4 Unique Elements of Current Kickstarter Projects

23 September 2014 | 46 Comments

Today I’m going to test out the first of a new series in which I highlight some of the interesting choices that current Kickstarter creators have made regarding their projects. I’m not looking at the content or product itself; rather, I’m interested in decisions creators made regarding reward levels, stretch goals, and overall project design.

This isn’t meant as an endorsement of these projects in any way (I don’t do that on this blog); rather, I’m looking for unique elements of projects that might inspire other creators. I like some of these ideas; others, not so much.

1. No Stretch Goals (Skyway Robbery)

Skyway Robbery, a game by Philip duBarry, is attempting something I haven’t seen from a tabletop game project in quite some time: It’s trying to fund without any stretch goals. As the project page says, “Skyway Robbery is totally pre-stretched with the best components we can get — springy ivorycore cards, thick 4mm punchboard tokens and player boards, beautiful laser-etched custom dice, a huge full-color game board. Skyway Robbery is excellent, right from the start!”

I like the spirit of this idea, but in practice I wouldn’t recommend it. The problem is that with such a vast number and high quality of components from Day 1, the core price is higher than what it would have been if the game had started with fewer and lower quality components. By keeping the price lower, you make the project more accessible to people early on, and that momentum translates into more backers, more funding, and more/better stuff through stretch goals.

Despite being a beautifully illustrated game from a very talented designer, Skyway Robbery is struggling to reach its funding goal. I think there are several reasons for this (high international prices don’t help), but I think that the lack of stretch goals and resulting price points are a major factor here. Stretch goals really do make a project exciting and engaging, and they’re a key differentiating factor between a Kickstarter project and a pre-order system.

2. Identifying the Shipping Subsidy in the Reward Text (Apocalypse: Galactic Arena)

This is a concept I discussed recently, but I think this is the first project I’ve seen to implement it. The idea is that it might be a good idea to highlight the shipping subsidy in the reward level text so backers know how good of a value they’re getting. Here’s how the word their $42 reward level on Galactic Arena:

1 full copy of GALACTIC ARENA. *This pledge includes the $12 fee for shipping to any address worldwide.

I think they got it half right. This method is the most effective if you also list the MSRP (or KS MSRP). And there needs to be a note about stretch goals. Here’s how I would have worded it:

1 copy of Galactic Arena with all stretch goals. This price includes $30 for the game and $12 for worldwide shipping. MSRP: $50.

3. Include Another Thematically Similar Game as a Stretch Goal (Bomb Squad)

The other day I received one of the more interesting newsletters from a game company in the last couple of years. TMG currently has a game called Bomb Squad on Kickstarter. After about 10 days, the project had almost reached its funding goal when TMG sent out a notification saying that by sheer coincidence, soon after they launched the campaign, they received another game submission called Bomb Squad Academy.

TMG loved the game, so rather than create another Kickstarter for it, they added it to the Bomb Squad Kickstarter game as a free inclusion if the project reaches the $60,000 stretch goal. This announcement provided a burst in pledges that pushed the project over the funding threshold.

TMG has actually done something similar to this on the Ground Floor Kickstarter campaign. The special thing about what they’ve done is that they’ve made existing pledges better–backers are now getting 2 games without having to add anything to their pledges. While this may not work for every scenario and every budget, it’s a great illustration of the power of stretch goals and of being flexible as a creator during the campaign.

4. Using the “Risks and Challenges” Section as a Creator-Backer Contract (The Orcfather)

I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen this. The Risks and Challenges section on the Orcfather project details what the creator (Lost Games Entertainment) is responsible for, what they can’t control, and what the backers are agreeing to. It ends with a legalese-style disclaimer saying that if you back this project, you’ve read the Risks and Challenges and accept them.

I particularly like the sections about shipping. As a creator, your responsibility is to ship to the address the backer provides to you. As a backer, your responsibility is to provide an address where the package can safely and securely be received. I like that Lost Games put that in writing on the project page.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on these out-0f-the-box ideas!

If you see any intriguing elements of current Kickstarter projects that might inspire other creators, please notify me in the comments below or at contact@stonemaiergames.com. Projects can be in any category.

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46 Comments on “4 Unique Elements of Current Kickstarter Projects

  1. Most of the comments are from the perspectives of the publisher or the consumer. But what about the designer?

    How do you calculate royalties for designers, when their games are offered as a free stretch goal?

  2. Hi.
    1. I don’t like this one, as you as a backer are loosing the feel of what it is all about… helping the creator to make the product as best as it can be.

    2. Like the idea. It nicely shows the shipping is included and you can calculate how much you pay for your game.

    3. Nice of TMG to do that. I do not see negative aspects of it particularly that the game is thematically similar.

    4. Always good to state what you are about even in lawyers’ lingo even if it might possibly be not binding.

    I have noticed that on the Orcfather they actually have stretch goals before founding the project! What do you think about that? For me this is the first and I am not sure how I feel about it. Can it potentially have a positive effect for the campaign? Has anyone seen other campaigns doing it?

