Lesson #5 – Interview with Mike Wokasch about building his audience for his first KS campaign, Starving Artists!

In Lesson #5, Dan interviews Mike Wokasch (of Fairway 3 Games) and co-founder of The Indie Game Report.  Dan asks about Mike’s Starving Artists campaign, how he did his pre-launch marketing, how he handled a very engaged backer community, and a bunch of other things. 

A friend of mine, Mike Wokasch of Fairway 3 Games, just recently ran his first Kickstarter campaign and absolutely crushed it. His campaign succeeded unbelievably well and I figured that instead of posting a normal post this week, I would do an interview with him to talk about how he built up and engaged an audience for his first campaign!

Dan: First off, tell me about Starving Artists: the game, the campaign, and its successes:

Mike: Starving Artists is a paint-by-cube, set collection and time and resource management game. Players are trying to become world famous, paint-by-cube artists. They need to collect paint cubes, buy blank canvases, and sell their completed paintings for more paint cubes, points and, most importantly, food.
One of the biggest draws to the game is that players collect transparent, acrylic cubes and then apply the proper combination of them to great works of art.

The Kickstarter just ended and was successful beyond my wildest dreams.  We raised more than $50,000 and had more than 1300 backers.

Check out this related TIGR story

Cassie’s Learn to Play: Starving Artists
Welcome to the learn to play video for Starving Artists. You may find specific sections of this Introduction: 0:28 Setup and overview: 1:24 Round examples: 9:18 Variants: 15:54 Junior Version Solo Version: 17:21 [embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp5VZJ8etUY[/embedyt] Don't forget to Music Intro and outro: Rainbow Street by Scott Holmes... read more...

Yeah, it overfunded to about 419%, right? That is amazing, congratulations!!  So this was your first campaign, can you tell me a little bit about the experience. Were you nervous?

I’m still nervous—there’s a lot to do yet even though it’s over. There were moments before clicking launch that I told myself I didn’t have to do it. There were times during the campaign when all I could do was watch my campaign page.
The whole experience was a bit surreal.
On the whole, I like to think that I ran a very charmed campaign. I had greater backers who were engaged and supportive. I had a ton of backer interaction that is pretty uncommon based even on my own experience as a backer. It was both fantastic and exhausting at the same time.

The campaign page can suck you in like a black hole, you just watch the funding waiting for it to change!  It is also nice to have such great interactions with your backers, which is probably my favorite part of the whole process to be honest.  What I would really like to focus on though is how you built such a great audience for your first campaign. How long had you been prepping for the campaign?

I’d like to take credit for it, but that’s probably not fair. There was part luck involved here. I knew the game itself was pretty special from my very first playtests. The aesthetic of acrylic cubes on great works had a very interesting draw.
Based on that aesthetic, I was able to get a lot of impressions and eyeballs just based on beautiful pictures of the game.
I also had a lot of help from Ryan at The Inquisitive Meeple. I originally sent a copy of the game to be reviewed, but I got way more than a review. Ryan became a huge fan and an integral part of the community engagement.
The game came out of a contest at The Game Crafter from last fall.  The game has been in constant development since then. I started seriously advertising the game as a potential Kickstarter about four months before I launched. I was sharing the preview page at every opportunity I could get. A few folks on Twitter noticed and retweeted.

Yeah, some people like to play their campaigns close to the hip, keeping it a secret until just before launch.  I think that you showed that you really need to get people wanting it early on so you can steadily build an audience leading up to the campaign.  Was there anything else you did to help build your audience?

I’ve been participating in the Board Game community a lot. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter. I am a regular in the chat on The Game Crafter. I write reviews now for The Inquisitive Meeple.
I also took this game to both Protospiels and conventions where I play tested and demoed it. I also had occasions to play the game at my local game shops.

I got lucky too. A few good mentions from influential members of the board game community, including Dice Tower News and Stephanie Straw certainly helped build interest in the game.

