Was your campaign radioactive?

We got lots of comments about Dan’s Lesson #12: 4 Reasons Your Campaign Failed. The list was not intended as exhaustive. Today, Fairway throws his hat into the ring (of fire) with the question: Was your campaign radioactive? And he explores a list of 4 Other Reasons Your Campaign Failed.

To recap quickly, Dan’s four points are simple: you didn’t bring your audience, your game and campaign didn’t stand out, you weren’t selling your game, and you didn’t have outside validation.  For new designers and publishers, in particular, these are pretty critical mistakes, but they’re easy to fix and identify.

There are other more subtle mistakes that are often invisible to first-time creators and cause great consternation when pointed out. But more importantly, these mistakes can be radioactive. They’ll keep more sophisticated backers away from your campaign and may be other reasons your campaign failed or under-performed.

You didn’t do your homework ☢️ ^

This issue can rear its ugly head in a bunch of ways that may not be apparent to you, especially if this is your first campaign. But they’re noticeable to backers who are familiar with the pattern of seeing campaigns that look too good to be true (or the opposite). In all of these cases, campaigns that haven’t done their homework will not instill confidence for backers, raise unwanted questions, and put creators on the defensive.

Your funding goal.  Setting an insane funding goal is the first one. While funding goals can be all over the place, backers have an instinct for reasonable ones and setting it too high or too low sends terrible signals. In either case, it likely means you don’t really have a good grasp on your true production and fulfillment costs. You need to get multiple production quotes. You need the numbers for various production runs like 500, 1000 or 2000 units. You need to then back into a number that makes sense.  I created a helpful estimator that lets you fill in numbers and get ballparks.

The typical advice is that you should be able to bring between 20 and 30% of your necessary backers on day one.  So start doing the math right away. How many game-tier backers will it take to get to that threshold. Is that reasonable?

Your “total unit price.”  You have to know what the board game market will pay for your game. Selling an 18 card micro game for $30 shipped is a non-starter for most games. And with each passing $10 (US) threshold, the further away from an impulse purchase it becomes. The question you need to answer is pretty simple: compared to games already on the market, is your price competitive?

Overstating things. I’m sure this one will draw fire, but it’s all too common to see campaigns use words like “first ever” or “unique” or “a totally new idea.” The truth is, that’s rarely the case. These claims are often demonstrably false and often call into question the designer’s experience and preparation. It signals that the designer doesn’t have much experience and didn’t do the basic research on the game itself.  Instead of making these claims, focus on what makes your game good. If you don’t, you’ll be fending off criticisms often and early. No one wants to be in that position.

Not knowing the market/audience. Again, Kickstarter is a sales platform. Part of that sales pitch has to be understanding who the audience for your game is. Your party game’s audience is not everyone or every gamer. No one’s audience is everyone. So you need to figure out who that audience is before you launch. You should be tailoring your campaign page to appeal to that audience. Similarly, you need to understand where your game fits in the board game market, how big that market is, and what is the reasonable price for that market.

You tried to copy Exploding Kittens [or other big other campaign] ☢️ ^

This is a card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats.
Picture from the Exploding Kitten campaign.

Exploding Kittens raised crazy money. So did Kingdom Death: Monster. So have hundreds of other high-profile campaigns. Trying to structure your campaign to be just like those is a fool’s errand. They often succeed for vastly different reasons than the reasons your campaign will. And you shouldn’t try to draw too many lessons from those.

In fact, a good number of pretender campaigns suffer because things that appear to make those campaigns successful are actually detrimental to regular ones.  Those include:

Merchandise. I get it. It seems like an easy way to add a few dollars to the bottom line. The consequences of doing it are weird: it probably complicates your funding goal math, it consumes valuable page space, it complicates fulfillment, and gives the appearance you’re not focusing on the right things. What’s more, there are few new campaigns based on new ideas that will garner a fan base that will want to wear your game art for twenty or thirty bucks. But if you’re going to do it, do it after the campaign. Use a pledge manager and capture those orders then.

Insanity-level tiers.  Offering $1000+ tiers on your first campaign promising things like dinner or flights or sign whoozits only make new campaigns look foolish. What’s more, they’re ripe for abuse: a backer who picks it up on day one only to cancel on day two will make your numbers appear to crater (links to a recent example). Offer these tiers only if you know the person who’ll back that one safely.

Money-off, Early Bird Tiers. The “early bird” theory is that you hope to snag more random backers with a promise of some discount. It might work. But it really sets up a terrible dynamic for your other backers. First, it gives the impression that the real cost is something less than what the late comers will pay. Second, early bird bumps can probably more easily be offset by just bringing your audience in the first place (and at the actual price). Third, backers just looking for a deal aren’t likely to be as invested in your campaign as backers you can legitimately bring. And, finally, an exodus of those early bird backers at the end of a campaign, for whatever reason, can destroy the final 48-hour momentum and lower your dollars raised as later backers try to snatch those places.

