10 Better Reasons than KS Exclusives to Back a Kickstarter Project

27 October 2014

Before I get to today’s entry, I want to thank the amazing group of St. Louis gamers who played games with us today at our Extra Life game day at Arch Reactor. We told everyone that Stonemaier Games would match every donation dollar to dollar, which resulted in a total gift to the Children’s Miracle Network of hospitals (specifically the St. Louis Children’s Hospital) of $738. I am so, so thankful to be part of such an amazing gaming community in St. Louis and beyond.

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tokens on boxThe other day I was in some random conversation on Twitter about Kickstarter, and someone mentioned that they flat-out wouldn’t support a Kickstarter project (specifically a tabletop game project) if it didn’t have exclusive content. The person mentioned the exclusive resources in Euphoria as an example.

I replied to say that while I love the resources in Euphoria and I appreciate that they eventually blossomed into a product I can share with everyone (the Treasure Chest), in the long run I’ve regretted the decision to have Kickstarter exclusives of any type on that project. Since then I’ve decided that Stonemaier Games projects would no longer have exclusives–we’re a company that encourages inclusiveness, not exclusion.

The person replied, “I understand the stance, but see no incentive to back a game that will make it w/o my $$.”

So they’re basically saying that if a project has already funded, they see no reason at all to back it if there are no exclusives, because otherwise they’ll just wait for the retail version of the game.

I replied that I bet I could list at least 10 other reasons that someone might want to back a project. My intent isn’t to try to change the buying behavior of that one individual or any other backer out there–rather, this list is geared towards creators so that they consider all these other things they can do to provide a better experience for their product in the long-term than to succumb to the “fear of missing out” allure of exclusive content. Also, if this inspires a few backers to look at Kickstarter a different way, that’s a nice side effect.

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Before I begin the list, here’s a short quote from this post explaining the heart of why I think exclusives are a bad idea for creators:

“While exclusives might help a single campaign and create a fun experience for the backers, if you’re trying to build a company and a lasting brand from that campaign, they end up doing more harm than good. They alienate anyone who discovers the game after that very slim window the game was on Kickstarter.”

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10 Better Reasons than KS Exclusives to Back a Kickstarter Project

  1. Funding Need: Many products have a required minimum print run, making the “tipping point” of Kickstarter really important (and different than a pre-order system). The project probably needs your funds even if it already reached its funding goal–every little bit really does help. Those extra dollars are going towards making the product and getting it to you, not towards rum and Ferrari’s.
  2. Discounted Price: The project probably offers a lower price for the product than you’ll get at retail, especially because at least some of the shipping costs are included in the reward price.
  3. Improve the Product via Stretch Goals: If the project has stretch goals, every bit of funding makes the product better for everyone, including you.
  4. Influence the Final Product: If the project offers polls and discussions about certain elements of the product, you have the power to shape the future of that product.
  5. Receive It Before Retailers: The project hopefully offers backers the product well before it’s released to retailers and distributors.
  6. Optimized Shipping and Customs: By supporting the project from its inception, you create an opportunity for shipping optimization. When I decide how many pallets of my games I send to Canada, Australia, Asia, France, the UK, or Germany for fulfillment within those countries or regions, I base that number on the formula (# of backer games + # of extra games in case the backer games get damaged or stolen). If you’re not a backer, there’s a really good chance you’ll have to spend much more on shipping and customs to get the game from the US.
  7. 2014-10-26_2356Limited Supply: Just because something isn’t exclusive doesn’t mean it’s not limited. Publishers and other creators can’t make infinite numbers of things–everything is finite. The only way to guarantee you’ll get one of those finite things is to pledge to it now, especially if it’s a special edition that may not be produced again.
  8. Belief in Creator: Do you believe in what the creator is doing? Sometimes you might just want the thing, and that’s fine. A lot of the time, though, this is the creator’s dream–not just to create something for them, but to create something for you. Something that you will cherish and treasure for a long time. If you believe in what they’re doing, Kickstarter is the time and the place to support them.
  9. Engage with Community: Sure, if you back a lot of projects, you don’t have time to be an active member of every project community. But from my experience, every now and then a project comes along that I really want to talk about with people who are just as excited about it as I am, and the time I spend on those comment threads is worth every second.
  10. Promo Content Included Now for Free, Later at a Price: There are ways to get content that feels exclusive without it being truly limited to Kickstarter backers. Sometimes its in the form of promo cards that a creator only offers during the project, at conventions, and through special promotions. Other times it’s in the form of alternate art. Or if you want to go big, creators can separate many of the stretch goal components (which are included in the project rewards) into a separate “enhancement pack” to sell by itself post-Kickstarter. You’re getting something for the same set price now that others will have to buy separately in the future–but at least they have the chance to get it.

