This guide was created to help people avoid the pitfalls of, and run, a successful campaign for a card or board game through Kickstarter. Kickstarter is like a mall, the worlds biggest, they bring the customers to your “store”. You must concentrate on selling them a game while they are visiting and get them to help shout out to others. Using your own website or even a competing crowd-funding site will not be nearly as effective.
As of the writing of this, I have run 7 successful Kickstarter Campaigns (actually 11 as of Sept 2014). Very few people or companies can say that. So I am not going to go into any long explanations of my statements below, you’re just going to have to trust that I know what I’m talking about. So, let’s just get right to the bullet points:
BEFORE YOU START
– ARE YOU SURE?
- Are you really sure you want to take on this second job? I’d suggest you first review one of my previous blog posts: 10000-feet-to-publishing-a-board-game
- If you cannot get a publisher to help you, you can look into some of the services offered by Game Salute to help you run a kickstarter campaign.
– REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
- Find out what ALL of your real costs before you start. Get a quote from a manufacturer. Make sure you’re not going to promise to make something that is very costly. Custom dice and miniatures for example are rarely worth it unless you sell over 3000 copies.
- You need to set a reasonable price for your game. While this is basically the cost of product and shipping to the USA multiplied by 5, you also need to make sure the price fits the type of game. A card game would be around $5-15, party or casual game around $20-39, a typical hobby gamer’s game around $45-65, and a very special component heavy game can get up to $99.
- Estimate the weight and shipping costs from the printer. Make sure your box design can fit in a medium priority box (13 5/8″ x 11 7/8″ x 3 3/8″)
- Set your campaign funding goal amount to the actual cost to make and ship the game. Do not set it to just a pie in the sky number.
- Plan out your stretch goals to reach that pie in the sky. Make the first couple easy and have them completed (designed) before the launch. You can add more later if needed but think about them now.
- If you think your campaign is going to go big ($50k+), consider setting up an off-site Paypal shopping cart to allow alternate forms of payment and post-campaign pre-orders.
- Game Cost =
- + Actual production costs
- + shipping costs to your warehouse
- + 9% for Kickstarter and
- + shipping costs to pledges
- + extra production and shipping costs on add-ons
- Find creative add-ons to be used in an a la carte menu. Typically this is T-Shirts, Pins & Buttons, Laser etched dice, velvet bags, posters, etc. Things you can put a few bucks up-charge on to make sure you add dollars to the actual project.
- Don’t add a lot of a la carte items at the start of the campaign as they bloat the true dollars raised. Wait ’til you have reached your funding goal and then use them to help reach stretch goals.
- Don’t forget about shipping on the extra add-ons and don’t promise them before game delivery unless you built in more shipping costs to the add-on. Don’t make your campaign bloat in $ but not profit.
- Remember, shipping a bunch of extra stuff is going to add a lot of extra work.
- Most campaigns include free shipping in the USA. Priority mail is the most common method used. Prices for these can be found online.
- Make your shipping options and up-charges very clear in your campaign description area.
- Try to find a EU company to help ship so you can do $15-20 USD shipping there. This will also help avoid the customers paying VAT which can be as much as shipping. Have your printer drop a pallet load of the games to the EU. This has become known as “EU Friendly” shipping.
- Avoid sending multiple shipments, send it all at once when done. Or you’ll probably have to eat the shipping costs and lose many hours of your life.
SHIPPING UPDATE (Nov 2016): Over the years since I wrote this shipping from the USA to other countries has gotten out of control. It’s come to a point where something sent to Canada is going to be $30+ and shipping worldwide is typically $50+ … yet if you try to save money and ship first class (under 13 ounces) instead of priority mail, we so nearly 18% lost packages and had to reship a ton. As such, we’ve started to work with a fulfillment company in the UK to help us ship. As such now a small card game averaged about $8 per shipment outside the USA. For a medium size game it was about $12 per shipment. For a heavier 2KG weight game it was about $18 per delivery. That’s including splitting the shipment from China which I would have had to pay some of it anyway to get it to the USA. That is a savings of 2 to 3 times over what it would cost for me to send from the USA (even to Canada). Plus, I didn’t have to pay for packaging or labor.
