Treading Water – Kickstarter Reflection 2018

I did one of these articles last year, so it is fitting that I recap all the changes that happened this year as well. These are all mostly my opinions with a smattering of proof and personal experience, so take that for what it’s worth. Feel free to disagree with me because I enjoy that most of all. 🙂

Big Projects Outpaced Platform Adoption

The board game hobby is experiencing its biggest growth in history, not just in profits, but in general pop culture adoption. Publishing companies are being created every week and many thousands of titles were debuted this year alone. You see a growing display of games at big box stores, heavy investments of online sales of games, and more and more board game retail stores and cafes popping up to become their community’s third space. In 2018, my expected trajectory of increased board game buyers happened everywhere except on Kickstarter. While Kickstarter doesn’t release this type of information, those who use the platform both as creators and backers felt a unique squeeze this year over others. According to Board Game Data, 57.8% of the 3,220 tabletop projects on the site funded so far this year, whereas 61.9% of the 3021 tabletop projects in all of 2017 funded. The prospects are even worse for new creators. 45.2% of 1506 tabletop projects by new creators funded in 2017, but only 40.3% of 1486 tabletop projects by new creators have funded so far this year. December isn’t likely to boost those numbers. Nearly every trend below stems from this specific normalizing, or evening out, of new user adoption. Users overall grew on Kickstarter, but not at the rate you might have guessed looking at the boom in 2015 with Exploding Kittens.

My Takeaway: I have no idea what the future holds for Kickstarter, and neither does anyone else. I hope a lot more publishers “graduate” from the platform and move on as Stonemaier Games did a few years ago. If they don’t (or can’t) we are in for some tough times ahead.

Nostalgia, Storytelling, and IPs, Oh My!


If you look at the most successful campaigns of 2018, it is easy to see that The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls, Strongholds & Streaming, Trogdor!! The Board Game, Fireball Island – 80’s Board Game, Reignited and Restored, Batman™: Gotham City Chronicles, and Hellboy: The Board Game all spoke to this childhood nostalgia relived through Kickstarter campaigns. I also took notice of those non-IP but skirting that line trend that happened this year, such as when Pandasaurus came out swinging with their monumentally successful This-Isn’t-Jurassic-Park-MTV-Acid-Wash Dinosaur Island: Back from Extinction campaign, or the This-Isn’t-Aliens-But-Isn’t-It Nemesis campaign. Notable campaign Tidal Blades leaned heavily into narratives even as a brand new world and IP.

My Takeaway: Storytelling is in. Build worlds, not just art.

Creators Relied Too Heavily on Superbackers

Where creators really hit a brick wall this year was the sheer amount of quality campaigns on the platform at any one given time. Creators realized firsthand how shared their audience really was when the campaigns which would have made tons of money last year barely scraped by. Backer budgets have always been a limitation on the platform. It’s just that this year was the first year saturation was met and projects either didn’t fund or made meager gains. I think this is a result primarily of publishers getting comfortable with who is funding their projects. The games industry is growing. The customer base is growing. But publishers haven’t brought an explosion of new users since Exploding Kittens.

My Takeaway: It has always been the case that you need to cultivate your audience rather than assume all of the existing Kickstarter audience will fund your projects. I think we need to take that idea a step further and do more education in our marketing of what crowdfunding and Kickstarter actually is.

Cancelled Funded Campaigns


Since mainstream publishers entered the Kickstarter market in a large way last year, canceled funded campaigns have grown tremendously. I say tremendously, but we are talking about 30 or so campaigns when the norm was half that or less. Whether the result of retooling for bigger gains or unrealistic expectations, Kickstarter has become the R&D department for a lot of companies with resources to spare on the time and resources spent in a Kickstarter. That isn’t actually a bad thing, as experimentation has continuously been the hallmark of a breakout Kickstarter campaign. It’s most shocking to backers that a company would appear successful in the funds they asked for (which is never the actual cost of a game production), and decide to pull the experiment before funds are collected.

My Takeaway: This is a symptom of the squeeze. I don’t think anything will change and creators will continue to ask for lower goals with the knowledge they can cancel before the campaign ends. Just a symptom of the platform. I also don’t think it’s that big of a deal to not be charged for something that needs to be retooled and relaunched, so there is that.

Blasting Off the Tabletop


Looking closer at a campaign such as Fireball Island, it is easy to write off the success as pure nostalgia. However, Fireball Island tapped into another emerging trend of 2018, and that is 3D gameplay environments. While naysayers may say of course Fireball Island has a 3D board because the original did as well, we need only look at the excitement the giant play-on-able Cthulhu plastic figure in Cthulhu: Death May Die stirred, or the even-though-it-was-a-scam-take-some-trend-lessons Overturn campaign, with 3D scenery littered throughout. Although a bit of a stretch, an honorable mention should definitely be extended to the AR hit, Chronicles of Crime, which brings the player’s attention off the table into a phone scenery.

My Takeaway: Try to find ways to imagine how your game can come up from the table some, even using plastic formed boards or a reason for players to stand up.

