From Obi-Wan to Mr. Miyagi: How to Select and Implement Advice from Your Kickstarter Sensei

5 October 2014 | 22 Comments

Today I have a special guest post for you from fellow Kickstarter creator Eduardo Baraf. These days I rarely give one-on-one advice for Kickstarter projects, as I’d prefer to spend my limited time writing blog entries that reach more than one person.

However, as you’ll see below, Ed presented a special case, and as a result, he has some interesting lessons to share about the advice I gave him. Just like anyone, sometimes I was right, and sometimes I was wrong–there are insights in both sets of examples. (Naturally, I was more interested in having Ed share the things I got wrong, but he was gracious to share good stuff too.)

One overall takeaway I’d like to point out from this entry is that there is a lot of Kickstarter advice out there. Some of it is outright incorrect or completely misleading, and a lot of the rest is highly subjective (like this blog). I try to call people out when they spread misinformation that could impact other creators, but it’s a big internet.

The point is, be judicious about the advice you read. Look for data, not just opinions. Question people–dig deeper if something feels wrong to you. In the end, it’s your project on the line, so it’s up to you to make decisions that are best for your project and your backers.

***

Ed and JameySome Context to Start

Last month, I successfully funded my first Kickstarter project: Lift Off! Get me off this Planet! Here is the project page, a blog about my approach, and my pre-order page for those who missed it. :)

Recently, I was talking on Skype with Jamey and giving him feedback on the advice he gave me on my campaign–the things he got right and the things he got wrong. Being the consummate learner he is, he asked me to write a blog about it.

I received more than your average amount of help from Jamey because, as I discovered after chatting with him on Twitter about my project preview page a few months ago, we actually attended the same study abroad program in Japan many years ago.

This serendipitous reconnection reinforces the idea that the key to preparing for a Kickstarter is about reaching out to bloggers, content creators, and potential backers well before the campaign begins. Each and every connection can lead to another, and sometimes you hit pay dirt!

What Jamey Got Right!
Jamey made many detailed recommendations, but here is a summary of the things I believe he fundamentally nailed.

  • Your Video and Header Blurb Are Critical
    The first thing that Jamey dug into on my site was the video and header blurb. Fortunately, my video was in pretty good shape (Keep it personal – they are backing YOU!) but my header blurb needed lots of refinement. I don’t believe he said it at the time, but as my campaign went on it was clear that KS on Mobile is THE growing segment of their market. Guess what!? Mobile shows video, blurb, and tiers up front. Everything else is buried. Don’t consider yourself done with your KS until you review on a phone.
  • Have a $1 Tier
    When Jamey first previewed my project, I had a $5 tier but he pushed me hard to go with the cheap $1 in.  I understand the basis for doing a $5 tier instead, but really, as your campaign goes on, you learn that all you care about is reach, sharing, and word of mouth. Having as low a friction as possible goes along way (as does being able to say “Well, if you don’t want to back the game why not come in for $1?). Honestly, if you could offer a reward directly to a user for just spreading the word, I’d do that. I believe Jamey did it for Treasure Chest. I bet there is a blog about it.
  • Streamline Your Content
    The bulk of the remaining feedback from Jamey had to do with streamlining the content on my page. Condense this, remove that, streamline this, etc. He was 100% right. Focus on your product and getting the person viewing your product to bite. Be vicious about this. Some people need oodles of information, most just need a few tidbits to get them engaged and hooked. Once someone is HOOKED more information is just and opportunity to LOSE THEM! Whenever I give others feedback about this I’m vicious. Recently I saw Randy Hoyts’s Lanterns page, which was way too long. He refined it down and now I envy how tight it is!

    • Remove Reward Tiers
      As part of streamlining, Jamey pushed me to remove reward tiers (which I still think is uncommon—the average games project in 2013 had 18 reward levels!) and even removing them from the left body. I most say I loved not having them in. Take a leap of faith and remove them. Your page will instantly feel better without that redundant information!
    • Streamlined Tiers
      This one is critical. Jamey convinced me to move to a $1 support, next tier is the game model. He got me to remove all the extra crap and get to the point (namely, a $25 reward level for special stickers and a full PnP). He also made sure I used CLEAR language for each tier I did have. As the campaign moved along I strongly believe this was one of the most impactful changes I made.
  • Price Point
    Jamey also beat me up over my $45 price point, which I dropped to $39 and my international shipping price $25, which I dropped to $20 (oh, and he wanted me to go even further!). These changes made me extremely uncomfortable because I couldn’t afford keep $10K in my pocket to make up for shortfalls.