    Thank you Jamey for the article.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Konrad. I actually did that very idea (stretch goals before meeting the funding goal) on the original Viticulture campaign in the form of Facebook Likes. Those are more like engagement goals than stretch goals. Some people dislike Facebook goals, and I’ve moved away from them, but I think they could work for some campaigns.

  3. About #1, I think that this is a big mistake that only placates the vocal minority that dislikes stretch goals. Stretch goals are all about ADDING value, but saying that they’re already included in the package doesn’t raise the bar, it just changes where the original value proposition is anchored. It’s like coming into a negotiation with your bottom line first, rather than anchoring at a higher/lower value than you’re willing to accept.

    And for #4, I’m not entirely convinced that this “contract” would hold up in court. There are cases where having the terms that are being agreed to off-screen from the acceptance button (or something similar to this, I think it’s an old Netscape case) made it so there was no actual contract formed. This attenuation of affirmative agreement and the actual terms is a no-no in my book. If there was something at the top that said “By backing this, you are agreeing to the terms below in the risks section” or something like that, it may be better. But who knows (and for Pete’s sake, don’t take this as legal advice…get a lawyer), it could be fine.

    1. Zachary: I completely agree about stretch goals. As for the Risks and Challenges disclaimer, I view it more as a social contract than an legal contract. It’s a formal way for the creator to say, “Here’s what you can expect from me, and here’s what I expect from you.” While I think that 99% of the accountability is on the creator, that final 1% (submitting the best possible address for delivery) is on the backer.

  4. Hi Guys, I am one of the developers of Galactic Arena, so I can speak a bit more about our decision to go with this approach,

    We went from “Shipping charged after campaign ends” to then “Add $12 for shipping” and finally we ended up with the current pledge.

    One of our main issues with charging shipping after the campaign ends is that it may actually be more difficult to reach your funding goal (Each pledge is less than it would be with shipping included). Also backers seem to dislike it. We abandoned that approach as soon as we were able to get a single price point for worldwide shipping.

    We were then going to ask people to manually add the shipping to their pledge. However if some of them missed the text explaining that part, we could conceivably end up with lots of unsatisfied backers expecting to get the game at a lower price.

    Was it the right choice? We can’t tell of course. It is hard to interpret KS data and people’s reactions. Ideally Kickstarter should offer more options regarding shipping. (And better analytics/test tools) The thing that we do like about this is that it is more transparent than the alternatives.

    1. Chris: Thanks for sharing your insights about Galactic Arena here. I can confirm that asking backers to add shipping to their pledge (a necessary annoyance for my projects) can create a lot of inefficiencies and confusion.

      The key thing I like about what you did is that you identified the shipping price so people could see the true value they were getting–I think that’s a huge asset and a great strategy.

  5. There is one you over looked that is doing something different as well. I only mention it because I happen to know about it. Hooch is doing interactive Missions. This is not something I have seen before and if there has been a campaign that did it I did not see it. In the Hooch campaign you can participate in Live Missions. where you can earn in game rewards that are personalized just for you. These are not stretch goals and each reward is tailor made for each backer. The missions will take the backer out to reviews of the game as they happen and they will collect information from that page as well and from the presentation they watch.

    Each mission is progress for you the backer as you attempt to join the ranks of the Kickstarts Syndicate, an exclusive Syndicate named after Kickstater. You should take a look it is a very unique experience and so far the response has been great. Just thought i would mention it.

  6. I’m starting to see a number of games without stretch goals. AquaSphere is one. They comment that they did not have stretch goals because the game is exactly how they envisioned it should be. That’s $70k with no stretch goals.

    Didn’t see any stretch goals for Neptun either. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1016374822/neptun-sail-and-deliver-goods-along-the-mediterran

    And of course there have been others. I can see the benefit from both sides. Adding new items and upgrades to unlock is exciting. On the other hand, if the game is more or less complete adding new components just complicates things and possibly cuts into profit. Guess it is up to the goal of the project and whether the project owner has enough of a following to pull off not having stretch goals.

    1. Yeah, Aquasphere was a bit unique because TMG bought the US rights to the game (which was already fully designed and waiting at the printer in Europe), and they just needed to know how many copies to buy.

      A lot of Queen Games Kickstarters (like Neptune) are pre-orders of existing games.

      The big difference here is that Skyway Robbery currently does not exist in any form–if the Kickstarter fails, Philip cannot make the game (at least, that’s my impression from listening to some interviews with him).

  7. 1) Stretch Goals are a must. It’s silly to pre-stretch when all the known benefits of …post…(?)..stretching are well established.

