Good things come to those who wait — and those who pour an exorbitant amount of time and energy, blood, sweat, and tears into it, with patience.
The Tome of Countenances (Facebook) notified me that today marks two years since we launched our Patreon campaign. Since then, we’ve grown from zero dollars (obviously) to $234, allowing The Well-Red Mage to purchase equipment for podcasts, software and hardware for critiques, giveaways in gift cards and merchandise, a domain name, and several other very cool things that would not have been possible on my $20k in L.A. income.
For that, I’m indebted, and even more so utterly grateful to everyone who has pledged their support for this concept on Patreon. Our campaign has grown with the brand and will continue to do so as it develops, including something I’m rolling out at the start of August. This is something I’m publicly announcing here for the first time; it has been under wraps for many weeks now, receiving tweak after tweak and many much counsel.
We are going to begin a compensation system of fund-sharing for our contributors, the mages. This is not the same thing as a freelancing business model. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years now and create new opportunities for games writers to be compensated for their time. Everything has to start somewhere and just as our Patreon campaign itself started small, this plan will start small too, but both have limitless potential.
Here’s the official reveal: https://bit.ly/2M9FMno
So what have I learned in two years of crowdfunding through Patreon? I can think of six big takeaways.
One: these things to take time.
Since embarking on this crowdfunding adventure, I’ve seen new campaigns on Patreon pop up overnight and disappear within a few short weeks, occasionally with their creators expressing disappointment and frustration over the lack of traction. Heck, I saw one campaign lift my reward tiers and goals verbage verbatim, or nearly so, without going anywhere before shutting down. But here’s the thing. Patreon is not a get rich quick scheme. Cultivating a Patreon account takes time, aside from the American Dream of hitting viral status and watching your numbers climb, but let’s face it, that kind of “getting lucky” mentality oughtn’t replace the philosophy that good things require a lot of patience.
Two: don’t be afraid of trial and error.
I’ve tried a lot of different things over these two years, both to attract people to the campaign page and to develop rewards for patrons. I can tell you that our campaign page today looks almost entirely different from what it looked like at launch. Everything has changed from the rewards on offer, the tiers, the concept of what we’re creating, the goals, the main description. Everything. That’s because I tried a lot of new ideas, some of which ended up being too distracting or time-consuming, taking me away from the real work (more on that next), or uninteresting, or too expensive to maintain. Sometimes these things worked. Sometimes they didn’t. And I didn’t have any problem with killing darlings. If an idea didn’t work, I axed it. Crowdfunding is such a relatively new way of funding a concept that there’s so much more to continue to try out.
Three: focus on the content you already create.
As mentioned, I created some regrettable rewards and extra content for our campaign which ended up being simply too time-consuming. Patrons were already supporting TWRM for TWRM content, so doing less of that to create something else didn’t always make sense, but it took me forever to realize that. When creating rewards and goals, it’s got to be something that can be done quickly, so you can get back to the content you already create that you’re already being supported to create. Perks are nice, but Patreon is designed to support the big idea, not an endless stream of perks.
Four: refine the concept.
One of the most important questions Patreon asks is: “What are you creating?” This is why it says at the top of every campaign page: “So-and-so is creating XYZ”. When we started out, ours stated “The Well-Red Mage is creating analytical, long-form Gaming Journalism. Pretty dry. Later it changed to “The Well-Red Mage is creating a future for Games Journalism”. I think that’s a little better and more inspirational in an idealistic sense, but it unfortunately wades into the culture wars between gamers and journalists that I didn’t want to enter. Eventually it became “The Well-Red Mage is creating a paradigm shift for Games Writing and Community”. That is precisely what we’re doing. That’s my exact vision for this concept. I want to build a new future, create a paradigm shift, and not merely go with the flow. Getting this phrasing right is, I think, crucial. How many times have you seen “So-and-so is creating videos and whatever”? I’ve actually seen “So-and-so is creating Stuff”. To me, that’s not very compelling, though mileage may vary, of course, but I think that in order to stand out on Patreon you at least need a refined concept. Everyone is already creating gaming content.
Five: make real connections.
I have been fortunate in my life to know a great many very wise people. One of them said to me that our patrons support TWRM because they want to. Overly simplified? Immediately obvious? Or profound beyond comprehension? Patrons appear because they like the primary content, not necessarily for the rewards and the perks or even the vision of the concept. They pledge support because they are fans, and the best way to make fans is one at a time. Out of everything I’ve said here, I believe this the most: making one on one, individual, and real connections with people online is crucial. This is something I’m still trying to learn. There’s something dehumanizing about saying a group of people are “fans”, but treating each person as an individual is, I think, something that ultimately resonates with both persons involved: you and them.
And six: don’t be ashamed of your content.
I can’t forget reading an article from a Patreon creator who gave this piece of advice: “Don’t be ashamed of your content.” What does that mean? It means don’t feel guilty about or worried about promoting your Patreon and asking for support. At first, it seemed VERY weird to put out a call for support. It does get easier over time. The real change in my way of thinking came when I read the words “Your content is worth it.”
And do you know what? Our content on The Well-Red Mage is worth it. We as a global community of mages and patrons have poured an immense amount of effort, funds, ideas, and inspiration into this concept, because we all believe in it to some extent, the vision, the community, the writing. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here as a team, far beyond what I could have accomplished on my own.
Our content is worth it. The writers who dedicate their time to this concept are worthy of compensation, despite all the facts that games writing jobs are rare, ultra-competitive, and freelancing is hard as nails. I couldn’t be more grateful for our supporters. This is a new concept and a new idea to pursue in the future.
Who knows where it will go…
-The Well-Red Mage
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