4 Different Strategies for Featuring Reviews on Kickstarter

25 June 2015 | 34 Comments

Back in the day, I might have said that there is only one strategy for building backer trust and exposure through third-party reviews: Get as many reviews as possible.

But when I look at crowdfunding projects today, I see a broad spectrum of review strategies, all of them with various merits. Today I’ll outline those strategies and help you pick the one that’s right for you.

1. Get as Many Reviews as Possible

Almost every day when I scroll through my Feedly blogs, I see a new review for Monstrous. Kim has done a fantastic job of getting the game out to reviewers well in advance of launching his project and then staggering the reviews so they didn’t all hit on day one.

This strategy is great because it reaches lots of different audiences as well as gives the same readers repeated exposure to the game (sometimes it takes several reviews for it to click with a potential backer). It’s ideal for prototypes that are relatively inexpensive to produce, like card games.

The only downside is the “paradox of choice” for backers: When they’re faced with 2-3 reviews on your project page, there’s a good chance they’ll click through to a few of them. When they see a wall of reviewers, they might be so daunted that they don’t read any of them. You can help out those backers by doing what Monstrous does: Quote one key sentence from each of those reviewers on the project page.

2. Select and Feature a Small Number of Reviews

I recently mentioned that Scoundrel Society is using this more focused strategy, as is Tau Ceti (which will have a guest post in a few days). Both have only 2-3 reviews on their project page.

This is important to consider if the prototype of your product is expensive to produce. But it’s also a valid strategy to keep things simple for your potential backers. They really only need a few reviews to get a feel for whether or not the game is right for them, and you can still increase your exposure through blog interviews and podcast appearances.

3. Share Detailed Review Blurbs from Playtesters and Other Designers

This is a strategy I’m currently seeing from Hocus and The Gallerist. Neither project has reviews (yet) other than one detailed preview on Hocus. Instead, each project has a section that features quotes from playtesters and other designers.

Paired with a gameplay video, I actually think this approach works almost just as well as strategy #2. Sure, you’re not getting a full review, nor do you benefit from the exposure of reviews hosted elsewhere, but for your primary audience–potential backers who are looking for unbiased assurance that the game is good–these blurbs are fine.

4. Don’t Have Any Reviews

This was actually the inspiration for this post. Recently I’ve seen several very successful projects–Zombicide ($2.2 million), Epic Card Game ($373k)–that have eschewed the idea of reviews altogether.

At first this approach bewildered me a bit, particularly for Epic. Zombicide is very well known at this point. If you haven’t played the previous iterations of the game, there are plenty of reviews for you to check out, and the project page does a good job of highlighting the differences in the new game.

Epic, however, is baffling not so much that it doesn’t have any reviews, but that it’s doing so well despite the lack of reviews. Obviously there’s more than meets the eye–it’s the same creator as the mega hit Star Realms, which automatically establishes a lot of trust.

Despite how discerning backers are (which is a good thing), perhaps it’s possible for a creator or game system to have so much built-up trust that reviews simply aren’t necessary. A few reviews or previews wouldn’t hurt these project, but they probably wouldn’t help as much as an unknown game.

But I can say for sure that these instances are very rare. They apply to the small subset of mega projects, not you or me. And I mean that when I say “me.” Stonemaier Games has built a lot of trust with backers and gamers and I’ve raised over $1.4 million on Kickstarter, but I will absolutely continue to provide at least a few third-party reviews to help backers decide if they’ll like the game.

***

What do you think about these strategies and examples? Are any of these strategies particularly appealing or unappealing to you as a backer?

If you’re at least a few months away from launching your project and want to find some third-party reviewers, I would recommend looking at similar projects and contacting the reviewers they feature. The more long-term, relationship-based strategy I endorse can be found in these Kickstarter Lessons: KS Lesson #5: Connecting with Bloggers and KS Lesson #27: Bloggers, Podcasters, and Reviewers

34 Comments on “4 Different Strategies for Featuring Reviews on Kickstarter

  1. This is a great post Jamey, and I think it affirms the idea that one size doesn’t fit all. Each project is different, so you’ve got to go with the strategy that best fits yours.

    I think this also touches on your blog #112 regarding mega projects. It’s tempting to want to try and emulate everything they do, but we need to realize that just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for us. Their path is different and unique, and there are so many underlying factors which determine their success. I think the strategies you mentioned are categorized really well, so this is a great example for other project creators to go by!

    1. Definitely. If someone like Mantic is putting up a new project they don’t need reviews just because of their reputation. For new entrants to the tabletop genre it’s certainly a completely different game. Plus an expansion to an existing game is less likely to need reviews than the original game itself. Some games are very unusual and will also warrant more reviews than others. As you say, there’s no way you can put a “one size fits all” rule here.

