The Top 3 Kickstarter Mistakes We Made on Tuscany That You Can Avoid

13 April 2014 | 31 Comments


By pretty much all accounts, my Kickstarter campaign for Tuscany was a great success. We raised $450,333 from 4,333 backers (I like those parallel 333s!) over a 28-day campaign that felt much shorter than a month. It was also probably the best experience I’ve had with backers yet–it’s a great group of people.

Going into the project, I really didn’t know how Tuscany would turn out. I was pretty sure it would go well, but with a high entry price for people who didn’t already own Viticulture ($79), I had no idea how many people would spend their hard-earned money on a pledge. We were also launching on the same day as another quality Euro game, Pay Dirt.

So it was a very pleasant surprise when Tuscany funded in the first 16 minutes and raised $158,000 within the first 24 hours. I’ll dig deeper into the stats on a future post when all backers have filled out their surveys (hint, hint, backers!), but Tuscany kept up a remarkable pace over the course of the project, averaging $15,529 a day from an average of 149 backers who made an average of 226 comments a day on the homepage (see Kicktraq for more).

Despite the numbers, Tuscany wasn’t a flawless project. Not even close. Per tradition, I’d like to share with you the mistakes I made on Tuscany so you can avoid them on your Kickstarter project.

Backer Polls

The biggest hiccup during Tuscany was the collector’s edition big box. The $99 reward involved a full copy of Viticulture and a full copy of Tuscany inside a limited-edition, wine-crate inspired cardboard big box. My original vision for this box was that it would function like a big game box with a normal lid, and Viticulture and Tuscany would nestle side by side inside the box. I shared the preview link for Tuscany with a lot of people, and no one expressed any concerns about the box design.

However, when Tuscany launched, a number of backers started suggesting alternative ideas because they didn’t think the big box would display well on their shelf, and the whole point of a collector’s edition box is to display it. So we came up with a redesign—a 5-sided slipcase and put it up for a vote.

Now, offering backers the chance to express their opinions in a poll is great. However, you have to be really selective about the way you phrase the poll. Is it a pure democracy, with the larger percentage winning? Is there a minimum number of votes that should be cast to validate the poll? How long will the poll remain live? I wasn’t clear about any of those things—all I said is that the redesign would need a clear majority to pass the vote and that the default was the original design.

The poll was live for a little over 2 days and just over 900 backers voted (out of about 1400 backers at the time). The redesigned box received over three times as many votes as the original box, so we officially changed it.

That last part is really key. I made a decision based on the poll and finalized it. When you have a controversial subject during a campaign, it can drag on and on unless you give some finality to it. The nice thing is that because you made that decision during the campaign, any backer can simply cancel their pledge. That’s their right, and it’s actually far better for a few angry, vocal backers to cancel their pledge than have them infect the community you’re building for the rest of the campaign.

Overall, I wish we could have gotten the big box design right before we even started the campaign. But no matter how many people look at your preview page, they’re going to miss something, and hopefully the above story will help prepare you when the inevitable debate arises.

Collectors Edition final

Stretch Goals

One of the things I often talk about on this blog is to both be prepared for best-case and worst-case scenarios. Raising $158,000 within the first 24-hours was definitely a best-case scenario, but I wasn’t as prepared for it as I should have been, especially in terms of stretch goals.

When Tuscany launched, I revealed stretch goals up to $50k, and due to the rapid increase of pledges, I quickly revealed more stretch goals through $150k (I had planned for stretch goals going up to $300k based on economies of scale—the more games you make, the more you can fit into the box without increasing cost per unit). As a result, after 24 hours, we had already reached 7 stretch goals!

This was fun for backers and was consistent with my philosophy that stretch goals should be based on the actual budget, but because we reached them so quickly, backers didn’t get the satisfaction of feeling like they accomplished something together. That’s an important function of stretch goals.

So I’m going to try something new on our next Kickstarter campaign. I’ll reveal a few stretch goals on Day 1, but I’ll give backers the opportunity to vote on the order of the next few stretch goals. Thus backers will have a say in what they get next, and it’ll give me some buffer time before I need to add more stretch goals. Of course, I’ll be elated if one of my future projects has a Day 1 that’s anywhere close to Tuscany’s, but I just want to make sure the fun of stretch goals is “stretched out” a little more over the entire project.

Custom Art

This last mistake is full of hubris, because I actually posted a Kickstarter Lesson during the Tuscany campaign lauding the benefits of it! I’m talking about custom art reward levels.