SHIPPING UPDATE (JULY 2017): This is what we do these days:
- Split the shipment from China to send the majority of the product to our USA warehouse for distribution and for our own fulfillment. But a large portion is sent to the UK at GamesQuest for fulfillment and extras for damage and reviews and some for future storage. All shipping outside the USA (even Canada and in the end it saves customers about $15-20) is handled by GamesQuest for us. This saves on average about $20 per order to our end customers and makes it EU friendly (no VAT to the customer as we paid VAT in importing costs).
- We ship our stuff domestically from my store front. Which means I have a couple helpers. A 1000-2000 unit shipment takes us maybe 1 week. I have all my stuff shipped to my fulfillment company’s warehouse in Indiana then have them just ship a smaller amount forward to me. Unless there is a huge amount (1000+ unit) that we are shipping ourselves in which case I have it split up at China and sent to me directly.
- We make use of the options USPS gives us for free packaging (as boxes can cost $0.50-$1.00 each). So we purposefully make our games to fit inside the best option (usually a Regional Flat Rate Priority A box which you can only get from ordering them online – it saves $3-5 per order over the Medium Flat Rate Priority box you can get at your local post office. Sometimes we need that extra little bit larger box and we’re stuck with the larger box, but we try to avoid that). We plan the outer dimensions of our games from the start to fit into these boxes.
- Recently USPS started offering a bubble wrapped bag to use which can save you another $1-3 per shipment and they work just fine for smaller hard boxes or for tuck boxes. We get no more damage than we get in the regular boxes. But you can only fit a half size box in this. So I recommend using them when you can.
- Any add-ons we usually have supply around our warehouse/store and ship those out early in their own shipment. This is because the key to getting this stuff done fast and cheap is an assembly line so we ship all of one thing then all of another thing.
- We use Endicia for handling our postage and a Dymo label printer to print labels. We pay 10 cents more for the ones that are a single label instead of 3 part as it just saves so much time it’s worth it. Pay with a credit card and earn a bit back and signup for their auto refunds of failed shipping.
- DO NOT USE USPS First Class if you can help it. NEVER USE IT for a package going outside the USA. They literally lost 15% of our packages and raised the rate $5 for one of our tuck box games. We lost thousands of dollars thanks to them.
– SOCIAL WORK
- Establish your brand before you start. I cannot stress this enough.
- Be a part of your community and gain followers now. Post on relevant topics and discussions.
- Get people to like your Facebook page (at least 500) and follow you on twitter (at least 100)
- Make a Facebook page now and give it a friendly URL with http://www.facebook.com/username
– PREP WORK
- Prior to your launch create an entry in the BGG game database and add a picture
- Update the rules the best you can make them. Try to have them “blind” (you not teaching or helping in the game) tested.
- There is a lot of value in making an early Print & Play (PnP) version of your game, even with no art . This will allow your prospective supporters to try before they buy.
- Contact reviewers and interview sites before you launch so they are ready when you do. Some reviewers will do game overviews for a fee. I created a blog list of many reviewers and whether they will do Kickstarter previews: O Reviewer, Reviewer wherefore art thou!
- If at all possible get some final art done to show off. Even if you need the money to pay for an artist, find one and pay him for one piece or a cover to show off.
- Get the designer of the game to write up a designer’s blog (story) for posting at BoardGameGeek.com, but don’t post it right away.
- Try setting up a launch party on Facebook and invite people. Not a real in-person event, but a tickler for their calender. Have some cool art for the picture.
- Show people the preview link of your Kickstarter. The more eyes that see it before launch the more chance you have to change things. Don’t worry, the preview link will redirect to the live page when you launch. Ask questions in the Facebook groups designed to help Kickstarter projects before launch. Like Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice and Kickstarter Best Practices & Lessons Learned
– SETUP WORK
- Choose your Campaign Name carefully. Choose a search engine friendly phrase that includes the type of game you’re promoting. For example: “Hegemonic – 4x Space Board Game”
- Setup a business banking account or at least a separate personal one. Don’t use your personal account as the temptation is too great to mix your money.
Apply for Amazon payments as soon as you can. This can take up to a week.UPDATE: Amazon payments are no longer used by Kickstarter. They now use SWIFT which is pretty much totally behind the scenes and you only ever get a final 1 payment summary and deposit to your account. It only requires your checking account numbers and is validated within 1 minute.
- Create a detailed bio entry for the creator of the Kickstarter campaign (you). Include relevant experience to help people trust that you can follow through on your promises.
