Well I’m not dead yet, so I have a tale to tell… We recently completed our 14th Kickstarter campaign for Dead Men Tell No Tales (DMTNT) and we did some things differently this time. Our campaign was a huge success with nearly 1600 copies of the board game sold. Our funding curve was near as perfect as you can hope for. I would like to share with you all the lessons learned and insights from this recent campaign.
- WHEN TO LAUNCH
- EU FRIENDLY
- KICKSTARTER EXCLUSIVES
- NO PLEDGE MANAGER
- TO BE FUNNY OR NOT?
- THE $1 PLEDGE
- REPEAT BACKERS
- FEATURED CAMPAIGNS
- KS REFERRALS
- EARLY BIRDS
- RETAILER REWARDS
Often I hear that people want to launch with a big bang party at a convention. This is really not a good idea. You can certainly use a convention to help you push sales and awareness of your game, but people are not attending a convention to get excited about someone’s Kickstarter campaign that won’t deliver until many months in the future. People at conventions are of the: “I want to spend my money now and play with some cool stuff here!” attitude. Thus, they are unlikely to care much about your game or event and even less likely to put money on the table at the time.
Since your first few days are the most important, you need to be at your computer constantly. You can’t do that while at a convention. If you want to get bang for your buck out of a convention, you should attend one BEFORE or in the MIDDLE of your campaign. Running demos and doing marketing at a convention is a good idea, but only if you’re not paying a lot to attend. Before your Kickstarter starts you might want to print out a post card with a QR code pointing a bit.ly link to your Kickstarter page and hand those out.
An issue with the large conventions like GenCon or Origins is that they tend to suck up all the money before and after. I own 3 game stores and we typically see sales take a dip during this period as people are either saving for their trip to GenCon or they filled their credit cards while at GenCon. Attendees have seen so many new games that they can’t possibly buy them all and so they probably need to save up just to get some of them later. Thus, there has been a bit of a fear/concern about launching a KS campaign immediately after GenCon.
|We launched DMTNT just days after GenCon. We put a note at the bottom of the campaign reminding backers they will not have to pay till the campaign is over. This seemed to work just fine and within the first two days we funded our game. Better still, we saw a very strong and steady stream of backers added every single day of the campaign. So I think it’s safe to say that post-GenCon is a valid time to launch your game. That is not to say that pre-GenCon is equally valid, I did not test that.|
WHEN TO LAUNCH
More specifically the above begs the question of when to launch your campaign? I’ve heard a lot of chatter and miss-information about this and people ask me all the time, so let me give you my suggestions and theories.
You should launch on a Monday-Thursday. Why? Because people are busy with family and fun and outside stuff on Friday nights and Weekend. They are not sitting around their computers. Data I have for 2 years of TableTop Gaming category from Kicktraq.com shows that the most pledges happen on Thursday and the least happen on Saturday.
You should NOT launch on a holiday. Why? Because again people are with families or on vacation and not at their computers.
You should launch in the morning hours in the USA. Why? Because your first day or two is about building momentum and you want them to look like stellar sales days. So you want the day to be as long as possible. The morning in the USA is at least the evening in the EU so you will get their backing too. If you launched after work (evening) in the USA you’d miss out on many potential backers for your first day.
Don’t launch with a specific timed party event. Sure have your event/party but do so after your initial hours of the campaign. You will have a lot to do with answering questions and making quick fixes to the campaign and rewards and story to deal with. You don’t need the stress and distraction of some sort of live party at that time. Also for what it’s worth, these launch “parties” are usually not well attended.
It really doesn’t matter which month you launch in. Every month has successful Kickstarters. You will not make or break your funding based on the month you launch unless your product is seasonal (which would be odd for the TableTop category). The only real concern to address is that you will have to pay taxes on the money collected so if you are thinking of launching late in the year make sure you talk to an accountant.
|We launched DMTNT on a Tuesday morning and was funded in two days. We ended on a Thursday evening with a huge push and the biggest pledge day.|
Google Doc of upcoming launch dates:
There is a new trend on KS to offer EU friendly campaigns and put a seal up that proudly announces that fact. What it basically means is that you’re offering a greater discount to shipping (or found some creative way to fulfill) to backers in the EU.