Ultimately, I went with his recommendation but change my funding goal from $25K to $35K. $35K is a DEADLY number. It took a herculean effort to hit the gigantic goal with a lightweight game, but it felt good to offer such a compelling proposition to backers. I also like having that $5 space to do a $45 pre-order before $50 MSRP. Have you pre-ordered yet? :P

What Jamey Got Wrong!
Jamey’s positive advice FAR OUTWEIGHED the negative advice.  However, there were three recommendations I strongly believe were incorrect, or otherwise unhelpful. The first of which is the only one I didn’t take.

  • Murder of Crows
    Jamey and I had quite a few email exchanges (dare I say heated) about my inclusion of my first published game, Murder of Crows, in the campaign. Simple put, he thought I should remove it. It didn’t fit the “streamline” approach, was distracting and potentially confusing, as it had no thematic connection to Life Off!, and he felt it added little value to the project.

On my side I felt strongly that (a) it validated me as professional game maker, (b) provided a nice upsell for a backer (I almost always tier up for a cheap second game), and (c) gave me the ability to leverage my relationship with Atlas Games and their networks. Looking at the numbers, how many units of Murder of Crows I moved, and the overall positive attitude to it, I’m confident I made the right decision to include it. I moved ~1100 copies of Lift Off! and ~300 copies of Murder of Crows.

I will concede that Jamey’s pressure made me severely limited and clarify the language around the title and drop it to the very bottom of the page. Those changes were worthwhile and what I believe is the way to handle it.

  • Pushing in My Dates
    Originally, my dates for delivery were June 2015. Jamey felt these were too far out and thought I should pull them in especially because the game was essentially done. I think he might have even suggested January, but I cut the difference to March (which was what I was targeting internally). While I’m still confident I am going to deliver against this date, I think this change was of zero value and has only introduced risk and stress to me on my first KS campaign.

First and foremost, I don’t believe backers care about the exact delivery date (unless you are shooting for holiday). As long as it isn’t over a year out, I don’t believe anyone is going to say “You know this game is great, but I can’t wait 2 more months.” Moreover, I don’t believe there is an advantage to a quick turnaround. The faster the turnaround, the easier it is for a backer to say – “Oh, it is going to be out soon, I’ll just get it from shelves.”

Here is the second part: I don’t think missing my window by a month (say April) is death as long as I continue to over communicate, but I believe that beating my delivery date by two months would have been worth a king’s ransom to my second Kickstarter campaign.  I could have been a hero and delivered a head of schedule, but now I’m a stressed mess and will just deliver on time.

  • Custom Dice
    In his first email to me, Jamey felt that I was missing something truly sexy in my campaign and what I should do was add custom dice. People absolutely LOVE custom dice and they will climb over mountains to reach it.So, look, the first part of this is right. You do need something sexy in your stretch goals. However, what’s sexy to one project isn’t as sexy on another and fundamentally Lift Off! didn’t need custom dice. So rather than my old 50K stretch goal (more Lift Off points) which was minimal work, minimal risk, and minimal additional cost, I had a reward that didn’t really fit my design, I had never made before, and has both a large upfront cost and a incremental cost. This addition killed much of the extra buffer I built up exceeding my funding goal.

    To be clear – people DO love custom dice, I likely hit 50K because of the dice, and the game will sell better at retail with them. In the haste to add this I didn’t really get the funding target right for this stretch goal. Had I kept the LO points at $50K and put Custom Dice at $60K or even $65K, I wouldn’t be complaining about this here. Still, a few weeks before my campaign this (combined with the date crunch) has caused me more greys than I intended to have at this age.

    FWIW – Now that the Dice are designed (and while I have yet to see the final final cost), I do love them and they do add nice flair to the game.