Live Video and Kickstarter UI

This was actually a trend I added late because I enjoyed it and then took it for granted, but yes. Kickstarter did a great thing and implemented live video which could simulcast to Facebook and it was a magical thing to behold. Kickstarter also made a few much-needed updates to the back-end and simplified a lot of what creators need to deal with. Many Kickstarter employees actually found their way onto Facebook Groups where a majority of the complaints took place.

My Takeaway: I would like to think live video will continue to dominate the landscape in 2019, but I am much more inclined to imagine shorter video content drops within updates will become the more viewed and marketable content. But keep making live content because we all love it.

So, What’s Next?

I want to propose something and many existing creators will laugh and disagree with my sentiments, but I think in order for new creators to succeed on Kickstarter in 2019, the entire paradigm needs to shift. Best Practices need to be uprooted and new ones need to take their place. To stop the bar from rising to heights that only large budget operations can sustain, and to ensure Kickstarter remains for everyone as this experimental wonderland for daring products to be made, we need to get weird. This won’t be for everyone, and it is very unlikely that existing successful creators will see the benefit to this. But I do, and I hope you do too.

Here is something I want to put forth and if you think it is a good idea, I encourage you to use this banner in your campaigns.

#KeepKickstarterWeird is a new independent initiative I started in Kickstarter Board Games to separate new creators from the herd. When someone sees your new campaign and supports it, they will be supporting it because your initial vision is immediately present in the campaign, nothing more or less. In order to accurately use this banner in your campaign, you just need to do 3 things.

  • No Stretch Goals – Present your game the way it is and let that be the game you want to fund. Find new ways to engage with your audience that doesn’t require bloating your game to unrealistic expectations.
  • No Deluxe Versions – Established creators have started making two versions of their game so they can justify stretch goals for a smaller run of the deluxe game paired with early sales of what will end up in distribution. New creators almost never get into distribution after one successful campaign, so stop playing by those rules.
  • Share the Love – In at least one update, talk about another campaign that is part of the #KeepKickstarterWeird initiative. In order to find those campaigns, simply search for #KeepKickstarterWeird in the various Facebook groups and elsewhere online.

And that’s it! See you next year and best of luck in your endeavors in crowdfunding.

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Don’t Just be a Designer, be a Collaborator – Guest Blog by Nestor Tyr

It was a mid-May afternoon back a year ago when I first talked with Martin Looij from Keep Exploring Games. He told me he had seen some Facebook posts regarding Tour Operator and wanted to learn more as was creating a traveling-themed game himself. As it turned out, our perspective on the theme was different. His game’s protagonists were tourists while I was designing a game from the standpoint of the occupations in tourism around the world. Nonetheless, we agreed to keep in touch and to help each other with our designs.

Some months later, we talked again. Martin had seen some promo art I got commissioned for Tour Operator and was proposing to check the game for publishing. At the time I was in a dilemma, to self-publish or not, having faith in my game but not much time to market it correctly. I eventually agreed to sign it over to Keep Exploring Games, and on April 9, Tour Operator launched on Kickstarter.

What designers fear in signing their game over to some company is the thought that they will have no further involvement in their creation. “Now sit back and let the publisher run the show,” a fellow designer told me. I didn’t quite follow his advice, and I am glad I didn’t. For the past three months and a half, I have been following Tour Operator in all stages: art, graphic design, previews, promotion and Kickstarter release.

My advice to designers is to offer your help to the publisher, try to stay as close to your game as you can and don’t let your love for it die out. Some publishers prefer to have designers out of their way, but, in truth, you are potentially their most crucial ally in this project. As long as you know your boundaries, respect your publisher and yourself, and keep loving your game, everything will work out for both parties in the end.

The first thing you should do is have a sincere talk with your potential publisher. Explain how you envision your partnership and your involvement in the publishing process and listen to what the publisher wants from you. I am sure that you can work out a collaborative framework that will allow you to contribute to the publishing process. My experience working with Martin Looij and Keep Exploring Games is that a designer can help a lot. A very delicate subject is the game art. Most publishers will exclude the designers from choosing the game’s illustrator but in my case, the illustrator, Thanos Tsilis, was my choice. I had approached him before we had any contract with Keep Exploring Games and Martin was so happy with the art that he wouldn’t want to change the art direction. The same happened with the graphic design we needed for the KS page and the game box. The publisher’s regular graphic designer wasn’t available for some time, so I proposed a friend who closed a deal with the publisher and helped us out at a critical point.

A designer may also help with the game design in general. Martin gladly supported my proposals about the player mats and the size of the city cards, which I wanted big enough to show off our awesome game art. I tried to offer thoughts on why something should be the way I propose but never expected to get my way every time.

Another way a designer may help is promoting the game. There are various Facebook Groups right now which offer both product visibility and direct contact with board gamers and potential clients. Providing info about the rules and the gameplay, answering questions and talking to future backers or industry insiders helps to build an audience for any game, and that’s a job a designer might do very well. I remember the Tour Operator Facebook Group already having almost 800 followers when Keep Exploring Games had taken over, and I continued posting about Tour Operator in several groups during the pre-campaign period, especially art related posts. Get the publisher’s blessing on what sort of sharing is allowed and then keep loving that game!