A lot depends on the type of game you have to deliver, but I’ve tried several times with larger board games to crack this nut. Three times I’ve had my China order split and had someone (two different companies) in EU handle the shipping. It’s a logistics headache and people make mistakes in the process. You have to pay extra for two ocean freight shipments (more than just 1 shipment to the USA). You have to pay import fees and for trucking to the EU warehouse which they then charge you VAT (Value Added Tax which is 19%). You must pay someone to actually handle the packing and shipping and the materials (USPS offers free boxes) to do so (plus VAT again). Typical shipping from and to a destination in the EU for a board game was about 15 EURO which is about $21 USD. If that’s all you paid, it would make sense to offer cheap shipping to the EU KS backers. But, don’t forget you will also need to pay that company that packed your game and that is typically about 3 EUROs per backer. They will need to buy boxes and packing materials as well. Hey, that’s not even the end of it. You must also pay for storage and to send any of your extra inventory back to the USA (plus VAT again too).
When we ran final numbers for our last couple of board games handled this way, we found we were paying about $30-45 per package to get them delivered. While we only pay about $10-12 to deliver to backers in the USA. We charged our backers an EU friendly $15 extra for shipping – well that left us eating $15-18 per game above what we covered for US bakers. That’s all the profit margin there was in the game – so we did all this work and made no money on the games. Plus, we had tons of hassles and delays dealing with all the logistics. Why should we be subsidizing the EU customers more than our other customers and then making no money?
Because Minion Games is sold in world wide distribution, we figured we can live with the loss of a few EU backers as they could pick up the game at their local stores later. So instead of our usual $15 EU friendly shipping rate, we decided to charge the actual shipping and not take a big hit. The average shipping to the EU for DMTNT was going to be about $45 and if you take off a $12 credit that’s $33.00 for shipping to the EU. Of course we got some complaints about that. We made a very nice chart on the page with the exact figures from USPS and that really kept the public complaining to a very minimal amount. We also offered a 3 game bundle which helped offset the shipping as they would all fit in a large flat rate box.
|What did we find out? Well a typical board game that we make (from our past campaigns) tended to get about 10-15% EU backers. What we found out with DMTNT is that we still got 5% EU backers. That means we lost only about 10% of the EU backers (less than 1% of total funding) – a small loss to take to not have to deal with the whole EU Friendly headaches and low/no profit. Again, I want to state that we’re in world-wide distribution and don’t need the EU backers on KS to make our funding goal – but some of you people new to publishing may still have to offer an EU friendly option to get your games made.|
People say that Kickstarter is all about the exclusives and special rewards. While these are surely valid “gimmicks” to help you get funded, they are not always required. Again, if you’re running your first campaign you may need to use all the tricks at your disposal.
For DMTNT we ran the campaign for 3 out of the 4 weeks without anything exclusive to Kickstarter. When we did finally add an exclusive, it was a simple card. We can use it to get ads paid for on BoardGameGeek.com or hand out at conventions. The lack of any exclusives was mentioned once or twice and we were asked a few times in PM if all the items on the stretch goals would be in the retail version. While obviously a few people only back projects on KS if they get something exclusive it never really became an issue in the campaign. It certainly didn’t play any major role in our bottom line. It’s also fair to note that there are a few people who dislike exclusive content and won’t back if you have it. So I think overall this was a non issue.
|My advice? Offer exclusives only if you’re really needing to do so to help your funding of a stretch goal. I wouldn’t offer the exclusives in the main campaign.|
Add-ons are basically other things you can buy to help bump up the backer’s funding amount. If you’re having a hard time getting NEW backers to your campaign, this is a good way to get existing backers to pony up more money. It works very well when they are trying to reach the next stretch goal. Do not go overboard – remember what you’re really here to sell. If someone comes to your page and sees all these trinkets and t-shirts and other crap, they will be turned off. I recommend adding most of your add-ons after the first week so that your campaign is clean and clear in the first week. This also helps keep down the number of options one has to think about before pressing that PLEDGE NOW button – let them think about that later.
Add-ons can be a real pain in the butt (and your budget)! Many times people have forgotten about the hassles of getting the extra item made and to ship it – sometimes you can’t just stick it in the same box like a poster or an art print. Don’t forget if you add a bunch of add-ons, you’re going to be hand picking every single order and you’ll be needing the help of a pledge manager for that. Better to keep things limited to only a few items. Try adding value to the game itself with items like card sleeves and other game bit upgrades.
KS says you’re not supposed to sell existing products, but they tend to look the other way when it comes to just selling your back catalog with your current Kickstarter. This is a great way to help with the funding as it’s sales of your past games that you got on the cheap already.
