4 Kickstarter Lessons Learned from The Ghosts Betwixt

3 October 2019 | 27 Comments

Recently I was contacted by Dustin Freund of Innocent Traveler Games about his current Kickstarter, The Ghosts Betwixt. In a sheer display of passion for this project, Dustin ended up sending me a variety of thoughts over a series of e-mails—a mix of insights, anecdotes, lessons learned, and observations about his project and Kickstarter in general.

Below I’ve summarized the highlights of what Dustin shared with me, as he seems genuinely interested in adding value to the Kickstarter community through his transparency. The content below is in his own words (except for the headers). Thank you, Dustin!

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A Clever Way to Make an Important Pricing Change

We originally launched our first campaign in July. We quickly stalled after the first day once our 150 early bird levels were exhausted. I think we made $10,000 the first day, and it slowed significantly after that. We received a lot of positive feedback, but some people thought the price of $85 was a little too much.

The Ghosts Betwixt tells a sprawling story across several environments, ranging from a spooky farmhouse, the basement, outdoor areas, a corn maze, a cider mill and more. It’s very important to me those locations are represented via the map tiles. Therefore, that led to quite a few punchboards (map tiles, monsters, etc), the $85 price, and the $40,000 goal to tell that full story.

However, for the rebooted campaign, we decided to “split” the story into two chapters, and more responsibly use the components in each chapter. For example, in campaign 1, the first half of the story comprised of 6 total missions. Now in campaign 2, that half of the story has expanded to 10 total missions. We’ve found ways to reuse some of the map tiles in clever ways that make sense within the narrative; for example, the new mission 4 sees the family escaping the creepy farmhouse.

Splitting the story allowed us to offer the game at $59 and lower our goal to $22,000 (to manufacture the game and pay for some of the remaining art).

One thing I’ve tried to make as clear as possible is we aren’t splitting the game but rather just splitting the story. We are telling it in two fulfilling narratives; I liken it to IT Chapter 1 and IT Chapter 2. Both tell full stories, but both contribute to an overall narrative. The Ghosts Betwixt Chapter 1 tells the story of the family saving Richie from the Bennerts’ farmhouse, while the narrative of Chapter 2 I’m keeping secret at this point as to not spoil Chapter 1.

One final thing to note: Chapter 2 will be priced more like an expansion. Since players have already invested in the dice, player boards, most of the map tiles, etc., Chapter 2 will only include some new literature, maybe 5 punchboards, 100 or so new cards, etc. I’m going to try to offer Chapter 2 around $35. Future content would be priced similarly. I view Chapter 1 as the investment into this world, and everything after will be very affordable and even free in the form of free downloadable missions.

Why the Campaign Hasn’t Yet Funded After One Week

Honestly, we were off to a really encouraging start! We hit 25% after day 1, 40% after day 2, and 55% after day 4. Then, this weekend everything started to slow down. We ended up launching during a week with a TON of other great games (I always want to say competition, but I don’t view it that way. Just others hoping to realize their dreams just like I am).

A few things we have going against us:

1) it’s a niche dungeon crawler in a unique setting. I’m really trying something different with The Ghosts Betwixt in its mechanics but absolutely in its environment and story.

2) I’m a first-time designer, and a solo one at that. I’ve done everything myself aside from the art. People don’t know me or Innocent Traveler Games, so I’m likely fighting an uphill battle.

3) My advertising budget is low because I’ve spent about all of my $10,000 on art, prototypes, shipping costs to send them to various reviewers, etc.

4) I had a huge letdown with a Facebook group. We had a deal to launch our campaign the day of the Kickstarter Campaign, and just a few days before the launch, they told me they could no longer launch the marketing campaign. As you might imagine, all other Facebook groups’ ads space and efforts are already spoken for. That badly hurt my momentum, and I’m struggling to piece it together.

Engaging Your Backers During the Mid-Campaign Slump

I’ve tried to make sure to continue to have fun with our current backers instead of just focusing on potential backers. Specifically, I asked our audience the types of content they want to see. This stemmed from a great piece of advice I received a few days ago. A Facebook friend told me to not be afraid to ask our audience or prospective audience what they want to see. I’ve received some great ideas, including creating videos around each of the family member’s back stories, personalities, talents (special abilities); discussing individual rules/mechanics and how they work; and finding fun origin stories where certain components came from, such as the idea for Maddox to attack with fireworks or why a teddy bear can be used as a temporary shield. There’s little stories behind everything in the game that people may find interesting.