A designer may also help as a collaborator during the KS campaign, answering relevant backer questions and posting updates. It’s a great experience, and I suggest you ask your publisher to give you collaborator rights. Of course, it goes without saying that you should be sure on the things you are commenting or your answers to the public and you always ask the publisher if something doesn’t stick with you before posting on the KS comments.

So, it’s all that easy? Publishers and designers get along without any problems, any slight little shadow between them? Certainly not. There were viewpoints with which I disagreed with the publisher, such as having a ticket resource instead of a clean plane seats one, or various city card decisions, with me wanting more mainstream cities and sites in the game and Martin Looij going for some more “uncommon” ones. In these cases the rule is simple. The publisher always has the decisive vote because at the end of the day they are more financially liable for the project’s success. Keep this fixed in your mind, and communication will be great.

You’ve got a friend in me: Collaborating with other Kickstarter Creators – Guest Post by Artem Safarov

Your Kickstarter goes live in a few months. Your days are a mix of pride in and anxiety. If you have done your homework and consumed the wisdom of Jamie Stegmaier and James Mathe (and many others) – you know that the most significant predictor of your success now is how much awareness you are going to drum up before the project launches.

So, you do the best you can. You are signed up to all the Facebook groups. You even go to r/boardgames on Reddit from time to time, looking for opportunities to mention your game. You talk it up as much as you can. And you probably wish there would be someone there who would care as much as you do to amplify all the good vibes you are putting out there.

Well, I have good news for you! There is someone like that. They are your fellow Kickstarter creators. You probably thought they were your opponents or competitors, haven’t you? Silly talk. Your real obstacle is the sheer amount of game information out there, creating a level of noise with which it is hard to compete. The individual people who share your dream, however, are your potential greatest allies.

Let’s see why:

  • They know the environment you are in because they are also a part of the same community
  • They are well-versed in the current interests/preferences of the community
  • They have a presence on social media platforms because they want to share their message
  • They share the drive to see a passion project succeed

So why not help each other? Find a project you like, reach out to the creator and see if there is an opportunity for collaboration. The ways to collaborate are many, but at the very basic level even if you have a connection with someone who is more likely to like/upvote your content or provide positive comments on mentions of your game – that’s so much more valuable than mentioning your game to deafening silence.

I had the pleasure of forming such a connection with Casey Hill who has recently wrapped up his Kickstarter for Arkon (smashing many stretch goals in the process, earning 800% of his goal).

Arkon is a light, gorgeous-looking card game that mixes strategy of Hero Realms with bluffing and social deduction. You can pre-order it for just over $20 here.

Our collaboration was not a particularly official one – we just got to talking about our projects, liked what we both saw and formed a habit of supporting each other’s content. And it makes a difference. The supportive public voice that such connections can provide is invaluable for visibility of your project, and it leads to a mutually beneficial relationship, opening future avenues of collaboration. I am grateful to Casey for his support and providing his view of our interaction below:

Casey: When I started out on my journey as a game creator, there was a lot I didn’t know. One of the things I did know, was that broadly and repetitively promoting your work in boardgame groups was a sure-fire way to foster ill-will. So, I decided to start with a) trying to find game creators who were doing it right and learn from them and b) try to see how I could give back.

For the first item there, I began by engaging with a handful of creators that I found were producing compelling content. The key here is don’t game this. Don’t be disingenuous. Start by liking and commenting on stuff about which you actually care; things you would follow, like and comment on regardless of any benefit in return. Comments that show thought and engagement with the material are better than likes. One of the creators I connected with was Artem. I found the work he was doing on his new game fascinating, I loved the art, and I dug the theme. Above all that, I saw him as an amiable and authentic person. When I reached out with some questions after a bit, he was happy to share his insights. We started to build a genuine relationship around mutual respect as founders and what we liked in each other’s games. Having allies to help you amplify your voice is enormous but treat this as you would a relationship in real life and share/like/comment on the stuff that you actually like and find interesting.

Excited about this idea? Here are some suggestions on how to go about it:

  • Be realistic in who you approach. Pick creators on your “level”. You might love Ryan Laukat’s stuff, but he’s probably ok for social media support without your help :). But there are plenty of small shops doing remarkable things.
  • Approach creators of projects that you genuinely like. If you are going to be telling people something is fantastic – you better believe it yourself. The last thing I want to suggest is to misrepresent something in which you have little interest.
  • Give as much as you get. This kind of support is a two-way street. If you expect help and engagement from others – make sure you are just as committed to helping their projects.

So, go ahead – reach out to someone today, show interest in their project, make a friend and see if they like what you’ve made. More of these connections will make sure that our community thrives as we continue to create meaningful games!

