Free Kickstarter Advice

Freestarter

Kickstarter controversy is just silly lately. There are a handful of new consulting companies you can pay to help you with your campaign. Interestingly enough, I've watched a few of their own projects fail. So much for expertise? You have the $122,000 case of fraud where the guy just isn't going to deliver the product. You have the boast of making a game for only $999! Plus, of course, the Kickstarter and established brand presence.

This all tickles me.

In light of all this, I thought I'd offer some free advice in a few forms. My own personal observations, but also, I'd like to point you in the direction of some good data.

First, some links.

The elements that comprise a successful Kickstarter campaign or product are not closely guarded secrets of the NSA. They don't require a doctorate in economics to fully grasp. Really, you need to PAY ATTENTION and observe the world around you. People have been selling goods and services for thousands of years. Think about the companies you like and emulate them.

Kickstarter is a petri dish of success, failure, and out of this world success. It is FREE to observe and watch. I've been watching Kickstarter for years and I have learned a few things just by paying attention.

It's not hard to learn these things. It just takes time and a keen eye.

If you want to be successful, here are some good standards to which to adhere.

Here are two of the most important things for initial sales, i.e. Kickstarter. Opinion alert!

Have great art. This is subjective, but presentation is what gets people window shopping. You need people to pull your product off the shelf, digital or otherwise. If you race for the bottom and hire the cheapest art student off Deviant Art who doesn't understand anatomy, perspective, or colors, guess what? You don't have great art. 

I won't call out bad art here, but take a quick stroll through the projects that aren't funding.

Have a great price. You need to sell at a price that is a great value to consumers. It is painfully simple to go to your FLGS or Amazon and compare your prototype, its components, and its play style to similar games. For Farmageddon, I looked at Gamewright's collection of card driven games. Obviously we couldn't beat their economies of scale, but we knew we had to be well under $20 to compete. For York, as a 60 minute game, I knew $50 was the upper limit, but $40 was ideal.

I hate to beat this horse, but Princes of the Dragon Throne cost too much in both iterations. Its first funding goal failed and its second one barely succeeded. Consider what your audience wants, compare yourself to the competition, and match it.

Side note: On Kickstarter, a great price typically includes free domestic shipping and a discount on MSRP. These are hard on your margins, but hey, that's the ecosystem.

Once you nail these two basics, be sure to prepare properly in other areas.

Have several quotes to compare, then decide upon a manufacturer before you launch. There are so many good manufacturers. I have a list of about 25 companies that manufacture games entirely or build some portion of the process (boxes, dice, etc). It is unacceptable to launch a KS without knowing precisely what it will cost to manufacture 1000/2500/5000 copies of your game. Measure twice, cut once. Know who you're taking to the dance and buy them a corsage. Metaphor.

To get a quote, you need to know:

  • All of your components. All of them.
  • The sizes and quality of all of your components.
  • The size of your box.
  • The size of your rules.

Ignoring miniatures and custom dice (which are outliers), game boards, cards, and rules will be very expensive. Punchboard is shockingly cheap. If there are ways to swap wooden tokens with punchboard, go for it. If you can reduce cards, do so.

One of the reasons York is so expensive is that I have a double sided game board and 108 cards.

Shame on you if you launch your game and don't know precisely what it will cost.

Have all of your stretch goals designed and quoted. Guess what? Stretch Goals are a fundamental part of the current Kickstarter ecosystem. You may not raise enough to deliver a single one, but you better have 3-5 designed and ready. By designed, I mean if it is an expansion it is tested and fun. You know what your art will cost. You know what it'll cost to incorporate the goal into 1000/2500/5000 copies. You know how it'll affect shipping costs. Here's a Hint: You shouldn't make stretch goals that affect your shipping costs.

Adding a Stretch Goal should be as simple as adding an "x" to your spreadsheet.

Side note: Be sure your stretch goals enhance the product. They should not exist to complete the product. Backers will punish you with their absence if you make expected, standard things an add-on. Be ethical, be honest, be fair.