    2) I don’t dig it. I see the notion, but then there’s no longer “Free Shipping”. And the Free Shipping logo makes people happy. I think it’s the Project designers duty to absorb some of the price of shipping (these days); but I don’t see a good enough reason to “list it” as a “subsidy”.

    3) Hey, why not!? It’s up the project lead to decide what the stretch goals will be. Why not rock a similarly themed bonus game. Sure, sounds good. If it adds more to the project than “Ivory Core card stock!”… then bring it on. Just don’t include clumps of cat hair or other weird crap. : P

    4) Brilliant. Especially with the new Terms of Service flying around. Put your own version of the contract in the contract. If that’s how Kickstarter and the FTC are going to treat it, then we probably should to. I think this is a great idea, and a great way to cover yer butt with things changing like they are. Kickstarter never has been treated legally like they’re set up as; they’ve always been treated like pre-sales by the US Government; now they’re only making it more clear. We can too.

    Great post Jamey. Good finds.

    John Wrot!
    Gate Keeper Games

    1. John: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That’s a good point about the power of the two words “free shipping.” I wonder if there’s a compromise between the two so backers can still see the “true value” they’re getting compared to MSRP.

  8. (2) I really like that this reminds backers how much shipping is. I was experimenting with this presentation on my upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I’m pricing the US pledge at $24 (with a $30 MSRP), which is $17 + $7 shipping. That looks really good, and I was really happy with that. But but it fell over for me on international shipping. Shipping to Canada, for example, is $11 more than shipping to the US, and $24 + $11 Shipping to Canada feels much better than $17 + $18 Shipping to Canada. I tried it a bunch of different ways, but it always felt crazy. I have decided (for now) to go back to a traditional shipping chart.

    1. Randy: I think the method can still work for a shipping chart. For example, here’s how I plan to word my future rewards (it might be a little too long, though):

      “This price includes $29 for the game and a $10 shipping subsidy, which covers the cost of shipping to the US, UK, CA, DE, CN, and TW. Other areas require additional fees to the shipping subsidy; see shipping chart. MSRP: $50.”

      1. It might, but I suspect that having the numbers $17, $7, $24, $11 all floating around will cause more confusion than it’s worth. I foresee Canadian backers pledging $28 thinking the $11 is *instead* of the $7, not *in*addition* to the $7. I think “free shipping” is too engrained as an expectation and “$18 Canadian Shipping” will just feel like too much for people. I worry that emphasizing real shipping costs could actually make backers think a project creator is charging too much for shipping.

  9. (1) Some people click the 48-hour reminder button and come back to a project at the end to “see what stretch goals have been unlocked.” (I asked this question on social media and heard this response many times.) It seems like “pre-stretching” the campaign would solve that, but I’m with you Jamey that is causes more harm than good right now. Backers in tabletop games *expect* them right now, they do get people excited, and they do motivate people to share the project.

    As a project creator, there’s a lot of risk with stretch goals. Extra artwork can cause delays. Different components can affect manufacturing and shipping prices. Spending time developing expansions/additional cards could affect your launch (if you wait to launch until you test them) or your delivery (if you test them after funding) or your quality (if you don’t test them at all). You have to be very careful to make sure you manage all of those correctly.

    1. Randy: I definitely agree that proper planning has to go into making the stretch goals well in advance of the project. But just to be clear, I don’t think that’s a reason to avoid stretch goals altogether. :)

      1. Same here! There’s certainly an appeal as a creator to avoid that planning, to streamline the campaign, and to provide the best version right out of the gate. (I feel the draw of that myself!) But stretch goals make campaigns more fun and exciting for everyone, get people to promote the campaign, and get backers involved in helping to shape the project. It’s worth the extra planning as a project creator.

        Here’s one thing that really helped my thinking: Publishers who don’t use something like Kickstarter usually don’t have stretch goals. They make the game the way they think it should be made to be profitable, they spend their own money to print it, and then the market can choose to buy it or not. If that’s what someone would prefer as a publisher, then maybe Kickstarter is not right for them. I have a friend, a fellow tiny publisher who (after running a couple Kickstarter campaigns and realizing Kickstarter campaigns weren’t for him) decided to do just that. That helped me realize that I really DO want to build a community of backers and have their help shaping my games.

        1. Randy: I think that’s a great way to figure out if Kickstarter is right for you as a creator. In fact, that’s something I ask myself for each project I release, because I want to make sure that Kickstarter is the best fit for those projects. If I ever encountered a game where all of this stuff (https://stonemaiergames.com/top-10-reasons-to-launch-a-product-via-crowdfunding/) didn’t ring true, I’d find a different way to launch it.

  10. 1. Got to be honest, the concept of not having stretch goals and having the ‘best version immediatey’ doesn’t really appeal to me. It almost makes me shy away because, asides from losing the ‘hype’ factor, it makes me worry that they for some reason think the game isn’t good enough without the components – I like to back games that are great, not that just have great components (Though I do of course love nifty pieces!).

