Are You Too Popular? (Business Brilliance #3)

18 January 2018 | 17 Comments

This past weekend I played a game called Dinosaur Island, and I was absolutely obsessed with one of the components. It looks like this:

This may just be component included in Kickstarter copies.

The first-player “token” in Dinosaur Island is a slap bracelet! And not just the cheap slap bracelets I remember from elementary school–it’s quite nice.

What really got me thinking, though, wasn’t the slap bracelet itself. Rather, it was the concept of “fast pass.”

There are iterations of fast passes in various industries (including toll roads), but the one I’m specifically thinking of is the Disney FastPass. Disney realized a while ago that people don’t like waiting in lines for 3 hours to spend 3 minutes on a roller coaster, so they sought to solve the problem.

Think about this for a second: If Disney’s amusement parks weren’t successful, they wouldn’t have an issue with lines. Have you ever been to an amusement park with no lines? It’s amazing. I went to one in Japan about 20 years ago, and we probably road 20 roller coasters in 5 hours.

Rather, this is a problem Disney wants to have–it’s the result of its popularity. But it may have struggled to remain popular if people stopped going to Disney theme parks because of the long lines.

So they invented the FastPass:

(Kent Phillips, photographer)

You can use Disney’s FastPass system to sign up in advance for specific timeslots for attractions. You show up at the time you reserved, and your wait time is significantly shorter than if you waited in line. Remarkably, Disney offers most versions of FastPass for free.

I haven’t been to a Disney theme park in many, many years, so I’ve never personally used FastPass. I’ve read that it’s not a perfect system but that things would be a lot worse if it didn’t exist. Overall, I love the idea that Disney created a clever solution to a problem created by popularity.

What does this mean for Kickstarter creators? 

Most creators don’t know if their project will be a success until it actually becomes successful, so the key is to plan for the possibility that your project will be so popular that you start to have issues that wouldn’t arise if you barely reach your goal. That’s why I recommend planning for different funding scenarios.

One notable, very successful project that planned well for popularity is Kingdom Death: Monster. Rather than promising delivery of the full game during the same month to all backers–which would have created immense manufacturing and shipping issues–they created a detailed plan for staggering shipments of the game, expansions, etc from 2017 all the way through 2020 (see the bottom of the project page for this).

Is there a more direct corollary for the fast pass system and how it solves a problem created by popularity? One example that comes to mind is the Kickstarter campaign I ran for the first treasure chest. For $33, a backer could get the treasure chest delivered in January 2015 (1792 backers chose this option). Or for $39, you could get the same treasure chest, but it would be air freighted from China to ensure delivery in December 2014 (441 backers chose this).

What does this mean for other companies?

I think the key is to look at the side effects of your potential popularity, especially in terms of its impact on customers. I think sometimes this means saying no to certain opportunities to maintain core excellence.

For example, I was just talking yesterday to the CEO of a company that makes custom inserts for board games. He was saying that there was a time when he sold thousands of custom inserts into distribution each year (distributors sell to retailers, retailers sell to consumers). But the result of these bulk orders is that wait times for direct customers went way up, which detracted from their experience. So eventually he stopped selling to distributors, and his customers were happier.

What does this mean for tabletop game publishers?

Well, the main issue that comes to mind when I think of a product being too popular is that the publisher doesn’t make enough of it, especially in the first print run. For most games, this doesn’t spell disaster, as scarcity can just increase the anticipation and excitement for the second print run, but there are examples where a severe disparity between supply and demand can damage the longevity of the game (Dice Masters comes to mind).

So what can a publisher do when a product ends up being far more popular than anticipated? One option is to try to stagger the release so a wider variety of retailers and consumers have access to it (sometimes a hot product can quickly be bought up by a few big retailers). A version of this method is used at conventions: A publisher may have 200 units of a hot game, but they only make 50 available each day.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about this as well, as I’m learning as I go with our games!


What do you think about the concept of the “fast pass”? How have you seen a business solve a problem created by popularity?

This is a series that will feature innovative strategies from non-Kickstarter, non-tabletop game companies as they might apply to other businesses. If you have any recommendations, please send them to

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17 Comments on “Are You Too Popular? (Business Brilliance #3)

  1. […] 5) Are You Too Popular? (Business Brilliance #3) “The first-player “token” in Dinosaur Island is a slap bracelet! And not just the cheap slap bracelets I remember from elementary school–it’s quite nice. What really got me thinking, though, wasn’t the slap bracelet itself. Rather, it was the concept of “fast pass.” There are iterations of…” — via Stonemaier Games […]

  2. This was an interesting topic. I never really gave it much thought to how hard supply and demand can be for a publisher or kickstarter. The fast past is an interesting concept, I do believe that not only can it be used effectively,(i.e, Disney World, Kingdom Death Monster, and Treasure Chest.) I side with Kenneth Beyer, I would be highly interested you see this mechanic where it would jump out at you while playing the game. If resources were tight the fast pass would be hard to come by, but maybe its the edge you need and you push your luck. IDK.

