5 Minor Mistakes We Made on Tuscany That You Can Avoid (and 3 Insights)

15 April 2014

Earlier this week I posted an entry called The Top 3 Mistakes We Made on Tuscany That You Can Avoid, and I’m back with a few smaller mistakes I made, along with a few insights that might be helpful to your campaign.

Mistakes

  1. The Funding Goal Should Have Been Higher. Our funding goal for Tuscany was $20,000. Realistically we needed about $40,000 to make and ship a minimum of 1500 copies of Tuscany, but I considered $15,000 of that a sunk cost for graphic design and art. So the funding goal should have been at least $25,000. Honestly, I was confident we would reach the funding goal (and we did, in about 16 minutes), but I want new creators to be able to use our projects as a good example for setting accurate and reasonable goals.
  2. Stretch Goal Custom Art Visitor Cards Should Not Have Been in the Reward Levels: On Day 1, there were 20 new visitor cards in Tuscany, and we had stretch goals that could add 12 more. However, to keep the number of reward levels at a manageable number, I set the total number of custom art visitor card rewards at 32, not 20. This was confusing for backers because at a quick glance, they thought I was going to be able to open up more custom art levels as we reached those stretch goals. We’re not doing custom art reward levels any more (see here), but if we do anything like that, I’ll make sure there is no confusion. (I now know that if you have a limited reward level for 10 people, you can add new slots to that reward during the campaign instead of creating a whole new reward level.)
  3. Final Stretch Goals. Man, stretch goals are both a win-win and a lose-lose endeavor. They’re a great way to let backers feel a sense of accomplishment and and give them extra value, and they help creators make the best possible version of the game. That’s the win-win. On the flip side, if it doesn’t look like you’re going to reach a stretch goal, backers will feel like their game is “incomplete,” and you’ll get lots of requests from backers to lower the stretch goal (or you’ll have some backers start to spend beyond their means just to reach a new stretch goal). Or, if you’ve met all your stretch goals, backers will ask you to add more and more. I’ve even seen recent projects where backers refused to support the project until it reached a certain stretch goal even though the core game had plenty of stuff in it. I feel like stretch goals have gotten a bit out of hand. Even for Tuscany, for which the stretch goals were created using a budget based on economies of scale (if you make more games, the cost per game goes down, so you can add more stuff without changing the cost per unit), I was constantly fielding comments from backers either asking me to add more stretch goals or to lower the funding amounts for the stretch goals. I’m still searching for a solution to this, but for now, I’d like to invite other project creators to use stretch goals the way I did on Tuscany. Directly tie the stretch goals to actual costs–don’t just add things on a whim or have stretch goals that don’t actually cost you anything, as those types of stretch goals perpetuate the idea that project creators can throw in anything they want at any time at arbitrary funding levels.
  4. Make the Project End Time a Little Earlier. Ending a project in the evening seems to be the best idea, as that’s a good time for fervor to build as people huddle over their computers at home, clicking Refresh. However, as you probably know, when it’s 9:59 pm in St. Louis (our end time for Tuscany), it’s a different time in California or Berlin or Kyoto. The bulk of our international backers are in Europe, which is about 7 hours ahead of St. Louis time. So for future projects, I’ll probably end them around 7:00 or 8:00 pm here so a European backer doesn’t have to wake up at 5:00 am to witness the finale.
  5. We Should Have Separated Tuscany into Two Boxes (for Retail): I spoke with the wise Paul Bender of Greater Than Games during the Tuscany campaign, and he indicated something they’ve learned and honed over time: Distributors are significantly more willing to purchase bulk orders of a $50 or $60 MSRP game than a $70 MSRP game (like Tuscany). That doesn’t mean you can’t make expensive games, but it means that you should break them into separate boxes with their own MSRPs. For example, for Tuscany I should have put most of the expansions in one box for MSRP $50 and put the special worker expansion (66 large, custom meeples) in a separate box for MSRP $25. For Kickstarter, everything would come in one box–I’m just talking about the retail versions of these products. So we’re going to continue with a small retail print run of Tuscany above and beyond the Kickstarter orders, but for future printings (and future games), we’re going to break expensive product lines into multiple boxes for retail appeal.

