3 Mistakes I Made on My First Kickstarter Tabletop Game Project…and How I Fixed Them in the Successful Relaunch: A Guest Post by Ryan Wolfe

11 May 2015 | 8 Comments

Ryan has been a reader and active commenter on this blog for a long time now. He’s run a number of successful Kickstarter projects, but his first big one, a tabletop game called Shadowstar Corsairs, unfortunately did not reach its funding goal (despite raising over $30,000)

However, Ryan recently relaunched the project, and I’m happy to say that he successfully funded after about a week. I asked Ryan if he would share some of the lessons learned from the original project and how he applied them to the reboot. Thanks so much for the great post, Ryan!

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Ryan_WolfeMy name is Ryan Wolfe. In February I launched a Kickstarter for my first board game: Shadowstar Corsairs. This was my dream game, my baby, the “Most Awesome Game Evar”. It included starship miniatures, ground troops, and the highest quality components. When the manufacturer said they required a minimum 2500 unit print run in order to warrant custom plastic pieces, I was undeterred because similar games had easily reached and shattered that number.

Of course my campaign failed spectacularly, achieving less than a third of its funding goal. These were not happy times but they were very educational times and I would like to share what I learned in the off chance someone else has a campaign go not-quite-as-well-as-had-been-hoped . Though at the time it may seem like the End of All Things, it is possible to make changes, reboot, relaunch, or otherwise rework your idea and make it successful with a second try.

Background

I’ve been creating starship deckplans for sci-fi RPGs for years. A while ago I started making posters and miniatures of the ships too. Those miniatures plus years of accumulated artwork, combined with my love of board games, became Shadowstar Corsairs.

Up until testing and editing it was a one-man project. I like working on my own and having complete control – but there is also a lack of feedback and advice to be found in the solo production cycle. That may be one reason for the failure of my first campaign. Certainly the advice I got during that first campaign was instrumental in the relaunch, and success, of the second campaign.

My Mistakes

A Crazy High Funding Goal

I emailed a few manufacturers and just a couple responded. One was the manufacturer of several of my favorite games and so I decided right away to go with them. I got a quote (for the minimum 2500 units), did the math to add in shipping and all that, and came up with a $100,000 funding goal – which I reduced to $95,000 because a hundred seemed like too much.

When I considered doing my project  I looked at the most successful ones as my benchmark. I saw some games like mine make more than $100,000 so I figured I could do that too.  I would have been better served to look at the other end of the scale, or at least towards the middle to see what a realistic goal was and,  more importantly, how those goals were met.

Advertising Does Not Replace Community

It’s obvious now (and would have been obvious way back then if I had given it serious thought) that there are a LOT of things besides the product itself that determine whether it is going to catch fire and really take off. Probably the biggest factor in determining the success of a project is the community you have built up around whatever you’re doing.

Now I knew that community was important and I knew that I was really bad at building community beforehand.  I didn’t do anything more than make Facebook and Twitter accounts, sporadically updated. My mistake was in thinking that I could get around the community requirement using advertising and big name reviews.

I have no doubt that these elements help – and are, in fact, essential – but they’re not a replacement for an established community.  I learned that one the hard way. No add program, especially if it starts the day of the campaign, is going to produce more than a strong trickle of backers. You really want to surge out of the gate instead. That takes a lot of people who are ready and willing to join before the campaign starts.

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sample BoardGameGeek ad

Sought Advice Too Late

I put together a “Work In Progress” thread on BoardGameGeek and made a preview of my Kickstarter page available a week or so before the campaign, then posted some requests for people to take a look. A few did, and a few made suggestions, but nothing much. Only after the campaign was running and acquiring real backers did the serious feedback start coming in.

It seems people with actual money invested have much stronger opinions. Go figure.

I suppose that this goes back to my lack of community because once a group started to gather, the information began to flow. It’s REALLY hard to change things once a campaign is underway so I should have made more of an effort to gather opinions on the campaign, pledge levels, and goals well before hand.

I had set my launch date far ahead of time – mainly because of the video reviews – and then pushed things right up to the deadline due to poor planning and unexpected complications with getting things ready.  That didn’t help any.

How I Fixed It

Gathered Feedback

Though I didn’t get serious feedback on the first campaign until it was underway, I got plenty of early advice for how to improve the relaunch.

