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!

Alternative Themes with Andrew Russell Birkett

Andrew Russell Birkett has been an industry colleague for some years now, and he has produced a few games with what you wouldn’t really consider as standard theming. From Cul-de-Sac Conquest to his upcoming project, Ruins of Mars, Andrew really has an eye for creativity. His latest game, Supernatural Socks, fully displays that commitment to alternative themes, so I invited Andrew to discuss briefly the creative process that goes into theming a board game.

You can support Supernatural Socks on Kickstarter here.

How many times has laundry been taken out of the dryer only to find that somehow a sock had disappeared? This has led to the age-old question: where do these socks go? This dilemma led to the creation of Supernatural Socks, a light and silly set collection game for 2-4 players that plays in 15-30 minutes. This is Atheris’ third game, and so far they’ve all had quite quirky themes. As a writer, I enjoy coming up with clever and unique themes. I have simultaneously wondered if these themes would appeal to our audience and distinguish Atheris Games from other publishers. Should unique themes be developed or are publishers better off avoiding quirky themes?

Before deciding how to theme my games, there are a few things I do.

Get Feedback from Potential Customers

There is a lot to take into account when deciding how to come up with a theme for a game. Though mechanisms also matter, a game’s theme can potentially cause it to falter in the same way weak mechanisms would. Since deciding a theme is so essential, a publisher must do some substantial research.

When I was coming up with Atheris’ first game, Cul-De-Sac Conquest, the idea of a game about neighbors trying to annoy their neighbors out of the neighborhood sounded funny to me. It was a massive shift from the war game I was initially going to work on with a few friends. I told my co-designers my theme idea, and they liked it. However, even though we were excited about a retheme, we knew our customers would have to like it as well.

As a company, it is great to create a game that the owners love and enjoy. However, every company needs customers in order to stay in business. Creating something that fits too small of a niche might never be able to see the light of day. We posted about the theme in some of the board game Facebook groups. The reception to the game idea was overwhelmingly positive, so we decided to proceed.

Will Theme Allow for New Mechanisms?

Some game themes might be considered unique only because no other company would be willing to utilize them – potentially for good reasons. Not all game themes would allow for exciting mechanisms while also staying true to the theme.

This is not easy. Creating mechanisms that feel thoroughly intertwined with a game’s theme can be quite the challenge, especially for developers who wish to make clever themes. However, matching mechanisms to the theme is necessary for games that look to standout based on their clever storylines.

Do the Mechanisms and Art Style Reflect the Target Demographic?

A publisher at some point must decide if the mechanisms and the art styles would fit the game. Additionally, a publisher needs to know if the target demographic would purchase it.

As an obvious example, if I’m trying to appeal to kids, then I should keep the artwork PG. Though, if I’m targeting an adult audience, I can afford a considerable degree of violence and other graphic content. As a company gets more granular about the data of who their customers are, they can learn surprising insights into things to do and things to avoid.

So, Now What?

Once I know there is demand for a clever theme, know that the game mechanisms match, and know my target demographic would like the product, I’m done, right? Wrong.

Though I have likely taken a lot of time and invested considerable energy into the project already, I evaluate whether the theme is holding me back from creating more thought-provoking decisions within the game. This is usually worked out via playtesting.

I also determine if the niche I’m filling is large enough or if I could potentially retheme the game to serve a more significant market and add substantial sales revenues.

Finally, I determine if the game theme is something that fits within the gaming catalog I hope to have one day. If I become well known for any particular type of game, it might be difficult for me to branch out afterward.

What I Know Today

It is a difficult decision deciding on a theme. There is a lot of analytics and research that can be done. However, as with most things in life, no one has perfect information. There is a lot of guesswork involved with the process, and even during or after campaigns, it is incredibly difficult to accurately determine the “what if” scenarios of how well the game could have done with alternate themes.

