One Kickstarter down! But...
Our First Kickstarter was Successful. What we did right and what we did wrong.
Wow, Kickstarter is great! Wow, Kickstarter is stressful! Wow, Kickstarter is REALLY stressful! But yeah, it’s also really great!
By Mark Stogdill
A year ago, I was almost entirely unfamiliar with the Kickstarter community, understanding only in basic premise what it was and how it worked but I had more questions than answers. Are you selling products? Are you raising capital? Are you basically GoFundMe-ing your business with random strangers? What I have come to realize through the process of starting this endeavor and launching our first campaign is that Kickstarter is a beautiful, and at times brutal, network for bringing your creative visions to life by getting people who either care about you or your product to pledge support so that said product can become reality.
It’s almost criminally simplistic in what it offers to creators but at the same time navigating its world to success has layers of complication that I hadn’t even dreamed of. Things like backer momentum, stretch goal incentives, add-ons, product reviews, quality campaign layouts, video content, and more all add (or potentially subtract) from your odds of successful. When we started, I hadn’t even heard of a stretch goal. Now, 2 months from the launch of our 2nd Kickstarter, having an optimized stretch goal strategy takes up way more real estate in my brain then one would imagine.
Having now run a successful campaign (thank you backers!) what did we learn? Well, since we are sitting here awaiting the first production run of Per My Last Email, made possible by our backers, I think we probably did more things right than wrong. Still, the things we did wrong haunt me a bit as we prepare for our next campaign. So, without further ado, here’s what I think we did wrong:
Per My Last Email is a card game which translates essentially to this: making a minimum run of the game was relatively cheap. We were trying not to just raise the funds to make the game, but we were trying to recoup some sunken costs and in retrospect that was a mistake. A higher goal meant it negatively stretched out our funding percentage analytics, possibly giving potential on-the-fence backers pause, as there was a real threat we wouldn’t fund. It seems that backers are drawn to projects where they have some level of expectation that the project will fund and they will ultimately get the product.
I’m sure we lost some backers because our campaign dragged out (we hit funding with 8 hours to go, phew!). Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier Games writes a great blog about this which you can read here: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-7-the-funding-goal/
In fact, read everything Jamey blogs about regarding his Kickstarter experience. (the full list is here) https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter/full-list-chronological/
No one provides better in-depth analysis of the entire Kickstarter process than Jamey (plus he makes great games). His view on assessing how much risk you can tolerate rings true now as I reflect back. We should have taken a little more risk. Too much of Kickstarter relies on momentum and a lower funding goal would have helped that.
One of the concerns that looms large for us as we approach the next Kickstarter is: Do we have a large enough community of people following us? The answer to that at the time of this writing is probably not, but during the Per My Last Email campaign it was patently NO, NO WE DON’T. In hindsight it’s amazing we did fund Per My Last Email given the truncated prep time we gave ourselves in lead up to the campaign. We will discuss this more in a blog about the development of PMLE down the road but the bottom line was we would have benefitted from more time to build up interest.
Per My Last Email is a very good game (I’m sure this is true, my mom said so and I believe her) but it didn’t lend itself to some of the important aspects of Kickstarter. It wasn’t a game designed for a lot of visuals or artwork that would act as sort of set pieces. The graphic work that our designer Tori Snyder did was amazing and the primary piece of artwork (the frantic and funny office scene) is still one of my favorite pieces we’ve made to date, but it’s still not a “visual” game and that hurt us. It also wasn’t a game that lent itself well to stretch goals. We only had one, it was set far too high and it wasn’t unlocked. The add-ons were pretty good. We had a great commercial made for it we still use and the campaign itself looks professional (in our opinion at least). Still, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and if we decide to launch an expansion of PMLE on Kickstarter in the future our focus will be building a campaign that plays better to the Kickstarter community.
Making any product requires a lot of effort, focused in a lot of areas, from a lot of people. We understood this was work and we put the work in. We did all the research we could on manufacturing and fulfilment and spent considerable time putting together our distribution network. We had a thoroughly researched marketing plan. We got playtest copies out to reviewers. We had our whole delivery strategy set to go before the bell rung. We worked hard to make sure we were READY to make a product and I think that helped us quite a bit when we realized we actually WERE going to be making this product.
Leading up to and every day during the campaign we posted on social media, reached out to people in our personal networks and looked for ways to connect with our target audience. We posted 11 updates during the campaign (maybe even too many) to constantly thank our backers and let them know where we stood every step of the way. Whenever we received a comment we replied quickly and thoroughly. Whenever we were tagged somewhere we made sure to comment or to engage in the conversation. Backers in the Kickstarter community enjoy connecting with the creators they back and we enjoyed connecting with them. It’s a crucial and enjoyable step in the process and proved to be very important.
Kickstarter is a rare beast in the world of product creation. It has unique abilities and requires special weapons to hunt, so to speak. You’re creating a project, you want to bring it to life, you want to raise the funds to make it real, not all the funds you raise translate to copies of your product, but most do, so it’s kind of like selling a product, but not really at all, etc, etc, etc. Some Kickstarter gurus will probably disagree with this but you need to advertise, at least a little. If you don’t have the community (see Things Wrong #2) you need to get eyeballs on your campaign. You need to draw people in and that breaks down into converting views to pledges. It’s different than traditional product marketing but the same as well. Luckily this isn’t our first rodeo and we understood the importance of good digitals ads and where to place them to get efficiency and we did it on a relatively small budget. My partner Brian worked in sales and advertising for a long time successfully and for some pretty big businesses. So, we definitely weren’t noobs. I let Brian do his thing and watched and watched to his annoyance, threw in my two cents everywhere I could, driving him crazy I’m sure. But the end result was we had hundreds of strangers pledge their money for our product and we hit our goal. We got the eyeballs on it that we needed.