Okay, that’s enough mistakes. It’s always a learning process! Let’s move on to a few keys insights/successes:

  1. No Exclusives? No Problem. There are no Kickstarter exclusive components in Tuscany. The retail version is exactly the same as the Kickstarter version. And guess what? It worked out just fine. Now, we still had some exclusive elements like really low prices and our money-back guarantee, but they honor backers without excluding future buyers. Also, there are limited-edition components like Tuscany Prima and the Collector’s Edition, but even they aren’t Kickstarter exclusive. Because I didn’t put that label on those products, if I have extra inventory after all games are shipped to backers (including missing/damaged copies), I can sell those products at a premium to anyone I want. That’s a huge burden off my shoulders, because I really do need to make extra copies of those games to make sure I can cover anything bad that happens to backer copies. That’s my main objective. I highly recommend that other creators move away from component/gameplay exclusives and instead use “soft” exclusives like those mentioned above. You still need to give backers a compelling reason to support the project now instead of wait until later, but I think Tuscany is a great example of how to do that.
  2. AMAZING Backers. I can’t say this enough: Tuscany’s backers were truly an amazing group of people. They seemed to really buy into the type of community I was trying to form around the project. And here’s the thing: It wasn’t for everyone. Stonemaier Games isn’t for everyone. I would much rather lose a few toxic backers who are going to poison the comments with negativity or spam each other with cut-and-paste comments if that means Tuscany would attract the type of backers who speak to each other respectfully, constructively, and often playfully. That’s exactly what happened. I can’t take credit for this–this one is purely thanks to the Stonemaier Ambassadors and the great community of backers that participated in Tuscany.
  3. Reasonable Shipping to Asia/Australia/New Zealand: I don’t have all backer surveys in yet, so I don’t know the exact stats, but the response I heard to the low shipping rates to the Pacific was excellent. Our 4px solution outlined here made Tuscany accessible to a whole new market, and as long as that option is available, we’ll definitely be using it. It simply doesn’t make sense to make games in China, ship them to the US, then ship them back to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, etc. If you’re a creator making games in China, please read the blog entry linked to above. You don’t have to learn Chinese to make it work.

I do have one other insight to share, but it will come in the form of its own guest entry on Thursday. Let me know if you have any thoughts on what I’ve written above, especially stretch goals, because they continue to confound me.

20 Comments on “5 Minor Mistakes We Made on Tuscany That You Can Avoid (and 3 Insights)

    1. Nicolai, it’s an interesting approach, and I appreciate you sharing it, but I’m not a fan of it at all for a number of reasons. One, I think the clearest way to tell backers what they’re getting is to include the stretch goals at all reward levels. Two, it ends up looking like early-bird rewards–if you don’t get there soon enough, you’ll miss out on getting the game at a lower price…during the Kickstarter campaign, which already is an early bird reward in itself. Three, look at those huge chunks of text in the reward levels! It’s too much. And four, if you budget for stretch goals based on economies of scale, the price per unit doesn’t go up when you add more stuff. If you’re adding stuff that adds that much expense, just make it an add-on.

      Overall, I think the numbers speak for which method works better. The one thing I do like about the Town Center method is that it links actual costs to the stretch goals, which is important. I just don’t think that’s the optimal way to do it.

      1. Their approach to adding content had the unfortunate appearance of punishing those who discovered the Town Center project later than the lucky ones who got there earlier. It also means that the latecomers end up shouldering an ever-increasing portion of the costs of the additional content, or at least feeling that is what they are doing.

        I’ve backed many Ludicreations projects. I wanted to back Town Center. I found their structuring of the project to be disrespectful of later backers. I did not back Town Center.

  1. i will say i’ll miss the custom art, was so tempted to get one of those this time around, but passed. now i really regret it. It’s a fine line between exclusive perks vs non exclusives. rewarding backers vs ensuring your game does well at retail. it’s a fine balancing act.

  2. I’m curious if splitting Tuscany into its tiers would work for retail, since one big expansion pack + one single expansion IMHO don’t look as good as 2 or 3 packs of about equal size.

  3. I really enjoy reading all your articles. I hope when I finally do my kickstarter I can actually put all these items to good use. Its been working for me so far.

  4. Let me preface this by asking what your definition of “stretch goals” is. For me, stretch goals are rewards added to the base game that don’t require any additional funding over the funding goal – things like promo cards or other small-ish items that can be added to the game with no tangible additional costs to the creator because of the economies of scale gained by the increasing quantity of pledgers.

