Brewing Up and Screwing Up: Lessons Learned from the Cauldron Kickstarter (Guest Post)

13 December 2015 | 9 Comments

A long-time reader of this blog successfully ran his first Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, and he kindly offered to share a behind-the-scenes look at the things he’s proud of and the things he’ll do differently next time. Thank you, Artem, for taking the time to write this!

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Hi! My name is Artem and I am the creator of Cauldron: a board game of competitive alchemy. We ran a Kickstarter in May of 2015 and delivered our games to backers in December. A total of 962 generous backers made our game possible and we raised a total of $32,167 (CAD).

I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from my first experience. I hope these would be useful to you, especially if you are an aspiring first-time creator. Know that what you’re setting out to do is very much possible but requires tons of work and dedication.

Cauldron was a pretty textbook example of a Kickstarter dynamic.  It did not flounder but neither did it reach a “monster” status. It had a strong first and last couple of days with a long slow climb in the middle. The detailed stats can be viewed on Kicktraq.

Cauldron 1

The game is now delivered to backers and stores, which allows me to actually breathe out and to share with you three 3 Successes and 3 Areas of improvement for the project. In order to end on a positive note – we will start here:

3 Things I Could Have Done Better with Cauldron

  1. Not enough demoing the game.

I did a relatively good job raising awareness of who I was so that there was a bit of a reputation to draw on when the game launched. What I did not do well was showcase Cauldron itself. People might have heard about it on social media or in conversation, but only a handful actually played it (and of those who did a very high percentage became backers).

I think it was a significant missed opportunity for me that limited how well the game did in the first couple of days.

Looking back, there were several ways I could have been more active in letting people know what Cauldron is like as a game.

  • Designer diaries on BoardGameGeek are a good way to involve and engage the dedicated audience on that site.
  • Making the print and play available earlier would have been helpful in getting people to try it.
  • Finally – going to more demo events would allow me to get the game in front of people and would create lots of awareness and buy-in. I started this late, focusing on designer nights at the local (amazing) Snakes and Lattes, but there was much more I could have done.
  • Taking the game to conventions like Protospiel and UnPub, that are specifically aimed at unreleased games would be a great idea. The exposure would certainly allow me to pad number of people excited about the game and ready to back on day 1 and this early support is invaluable.
(demoing Cauldron at Snakes and Lattes)
(demoing Cauldron at Snakes and Lattes)

The next game I make will be made very openly and transparently to maximize the game’s visibility and give people lots of chances to try it out and get excited.

  1. The Store/backer discrepancy

This was a minor mistake but one that stuck with me. Due to an unforeseen shipping discrepancy between Canada and the US (Canada customs let the shipment in much faster), Cauldron was available in some US stores before US backers started receiving their rewards. Some backers noticed this and got rightly disappointed.

This was a mistake on my part as I should have been clear to my distributor partner that games cannot start going to stores before my backers receive their rewards. It might not seem like much but it’s a way to put backers first and that’s something that creators should be doing whenever possible.

  1. The emotional side of things

The last thing I did wrong is also the most personal one. Kickstarter is an emotional rollercoaster. You pour your heart into something and then put it out for everyone to look at and vote (with their dollars) on whether it’s good or not.

I took my mid-campaign slump pretty hard. Despite every single indicator pointing to eventual success of the project – days like Day 5 (total of $18 raised) filled me with doubt and despair. There were other, slower days, when it seemed like the project was not doing great at all and the initial success was not going to translate into a longer-term one.

After the campaign several unexpected extra costs (like the fact that Canadian dollar took a 15% nosedive since May) drove the project budget significantly above what I expected. That resulted in another negative period when I felt pretty bad about the project and the way I approached things. All of these things eventually got sorted out but the negativity of these times really stung.

Instead of being so prone to this negativity I should have prepared myself with specific realistic expectations and not let myself go down this rabbit hole of doubt, which drove me to be distant and distracted, focusing ever more on my Kickstarter notifications at the expense of my family.

Even successful campaigns come with moments like this – prepare yourself for them – expect them and know exactly what to tell yourself so that you have a thick reliable armor against the negativity. Some stuff might get through, but you will be way better off if you take the time to do the mental prep in advance.

And now – away from that negative note for the fun positive things!

