Revisiting the Classics: "Conan, What is Best for Patreon?"

When I first made this post in December of 2013, Worlds Without Master had only two issues under its belt. It's been six months, two issues and a holiday annex since then and I've learn quite a lot in the meantime, but none of it contradicts what I say below. In particular I feel the "Wait Not for Your Audience!" section has panned out quite nicely. As of June 12th, 2014, Beatrice is up to $91.25 per comic, which means she has gained, on average, $40/month worth of pledges per month. Personally, Worlds Without Master has grown a little over $300 in pledges over the same time period (about $50/issue per month). That's some thrilling acceleration taking us to interesting places.

Lately there’s been some discussion in the indie game publishing circle about Patreon and just where it fits in with what we’re doing. As luck would have it, I’ve got some experience here, and perhaps more importantly, I have opinions which, for the sake of sounding more authoritative, I will hereafter refer to as insights.

There are many facets of this ongoing discussion for which I have no insights. But the one that really interests me, one that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about, is the question many game designers, writers and other creators I know have been asking themselves: Is my work well-suited for Patreon?

In cases such as these, I find it best to ask myself, “What would 1982 movie Conan who has a penchant for paraphrasing Genghis Khan say?” Or “WW1982MCWHAPFPGKS?” for short.

From the Bryant Paul Johnson’s “Oh, the Beating Drum!” featured in issue 1 of Worlds Without Master

From the Bryant Paul Johnson’s “Oh, the Beating Drum!” featured in issue 1 of Worlds Without Master

Conan, What Is Best for Patreon?

“Crush your overhead. Be driven to create regardless. Have many iterations before you.”

Both Mavis and Mordecai are looking to go adventuring. And by adventuring they mean lizardmen murdering. But that’s a bit of an uncomfortable truth, so they say they’re “collecting experience.” In any case, they are both wondering which crowdfunding platform will best suit their individual endeavors.

Mordecai, a fairly well-known and respected adventurer, is on a quest to slay Merv, the Sorcerous Lord of the Lizardmen. He’ll need some decent gear to do this. Maybe even a horse or two. And some torchbearers wouldn’t hurt. In fact, if Mordecai could drum up the coppers, he wouldn’t mind all new mail and a few sellswords to watch his back.

Mavis, on the other hand, needs only the sword which her grandmother gave her on her 13th birthday and the shield she crafted with her own two hands. She figures this is more than what most folks got and she’s ready to set out on her own, to find adventure wherever it may befall her.

“Crush your overhead.”

The less it costs you to create something, the better positioned you are to take advantage of Patreon.

Mordecai is clearly looking for a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. There’s a lot of upfront costs, plus horse feed and stabling, and the usual torchbearer and sellsword salaries. These expenses are the very reasons he’s seeking crowdfunding. He cannot afford them on his own.

Mavis, on the other hand, has a slightly more humble project ahead of her and she already has most of the tools she needs. She is not relying on the crowdfunding to get her going on her adventures. Patreon may serve her better than Kickstarter.

“Be driven to create regardless.”

Patreon was created by folks who were already making things and putting them out there, and would likely continue to do so if Patreon didn’t exist. Not surprisingly, it is well suited to their specific needs.

Mordecai has a very specific goal in mind. Merv must be stopped at all costs! Unless, of course, the Kickstarter fails to reach its goal. Then the people have spoken and it seems they’re pretty okay with Merv after all. Then Mordecai will have to find something else to Kickstart. Maybe he’ll open a Medieval Times franchise so folks in ancient Hyboria can dine like folks from the future!

Mavis, however, is driven to adventure—crowdfunding be damned. She’s going to ride out, sword in hand, heedless of how much money it is going to bring in. Life is too damn short. Especially for adventurers. Very short life expectancy, those.

“Have many iterations before you.”

If everyone’s got one book in them, then Patreon isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve got hundreds of short stories in you . . .

There’s only one Merv. Once he’s slain, Mordecai can retire. Or move on to that Medieval Times restaurant idea that’s starting to sound better and better. I mean, for one thing, owning a restaurant rarely puts you in the position where you have to run screaming into an angry throng of lizardmen while your sword slips from your blood-slick grip.

But there’s always adventure to be had! Mavis cannot, and may never, see the finish line. She will do this over and over again until she can adventure no more.

Wait Not for Your Audience!