I want to say up front that my experience with custom art reward levels has largely been positive. I love that I get to look at Viticulture, Euphoria, and Tuscany and see the faces of actual people who made these passion projects a reality. I’m extremely grateful for those backers, and it’s been a pleasure to work with the talented Beth Sobel (and Jacqui Davis on Euphoria) on the custom art.

That said, Tuscany is the last project in which we’ll have custom art reward levels.

Why the change in direction? Three reasons:

Custom art doesn’t allow for us to fully control the diversity and thematic aspects of the art. With Tuscany, we took a big step forward by creating two reward levels: 16 slots for male custom art and 16 slots for female custom art. But what about race and age? We now have over 150 cards with custom art in our three games, and not a single African-American is represented on those cards. I’m ashamed of that—I should not have allowed that to happen. That’s just one example. The point is that I need to retain control over who goes on the cards so we can have a more diverse cast in our games.

Custom art puts a game seen by thousands of people (we’re probably making about 7500 copies of Tuscany) at the whim of a very small group of people. Most custom art backers follow my instructions—look away from the camera, don’t smile with teeth, and don’t do anything that would look completely out of place in 1900 Tuscany (i.e., don’t make a peace sign with your fingers). But “most” is not “all,” and the few that don’t follow my instructions make it really difficult. Plus, it’s very tough to get photos from some backers, which is not something you want to worry about when you’re on a schedule that affects 4,000+ backers.

Real people go on these cards—their faces (and often their names) will be available for anyone in the world to share online. Sometimes, as I learned during the Tuscany campaign (I’m being intentionally vague here), someone on the internet can go too far in the way they talk about a card, and I feel responsible for that.

Those are the top 3 mistakes I made during the Tuscany campaign. I have a few more I’ll share later in the week, but those were the big ones.

Leave a Comment

31 Comments on “The Top 3 Kickstarter Mistakes We Made on Tuscany That You Can Avoid

  1. I’m about to launch a Kickstarter (fingers crossed) that will include custom art rewards. Hopefully I’m doing it in a way that will at least eliminate the first issue in that category: I’m limiting the number of characters available for the custom art reward, so that I’ll still be able to ensure diversity in the remaining characters.

    I’m still waffling on whether to include stretch goals. I’m tempted to include a nicer box as a stretch goal (game box instead of tuck box), but only because going with a game box from the beginning will increase my campaign goal. Should I make the game I want from the beginning, or should I be flexible on this one facet in order to improve the campaign’s chances? That’s the internal argument I’m having.

    1. David: Good luck with your custom art reward! :)

      As for the tuckbox in particular, I’d recommend checking out a post by a designer named Grant Rodiek who struggled with the feedback he got about not including stretch goals on his Hocus project (before he launched it) and ultimately decided to put the game in a two-part box from day one:

      If you’ve read my posts about stretch goals, you know I’m a fan. I’d say that key is this: If there are elements of the game that will make a significant number of people not back the project at all if they aren’t in the game from Day 1, include those elements from Day 1. That’s what Grant discovered with the tuckbox. But not every element is like that, so if you have a list of 3-10 things you could do to enhance the game that are just nice bonuses, they’re perfect for stretch goals.

  2. “Of course, I’ll be elated if one of my future projects has a Day 1 that’s anywhere close to Tuscany’s…”

    I felt like I was reading an old diary entry after the dream came true.

  3. I liked this about you,even though you do almost a 180 on your stand here, “I’ve changed my mind, there’s what i thought about it then, here’s what i think about it now” i know its a bit off topic but it just made me think of how rigid some people can be with opinions once they state them publicly. But we aren’t rigid, we learn, and change. chapeau.

    1. William: Thank you! Like anyone else, sometimes it’s hard for me to admit that I’m wrong, but this blog is all about me looking out for fellow creators and their backers. I’d rather admit a mistake and reverse my opinion than have other people learn the hard way too. :)

  4. I thought I remebered a comment or update from you that stated the new box design was slightly less cost but the new coins were taking that (and more) away again. I could have been mistaken.

  5. Hey Jamey, as a first time Stonemaier backer and a “I watched Euphoria but didn’t know enough about hobby games to back it” non Euphoria backer it was a pleasure experiencing your first campaign. Definitely one that the others will be judged against. I had two comments.