Now, in full disclosure, I do offer one key Kickstarter exclusive: Our money-back guarantee. As I note on my article about the results of Euphoria’s money-back guarantee, I think it’s the best type of exclusive–you’re giving backers something special without negatively impacting anyone who buys the retail version of the product later.

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What do you think? Are those 10 reasons enough for you to back a project that doesn’t have KS exclusives? What are the top three most compelling reasons on that list for you? You can vote on three options on the poll below and talk about your choices in the comments.


44 Comments on “10 Better Reasons than KS Exclusives to Back a Kickstarter Project

    1. Al: Yep, that’s the danger of exclusives! Kickstarter is great–and often a crucial first step in bringing a product to market–but creators need to look at the long-term impact of those exclusives.

  1. Great topic! The price is a big selling point for me. It’s also fun to be a part of the process. Richard Bliss talks about the fun of being a part of the process quite a bit. KS is certainly not a retail service so your mindset has to be different to back a project. I really like seeing unique games come out and supporting the upstart feeling.

  2. Agree, really hate teaching a game to a group, they like it and want to buy it, but I have to warn them that some of the items were Kickstarter exclusives. I beseech KS projects: please do not use exclusives (nor Early Bird special pricing – hate, Hate, HATE; had to add that one in).

    1. Mike: Absolutely, and I feel bad about doing that to my Euphoria backers. I sent so many e-mails for the first few months after Euphoria came out to simply say no to people who asked to buy those resources. I’d much rather say, “Sorry, we’re out of stock” than, “I have some, but I can’t sell them to you because they’re KS exclusive.”

  3. While I agree with a lot of the points, and I do back a lot of kickstarters regardless, a few of those points aren’t there on a lot of projects that like to list them as backing points. I would say at least 30 of the around 65 projects I’ve helped fund have had outrageous shipping fees, sometimes more than the game itself, which doesn’t equal out with a discounted price. (I live in Canada) There have been a lot of projects I’ve wanted to join but haven’t because they are too high. Which goes hand-in-hand with the discount. When a game is $70, on kickstarter for $60, that’s great. But I then have to pay $40 for shipping. That means I’m paying $100 for a game that if I wait a bit I can get for $70 on shelves. I’m all for funding dreams and making projects better, but sometimes when a project is well-funded, I just keep it in my watch list instead. This is where stretch goals that give me something extra come in. If I’m paying that $100, but you’re going to give me some promos for free that I would otherwise have to buy later, then that extra money can be justified a bit. I’m still not a fan of promos that are exclusive for the project, but just a little free stuff can change my opinion of the campaign easily. The worst offender on the list is #5. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘Get it before retail!’ and have gotten it months after. Then they justify it by saying ‘Well, you got these add-ons, so those took longer’, or ‘We shipped it out to you on the same day as it came out in retail, so we technically got it out to you before retail, you just have to wait a month before it gets to you.’ I’ve come to really dislike that statement on KS’s, it’s just left a bad feeling in my mouth. :P ( I’m talking generally about all of the different people I’ve backed. Stonemaier has always been exceptionally wonderful to me. :D )

    1. Nik: I hear where you’re coming from. I tried to phrase the items on that list (“The project probably has…”) conditionally–it’s true that not all projects offer those features, but any project potentially could offer them.