For my current project, I have created a simple Facebook ad, and it has out-performed any other ad I’ve ever run for engagement. The cost per engagement is quite a bit lower and a large reason I believe contributes is that people know what it is like to lose socks and they relate to it. This makes people want to talk about the game or share it with their friends.

Atheris may never know for sure if we chose the right theme for this game. The campaign is still in progress and is not guaranteed to be a success, but we genuinely love the game and after going through the above practices, I felt compelled to publish it. The vote is still out. What do you think about creating clever themes?

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 2

EDIT NOTES: The article you are reading below is not what I originally published. I strive to be the best version of myself in doing these projects. When I fall short of that, it is important to me that I edit in favor of constructive criticism over what was taken as a direct attack against the subjects of this post. Hopefully, I have achieved that in the post below.

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!

DISCLAIMER: Because I am collaborating on the Re-Chord campaign, it is not listed here. You should still support that project.

The Good – Western Legends

A Western tabletop adventure of legendary proportions for 2-6 players in 90 minutes or less.

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

  • Before you even click play on the video above, take a gander at this solid first impression for a Kickstarter campaign. The framing is spot on, even if they have black space in the framing of that spacing. You can still make out the gun above the play button, which is the main feature of the painting. They include the Ship Naked friendly-shipping label (probably my favorite one), the logo, the game title, the Kickstarter logo, the artist, and the designer, all within the main image which is a credit to the proper use of space. Your image is the window to your campaign. You need to get this right.
  • Western Legends is a perfect example of a campaign which charges extra for shipping but is not negatively affected. Similarly, if your most popular pledge level is going to top out at $75 or so, AND you have solid artwork and componentry going into your campaign, you too can get away with this. The cheaper your most popular reward, the less likely you will get away with anything but included shipping. The takeaway is that I do not think the trajectory in this campaign would be affected whether they charged $75 or $84 for the Legendary level.
  • Kolossal Games has a lot to prove in a short time, given their planned cadence of 2018 campaigns. So it stands to reason that they chased down the prototype preview creators with the largest audiences. If you have the inkling of an opportunity to be covered by Man vs. Meeple or Rahdo or the like, you take it. It will set the pace for your whole campaign to be a success and is worth the marketing investment.

The Bad – Everdell: A Beautiful Board Game of Cards and Critters

Grow your settlement in a charming world of lively forest critters in this elegant worker placement/tableau building board game.

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

Takeaways

  • Yes, there are still campaigns launching and funding today without a gameplay video. If you have an established marketing footprint where you are all but guaranteed to fund with great artwork and compelling characters, maybe you think you should stay on schedule and launch your campaign even if the how to play content is not ready. I am in favor of delaying the launch until the campaign is 100% ready.
  • On that note, the previews for the campaign were also not ready. One of two things happened: either the publisher provided the prototypes late, or the previewer did not meet the agreed upon deadline for the Kickstarter campaign. When you send a prototype and agree to a deadline, and the previewer does not meet that deadline, you should consider not working with that previewer anymore.
  • Even still, the ghost of Kickstarter past is coming back to haunt the Game Salute’s Starling Games. You can click on the comments to see various levels of concern. If your backers are ever vocally disappointed in your company, you should take the short term hit of finding valid criticism and correcting it in whatever ways you can.

The Misinformed – Triplanetary – The Classic Game of Space Combat

From the dawn of the hobby, a classic space game returns . . . Triplanetary depicts ship-to-ship space combat in the Solar System!

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

Takeaways

  • This is Steve Jackson Games. A company who has the know-how, the resources, and the customer backing to provide a truly entertaining and lucrative Kickstarter campaign. We are talking instant triple digits if they had spent even a half day of work extra on the layout of the campaign. Kickstarter is about interacting with and rewarding your most die-hard fans, and I think this campaign disappointed their customers (and would-be customers). The lesson here is that a creator’s following can overcome most anything on Kickstarter, but you as a creator should strive to live up to the expectations your backers have.
  • This campaign is in violation of Kickstarter’s terms and conditions. Namely, the condition which states that you cannot be simultaneously funding a product on the Kickstarter platform as you are currently selling (or pre-selling) on another website. SJG is linking international buyers away from the campaign to a sales page on their website. Kickstarter has suspended campaigns for less, and that makes me skeptical as to how the next 20ish days will turn out for this project. You as a creator should take this into account if you think it is possible to run simultaneous campaigns for the same product across different websites.

