So, I work for Monte Cook Games now. About a year ago–well before I started here; in fact, before MCG was its own company–Mr. Cook set out to publish a new roleplaying game, and to generate funding he turned to Kickstarter. If you’re a gamer, or at all in touch with what’s going on with crowdfunding, you probably know the story: He set out to raise $20,000, and instead topped half a million. Along the way, Monte added stretch goals and additional rewards, and by the end of it an attempt to publish a single, relatively conventional book had turned into an entire premium product line with 5,000 paying customers already in-hand.

You've heard of Kickstarter, right?

You’ve heard of Kickstarter, right?

It also generated some interesting licensing, and one of those licenses, the Torment: Tides of Numenera CRPG, included two Numenera titles among the rewards of its own highly-successful Kickstarter campaign. And in the months following MCG’s campaign, the company received hundreds of pre-orders from people who had missed the Kickstarter but wanted their foot in the door when the game launched. So when the product was finished–about two months after I started with Monte Cook Games–we had a lot of stuff to send out.

The final tally:

  • Over 12,000 orders
  • Roughly 50 different products
  • 11,272 physical items shipped
  • Shipping to 59 countries
  • North of 40,000 digital items sent out

And that was just the first wave–we’ll have several additional waves of product over the year to come, though fortunately the rest are not nearly as big or complex.

And when I say “fortunately,” I mean it. The first wave practically killed us.

A Monte Cook Games staff member after the first wave of fulfillment.

A Monte Cook Games staff member after the first wave of fulfillment.

Because if that sounds like a big project, well, it was. The Numenera Kickstarter was a record-setter at the time, and it remains one of the most complex fulfillment processes in Kickstarter history. Through the entire process, we were hacking a path through the jungles of the unknown, charting a course through unexplored territory and creating new processes for ourselves and our fulfillment partners.

You see, we weren’t the only ones overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge. Our warehouse has served the game industry for a decade or more, and has shipped many millions of orders. But they didn’t fully realize the impact of a campaign this size. DriveThruRPG set up a mechanism for us to send out PDFs, but their servers couldn’t handle our loads. We created an iOS app, but despite the fact that there have been many iOS Kickstarter campaigns, Apple’s systems don’t yet support distribution on our scale. Even Kickstarter itself doesn’t have data management systems capable of supporting campaigns of our size and complexity. We had to develop workarounds, on the fly and with the clock ticking, in every case.

(Did I mention that fulfillment started while Tammie and I were on vacation (a family vacation that had been planned and reserved many months before MCG brought me on board)? While our children and their cousins and grandparents cavorted on the beach, Tam and I huddled in the rental house, working 16-hour days getting the initial waves of digital product out to backers. Worst. Vacation. Evar.)

We mostly got it right. We mostly came up with those on-the-fly workarounds and got product into backers’ hands mostly on time. We made a few mistakes along the line, though, and learned a few lessons. Fortunately, I’m good at learning lessons.

We’re into our second wave of fulfillment now, with our adventure book The Devil’s Spine currently winging its way around the world, physically and digitally, to our backers. This is a much less complex wave–only two products: a physical version going to around 750 people and a digital version going to 4,000 or so. We’re pulling out all the stops to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

In addition to that, we’ve also made it a policy to reach out to other large-scale game-related Kickstarter campaigns, to share what we’ve learned and let them walk through that path we’ve hacked through the jungle. To date, I’ve had conversations with about half a dozen other companies that have had large, successful campaigns and are headed into their fulfillment phases.

So the long and short of it? Four months ago I was, at best, Kickstarter-curious. I’d backed a project or two. Like many in the world of gaming, I’d seen what it could do, and started to wonder if I might do something with it myself.

Now I’m one of the world’s foremost experts on fulfilling large, complex Kickstarter campaigns.

Which just might come in handy should, you know, Monte Cook Games ever want to do something like this again. . . .

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