Myth Busters – Kickstarter Referrer Page?
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/
I am in the unique position of having run many Kickstarter campaigns myself and knowing personally two other prolific publishers that use Kickstarter. So I reached out to 9 Table Top game publishers and 3 Video Game publishers to get some answers about the misleading Kickstarter Referrer page.
Why do I say it’s misleading? Well, Kickstarter’s method for tracking referrals doesn’t work well. First off they are relying on a post variable to set the referral cookie and it overwrites it often during just browsing their site. If you notice in the URL when you click through to a project you’ll often see a ?ref=something tagged on the end of the line. This is setting the variable (and cookie) of “ref” to a new value. This overwrites any old value. So no matter where you really came from or heard of a project from, you are now tagged as learning about that project from the last place you clicked. Thus, the referrer page is only valid for those who pledged more or less the first time they saw your project or at least used the same off-site link to get back to it later when they did pledge.
Worse, I have personally tracked that even when you modify your past reward to a new reward, it’s overwriting your ref variable. Thus, the data that Kickstarter provides for referrals has to be looked at with a big block of salt instead of just a grain. In fact, it’s so bad I can only guess that its somewhere between 10-70% corrupted data. So, I have little choice but to toss out most of the referrals that Kickstarter claims as their own. Kickstarter campaigns typically boast around 40-60% referrals form Kickstarter itself, and this is just not true.
To make matters even worse there are plenty of ad-blockers out there that prevent the reporting of the referral site from the browser itself. I have bundled most of these unknown sources into Mailing Lists as I found a majority of our mailings result in this sort of code. So Mailing Lists below are overstated.
Specifically looking at 3 of my recent large campaigns where I actually surveyed backers directly, I see the truth of the matter. I found that Kickstarter was responsible for 21-36% of my referrals and yet they claim 47-57% on their referrer page for all the campaigns.
The data-set that I have analyzed is of successful campaigns in the gaming category only, the majority of which is in the Table Top gaming category. Still we have a pretty good data set of 12 different publishers, 23 campaigns, and over 34,000 backers.
NOTE: Both because of the fact that only 3 Video Game publishers responded and because the data was significantly different then the Table Top category, I have only included a reference chart of that data at the bottom of this article. Also note that we did not get any data from Role Playing Game publishers.
SOME WORK AROUNDS
Chatting with Kicktraq, he had the idea that just adding ?ref=whatever to the end of any link to Kickstarter it will include that data on the referrer page (if not overwritten). This will help in having other campaigns see your data. I’ve seen “Kicktraq” highlighted in green even which is weird as that’s usually for internal referrers.
Chatting with Ryan Dancey, he also had some good ideas. If you use bit.ly to direct people when doing your own marketing, you can later see true referral data on that custom link by appending a + to the end of the custom link.
So without any more delay here is a break down of the overall Table Top (Board/Card) Games category:
Surprisingly in the break down of all the data, aside from a few outliers from lucky breaks in the media, most of the referrals all came from the same places. These are the sites I saw repeatedly in the data and worth your time to work with:
A surprise to me is that I rarely ever saw TheDiceTower.com (or 2d6.org for that matter) as a referrer in my data-set. I assume that this means most of his following is more interested in finished games they can buy at the store. It might just be the publishers that responded to me didn’t make use of his services, so I won’t be listing this as a MYTH. Someone who actually paid for his preview will have to let us know.
MYTH #1: Kickstarter is responsible for 50% of your sales
To the right I have displayed 3 prolific publishers and a general grouping of 6 other campaigns (2nd from the top). As you can see most of the backers are coming from a Publisher’s own promotions which is usually a mailing list of some sort. In fact, if you add the Publisher’s home page and Mailing lists together you can constantly account for 50% of all referrals. While Kickstarter data was left out and it probably plays a decent role in your referrals, I do not believe it trumps the publisher’s own fan base (maybe not even close).
Don’t get me wrong, Kickstarter does drive a lot of traffic, especially if you’ve used them before. Initial days you can gain a lot of exposure from the friends’ backing (emails) from Kickstarter. Mainly I think because it’s easier to browse what your friends like than the stupid browsing system Kickstarter uses.
What does this mean? It means successful campaigns are run by those publishers who manage to build a fan base before they start their campaign. This is the reason we preach the fact that you must start your marketing well before you ever hit that launch button.
