Lesson #1 – Mistakes From My First Kickstarter Campaign

I am fairly new to the board game publishing world and have run 3 successful Kickstarter campaigns in the past two years (Dino Dude Ranch, Dirigible Disaster, Ph. D. The Game). I figure it is time that I reflect back on some of my experiences in order to pass some knowledge that I have gained on to anyone else who might be interested in doing the same. I already have the first 4-5 posts planned for this blog and will try to post new ones as often as I can. This first post is going to touch on what I consider are some of the biggest mistakes I made when running my first campaign (Spoiler Alert: I plan to discuss my experiences with EU friendly shipping in my second post).

Although the first Kickstarter campaign that I ran funded successfully, there are a lot of things that I wish I had done differently for that campaign. In this post, I will explore many of the things that I thought I did wrong in running the campaign and what I would do differently now. At the end, I will also touch on some of the positive aspects of running the campaign as well.

My first Kickstarter campaign at a glance ^

Here is the TL;DR version of what I felt I did wrong. It will be expanded below, but if you need a quick list of DON’Ts, I have generously bulleted it out for you!

  • I had no art completed – all royalty free/public domain clip art
  • I had no third party reviews.
  • I did no pre-campaign marketing
  • I overpriced the game and my International shipping costs were too high

I had NO art completed ^

You heard me correctly; I had zero art completed for this campaign. I went into it in the true spirit of crowdfunding, needing the money to fund EVERYTHING required to finish the product. I needed both money for printing and money for the artwork. All of my campaigns after this campaign have had at least some, if not all, of the art complete in order to not only stand out amongst the many games on Kickstarter but also to give backers a visual sense of what they might be receiving. Luckily, I still had many people find the campaign that were able to see the game underneath the ugly skin I had pasted on it and believe that I would deliver a quality end-product. With the funds raised from the campaign, I was able to complete art for the entire game and deliver a much better product than I was able to showcase on the campaign page. However, a lot has changed in the last few years and I do not think this would happen very often these days. Many creators just slap ideas on Kickstarter without an understanding of what it takes to deliver their product properly. With no art done on a game from a brand new creator, I would have red flags being waved all over the place with concern that the project will not come to completion and the game would not be successfully delivered. In my case, I knew I would be able to get it together enough to make sure this did not happen to my project and I luckily had backers who believed in me as well. However, I really wish I had spent more time and money on final product development before launch.

I had NO reviews ^

So I went into my first campaign unknown to anybody who would be checking out my campaign page, with no backers lined up to back on first day, and with ZERO third party reviews. I had a few comments from play testers that were nice enough to leave comments about the game, but I had nothing from well-known third party reviewers.  This was a major oversight on my part. I will be honest that I do not typically watch a lot of the reviews on campaigns that I back…BUT I still find a comfort in knowing third party reviews are there and that the creator not only spent the time to develop a game they felt was complete enough to send to a reviewer, but that they had enough confidence in it to send it to a complete stranger for assessment. I wish I had sent the game out to reviewers prior to launching in order to showcase my project and exude the confidence I had in it being a complete game mechanics-wise even though the art was incomplete.

I did no pre-campaign marketing ^

I had very little presence prior to my first campaign, so nobody knew who I was. I had maybe 50 people following me on twitter, about 30 likes on my facebook page, and no online/social media presence. I had contributed very little to the online board game community at the time, connected with very few people in the business, and really just threw myself out there hoping to connect with people. I also paid for zero ads aimed at my target demographic, and I had performed zero demos. I did not play this game with any strangers at all. I have obviously since learned the value of blind playtesting and demoing games at cons and events in order to better develop the game and bring an audience to the game before the Kickstarter launch. I also make sure to budget some advertising into my campaigns now and I have worked hard to make great relationships with people in the online boardgame and kickstarter communities. There are so many great groups on facebook (including board game design, publishing, and kickstarter related groups) and so many great live-chats on twitter (like board game hour and Kickstarter hour) that have been extremely helpful in my development as a publisher and creator. I have also been able to pass on some of the lessons I have learned these last few years as well, to hopefully help others be more successful and to avoid making some of the same mistakes that I have.  I highly suggest connecting with any and all of these groups that might be of interest to you as well.

