5 Insightful Lessons from Recent Kickstarter Projects

23 April 2018 | 26 Comments

In this series, I highlight some of the interesting choices made by creators regarding their project’s reward levels, stretch goals, and overall campaign design (the projects themselves, not the content or product). This isn’t an endorsement or promotion.


Creator Joey Vigour implemented two really innovative things with GROWL, a small card game. First, he offered a $1 reward (just shipping) for 500 backers who just want a bare-bones version of the game (cards only, no box, tokens, or stretch goals). This seems like an excellent way to build an audience, both before the project–Joey enticed newsletter subscribers with the assurance they’d be the first to know about this reward when the project went live–and during/after. It’s also a great “foot in the door” technique–you bring backers in with a very inexpensive, no-brainer reward…and then later gently nudge them to upgrade to the full game with box and stretch goals.

Second, Joey offers incentizes to backers who get friends to back a copy of the game using Kickrock.it. For GROWL’s referrals, you enter the URL to your public Kickstarter profile, and the system creates a referral link for you to send to friends. If one of those friends becomes a backer, you get free shipping on your reward (resolved, presumably, via pledge manager). If two or more of those friends become backers, you get an entire extra copy of the game for free. I’ll be exploring this system more in-depth in the future, but I think it’s really clever. Oh, and here’s my referral link!

Rahdo Runs Through (Year 7)

I’ve almost completely stopped using Patreon. I actually love the idea of the platform, but I feel really uncomfortable ever cancelling a Patreon pledge, as I think it comes across as a rejection when the creator is notified. “Jamey Stegmaier no longer believes in what you’re doing,” is the message, even though the reason is probably just that I just don’t consume their content as much as I used to. It doesn’t help that my name is intrinsically linked to my company.

So I was a little worried when Rahdo launched his new Patreon…until he said that he understands not everyone is comfortable with an ongoing pledge, and he offered the option for supports of his runthroughs to simply make a one-time pledge using this page. It’s a special “pool” page he set up through PayPal that displays various backer levels and the overall amount raised so far ($3189.53 in one-time pledges, $2280 in monthly pledges). I think this combination of options–which another site, Podpledge, offers all in one place–is fantastic.

Tang Garden

This upcoming game from Thundergryph Games might be the most brilliant method I’ve ever seen for encouraging people to sign up for an e-newsletter. It’s thematic, it makes the user feel good, and it feels like less of a carrot on a stick than a discount code. Here’s how it works:

There are also two unsuccessful projects I wanted to mention because their creators did such a great of talking about why they didn’t fund:

  • Waters of Nereus & Cosmic Run Regeneration: Dr. Finn’s intent was to help backers save on shipping by crowdfunding two completely unrelated games in the same campaign. However, this is a classic example of why backers value focus.
  • Highways & Byways: I admire Brandon for digging deep into why his latest project didn’t fund. I’d recommend reading the full article, but he sums up a key point by saying, “I made Highways & Byways without once asking “what do people want?” I simply pursued a passion project.”


What do you think about these insights? Have you seen any interesting innovations on Kickstarter lately? To read more articles like this, here’s the master list.

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

Leave a Comment

26 Comments on “5 Insightful Lessons from Recent Kickstarter Projects

  1. I read the blog of Highways and Byways too last week. I was moved and even wrote to Brando to help for mini run printing. But I could not help to thinking what the main reason was for the failure of campaign. Is it really a dull game that few people interested in?

  2. Hello Jamey! I read the Highways and Byways article. I’m sure Brandon was disappointed, though he learned a lot.

    The question I was left asking myself is: How does one really know “what people want”?

    I mean, it seems like it’s really important to be passionate about what you create, it really affects how much quality and effort you put in to a project. Focusing on creating marketable products that will sell seems like it can backfire too, as audiences have so many trendy options to choose from.

    It’s kind of a situation of dueling truths. We want to make things we’re passionate about AND do right by customers.

    What do you think? Is there a balance?


    1. Eric: That’s a great question. I think it’s tough to truly know until you try. That’s one of the great things about Kickstarter–you can use it to gauge demand.

      That said, I think it’s simply an important question to ask throughout the design and publishing process. Who wants this? Will people get exited about this? Will people buy this? I ask these questions internally all the time, but I also gauge the reactions of playtesters and try to keep my finger on the pulse of what people get excited about in general.

  3. Is it just me, or is GROWL’s $1 reward only possible for an established maker with a ready fanbase? Maybe it is my inexperience speaking, but expect I will need a little under 500 backers at full price if I am to make my minimum print run. Am I wrong in that summation? Are there production tricks to make a $1 deck possible?