Kickstarter exclusives. Exclusives work (and are arguably necessary) where a publisher is expected to release a game widely at retail. If you’re doing less than a 5000 unit run, that’s probably not you. What’s more, it makes the logistics all that more difficult. It’s cheaper and easier to just get a whole bunch of the same thing when manufacturing. It also raises some serious questions about the design and other factors (how is it that you can just remove components for some games?).  While some backers do look for “exclusives” their absence is unlikely to deter them. And yet others recognize that it likely means complications and delays. Just don’t do it.

Exploding Kittens’ social media goals.

Game-affecting social media goals. You know the ones: “share the campaign 500 times and we’ll add a new card.” The problem is that these appear more as gimmicks–that you’re holding something hostage that you’d otherwise add in the base game anyway.  It also seriously has a risk of backfiring. Think about it this way, you’re asking people to share your campaign with a threat of holding a game asset (usually an existing one) hostage. It’s also setting your backers up for disappointment when you fail.

Holding back necessary things for stretch goals.  That said, stretch goals are great and can be a way to keep an energized group of backers. In theory, the “unexpected” number of backers/funding can help fuel improvements to the game. There’s a lot of planning that goes into these.

Stretch goal to add arguably necessary art to a campaign.

But if you want to instantly create detractors then withhold a necessary part of the base game as a stretch goal. A classic example is improving the art or adding adding to things that really ought to have it.  Instead, set a goal at the best possible version of your game you’d consider complete.

The other issue with creating game-affecting stretch goals: backer disappointment can be real.

Backer who canceled just because he thought we wouldn’t snag the last stretch

Once a stretch goal is revealed, backers expect it. Some might even drop if it doesn’t look like a game will get them all. It happened to me: this backer dropped from the campaign at the mere thought we might not pick up the last stretch goal — we did get it by the way. The risk of losing real backers goes up if the game doesn’t look complete without the stretch goals.

You made it too hard to click “back” ☢️ ^

As a creator, you should make the decision to back your campaign easy. You don’t want to give backers a reason to stop the buying process. Your campaign may have failed because it created unnecessary barriers to backing it.

choices photo
Which door has the game?

Paradox of Choice.  The issue most commonly comes up when new creators create huge numbers of tiers: a $1 tier, a $5 PnP tier, a merchandise tier, a game tier, a deluxe tier, a game and game mat tier, a deluxe game and mat tier, a custom card tier, a meet the designer tier, and on and on. Stop. There’s no better illustration of the Paradox of Choice than Kickstarter. The more tiers you have, the more confusing your campaign is for the buyer and the more likely they’ll just not back it. Keep it simple. Make it easy to pick the right door.

“Hidden” shipping? The issue manifests itself when your campaign isn’t clear about shipping costs.  No one likes to click “back” and see the price increase. It’s less of an issue with some changes on the Kickstarter interface, but being surprised by shipping will cause some backers to rethink the decision.

Add-ons & Stretch Goals. It should be crystal clear what’s in or out. If you make it hard to figure what’s in or out of the base price, you’re just adding a barrier to a backer. Be crystal clear. This is especially true for stretch goals and add-ons.

You didn’t take (or get) feedback ☢️ ^

feedback photo
Photo by cogdogblog

Receiving feedback and criticism is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. But if you’re launching a Kickstarter, now isn’t the time to be thin-skinned. In both your game and campaign, get input early. Ask for comments and critiques. But the point isn’t to just publicize your game (or campaign) in search of praise. You need to work with the feedback, not dismiss it.

On your game. Before you launch, you need to have your game played. You need critical feedback from playtesters, blind playtesters, and, ultimately, reviewers. It’s usually clear on campaigns when a creator didn’t do the work ahead of time and is just crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

On your campaign. It is a very common occurrence on Kickstarter Facebook groups for a new creator to post a preview link and ask for “comments or thoughts?”, but then to immediately get defensive of dismissive of often well-founded critiques. But the board game community is an interesting beast, it knows and loves board game Kickstarters. It knows the signs of terrible campaigns. It is also incredibly helpful with a deep bench of designers and publishers who have run successful campaigns. If they’re taking the time to provide feedback, take it in.

During your campaign. Believe me, backers have lots of thoughts and opinions. If someone backed your project and offering thoughtful commentary, it’s probably worthwhile to listen. Why? Because that person is already invested in your campaign and invested enough to want to help. Let them. Be thoughtful about how you integrate that feedback.  But if you’re not at least listening to your backers, you’re doing it wrong.

Conclusion ^

Kickstarter campaigns are hard. I mean really hard. You shouldn’t make them harder by making your campaign radioactive. You do not want to be put in the position of addressing unwanted questions. You don’t want to be re-calibrating shipping options five days into the campaign. You want to focus on the good, the fun, and the excitement.

5 thoughts on “Was your campaign radioactive?”

  1. Stretch goals seem like an interesting beast. If you have them, it can entice people to share the project to help it reach that goal. But, if you do have them, backers might be put off if you don’t reach all of them. I assume the best approach then is to just show the next stretch goal, revealing the next when one is unlocked, and not reveal your entire hand?

    1. For my campaign, I let people know that there were some coming, but didn’t reveal them unless I thought it was a possibility. I did it slowly too.

      I think it’s pretty common for creators now only to reveal one or two at the start (or near the time of funding) and then stagger them depending on the uptake.

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