27 June 2013 | 49 Comments
This is a follow-up to a similar post regarding 5 mistakes we made on Viticulture.
I recently ran a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign for a game I designed called Euphoria. The project ended with $309,495 in funding and 4,765 backers. Overall I’m very pleased (and pleasantly surprised) by how the campaign went, but it was a learning experience for me. I made some mistakes, and I want to share them with you so you won’t make the same mistakes.
Before I jump into the list, I want to reiterate Kickstarter Lesson #20, particularly the parts about flexibility. Although I knew how important flexibility was going into the Euphoria campaign, I now know that it might be the #1 trait of a successful Kickstarter campaign. If you go into a project with a rigid, stubborn outlook, you might as well not be on Kickstarter. There are many times where you’ll have to stick with your gut and decisions you’ve already made, but stay flexible and be open to your backers’ ideas. You’ll be surprised by the fruit those ideas yield.
Let’s jump into the list, in no particular order:
- The stretch goals weren’t as transparent as they should have been. If you look at the Euphoria project page now, you’ll won’t see what I’m talking about. Here’s some context: When the project launched, I had a list of about 10 stretch goals on the project page, but I only posted the threshold for the first goal (3 new recruit cards when we reached 300 backers). My reasoning was that I wanted backers to see the full potential of the game if it overfunded, but I wanted there to be some element of surprise and discovery. However, I quickly learned that this was NOT a good idea, and it went against my core principles regarding transparency. I really wasn’t trying to hide anything, but it came across that way. So the conclusion I’d like to add to my earlier post on stretch goals is that you should either post all of your stretch goals up front with full information OR you should post nothing about them (except that you’ve done your due diligence and have them planned) and then reveal the goal and the threshold only when you reach the previous goal. However, I lean heavily towards the former. I think it’s much more transparent, it shows foresight and proper budgetary planning, and it lets backers chime in with their opinions about future stretch goals, which could result in some great ideas.
- International bulk shipping was too limited and individual international shipping was ignored. Early on in the project, there was only one bulk shipping level, and it had a limit of 8 backers. The reason for that was related to our manufacturer’s limit on shipping. Also, there was no way to receive an individual game if you weren’t in the US, Canada, or the EU. I did that because shipping international packages is something we have to do by hand, and it’s an arduous, slow, and expensive process. I figured it would be more cost- and time-efficient if we limited it to 2 games per package (the $135 level). Well, it turns out that backers don’t like being forced to buy 2 games when they only want 1, even if the cost of shipping for that one game is really high. So I added a note for those backers saying that they could get an individual game if they wanted. In the future, I’d make it a reward level on its own: $94 to ship a game to any location other than the US, Canada, and the EU, and add $49 for additional copies of the game. And for the bulk shipping, I realized that I could feasibly ship more bulk packages (either by hand or by using my shipping company before the games left China), so I eliminated that limitation, resulting in 11 more backers at the $499 level.
- The first version of the custom backer art was not as good as it should have been. This isn’t a slight against Jacqui Davis at all. She created incredible likenesses of backers generous enough to pledge $125 and more to get their face in the game. The problem was that the faces were much more detailed than the bodies (which were created in advance of the project) and weren’t properly positioned and aligned. The problem here was my own enthusiasm. I got the art from Jacqui, and…well, this game is my baby, and no one thinks their baby is ugly. So with great excitement I posted the art to the backers, expecting to hear rave reviews when I woke up to read the comments the following day. Instead, I found myself in the midst of a bloodbath. Backers were NOT happy, and reasonably so. They helped me take off my blinders and see the art for what it really was. I had a good chat with Jacqui today about consistency between the faces and the bodies, and she went back and fixed every one. We also created a new deck of cards with sketched-face recruits, a backer idea that came out of the custom art update discussion. So the results ended up great. But I should have been more discerning and honest with myself up front. I’d recommend identifying a few backers who don’t care about your feelings at all and who offer fast feedback to whom you can send things like that during the project.
