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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.