Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bringing back the Pathfinder Podcast: Know Direction

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Ryan and Perram who have come to Kickstarter to relaunch their Pathfinder Podcast “Know Direction.”  Thank you both for joining us.  

Ryan: Hi James, thanks for having us.

Let me start by congratulating you on reaching your funding goal with three weeks still to go!  Can you tell us about Know Direction and why you think you were able to reach your goal so quickly?

Ryan: I doubt we can give credit to any one reason. Obviously the loyalty of our audience plays a huge part in it. They’re the ones who were lining up at the start gate to pledge. If I had to speculate about why we have such loyal listeners, I think it is because we put every effort into releasing on a regular schedule, and being transparent when we have to postpone an episode’s release.

There were other factors, of course: we went back and forth a lot about our ask. For a long time it was $3500 so we could offer an incentive adventure on top of relaunching the site and re-equipping the podcast. Our campaign managers, The Gamerati, convinced us to instead set our initial goal at however much we need just for to replace our podcast equipment. That way we have a much for achievable goal and we get what we need to keep going, and we can look ahead to better equipment after we fund.

Could you explain the difference between D&D 3.5 and 4 that caused Pathfinder to come about?  Those “not in the know” as it were often think of D&D as just D&D, let alone what all the different versions brought about.  

Ryan: Sure, but this is the kind of question in polite conversation that I feel needs my extra bedazzled Nerd hat.
At its heart, D&D is a game of imagination, where you play a character straight out of fantasy in a world straight out of the middle ages. On your turn, you declare your actions based on the circumstances you are in. That`s true of every edition.
3rd edition took the math from the old editions and gave it a heavy dose of logic. In 1st and 2nd edition, sometimes when you rolled a d20, you wanted a high number. Sometimes, you wanted a low number. When you were trying to hit someone, you wanted a high roll, which you compared to a number for armour, but the lower your armour class, the better. In 3rd, you roll a d20 and hope to get a high number. Need to hit a goblin? Roll a d20, add your bonus for hitting. Climbing a sheer cliff? Roll a d20 and add your bonus for climbing. Higher rolls were always better. But that was the big difference. The math. How the rules worked. The philosophy was the same.
4th edition kept 3rd edition’s math, but the philosophy felt different. Whereas in earlier editions there were some things any character could do and some things only certain characters could do based on their class or other options. 4th edition shifted the balance away from the stuff that anyone could do. Your class dictated your rules much more.
All that said, there were other contributing factors to 3.5 loyalists sticking with their system. The way Wizards of the Coast (publishers of Dungeons & Dragons) marketed 4e was aggressive and negative. They spent more energy saying 3.5 sucked and D&D players can look forward to finally having fun. But I was already having fun, and their ads did not reflect my needs or perspective as a (then) current customer.
There was more. The early announcement was about how 4e would have unprecedented online support, like a virtual tabletop, character builder, and monster editor. These tools were not ready when the books launched. Some were never released. Furthermore, a subsystem was created called Skill Challenges. This took an abstract part of the game that allowed for organic roleplaying and turned it into a rigid system. A lot of players rejected Skill Challenges on principle. That was before some mathematicians crunched the numbers and found the rules for easy Skill Challenges were statistically harder to accomplish than the rules for hard Skill Challenges.

What got you guys into Podcasting in the first place?  How did you build up a following that still continues to this day?  

Ryan: A series of strange decisions. I’m bad at small talk. If a conversation doesn’t interest me, I don’t say much because I’m not interested. If it does interest me, I don’t talk much for fear of intimidating people with how interested I am. I hate talking on the phone. And yet, when I first listened to a podcast, Slice of Sci-Fi as recommended by my friend Jon, I thought “this is for me”. Around that time, 4e was announced. I found myself surprisingly loyal to the 3.5 version of D&D, and interested in expressing why.

The idea was the website would be a place to build a community for 3.5 loyalists. The podcast was the site’s main draw, but I also reviewed most of the 3.5 hardcover books. The idea was that as 3.5 books become harder to track down, 3.5 loyalists would like to know what books are worth their time.

I think our following was built on a combination of sincerity, accessibility, and consistency. We aren't putting on a show when we podcast, we’re being ourselves. We release our show on a consistent schedule, and if we can’t deliver on schedule, we inform our audience. And, from what I’m told, we’re pretty likable.

Are you guys connected to Pazio at all after all these years?

Ryan: Hm. Connected. Well, we are not the official Pathfinder podcast. Paizo does not pay us to podcast. So connected in that way, no.

That said, we have a great relationship with Paizo, and have for forever. When we first heard about Pathfinder, we invited Paizo staff on the show to talk it up. We ended up getting three Paizo staff willing to come on: fiction editor James Sutter, creative director James Jacobs, and lead designer Jason Bulmahn. Since then, the closest Paizo has come to refusing an interview request is “now’s a bad time”. Recently, Paizo hired a new marketing director, Jenny Bendel. Jenny is the best, and somehow we got in her good graces. She has made coordinating interviews a pleasure, has hooked us up with prizes for our listeners like books fresh off the press and GenCon passes. Whereas before we would always be the ones approaching Paizo about interviews, they have started approaching us. Not only do we no longer feel the need to introduce ourselves to Paizo staff at cons, we get recognized.