      I’ve heard the sentiment about the “backer first delivery” a few times now, and I agree that it would leave a bad taste in my mouth too if a creator promised that and didn’t deliver on that promise.

  4. I meant specifically projects that like to list them as reasons to back their projects, that then don’t follow through on them, or, as with the shipping one, are very one sided (just a benefit to people living in the US)

    I do agree that it is a very well put together list, and are many of the reasons I’m still a proud kickstarter backer. :)

  5. The one thing that really matters for me when backing a kickstarter is that I believe in the creator. I need to feel the excitement they have about the project. I need to know that they are going to do the best they can to make the project the best they can. And I need to know that they are a real person, not an entity (I don’t generally back big companies on kickstarter). Because ultimately Kickstarter is about people (both creators and backers) not stuff.

    I think we’ve all had projects that have a product we are mildly interested in, but not much, and yet we feel like we get to know the backers enough that we want to back the project anyways. (I usually back these projects at $1, and let them convince me to back at a higher level which is part of why I think the $1 reward level is so important.)

    Now if I do back the projects put out by a big preexisting company (like Age of Conan: Hyboria expansion from Ares Games right now) it is usually because they have a ton of really cool stretch goals that I want to be in on, so sometimes stretch goals can overcome an impersonal campaign, but not often.

    Of course that’s just my take on things.

    1. Ethan: I see your point, and I think it’s an important item on the list, but I honestly am a little surprised that it’s receiving so many votes. I think that a creator’s passion, excitement, and dreams make for a very compelling connection for backers, BUT I’ve seen too many projects and personal appeals on Kickstarter where creators seem to forget that they’re creating something for other people to use, own, and experience. This often leads to the type of creators who spam their Facebook friends with “Help me!” messages and who seek out bloggers to promote their work instead of building relationships with those bloggers.

      I’m with you–I’m much more likely to back a project by a creator who is full of passion and excitement for what they’re trying to fund. But it’s far from the sole reason I’ll back a project. Now, passion paired with competence, attractive pricing, backer-focused stretch goals and shipping…in combination with sound business practices and appealing marketing, that passion is an incredible asset.

      Also, I think it’s important to keep in mind that those projects run by bigger companies originated in the hands of people who are very passionate about their work–the designers, artists, developers–every step of the way there are people who are excited about the product.

      Here’s an entry I wrote about how creators can effectively share passion through their projects in a way that is both genuine and compelling: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-102-passion-is-contagious/

      1. Jamey: I agree with you it isn’t the sole reason I’ll back a project, but it is the primary reason. Without it, it is unlikely that I’ll back a project (though possible).

        You said: “Now, passion paired with competence, attractive pricing, backer-focused stretch goals and shipping…in combination with sound business practices and appealing marketing.” Personally if, I see a project like that I’m backing them at some level, even if it is just $1 (though I rarely stay there).

        So yes there is more to it than just passion, but passion is probably the biggest thing in my book.

  6. I was all set to slam you (in the kindest way possible) and then you deflated me with number 10. I don’t have a problem with people backing the Kickstarter getting more stuff for free as long as it’s available to others after the fact. Many of the KS projects I’ve looked at though are barely less than the retail (MSRP) and nowhere near the street price you’ll get at the big online gaming stores. So value doesn’t enter into it. Yes there is the limited supply issue, but for a lot of big company titles, you can reasonably expect the game to be available in the retail pipeline shortly after the KS delivers.

    I think exclusives that don’t affect gameplay though are perfectly fine. Alternate art. “Thank you” items. Custom inserts perhaps. Characters and in-game items to me are a no-no. But peripheral awards are fine. Yes, there are people out there who have completionist issues, but businesses cannot make decisions for those few.

