Wil Wheaton’s ‘TableTop’ Shows The $1.4+ Million Power Of Niche Communities And Programming

By 04/08/2015
Wil Wheaton’s ‘TableTop’ Shows The $1.4+ Million Power Of Niche Communities And Programming

TableTop is an original online entertainment property with an on-paper premise unpalatable to traditional media. Yes, the program does have some innate cross-platform star appeal. The bi-weekly-or-so series is distributed by way of online video poster child’s Felicia Day’s (and more recently Legendary’s) YouTube destination Geek & Sundry and hosted by Star Trek: The Next Generation alum and overall object of internet obsession Wil Wheaton. But TableTop’s subject matter isn’t something individuals with an appetite to watch or produce mainstream entertainment usually seek out (the show’s all about classic, modern, and not computerized gaming) and the very long format is one that bucks the general online video trend (each episode consists of upwards of 50 minutes of content composed of Wheaton introducing a board game or two and then playing one of those board games with friends).

Lucky for TableTop and the powers that be at Geek & Sundry, the series doesn’t have to worry about appeasing a general audience. It has a rabid and niche online following that’s supportive of the show to the tune of more than 37 million total views, over 530 million total minutes watched, and at least $1,414,159.

That dollar figure is the amount Wheaton and crew raised via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for Season 3 of TableTop after cash from the YouTube Original Channels Initiative that funded the first two seasons ran out. It’s a very impressive seven-digit figure, and at almost triple the campaign’s original $500,000 goal it begs the questions, “How’d they do it?”

Right before the announcement of the 2015 International TableTop Day and about midway into the release of the series’ crowdfunded junior season, we spoke with Geek & Sundry CEO Sheri Bryant to find out.

Tubefilter: Thee YouTube Original Channels Initiative funded the first two seasons of Tabletop and that wasn’t an option for the third season. If crowdfunding wasn’t around, do you think there would have ever been a third season?

Sheri Bryant: I think that we probably would’ve found a way to get it made if crowdfunding wasn’t not around, only because there’s definitely other platforms out there that could have potentially funded the show. We have an established audience. It would’ve gotten made regardless, however, crowdfunding was certainly our number one choice and something that we really felt passionate about because we wanted to tie the community in the programming.

TF: So, you went with crowdfunding because of the TableTop community?

SB: TableTop in particular has a fantastic, supportive base. The show means something to the fans, so we knew that they would enjoy being part of the process to help make it possible. We knew for sure the fan community would be excited about and behind the campaign.

TF: What do you think made the campaign so successful? Was it more Wil Wheaton or more the subject matter of tabletop gaming?

SB: It’s both. Will is an amazing and enthusiastic host. You can tell how much he loves gaming and how authentic he is and you can see what gaming means to him. I also think tabletop gaming doesn’t have a space in traditional entertainment. Even though the industry is in this renaissance period, there’s hardly any programming targeted at the community.

So, most of the appeal is probably Wil and the quality of the show, but tabletop gaming is a great niche to be in and programming for it really isn’t available at this level anywhere else.

TF: With Wil Wheaton, Geek & Sundry, and an already-established popular web series it was obvious the campaign was going to get a lot of funding, but were you surprised at how much was raised?

SB: Everyone was blown away…except for me.

We actually had a pool in the office about where the campaign was going to end up and I won. I was the only one who really even came close to the final amount. When we started the pool and I told everyone my guess, the office was like, “You’re crazy, Sheri!” and other people were like “You’re crazy, Sheri!” and the suits – lawyers, accounts, and agents – were like “You’re crazy, Sheri!” But I had a feeling about it. I really believed in the people and the community and the show.

I knew it was going to be a big hit because I was in the nitty gritty of the campaign, especially in terms of what we were offering. We had good ideas that we knew the community would respond to. Plus, I’m personally an optimist. I think as an entrepreneur you have to be, you have to always look on the bright side.

TF: Were the stretch goals part of your original strategy? Or did you start to roll them out after you saw how popular the campaign was getting?

SB: Almost all of them were there from the beginning. We were basically told that your average crowdfunding campaign had a curve that looks like a “U”. You start strong and get a lull and at the end everyone rallies for you to make your goal. The strategy was to make the “U” very shallow. In order to do that, you need to constantly add new things to keep the community interested and sharing the content. So, from early on, I think we had our strategy pretty set. 

We probably did an extra video here or there with Wil. That’s about it. But those videos were easy and felt natural. He was obviously very into the campaign and engaged and talked a lot about it. He was really excited.

challenge-coinTF: Were you surprised about the demand for any particular perk? Or was there a perk you thought would sell very well that didn’t do as well as you anticipated?

SB: There were the predictable ones. The DVDs, the shirts, and anything personalized by Wil and Felicia were in high demand. The Challenge Coin was also more popular than I thought it would be. We actually came up with that in the middle of the campaign. It was a beautifully designed coin for a very limited audience, but it did really well.

TF: How’d the Cards Against Humanity Special Edition Perk come to be?

SB: Wil is friends with Max [Temkin] and Wil said to me, “You should talk to Max. Maybe they want to do something with us.” Max and I talked, came up with a scheme, and the rest was history. 

It’s also a game that’s been requested so many times on TableTop so we knew it was going to be a popular perk. Our show is pretty family-friendly, so that game was tough to film, but we did it this season, though we did joke about having a TableTop spinoff series, TableTop After-Dark to be a home for raunchy games.

TF: You had over 22,000 funders and a lot of press for the campaign. Do you feel like more pressure because of that to make this third season especially great?

SB: Oh, for sure. Event on set as we were shooting it, every day we talked about the backers and how grateful we were for their support. One of our walls on set had all the backers’ names on it. It was a constant reminder and all felt we had a responsibility and I know Wil did, too. We tried to do as much as we could for the backers, including behind-the-scenes photos and videos and other special segments. We were always thinking, “How do we get this out to them early?”, that kind of thing because we knew we wouldn’t be there and making the show if it wasn’t for them.

TF: You’ve spoken a lot about the community behind TableTop. Is that kind of community essential for a successful campaign?

SB: I know a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have an audience like ours. It helps, for sure, but I think people also go to these crowdfunding platforms looking for people to help and projects to invest in. So, you can find supporters. You can do a good job crowdfunding even without a pre-set community if you have an awesome product, whatever it might be.

You can catch Season 3 of TableTop (and all the other seasons, too) over on Geek & Sundry’s YouTube channel.