Here’s the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic’s Patreon page:

As of this post (Dec. 20th, 2013), it’s less than a month old and already has almost 2,500 patrons and it’s pulling in over $7,000 a month. This is the Patreon of someone who messed up.

Here’s Beatrice the Biologist’s Patreon page:

As of this post, it’s also less than a month old and has 25 patrons paying about $30 a comic. This is someone who is doing it right.

If you disagree with me, that’s fine, but you’re wrong. Not only are you wrong, but your math is wrong. So there!

Here’s your math: $7,000 – $30 = 6,970 more dollars, Eppy!

If you’re a little more attentive, you might notice that SMBC is per month and Beatrice is per comic. And if you did a little research, you might suss out that she intends to do four comics a month.

So your math would be all like: $7,000 – $30 x 4 still = $6,880 more dollars, Eppy!

And I would agree with you there. I’d definitely would rather have $7,000 a month than $120. But what if SMBC started his Patreon six months ago, when I started mine? How big of an audience do you think he had back then? Probably about the same, right? That’s six months at $7,000 a month that he’s already missed out on.

So your math should look a little more like this: $7,000 x 6 – $7,000 = $35,000 more. Holy shit!

And that’s just what was lost over half a year!

What if SMBC did the smart thing that Beatrice is doing and started his Patreon when his audience was only 100th of its current size. How long did it take him to reach this point? How many months of patronage has he lost over the years? Probably hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hundreds of thousands.

Obviously, I’m being a bit facetious here when I say he messed up. Obviously it’s not his fault that Patreon hasn’t been around as long as SMBC. And obviously this is an example of a tremendously successful Patreon. There’s a lot to be learned from him.

But this is no hyperbole.

Beatrice the Biologist has a far better timed Patreon. I mean, look at her comics again: They’re great! She’s going to get 2,500 patrons eventually. And there’s no reason why she should wait for all of them at arrive when 25 early adopters, myself included, are willing to start supporting her right now. If, over the next five years, the size of her Patreon steadily gains another $120 or so worth of patrons each month, she will, in December of 2018, have a $7,000 a month Patreon. And she will have made over $200,000 along the way. If it takes her 10 years to get there, that’s about $400,000 she’s made along the way.

That’s if there’s a steady and regular gain of patrons. But that won’t always be the case. There will be deluges and droughts along the way. It is important to understand that unlike a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, you don’t have to synchronize your Patreon with a deluge. It is okay to first put your Patreon out there in a drought, so it is ready to collect water when it does rain. Trust me, if you’ve crushed your overhead, are driven to create regardless, and have many iterations before you, then you’re definitely going to want to have your Patreon in place before your audience hits, not after.

And the money’s only half the story. Patreon is a great way to build and maintain a relationship with your audience. And that’s no easy thing to do. When I release games, I shout about it all over this blog, G+, Twitter, and, when I remember it, Facebook. Usually all within a week of the release. And yet there are still folks out there who own everything I’ve ever released, who won’t hear about my latest game until months afterwards. That is not the case with the Patron Horde. They know the moment a new issue of Worlds Without Master is released.

Folks! On November 30th of this year I released issue 2 which contained the game WolfspellOn December 1st, a day later, people were playing the game. Not just people, mind you, but one member of the Patron Horde in particular who I knew would be all over that game. There is a dialogue happening here made possible through Patreon.

Patreons Do Not Fail, They Fade Away

In a Patreon campaign, no one pays until after the content is delivered. And even then, they have an opportunity to opt out if the content is not what they were expecting. If you have crushed your overhead and suddenly discover that you do not have many iterations before you or you are not driven to create, you can just close up shop without owing anyone so much as an explanation. Just step away from the Patreon and let it fade from your patrons’ memories.

But oh my Arioch, make damn sure you’ve crushed your overhead. That way there is no risk at all. You are simply doing what you do, at no extra cost, and testing the crowdfunding waters along the way.

What Matters Not

Do not ask, “Will people fund this?” Do not ask, “Do I have the audience for it?” Do not ask, “Can I pay rent with this?” For you will find the answer to these riddles only after you’ve made your Patreon. Perhaps even years afterwards.

  • Have you crushed your overhead?
  • Are you driven to create regardless?
  • Do you have many iteration before you?

This is all that matters.


If you haven’t already, totally check out my Patreon: Worlds Without MasterThat would make me the happiest.