      1. Mark: Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think it’s a hard for me to understand why even the biggest game companies don’t get at least one review. I agree that they don’t NEED it–backers clearly respond to their campaigns without the reviews–but it can’t hurt. I guess I consider it a service to backers. I love the support of my backers, but not ever game is for every backer, and I want them to know the difference up front through unbiased third-party reviews.

        1. Very true. Maybe I should have phrased it that they don’t necessarily need reviews to fund. Certainly reviews will still help for a portion of backers, particularly for a new game.

    2. Extending on my previous comment those with previous projects will also be treated differently. For example there are people saying “I will back your next game whatever it is” to people like Jamey and Cody (Xia), and others saying they WON’T back your next game to various designers. Obviously for those who have shone a bright light the requirement for reviews is probably less significant than those needed for a designer that really needs to earn (back) trust.

  2. I wonder how many backers would be attracted by a “playtester review” – not just an endorsement, but more of their personal account of the changes that the game has gone through, and how the final product is the best in can be.

    Just a thought…

    1. Chaz – this is a great idea! Personally I love reading designer diaries from the designer, which often chronicles a similar part of the journey. Having the view from playtesters would be a nice complementary piece to get an alternative viewpoint in that journey.

    2. Not necessarially a playtester review, for me, but some sort of Making Of document detailing thoughts and reasoning of various elements of the design, and/or the evolution of the game over time. Kind of like a DVD commentary, but for board games.

      Jamey – On which note, I’m finding the inclusion of small paragraphs of designer notes in the Tuscany rulebook cool and interesting. For Scythe, if there’s no space in the rulebook for a GMT sized 2-4 page block of designer notes, detailing the evolution of the game, why certain things play the way they do, etc, I’d be very interested in that same sort of content on the website. Both from the design and developement perspective from yourself and Alan, but also the art and world building perspective from Jakub.

      That’s not necessarially ‘during the project’ if it doesn’t go into the rulebook (Although that would be cool), just something I’d love to see included either as part of the rules like GMT often seem to do, or documented online somewhere.

  3. I think Epic worked on a review-less approach because of the combination of trust (as Star Realms smashed through all the charts) and a low price point. I think if the price were even just $10 more expensive, there wouldn’t have been funding (or at least, not as much) without reviews.

    That said, maybe they could even have been more successful if they had reviews.

  4. Jamey – great article (as always). I know from somebody on the other end, that whenever I am asked to do a Kickstarter video I get a little nervous and apprehensive as they require a different approach than a standard review of an already published game. As a reviewer you do not want to negatively impact a campaign just because the game is not for you, yet you still want to provide an unbiased, 3rd party opinion that might help people make informed decisions about the game on their own.

    From a reviewer point of view I always appreciate when there are multiple reviews on the kickstarter page because it allows you to direct your viewers toward them for additional insights or alternative points of view.

    As a future blog post, I would love to see an article titled something like, “Is a review that is made for kickstarter the same as one that you would get for an already published game? Why they might be different.”

    Have a great day Jamey!

    Cheers,
    David

  5. Regarding #3, I should mention that I once happened to back a game mostly on the sole strength of a recommendation by some random guy called Jamey Stegmaier. ;)

  6. There are those mega campaigns that just sell because of a game name or a company reputation. But as you mention they are very rare.
    The Pillars of Eternity boardgame has no reviews either and runs quite well because of a mix of 3 and 4. The videogame is well known, so the boardgame automatically gets the needed buzz. And at least they have a how to play.
    The Gallerist on the other side suffers (like marshlands) from this month designer/publisher problems. I think the gallerist would have had a way better start without those problems that arise from the Brass dispute. Vital – in my opinion – is normally almost autosold for most heavy euro fans. But i looked twice when the game did not “instafund”.
    For me in the backer perspective i am happy with anything from your numbers #1 to #3. I just don’t want to read the rules first to know if it is my kind of game. That is almost a nogo for me.

    I haven’t backed both mega campaigns. Zombicide is just not my kind of game, but for Epic it was just not enough information for me. They may have gotten me with a review. And i knew their star realms reputation, but still it wasn’t enough for me. So #4 is not the best option if #1 to #3 is a possible way to go.

    Hocus looks really interesting and i liked their detailed how to play video. But they did not use EU-friendly shipping, so i am on the fence for that one. I asked them to look into “sent from china” or comparable cheap solutions so they may ship below customs problems. We’ll see.

    1. Malte: Thanks for your thoughts. I had a very similar experience to you with The Gallerist (though it didn’t take long to fund) and Epic (which for me could have really used a review to convince me. I know it’s existing in some form as a CCG, but they could have included some reviews for that version on the project page if they thought it was representative of the new game).

  7. Thank you Jamey for summarising the today’s trends.

    I do not like when someone doesn’t put a review or a gameplay on their project (preferably both), even if they are well known. I think that especially then it looks worst as it looks as if the creator has not put enough work to present the project fully and it is just another game for them.