    I really don’t have a problem with early bird discounts either and don’t understand people who get upset with companies that offer them. Companies should offer them for a decent period of time though and not limited numbers. So if you join in the first 1/3rd of the time, perhaps, you can get a better deal. Some do the “first 50 save $20” thing and I can see how that makes people upset, but likewise feel they really have no legitimate grounds. Stores on Black Friday have only so many of an item at a steep discount, no rainchecks allowed. Buyers either get it or they don’t.

    So to sum up, companies should offer timed early birds as well as non-game affecting promos and exclusives. Or they should offer to the backers more content for free that will be sold elsewhere down the road so buyers who don’t back, don’t have to resort to the ebay mark-up.

    Thanks for the great article though. Looking forward to reading more.

    1. Kevin: I don’t really encourage “slamming” of any kind on this blog–that’s not really the spirit of this environment, and I’m a little surprised that you seemed eager to do so before reading #10.

      A KS exclusive is a KS exclusive, period. Euphoria’s special resources didn’t impact gameplay at all, but they significantly impacted people’s perception of the game (and my company) when they learned that they simply weren’t allowed to buy them. I said it in the post above, but I’ll repeat it here: “While exclusives might help a single campaign and create a fun experience for the backers, if you’re trying to build a company and a lasting brand from that campaign, they end up doing more harm than good. They alienate anyone who discovers the game after that very slim window the game was on Kickstarter.”

      As for early birds, I highly discourage creators from offering any kind of early birds. I’ve discussed that extensively elsewhere, so it’s a better discussion for this post if you’d like to chime in. As you can see by the poll shown here, many more backers prefer projects without early bird rewards, and they actually do more harm than good:https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-62-early-bird-pledge-levels/

      Here’s one other post on the topic: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-face-off-3-early-bird-reward-levels/

  7. Jamey : Levity gets lost on the internet… there would have be no “slamming” in reality in any way shape or form… I simply meant that as I was reading the article, I was ready to chime in with the same idea of your #10 item. I was just a little ahead of the article in that regard.

    Yes, I know that people get upset if they miss out on something… it’s frustrating that they do, IMO, because their experience is actually not hindered at any level, except in their own minds. But they ARE the customer and as the adage goes they are always right.

    1. And BTW, I’m only speaking as a KS backer, not in any way as someone knowledgeable about the business side of KS. That’s why I’m here. To learn more before diving into that side of things. Reading those other posts now… thanks for all the good citations from the experienced.

  8. Very helpful article here Jamey, I appreciate you taking the time to write this because it is something I’ve been pondering on about my upcoming KS project. What are your thoughts on offering a special edition game vs KS exclusives? Can the two be mutually exclusive? Can special editions be offered to retail at a later point, or are they typically KS exclusive? I personally like how you offered the the Euphoria Supreme edition and included lots of extras for just $10 more, it really drives up the value. I’ve seen many other projects do this too, which I think is a great way to increase value for the customer and increase your profit margin at the same time. It seems like a win win situation.

    1. Mike: That’s a good question, and I think it plays into the “limited quantity” point I mentioned in this post. I’ll use the Tuscany Collector’s Edition as an example (Euphoria Supreme had KS exclusive components, so I’d rather not use that as a good example of what a creator should do). The Tuscany Collector’s Edition was one full copy of Viticulture, one full copy of Tuscany, 72 metal lira coins, and a special individually numbered slipcase to enclose everything. The copies of Viticulture and Tuscany are exactly the same as those you would buy in a game store. The coins are available for purchase on our website. All of those components are technically finite, but we hope to make more of all of them if we sell out.

      The one exception is the individually numbered slipcase. We made a limited number of them with the intent to never make it again. This means a few things: One, the only way to guarantee that you’ll get it is through Kickstarter. Two, even though it looks fantastic and it’s cool to have something individually numbered, it’s just a slipcase. This isn’t a crucial game component. Three, when I’m confident that all backer copies have been delivered, I’ll put any remaining Collector’s Editions on our website for purchase for much higher than the Kickstarter price so people will have the option of getting them there (some retailers backed a bunch of them during the campaign too, so they’ll be available in a variety of places for a short time). Four, once we sell out, if someone contacts me asking to buy one–perhaps they feel like they have an “incomplete” game since they don’t have the slipcase–instead of telling them, “Sorry, it’s KS exclusive,” I can say, “Sorry, we sold out.”

