules will be done when they are done [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/mattcolville/comments/5npv0o/the_stronghold_rules_will_be_done_when_they_are/
  8. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  9. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  10. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  11. Matthew Colville. (n.d.). Board Game Geek. Retrieved from https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/6038/matthew-colville
  12. Hoffer, C. (2018). Matt Colville’s ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ Kickstarter raises one million dollars in a week. Comic Book. Retrieved from http://comicbook.com/gaming/2018/02/16/dungeons-and-dragons-matt-colville-kickstarter-one-million/ 27 He also has the gravitas granted of having played D&D since 1986. 28Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  13. Diallo, A. (2014). Crowdfunding secrets: 7 tips for kickstarter success. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/01/24/crowdfunding-secrets-7-tips-for-kickstarter-success/#757ddf956d8d
  14. Entis, L. (2014). 6 tips from kickstarter on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. Entrepeneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234707
  15. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  16. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  17. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  18. Diallo, A. (2014). Crowdfunding secrets: 7 tips for kickstarter success. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/01/24/crowdfunding-secrets-7-tips-for-kickstarter-success/#757ddf956d8d
  19. Diallo, A. (2014). Crowdfunding secrets: 7 tips for kickstarter success. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/01/24/crowdfunding-secrets-7-tips-for-kickstarter-success/#757ddf956d8d
  20. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  21. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  22. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  23. Gem Dragon. (2018). Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gem_dragon
  24. Knox, K. (2018). Be the king of the castle thanks to the king of kickstarter, Matt Colville. Geek & Sundry. Retrieved from https://geekandsundry.com/be-the-king-of-the-castle-thanks-to-the-king-of-kickstarter-matt-colville/
  25. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/
  26. Colville, M. (2018). The end of the beginning. MCDM Productions. Retrieved from https://www.mcdmproductions.com/

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Sarai is a free-lance literature enthusiast who current works as a sessional academic. An avid horror and fantasy reader she is an advocate for its cultural importance.
Edited by noahspud.

Want to write about Games or other art forms?

Create writer account

31 Comments

  1. Chi
    1

    I have recently begun running a campaign with a few friends, and none of us have much experience in the game. We learned a lot from Matt. I look forward to looking through the book and inspiring more ideas among my friends.

    • SaraiMW

      He is indeed a helpful inspiration. I’m really looking forward to watching him stream games again.

  2. Sonny
    0

    Thanks for covering this game. I’m really happy that this is going to happen and I cant wait to buy my copy of the book. I missed the kickstarter but hope to buy it when released.

  3. glen
    0

    This is actually the only third party D&D book I have been excited for this edition.

  4. WarHammer
    0

    He managed the expectations and knows exactly how to hype them.

    • SaraiMW

      He did indeed. He was also very transparent every step of the way, which I think helped, and indeed he was very engaged in responding to queries and providing updates that helped the backers understand exactly what they were getting.

  5. Luann
    0

    I would offer my money and my soul support for any crazy project that this guy pitches.

  6. Marice
    0

    I am very excited to see what I can take from the book and maybe make my own game in the future.

  7. ellu
    0

    Thank you to everyone for helping to make this project happen.

  8. Karoo
    0

    I love kingdom building. I can spend a whole session just setting up a keep or township. Hours and hours just deciding where farms are, stables, training grounds…

  9. Yukik
    0

    This isn’t just good D&D stuff to play around with, it makes me think of my writing, too.

  10. Hartmann
    0

    I found Matt through the roundtable and he is great.

  11. Jeff MacLeod

    Wonderful article. It will be really interesting to see how Kickstarter reforms RPGs in the next five years. Has Colville started something important?

    • SaraiMW

      @Jeff I actually had a similar thought. I’ve been a supporter of KS for awhile and have progressively become disheartened by their acceptance of commercial KSs, and part of what works for Colville is he actually is adhereing to the original concept of a crowd funding site that offers unknowns a place to gain funding and launch creative ideas. I think RPGs are on the rise and with the growing popularity of web-viewing that this will only continue. Currently D&D has many of its fan-build modules on DMs Guild, but they take a huge cut from the profits of those sharing their work, so I think more will attempt the move to KS.

  12. ian
    0

    Thanks for the great article. We’re actually discussing it over at reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/comments/8i0oi3/matt_colville_the_king_of_kickstarter/

  13. Micki
    0

    Streaming is an important aspect for tabletop gaming, as it really should be in the age of the internet. Many of us who got into the hobby back in the day spend a lot of time absolutely amazed at the popularity of this thing that would once have gotten use chastised, beat up and even subjected to religious zealotry.

  14. Kaiser
    0

    I’m so excited to get this book!

  15. Celena
    0

    Matt is an inspiration to the community!

  16. ASH
    0

    Long live THE KING.

  17. Buddy
    0

    My heart skipped a bit when reading the term Stronghold.

  18. Rema Pogue
    0

    I am certain this has inspired a lot of folks to pick up their own DM’s guide and get in the game.

  19. Jake
    0

    I just want to say that this was an incredibly well-written piece. You sucked me right in.

  20. gans
    0

    He particularly got me with showing character creation of the new adventure

  21. Gentrap
    0

    Can’t wait. Since I am currently broke, I will pirate this and will donate to Matt when I can afford it.

  22. Pollar
    0

    Thank you Matt.

  23. Hull
    0

    Looking forward to getting this.

  24. E&E
    0

    D & D gives me pure sanity.

  25. Matchbox

    A wonderfully informative read. I think the key takeaway is building a level of trust between you and your fanbase/community. It’s about building a relationship based on mutual respect that allows for such a level of success that Colville has received. Great article!

  26. Chase
    0

    I want this so bad.

  27. Kickstarter is amazing, it has helped so many and led to the creation of so many unique products.

Leave a Reply