STRETCH GOALS: On a side note, I also think it’s very important to keep your page clear of overly distracting amounts of stretch goals. You should show just one or two ahead of the current funding. This allows you to adjust your levels on the fly based on current funding. It also keeps the page less confusing.
|Remember that if you charge $25 for an add-on, while that gets you closer to your total funding goal, maybe only $10 profit is added to your usable budget. Forget about T-shirts and art prints and posters. They don’t sell well and are a pain. For DMTNT we are happy we added no add-ons as now we can ship our stuff assembly line style.|
As stated above, we decided this time around not to offer any add-ons. While this limits your overall total earnings potential, it does keep the money you earned going to the actual game. This has the added advantage of not having to make use of a pledge manager. We’ve used Backerkit several times in the past. On our earlier campaigns it was helpful and made a lot of extra sales. On our more recent (coin) campaigns it utterly failed us and made things worse. These sites can usually pay for themselves by making you extra sales, but you have to decide if that’s worth the issues that they can cause. Some backers hate 3rd party pledge managers and will not share their info with them.
|So you don’t need a PM if you can keep your campaign simple. If you do decide to offer a lot of add-ons, you’d best make use of a pledge manager as it will reduce the overall problems you have.|
Here are a few good Pledge Managers I know of:
Backerkit – A bit expensive and complicated to use, but very powerful. $149-299 Setup fee. Couple payment plans, but roughly 1% of the campaign plus 3% of added funds using Backerkit’s cart.
FundAFull – $250 min or 1% fee. 2.9%+30 cent additional funds processing fee. Pledge Calculator.
Skykadia – $300 min or 1% fee.
ShopStarter – 2.1% (+2.9% + 30 cents) of add-ons
Your primary campaign video should be short and to the point. It does not need to explain how to play the game, but rather to express what the game is about and what backers can expect from you. You should include a how to play video in your main (story) page text. Your video should be 3 minutes or less and in the first 30 seconds get to the point of what it is you’re trying to sell. We got a very good play through rate of 47%.
|We paid good money to make a really nice and funny video for DMTNT. I feel this really helped us out and was worth it. It gave us reasons to talk about the campaign and helped others find reason to share the video. A good laugh should help loosen one’s purse strings but humor can be subjective, so make sure everyone thinks you’re being funny, not just your friends. A good video can cost $300-1000 – so be careful to spend only what you can afford to loose.|
THE $1 PLEDGE
Anyone on KS can back any project for $1 without a reward level added. But most people don’t know this so it’s good idea to have one there so that people can follow your campaign and use the comments section. Also, many times people will not cancel their $1 reward and you’ll make a few extra bucks from people just showing their support.
|In DMTNT we had a Print & Play reward set to $5. We figured anyone who would like to use the backing just to pay attention to the campaign would do so at the $5 level. I think we were wrong. We ended up getting 33 $1 pledges (that didn’t cancel). Only the people who know how to do that were able to do so. So I recommend that every single campaign should have a $1 pledge. It never hurts and it’s always helpful and can even net you a few more bucks.|
In most of our campaigns we get a reasonable amount of repeat backers. I’d say about 20-25% of our previous backers join us on new campaigns. Of course it depends if the new campaign has any common ground with the old campaign.
Minion Games had not run a campaign for about 9 months before DMTNT. So there was bound to be some turn over of the user base at KS. But we were totally shocked when we went to do a mailing list merge and found that out of 1747 backers, we had 1605 new backers and only 142 repeat backers. Of course this is not 100% accurate as many people change their email addresses. I would guess it’s safe to say only about 10% of our DMTNT backers were repeat backers, which is way lower then I expected.
Why the drop? Well this was a lighter game and cooperative and we usually do heavier games and accessories. So maybe we really did reach out to a new audience. KS has come a long way in the last year with many high profile campaigns bringing in many new backers. There are a fair amount of people that are just tired of KS and waiting on previous rewards. The final reason that might have had some impact was that our last coins campaign fulfillment did not go smoothly and we may have lost some regulars.
|I’m not sure I can make any grand statements here other than to share my experience. Maybe our next campaign which is for a light game as well will shed some light on this subject.|
This chart shows number of total and repeat Kickstarter crowdfunding project backers as of July 2014. As of that month, more than 6.56 million people had pledged their monetary support towards any of the 157,826 launched Kickstarter projects. Almost 1.96 million people had backed more than one project on the crowdfunding site.
We were lucky and got placement on the coveted “Featured project in Games” for the Games category. Yet it resulted on only 13 backers. Now granted it was a Saturday, a Holiday Weekend, and during Dragon*Con – but still very little reward for being there. I think KS has changed so much that being featured doesn’t really matter that much anymore. It certainly is not going to be a deciding factor in your meeting your funding goal or not.
|There is no reason to chase this rabbit down the hole…|
UPDATE: Kickstarter added google analytics at the end of April 2015 which really help track referrals. A good primer was posted here: http://www.spellforgegames.com/kickstarter-and-google-analytics-a-guide-for-kickstarter-campaigns/
Survey Says? Once again I monitored my referrals page closely throughout the campaign. Yet once again, I saw referral data changing to push people into the Kickstarter owned categories. I covered this in a previous blog post, but in short, you can’t wholly trust this referral page.