- The way I added Viticulture–especially the Kickstarter version of Viticulture–to the project was clumsy and perhaps even inappropriate. If you look at the project page now, you’ll see several reward levels that include Viticulture. They didn’t start out on the project–I wanted to stay focused on Euphoria, not Viticulture, and use Viticulture later in the project as an extra boost. The problem was that I was inundated with people who wanted Viticulture from day one. I kept having to answer the same question over and over: “When will you be adding Viticulture?” So I ended up adding it after about a week, and maybe a week or so later I added a very limited reward for the full Kickstarter version of Viticulture, a reward for 30 backers that literally lasted 5 seconds. So the demand and hype was great for Viticulture. But in hindsight, I don’t think Viticulture had any place on the Euphoria project page. Aside from being designed and published by Stonemaier Games, the two games have nothing in common. Many projects have multiple games on their project page, but I won’t do it again. A big part of it is the money: Selling copies of Viticulture doesn’t help us make a better version of Euphoria. Selling more copies of Euphoria helps us make a better version of Euphoria. The Viticulture funds help the Viticulture product line, not Euphoria. In the future, I will happily point backers to our website if they want copies of our other games. But our Kickstarter campaigns will stay focused on each individual product line (i.e., the Viticulture expansion pack Kickstarter will have ways for backers to get the base game for Viticulture, but not Euphoria).
- There was a backer poll after the project. On the last day of the Euphoria campaign, I shared an update with backers that showed the evolution of the board from sketch to full-color rendering. Two of the boards were to be part of the Kickstarter game: The full color version and the B/W rendering. However, there were a few backers who expressed their desire for the B/W sketch to replace the B/W rendering. As I usually do with such ideas, I thought, “Hey, let’s do a poll!” Unfortunately, there was no time to do a poll that day (the final day of the campaign), so I waited until a day or so later. Immediately there was backlash. Some backers felt manipulated that I would put a decision in their fellow backers’ hands after I had their money. Obviously there was no foul play at hand, but I saw their point. They had backed a specific version of the game, and now I was offering a different possibility because of a few vocal backers? The lesson here is twofold: One, share as much as possible during the campaign, not after, even if you don’t think it’s relevant (especially visuals). Two, don’t poll backers after the campaign unless it’s absolutely necessary. The time for decision making is during the campaign, not after.
Last, I have one regret about the campaign. Let me explain:
- I wasn’t able to send individual thank-you e-mails to every backer. One of my core philosophies about Kickstarter is to treat backers as individuals, not numbers. One of the key ways I did this during the Viticulture campaign was by sending individual, personalized thank-you e-mails to every backer within 24 hours of receiving their pledge. I made so many great connections this way, and it felt good to recognize each person in that way. It made for a very intimate campaign. However, with Euphoria I realized from Day One that the thank-you notes were going to be very difficult. We raised almost $35,000 on the first day, if I recall correctly, and I was working constantly on the campaign the entire day. As the first few days passed, I kept telling myself that I’d go back and write all the thank-you notes that weekend. But I soon realized that it simply wasn’t possible. I was already replying to hundreds of e-mails and comments and discussions on BGG and blog interviews and playtester feedback every day. Even just typing that feels like a lame excuse for something that is so important to me, but what I’ve realized is that all of those personal outreaches I described above are ways that I treated backers as individuals, not numbers. I feel very close with my Euphoria backers even though they outnumber Viticulture backers 5:1, and my sense is that they share that feeling of kinship with me. So for new project creators, my advice has not changed: Spend the time to individually thank your backers in a personalized way. There’s no excuse for you not to do that if you’re averaging 20 or fewer backers a day. But once the number climbs higher than that, there are many other ways you can create that sense of community and outreach with your backers so they feel personally appreciated.
That’s a long way of saying 6 things. I’m curious what you think. And if you think the campaign was great, that’s great, but even great can be improved. In these comments I’d really like to hear about how I could have run a better Euphoria campaign.