    2. I don’t really see what this achieves. Not that I mind the extra information, but telling people how much they’re paying for shipping could backfire ^^ (What, I have to waste £X on shipping!?). Probably no impact though!

    3. This one seems like a weird strategy to me. When I back a game, I’m interested in that particular game, and I’m not sure I can get behind the idea of feeling like my funds are getting poured into something else. By all means, make it a cheap addon, or list it from the start, but to suddenly say ‘Oh and we’re diverting your funds to something you might not care about’ is…iffy.

    4. Seems reasonable, ^^. I notice a lot of the projects I’ve backed people seem remarkably tardy on providing their address (Like when the creator announces 3 weeks into a PM that 80% of people have signed in…don’t the others care?)

    1. Just want to add as seems vaguely similar to 1. The Coup: Reformation kick-starter recently had IB&C making a big deal they had no stretch goals, but making out that it was because they were already included, and then throwing things in later anyway.

      Just saying this as well…Don’t try to pretend you are taking a different approach…unless you actually take a different approach.

        1. IB&C also probably don’t do stretch goals, because they don’t seem to have time/interest in communicating much with backers. Stretch goals would require a commitment to the backer community they aren’t comfortable with.

          1. Right, so these particular things are for no reason?
            “So as soon we reach our funding goal, every copy of rewards will include these stretch rewards that won’t be part of the Reformation expansion retail edition:”
            “we’ve added an number of new “Awesome” rewards”

            Now like I said, I don’t mind them using the system as a pre-order system, and I don’t mind them not doing stretch goals.

            But listing the content as stretch goals that’re added and then adding content just like stretch goals is a fine way to annoy me by not sticking with what they say.

            Anyway, feel free to message me on bgg (Smoothsmith) as I think this’ll get a bit off topic and its’ against the point of Jamey’s post a bit. My fault, apologies!

    2. Smoothsmith:

      2. I think the key reason to mention the cost of the game and the shipping in the reward price is that it helps backers differentiate the reward price from both the MSRP and what they think the game will be priced at on online retailers after the game is released. A game with a $60 MSRP may eventually be priced at $39 on Cool Stuff (that might even be the pre-order price), so if you list the reward price at $45 with no further explanation, backers might think twice about it. However, if you point out that the price is really $35 with $10 shipping included, that differentiates it from the hypothetical Cool Stuff price, which doesn’t include shipping. Of course, there are many other factors other than price that compel backers to support a project too.

      3. I see what you’re saying, but if you’ve already pledged to a project, it’s not really different any stretch goal that you’re not excited about (and in all likelihood, on every project there’s probably at least one stretch goal you’re not excited about). You know my mantra about keeping a project focused, but I think TMG is doing that pretty well because the games are so similarly themed.

      1. 2. Indeed, it is nice to know the prices of things for that exact reason, and I think it’ll shine even more for anyone looking back at a past project where they can see its’ the lower price that its’ available for (I.e. to compare to the retail costs). I was just trying to look at it with different eyes (I seem to do that a lot recently, not sure what spiked this critical edge on my replies, not sure I like it :S)

        3. I think ultimately this kind of thing would be beneficial for a project, as like you say, the viewpoint will generally be that its’ more free content, and it may even attract backers who are more interested in the addition than the basic game ^^. In fact I’m sure I saw a lot of very positive feedback in comments on this project the other day:
        Where they’re funding a print-run of a game very different to the main one being funded!

        I think I’d actually really like to see companies using kickstarter to fund print runs of multiple games like this to improve availability, its’ just that I’m more inclined towards the key goal of the project being to fund a variety of games in the first place ^^. (It’s just the ‘tacked on’ approach that worries me’).

  11. The interesting thing to me about the Skyway Robbery Kickstarter is that, although they make almost no mention of it on the project page, it’s a GameSalute project. I think many previous backers of GameSalute projects have had very sub-par experiences (shockingly late, mistakes, components of a lower quality than promised), and that may be keeping backers away.

      1. Game Salute is not the publisher for Skyway Robbery, are they? If they are involved (I can’t tell that from the Kickstarter page right now), it would most likely be for fulfillment only. The problems Game Salute is known for are mainly on projects where they act as the publishing. We used them for Relic Expedition, and they did a fine job for us. (We won’t be using them again on our next campaign, but they did a fine job at fulfilling our rewards.)

          1. Indeed it does :/

            I was a backer of SR at start, but when I heard if was published by Game Salute, I canceled my pledge (I’m still waiting for a game from them, so my experience is rather negative).

            The fact that they tried to somehow hide it is even worse.

      2. Aren’t most of the… Delayed, lets say… Game Salute kickstarters the $5k funding goal ones? It’s possible, I guess, that the problems they have only apply to those?

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