    I do not want a just another game I want a game where playing it you experience the designer’s passion and see the time they spent preparing and polishing it. Simply those games just play great and you find yourself coming back to them very often.

    Well this might be the very reason why I only hold a very small (compare to some of my mates) number of 20+ games (expansions excluding). I tend to experience a game first in one or the other way to see myself playing it and only then making a decision if it is right for me.

    All the Best

    1. Well said, Konrad. I particularly like this: “I want a game where playing it you experience the designer’s passion and see the time they spent preparing and polishing it.”

  8. I think there’s an important ‘who’ on reviews too, as when I see a huge pile of reviews from people I’ve never heard of, I just sort of go ‘meh’ and skip on along. When I see a handful which are from recognizable people, it means more to me (For example, seeing that Rahdo has done a video means more to me than others, as he’s recognizable, and splits his video’s so I can just check a quick final thoughts, or see a full game video)

    The short quotes are helpful, albeit perhaps more so when they have a negative tinge to them – I appreciate a creator accepting their short-comings and it looks far more honest than 20 perfect quotes as that just looks like they’re taken out of context.

    As I final point – I think the important thing about having at least one review, is not so much in whether or not anyone watches it, reads it, or even cares about it, but that it proves he game is in a complete/near-complete state and ready to play. If you see a project with 0 reviews, it makes you question how much play-testing it has (Which coincidentally is why I think established developers get away with none, as releasing successful games implies that they handle that anyway).

    1. Chris: These are great points. I agree about the concept of who the reviewer is (though I also like discovering new reviewers through Kickstarter projects).

      Also, this is great: “..it proves the game is in a complete/near-complete state and ready to play.” Well said.

  9. Thanks for the kind mention of MONSTROUS Jamey.

    As a new publishing team coming from Australia we took the view that we needed a lot of reviews to get traction in the US and Europe as far as we could. We invested in a full production quality preview print run of 60 games to:

    1. give reviewers a real sense of the quality of the art, graphic design and production. all of which got regular praise in reviews (phew!).

    2. test our printers Quality Assurance!

    3. use as promotional giveaways

    We used 4 big name reviewers (and pitched Rahdo but its a little too ‘take that’ for he and his wife), and about 20 others reviewers. We didn’t expect all to complete so there was some redundancy there.

    I chose reviewers that had all sorts of different attributes and who appealed to my various family and gamer audiences. Including how well they present games.

    While the staggering was intentional i challenge anyone to ensure it happens any other way :)

    We also sent our deluxe previews out with carefully crafted pitches as freebies to some key influencers. That worked wonders and got Monstrous a mention as a hot new game on the Dicetower Network panel at Origins 2015 when I wasn’t even there!

    I actually had more demand for review copies than I could handle. I managed to have some reviewers send their copies on but I wish i had planned that even more in advance to reach further.

    Do i need that many reviews next time. No. But i was happy with every review i got – even the negative one. Its a labor of love for those guys and they deserve respect and gratitude.

    Shout outs:

    This FB board game reviewers group is great https://www.facebook.com/groups/boardgamereviewer/

    http://www.jamesmathe.com/o-reviewer-reviewer-wherefore-art-thou/

  10. Chaz: I recently joined a play testing Facebook group and one of the members shared a Geeklist from BGG called Fresh Cut Games. It is a relatively new vlog that will take a Print and Play version of a board game and play it, the do like a mini review at the end. I checked them out last night and I think this would be another excellent opportunity to get a 3rd party review and play testing feedback. Depending on the result might be worth while sharing on your Kickstarter page too

  11. Hi Jamey,

    Thanks a lot for the blog! I have a question about the time to send games to review. When would be most appropriated? I mean, I think maybe a month before the KS. But then, the initial interest might die. However, if I send during the KS, the reviewer might not get the time to review… it might just miss it.

    Thanks a lot for the information!

    Jose

    1. Jose: I’d recommend sending out games to reviewers at least 2 months before the KS launch. You can give the reviewer a specific day on which they post the review, but only if you give them plenty of advance notice. 1 month is rarely enough time. :)

  12. Hello and thank you for those great tips.
    What timing would you recommend for reviews? To have them published before the KS starts so that you can use extracts in the KS page from day 1? At the time of the launch? During the campaign? Or a mix of all three?
    For our project, we have reviewers who have already written reviews (not published yet), but it’s 2-3 weeks before the launch of the KS: should we tell them to wait? Isn’t a little too pushy? :)
    Thanks!

      1. Thank you very much Jamey.
        The only thing I find a little awkward is to ask the reviewers for a specific date of publication, especially when they have received & already written their article way earlier than expected. It can feel a little pushy. But I guess there are used to it and know that timing is important…

  13. Right, they typically understand this. The only thing that is unfair to reviewers is if they get the game, play it, prepare the review…and then you delay it indefinitely.

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