- Back some projects on Kickstarter. Show you are part of the community and not just trying to run to the bank.
- Square Avatar images for people to use help get the word out around the Kickstarter pages and make your backers feel proud.
- UPDATE: Kickstarter added google analytics at the end of April 2015 which really help track referrals. A good primer was pasted here: http://www.spellforgegames.com/kickstarter-and-google-analytics-a-guide-for-kickstarter-campaigns/
- Good days to start a campaign are Monday-Wednesday when people are around their computers and/or work computers
- Good days to end a campaign are Thursday Night or End of Month (think paydays)
- Holidays and season don’t appear to have that much effect on a campaign
- Set your duration from 30-45 days. Common wisdom and Kickstarter have stated that 30 days is the optimal duration for a campaign. I have however found that most of our campaigns continue to gain revenue every day till the end. So you can set it longer than 30 to get more total revenues (if you can bear the stress longer). My latest campaign was 40 days long and we got $1000 a day in sales which is more than I would have ever made selling through distribution or my own website. I’ve also seen some campaigns run only 21 days and come near failure.
- Plan for weekly updates (not daily annoying ones). Make sure you include a picture or video in each update. Make them interesting in some way.
- Based on the time you were told by your printer for how long to make and ship the game to you, add at least another 1 or 2 months and set that to your Ship Date. No one ever complains about a project being early, but they do if you’re late.
– REWARD LEVELS
- +$5-10: You can get $5 or $10 for a Print & Play (PnP) copy of the game. $1 for PnP is also a nice way to hook people in on a try-before-you-buy technique.
- +$10-25: Signed copies sell for $10-25 extra (remember you have to cover the cost of mailing the empty boxes to the designer and back)
- $20+: Previous game(s) you’ve made at a deep discount. Helps move old stock and push to stretch goals. Best to add after funding goal is met.
- +50-100: Add some content contribution levels as people are willing to pay $50-100 more to say they helped in some small way. Give them a credit in the manual.
- +$200: Add a few very large pledge goals with something special like dinner with you or using the likeness of the backer in the game. You’ll be surprised what people will pay for. Start these at least $200 over the normal pledge for you game at the least.
- Name your reward levels as they will be easier to find and cross reference
- Early bird rewards? No. Do not offer any special physical or financial incentives to pledge right away. Most of your early backers will be the fans that already follow you. These kinds of reward levels also make it psychologically hard for someone to change pledge levels later. Better to offer the first 200 backers earliest shipping.
- Deep discounts? No. $5 off and free shipping is the most you should offer non-retailers.
- Most pledged level will be in the $25-50 range which should get a basic copy of your game.
- Fewer reward levels to start your campaign is better. Add more later to re-energize upping pledges.
- A retailer level will need to be near 50% off, but don’t be afraid to charge shipping as most who take advantage of this will be overseas. Make sure you verify the existence of a store front through a supplied URL and Google maps. There are clubs that like to abuse this option.
- Generally each reward level should include the levels below it to keep them easy to understand.
- Avoid putting everyone’s names in the final rule book. They can cause extra costs (lots if you need 4 more pages) and are ugly. Provide credit only for game content contributor levels.
- If you plan to send rewards out right after the campaign, make sure you build in costs for shipping those. I advise against doing this though as it locks down the survey (address) for that group well before you get your hands on the actual game to ship.
– THE STORY:
- Tell us about your game and why it’s interesting in the first paragraph, don’t preach & brag. No one really cares about your BGG rating as the game isn’t widely distributed yet.
- Make a Video! A crappy video is better than no video. If possible be in your video. A personal touch goes a long way in building up the trust level.
- Your project video should be under 3 minutes long. Do not include any text longer then a phrase on any one page. Add some music in the background. (http://gotgeniusgames.com/kickstarter-stats-101-kickstarter-video-matter/)
- List all of components so people can get a sense of the value of the game. Show pictures.
- Use pictures for your headers and menus and stretch goal status. It helps break up the text.
- Even more pictures, lots of them. Of the game and bits! If it’s not the final art, just state as much.
- Include an a la carte menu to let people give you more money for trinkets.
- Make the game rules downloadable in full from day 1.
- Make a game play demo to show the game in action. This is very important to many backers. You should add this after the initial rush to your game to give you a reason for an update message.
- Reviews will go here, but save them for now. Don’t post them yet.