Unbroken is a solo game of survival and revenge in a world of dark fantasy, on Kickstarter now. You play as a lone survivor of a monster ambush. Wounded, alone and unarmed you must navigate the dark caverns, recover from wounds, craft weapons from scraps and fight your way back to freedom. Unbroken is a 20-30-minute game of resource management and pushing your luck. If you enjoy a challenging, decision-driven experience in a tight playtime – Unbroken is available for an affordable $23!

Announcing New York Slice Legacy!

Today, BĂ©zier Games announced the upcoming release of New York Slice Legacy, the very first Legacy game that you eat while you play! Co-designed by Rob Daviau, Jeffrey D. Allers, and Ted Alspach, the game will debut at Gen Con with a general release in early September.

The Original

New York Slice is an “I cut, you choose” game where players have to divide up a pizza knowing that they’ll end up with the section that none of their opponents want. The challenge is collecting the best pizza, avoiding anchovies, and getting the right specials to manage a victory!

Adding Legacy

New York Slice Legacy builds on the original game, and brings something entirely new to Legacy gaming by making it a culinary experience! You can play the game with any pizza, so all you have to do is order in (or make your own!) and your game night is ready to start!

A New York Slice Legacy campaign adds all new layers of strategy. With permanent changes each game, every decision (and every bite!) counts. Will you keep those slices as leftovers for next game, or will you fit them in now? Will you upgrade your plate size or your stomach? The choice is yours, but we know one thing for sure – this will be the most fulFILLING Legacy game you’ve ever played!

New York Slice Legacy plays with 2-4 players, and each game takes about 45 minutes to play. The game contains plates for each player, a pizza cutter to help slice the portions each round, a scoring pad, all new player abilities, secret upgrades, and brand new specials that can even be added to the original game for more variety once the legacy campaign is complete!

New York Slice Legacy will debut at Gen Con 2018 and is currently available for preorder. Don’t miss out on this brand new game that is good enough to eat!

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 9

Each week, I will show you educational case studies on Kickstarter. These are strictly my experience-based opinions on Kickstarter best practices. My listing these campaigns are always an endorsement of the product itself, no matter my critical commentary of the campaign. Enjoy! *Please note that I missed Week 6, 7, and 8 due to schedule complications.

Palm Island – Portable Card Game

Take your island with you. Play anywhere with this portable deck transformer game.

The Good: A word about preview content. A Rahdo preview can almost guarantee a funded Kickstarter campaign. Big thumbs up to the creators for pursuing and getting that preview content. Seriously, look down the line of Rahdo videos and point a failed Kickstarter campaign out to me. You’ll see my comparison to even The Dice Tower’s new preview arm below, but you as a creator need to take into account a reviewer’s track record. You also want to pay attention to a content creator’s views and comment sections. I generally don’t get many comments here, but the few I do get are mostly responded to. You want that level of engagement when selecting (and sometimes paying) a content creator.
The Bad: You as a self-publisher need to make a decision between creating a deluxe edition of your game or making the only game you are selling deluxe in the first place. I have helped run both types of campaigns. While deluxe on Kickstarter is usually the more popular option, I think Palm Island could have done without the basic edition entirely. For an extra $2, you get the game the creators actually wanted to make. Now the creators have a dilemma of mass producing likely 1000 copies of the paper card game, but only 300 were really interested in the first place. They have learned now that they could have easily gotten away with all-weather cards and been just fine with one less SKU to worry about post-Kickstarter.
The Misinformed: It is hard to justify anything as categorically “misinformed” when I regard the campaign overall as a resounding success. So here’s a softball critique, but one I think is valuable. Maybe when you have the inclination to post four updates on your campaign within the first 24 hours, just don’t. I know running a Kickstarter campaign is like riding a tidal wave of emotion but try to hold back and take your customers’ time seriously. Don’t negatively impact your campaign with oversharing. Hold back information so that you can have better quality updates throughout. In general, I recommend a few standard updates: The “Welcome to the campaign” update, the “we funded” update, and the “thank you for all your support in these last 72 to 48 hours” update. The rest of the updates can be sparingly spaced apart to maybe one per week or, at most, every couple days as you unlock big stretch goals.

Pichenotte Hockey – A Great Wooden Flicking Game !

Face your rival in a simple, smooth and relaxed way. Pichenotte Hockey is a surprising dexterity game for 2 players.