Marshall Britt and the Re-Chord Campaign

I have been consulting with Marshall and his business partner, Andrew, for a few months now on the latest Yanaguana Games product, Re-Chord. It has culminated in both cancellation and a successful relaunch. I invited Marshall to share his experience on Kickstarter with the hopes that you can carry these lessons into your campaigns.

You can support Re-Chord on Kickstarter now.

Failure is a Mindset

I’d like to start with a small anecdote about the day I had to cancel our first campaign for the guitar-themed board game Re-Chord. It was about 48 hours from the end, and it was reasonably clear to the team that we were going to come up short of our goal. We decided to cancel funding and discuss a relaunch plan.

As the lead designer of Re-Chord, the publisher, and the artist for much of the game, I was personally devastated. It’s hard not to see this situation as a failure in the moment. I’d worked hard, done the research, planned meticulously and made Re-Chord into the game I thought would resonate best with our fans and customers. So to see the project fail felt like seeing myself fail and it weighed on me heavily especially just after canceling the project.

Let’s stop for a second to talk about this word “failure.” I feel like the negative connotations of this word are likely conflated by most of us. Failure is an opportunity to learn from a situation and often course correction is straightforward. The faster you put yourself in this mindset, the better, as soon as I changed my outlook, plans started forming.

Request Specific Advice

The first thing I did after I was done focusing on my feelings, was to focus on the people who had backed, and even those who declined to support Re-Chord. I wanted to hear their thoughts on what could be improved or why they decided to pass on the project.

Rather than bombarding our friends and fans with open questions like “what do you think went wrong?”, We decided to target specific aspects and get feedback from them individually. The first example of this was showing three different box designs and allowing potential backers and fans to vote on their favorite version. What we found out here was that the box design we initially picked was not the most popular, not by a lot.

The next thing we did was to update some of the other artwork and graphics to make the theme a bit more cohesive. This task was not a major overhaul, just little details that improved the component quality slightly. We showed these upgrades off and asked for feedback, and within a day had a backer suggest a noticeably better solution that ended up being part of the game.

Give Backers What They Want

The point is that we started communicating more with our potential backers and asking them what their preferences were. This process led to a fantastic amount of feedback which in turn led to some key improvements.

After listening to our backers and making many of the suggested improvements we planned our relaunch for January 9th. Not only was the relaunch a resounding success regarding feedback and overall response, but Re-Chord was also fully funded in 7 hours.

Re-Chord is a better product now than it was four months ago, and the only reason for that is engagement with the people who were interested in the game. In hindsight, canceling our first project and listening to backers created a better overall product and was not an adverse effect at all. If you ever find yourself in this situation and want to talk with a developer and publisher who has been through it, feel free to reach out.

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 1

Each week, I will deliver insights as to the inner workings of three Kickstarter campaigns. My goal is to show you valuable case studies happening on Kickstarter right now to help future creators. Here you will find my opinion of current best practices peppered with my taste of bad humor. Keep in mind that this is always in good fun and that my listing these campaigns are almost always an endorsement for you to support these projects, no matter my critical commentary. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletters via the sidebar to never miss my commentary on a new campaign.

The Good – Spirits of the Forest

Disclaimer: Being listed as a “Good” campaign does not mean I think that any campaign is perfect. In general, this campaign at the very least displays competent knowledge of how crowdfunding works and can only really improve in minor or superficial ways.