Box 2 Mock Up 01My funding goal was clearly the biggest hurdle and “More ships!” was the most desired addition. But I also got a ton of advice on the video, stretch goals, and even page layout. Though some was given spontaneously, most of the feedback was from conversations I started  specifically to ask about what I could improve.

Some backers didn’t like to talk of relaunching while the campaign was still running, but I felt that I needed to be realistic. It was clear that I wasn’t going to make the numbers and I needed help to figure out what I could do better. It was a bit of a balancing act to stay positive while still planning for failure this first time around.

An unexpected benefit of explicitly asking for advice on a relaunch is that it told  backers that the game was going to get made, even if it took another try. I think this kept people in the campaign and made them more likely to sign up again for the second campaign.

I posted an update to the first campaign when I launched the second and this gave me a huge initial surge (60% funded in the first day) which is critical. [Jamey: Ryan also updated the project image of the previous campaign to help point people to the new campaign, which is a clever use of Kickstarter’s new “Spotlight” feature.] I also emailed the “Staff Pick” folks reminding them that my game was a Pick the first time around and letting them know it was even better this time. This got us the pick on day one as well, helping with visibility on the Kickstarter discovery pages throughout the campaign.

At the end of the first campaign I hit the “Cancel” button in the final hour rather than let it expire naturally. I’ve heard that this used to make a difference in how the campaign showed up in searches, but I don’t think it matters now. I did it because I wanted the failed campaign to be tagged as “Funding Cancelled” rather than “Funding Unsuccessful”. It seemed like a better fit with the plan to launch again. Of course before doing that I changed the graphic and info on the campaign page to tell visitors about the coming relaunch and to point them to my website for additional news.

Shopped Around

The single biggest thing that made a relaunch possible was that I contacted a second manufacturer, explained my situation, and got a new quote.

This new company required only 1000 units in a print run (as compared to the 2500 of the first manufacturer). Since I was realistically expecting to sell in the 500-700 unit range, this was great. A few hundred left over I could try to sell on Amazon and at Origins next year (or make into Christmas presents for every friend and relative!). Dropping from 2500 units to 1000 units cut the funding goal in half, though the price per unit went up a few dollars per game.

To lower the goal even further I moved all non-essential items out of the base game and into stretch goals and set the component quality to the lowest I was comfortable with – again making the higher quality options an early stretch goal. I also had a long talk with myself and came to conclusion that I was willing to spend a bit of my own money to get this game made. I was also OK if I didn’t reimburse myself for development and marketing costs – so I took those out of the equation too.

In the end I turned my $95,000 funding goal into $39,000. As Kickstarter campaigns do, my first had slowed to a crawl as it became clear that it wasn’t going to fund, so I felt the $30k it did make meant that $39k was feasible for a solid campaign with an existing (even if small) community that looked successful right out of the gate.

The lower funding goal was key for me. If you’ve already shopped around, gotten the lowest possible price, and still fell far short for the goal, then you might be stuck unless you can find a way to divide the project up or otherwise scale it back. My funding goal was such a barrier in the initial campaign that I honestly would not have tried again if I hadn’t been able to cut it at least in half.

box on board3

Gave the People What They Want

Aside from a realistic funding goal, I had a solid list of other things backers wanted: like more miniatures, an option to buy just the miniatures, and “Kickstarter Exclusive” items.

I wasn’t a big fan of exclusives but I came up with something small (a ship, sector, and a few cards). I also took the opportunity to remove some of the pledge levels that didn’t get much action – thereby focusing more on the game and ships. I remade the video and spent a little money on a voice over and professional footage (fiverr.com was a great resource for both); I added some new pledge levels for just miniatures (an affordable low end pledge and a deluxe high end one); and I removed a lot of clutter from the campaign page – saving it for the first few updates instead.

Results

I relaunched Shadowstar Corsairs about a month after the end of the first try. I wanted to do it while backers were still interested, but I also needed that much time to remake the video and webpage, plus gather information on the new pledge levels and get some additional ships made. I would have liked to have launched a little sooner because I was starting to feel the buzz generated during the campaign starting to fade, though I tried to keep up some engagement via BoardGameGeek and my social sites.

About a third of the backers from the first campaign joined the second one right away. I suspect more trickled in later or hit the “remind me” button but that initial surge was great.