The Good: Funny thing, there were two dexterity games launched this week: the above Pichenotte Hockey, and Flicky Spaceships. Can anyone spot why one is funded and the other likely to cancel? If you said overproduced game compared to gameplay experience you are right! Pichenotte Hockey should by all accounts be charging more for their game. It’s WOODEN BOARDS! But I can get a large version for a cool $43. However, if I want Flicky Spaceships, I’m looking at double the price. If I wanted an $80 dexterity game, I’d buy PitchCar. Know your market, and know what prices actual products on Kickstarter sell for. Otherwise, you will be hitting the cancel button before you launch.
The Bad: Here’s where my praise of Pichenotte Hockey and their pricepoint gets a little dicey. The creators of this campaign made the conscious decision, as many others have before them, to separate shipping from the pledge level. While this is not outright bad for this type of campaign, they probably could have achieved better results with a different split. To the publisher, it’s all the same money when the check comes in from Kickstarter. If I make a game for $1 and make the shipping $50, I am still getting $51 per unit sold when all is said and done. The $50 in shipping is even going toward my funding goal. Where Pichenotte did a $43 / $17 split, I think they would have been better served with a $49 / $10 split. It ups the perceived value of the product, which already seems underpriced and a great value, while also not giving people as much sticker shock when clicking the back button and seeing the $17 in shipping.
The Misinformed: I am generally in the camp of fewer pledge levels is more, but in this case, I think the creators could have afforded to add a couple levels to clarify their Montreal pickup offering. Not too drastic as far as misinformed lessons go, but definitely could become a headache post-Kickstarter when they start to figure out fulfillment. If you do a local pickup option (or, as you’ll see many times in the Spring, Essen pickup option), save yourself some navigating the no reward section and just build a pledge level with worldwide free shipping rules. Be perfectly clear in the pledge level the terms for backing, and then be prepared for backers to have clicked that option by mistake, at which point you will need to charge shipping after the campaign. The risk of that happening is much preferred over sorting No Reward backers.

Guardian’s Gambit

2-player Card combat that you can take and play anywhere without a table!

The Good: Now, I am possibly in the minority of believing earnestly that you the creator should be in charge of teaching people your game and third-party content creators should be in charge of broad explanations, pontificating, and promotion. The Guardian’s Gambit campaign does their video really well, even on an indie limited budget. It also gives the creators more screen time, which is always a net positive when backers are backing creators as much as they are backing for new games.
The Bad: I am trying not to make a negative out of what should have been a sound business decision. But when you look at the new Kickstarter preview offering by The Dice Tower, likely going for hundreds of dollars, and you see the severe lack of views on that video compared to Rahdo’s subscription to view ratio, and you see the lack of official engagement in the YouTube comments, you have to wonder about where that marketing budget could have been better spent. This is unfortunate because it shouldn’t have been a negative to the campaign at all. It should have been a resounding positive. I hope the Dice Tower team reads this and retools how they get the word out on paid preview content.
The Misinformed: This is one of those cases where you don’t need extra pledge levels, but the creator made them anyway. You as the creator can tell backers to pledge for whatever amount extra per extra copy and keep it all in one pledge level. Then you can sort it out with a pledge manager after the campaign. On a related note, the difference between the $75 pledge and the $250 pledge is a mention in the rulebook. That is a laughable attempt at providing added value, even if rich Uncle Lou wanted to give you extra money in the campaign. Keep it simple with the pledges and Uncle Lou can still give you what he wanted with one available pledge level.

Guest Blog with Petter Olsen – Do I Have Enough Followers?

Sorry for the hiatus! It’s been a busy few weeks. I have both helped launch two Kickstarter campaigns, Infinities: Defiance of Fate and Castles of Caleira, as well as attended two industry conventions, New York Toy Fair and Expedition Prototype and Industry Con (EPIC). In that time I let The Good, The Bad, and the Misinformed slip a couple of weeks, so for that, I apologize and promise to start up again as soon as possible.

In this time, I have talked to numerous creators about their strategies on Kickstarter, and one of those creators was none other than Petter Olsen. Petter is mid-campaign for his game, Donning the Purple, but took time to explain a bit about how he is best able to determine social clout and how that relates to his Kickstarter conversions.

You can support Petter by backing Donning the Purple, on Kickstarter now.

Your Crowd Size

So how do you know when are you ready to launch your campaign on Kickstarter? That depends on a lot of factors. In this article, I’m going to talk about one of those factors: Your crowd size.

Once your budget is in order, you probably know how many backers you minimum will need to fund your project. In this example, let’s say you need 300 backers.

It is crucial that you bring your audience to Kickstarter, but how do you know when your crowd is at the correct size to even think about having a launch date? Sadly, the social media world is not a place where one fan on your Facebook page equals one backer.

Spreadsheets

To help answer the crowd size question, I always start by placing my social media following across the web into a spreadsheet. I also put in my conversion rate for each platform from my prior campaigns as well as traffic to my website where I blog regularly. Tracking where your blog audience is coming from is a very powerful metric for new creators who do not have a campaign yet.

The conversion rates that I have may be different than yours, so put in the numbers that fit with your marketing results. Remember the numbers are dependent on how active you are on each platform. It takes a lot of time and effort to create engagement among your followers.

Conversion Probability

So how does this work? At the moment, I have 781 fans on the Facebook page. I think that I can get approximately 5 percent of those fans to back my campaign based on the history of my analytics data. That means I will get conservatively 39 backers who are also my Facebook fans. Then I do this on Twitter, Instagram, BGG and other social media accounts I manage. I also include the members of any relevant groups I admin. Each one of these has different conversion rates. The place where I get most response and backers from is my email list. They are active and responsive, so I calculate I will have a 10 percent conversion rate from the list members.

In the end, I add up all the converted backer numbers, and if that total is near my target goal backer count, I know I have enough to launch.