    What I call “over-funding goals” are something completely different. These are goals that are set for surpassing the base funding goal by certain amounts, because these goals do add expense for the creator, and a ton of “perceived value” for the pledger. I’d classify items like high quantities of wooden bits, special material play mats/boards, etc. in this category.

    In considering over-funding goals for our upcoming Kings of Sun Tzu project, I asked Panda Games (who I’m hoping to work with for production) to do a base quote, then one for options A-F, each of which I plan to have as goals. It took a little longer for the quote, but they did those 6 options for each of the 4 different production quantities of games that I asked for (1500, 1800, 3000, 4300 units).

    Now that I know the material costs of adding each of those over-funding goals for each level of production, and I can tailor my over-funding goal dollar amounts to how many we think we will print…I think your idea of tying the goals to the actual costs is the way to go…taking into account, of course, the costs of printing a higher quantity than originally expected and the additional weight of those goals will add to shipping expenses when sending rewards to pledgers.

    As for stretch goals, we’ll likely do a set of 4 promo cards, and possibly some alternate “hero” cards for this particular game. These will be based on achieving a certain number of pledgers, or facebook likes, etc.

    1. Brent: Thanks for your comment. My definition is a bit of a mishmash of what you’re saying, and I only have one term for it: stretch goals. To me, a stretch goal is something extra you include in the game after you reach the funding goal. It is something that costs more to make, because if it didn’t cost more to make, it should already be in the core game. If you make more money and thus can make more units, you can add more stuff to the game without significantly increasing the manufacturing cost per unit (or the cost of adding more art–more cards often means more art).

      So for the most part, what you call “overfunding goals” are what I call “stretch goals.” I don’t do what you call “stretch goals” because if it doesn’t cost you anything extra–art, design, manufacturing, etc–then it should be included in the base game.

  5. Well, this is a late reply, but certainly agree on these points. As a backer all the Kickstarter Exclusive components that some companies (looking at you CMoN) can be more of a put-off than an attraction for many people now. It’s made worse when it’s in the tabletop gaming where you have competitive play yet can’t get certain units if you miss the Kickstarter or didn’t have a budget.

    Or just plain out not getting the retail copy of XYZ board game because you know you won’t have all the cool stuff you played with using you friend or store copy with KS exclusives.

    Also agree with the final point as an Australian backer. Since you mentioned Greater Than Games their online shipping prices with Fedex prices are a big put-off as well – so far as to I don’t know anyone local who backed the recent SotM expansion on their website. We know shipping is expensive but when the shipping is more than the product you know people won’t be happy. When you’re spending $300-$800 (some miniatures games have such large backers) the shipping obviously becomes less of a hindrance as it becomes relatively low.

    Disclaimer: I’ve backed a lot of projects (don’t ask how many), including the Collector’s Edition of Tuscany. Missed Euphoria KS (didn’t see it worth backing at the time) but got a copy of KS edition at a store after I played with another backer’s copy.

  6. I read Lesson #11 and the other Tuscany Mistakes post. I know this a pretty old post, but I would to hear more about people’s philosophy on stretch goals.

    I find it really interesting that so many board game KS campaigns offer additional gameplay components as stretch goals. Jamey, I noticed that you’ve done that as well with Scythe, offering numerous additional encounter cards and others.

    As a backer, (you mentioned this in this post) it makes me wonder if the game I’m getting is incomplete if not all the stretch goals are hit. As a creator, doesn’t it seem imperative that you produce the best game you can? Adding a few extra cards doesn’t really seem directly connected to the funding amount so it feels strange to couple them together. Am I or am I not getting the best game possible?

    Additionally, it makes me wonder if the game has been playtested with and without these additional gameplay elements. Do these extra cards actually worsen the experience because they haven’t been tested?

    I can understand component upgrades (larger tokens, better player boards, thicker cardstock, etc) as stretch goals because economies of scale reduce the per unit cost, which then allows you to invest the money further. But offering any significant number of additional gameplay elements as stretch goals feels a little like holding back or haphazard.

    I’ve also seen campaigns where they will dangle stretch goals and as the campaign ends, they include all the gameplay/content-related stretch goals that weren’t hit anyways. This feels a little dishonest, but at the same time, it felt good as a backer, so I have mixed feelings about this.

    What are your thoughts on this?

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