One Way to Boost Momentum: A Loan

My parents helped me out a little bit this afternoon. I explained to them my theory of KS perception.

The loan has seemed to completely changed the perception of current backers, prospective backers and those on social media. Yesterday it was a feeling that our backers were starting to lose confidence, but today everyone is fired up. I keep getting comments and messages of excitement from our backers. I think that confidence and excitement absolutely permeates to prospective backers.

I know not everyone has a small loan available to them, but if one can somehow give his or her project a little mid-campaign boost, it can make a momentous shift in the project not just monetarily but more importantly in its perception.

I feel people are way more excited about TGB today than even yesterday, and it’s up to me to take advantage of that positive momentum. For example, I just advertised and streamed a live “ask me anything” Facebook video, which seemed to be pretty successful.

Today, we’ve gained another 3% or so after that mid-campaign boost. People seem to be legitimately re-engaged and excited again about the project.

[Jamey: I discussed a similar strategy in this article.]

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What do you think about Dustin’s thoughts? What stands out to you? If you have any questions for Dustin, he’ll be available in the comments.

27 Comments on “4 Kickstarter Lessons Learned from The Ghosts Betwixt

  1. “The loan has seemed to completely changed the perception of current backers, prospective backers and those on social media. Yesterday it was a feeling that our backers were starting to lose confidence, but today everyone is fired up.”

    Why were they happy you got a loan? What did you do with the loan?

    1. Hey Gerald, let me quickly state the loan wasn’t something I necessarily advertised to our backers haha :) The small loan just helped keep the momentum going a little bit. Mainly, it kept confidence in our current backers high. It re-energized our passionate fan base that yes, we are going to make it! That passion was immediately felt in our comment section and throughout the various social media posts from our backers. So, honestly the mid-campaign small loan was used to try to help us through that mid-campaign lull some of us first-time designers may experience, just to try to keep some momentum moving along. Trying literally anything we can to make it to our magic number because we KNOW once people receive the game, they will love it. This project means absolutely everything to me, I’ve worked far too hard and put myself in this project; thousands of hours of sacrificing other things. I’ll see it all the way through and can’t wait for people to see all the surprises we have in store for them! Thx! dustin

      1. Hi Dustin, it’s interesting that getting a loan helped the momentum of the project, and increased backer confidence. I would still love to know what you did, or will do, with the :)

        Did you:

        Spend it on advertising?

        Tell backers the project will 100% fund because you got a loan to make up the difference?

        Made more prototypes with the loan and sent them to reviewers?

        Something else?

          1. Full transparency here, it was a very small investment or “mid-campaign boost” I’ll call it to just help our momentum. We got stuck in the mud over the weekend, and were going up against several other AMAZING games. We all have dreams we want to see come true. Thus, to help us a little closer to the finish line, but more importantly to reinvigorate our current backers’ confidence (as some people began to cancel their pledge) I wanted to add a little boost to “stop the bleeding.” It helped immensely. Since Tuesday we’ve only had one person cancel their pledge; before that we had three cancel their pledge in one day. In my particular situation, it helped immensely. It could make the difference between us funding and not. Thx for the thoughts! Let me know if you have anything else – clearly I’m an open book lol! Dustin

    2. I think it gives the message that the project will be worked on as funds are not a concern at the moment which is a common issue with new publishers, backers fear for money canibalization

  2. I played Escape From Dulce at Geekway with Dustin, and he told me at that point about The Ghosts Betwixt. It sounded like a really fun setting, and a cool twist on the dungeon crawler type game.

    He’s dead on about engaging with current backers — the best and most memorable Kickstarter campaigns I’ve backed have been the ones that are regularly providing updates to their backers throughout, and not just to ask them to rope other people in. Jellybean Games (The Lady and the Tiger, Village Pillage) does a great job with that as well. Sometimes even an email asking current backers if they wouldn’t mind increasing their pledge or jumping up to the next pledge level can work.

    1. Greetings Zach! I’ll never forget meeting you and playing Escape from Dulce. Such a fun time, and an absolute pleasure meeting you.

      Definitely hope to see you next year at Geekway – I’ll be there!

  3. How did the “loan” increase buzz? What did he use the loan on? Did he have his parents “order” copies via the KS campaign? That feels like throwing away money because doesn’t a large amount of it go to KS? Did he use it on advertising and get a wider audience?

    1. This needs a wider audience! So I’m glad he got help to get it out to more ppl. Also we got one guy that has developed this and still has a life outside. So the fact he replys to almost everyone is impressive. I backed this both times (backer #1😎) Dustin has always been open to answer anything and the love behind this shows in the game. Go Back This!!

