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Mechanisms and The Game Crafter Experiment

Posted by Daniel Zayas April 12, 2019 in Advice

Mechanisms is currently funding as a Crowd Sale on The Game Crafter website and we have about three days left. As of publishing this article, it has reached 45 units sold. That is… not great. But I said from the beginning that I am posturing this project as an experiment in crowdfunding and I fully opened myself to this reality. I want to be clear that I am not upset about the results. I do have some thoughts I wanted to share, and I hope they help you as you make decisions with your product.

First, let us start with my thoughts about the game’s performance thus far irrespective of which platform on which it funds.

Mechanisms as a Product

I love this game. It is smart; it is fun; it is celebrating everything game designers love about the craft. It is Protospiel Tested, which I think carries a level of “this is a real game” when using that banner in the campaign. I have not had a demonstration where I thought the game needed massive revisions. It is that good. Nothing you read below this will blame the design, even if others do not find the game is for them.

Admittedly, party games have an uphill battle in any sales channel, from crowdfunding to convention sales to a store shelf. I have experienced this firsthand with client consultation work as well as the first time we tried to crowdfund Mechanisms last year on Kickstarter. It is a tough conversion. The reason for this is that live demos sell party games today. Look no further than North Star Games’ Happy Salmon to understand what I mean and what I consider as one of the best party games in existence. Party games above all other tabletop genres are expected to be experienced, then purchased. That leaves party game crowdfunders at a unique disadvantage unless a long pre-marketing tail exists for the project, which leads me to my next topic.

Marketing Mechanisms

It is obvious to say that the game has a marketing and visibility issue. I disagree with that statement, but you never know when enough is enough. I could have demoed Mechanisms at every show I attended last year to now. I did not and that is absolutely a fair critique of the marketing of this game given my words above. But I did a lot of other stuff to shore up the visibility of the project.

I have outsourced a ton of marketing capital to surrogates including media personalities, community leaders, and the very designers featured in the game. The irony is not lost on me that fewer units have been sold than the number of designers featured in the game, but it is what it is. I am grateful for the 45 sales we have made thus far and those people are going to have a great time with the game. I am sure they all would have thrown a “dolla holla” as I have come to call it if that feature was available on The Game Crafter.

I have spent money on social advertisements. This moment, 4,046 individual people have seen the various ads on Facebook and Instagram. In the main meme post advertising the campaign in Board Game Spotlight, there are 139 reactions and 38 comments. I have sent two emails to my modest but active email base. The co-designer of the game, Derek Funkhouser, is one of the admins of Board Game Spotlight. I have my sphere of influence across a couple of groups and platforms, and all of them have seen the game exists. Visibility to our tribes is unlikely the direct barrier to sales.

The Game Crafter

I will now discuss my thoughts of The Game Crafter’s Crowd Sale experience. I am going to make a lot of comparisons to Kickstarter. That is for no other reason than Kickstarter is the dominating force in tabletop crowdfunding, and creators who read this will be able to gain more perspective if I make such comparisons. I am also going to make the umbrella statement that I appreciate every opportunity afforded to me by JT and the whole crew at The Game Crafter. My critiques below are merely first-hand suggestions to improve the experience for those who come after me.

Setting up the Campaign

If I want to launch a Kickstarter campaign, there is not much stopping me from doing so. I create an account, link some verification info, build the page, get automatically or manually approved and within seven days, I can press launch. I am oversimplifying the amount of work that goes into making a good crowdfunding campaign, but only to highlight how easy it is to get running on the platform. I even have a ton of helper content pushed to me from Kickstarter during the building process if I am green to crowdfunding or the platform.

Let us talk about the significant advantage of using The Game Crafter for a moment. As soon as we complete the Crowd Sale, I get to wash my hands of manufacturing and logistics, and hopefully, everyone gets their game in a month or so, and that is that! They will mainly be dealing with the customer service related to the game, and I get to move on to the next project pretty painlessly. That is a tremendous service that I do not want to lose in this article. That, plus the pricing incentives built into Crowd Sale, was the main reason I decided to launch on The Game Crafter.

This is a good point to mention we spent quite literally half a day fixing a die-line using their templates only to be told eventually that their system is malfunctioning and our files are fine. I am quite understanding of technical difficulties, so I am going to give this a pass, but I would love to hear if you have run into similar upload issues.

In a word, setting up the campaign on The Game Crafter was… frustrating. I hired Cassie Elle of YouTube fame to manage the campaign. It is a great thing I did because she shouldered the majority of the problems we ran into throughout the set-up and live campaign and I am eternally grateful for her contributions. If I had to do a majority of the time-intensive back-and-forth, you would be reading a very different type of article right now. I fully admit to being newish to The Game Crafter platform, so I can also admit my initial bias toward Kickstarter could be based on familiarity over anything else. I think a new creator experience is useful however if we ever hope to expand past one viable platform for crowdfunding tabletop games.

Now let us talk about the zero to hero trajectory when comparing a Kickstarter versus The Game Crafter launch. Like I mentioned above, Kickstarter does a reasonably good job of walking you through the basics at the moment you need the information. Not perfect, but pretty good. That experience is not currently present in a user-friendly way on The Game Crafter. Yes, they have a FAQ section where you can type a query, and we were working in close communication with multiple members of The Game Crafter staff when building the page. But many things escaped us in the build-up to the campaign that are fixable with more setup tools and guides handy at the start. It would also save resources on their end to implement such features, I believe.