      I think that model works really well. It’s respectful to both backers and non-backer customers, and it’s a compelling reward. Does that help?

      1. Thanks Jamey, that definitely answers my question. The individually numbered slipcases make the edition special, yet they’re not a crucial game component, which I think is the key here. And by having retailers buy the Collector’s Editions, it allows you to say “sold out” rather than it was a “KS exclusive” once you run out. Sometimes wording can make a big difference, yet I don’t feel like this model is misleading in any way. It is very fair, compelling, and prevents non-backers from feeling like they didn’t get the full game. Thanks for the clarification!

  9. An interesting test to differentiate these factors would be a project where the product is available to everyone, not just backers. (As it so happens, I’m considering just this type of project.) Will people actually follow through without any tangible compensation for their pledges?

    1. David: Yeah, that’s exactly the type of product I’m describing in this post–a product that will be available to everyone. Those ten points are reasons that people would choose to back a project instead of waiting for a retail release.

  10. People like new and shiny for discounted price to be there. If a game is good you can normally find it on Amazon for less than retail. Also there’s always second hand. That said I still voted for it :). My top is stretch goals to improve. That combines discounted price, in the sense that I’m paying the same for more stuff, influencing product by making it better and feels like a free promo.

    I like how you talk about establishing brand. I can see where lessons will diverge based on a one time deal or a desire to start a small publishing company.

  11. I can say I’m with you in hating missing out on the exclusive content – which will many times stop me from even getting into a game after the fact. SAYING THAT – it’s the reason I’ve backed many of the Kickstarters I have – knowing I won’t be able to get them later – OR , if I decide I don’t want the game , being able to sell without loss. Above and Below is now a good example – I had it backed, then dropped out for financial reasons – and don’t know if I’ll ever get it – the exclusives are too juicy, I want them, I can’t have them ha!

    1. Jonny: Yeah, I’ve experienced the same thing. I think the best way to appeal to both worlds is to have promos that are include with the Kickstarter version of the game that are then available for purchase (while supplies last) as separate add ons after the game is released. These promos should just be called “promos,” not exclusives, as they’re not exclusive to Kickstarter.

  12. Not to resurrect and old post, but I haven’t been able to find a more relevant post to ask this question. In regards to exclusive or promo content, how do you handle it from a manufacturing/distribution/fulfillment perspective? How do you make sure the promo content gets packaged with games going to backers but either aren’t shipped to retailers or are packaged separately?

    I recently ordered a KS game through a retailer and was pleasantly surprised to find KS “exclusive” content in my copy of the game. Certainly simpler to just produce one version of the game with the promo content prepackaged, but it seems inaccurate or unfair to backers who were promised exclusive or promo content.

    How do you manage the desire/need to provide promo content and the logistics of fulfilling it correctly?

    And Jamey, thanks for all that you do for the tabletop and Kickstarter community.

    1. Joseph: Thanks for your question. It’s kind of two different situations:

      1. KS fulfillment: You can either have your manufacturer pack things into the game box (which simplifies fulfillment but requires you to hit manufacturing minimums, as that box needs a different bar code and SKU) or you pack everything as separate promos, and your fulfillment center puts them all in the box they send to backers.

      2. Distribution/post-KS sales: You can sell promos and accessories to distributors if they have a SKU (a bar code helps too), though usually it’s better to find a specific website (or your own website) to sell those types of items.

      Does that answer your question?

      1. Thanks, that’s helpful. The promos I’m considering would be fairly small (4-10 alternate art cards) and something I would include to KS backers and hand out during events, etc.