Speaking personally, I have done freelance work for Paizo. I’ve contributed to Ultimate Equipment, and Ultimate Campaign. I recently wrote my first published adventure, The Elven Entanglement for Pathfinder Society. Paizo has stated that they like to repay the loyalty of fans with these kinds of opportunities when they can.

Your campaign states that you will be using the money to rebrand the podcast and the site.  Why the change?  Does Pathfinder stand on it’s own more than 3.5 these days?  

It does. Now, 3.5 isn’t as dead as it looked. Wizards of the Coast released commemorative versions of books from past editions, and 3.5 received a generous portion of those books. But compared to Pathfinder- actually, nothing compares to Pathfinder. D&D has rarely been beat for the top selling RPG spot, never by another fantasy RPG, and certainly never for so many consecutive months. Not only is Pathfinder becoming this dominant name in RPGs, it’s becoming a recognized name in gaming and fantasy. We could have an entire podcast on Pathfinder fiction.

It’s also a reflection of who we are as fans. When 3.5 Private Sanctuary started, we spoke about 3.5 in the present tense. When we converted our home game to Pathfinder, we started talking about 3.5 in the past tense. It wasn’t fair to the 3.5 loyalists who were coming to a site that advertised it was all about keeping 3.5 alive. It isn’t who we are anymore, it’s just who our website says we are.

One of my big bugaboos about Kickstarter projects are budget breakdowns.  A good budget breakdown allows potential backers to see where the money is scheduled to go and make sure the creators have a plan.  Why didn’t you include a budget breakdown in your campaign?  Where is the $2,000 scheduled to go and how do the extra funds help?  

Ryan: I guess we’ll have to disagree on the premise of your question here, James. Between our own experiences and the conversations we had with our campaign managers, The Gamerati, we never saw budget breakdowns as a major component in a successful Kickstarter campaign.

We aren’t being vague to be coy, of course. And it isn’t a matter of not knowing what we want, per se. It’s not knowing specifically what we will be buying. I can say the $2000 is going towards a new sound card, a new mixer, and some new cables, basically everything we need to take our podcast from sounding like it’s sounded lately to sounding as good as ever. That, and pay for the website revamp. Above that, extra funds will upgrade our video set-up for our live podcast recordings, more and better remote recorders to improve our podcast convention coverage, cameras to create video content on our YouTube channel and improve our video coverage of conventions. If we defy the odds and make $20 000 or something way above our greatest expectations and all our personal goals for the site are covered, maybe we’ll consider adding podcasts to our network, creating special content, exposés. Whatever we raise, it will go into the podcast and filling our roles as Pathfinder’s media.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Ryan: In 2010, I interviewed Stan! of Super genius Games, a third party publisher of Pathfinder RPG content. He was promoting a Kickstarter campaign for an adaptation of Pathfinder in a modern setting. A lot of my questions were about Kickstarter as a tool, because crowdfunding was not a thing even three years ago. Sadly for SGG, their campaign failed to fund. However, it wasn’t long before Kickstarter became an invaluable tool in the RPG industry and for creative folk everywhere.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Ryan: We have stretch goals every $1000, most of which involve a Paizo staff or noteworthy Pathfinder freelancer contributing content to an original adventure that we’re offering to backers as an incentive. Anyone who backs at the $20 level gets a PDF of A Gnome In Need, an adventure that unlocked at $3000. Right now, I’m the only writer, but Mark Moreland is only a couple hundred dollars away. Mark and our next stretch goal, Adam Daigle, both wrote nice testimonials for what the podcast means to them, which were added as updates. We’re nearing the midway point of our campaign, at which point a new video might be in order. And, towards the end of the month, there will be a special pledge drive episode of the podcast.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

Ryan: One of the reasons we brought Gamerati in as campaign managers was to contact people beyond our reach. I believe Know Direction is a recognized name amongst Pathfinder enthusiasts, but it’s more obscure among casual Pathfinder players. Gamerati, on the other hand, as a system neutral RPG news source, is closer to the middle of the hobby. They’re buying ad space on websites like ENWorld, hooking us up with interviewers like yourself, James, and nudging us in the right direction.

I’ve dared to check Kicktraq a few times, but as they try to repeatedly clarrify, trending is not projection. At one point, Kicktraq had us trending towards well over $10 000. Now we’re trending towards just over $7000. Kicktraq is an invaluable tool for multiple purposes, but an accurate projection of a project’s final tally is not one of them.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Ryan: Get your numbers straight! Don’t base your ask on the perceived value of what you are trying to sell, base it on the cost. If that means you are less likely to fund, everyone is better off than if you fund but don’t have money to fulfill.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Ryan: Thank you, James!

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