Gregory Carslaw was born to a gaming couple and rolled his first die before speaking a word. He has a PhD in Psychology, studied Artificial Intelligence and joined 3DTotal games in 2013. His first game took six months to design … only for it to be shelved. It was going to be too expensive to make.
3DTotal moved on to 404: Law Not Found, a game about robots firing scientists from tubes. 404: Law Not Found funded ~230% on Kickstarter. Now’s Greg and 3DTotal have returned to that original game and Wizard’s Academy is approaching it’s target on the crowd funding site.
In this guest post Greg shares his Kickstarter wisdom. Perhaps you’re planning a campaign of your own? You’ll find this list of 5 great ways to fail on Kickstarter an insightful read.
The 5 best ways to fail on Kickstarter
Kickstarter can be a rough place for a board game designer, only 34% of games fund and not every game that funds can truly be called successful. It’s no surprise that there’s heaps of advice to help designers exploit any edge that they can find to get ahead – only a fool would ignore them. I am just such a fool and I’d like to try to make you one too. Here are my top five best mistakes to make on Kickstarter, how they’ll make you fail and why you should do it anyway.
5. Show all of the professional reviews.
Why it’s a mistake: So you sent review copies to six reviewers. Five come back with sterling reviews and one doesn’t like your game – not mentioning the sixth one is a no brainer. Most people aren’t going to read a whole bunch of reviews, they’ll pick one and click on it, if that’s the bad one you’ve lost them. It’s not even fair because that review is an outlier anyway!
Why it’s desirable: It’s better to have a few satisfied customers than lots of dissatisfied ones. If the reviewer is a professional then they’ll have been articulate about what they did and didn’t like – the important thing about a review is not finding out if a game is good or bad, it’s finding out whether it’s a good game for you. Hell I’ve backed projects because of bad reviews, when I know that one reviewers “Too complicated” is my “Just right”. You also have a duty to the reviewer, they took your crappy prototype with paper flaking off the counters, played it, understood it and wrote about it in detail in order to give you an honest opinion and you’d repay it by driving traffic to their competitors? That’s not cool and it encourages dishonest reviewing and it drives a wedge between you and a reviewer who might have championed your next game (and no they didn’t start it by not liking your game, people are allowed to not like your game).
What to do instead: Own it. Stick it up there with the others, it might hurt a little in the short term, but it’s a long term gain. Besides, Kickstarter isn’t for entirely finished projects – perhaps something that they didn’t like is a thing you can do something about. When a reviewer says to me “This game starts too damn slowly”, I go “Alright then, can I cook up some fast start rules that work without undermining the things that made other gamers fall in love with the thing.”
4. Set a high funding goal.
Why it’s a mistake: Campaigns with high goals don’t get funded. Even when they do they’d probably have overfunded by more if they’d started with a smaller goal. Besides, it seems like pretty much everyone is lowballing the goal these days, there are plenty of projects that clearly couldn’t be made if they hit their minimum funding goal – unless they’re importing their components from magical fairy land.
Why it’s desirable: If you do only just fund you’ve made a promise that you can’t keep. Now you need to cancel the campaign when it’s clearly going to fund (bad!), create the game at a loss (bad!) or fail to deliver on your promises with a funded Kickstarter (worse!). Even if it does work out your backers will expect economy of scale based stretch goals before you’re out of the loss zone. That’s asking for trouble.
What to do instead: Find the level of funding at which it’s worth having run the Kickstarter. All of the money that you’ve spent on art is gone and not coming back. The man hours that went into playtesting and designing the thing aren’t coming back. Even the cash you blew on making the perfect pitch video is gone forever. There will be a (fairly large) band of funding in which you lose money overall, but still wind up better off than if you hadn’t run the Kickstarter campaign at all. A goal in that band means that successfully funding is always a good thing, but will still be low enough not to scare everyone away.
3. Play fair with stretch goals.
Why it’s a mistake: Kickstarter is full of suckers! You can make your campaign much more likely to fund by abusing them. Take core components out of the game and add them in as stretch goals later! Invent stretch goals that cost dramatically less than the efficiency savings once you get a lot of backers! Set stretch goal levels based on what you think you can get, rather than what they reasonably cost to do. Playing fair could turn a funded campaign into a failed campaign, but taking advantage of your backers in just the right way not only leads to funding, but grants an extra boon: People will thank you for doing it.
Why it’s desirable: Remember why you’re doing this – is it because you want to screw people out of their money or because you love games and want to contribute something to a hobby that’s enriched your life? Besides, making the best game you possibly can on the money that you’re given can only carry the campaign further. It’s also good to tie your stretch goals to specific quotes from the manufacturer, more than one creator has been burned by putting stretch goals “Where the backers will go for them” rather than “Where we know we can afford it”.
