I’ve just completed a 35 day successful Kickstarter and my first pearl of wisdom to share; don’t run a 35 day Kickstarter.
It’s a great deal more work than you would imagine. Take our Comments section for instance. In the end we had just over 1500 comments. That’s roughly 43 comments a day! I wasn’t even close to being the biggest contributor. I had some awesome Backers who were more than enthusiastic. Keeping up with the Comments section was a large task, let alone creating updates, new ads, tweets, posts, updates to rules and the Kickstarter page… I digress. It was a lot of work, but worth every hour.
I have a few reflections I’d like to give based on, my now second, successful Kickstarter boardgame campaign. The first of which came to me even before it began.
When you start figuring out how you want to run your Kickstarter, you begin to run into questions like, “Should I use Early Birds”, or “Should I have a deluxe version”. My thoughts were bouncing back and forth on issues like these, so I stepped back and examined why I was struggling for an answer. I boiled down each question to, “who does the answer benefit?”
The Early Bird
The Early Bird is when a project creator makes a cheaper, but limited tier. An example would be, if you allowed the first 100 Backers to your campaign a tier $5 cheaper than what the rest of the Backers would pay. The idea is that it will drive people to back your project right away instead of revisiting and considering it.
Who does this benefit? Certainly not the Backer. It’s a marketing ploy designed to benefit the project creator. If anything, it makes the Backer feel rushed and pushed into a corner. More importantly, it’s not fair to the other Backers who didn’t happen to check Kickstarter that day. You’re creating a class system in your Backers; those who got there first and those that did not. Even worse it’s not a well-functioning class system. If any of those first 100 Backers cancels, it opens up their spot. It then becomes a luck draw to see if a Backer can get the game cheaper or not when they arrive.
Deluxe Editions and Add-ons
Some projects set up a tier with the “basic game”. The next, more expensive tier have a “deluxe game” with more pieces, add-ons, or materials. There could be more editions after that.
Who does this benefit? Again, not the Backer. This reminds me of why I stopped collecting comics in the early 90’s. In 1990, as a kid I was excited to hear about a new Spiderman comic being released. I rushed to my local comic store and bought a copy of the first issue! I was so excited. I still have it today actually, but it serves almost as a reminder of what marketing can do to a hobby. A little bit after getting the comic, I heard there was a platinum cover. Later I learned there were all sorts of variant covers and “misprints” all designed to drive attention to the comic and all that were more rare and expensive than my copy. Nine different variants in all. What did it do to the issue I held in my young hands? Well, not only did it become pretty worthless for a collector, it became a lot less awesome to a kid.
That’s a long, sad story, but it’s the one I think of when I see deluxe versions of games. Yeah I can get the barely playable version of the game, or I can shell out more money to get the real version, or even more money to get the bragging-rights version. Guess how important it is to me to have that barely playable version. Not very. Again, a class system amongst your Backers is being made. If a Backer has the money, they can have a game better than what the less-fortunate can get.
Note: Some types of games are, of course, immune from this observation. Living card games, miniature-battle games, and other games that are designed to be expanded upon are built from the beginning to have multiple levels and add-ons. These are immune because the Backer knows that these sorts of games are designed to work this way. They don’t see their beginning copy as a lesser piece, just a start to a collection.
Now the only question I had to ask myself was, “Do I make decisions to benefit myself, or my Backers?”
In the case of Asking for Trobils, I decided to make decisions based on if it benefited my Backers, not just my margins. No early birds, no deluxe editions, no decisions that were based on my benefit and not the Backers. I would make sure that every Backer getting the game felt equal. Each one having my equal attention and appreciation for their support. Moving forward I made every decision like that. Sometimes the decision would benefit us both, and those were the best.
Here’s the idea, if you take care of the Backers, they’ll take care of your goal. Sometimes you’ll make a promise, later to find out that, if you break that promise, you could benefit from it pretty well or that it might hurt you financially if you follow through. That’s when your brain starts trying to find workarounds, but if you keep firm in your mind, that the Backer is First, then you will always make the right decision. Always design your Kickstarter so that it benefits both you and the Backer.
The Big Companies
There are a lot of large companies and bigger groups using Kickstarter now. Every month it seems like there’s a Queen Games, Funforge, or CoolMiniOrNot project going on. As small, often first-time publishers, how do we compete with those? Put Backers first. I’m not saying that these companies don’t have good intentions, but they aren’t one or two individuals who can talk to a person’s needs. When Backers go to those large companies, they’re preordering a game, pure and simple. When they’re backing a small publisher’s game, they’re backing a person. If you treat them like the large companies treat them, you won’t last long.
If you have confidence in your game, that it’s truly a great game that people will love, then you won’t need these marketing centered paths. Put the Backers first, and they’ll make your game successful. And be sure to thank them!