    First as for the box, I was an outspoken advocate for the original design. I was originally disappointed with the poll mainly because people that didn’t want to original box had a reason to voice their opinion and did so loudly and certainly seemed to sway a some folks on the fence. Additionally it seemed that those that wanted the original were out of the norm because the vocal majority were those that opposed the design. However when the final design came out (I still think the original was better ) and the statement that not only would it be slightly less cost but also the coins were going to cost a little more to manufacture (costing you money) I kept my pledge for the collectors level. I respect the fact that you want to get your backers opinion but I still think you should have made the design choice yourself based on what you thought was best. Maybe that’s what you did but the way it came out was majority rules. Either way I think the design came out great, looks awesome, and I’m sure will be exceptional quality coming from you guys. Not sure how or if you could have handled it better.

    For the custom art, if the cost of the art is the same there is a way to have both sides. What about asking for submissions of photos from people before the Kickstarter (or non kickstarter) launch of the game. This way you could weed out the ones that don’t follow instructions and pick through to get the diversity that I also think would be welcome in your games. Plus it will give the same warm and fuzzy about seeing the backers in your games as well as give people a chance that wouldn’t have been able to afford it or just missed the first 5 minutes before it sold out. Unfortunately that would mean missing out on the extra income that the custom art tier provides but it sounds like on future projects you won’t have that coming in anyway.

    All in all I think you put together a wonderful campaign and it was a real joy to be involved. I hope to continue supporting you and Alan on future endeavors and would like to say thanks for the unbelievable games you have put out thus far and all kudos are well deserved. I can’t wait for the treasure chest!

    1. Thanks for offering your backer perspective, Dan! I really appreciate it (although I’m not sure where you heard that the new CE box will cost less–I’ve seen the pricing, and it’s pretty much identical to the original concept. The coins doubled in cost when I increased their size, though). I was originally a much bigger fan of the first big box concept (after all, I designed it), but eventually I decided the new box was better (and the votes went that way).

      As for the art, I did something like that with the mama and papa art (I let e-newsletter subscribers get it way back in October), and it was a much smoother process. So it’s possible I will offer custom art in the future, just not during the campaign.

      Thanks for your enthusiasm, and again, thanks for your backer perspective on the project!

  6. Hi Jamey,

    I know I speak for a lot of campaign creators when I call you a crowdfunding hero. You have given so much back to this community.

    It’s actually reassuring that someone with your knowledge and experience can still make mistakes with campaigns. It allows me to relax a little and not think that I have to have every detail figured out perfectly (since I’m bound to get some of it wrong, anyway.)

    Some of your errors sound similar to the ones we made in our Alice in Wonderland book campaign (our first). We hit our goal very quickly and weren’t ready with stretch rewards. When we did offer them, they were really too close together (at ever $5k) because we just didn’t anticipate the momentum. Additionally, as silly as it sounds, we thought about the cost of the reward, but not about the fact that an additional $5k in orders is not the same as $5k to spend (since most of it is covering the cost of non-stretch rewards). Finally, we made our stretch rewards posters signed, so the artist is now looking at something in the neighborhood of 7,000 signatures by the end of fulfillment. In the end, though we raised 83k (with a 35k goal) we probably won’t show a profit on this edition of the book. No regrets, though. The relationships we’ve built with backers are priceless, we’ve improved our business in many areas, and we’re going to produce a beautiful book.

    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks Wendy! Most of what I’ve learned on Kickstarter comes from making mistakes. :) I appreciate you sharing your story as well. You make a great point that extra money raised does not equal extra money to spend–rather, it means an incremental amount of extra money to spend IF your cost per unit decreases as a result in the increase in production.

      I like your positive outlook about the relationships you built over the course of the Kickstarter campaign and beyond, and I hope your artist survives such a massive series of autographs!

  7. Hi – As far as your top lessons I wondered if you used a virtual assistant or someone to help with all your communications and / or initially did you personalize emails or use an email system? Thanks again for all your sage advice!

  8. Hey Jamey, I love your commitment to diversity in games, but what about if you made a game that by adding diversity would break the game thematically? Maybe a war game about a certain culture where you played as generals, but that culture did not allow a woman to be a general as an example, what would you do then?

    I admit my knowledge of wine history is very weak as well, but I have a feeling most will not notice the lack of diversity in Tuscany for the kind of reasons above. I make sure to again reiterate my lack of knowledge, but I’d love the pleasant surprise to learn there were African-American ran vineyards or something similar.