Know your shipping costs and understand fulfillment. Will your game fit into a small, medium, or large flat rate domestic package? Sweet. Shoot for that. International shipping is a whole other can of worms that I actually don't know much about. I know some folks have done well using Amazon fulfillment in Europe, Asia, and the US.

I will advise a word of caution to signing with some companies who promise to just make fulfillment easy and fun. Check first what they are taking from your margins and look at their other work. If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. If you really want to be a publisher, then put in the time to fully understand and succeed with shipping and fulfillment.

This aspect will kill your business if you screw up. If you're curious why I've more or less walked away from the idea of playing publisher, this is one of the biggest reasons.

Make sure people know about your game and like it. Reviews are important for selling your game. Guess what? There are many people out there who refuse to buy a game until they see Tom Vasel (or another reviewer) explain it. That means you can't ignore that!

But, reviews cost money and in some cases they won't actually move units. Word of mouth is really the most powerful form and it's the most difficult to build. Drive word of mouth by:

  • Sharing your rules
  • Creating preview videos on YouTube
  • Attending conventions and playing your game
  • Sending your prototypes to others, especially influential people
  • Release a PNP

Your mileage may vary. In my experience, none of those things really help  individually and never quickly. But, during Farmageddon's Kickstarter campaign, we had podcasts talking about the game, random folks posting reviews on BGG from the PNP, plus a few hundred people who bought the POD version from The Game Crafter. It built a lot of honest buzz and really helped.

Notice how folks like Dice Hate Me go to every single convention in the north east to promote and play their games. If that dude sees a FLGS on his way to church he pulls over and puts Belle of the Ball on a table.

Summary: Don't launch your project without reviews and word of mouth. Sure, add more throughout, but launch with it.

Share information on your game. This one is so easy to do.

  • Share rules
  • Share plenty of final game art
  • Share a gameplay video/tutorial
  • Bonus: Share a PNP. Nobody is going to steal from you. This shows confidence.

Finally, make a good game. I consider this to be the most important, but it isn't for Kickstarter. THIS IS NOT A SLAM on the quality of Kickstarter games, but is a comment on what you're doing on Kickstarter: pitching the game to thousands of customers in the hope they back you to get a copy of your game. Kickstarter is a month-long, interactive, evolving, two-way commercial. It's a sales pitch in YOU and your game.

But.

Make something great. If you make something great, your game will continue to sell off of Kickstarter and your next Kickstarter project will be even easier. If people really like you, it'll be much simpler to share rules, share previews, and ask folks to PNP your game. A large number of people made the PNP and tested Euphoria, not because they knew anything about the game, but because they liked and believed in Stonemeier.

Making a good game is the best way to future proof your business.

I hope this is useful. Feel free to call me an idiot in the comments below!

Comments

Great stuff Grant. I recently mentioned on Jamey's blog - but his Kickstarter lessons and Richard Bliss' Funding the Dream are HUGE sources of information. After reading/listening to them it's pretty easy to predict which projects will fund and which will stagnate. I've even gotten pretty good at spotting the occasional projects that might get enough hype to fund but aren't good bets for reaching production (ie Doom that Came to Atlantic City).

You do a good job of condensing the most important lessons down to a single article here. Too bad - I was recently advising a project I won't name on some of these same principles and they chose to forge ahead and launch while ignoring half of them. Too bad, because I'd bet they fail to fund as a result. At least Kickstarter lets you fix your mistakes and try again.

This is great stuff, Grant, and I appreciate the positive words about Stonemaier. This part really hit home with me, as it's a lesson I learned the hard way from Viticulture: "Be sure your stretch goals enhance the product. They should not exist to complete the product."

I completely agree, and I wish I had known that when I ran Viticulture's campaign. Exclusive gameplay content can be a turnoff for a lot of people (especially if it's perceived that such content is necessary for the best gaming experience).

Thanks for summarizing these points for people--this is a great resource, and it's free! :)

you're an idiot!

okay, got that out of the way. Great post, Grant. It's easy to be judgemental, sarcastic, and mean without being helpful. Your post is the exact opposite, a great list of things to be aware of when starting a big thing like a KS project. Too many people go in without a real plan, and Kickstarter is NOT an automatic success machine.