7 Insights that First-Time Kickstarter Creators May Not Know

13 August 2018 | 54 Comments

At Gen Con this year, John Wrot of Gate Keeper Games stopped by our conference room to say hi. John takes time out of each of his Gen Cons to organize and host a panel about Kickstarter. It features an array of panelists (creators and other industry folks) each year, including me a few years ago.

John mentioned that this year was particularly interesting, because despite the wealth of information available about Kickstarter now, the vast majority of questions asked to the panel were fairly fundamental. It was a good reminder to me that I need to provide content for first-time creators from time to time, something I do all too rarely on this blog.

Fortunately, John took notes during the panel, and he was willing to share them with me. I’ve narrowed the 20 or so questions/answers down to the 7 you see here, but John is posting the full transcript here.

The following answers come variously from this year’s panelists: Mark Streed (Dice Tower), Michael Mindes (Tasty Minstrel Games), Lance Myxter (Undead Viking Reviews & TMG Media), Chandler Copenhaver (CrowdOx), Conor McGoey (InsideUp Games), Steven Cole (Escape Velocity Games), Aldo Ghiozzi (Impressions Distribution), and John Wrot! (Gate Keeper Games). I (Jamey) may also chime in with some thoughts of my own.

***

Q: “What’s the difference between wanting to make my game versus wanting to be in the publishing biz myself?”

  • Becoming a publisher, and having your game published (by another publisher), are two very different things.  If you want full control and to spend a lot of time working for bits but have the reigns to all decisions and to potentially form a business… self-publish.  If you just want to make games and see people enjoy them, sell/license out your design to a publisher.
  • [Jamey] One way I try to explain this is if you want to manage all of the different people on this list, consider becoming a publisher. If not–if you mostly just want to design games–submit your games to other publishers.

Q: “What are the top mistakes a first time KS creator can make?”

  • Guessing at costs instead of properly budgeting.
  • Not building a crowd in advance. [Jamey: I would add to this, “Not telling people about your project in advance.” There’s no reason for a first-time creator to keep their project a secret–talk about it openly and frequently from the beginning.]
  • Trying to please everybody with game design, look, content, terminology, etc.
  • Adding every suggested stretch goal to the campaign.
  • Not planning shipping correctly.
  • [Jamey] One other mistake I see is creators launching because they told people they were launching on a certain date, even though the project isn’t ready. Please read this.

Q: “What do you wish you knew before you started?”

  • How much freight would cost.
  • How many backers I’d have in each area of the world.
  • What optional goals people would want.
  • How my manufacturer would treat me (delays, etc.)
  • That people would have an issue with the video as shot.
  • That Kickstarter isn’t going to make me rich.
  • [Jamey] I wish I had fully realized that Kickstarter isn’t about my dream. That is, backers aren’t there to make my dream become reality. Rather, backers are there to get something awesome and connect with you/backers in the process.

Q: “What are your top tips for running a successful campaign / What elements make a game KS successful?”

  • Budget every detail.
  • Playtest, playtest, playtest.
  • Make the campaign page clean and pretty.
  • Don’t give in to all stretch goal suggestions.
  • Be communicative and honest.
  • Clear pledge tiers.
  • [Jamey] Make something people want.

Q: “Is it viable to hire a consultant to run a Kickstarter or does the largest success come from designer engagement with the community?”

  • The panelists agreed that consultants are simply not necessary at all and can likely be a waste of money.  They can help, but it’s a good game that sells itself.
  • Creator-backer engagement is worth a million dollars.  If the Pacific Rim Kickstarter were run by the unique passionate individual that created the game instead of the machine that was just trying to make money, it would have done a lot better.

Q: “How do you gain a following prior to launch? Vlog/Blog? Mailing list?”