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 5

Each week, I will show you educational case studies on Kickstarter. These are strictly my experience-based opinions on Kickstarter best practices. My listing these campaigns are always an endorsement of the product itself, no matter my critical commentary of the campaign. Enjoy!

Lightning & Bolt — an asymmetric co-op superhero adventure!

A game of superheroes & robots for parents & kids, from the creator of Vast & the illustrator of Everdell // A proud part of MAKE 100

The Good: Watch the video. Done? I’m not crying; you’re crying! Let’s talk about how great of a sales pitch this is for one moment. This game is marketed to parents who want to play a game with their kid. The immediate concern from a would-be customer is that it may be too complicated for my kid to enjoy. What better way to explain the game than to have your child fully understand and help you teach customers how to play the game and how much fun they’ve had playing it? The lesson here is that the more indie (or small-scale) your campaign is, the more your backers are there to support you as much as the product. Be on camera when the project is small, be genuine, and you will be surprised at the reception.
The Bad: This campaign is chock full of blocks of text. People who have their brain switched to buying games mode don’t take time to read. I backed this game blindly on there being 100 physical copies without any regard to how it plays or reviews of the game or even watching the intro video if I am honest. Now the creators have a unique problem where they are trying to convert backers for the PnP pledge level, which means they need to try harder to explain the game and give folks a better first impression.
The Misinformed: One aspect currently keeping this campaign in the four-figure territory is this unyielding commitment to making 100 physical games and that being the main pledge level. As a result, you see a bizarre thing in the pledges where more than 200 people have signed on to receive a digital print and play. If you look at the Make 100 campaigns on Kickstarter, you will see that other creators are making 100 special versions of the game and then opening up lesser versions of a physical game for everyone else. They have said in the campaign that they may come back to Kickstarter with a large campaign in the future if there is a positive reception, but I say kill the middle man and make some money!

Show & Tile – a creative party game

The fifth Jellybean Game. A tangram game for 3-6 players of all ages from the creators of Seikatsu.

The Good: Look at the pledge levels for just a moment. Show and Tile displays a $29 level and a $39 level. But what do I get for an extra $10? 150 more cards! That is worth an extra $10! What I just explained is what 101 backers, the campaign’s main source of support, experienced on the page. You can repeat this effort by cutting out extra content to your game (kill your darlings) and adding them back in as a separate deluxe tier. What you will find is that most backers don’t equate your higher ticket item by its actual price, but by the difference between the two pledge levels. I don’t look at the $39 pledge level and think that it is going to cost me $39. I look at it and think, it’s only $10 more than the version I already wanted. What’s better is that this isn’t likely to be a huge time sink for the creator or manufacturers because it is simply added card content, which the creator may sell separately in the future.
The Bad: The first pledge level in a campaign is the most valuable real estate in the entire campaign. What do you owe to $1 backers that you would sacrifice this real estate to them? The 30 backers earned in this fashion is not enough by a long shot. If you want people to engage with you and support your efforts, make them pay for a copy of your game. Games are already undervalued as it is. Do you want to reward people for giving you $1? I say that you as an indie publisher do not owe someone willing to give you $1 your most valuable space in the campaign. Make them pay full price or politely ask that they use Kickstarter’s built-in features to pledge less.
The Misinformed: Say it with me everyone. Combined price for US shipping in the pledge levels! The number one mistake holding this campaign back from funding is the sticker shock associated with separate shipping. I am a case user who clicked on the campaign, then clicked to pledge for $39, saw it cost $49 and backed out. I followed up by questioning the value of the lesser pledge for the $39 total and ended up not making any purchase decision. I didn’t make these rules, the market did. We live in the world where US buyers expect the sticker price to reflect the cost of included shipping. When shopping on Amazon, we specifically target products offered under our Prime membership. When not shopping on Amazon, we try to spend just $10 more dollars, so our order qualifies for free shipping. So when you imagine that you are transparent and forthright in showing would-be backers the actual cost of shipping, you do so at the expense of backer support. I see one price advertised in the campaign and, whether I was willing to back for an additional $10, I now think I have been given the bait and switch. This experience is the opposite effect the creators intended when they made a separate shipping price. It’s unfortunate but true.

Pulp Detective

Pulp Detective is a 1–2p card detective game in the pulp universe: Grab your gun, find the clues and confront the criminal at the end!