- Shipping costs explained in detail. Probably the most confusing and annoying thing about Kickstarter is shipping. Be prepared to answer these questions.
- Add an About section for your company & designer. Your goal is to gain the backer’s trust & confidence. You want them to have no doubts that you can make this project a reality.
- Explain what the money raised is needed for. Don’t detail every dollar, just explain why you choose Kickstarter.
- Do not add too many items until after you have reached your funding goal.
- Remember every item you add will cause more orders to be hand-picked for shipping and slow you way down.
- $2-5: Lapel Pins (PinCrafters.com) or Button (PureButtons.com) or Stickers (StickerMule.com)
- $4-6: Custom logo dice (Chessex.com)
- $5-15: Does your game use cards? Add some sleeves (MaydayGames.com). Better yet, add some custom sleeves (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/divingdragongames/your-art-card-sleeves)
- $5-20: Custom bags (Dragonchow.com), embroidered bags, or plan velvet bags (Uline.com)
- $10-20: Poster or Signed art piece (SuperCopyUSA.com)
- $10-20: Metal Tokens (check your printer)
- $15-30: Silkscreen T-Shirt
- $20-35: Playmat
– STRETCH GOALS: (Encourage backers to spread the word)
- It is best to only reveal a couple of stretch goals at one time. This allows you to adjust based on the velocity of the campaign funding. It also keeps you from looking like a fool listing grandiose stretch goals.
- Be careful not to over-promise or include too many things that will make your profit disappear.
- Remember each stretch goal can add shipping costs to the final package, be careful not to push yourself into another price bracket.
- Your stretch goals should mainly consist of upgraded bits, bonus promo cards, or a mini expansion.
- Exclusive items should not be game content or rule changing. If you add a promo card, make it for sale or give it away at conventions later.
- Generally a stretch goal should not require an extra payment of any kind and should be free to all backers when it’s met.
- Interweave exciting in-demand goals with smaller token reward goals
- It’s a great idea to make a Kickstarter-only promotional card (with QR code) that you can then later hand out at conventions and trade to BGG for ad credit.
- Start Player tokens are not usually needed in most games, but it’s fun to add one as the cardboard doesn’t cost much to do this.
– GETTING READY
- Submit a rough version of your campaign to Kickstarter for approval, you can change it after they accept it.
- Be a tease on social networks about the imminent release of your campaign
- I discuss best days to launch in my Dead Men Tell No Tales blog entry.
– THE START
- The first couple days are very important – don’t rush into this. Set aside enough time to monitor your campaign constantly. Take the day off from your real job!
- If you don’t have a built-in fan base or large social following, don’t get discouraged by a slow start.
- In the first 48 hours you should be pushing to get to 20% funding. You should plan to have that lined up BEFORE you even launch.
– THE LONG HAUL
- Monitor and add to your comments several times a day. Prevent any flame wars. Provide accurate and honest information.
- Don’t expect people to have read everything and all your updates and comments. Repeat yourself and links and images throughout. Embed important updates into your main story section.
- An update is an excuse to market and a call to action. Make sure you use it as such with images and encourage people to pledge or raise their pledge.
- Start updating the campaign FAQ as you get repeat or important questions. Especially about reward levels that have been taken already as you can’t edit them at that point.
- After the initial buzz dies down about your campaign, start to post review links, videos, and your designer blog. Once a day at most, spread them out. These give you a great reason to get mentioned in site news and other blogs and promote your campaign.
- Expect a cancelation rate of about 3-6%
- A typical successful graph will have a spike in the beginning, then pledges will continue to come in steady ’til the last 2 days spike again.
- You want 30-50% Project Video plays completed. If you are getting a very low number (under 20%) consider shortening your video.
- Kickstarter overwrites cookie leads a lot (see my post: Myth Busters – Kickstarter Referrer Page), so take their numbers with a grain of salt. That said, about 50% of your funding comes from their site – which is why you need to use Kickstarter in the first place. If you’re doing things right, the next most popular referrer should be your direct traffic and boardgamegeek.com. After that your social networks make up the next biggest group of contributors. Spend your time wisely and target these.
- To see a spike mid-campaign, it is key to try to get some “outside” publicity from places like Wired.com or Penny-Arcade.com
- Don’t forget to use Kicktraq.com and give them news as you’ll get a decent number of backers from them too. Consider advertising there.