    1. Isaac: I think it’s a technique any creator could use, but I think you’re asking an important question: What’s the right number to offer? 500 is a lot of games.

      Printing a deck of cards is very inexpensive–in fact, shipping a shrinkwrapped deck of cards is probably at least 5x more expensive than printing them.

  4. I think the “affiliate marketing” methods through 3rd parties are interesting, and have a shot to become a big opportunity. In addition to Kickrock.it, there’s also another I’ve been watching: Kickbooster.me .

    Affiliate marketing isn’t against Kickstarter’s rules, though they have some important clarifications.

    I’m curious how effective % cash-back for referrals would be in the board game side.

      1. I’m not decided yet, I am curious how a Kickstarter would perform if instead of stretch goals you had something like: “Refer 1 person, get a free promo pack”, “Refer 10 people, get your copy of the game free.”

          1. I believe so. I haven’t really compared the two too much. I believe for the most part they’re similar services –in that they generate unique referral URL codes that backers can use that can be used to track how many referrals they generate.

            It seems like Kickrock.it allows for you to set whatever you want as the rewards, where Kickbooster.me is truly affiliate in nature, you set the % back the referrer will get per pledged dollar.

            Generally speaking, you could easily track people who referred 1 person easily and just add the promo item to those (and otherwise have the promo item for sale as an add-on for people who want more, or don’t want to bother with participating).

            Via Kickbooster.me, the person would get a “free game” based on the % given, so if you had a 10% referral amount, people would have to refer 10 people to get the free game (paid as cash back through Kickbooster.me after funding / processing).

            I’m not sure how Kickrock.it does it, but I did “boost” a campaign with an affiliate link with Kickbooster.me, and got like $6 in referrals coming back to me. I am waiting to see how long it takes after project close for people to get paid etc.

            From what I understand, the project creator pays the invoice sent by Kickbooster.me after receiving funds, then Kickbooster.me sends the funds to people after taking out their 3% through their portal/system.

            It’s interesting to me at least, as it’s a different way to reward backers for spreading information about the product, and has been successful with different platforms (Amazon affiliate links etc.).

          2. Jamey: Thanks for mentioning Kickrock.it and Joey’s Growl campaign! I appreciate your regular coverage of what’s new and different in Kickstarter campaign strategy. Always interesting to read.

            Behrooz / Tony: Yes – Kickrock.it allows you to designate whatever you want as the reward or rewards. It can be promo cards, shipping discounts, extra copies, or a % kickback – whatever the project creator thinks is best. If you wish you can limit rewards to people who pledge at a certain level, and rewards can be earned by unique visits (clicks on the referral link), number of referred backers, or total pledge dollars referred.

            We’re still in beta – so I’m open to new ideas as well if anyone has suggestions for what they would want to see.

  5. I saw the Tang Garden email thing and shared it in the advice group. Then I totally ripped off the idea to raise funds and awareness for a cause I am passionate about, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Now I will donate $1 for every subscriber on my mailing list each December. I am hoping after my KS campaign in May and potentially second one in the Fall that I will have accumulated enough emails to make a real impact.

  6. Seemed like the content of the article was about how campaigns interact with backers in various ways, including what they offer people as rewards and incentives. So my biggest reward would be to get the game when they “estimated” and not hear 2-3 months before that about how it’ll be 5-6 months before the game actually gets to backers.

    By your definitions, project’s will never be late, they’ll just have ridiculously poor estimates. Sorry, that’s being “late” for me. Try that explanation in lots of other product domains, including software development. People might laugh you out of the room defining things that way.

    But the issue is how many campaigns seem not to know about holidays (in China); don’t estimate to include issues with having to go back and forth with a supplier a few times; getting a production proof that is off; time of year to start the campaign (though that may be mor of just whether it funds or not); etc. This brings me back to my question about whether, if people did estimate to allow for these things (and then deliver early if they don’t happen) would people hesitate to fund because it looks like a long time for the campaign?

    And, yes, I understand “that the thing doesn’t exist yet”; however, it feels to me quite often that this means no actual playtesting has been done, or rules cleared up, etc. I have backed things where the campaign didn’t start until they at least seemed to have a decent ruleset and had played it in some prototype form to assure huge “gotchas” weren’t uncovered after funding.

    Some of this just seems irresponsible (nicer, I think, than the word “ignorant”) in the face of all the information out there about issues of playtesting, rules, and manufacturing issues.

    What level of awareness about such things do you believe a person initiating a KS campaign should have?

    1. Like I said, “It’s the creator’s job to accurately estimate the delivery date to the best of their ability and then keep backers updated on the progress.” A big part of that is making sure they accurately convey how finished the product is when they launch on Kickstarter so backers know how much work needs to follow.