The Good: This is a perfect example of how you can avoid stretch goals in a campaign for legitimate reasons, say so politely in the campaign, and go on to be successful. The thought that you need stretch goals to be successful is short-sighted. Stretch goals add a lot of frustrations and complications to the manufacturing and logistics side, while also eating into your profit margin. You’ve even heard of landmark crowdfunding examples where a product could not be delivered because they didn’t accurately plot out the stretch goals. You owe it to your backers to be inclusive and engaging. But you also owe it to yourself to put food on the table and continue to make fun, profitable games. I hope 2018 is the year stretch goals go the way of the dodo, even if that is not likely to be the case.
The Bad: The gameplay section is discombobulated and leaves me wanting. There are two gameplay sections in this campaign. The first explains the basic concepts of the game; then after the components and impressions, you get another gameplay section. That second gameplay section is filled with blocks of text and no context built into the images shown. The publisher simply grabbed assets for the game and without any additional graphics edits or clarifications, spliced them into a text-only explanation. You can do better.
The Misinformed: I want to settle this right now. There is no such thing as a review of a prototype, even if the media entity offers an opinion of the said prototype. “Review” is a precise industry term in which the product was/is widely available for purchase. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a Kickstarter product has not yet been manufactured and will undergo some level of changes in between the campaign and mass production. A “preview” is something entirely different. A preview should show you what may be available for purchase at a later date and almost always includes a prototype of the product, as well as a disclaimer citing paid preview content if the content creator has been compensated. I am a believer that publishers have no business paying for reviews. However, in stark contrast, I have no issues with a publisher paying for previews/advertisements of a product which doesn’t exist yet. Publishers should pay! It takes roughly 20-30 hours on average of dedicated hands-on with the content creator and the prototype to ensure that a prototype is accurately portrayed. A media personality with an audience should be paid for their time! To claim moral high ground using a proud paid-free banner because you had no interest in investing in the marketing of your prototype is lazy at best, disingenuous at worse, and misinformed all around.

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 4

Each week, I will show you educational case studies on Kickstarter. These are strictly my opinions on Kickstarter best practices, but opinions based on experience at that. My listing these campaigns are always an endorsement of the product itself, no matter my critical commentary of the campaign. Enjoy!

UBOOT The Board Game

A real-time, app-driven board game of WW2 submarine warfare. This underwater war thriller will put your skills to the ultimate test.

The Good: Watch the intro video all the way through. Do you know how to play the game? Not exactly, but you understand that you are working on a team and that there are four roles in the game doing simultaneous tasks with the overall goal of taking out enemies and navigating a patrol route. That’s a powerful and influencing intro video. It isn’t quite a how-to-play, but it shows off the components in a storytelling and thematic way, even placing you in a specific day in history from the very beginning. Most new creators will not be able to afford this level of animation production, but it is possible to capture the backer imagination and to explain the object of your game entertainingly and thematically, which is the goal of an intro video.
The Bad: This one is going to be minor, but I have seen it in enough campaigns to worry about it trending. If you get many reviews for your project, you should quote them in your campaign and give them space to shine, etc. But don’t put them all in a rotating gif in an attempt to show more than one without sacrificing real estate. Pick one, typically the one with the most significant audience, and highlight that one near the top. Put the rest either sprinkled throughout the campaign or in a dedicated review section.
The Misinformed: I do genuinely like this campaign, so don’t bring out the pitchforks just yet. You know what UBOOT severely lacks in their campaign? Polish and cohesion. This is an innovative and premium product with a high price tag and a professional intro video to match. But I can’t quickly decipher relevant information from scrolling the campaign. It shouldn’t take that long to find specific elements, such as social media links. The stretch goal graphics are about the minimum effort you can design something thematic. They are making likely seven figures by the end of this thing. I want the campaign to look like they did.

5 Stack, A Chip Stacking Game of Strategy and Chance

5 Stack is an incredibly “easy to learn” chip stacking board game, that involves strategy and chance. Fun for 2-6 Players, Ages 5+.

The Good: Oh lordy, what a beautiful and well-crafted how-to-play video. Creators, this is the standard. Period. Dot. End of Story. This is exactly how you want to approach post-production in your videos. Cut scenes to break up any downtime in the video. Place music and professional voiceover in the video. Capture the best angle to explain a specific part of the gameplay. Add overlays to incorporate text explanations to what is happening on screen. Also, one thing I want to praise is the live stream calendar. That is new to me, but something I think might end up being pretty important as time goes on.
The Bad: The pledges don’t include shipping. This is a mistake. You as a creator need to establish how much it will cost to provide worldwide fulfillment by soliciting freight/fulfillment/logistics partners who can offer you quotes based on the product’s estimated size, weight, units per carton, and carton size and weight. Not doing so, especially as a new creator, gives backers little reason to trust you.
The Misinformed: The numbers are all off for this project. $35,000 funding goal, $48 per copy of the game, and no shipping included. That means they need more than 700 backers to support them to fund. 700 people who agree to that post-campaign shipping. That is unrealistic. I can tell why this is happening from a backend perspective. Making your games in the US is a great cause and possibly something I can get behind if you can make the numbers work, but in 99.9 percent of projects, that is impossible. The creators are being forced to manufacture many thousands of units in the US, causing their funding goal and product price to balloon. This is at most a $39 per copy project, with a $12000 or so funding goal. That gets you around the magic 300 backer number, and you can effectively manufacture and fulfill a project on those margins by producing in China.

BLOCKCHAIN: The Cryptocurrency Game

An action-based strategy game for the new millennium! Mine, hack, trade, and store coins to be the first one to fill your vault.