You will get about 90% of your pledge money to your Amazon account usually within 1 day (not weeks).Kickstarter/Swift will take 2 weeks to actually make the deposit of the full amount to your bank.
- When you do post or share, make it engaging and use a picture
- Hopefully in the months leading up to this campaign or from a previous campaign you collected a Mailing list to send to. Send them mail with a reason to check things out.
- BoardGameGeek.com (stagger your efforts to get steady flow of traffic)
- BGG contest & banners are mildly worth it but you can get a lot of exposure by just communicating on their site. The contest will get you on the Hotness list which is very helpful getting eyes on your game. This works better for more popular game types/themes than niche games.
- Post a Designer’s blog on BGG as it’ll get you a news entry and more interest.
- $5 or $10 promote option on your post once a week is worth it in extra visits. The key is to be very focused with the audience you select for the ad. Keep it very narrow.
- Share your updates to other pages and groups on Facebook
- Post daily or at least several times a week. Not everyone sees every post.
- Twitter posts multiple times a day. Send out review links. Status updates. Everything.
- Reddit /r/boardgames /r/boardgamedesign – get listed in their roundup.
- Google+, LinkedIn, etc… post important updates or review links.
- Get mentioned on Blogs and post those links everywhere.
- Attempt to get Reviews & Interviews on Video / Pod Casts
- Run a contest off Kickstarter (KS doesn’t allow contests or raffles or such). Share on Facebook, referral trackers. Give away something for sharing your link/picture.
- Don’t waste your money on traditional advertisement vehicles (magazines, cons books, fliers, etc)
- Make a website or FB page but always direct people to the Kickstarter page. Extra clicks required = lost pledges.
– LAST DAY
- This is the time you’re allowed to be a bit annoying and post often on all social media.
- Update your story to include links at the top of the page to your website and post-sale page as you will not be able to edit your page after your campaign ends. Remember people still find your page after your campaign is over.
- Remind people of the a la carte items to help get extra $ toward that last stretch goal.
- Use Kickstarter to send a customized message to each reward level about things they miss out on. Ask them to use their social networking to spread the word.
- UPDATE: KS has added a new post-campaign page which allows you to set a URL for linking to pre-orders on your site. Use it!
- It’s possible to cancel your campaign right before it ends, but I’m not sure that’s a good or bad thing.
- You can start a new campaign at any time to attempt this all again. I’ve done it and it works. Use what you learned to improve things the second time around. Wait a couple weeks to build more followers before relaunch.
- You can (if you’re willing) ask for less the second time around.
- Make sure you have a way for people who missed the Kickstarter to pre-order the game from your website.
- Export reports about a week after the campaign ends. Kickstarter will move the failed payment transactions to their own section and it makes it hard to know where they original pledged.
- Add these emails to a mailing list for future campaigns
- Surveys are allowed once per group so do them as late as possible so you don’t have to track address changes.
- Be prepared for a large shipment to fill your halls and for a delivery assembly line to take days getting the game out to backers.
- Ship to your backers before you sell at conventions.
- Ship to retailers the same week you ship to backers not weeks later.
- Communication and setting expectations at this point is key if you are ever going to be running another Kickstarter campaign.
- Post updates at least monthly on the status even if there is nothing to say other than you’re still working on it.
- Try to get connections into distribution and fulfillment houses to sell the rest of your product
- Don’t launch another Kickstarter until you’ve delivered this one.
- Go to conventions to promote, demo, and sell your games. Hand out promo cards.
- Remember you owe taxes on any of the money you didn’t spend making and delivering the game. So make sure you set aside something for the end of the year!
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES:
Board Game Production & Kickstarter Check List
OPEN OFFICE: http://www.JamesMathe.com/ProjectStatusChecklist.ods
Was your campaign radioactive? (Things NOT to do)
11 Things All Failed Kickstarter Projects Do Wrong
Tabletop Game Kickstarter Workshop:
Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned
How To Increase Your Video Viewership
Tips for running a great kickstarter campaign:
Crowd-funding Academy (Video)
Kickstarter Conversations (Blog)
Funding the Dream on Kickstarter (Podcast)
Kickstarters HQ (Blog + Podcast)
Contest Domination (Free email referral contests)
Free Facebook like contests
Tabletop Gaming News (KS friendly news site)
The Purple Pawn (KS friendly news site)
Card & Board Game Designers Guild
Written by: James Mathe