  1. I invested into awesome art and it paid off.

The Cauldron cover is awesome. You might have a different opinion, but the first time I’ve seen it come back from the very talented Jacob Atienza – I was immediately happy with the decision to pay a considerable sum for that one image.

In online interactions you will often only have one chance to impress a potential backer. To do it you need to bring out the big guns. For me – my big gun was this image that any time I share it, fills me with confidence that what I’m offering is truly amazing.  This kind of confidence goes a long way.

While we’re talking about art, I made sure that all of our graphic files were in order and ready to send to printers before KS launch. Several changes still had to be made, but were quick and easy and it really helped with the next point.

cauldron 3

  1. Scheduling: Under-promise and Over-deliver

This is a minor but important point. When I was calculating the timeline on when the game would get to backers, I took the worst case for all of the estimates I was given, bumped them by 10% and added an extra month on top of these to account for any unforeseen complications that could arise. The result was an 8-month timeline wrapping up in Jan 2016. Not a single concern was raised about this length.

I was able to avoid vast majority of the delays and as a result I delivered the game in Oct-Dec, so on average 2 months early. I’ve got dozens of compliments from happy backers who got their game earlier than anticipated (and in time for holidays too!).

Under-promise and over-deliver. You have a lot more to gain by beating a generous timeline than to lose by missing an ambitious one.

  1. Take the time to establish yourself.

Clicking that “Launch” button can be nerve-wracking but it is nowhere near as important as all the work that goes in before you get to that point. When I launched I could do so with some confidence that people in the board gaming community (kind of, maybe) knew who I was and did not trust their money to a completely random dude on the internet. Here is what I did that really helped:

  • Dedicated work on creating a social media presence. This took a year and I wish I’d started earlier. This involved interacting, being a part of the community, giving rather than taking and helping others. No shortcuts here. It was a time commitment and I’m glad I put that in, because it allowed me to start my campaign with :
  • This gave me a great platform to talk about Cauldron and not feel like I am only asking – because I spent a lot of time giving before that. Board gaming community is great – it’s very rewarding to be a part of it.
  • Diligent work with reviewers. Even if I could not get my games in front of many gamers, I made sure to get it reviewed by big names: Undead Viking, Board Game Brawl, and Father Geek. I approached reviewers 3 months ahead of KS launch and got them at least 6 weeks with a prototype. Thanks to this I had a solid review base (which also helps with visibility). It requires work and planning and communications but all very much worth it.
  • Finally, among my friends and family I tried as much as possible to not just tell people about the game but engage them, make it feel like they are a part of a team bringing this to life. People pitched in for marketing instead of giving birthday gifts. People helped demo, craft prototypes and do voiceovers for the KS video.
  • As a result, I had a group of champions who all pledged for the game and in turn went out and got more people to pledge. Engage people as much as possible – they are your most valued resource.

Each of these points can easily become a full article on its own, but I hope even in this overview format they can be of help. Kickstarting is hard but it is also incredible rewarding and I wish all of you luck in making awesome things. Finally, one last thanks to Jamey for his work that guides and enables so many.

I would love to hear your reflections on the campaign or these points either here or on social media. Happy brewing!

9 Comments on “Brewing Up and Screwing Up: Lessons Learned from the Cauldron Kickstarter (Guest Post)

  1. Artem,

    Great piece! As a developer, I regularly direct my designers to either Jamey’s blog/book or to pieces written by individuals who have made the leap to launch a Kickstarter. I wish you the very best of luck with Cauldron (I agree that the artwork is truly stunning)!

    Cheers,
    Joe

  2. I will say probably the least talked about part of running a campaign, is the negative emotional sidea ofor things. But it is valuable information. I can understand how easy it must be to become consumed by a project and leave important things to fade into ťhe background. It’s good to hear some perspective on the “human” side of kickstarter, as well as the business side.

  3. Great article! Thank you for sharing the good and the bad. Your mention of checking the daily totals and getting stressed out really resonated with me. I tend to get too focused on small things instead of the big picture. Reading about your experience will help me keep things in perspective for when I finally launch my first campaign.

  4. I seem to have an issue in the comments where I’m not able to respond to individual ones, posting in the main thread instead – so a group thank you to everyone for their kind words and I hope you will find this info useful.

  5. Excellent insights! Thank you so much for being willing to share this. I know that I have been struggling a little on the follower creation front but it really helps to see someone who has had success and that it really is possible.

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