      I’m not making excuses for creators who deliver well past their delivery date. I delivered all of my projects on time or early. But I think it’s important for backers like you to fully understand the context of these “estimates.”

  7. I’d be glad if most campaigns actually delivered when they said they would during the campaign. That would be nice instead of excuses for why this or that didn’t work out. However, perhaps if people really estimated when a project would deliver, folks wouldn’t back it because it would be so far out. Once you’ve backed it and the campaign has the money, you just have to wait it out. I’ve only had 3 things that have never delivered (or look like they won’t) but at least 80% of what I have backed have been late by from 4-12 months. (One is working on 2 years.)

    1. Scott: Thanks for sharing your perspective, though it seems a little off topic for this particular article (maybe I’m missing the connection–if so, let me know!).

      Here’s what I wrote about estimated deliver dates in a separate article (https://stonemaiergames.com/an-open-letter-to-kickstarter-backers-from-a-tiny-publishing-company/):

      “Estimated delivery dates are estimates, not hard dates. It’s the creator’s job to accurately estimate the delivery date to the best of their ability and then keep backers updated on the progress. However, I think we could all help each other by removing the concept of a project being “late” from our crowdfunding vocabulary. The word “late” has a strong element of shame to it, and there’s nothing shameful about taking your time to make something well instead of rushing it and delivery something subpar. The very essence of funding something on Kickstarter is that the thing doesn’t exist yet. There’s so much that happens between then and the moment that it arrives on someone’s front door, and the best we can do is ESTIMATE when that moment will be. If it’s delivered after that date, it means the estimate was incorrect, not that the project was late. I think this is tough for a lot of people because sometimes we count on something showing up at a particular time or a project is delivered way after the estimated date. For example, I pledged to receive a special camera to give to my sister and her husband to catalog the first few months of my niece’s life. However, the camera didn’t arrive until my niece was 1 year old. It’s unfortunate, but I still didn’t consider the project late. It just wasn’t ready until it was ready, and then I received it.”

  8. I signed up for Tang Garden. Thanks for the head’s up.

    The “$1” free GROWL seems interesting. Instead of giving money to advertisers it gives to people. But did a FREE copy the game help or hinder their campaign? What would dan ariely say? Since we can’t compare it to a GROWL non-free campaign it is impossible to tell.Is it worse than an early bird? Growl currently has made $50k+. If it made $500,000 or a million then you could safety assume the Free copy helped it.

    I seen the Kickrock.it a few days ago but I did not feel right using it. It felt like if I did use it then I am only telling friends to buy it so I can get a free copy rather than I like the game. I did not like thinking of how that would make me feel, so I did not share info about that Growl.

    Rahdo is using paypal pool and that is only available in 16 countries at the moment. If anyone tries to back using that and it doesn’t work then this link has you covered: https://paypal.me/rahdo

    1. Gerald: Thanks for the clarification about PayPal!

      I wondered the same thing about the value perception of a $1 game (and, actually, that’s the reason I backed it for $16 even though $1 rewards were available at the time). But I think it might work in this case.

      I totally see what you’re saying about Kickrock. I would only share a referral link if I truly thought the product or product was worth someone else’s time and/or money, so I don’t feel bad about it.

      1. Jamey that’s funny I also opted for the higher level even though the free copy was available. I know a few creators have done a “pay what you want” campaign, and for that reason I do believe for inexpensive projects it can work really well and it restores my faith in the backer community.

  9. For me too, the Tang Garden newsletter tactic seems interesting. We’re in the process of gathering subscribers to the newsletter for our game, and I was thinking of something similar. Since the game has a lot of gorgeous art, I was thinking of offering a pdf art-book to subscribers. What do you think? The same art-book will probably be added as a stretch goal as well, in premium, dandy hardcover, but I’m just not sure people will find this “carrot” interesting enough :)
    I would appreciate if you would share your opinon on the matter :)

    1. I think it’s hard to replicate what Tang Garden is doing. The key differentiator is that their incentive doesn’t directly reward the subscriber–it rewards the ecology of the world, and the subscriber gets to feel good about it. I don’t think it gets better than that. So yes, the art book PDF is nice, and it certainly won’t hurt, but you might want to brainstorm some thematic “goodwill” ideas too.

      1. Was thinking the same, but since our game is, well… about immoral moonshiners that sell hooch to get out of a post-apocalyptic town… Not sure how goodwill-y would be to gift subscribers… a jar of moonshine, :)))
        That being said, noted, will brainstorm :)

© 2020 Stonemaier Games