  4. Is the suggestion that the loan in question was the creator’s parents backing the project? Kickstarter doesn’t take a huge percentage so paying $10 to give a project momentum and get access to thousands in return is seen as acceptable by many creators, though I can understand the creator being unwilling to talk about it in front of backers it seems a borderline practice at best.

    1. Hey Glenn, ya I kinda wish the comments so far weren’t focused on the “mid campaign boost,” I’ll call it. But I certainly get it. This was just one of many things I tried to maintain positive momentum, and they’ve all seemed to help prevent us from getting stuck. I think perception is the most important thing for a Kickstarter campaign. As soon as a project appears stuck to the outside audience, I think they quickly move on. I shared my experience with Jamey of absolutely everything I attempted to help keep us moving toward that finish line. I hear what you mean about “borderline” practice, and I don’t at all want it to come off in that fashion. It was more a very small investment to reinvigorate the project. Running a successful KS is more difficult today than ever before, I think, and I believe additional tactics may need to be considered to see one’s dreams realized. I’ll try just about anything to ensure The Ghosts Betwixt reaches our passionate audience! Thx for your thoughts!

      1. The only reason I asked is because it was the inky thing in the article that seemed to be lacking detail. We still haven’t found out what the loan was used for so we aren’t quite sure how it helped you. Otherwise I thought the article was very insightful and interesting!

      2. Don’t get me wrong, I know how it feels, I’m a solo low budget creator with a project on Kickstarter right now and when the mid season slump hits we all get a little crazy trying to get the boulder rolling again, I wrote a blog after my first Kickstarter just about the emotional toll of a Kickstarter and I may do it again after this one because its the one thing you really can’t learn. I think the reason people are focused on it is the idea that you did it and hid it from your backers. A Kickstarter campaign is primarily an exercise in trust and total transparency to your backers is an article of faith to a lot of us so doing anything that you’re not proud to tell them about during your campaign is a little uncomfortable.

        1. Speaking as a backer, I don’t feel as though the loan was hidden or that it was meant as a deceptive tactic in any way. Dustin even gave the link to this article in the last update so that backers are given direct access to that knowledge. To me, it shows that Dustin is committed to getting this game funded and made so that we get the chance to play in this world he has created. As I see it, the loan being put directly into the campaign effectively lowers the money needed to fund while only taking more out of his own pocket in the long run, but it helps get the game funded and in our hands. It shows me that he truly believes in the game and is willing to short himself a bit possibly in order to get his passion project out in the world. When a creator is that passionate about what they’ve created, I tend to make sure to take a closer look. But that’s just my perspective on this situation. If the loan had been split up and secretly added in as “extra backers” that the real backers didn’t know about, then that would be a whole different story.

        2. Glenn – Fair points. At the same time, put yourself in my shoes – I didn’t want to show weakness to our backers. I’m trying to display the utmost confidence that this project WILL fund and that they should stick with us.

          At that point in the campaign, backers were beginning to cancel their pledges. I was an emotional wreck. The only thing I could think of was to infuse our project with a small investment to display the project is still moving in a positive direction.

          We were stuck. And if you’re KS project is stuck, it’s really tough to pull it out of the mud. So, along with many other tactics I spoke about with Jamey, one final option was to give it a tiny bump.

          At that point in time, I didn’t see why it was necessary to instantly tell our backers, “Hey we received a small investment!” I’m sure all that mattered at that point to our awesome backers was that the ship was still steady and afloat.

          That day we were stuck, we lost three backers in the span of a few hours. Since then four days later, we’ve only lost one. The results speak for themselves.

          Fast-forward a few days later, I contacted Jamey to share my story, and he was kind enough to accept it! Honestly, I didn’t know what he was going to share, but I communicated EVERYTHING that I had attempted to get out of our slump; I allowed him to use anything he thought would be valuable to his audience. So now not only do ALL of our backers know about the mid-campaign investment, but also countless others like yourself! :)

          And yes, this blog has been shared with all of our backers. And not one person has communicated they’ve felt “duped,” or whatever we want to call it.

          Again, I absolutely see your point. I don’t think there’s anything “uncomfortable” about it like you put it, but I do understand this is last-ditch type of strategy. And guess what – it worked.

          We just hit 80%, and I went from feeling like a piece of me was dying to back on top of the world.

          Hope all that makes sense. I appreciate the discussion and hope I accurately convey none of this was meant to deceive or anything like that. At the end of the day, my parents know what this project means to me and want it to become a reality maybe as much as I do.