The second small chart from the top is a chart with 6 single game publishers. They are all newer companies or first time Kickstarters. So they relied more heavily on social media but still worked hard to get direct traffic to Kickstarter.
MYTH #2: Advertisements pay for themselves
The next big take-away is an obvious one we can probably all agree on… it’s extremely important to make use of the major community/forums for your product. BoardGameGeek.com played a very important role in every project. The myth to bust here though is that running contests or advertisements there would be very effective; they were only mildly so. Many companies ran them at the start of their campaign so the data was disguised in the initial rush to pledge. But I have run several controlled tests myself as have a couple of other publishers and have found that the ads will pay for themselves if you’re lucky and the contests definitely are not worth it. You can generate 75% or more of those same sales by simply using their forums and talking about your project on their site. That doesn’t mean spamming – use the areas they provide for listing your project.
Some ads were also paid for on blog sites and Kicktraq by a few publishers. Similar results though the break even was much lower.
Facebook allows you to promote your posts for $5 or $10 and those are a good return if you do that on one post with a nice picture once a week.
I surveyed over 1000 backers and less than 1/3rd of them ever pay attention to banners or online ads.
Traditional media or print ads are a complete waste of time and usually too slow. The public is starting to move on from this darling new thing called crowd funding. Don’t waste your time there. Same goes for conventions as people attend them to get something while they’re there, not when they return and have to purchase something. That’s not to say you shouldn’t demo your game at conventions, but just don’t expect it to generate pledges on the spot.
I would only recommend online ads if you’re not able to gain any traction without them or if your trend line is showing your funding might be borderline.
UPDATE: In a more resent post I address advertising again and found that some select sites like BGG can be worth the money if you take into account all the misleading referral information Kickstarter feeds you.
MYTH #3: Constant posting on social media generates a lot of sales
I found that most of the time each social media site (where you have to spend a disproportionate amount of your time hyping up your game) usually only resulted in up to 5% of your sales. While Facebook averaged 5.4%, Google+ 4.3%, Reddit 2.4%, and Twitter 1.6%, the combined effort to troll them all probably would consume over a quarter of your time.
So, while they are useful, I do not feel it’s useful to be overly active on them. A post somewhere and a tweet or two a day is all you really need. What’s more important is your reach (likes and followers) which you should have built up before the campaign started.
MYTH #4: Kicktraq provides large amounts of new backers for your project
I think KickTraq is a pleasant and welcome surprise in this analysis. There are two elements at play here: one of initial discovery and one of final commitment. Kicktraq certainly plays a role in each, but the way Kickstarter tracks these referrals can be misleading. I think it also suffers from overstated referrals, as people viewing the status of a campaign on their site that click through then finally decide to pledge are all marked as having found out about the game on their site. While Kicktraq definitely adds some better browsing and some great tracking tools, it’s not as big of an originating source as the data might lead you to believe. That’s certainly not any ding on them, I love them to death for the services they provide! My own surveys show that even with Kickstarter wiping out a lot of their referrer tags, they still are overstated in the dashboard, but only mildly. So this service is of great use in conversions, but has been overstated in initial discovery.
MYTH #5: You must have a video to succeed
While I still highly recommend having a video for every campaign, there where several campaigns that did not have them and still did just fine. The key (or the only time you can get away with it) is that they had products that people recognized and were already fans of, like expansions to a previous game.
That said, there was a direct correlation between the length of a video and it’s play-through count. You need to keep that intro video under 3 minutes.
MYTH #6: I can put my game on Kickstarter and all those people will want to buy it
I think that’s a gross misconception about Kickstarter, that you can launch a decent-looking project and sit back for people to find you. Yes, they are a mall of sorts that will bring you some customers to browse your wares, but you are in charge of your own fate, not Kickstarter. People might see your project at first on Kickstarter, but for many of them, it’s not until they see other websites talking about it that they’ll pull the trigger on a pledge. You must make promotion your primary goal before and during your campaign.
VIDEO GAME CHART
As I said earlier, I don’t think I have enough data to make many statements about the Video Game side of things. But here is the chart for 4 campaigns anyway…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/320445024722916/ (FB Game Designers Guild)
https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/111229977945579240171 (Board Games Group)
https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/118380390691616458392 (Crowd Funding Group)
https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/101196434779406961595 (Geek & Sundry Group)