What still confounds me to this moment is why through all of the hand holding that we found out the day before we originally planned to launch that The Game Crafter needs to send every product released to the creator for inspection and verification. We asked if we were good to start the campaign and only then, the powers that be alerted us that we need to purchase a unit, pay to ship it as fast as possible, and then once I physically approved the game, we would be able to schedule a Crowd Sale launch. Now, on paper, that is an excellent quality control service. Better to fix one unit over 100. However, the fact that we needed to do this needs to be communicated at the beginning of the process so we can prioritize that bottleneck. We originally planned to launch on April 1, lean into the fun nature of the game paired with April Fool’s Day, and maybe that would have worked out better for the project. Or not. No clue if it would have spelled a different fate, just was frustrating at the moment. In any case, we launched on April 8 and here we are.

One quick note I want to make is that The Game Crafter sets the default payout in your account to “Store Credit.” You need to add your PayPal email to receive a cash payout manually, so be sure to do that. I was not told this as part of the creation process. I just went digging around when wondering where the money would go mid-campaign. This is one of many assumptions made on the part of The Game Crafter that new creators need to “figure it out” and is better handled on Kickstarter.

Marketing Synergy and Dynamics

The Game Crafter is arguably in its infancy of marketing synergy tactics to build “hype” around the projects on their platform. Kickstarter is significantly ahead in this regard, which will explain below.

There is only ever one Crowd Sale happening on the site at a time. I believe this to be a crucial mistake that will limit the success of projects in the future on The Game Crafter. The number one reason why indie developers are successful on Kickstarter is that they benefit from the traffic of bigger marketing pockets. None of this nonsense that CMON ruined Kickstarter for the little guy. CMON made crowdfunding viable for the little guy because you would have lived in obscurity without hordes of people clamoring for minis. I hope they expand to multiple campaigns at once in the future.

Kickstarter has a follow system which is the most significant improvement The Game Crafter can make today. I can link my Facebook to Kickstarter, get recommended to follow people who have also connected their accounts, then receive notifications as to which projects my friends are supporting. That needs to happen yesterday on The Game Crafter for them to grow their market share. I cannot overemphasize the importance of witnessing the crowd activity when it comes to crowdfunding — the visibility of these dynamics matters.

The Game Crafter has this quirky little gem I have played around with a bit called their General Chat. If you have not yet tried it out, I highly recommend you do. You will be transported back in time to AOL chat rooms and in real-time talk to customers and creators and moderators just like you. I love it. I would love it more if The Game Crafter flexed that unique value proposition compared to Kickstarter’s very frustrating commenting and messaging system. That is likely a bigger development headache than I am framing in this blog article, but in a perfect world, I could engage in a real-time chat with just my customers directly on the Crowd Sale.

As of this moment, The Game Crafter has posted one link to the campaign from their Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. They also shared a half dozen retweets of others sharing the campaign on Twitter. There is a new media service provided by Gerald King III on Facebook Live that my co-designer Derek participated in, and it would be great if they immediately downloaded and uploaded that content to their YouTube channel as well as their podcasting series. I was told today that the Crowd Sale was not on their front page, but I went there and it was there, so they may have caught that late and added it or the people who told me missed something. These extra marketing activities are all more than I would expect from Kickstarter, so it is good to know the lay of the land (good and bad) as to how they have marketed the only Crowd Sale on their site.

The Future!

What is my final verdict? I do not think I would change much of what I did. The experiment was worthwhile for the industry-at-large to see in real-time, and even if I didn’t get a payday for it, my precious ego will survive. I wish Derek was getting more money for his efforts, but he will be fine too and we had a fun experience with this design collaboration.

Here is what I would do differently next time. I would launch a campaign on Kickstarter, set up my shipping to mostly match what The Game Crafter was offering per region, and then fulfill the project through The Game Crafter if I was able, or have all the units mailed to a fulfillment service to do that for me if I was unable. That way I get the speed benefits of The Game Crafter, but the visibility and marketing synergy of Kickstarter. Or maybe at that point, it is okay to use LongPack for production because people expect to wait longer for a crowdfunded product anyway. Depends on the cost quote for matching production, honestly. It would take The Game Crafter implementing one or some or all of the suggestions above for me to seriously consider using a Crowd Sale again.

That was my experience! I would love to hear your thoughts on The Game Crafter Crowd Sales and this article. I would love more if you supported Mechanisms on The Game Crafter in its remaining days online.

One thought on “Mechanisms and The Game Crafter Experiment”

  • chris

    Yikes. This sounds very much like the early days of Createspace, back before it got folded into Amazon’s behemoth. You had to get a print copy sent as proof, which was problematic if you were outside the US or Western Europe. The guidelines for printing was pretty strict, and the price points didn’t leave a lot of room for profit if you priced your books competitively.

    Things got better, of course. Createspace more tightly integrated with Amazon, meaning once your book was placed on sale, it was automagically on sale on Amazon. More print sizes got offered, and more authors produced books as tight regulations were gradually loosened (with the resulting quality going downward – a different story)….

    Game Crafter folks, I hope you read this post. You’ve made some spectacular strides in the last couple of years. The bulk discounts at the 500 mark is a wonderful thing that’ll help to fill in the gap for games that can’t quite justify the full 1,000 needed at traditional manufacturers… Component.studio is a great tool. You’re doing a lot of the big things right. Now it’s time to take a step back, work with some outsiders, and nail the little things.

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