  • Demo at local and national cons.
  • Start a Facebook company page, and boost posts.  (Nobody sees your post unless you boost it anymore.)
  • Starting a blog isn’t what it used to be. [Jamey: While there is some truth to this comment, I think it might be missing the point in starting a blog. If you start a blog and gain a readership, you shouldn’t expect for those readers to become backers someday. Rather, the point of a blog/podcast/YouTube channel/etc is to have a hub where people can find you and get information from you. It also trains you in the art of online conversation, as well as the abilities required to create content that focuses on the consumer rather than the creator.]
  • While it’s helpful to have a following, you really only need about 50-100 people willing to back on day 1.  Multiple people with massive followings have had Kickstarters fall on their face, so it’s no guarantee.
  • [Jamey] Here are some small daily actions that can help you build a crowd. Make sure you have a hub with an e-newsletter signup before you do any of these things.

Q: “What are some good ways to push up the middle slump of a KS?”

  • Personal emails to backers thanking them.
  • Continued updating of the campaign with updates and new photos.
  • Don’t front-load all review releases to the start of the campaign, save some for middle.
  • Interact on Facebook groups.  Get people talking about your campaign, and asking questions.
  • [Jamey] Here’s a blog post about this specific topic.

***

If you’re thinking about running a Kickstarter campaign for the first time, feel free to ask any question below, and John and I are happy to answer. I may link to a specific blog post as part of my answer, but please don’t be afraid to ask a “basic” question–this is a safe place. :)

54 Comments on “7 Insights that First-Time Kickstarter Creators May Not Know

  1. “Universally agreed that consultants are a waste of money”.
    As a consultant, I can say that depends.
    Mainly, if you know how to comunicate or calculate breakeven points of your costs, and you have a good game, I could agree.
    Unfortunately, campaigns are not made only of a good game and the people that does not follow suggestions and basic crowdfunding guidelines are still A LOT, A VERY LOT.
    And you could need a friendly consultant on board, if you pay him with a little percentage of the sum collected, being part of the risk as well (since if the project does not get funded, he gains nothing as well).
    Then hey: 10 veterans speaking about projects are not “the universe”. So “universally agreed” is not the best way to describe some personal (even if potentially good) ideas.
    I just agree on the fact that a creator must be cautious about spending too many fixed costs for advising, since IMHO a crowdfunding advisor MUST partecipate to the risk.
    My personal opinion, Jamey.
    I mainly agree with everything else, how could I not. :)

    1. Thanks, Andrea for your comment.
      No offense intended, on panel day we each answer the questions with intent to give our honest responses to the questions as asked for the sake of the person asking it; I then record them as answered.
      Conceptually we certainly have nothing against consultants, especially talented ones, but 8 of the 8 panelists (hence “universally”) said “no, they’re a waste of your money”; with expectation that one should due their due diligence (like showing up to an advice panel, and reading blogs like Jamey’s).

      That said you raise a valuable point that if the person launching hasn’t done their due diligence then it would certainly help to have a consultant on board. For busy folk, it’s a great way to save the trouble of doing weeks worth of research! : )

      1. I know this is an older post, is it to late to add my .02 worth? BTW am learning a lot here! Thanks for everything. Happy gaming all.

    2. Andrea, I’ve added some of your insights to our main FAQ page linked at the top.
      Thanks for making the Advice Columns better!

  2. Hi Jamey & John, I can see this article helping a lot of people.

    Your article said: “There’s no reason for a first-time creator to keep their project a secret–talk about it openly and frequently from the beginning.”
    I think lots of nice people don’t want to do that, or have a fear of doing that, in facebook groups etc, as they are afraid to come across as “just wanting to promote their game and get fans”. Are there anyways to help people like that? I’m not talking about myself, of course, it’s emm… a friend of a friend.

    1. Gerald: You’re right, the places where you talk about your game matter (they matter at any time, not just early on). But I just want to encourage first-time creators not to keep secrets–if they don’t talk about their game anywhere, it doesn’t give people the opportunity to get excited about it.

    2. A. Gerald, that’s a tough one because you can’t control the intake of your listener.

      A few years back, around 2014, the gaming world quickly turned into a place where “self-promotion” is vilified like it is on Reddit. I’ve never agreed with the negativity associated with talking about and being excited about your own game/projects, but it is a mine-field that needs to be navigated.

