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.
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.
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.
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.