What to do instead: When you get quotes from the manufacturer, ask for quotes with some extra components, extra cards, extra pieces, component upgrades. Then find tipping point for where the extra cost per unit is less than the drop in cost per unit for making a large number of copies and work out how many backers you’d need for a print run of that size. That way you don’t accidently ruin yourself, can offer generous rewards to backers and still do well if you get lots of support (since your margin per game has stayed the same and you’re moving more games). If you need to fill in some stretch goal gaps so that there aren’t barren wastes, look for upgrades that don’t impact your cost per unit – where could you spend a hundred pounds on art to create a stretch goal without impacting your per-unit printing costs? There’s a reason that alternate art upgrades are so popular.
2. Avoid sexy miniatures.
Why it’s a mistake: Sex sells, there are bucket loads of projects that owe their success to having miniatures that men want to sleep with. Well, presumably what they want is to shrink themselves down to 28mm scale, bring the model to life, grant it an unplasticy fleshy texture and then sleep with it. Ah! Kickstarter truly is the place for dreamers. The point is that sufficiently sexy minis are a license to print money.
Why it’s desirable: The world finds 10,000 small ways to tell women daily that they have no value beyond their bodies and that those bodies belong to one who wants them. Do you really want to be number 10,001? Yes it’s a small thing, but most of the big problems in the world are made up of lots of small ones. Besides, the gamer demographic isn’t as male or as stupid as it is treated as being, I don’t think this makes such a big difference as it appears. Even if it does, that will be in part due to a meta culture of gaming that we should not be proud of and that is already changing. One day buzzfeed will publish its list of “12 old timey games that prove how backwards people were in the 2010s” being featured is not something to aspire towards.
What to do instead: Make interesting characters, draw on all of the exciting people that you’ve met and be sure to add twists that distinguish your character from ‘Generic Warrior #14’. These things will suggest a diverse array of styles and images and your game will be so much stronger for it (This loops back as well, as form implies function and the design space for alternate mechanics opens up). I’m not saying that you have to make ‘Formless Jumpsuit Marshmellow People, the Game’ – if you wind up with a handful of attractive characters then that’s fine, but don’t make them what you’re selling the game on (are you so underconfident in the quality of your game?), instead make them attractive on their own terms, since more people like playing characters that are who they want to be than that are objects that others would want them to be. The world will be a very tiny bit better and the game will be much better.
1. Don’t buy advertisements for your campaign
Why it’s a mistake: Build it and they will come is a lie, the Kickstarter stats on how many people find your project through the Kickstarter page are notoriously misleading. You could have the perfect game and the perfect pitch, but if nobody comes to look at the page it’s all for nothing. You need to advertise your campaign or it will fail.
Why it’s desirable: Every penny that you spend advertising the game is a penny that went into the costs of making the game (and therefore its price) that did not in any way improve the game. It is one of the perversions of the modern world that advertising is effective to the point that worse products will trump better products because they spent a smaller proportion of their income on making the product any good. The goal of a game designer is to get the best possible game into the hands of as many gamers as possible, paying for advertising stands against this goal.
What to do instead: To some extent it is a necessary evil, but there is so much that you can do to minimise its impact. If you must pay, don’t pay facebook or google, channel that money into sites that you love that help to support the board gaming hobby – the money might not be making your game better, but if it makes board gaming better as a whole that feels good. Better yet, spend the money on making the game better and use the better-bits as advertising. Rather than spending £100 on an ad, spend £100 on a sweet art upgrade for the game and make it a social media stretch goal “Share this KS 500 times and you all get the art upgrade.” You spend the same amount, still get the advertising, but then as an added bonus can also use it to make the game better – everyone wins! Just make sure they’re genuine extras rather than things you already intended for the core game.
Another option is to find ways to spread the word that don’t cost you anything. Reviews are great for this (assuming that the game you’ve made is any good) so get your game in front of as many reviewers as possible. Also embrace the notion of making gaming better, if you’re contributing to communities, running local events or creating design resources then the people who benefit from that will be there for you when you launch your campaign. You can also look to do things that serve to advertise your game in the run up to your campaign, that also contribute something and make someone’s life a little easier. For instance a lot of regular content creators like to take a rest once in a while, so if you volunteer to write a guest post! They’ll appreciate the break, you can share something that you think is worthwhile with an audience and they normally won’t mind if you plug your game at the end of the post.
Speaking of which: Back my game? It’s about making mistakes productively too!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top five mistakes and how to make them. It’s always seemed to me that success is about failing with style. Life is trickier than games in that there really aren’t any hard and fast rules for doing it right, but hopefully these at least waggle their eyebrows suggestively in the right direction. Happy gaming everyone!