      I think a major difference from safety to danger is ‘in person’ to ‘online’. It’s mostly the online communities, Reddit and BGG being the harshest, that get upset if you mention your own games, and certain circles on Social Media. In person though, at your FLGS, at your local Con, at Gen Con… ..at cons in general actually, people are excited to see you, meet you, and hear about your new game. So set up demo events, sit in open gaming, and maybe get a booth to exhibit from.

      A back-door to the online thing is ‘if you paid’. If you paid to self-promote, via ads, sponsorships, boosted posts, then it becomes ok again.

      1. Thanks Jamey and John, yes online communities are very hostile. I learnt that when discussing some other creators KS projects in a Board Game Design group. Some people point “Paid Spammer!” when you are trying to learn about how a KS project got funded, even when you point out mistakes the KS creator made. So it must be even tougher when talking about games you actually created and are affiliated with. It could start a witch hunt. I’m fearful of “self-promotion”.

        1. I don’t think anyone should be fearful to speak. I’m sorry you had that experience. I don’t buy into it at all. I’m often against the tide though. ; )

        2. Jamie, Arterm, Gerald, and John this information is gold! As a first-time creator wannabee (still long way to go) discussion on the basics is always welcomed. I understand that in order for people to have the opportunity to find out about your work is to talk about it in the communities that you are on. I also noticed that communities are indeed a bit harsh or hostile, as Gerald stated. People join those communities because they want to be part of them, they want to be around people who enjoy board games as much as they do and discuss about it, not to gain leads. A person can have a great idea and also possess the skills to make the work needed, but I think for some people it’s difficult to provide something to others when you have so much to receive from the “giants” of that community. When at the same time all members of that community also receive info from those “giants”. A person can be an active member of a community, played hundreds of games and engages in discussions but they may not have the ability to create and give life to a project. Jamey mentioned: “Multiple people with massive followings have had Kickstarters fall on their face, so it’s no guarantee.” From your experience, did the other way around ever happened?

          1. Alex: Thanks for your question, and I’m sorry for the delay on my response. This somehow got stuck in WordPress spam.

            I think you’re asking if people with massive followings have ever NOT had Kickstarters fall on their face, and the answer is definitely! Usually they’re at least partially connected to an IP, like the Oatmeal guy’s involvement in Exploding Kittens campaign.

          2. Jamey, thanks for getting back to me! The lesson i took, from your book, is that this campaign (Kittens) is a proof that when involved in a large community you can easily over reach your goal. When you say it fell on their face, you are referring to how they handled everything after the campaign was over? I understand that “Mega projects” are not an example to follow :P

            Also did you have any experience of low profile people, with basic involvement in their communities, have their projects succeed well beyond expected? For reasons of how they handled the work needed? Excuse me if this is a stupid question, it’s just that you mentioned that you basically need 50-100 people willing to back on day 1, and that is quite interesting.

            Thanks again!

          3. Alex: “The lesson i took, from your book, is that this campaign (Kittens) is a proof that when involved in a large community you can easily over reach your goal.”

            Hmm…I’m not quite saying that. I’m saying that building community in advance of your project launch can significantly increase your chances of success, especially if you’re creating something that community is interested in at a fair price.

            “When you say it fell on their face, you are referring to how they handled everything after the campaign was over?”

            Just to clarify, I didn’t say that–that was a response from the panel. But what I think they were trying to say is that EVEN IF you have a big community of people before launching your project, you can’t take them for granted. There’s not going to pay $20 more than most people for a product just because they like you. Also, sometimes people simply don’t want the product, and no amount of fandom can fix that.

            “Also did you have any experience of low profile people, with basic involvement in their communities, have their projects succeed well beyond expected? For reasons of how they handled the work needed? Excuse me if this is a stupid question, it’s just that you mentioned that you basically need 50-100 people willing to back on day 1, and that is quite interesting.”

            Yes, one of the panelists said that. While it definitely helps to have awareness and buzz before you launch, there are certainly many low-profile people who create something awesome and succeed.

          4. Jamey, excuse me, after reading the comments i got mixed up with all the things said here, by you or some of the panelists. Thanks for taking the time to clarify these!