I ran a contest on BoardGameGeek as the initial spike was dying off and that was enough to hit the funding goal. It also got Shadowstar Corsairs high on “The Hotness” list for several days, which has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I took a screenshot.  At the time of this writing, we’re at the midpoint of the campaign and working through the stretch goals.

Though there was a lot of stress and strife in the failed first campaign, I really believe that Shadowstar Corsairs is better for it – and I feel like I have a much better idea of what I need to do for my next Kickstarter game.

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If you have any questions or comments for Ryan, feel free to post them below.

Also read: Kickstarter Lesson #50: How to Reboot an Unsuccessful Kickstarter Project

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8 Comments on “3 Mistakes I Made on My First Kickstarter Tabletop Game Project…and How I Fixed Them in the Successful Relaunch: A Guest Post by Ryan Wolfe

  1. Wow, I am really inspired by your story! I am actually trying to relaunch a failed campaign soon! That’s amazing that the contest basically funded your project! What type of contest did you run?

  2. Thank you all. Since this was my first Big Project, I advertised pretty much everywhere I could think of and then watched to see what worked (via the Kickstarter dashboard and comments). For me, BoardGameGeek and the video reviews (in particular Undead Viking) got the most referrals and comments from bakers respectively. I don’t think any places were a waste of money as the ones with less exposure also cost less. I definitely feel that places that do interviews (which you can then link too) are a good deal as they let your backers get to know you a bit better.

  3. I think you’ve highlighted the need for fast feedback (and rightfully so). Getting feedback on a site like BGG is super important, since what sounds great in your head might not be amazing in reality. Congratulations on hitting Shadowstar Corsair’s funding goal!

  4. Great post and awesome share. I’ve been really hesitant on launching my KS campaigns due to a lot of the same factors you brought up. Is it financially fair to both me and my possible backers? Will my diverse Board Game related accounts across multiple groups affect the campaign if I just advertise to them? Does spending more actually equate to making more? Just because the game is done does that mean I’m ready for KS? A lot of questions I’m still battling with. Thanks for the enlightening and honest post.

  5. Ryan,

    Truer words were never spoken…if only we knew then what we know now. There’s a cute, but painfully accurate, video on You Tube which addresses this very issue, entitled “Fail Faster” (or something to that effect) which gets to the heart of game design. You cannot wait until it’s perfect in your mind…you need to get it out in front of people…a lot of people and have them play it, break it, comment about it, and only after many iterations do you then have the perfect (open to debate, of course) game.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  6. Thank you Joe, I really appreciate the comments and I know in my heart that Corsairs is a better game for the relaunch. I should have figured out a way to get all that feedback from the first campaign without actually having to run a “first campaign”. That would have been the best of both worlds.. It’s just so frightening to finally toss your baby out into the world for people to judge, that I may have subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) put that off for too long. As it turns out the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and even if it hadn’t been; the sooner you know the problems, the easier it is to fix them.

  7. Jamey: Thanks for posting!

    Ryan: First congratulations! As a fellow-KS alum who had an initial unsuccessful project; revamped it; and re-launched later, attaining 250% funding, I applaud your efforts. You’ve run a great campaign, remaining in touch with the right amount of frequency throughout, thus far, making your Updates something we look forward to reading, rather than more spam from a designer.

    Second, your story is one which many designers should read…the passion you possess with YOUR game can prevent making otherwise rational decisions, as evidenced by not building the community or obtaining a second quote. I’ve spoken with a number of designers on BGG, and am frankly stunned to continue seeing [BGG NEW USER] labels on initial posts for their game. This is only exacerbated by the tag “First Launched 0 Backed” under their title on KS.

    Finally, the decision to make the “bling” (better artwork, molded ships, etc) Stretch Goals proved a wise decision on many fronts. Most importantly, it allows you to showcase Shadowstar Corsairs…no amount of pretty ships can salvage bad game design, but “pretty, shiny things” can enhance the gaming experience of a good-to-great game.

    As a game developer, I’ll review KS once a month, and since 1 Jan, I’ve examined more than 2,500 entries, and only three have displayed well-run and conscientiously well-designed campaigns: The King’s Abbey by Randy Rathert; Raiders of the North Sea by Shem Philips; and Shadowstar Corsairs. What does an 11th C. abbey; Vikings pillaging nearby settlements; and starships have in common…each of these campaigns failed to make their goal the first time, and they came back…better than ever!

    Cheers,
    Joe

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