Takeaways

  • Spirits of the Forest is a very straight-forward, polished campaign. Any creator can check off the boxes in their campaigns by seeing that this campaign has a Game Overview section, a Pledge Level section, and so on. I probably would have swapped Reviews and How to Play, but that’s an insignificant choice that I think is more a reflection of my taste than a flaw in the campaign.
  • Thundergryph consistently has one of the best intro video productions in the industry. Highly thematic, highly entertaining, and cleverly introduces the game, often without mentioning one gameplay mechanism. I love it.
  • Pay close attention to their In The Box section. Notice how the components are not to scale, but instead are a great showcase for the components “as big as they need to be to do them justice.” Don’t hide any of the components in your game trying to squeeze the images into one screen. Let people scroll. It can only make your game appear bigger than it is.
  • Make sure you tell them I think they are trying too hard to make shipping sexy. No amount of flowery map of the world can achieve that. 😉

The Bad – The Dice Tower – 2018

Disclaimer: Being listed as a “Bad” campaign does not mean I think the creators are failures or that you should not support this campaign. In general, if a campaign is mentioned here, it is usually because the creators have made at least one large error in judgment and I think they should know better. This usually is not terribly affecting the campaign’s trajectory.

Takeaways

  • The Dice Tower is arguably one of the most successful, if not the most successful, media entities in the board gaming hobby. So why is their intro video about as low-budget as humanly possible? Maybe part of the funding is to provide for better post-production standards.
  • One problem I have with this campaign is something echoed in the comments and is something to consider if you are going to have a complicated pledge structure. The Dice Tower is providing promo bundles as the most popular rewards, but they are bundling them in such a way to force supporters to buy more than one promo pack to get the ones they want. Tom will reply that this decision was for logistic reasons. If that is the truth, I would like to help him out. I would have simply offered the bundles in the current configuration, but displayed the higher individual costs of each promo if backers wanted them a la carte. Then via a pledge manager (or the fact that they work with one of the largest game e-tailers in the US), I would have given backers a chance after the campaign to allocate the money they pledged. Think of it as an add-on catalog used in many campaigns.
  • Similar to my problems with the production quality of the intro video, I’m just not that excited about the layout and graphic design of the campaign in general. The stretch goals are in plain text. The displays of the items for sale are way too repetitive for an online product experience. Even the dice and meeple page separators are generic and grey! Maybe the team thinks their success is always guaranteed and they don’t need to put in the effort, and if that’s true, what a disappointment. Try harder! Don’t phone it in! Your success is never guaranteed!

The Misinformed – TOKYO SERIES: JIDOHANBAIKI, METRO, & JUTAKU

Disclaimer: Being listed as a “Misinformed” campaign does not make the entirety of the campaign a lost cause. It usually means that I think the creator, whether through ignorance or miscalculation, messed up quite a bit of best practices, and I think the campaign has suffered as a result.

Takeaways

  • Do not launch on a Friday. Do not launch on a Friday. Do not launch on a Friday.
  • It is preferred that you do a timed stretch goal at the beginning of the campaign than an early bird reward or discount, but really? You put that stretch goal at more than double your funding goal? I sure hope it pays off, but that’s excessive and not worth the risk. Especially since they are already selling the metal coins as an add-on anyway (meaning the creator already has plans to produce them).
  • One of the stretch goals is that they will work with Panda Manufacturing. That is a non-stretch goal, and I am not just saying that because I work with LongPack Games. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Panda Games Manufacturing is not the best manufacturer in the industry because that doesn’t exist. Every manufacturer has their strong and weak points. Talk to any publisher who has worked with multiple manufacturers to confirm. This is true industry-wide.
  • The video is polished, EDM, millennial fare, but is about 2 minutes too long. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I bet the creator is not thrilled about video completion rates currently.
  • Shipping is being added to the campaign after it ends! Backers will be double-charged via Backerkit! Why does anyone ever think this is a great idea?! Guaranteed there are lost backers as a result of that decision. No question.
  • I do like the Japanese text at the end. That is on-brand and actually something I might have integrated more throughout the campaign.