  3. So our website’s security certificate expired at midnight even though we just renewed it. My apologies for that. In a few hour from now it’ll be back to full chrome-level-security. For now, it is secure, just chrome being overly-cautious. Sorry for the poor timing.

  4. Great article, It was neat getting to see the recap of the panel that I had the privilege to attend! Summed it up pretty well I think.

    Also, I think it was enough to push me over the hump to delay our first KS till early next year instead of the hard Oct 2nd date I set a couple months ago, there is one hangup with a scoring mechanism that knocked my whole schedule off pace and most likely we will only be 90-95% ready by that date and I will not have review copies out to reviewers with plenty of time to spare (I wanted them out about 2 weeks ago)

    Thanks for the reaffirmation that its ok to wait on launching.

    1. Cody, great to see you here, and thanks for coming out to the panel.

      I applaud your patience in delaying so long. It’s not easy to do, but it will help your net success!

        1. Truly my pleasure. And sorry I missed you. As the host, it was my job to ensure everything wrapped up well in the room, so I didn’t get to chat with very many folk after (despite my greatest desires!) If you want to follow up in email, I’d be happy to have that chat, even if a bit delayed. : )

  5. Thanks for your work on this post Jamey. Very helpful! As an indie designer, I’ve experienced times when I did not want to share ideas or progress because I did not want to come across as intrusive or too salesy. Over time I’ve learned how to share progress by providing something to others too, not just pushing messages all the time.

    Also, I’ve started using my blog more to post about aspects of game design that matter to me so that folks can get to know my values and sensibilities when it comes to the games I create. Growing an audience organically may take some time, but before I launch a KS I want to be able to point to a body of work around my projects. The blog is a useful tool for sharing “social proof” as well as practical articles.

    One thing I really appreciate in this article is: “Don’t give in to all stretch goal suggestions.” I plan to run a campaign that’s as clear to understand as possible, with a couple/few stretch goals max. I’ve backed some projects that really become convoluted with too many goals, and have resulted in some self-inflicted setbacks for their creators.

    Thanks again Jamey!

    –E

    1. That’s great stuff, Eric. I hope to connect about your project. Find me on Facebook if you like: John Wrot! I’d love to take a look at it.

  6. Eric: “Over time I’ve learned how to share progress by providing something to others too.” I think that’s awesome–that skill will definitely come in handy. :) I also like that you’re using your blog as a way to convey your personal design principles.

  7. A great read as always and will be particularly useful to those who are preparing for their first campaign (who arguably need the advice most). The point you add of “make something that people want” remains the single most important determinant of whether a campaign will be a success or not IMO.

    In my experience an excellent way to build interest in your own project is to tell people about it on social media not just through your own FB page but on groups (a much better investment of time now that you need to pay to boost your own page posts). It’s very important to do so constructively while being a genuine part of the community rather than only dropping in to self-promote. But I found that if you are a part of a group and participate in the discussions and help others – people will want to hear about something you made when you bring it up in relevant conversations.

    1. Artem, “if you are a part of a group and participate in the discussions and help others” is a great point. If you’re never ever around then only drop in once a year it certainly isn’t as pleasant or effective.
      I have compassion for those that dont’ have a lot of time to spend on facebook because of other jobs, a spouse, and/or kids though.

      1. Yes, certainly – an isolated dropped link to your project in a group that you just joined is a sure-fire way to get some negative karma for yourself (and your project).

        I do not mean to sound cynical but preparing and running a KS is a time-consuming endeavor. People who want to succeed at it should be ready to commit the time. (And I say it as a person with a demanding job, spouse and children, fully understanding the juggling of priorities involved).

        Always find the content you create super helpful, keep up the great work!

    2. Well said, Artem. I particularly like your point about how continued participation in Facebook groups (or even just one group) in which you’re not there to self-promote can lead to people being genuinely curious about what you’re working on (instead of super suspicious if the first thing they see for you is a comment/post about your project). This taps into the concern Gerald expressed earlier.

