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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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.

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!

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.