The Good: It is great that Yahoo has covered the project, along with a slew of other high-profile outlets. You as a creator can and should do outreach to your local press and beyond if you have a topical theme or hook that is newsworthy. It is unfortunate that press did not lead to better conversions in this campaign. I would have likely shared a quote from each article and linked to the specific articles to close that trust gap better. Honestly, the pessimist in me is questioning whether these outlets covered this game at all without better-defined proof. That is something you should consider when displaying high-profile coverage.
The Bad: First of all, early birds are bad. A 24 to 72-hour timed stretch goal that benefits everyone is the preferred method of funding quickly. But I have bigger fish to fry in this section. Blockchain, you buried your how-to-play very low in the campaign, did not teach the game in a captivating enough way in that text and image section, and outsourced your how-to-play video to a third-party branded media entity. I am all for soliciting media in general, but you need to have your own internally branded how-to-play video. That is the bare minimum requirement in today’s market. And that how to play section needs to come at the very least before the stretch goals.
The Misinformed: What Hell hath wrought this intro video? I am going to pretend I am in on the joke that the bad 90’s animation work is intentional, but even if that is the case, isn’t that a theme departure given the recent popularity of cryptocurrency? That video is a complete redo to me. An intro Kickstarter video is the first thing many would-be backers will experience. Why not spend time on something that will immediately sell the best parts of the game in 60-90 seconds?

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 3

Each week, I will show you educational case studies on Kickstarter. These are my opinions of Kickstarter best practices, peppered with my taste of bad humor. My listing these campaigns are always an endorsement of the product itself, no matter my critical commentary of the campaign. Enjoy!

The Good – Seize the Bean – A Light-Hearted Deck Builder about Berlin!

Thematic deck builder with brutal resource management, card drafting, set collection, engine building, modular setup & wild components!

This is not a perfect campaign. Those don’t exist. A “Good” campaign displays competent knowledge of Kickstarter best practices and can only improve in minor or superficial ways.

Takeaways

  • I am drawing a line in the sand. If one of the first images you show is a graphic depiction of what backers should expect to receive as the “get the game” pledge level, you are on the right track toward funding. Many creators miss this simple, but crucial step. Congratulations to Seize the Bean for accomplishing this flawlessly.
  • If you localize your theme, like Seize the Bean has, you will benefit from a very targeted marketing campaign. If you gander at the community tab of this campaign, you will notice that most backers are from Berlin. Additionally, 53 of them have never backed a Kickstarter campaign before. I don’t have access to their marketing campaign, but that screams to me geo-targeted Facebook ads and boots on the ground campaign on their home turf. You should theme your game effectively so you can target consumer bases such as this campaign did.
  • Furthering the European flair, you can see some of the most popular review entities on the European continent displayed in this campaign. That is no accident. You as a creator need to make reviews work for you. Find the most successful campaigns and see who they are using to review their prototypes. It may not be the only X-factor, but it isn’t hurting the cause!

The Bad – Home on Lagrange

Become the Admiral of your own station as the human race attempts to colonise outer-space in this strategic card game.

A “Bad” campaign displays at least one significant deviation from Kickstarter best practices. The campaign trajectory has probably not been affected.

Takeaways

  • Exhibit B as to why you need a graphic display of the full game you are selling. Where is my image of the “get the game” pledge level rewards? The closest we get to this is halfway down the page with a black and white (what I assume is the) box, with some text outlining the components. Kickstarter is not an outline platform. Reward your would-be backers with gratuitous imagery.
  • $1 pledge levels are not just unnecessary, they are downright harmful to your campaign. Kickstarter already provides the functionality to pledge without a reward. You do not owe it to $1 backers to take the most valuable real estate you have in the campaign. Take back your top pledge level and put your “get the game” pledge at the top where it belongs.
  • Home on Lagrange won’t fund, not because of the video, or the price, or the art. This campaign won’t fund because it is nearly impossible for a normal first-time creator to lure 700+ backers into their campaign. Your magic number is 300 backers to fund. If you break that rule, you do so at grave risk of wasting your and your fans’ time.

The Misinformed – UNICORNS AND ZOMBIES

Lose Friends. Gain allies.

A “Misinformed” campaign has deviated from many Kickstarter best practices. I estimate that the campaign has suffered as a result.

Takeaways

  • Once again, we have a campaign not displaying what you get as a “get the game” backer. What is in this game? Can anyone tell me? It isn’t there, as far as I can tell.
  • This creator felt that paragraphs of text (even graphically designed comic sans paragraphs of text) would help backers understand how to play his game. He was wrong. How hard is it to have a prototype in your hands and make a how to play video? I don’t think a smartphone with a camera is hard to come by these days. Video content is the bare minimum for explaining to someone how to play your game. Not a text-based overview.
  • Do you know why CrowdOx is a collaborator on this project? Because some salesperson from CrowdOx convinced the creators that CrowdOx is the best solution for pledge management and that the only way to work with them is to market the CrowdOx brand on their campaign. That is a garbage marketing strategy, and I’ve talked to enough creators who are harassed daily by the CrowdOx sales team to write them off indefinitely. My expert opinion is that you should seek help from PledgeManager instead.
  • Early bird pledge levels. Booooooooooo!