In fact I surveyed my backers to find more details about where they heard about DMTNT and it’s interesting to see the difference from what Kickstarter is telling you earned you backers and what the backers are actually claiming…
The fist column (Kickstarter Browsing) is a bit misleading as many backers who believe they first heard of our project on Kickstarter selected this answer as a default. If you add up the Browsing + Notice + Featured columns they pretty much match up with the total KS is claiming they have contributed to this campaign. I guess my question was too granular in this case. So, these numbers actually match.
The second column (Direct Traffic) is a bit odd even if you take into account the Other Sites difference. What it’s saying to me is that KS has attributed a lot more sales to direct traffic then I can account for from my mailing list. Direct traffic is basically any sources that don’t have a referral site passed through.
The BGG Ad column is an interesting one as it’s stating that MANY more backers (over 100 more) say they found out about DMTNT through an advertisement on BoardGameGeek.com – this would mean that the ads were probably double as effective as we thought. The BGG Forums column is also understated. The survey told us that about 230 people found out about us on BGG – yet Kickstarter only reported 96. Kickstarter has basically cut the referrals from BGG to less than half the actual amount. In light of this, I think our ads there were more effective then we thought in the past (see next section).
Another oddity is that Google+ was over stated in Kickstarter, though maybe that’s because I assume that all Google traffic should be attributed to Plus. More likely Kickstarter is counting anyone landing on the site through even a Google search. I know people are lazy when they want to find something on the Internet and many just type whatever into Google to get the Kickstarter page right away. Obviously the survey shows that Google was not really responsible for many backers. Those that reported they discovered our project through Google meant Google+
Facebook referrals seem to more or less match what the survey says they should be.
Again, not a surprise, that Kicktraq.com referrals are less than half what the survey says. But that kind of does make a pattern – allowing one to assume that your true Kicktraq and BGG referrals are double what Kickstarter states they are.
Reddit referrals are understated by KS but by a bit less than the others. I did notice during the campaign that referrals attributed to Reddit one day would sometimes disappear the next. Again, see my post regarding how KS handles referrals. But I saw this happen two times live.
Dice Tower probably got hit the hardest on this referral list. KS only gave them credit for 7 backers, yet I have over 50 reporting that’s where they first heard about DMTNT. Either people think all news they learn comes from Dice Tower, or more realistically the Dice Tower crowd tends to surf around KS a bit more before pulling the trigger and backing.
A Friend column stating someone heard about our campaign from a friend is hard to classify as they could be attributed to several categories, but most likely they fell into the Direct traffic or Goggle search. Helps account for some of the oddness there.
|The conclusion is, once again, you can not trust the Referral page from Kickstarter. Most large sites that help feed sales at Kickstarter are consistently being under reported by half!|
Yet again I waited till our second week to start my banner and site ads. This allowed me to make sure that most of the backers I earned on my own (mailing list, followers, etc) were already credited to the campaign. This time we paid $10-75 to get some placements on several blogger sites. We also paid a large amount of money (well actually earnings from previous promo cards) to BoardGameGeek.com – BGG has a store front that they use to sell items like your stretch goals that are not included in the base box. In return they give you advertising credit.
We monitored our BGG referrals on KS (as we have little way to track ROI other than this faulty tool) and we had 28 backers from our own posts in the forums. We started to run some ads for 3 weeks and saw that number raise to 63 (some organic and some from ads no doubt). Then on the last day of the campaign we had a STATIC banner on the front page of BGG. Between that and all those backers who were waiting for the last day to pledge, the BGG referral number jumped to 96.
As stated in the previous referral section, my best guess is these numbers reported by Kickstarter are half of their true values.
So, yes BGG plays an important role in a campaign’s success. I have stated in previous posts that my best guess is that BoardGameGeek.com spending basically paid for itself and nothing more. Doing the detailed survey and comparing with the referrals reported though, I now think we can actually attribute twice as many backers to BGG then we have in the past.
We spent $700 on ads at BGG. We figure this brought us about 200 backers and roughly $2800 in profit to the campaign. Keep in mind this was a game very much geared toward the general populous of BGG.
We spent $125 on The Dice Tower ad and had some coverage in their news. As the survey and the referral information are drastically different, I have to assume the actual ads referrals were somewhere in between. If someone clicks on the banner it would account for it in the KS referral page, but if someone just searched for us after hearing it on the podcast, that would not. But we only paid for the banner. So if we double the referrals like we see see we can do from the other site referrals, that means we got about 14 backers from our ads. That’s close to $200 profit which means this ad at least paid for itself.