Yeah that certainly does help. Of all of the people I interact with online, I must say that you are probably one of the most active on all formats (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). I am guessing that it helped having people know that you put out quality content and were a contributing member to the community, so it initially got them to look at your page a little closer.

Ok so you made a great presence prior to the campaign, but how did you ensure that all of the people you were engaging would be there in the first few days to back the campaign and give it the solid foundation it needed? 

That’s a fantastic question. First, I didn’t launch until I thought that I had roughly 20% of the necessary backers. That meant I needed about $3000 or approximately 100 backers.  I think I got that in a few hours.

Second, while I shunned more traditional “early bird” things, I gave my community a reason to back early. Backers got to help pick ten of the canvases that would up in the game.  If you didn’t back, you didn’t get to vote. And it turned out, people are really passionate about their art.
This was a bit of a gamble. I’ve seen a bunch of campaigns try to do something similar and fail. But I had a great community that was engaged and made voting worthwhile.

Third, over time and somewhat by happenstance, the backers also got involved in the design of aspects of the game. There were great debates about things I should change. I made many of those changes. And I shared them with regular updates.

Those are all great things to do for sure.  It seems like every decision you made for the campaign was done so while keeping your backers’ interest front and center.

The Starving Artists format provided some real opportunity to do interesting things that most campaigns can’t. I had a world of “free” art to choose from. And I really wanted to capitalize on that and let the backers enjoy those opportunities too. So, I had the first portion of the campaign mapped out, including the content for the first three or so updates, in a way that I thought would keep backers coming for updates and the interaction.
As a result of all of the interest, though, it was a very exhausting approach to a campaign. Which was certainly a “good problem” to have.

What do you think were the best things you did to not only draw a crowd but to engage them with your campaign as well.

Two things seem to draw people and keep them engaged. First, I’m offering a custom card creator. As if 92 cards wasn’t enough, people seem to love the idea that they can print their own cards and include them within the game.
Second, I mentioned above: the backer voting. I was getting a lot of input right away. By the end of the campaign, I was getting hundreds of comments on the updates.  And they weren’t just “votes” on the canvases but conversations about the game. People got very attached to their picks.

Many people say things like “Big publishers are ruining Kickstarter for the little guys” (which I do not agree with) and they mention it is getting harder and harder for first time campaigners.  What do you think about this? This was your first campaign and you did better than most games I see on Kickstarter.

Anecdotally based on the number of backers I shared with massive campaigns (like Tak and Dresden Files) that were running at the same time, I disagree with the entire sentiment. I think they’re drawing larger crowds and bringing new people to a platform. People forget that there’s a barrier for new backers: sign up, nervousness about non-fulfillment, etc. Large, successful campaigns from “big publishers” means there’s probably more second-time or third-time backers.

I’m also not viewing myself as competing with those properties either. The likelihood that someone who was going to back a big campaign would have backed mine if it hadn’t been running seems like wishful thinking.
Also, again anecdotally, there were a few first-time campaigns running at the same time as Starving Artists (Sol and Salt Lands) that had bigger campaigns than mine.
If you’re a new publisher worried about the influx of big publishers into Kickstarter, then you’re probably worrying about the wrong things.
I agree. As you should be bringing the bulk of your audience to your campaign, the only thing big publishers are going to do is bring more backers to the platform anyway. I just wanted to get your take on it as well!

Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions.  Is there anything we did not cover that you would like to touch on?  Also, if anyone missed the campaign, where can they get more information on Starving Artists?

You can get more information and pre-order a copy, which includes all of the stretch goals and will be less than MSRP, by visiting www.starvingartistsgame.com. You can also send me a message on Twitter @fairway3games where I’m pretty quick to respond.  I’ve also been posting a bunch of pictures of Starving Artists in action if you’re curious.

Thanks to anyone who is reading this, I hope it helps you in your endeavors. Please leave comments and suggest future topics!  Also, consider signing up to be notified whenever we add new posts and please connect with us on social media as we love to talk games!

This lesson was originally posted on Dan’s Blog: Lesson #5.
Header photo: Pencil by Laddir Laddir (CC-2.0-BY)

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