I overpriced the game ^

I went way overboard in the pricing of the game. I blame the over-pricing of the game both on lack of experience and being worried that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill a quality, art-complete project on anything less. The game is comprised of 89 poker-sized cards, a rules document, and a two-piece telescoping box and I priced it at $30 (I probably should have been right around $20). I was an unknown publisher/designer with a game that had zero art and I was asking for what I feel is too much for a game of this type. I am extremely grateful that backers found my project was interesting enough to back it but if I had a do over, reducing the price is the first thing I would edit on this project. Had there been a lower price point I believe more people would have taken a chance on the new and unknown creator I was at the time.
DISCLAIMER: DO NOT UNDERPRICE YOUR GAME EITHER, UNDERPRICING WILL LEAD TO YOU RUNNING OUT OF MONEY AND NOT FULFILLING YOUR CAMPAIGN.
Not only did I overprice the game, but my international shipping was also quite expensive. It was an additional $18 on top of the $30 pledge for the game ($48 total for game with international shipping). This is not due to me trying to make money on the shipping as well, but due to the fact that I did not research less expensive delivery methods. I used a flat rate priority quote price (which internationally was around $26 at the time (and I had about $8 factored into the $30 pledge for US shipping). Although the $18 I was charging was necessary for the method of delivery I was using, I should have found less expensive methods for fulfillment in order to be more appealing to potential international backers. In my two successful campaigns following Ph. D. The Game (that were both larger in size and weight), I have provided EU friendly fulfillment using Ideaspatcher at rates lower than what I paid to deliver this game. My second blog post is going to be a detailed description of my experiences using EU friendly fulfillment. If this topic is of interest to you, be sure to check it out!

The pros ^

Although I dropped the ball on a lot of aspects during the Ph. D. The Game campaign, I was able to still pull through, deliver a product that backers were happy with (and on time!) and start to create relationships with backers that would build my community and be there for me in my future projects. Here are some of the things that I actually did right during the campaign
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I made some great connections and had amazing conversations with strangers who could relate to the story in my game. I took the time to connect with each backer, messaging them all upon backing the project, and I thoughtfully addressed concerns and answered messages.  Although I had a relatively small number of backers, I definitely felt like I was creating a great community. These connections were by far my favorite part of the entire process.

I learned a lot about Kickstarter. I learned about what backers do and do not like. I learned about creating and managing surveys. I learned about being a creator and publisher who uses Kickstarter as their main platform for funding game production.

I learned a lot about the developmental process that would carry over into my bigger campaigns. With the funds that I received from the game, I was able to coordinate art, print over 100 games, and coordinate delivery to all of the backers. Learning these techniques on a smaller scale allowed me to get a grasp on these aspects before deciding to tackle bigger/more involved projects.

I started small. I cannot stress this enough. Using The Gamecrafter and having a low goal on a smaller, less intensive game was a great way to get my foot in the door of the online kickstarter community. Although I have not used Print-On-Demand services for either of my successful campaigns after this one, I was very glad I chose to do this for my first campaign. I was able to have a lower goal which was part of the reason why I was able to fund even though I had made so many mistakes. I was also able to allow the Game Crafter to do my fulfillment for me using their Bulk Order Fulfillment services. I was able to learn how to manage the surveys and responses while not having to stress about the actual fulfilling myself. They did all of the work on the fulfillment end for me and saved me a lot of time and trouble.

I have tried to use every campaign that I run as a learning tool for my next project. I have been able to increase my level of funding and backer count for each successive project and I owe a lot of it to spending the time to learn. I spend countless hours assessing my old campaigns as well as reading Kickstarter related blogs (like Jamey Stegmaier’s, James Mathe’s, or Genius Games’). I feel like my goal should always be to learn from my (and other’s mistakes) and use those to better myself and my campaigns. I always want to see myself doing better and showing growth as a creator.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, I hope it was helpful! Be sure to check out my next entry on my experience performing EU friendly fulfillment. If you have any topics you would like me to discuss in future posts, please feel free to connect with me and let me know!

This lesson was originally posted on Dan’s Blog: Lesson #1.
Header photo: Pencil by Laddir Laddir (CC-2.0-BY)

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