  3. It’s an interesting comparison that raises a question related to kickstarter. In my local theme park (Legoland) you can buy a ticket to use the faster queues. That has generated some resentment from people that “rich” kids don’t have to wait in line. I wonder if the same response could arise from the Internet community, which I known sometime can get a little vicious, that rich people get the game before others and there by getting a negative response (fair or not) to your kickstarter campaign. Which is something I believe you have addressed before.

    1. Henrik: I think part of it depends on how much you charge. Like, in my Treasure Chest example, I don’t recall hearing a single complaint that a $39 level existed (compared to $33). Though it also helped that I clearly explained that we would be air-freighting the $39 games, so perhaps people understood there was an additional cost involved.

      I have heard that complaint, however, in situations where I found it difficult to empathize with the complaint. For example, on several of my campaigns I offered custom art rewards for around triple the cost of the core reward. I received a few complaints from people saying that I made it impossible for people with tighter budgets to afford those rewards. But that’s like if I told Lexus they should lower their price just because I make less money than someone else–as odd as it sounds, that’s not fair to Lexus! More expensive rewards cost more money because they offer more value, and it’s up to the consumer to decide if they want to spend their limited resources on it.

      1. Sounds like Soviet Dystopia Disorder, price equality!!! Elimination of socio-economic discrimination. They had something similar in the old Soviet Union. I hope that doesn’t gain popularity in our ever increasing victim society.

      2. I agree with what you said. The point I was trying to make is that only after reading your queue analogy I wonder if you could be risking a negative response to something I would consider as an extra service.

      3. Interesting contrast between your two examples. For the TC: “I’m going to get it anyway, and $6 is less than I’d expect to pay for air freight from China.”

        For the custom art: “Wah! I just can’t afford it, so I can’t have it.”

        I might have had both the those immediate reactions. But I wouldn’t have voiced either of them to you or to the public–certainly not the second. There are lots of things I’d like but can’t have. That’s life. My life will be better if I focus on the things I need, and on the things I like and do have.

      4. Yeah theme parks are different as everyone that takes advantage of the (paid) upgrade makes it worse for those who opt not to. It’s an extra person in the queue in front of them. You have to price high, else everyone will buy the pass and be in same queues as before.

        That’s not true for most KSers, I would imagine the response would be different if you just did “pay five dollars extra, and we ship all the copies of those who paid extra first, then those who didn’t as soon as we are done.”

        Generally with KS rewards the higher tiers actually make the game better for everyone else, by helping reach stretch goal, so it’s the opposite effect.

        The Viticulture custom art is a weird one actually as I guess some people did think it made the game worse, though I have feeling that’s a comparison neither of us want to get in to!

    2. I think it’s a generally accepted part of the Kickstarter process to have tiered rewards, and for the more expensive tiers to have better rewards, and most people are used to the idea of tiered shipping from sites like Amazon. I’m not saying there won’t be any sort of backlash – some people will always find something to complain about – but most people accept it on Kickstarter.

      When it comes to theme parks, the expectations are different, and also for someone waiting in the queue, every person in the fast lane directly delays them getting on the ride, in a way someone else getting their backer reward sooner doesn’t…

  4. What is a “fast pass”?
    It is essentially expending a cost now to achieve a benefit later.
    At Disney it is having to make two trips to a ride to only wait in line 10 mins vs one trip and a 45 min (or longer) wait. The math is easy because in that 35 mins you save there are many other things to enjoy while not standing in line.
    At other parks you pay actual money to get a pass which gives you access to a separate shorter line. I like Disney’s approach better.
    This concept is interesting in the context of gaming but this idea goes beyond gaming and amusement parks. It is the very definition on how to ensure success in many avenues of life.
    Another way to describe this is investing. Most of us know investing as putting money aside in a profitable venture to achieve a financial goal later. This could also be investing time. Intern or apprentice for a period of time for the benefit of experience and aquiring skills even if it doesn’t pay anything. Money gets spent. That experience and those skills are things that you have for the rest of your life.
    The most successful people are those that figure which are the best fastpass lines to get into.

  5. This was definitely a good article, giving much to think about. Am I too popular? Definitely not! That was my first thought. Our main issue is crowd-building right now. But I liked this read because you never know- what if our game actually becomes popular and we aren’t prepared for that demand?

  6. “Fast pass” also sounds like it could make an interesting game mechanism. You have to plan a future turn by reserving a time slot and then make all your turns leading up to that point so that you are in the right place at the right time to score the combo/bonus whatever you had hoped to achieve.

    1. I think Tzlok’in already uses that as a mechanic – you have to plan well ahead for what goes on the dials when to get the result you want when it delivers.

  7. Awaken Realms did a similar shipping option with what you did for the initial treasure chest with Lords of Hellas- ( they offered split shipping, where you’d receive the base game first, and the expansions when production was done, or you could pay less shipping, and receive everything in the second wave. We took advantage of the split shipping, and it worked great, especially since I’m the type that wants to learn the base game before I add anything to it.

    I feel like this method enabled them to hit closer to their projected/promised delivery window (at least for Wave 1, Wave 2 isn’t out yet,) where they might have been delayed by sheer volume if they gave everybody split shipping. Ours came in only a month off estimate.

    I’m not sure if they’re repeating the experiment for their new/current kickstarter, but if they offered it again on a project I backed, I’d absolutely take it.

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