        So would the manufacturer be doing two separate products (the game and a small pack of promo cards)? Then the fulfillment center would have to pick the promo pack and the game into each box. And any extra promo packs would be probably be sent to my address.

        It sounds like a lot of extra work for the manufacturer and fulfillment center. I assume there’s an additional cost? Is this even worth doing? What would be some reasonable alternatives be?

        1. Joseph: Right, it sounds like the manufacturer would make a pack of promo cards for you. It’s not much extra work at all if it’s just one pack (or even just a few packs). And since it’s separate, that makes it easier for you to sell later through your website, BGG, at conventions, etc.

          The extra cost is usually minimal, particularly for cards, as they’ll already be on the card sheet with other cards you’re making. At the fulfillment center, you might recommend that they tape the card pack to the shrinkwrap of the game box so they don’t get lost among all of the other packaging.

          I think promos like this are a fantastic alternative to KS exclusives, and I would highly recommend offering them to backers for free with their pledge and then at a cost to others later.

  13. Hi Jamey,

    Thank you for this great article! Since the first time I read this it made sense to me that avoiding exclusives is the way to go.

    Well, now that we launched, one of the very first comments from a backer was “would love to see some exclusives”. I’m wondering what is the best way to respond? Would you suggest being upfront and just saying we’re not planning any exclusives because we don’t have a good way of making it work for everyone. Or maybe saying we’ll look into it?

    As you mentioned, promos could be a good alternative to exclusives and we’re keeping that in mind.

    Thanks!
    Maggie

    1. Maggie: That’s a good question. My broad answer is that backers are going to ask for a lot of stuff during the campaign. That’s good–it shows their passion. But it’s your job to sift through all of the requests to determine what is actually a good fit for your project and what 100 people want instead of just 1 or 2.

      If I were in your shoes, I would reply by saying that I seek to include people, not exclude them via one-time options. You could point out the other ways you’re valuing backers’ early support. And sure, you could add promos (though that’s something you probably should have already planned for, as they will impact your schedule and budget).

      Related:

      https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-20-flexibility-filtering-and-responding-to-feedback/

      https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-48-its-okay-to-say-no/

      https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-107-how-to-say-no/

  14. Reading this in 2017, in the midst of ‘that’ mega CMoN campaign. This being my first participation in a CMoN campaign, I was genuinely taken aback by the zealotry of a large (or vocal) group of backers in asking for stretch goals to be KS-exclusive. Reading the comments, it can be gleaned that for some (or many, who knows), the key driver is to maximise value of the KS version on the secondary market post-release. Some even claim a certain quantity of KS-exclusives need to be unlocked before they consider the campaign ‘worthy’. To each their own, of course. Just that it goes against what I believe KS was intended for – but I am one who occasionally pledge non-reward levels if I like (say) the art but not the game. So I can only speak for myself.

    In the particular case of CMoN, I understand that offering KS-exclusives IS the backbone of their campaigns. Without which many would argue there is little point in backing as the game and so-called stretch goals would be produced ‘anyway’. How justified such views are, and whether there is any supporting data (whatever form such data would be), is a topic for a separate discussion. However, these days it is increasingly common to find backers bringing over the ‘CMoN mentality’ to campaigns by other creators, many whom do not have anything close to CMoN-level resources to be able to pull off such strategies.

    This goes back to other posts highlighting the kinds of community a campaign can create. By the sheer weight of backer numbers, such mega campaigns end up creating communities which influence the KS climate as a whole instead of being isolated to their campaign islands.

    The other problem with KS-exclusives not given enough priority – they often don’t fit in the box! A major pet peeve of mine. And not every creator offers (or can offer, for one reason or another) a custom solution taking into consideration the storage of these exclusives.

    1. Aldrin: You offer some really keen observations and concerns in this comment. I’m planning a blog entry about Rising Sun (I’m a backer, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed the experience, but I haven’t read the comments), so I’m going to pull some of your comments over to that entry. You’ve hit several nails on the head here.

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