          So here we are, alive and well!

          Dustin

          1. Hey Dustin,
            I want you to know that I’m not saying this as an attack, I totally understand the emotional place that being in the middle of a not yet funded Kickstarter puts you in, but you asked why the comments so far were focused on the ‘mid-campaign boost’ and I’m trying to frame an honest answer.
            I also don’t need to put myself in your shoes, I’m in your shoes, I have a currently running Kickstarter, one that suffered three consecutive cancellations on Monday Night and Tuesday Morning that saw us drop a full two percent. It could have been many things, the start of a trend, a reaction to news stories about Kickstarter or anything, and I chose to give it a little space, rely on the campaign that I’d put together and believed in. I kept posting on Social Media, being active in the comments and gave it 24 hours, and it levelled out, in fact ending with a day where we picked up double what we lost and the two days after have been some of the best of the whole campaign. My point is, that a small Kickstarter like yours or mine is an emotional rollercoaster and that a huge thing to remember is to try to step back from those emotions before making financial choices.
            Most importantly though, your first words in these comments were:
            “let me quickly state the loan wasn’t something I necessarily advertised to our backers haha :)”
            Now you may have reached a point of transparency since, and those may have been poorly chosen words when you put them as a comment, but as you have said, you are the face of your campaign and all I know about your attitude towards your loan has come from this board and your words. When you posted that comment you indicated an attitude of not wanting to be totally open and transparent with your backers, and that’s an attitude that accurate or not I think there should be some care about projecting for a Kickstarter creator.

      3. I rran into the campaign through the Facebok ad. Initially I considered pledging but decided against it because of changes that were being made by adding new mechanics at the request or suggestion of current backers in the middle of the campaign.

        This concerned me that the game is still a work in progress and has not been fully tested which is common with KS games. With committing that much money, I would rather spend it on something that at least appears to be ready to be produced as it was designed and presented to backers.

        This is simply my feedback from someone who chose not to back that others may or may not share with me.

  5. It looks like a great game, and from what I gathered after one playthrough one TableTop Simulator, it’s very intuitive and fast, with some classic dungeon crawling in a modern setting.
    Dustin is a committed and enthousiastic designer, and I truly hope this will become a hit.

    1. Awfully kind of you Raymond – I’m so glad you reached out to me for the first time (over Twitter I think?). It’s been fun gaming with you and I definitely hope we can continue outside of just TGB tabletop simulator :)

  6. So, Dustin, as a solo first timer (yes, that’s me too, hoping to KS later this year) what was your most effective networking tool on the solo guy’s small budget?

    1. Hey Sean! I’d start with you being the face of your project. I think people will begin to identify your game with you. I wish I had more email marketing/social media marketing expertise (I am a copywriter but not an expert in those areas), as growing that initial email subscription list is really important. If I could do it all over again, I’d spend all of my time generating those subscribers. All that said, I think you being you, contributing to discussions on various Facebook groups, building relationships, really anything you can do organically, is a great start and will help people start to associate you with the game you’re designing. Then all that can hopefully contribute to a decent subscription base. Hope that makes sense! (I’m mobile atm so typing on my phone lol). Thx sir! Dustin

    1. My main strategy was advertising The Ghosts Betwixt on Facebook to try to get likes to our Facebook page. Once we hit about 1,000 followers, I then started boosting posts to our audience to help ensure they’d actually see the posts. (You’re probably aware that Facebook only shows a very small fraction of your posts to your audience). So that was my main strategy – creating that audience, and then producing compelling content to that audience, all with the goal of getting them to subscribe to our newsletter. Honestly though, I wish I’d done that second part a little better haha!

      Between campaigns, I just kept being myself and appearing as the spokesperson of the game. I wanted people to feel my passion for the game, and to display how “finished” it is in both its mechanics and campaign. Any question I’m asked about the game, I can pretty much answer.

      Two days ago I promoted an “Ask Me Anything” live Facebook video, which received a good amount of engagement. I’ll keep doing those because it allows me to speak directly to our audience, and support some of those benefits spoken about above.

      Hope that helps in some small way, thanks so much!

      Dustin

  7. Hey Dustin, thanks for your insights that Jamey chose to share. Your games happens to sound really fun too. Just backed it. My first KS backing (not sure if that is the correct noun form of backing a game on KS).

    1. Joe, thank you so much! Truly means a lot, especially as a first time backer!

      Please don’t be a stranger, let us know if you have any questions on our KS, Facebook or Boardgamegeek pages.

      Thanks again!

      Dustin

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