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Wolfgang Baur Interview – Open Design’s Kickstarter Experience

March 12, 2012

courtesy of Kobold Quarterly

SG: First off, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your experience both Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding RPGs! It’s a great contribution to this months RPG blog carnival!

For our readers who may not be aware, Open Design has been a collaborative RPG design company since 2006 and has published a lot of material in those years. A FAQ for those unfamiliar with the process can be found here.
There were a few things that remained unclear to me as I read the FAQs. Namely, how are Open Design projects chosen?
WB: It has changed over time. For the first few projects, I proposed 5 or 6 options and the backers picked one of those. That lasted about a year. Then I asked some freelancers to pitch things, and they came forward with great ideas that turned into some award-winning D&D and Pathfinder adventures and sourcebooks. In the last 3 years or so, I’ve asked backers to write up some pitches that they’d like to see, and wow, did they ever!
Now the current backers themselves pitch project ideas for the next project. I’m looking at about 19 different project ideas for the next Open Design project. Those pitches are all discussed and voted on by the most active Open Design supporters, and the cream almost always rises to the top.

SG: Once the project is chosen, how is the lead designer chosen?

WB: The person who proposed the idea is the lead designer for the project–if they can write a compelling pitch, chances are good they can write a compelling adventure or gamebook.
So for instance, Christina Stiles proposed the Journeys to the West project, based on ideas that had been floated in the Midgard campaign setting project.

Journeys to the West drew the biggest number of votes, and so Christina has led that project as the lead designer. The book will be released this summer. It’s a series of adventures in the style of the Voyages of Sindbad or perhaps Francis-Drake-meets-Temeraire. It’s spectacular island-hopping fun, with demon monkeys, undead islands, a leviathan, and more.

SG: While customers having input to the product as it is being produced can be exciting and engaging for the patrons, what are the challenges in designing “by committee”? Have you ever been surprised by the results?

WB: Oh, there’s no committee! Every backer can contribute to the brainstorms, and some backers do write NPCs, spells, or whole adventures. But the lead designer is always, always the benevolent dictator, or else the project gets mired down in exactly the way group projects often do.

That said, I have often, often been surprised by the results. Three examples: 1) early on, the backers voted to move ahead with an Arabian Nights project that I thought would never fly, and that I proposed on a lark, 2) Brandon Hodge showed up and single-handedly turned my rather traditional Mines of Moria adventure into something rather more ominous and devilish and secretive, and 3) when people said let’s turn Zobeck into a whole campaign setting.

SG: The Open Design system of patronage allows people not only access to the end-product, but a vote and possibly an opportunity to pitch ideas to guide the project’s direction. Did kickstarter’s pledge levels complement your system of patronage you’ve used in the past? Is one better than the other?

WB: Kickstarter made it easier, but it is remarkably similar to what Open Design started doing back in 2006. The pledge levels are identical to the system we’ve used for 6 years. The expanded offerings if the project hits a funding goal are new, and wonderful. Overall, it felt very comfortable, and clearly it worked.  

SG: Journeys to the West was Open Design’s first kickstarter. It smashed it’s initial goal, and made every stretch goal. Was the response you got for this project typical for OD publications, or did it exceed expectations? Do you think kickstarter played a role in the result?

WB: Oh, it exceeded expectations by a huge amount! Most of our prior projects were held together with a lot of spit, bubblegum, and love, but they were underfunded. A few depended on some level of volunteer effort. I think Kickstarter did help, though obviously they take a big cut for that help.

SG: Will future Open Design projects utilize kickstarter? Why/why not?

WB: That remains to be seen.

Thanks for your insights into not only the crowdfunding model, but crowdsourcing material as well! We’ll all be on the lookout for the next Open Design project!

  1. March 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I really hope they do use Kickstarter for future projects. I was a (very) quiet observer on their latest one but have enjoyed watching it coalesce.

  1. April 2, 2012 at 4:35 pm
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