Kicking & Screaming

Kickin'

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 8 as of June 2013). 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
    • + 10% for Kickstarter and Amazon fees
    • + shipping costs to pledges
    • + extra production and shipping costs on add-ons

– 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.

– SHIPPINGworld_shipping_big

  • 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.
  • 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.

– 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 (like The Dice Tower) will do game overviews for a fee.
  • 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. Have some cool art for the picture.

– 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.
  • 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.

 

THE CAMPAIGN

– DURATION

  • Good days to start a campaign are Sunday or Monday
  • Good days to end a campaign are Friday Night or Monday 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

– A la Carte MENUmenu

– STRETCH GOALS: (Encourage backers to spread the word)

  • I personally don’t feel it matters if you are revealing only a couple of stretch goals or all of them at one time. If you’re having a hard time figuring out more, you can delay it by revealing them later.
  • Be careful not to over-promise or include too many things that will make your profit disappear.
  • 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.

LAUNCH TIME

- 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

- 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.

- 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.

- SOME STATISTICStahiti_progress

  • 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.
    Tahiti_backers
  • 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). It’ll take a couple days to get to your bank. But within a week you should have your money.

- MARKETING

  • 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.
  • Facebookcontest
    • $5 or $10 promote option on your post once a week is worth it in extra visits.
    • 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.

AFTERMATH

– FAILURE

  • 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.

– SUCCESS

  • 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.packing
  • 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:

11 Things All Failed Kickstarter Projects Do Wrong
http://thecomicstarter.com/2014/03/15/11-things-all-failed-kickstarter-projects-do-wrong/

Kickstarter Lessons
http://www.stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter/

Tabletop Game Kickstarter Workshop:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/630412297019422

Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned
https://www.facebook.com/groups/138469072961355/

How To Increase Your Video Viewership
http://blog.kissmetrics.com/how-to-increase-viewership/

Tips for running a great kickstarter campaign:
http://www.boardgamequest.com/tips-for-running-kickstarter-campaign/

Crowd-funding Academy (Video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA9UecrXKLY&list=PLl_K1ExVqroXcXMcmAbKQGRQLUg5_Hn-I

Kickstarter Conversations (Blog)
http://kickstarter-conversations.blogspot.com/

Funding the Dream on Kickstarter (Podcast)
http://www.buzzsprout.com/4646

Kickstarters HQ (Blog + Podcast)
http://kickstartershq.com

Contest Domination (Free email referral contests)
http://contestdomination.com

Free Facebook like contests
http://woobox.com/

Tabletop Gaming News (KS friendly news site)
http://www.TabletopGamingNews.com/submitnews

The Purple Pawn (KS friendly news site)
http://www.purplepawn.com/submit-news

Card & Board Game Designers Guild
https://www.facebook.com/groups/320445024722916

19 thoughts on “Kicking & Screaming

  1. James,

    Excellent information as always. Thanks for taking the time to post and to share all this information. And thanks for the plug for the Crowdfunding Academy.

  2. James–This was an incredible read. Thank you for taking the time to put it together. In running my campaign for Viticulture, I had a back-and-forth debate about the early-bird pledge level (I ended up doing it). I think you have a great point that it makes it difficult for people to change their pledge level later. I tried to alleviate that by offering the early-bird backers ways to upgrade their pledge level. In fact, that seemed to work really well since they already felt like they were getting a special deal.

    I think the one element about early bird levels that I struggle with a bit is this: “Do not offer any special incentives to pledge right away.” From my perspective, almost everything you do on a Kickstarter page is to try to get someone to pledge right away, because once they leave that page, they may never come back. That’s why you need a polished project page, reasonable and interesting rewards, a video–all those other things you mention. I’m curious why that wouldn’t apply to pledge levels?

    I’m not set on doing early birds in the future, but my experience with Viticulture indicated that people weren’t turned off at all by a $4 increase in price after the early birds ran out. That was with no established audience, so perhaps it’ll be different the second time around. But I’m almost thinking that a good way to show my appreciation for my Viticulture backers would be to offer more early bird pledge levels and let those backers know about the project the second it launches. Sure, the $4 or so won’t make a big difference to them, but I wonder if the loyalty factor is worth it. What do you think?

  3. Jamey, the answer is that if you have a line of people at the door you don’t offer the first 20 discounted tickets. That’s just pissing money out the door. My point is that those 20 people will now be twice as hard to convince to change their pledge to something greater. So you hurt your campaign overall by doing an early bird limited sale. I suppose if you’re having a hard time getting traction, then you might try using one. But I would never use one the first day!