    I really do appreciate that you care so much about making your games have that diversity though, so I might even overlook a break in theme someday if you gave me an amazing cast to play as. :)

    1. Erik: That’s a good question, and it plays into this line I mentioned in the blog entry: “Custom art doesn’t allow for us to fully control the diversity and thematic aspects of the art.” Part of it is diversity, but the other part of it is keeping the art thematically correct, as you talk about here. I don’t have control over that with custom art.

      So if we print another game that has some ties to the real world, we’ll try to balance diversity and theme. I would say that theme comes first, but if there are no thematic restrictions on diversity, we’ll go for a full array of genders, races, and ages.

  9. Jamey,

    Once again I have to give you major credit for:

    1: Being willing to reflect on what you could improve in your campaigns
    2: Actually listening to the feedback that you get and taking action as warranted
    and 3: Posting about it in public

    The comparison between how you’re running Tuscany (and Euphoria previously) is night and day compared to some of the other Kickstarters I’m backing, and it’s frankly impressive.

    1. Thanks for saying that, Joshua–I appreciate the affirmation, and I hope I can continue to improve our campaigns to offer backers like you the best possible Kickstarter experience you deserve.

  10. Thanks Jamey,
    Your totally correct ofcoarse , I just wanted to potentially give you one guy on the streets random view.
    You are a truly amazing individual and I completely admire and am in awe (as many are) of your ethical stance.
    Brilliant stuff :-)

  11. Fascinating insight into the 3 most important things that could of been better in the Tuscany Campaign.

    The collectors box issue:
    I guess the only way to of avoided it completely would of been massive exposure on the internet prior to the campaign – but this raises the very crucial ” cat out the bag” issue.
    I personally much preferred the initial side by side version, for me it showcased the game better and other game boxes of similar or longer stature had already been acceptable – Eclipse, twilight imp, Descent 1st ed, Earth reborn ( probably a lot more besides) .
    I totally get why a lot of people thought otherwise and the shelf issue was a huge factor for most.

    The stretch goals was an incredible phenomenon , boy did those initial stretch goals get smashed through at an amazingly rapid rate.
    This is a mark of the campaigns huge success, but I did personally think to myself how is Jamey going to keep the momentum, keep the ball rolling – there’s only so many pieces can be added to a game, only so many cats can be pulled out of a hat.
    I think how we got to the traveller meeples right at the end of the campaign was genius, but do see how you may need to drip feed stretch goals at the start more so as to keep giving the community attainable goals within reach each step of the way.

    The personal image likeness art is a fantastic thing, how cool to have your likeness for eternity in the game – something the grand kids or any future generation could eventually marvel over.
    What a shame no African American or anyone from an Ethnic Minority group chose to back at the custom art level.
    As a mere customer I did not see the bigger picture, you could of showed me the games a thousand times and I never would of picked up on the issue, probably for two reasons:
    A) I wouldn’t see the issue because I have no prejudicial thoughts in the first place.
    B) I am ignorant to the issue and should be more aware of it in the first place.

    I guess I do think it’s a real shame no African American has an image in the cards, but I also realise that everyone had equal opportunity to take one of those slots when available.
    For me personally , with a young family and tight budget the actual cost was what made it prohibitive, so are we being prejudice to people not so well off as others?.
    I think you can beat yourself up needlessly over what is far from a perfect world.

    Just some rumblings from one backer.
    Thank you for putting this out there and allowing open discussion.
    Mark .

    1. Mark,

      Yeah, I think the key problem with the box wasn’t that I didn’t get the design right the first time (I think people’s concerns with instability were somewhat valid–I should have realized that), but rather that I wasn’t very, very clear about how the poll worked and what it meant.

      There are other ethnic majorities in our games, but this isn’t an issue of no African Americans choosing those reward levels–it’s an issue of me prioritizing backer involvement over diversity. And honestly, as much as I LOVE my backers, the right thing for me to do is choose diversity. I want people of every gender, race, and age to pick up our games and see faces in it that they can connect with.

      I see your point about economic diversity, but I don’t think that is conveyed on the cards in the same level of immediate clarity as gender, race, and age.

      Don’t worry, I’m not beating myself up–I’m just always striving to do better. These 3 mistakes represent areas of improvement for me and Stonemaier Games. :)

  12. I’m glad I got in on the ground floor of the custom art because I really like seeing the faces from the campaigns. Also I didn’t comment on the preview page because I personally loved the original box design.

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