      1. A completely arbitrary rule of thumb that I instituted for myself on social media is “Every 10 interactions having nothing to do with your own game give you the right to one guilt-free mention of your work” .

        My personal triumph was being able to talk up my game on Reddit without being shouted down as a shameless self-promoter :)

      2. ” I particularly like your point about how continued participation in Facebook groups” –

        For months I’ve been helping 3 or 4 diffeent people everyday with feedback and advice in a facebook board game design group. Trying to have a positive impact and just give. But still some few will call you out as a “plant” if you even mention a game on KS, to learn from, that has nothing to do with you. Maybe because there is 1000+ people there that it is impossible to know everyone, even regular helpful members.

        1. It’s very generous of you to help people out like that.

          I don’t think there is a way to completely avoid people thinking it’s a plant or that you are self-serving, so whenever you do it – there is always some risk of being misconstrued. My advice was only meant to diminish the risk.

          Can’t please everybody.

          1. Thanks Artem, Jamey, and John. There are lots of lovely people in that Facebook group. As well as odd people :) “Can’t please everybody”, I need to make that in to a wall plaque. Plus I probably need to get some thicker skin for online interactions.

          2. Artem, Gerald,
            Indeed you can’t please everybody. Its on the list of advice on the main FAQ page. It’s hard for folks like me that WANT to please everyone because I authentically care, but it’s never possible. Not en masse’ anyway. Only ever one at a time, but that’s not the nature of “Social” Media.
            What I try to accept is that Social Media wasn’t made for me, and I wasn’t made for Social Media. I was made for one-on-ones. I just always try my best in this new way of communicating.

    1. Agreed. Peter Atkinson once gave me the advice when I was considering publishing my RPG: “Nothing matters but your cover art. If your cover art is stunning, you’ll sell a million copies. If your cover art is poor, you won’t sell any. The contents of the book don’t matter.” He wasn’t even being cynical.

  8. Very useful thanks for the information. I have a question, if I have a game that have original characters that I’m going to use in series or cartoons; it is better to wait to have all the IP registered before showing the game? Or I show everything anyway?

    1. Angel: Thanks for your question! If they’re original characters, it’s your IP by default. It’s fine to show them as much as you’d like. Just make sure you proceed to trademark the name of the game.

      1. Jamey: Speaking of trademarking…how important is it and do you have to do it for every country the game could possibly end up in?

        1. I think lots of first time creators trademark the game after it has done well on Kickstarter, as it costs money. But Jamey trademarks new games now well before release.

          The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO which is also called the Madrid System and covers 117 countries with 1 fee, including the U.S.). I don’t know if you should also register with the U.S. trademark office as well, or if that is redundant. It probably would be redundant.

          Games of Stonemaier Games are listed on WIPO. I don’t know if they used WIPO or it shows up because WIPO has access to the U.S. database. But if you select all 117 countries it would cost you about $27,000. If you select the U.S. and Germany it would cost about $1,150. The WIPO fee is about $600. If you just file with the U.S. office and know what you are doing it would cost $225. Maybe you could pay a U.S. attorney $200 extra to file it for you. I’m not sure how much they charge but that would it might be worth it if it is lower than filing it yourself with WIPO for $1150 (U.S. Only).

    2. Angel, you can show it right away, there’s no issue on it. Once the characters and art are designed by you, the art is copyrighted. You can then trademark the name of the cartoon/game if you like.

  9. Hey, This advice is super great and should be a great help. I have a question i cant seem to find on your site. maybe I’m not looking good enough. I have a game that I’m kickstarting soon that has playtested really well and have most of it ready with graphics manufacturing quotes and everything, but I wanted to know how important it is to worry about legal ramifications like trademarks for the game prior to the Kickstarting of it and how I go about an efficient way of protecting my IP. Or if i can do that all after. I’m not super protective of it, I mostly just want to do the amount necessary so I don’t suffer later for not doing something simple earlier. Any suggestions?

  10. Hi Jamey,
    I am reading your posts for some time and just want thank your for all you are doing for us. Thanks a lot. I hope I will be able to launch successful KS campaign one day :)

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