  4. Interesting. Thanks for your response–I like the analogy about the line of people at that door. In terms of economics, you’re completely right…it just wasn’t my experience with Viticulture. As I mentioned, quite a few early bird backers upgraded their pledges without leaving that pledge level. I was basically using the “foot in the door” technique. They said “yes” to the game early on, and later when there were more things available to them, they had already bought into the campaign and had been actively engaged.

    I wonder if a better way to do it–especially when you have an established backer base–is to do an early bird with a special perk but the exact same pricing as the standard game. Backers love exclusive content. How do you think that would go over?

  5. The more you do special outside the rewards the more chance you’re going to make a mistake and deliver things wrong. Have you delivered yet? I personally don’t like the nightmares of tracking all that stuff. I still think people want to sit on the early pledge which limits what and how they can upgrade their pledges. In short, they must use the manage pledge option and over pledge every time you offer them something new. Which means you also have to track it. Your campaign has a very normal curve so I don’t think you really needed to do out of the box stuff and doing so didn’t change your curve much. So who knows.

  6. That’s a good point about the hassle of tracking and sorting. We have three different versions of the game going out, each with a different UPC. With Amazon’s fulfillment robots taking care of the gritty work of shipping everything, I’m not too worried about people getting the wrong version of the game. But I’m sure those types of errors can add up, even if it’s a small percentage of backers.

    Thanks again for the entry and the feedback. I’ll definitely take this into consideration for my next campaign. If you listen to today’s Funding the Dream podcast, let me know what you think (I’m Richard’s guest on that one).

  7. Thank you James for another detailed and informative post about boardgames and how to achieve success! As I am finding myself designing and building my own game, it is refreshing and great to see the breakdowns of the different sections you talk about. Having a short 2-3 sentence about each different section because it is so much easier to read, I don’t feel like I’m getting lost in a paragraph.

    I’d love to hear how you have built up a following and brand for yourself.

  8. James, very helpful information here. I’ve already said it but I can’t thank you enough for this. I wish it had been posted 2 months ago, but we’re going to give it another try. :)

    Jamey, enjoyed your interview with Richard. Look forward to the next one.

  9. How do you handle card game pricing? At small print runs I feel like it would be very unlikely to get your manufacturing and oversea shipping cost down to $3.00 per unit which is what you recommend as the high point in your times 5 estimate. Is this why you pointed out card game pricing separately? If so, how do you price card games?

    In my initial estimates I’ve got as low as $3.60 per unit at 1,500 units without shipping. I’m using irregularly shaped cards though.

  10. You can’t mix irregular shapes and small print run in the same sentence. That’s your problem. The printer is spreading that die cost ($300) to all the units. I printed a 96 card game for about $2.50 – I also printed a 128 card game for $5. So a double deck game can go for $17.99-$27.99… I get these “ranges” from the fact that I own 3 games stores and know what people expect to pay. But you can always get away with higher print costs if you’re only selling direct. The x5 number is if you wish to make any money using a Fulfillment house and Distribution. If you’re doing Kickstarter and direct sales only you make about 2-3x more money on each sale. Which case you can live with a x3 multiplier. But you’re also going to have to live with a garage full of product that may never sell though. Which case it’s time to look at dumping at Tanga.com

  11. Well I say irregular. They’re square cards. Not terribly irregular and I doubt that I’m the first person to make a game using square cards. That said, I get what you’re saying, it’s not likely a die that they order in bulk and keep stock on hand.

    I could always up it to a print run of 3,000 but the likeliness of me moving that many copies of a game are pretty minuscule considering I’m an independent developer and this is my first game. That does knock the price down to $2.24 per unit. Without shipping at the times five price point I’m looking at $11.25 which is well under the margin but again, good luck moving 3,000 units. I might look at some granularity between 1,500 and 3,000.

  12. Thanks for the article James! Fantastic read, and as someone that is looking to run a game Kickstarter in the next year, this is a lot of great information. This definitely covers the gamut and fills in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge on the subject.

  13. I’ve bookmarked this page as I expect to be referencing it often as I gear up for my own Kickstarter campaigns this year. Thanks for this!

  14. Thanks for the article James – as a newcomer to the industry, this is extremely helpful. Biggest takeaway for me is that I gotta get started, because there is a ton to do.

  15. Seweryn on

    James, I’m completely amazed by your knowledge.Flawless piece of information.
    Keep it up!

  16. Great roundup of info, very thorough!! I think you’ve covered almost anything that could come up in a tabletop game Kickstarter campaign.

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