Would we advertise with BGG again? Yes, because our promos pay the bills there. 🙂 Would we spend more hard cash on doing so? Probably. It seems that it’s worth it when you take the above referral extrapolation into account. Is our experience the same as others? Some, but not all. Jamey Stegmaier (another heavy writer about KS) claims he gets multiple times return on his investments there. Some others have said (as I have in the past) it’s a break even case. But I think it’s better then what I’ve given them credit for in the past.
FACEBOOK: We spent about $50 on boosting our posts on Facebook. These were restricted to the USA mostly. If you boost or pay for ads on Facebook you MUST restrict to a country or two or you’ll get a lot of fake traffic (esp from China).
VIDEO REVIEWS/PREVIEWS: We spent some money on a video preview from DriveThurReviews. With that comes access to his channel which brought us at least 10 confirmed backers. We can’t work out a ROI on this as a preview is essential to every KS campaign. We got UndeadViking to give our game a quick review which we paid only shipping/POD costs for him to do. We got at least a dozen backers from that as well. Overall I would have expected more people to say they heard about us through these sources, but the truth is they probably played a much more major role in getting people to click the final PLEDGE NOW button then any other marketing source. So worth the money spent for sure.
NEWS/BLOG SITES: The other news and blog sites we paid $10-65 to each for some ads. We did 7 of them. They might fall into the Other Sites categories but none of the survey results showed them as initial sources for our campaign. They are pretty cheap to get some amount of exposure and this is the second time I’ve tossed them some money. But overall I don’t think we got much of a return on these. This amounts to pretty much just $200 spent on branding and not sales in this case.
|We’ve learned that BGG is a solid place to spend advertising money. Still, given these new facts, BGG only brought us at most 12% of our backers, and they were the largest outside source. It’s clear to me that you can’t count on a few ads making your campaign a success. You really need to get out there and grind the social networks and demo your game in public and all the other things you need to bring your own backers to the project.|
UPDATE: I tried Twitter ads on another campaign and it was a complete drain of money for 0 gain. Worse if you’re not careful it can suck a lot of money quickly – I ran an add for less than 24 hours yet it cost $70 and got me no return. Reminds me of the uselessness of AdWords on Google. I would avoid using Twitter ads.
We see many campaigns with “Early Bird” reward levels. Sometimes with huge discounts. So people seem to think they are normal or somehow required when they are not. First of all, we have a following and have produced games before, so we don’t need to bribe our customers to back us. Second, these rewards tend to leave a bad taste in the mouths of backers who missed out. Many of them won’t even back once they have missed out. Third, it artificially locks someone into this reward level and your chances of getting them to upgrade to a more expensive reward becomes very remote.
Early Bird rewards might encourage a few early pledges but it discourages late pledges for a much longer period of time. The greater the discount the more discouraging. A better solution would be to offer a limited number of special edition copies of your game (at a higher price).
If you are just starting out and have had a hard time drumming up support before your launch day, then you might consider Early Bird rewards. But if you must, please make sure they are not more than a $5 discount. It is also much better to cut them off on a specific date (2nd or 3rd day) instead of a specific quantity. This allows the people who want to help with your launch the chance to do so without missing out.
|Minion Games does not play this early bird game and neither should you.|
ALSO UNDER MARKETING HEADING: http://www.jamesmathe.com/survey-says-ks-usage/
We typically offered retailer rewards in our past campaigns. Retailers expect 50% off, a multiple of all the stretch goals, and free shipping. They should get it too- why should they take a chance on you and have their money sitting in your pocket not working for them for so long? You should consider requiring 5 or maybe even as much as 10 copies as a retailer level.
Anyway, in the past we’ve had at least half of our “retailer” support levels bought by “stores” overseas. It’s hard to verify these stores are really stores- many of them are not. We use Google maps to find their address and street view to look for their signs but it doesn’t always work. These foreign orders at low profit tend to be more hassle then they are worth. You make very little money and do lots of work and could loose a lot of money on shipping. So if you do offer retailer levels, I advise that you do so for USA (or whatever country you live in) retailers only.
I have had some people complain about a retailer level though as they think that anyone supporting a Kickstarter should support it fully the way they are. For this reason I didn’t initially put a retailer level in DMTNT. But during the last week after having being asked by 4 or 5 retailers by that time, I went ahead and added one. No complaints.
|Retailer levels can bring more funds to your campaign, but at a severely reduced profit margin which could mess up your plans. You should avoid foreign retailers.|