My Biggest Takeaway

Let me close by saying this: More than the blogs, more than the forgotten past, more than all of the recommendations (good or otherwise), the thing I’ve learned the most from Jamey is that there are good guys out there, who care about what they are doing, want to find success, but also want to find success for all of those around them. Jamey has inspired me to be an open book with my campaign, to help anyone doing a Kickstarter (or designing a game in general), and even part of my reasoning for doing a video review series to share my passion for board games with others.

***

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given by someone who took a close look at your Kickstarter project? What about the worst advice? How did you figure out the difference?

22 Comments on “From Obi-Wan to Mr. Miyagi: How to Select and Implement Advice from Your Kickstarter Sensei

  1. TBH, as a backer I never care about the delivery dates. In fact, I would not even care if you deliver 2 months in advance…so maybe was not as wrong in this one.

    As for the Custom dice, I agree. People love those, but people also love naked women. Should we add naked women to all of our boardgames? God, I hope not!

  2. Great post, Ed!

    I like that you’ve gone into the pros and cons of each decision. Having got to see the project before and after Jamey got his mitts on it (thanks for the ride, it was very interesting to observe someone else’s page evolve) it was a noteable improvement, not that the project was bad before but yes, the streamlining did sharpen it all up and from the perspective of an international potential backer the price adjust brought it into the realms of “Oh, maybe i can” and I expect this helped?

    I have to agree on the Fulfilment timescale, it’s better to have a month’s breathing space for anything that just might happen and as long as it isn’t too far off then no worries. I don’t see that it would affect the funding. All the same I also don’t think your second Ks will be much affected by not being able to deliver early, as long as it’s on time. Yes it would have been a bit of a bonus but your communication throughout the campaign and afterwards has been vey positive and probably goes further in my opinion.

    I have to eat crow on the addition of your first game too and maybe it all depends on the project but I’m still not sure it should have been there! I’d love to know how it impacted your funds available for Lift Off! Gave you more or less?

    cheers!

    1. You too were a great help, Lloyd. Hard to ever know what the impact of things are exactly on a Kickstarter. It really is a composite of many many choices. I agree that for many adding in another game would be a bad thing – however considering what I know, and all the help repositioning it you and Jamey gave, I’m glad it was included.

      Ultimately, I think that is what Jamey is saying at the start. As a creator you need to absorb all of the information and make the best decision for you.

      1. I think it’s great you were open to having ideas thrown at you but still retained your own decisioning on it.

        I would agree with that. In the end, each project has its own requirements and aside from some key fundamentals what works for one might not work for the next.

  3. I’m just a backer of games, but I really enjoy reading Jamey’s blog and this post specifically. I want to agree with Jamey on the delivery dates suggestion.

    There are a few games on KS now (and lately) that I’m interested in, but when I see the delivery date is a year out, I really have to think hard about it. Ultimately, I didn’t back them. A date too far in the futures gives the impression that the game is not in a very good state. How do I know if I will like what it will become in a year? How much play-testing has been done?

    Also, I have to think about my return. Should I give my $50 to someone for a whole year before I receive a game? Will I still need another game of that genre in a year? Will it be as good as it’s proclaimed to be on the KS page? It might just be better to wait a year until the game is shipped and then listen to some objective, third party reviews before purchasing rather than losing my $50 for a year and then regretting it because the game isn’t good.

    If the timeline is shorter, and seems credible, it weighs more favorably in my decision to back. Also, as the price of the game goes down, the decision to wait the year is skewed more positively.

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Robert: Thanks for sharing your perspective. I see what you’re saying about tying up your money for a long period of time. I think I actually sway more to Ed’s side at this point–it seems like a good idea to add a few “buffer months” to the production schedule, just in case. Meanwhile, you can add in other incentives to make it worth the backer’s time to pledge through the project instead of waiting to order it later (price, optimized shipping, the whole Kickstarter experience, backer poll that impact the product, etc). But I do agree with you that the timeline shouldn’t be TOO long.

  4. Just some responses from me from a backer perspective =-)

    1. Your Video and Header Blurb Are Critical
    – Absolutely true, although I don’t really care about the video’s personally, the header blurb is a very important thing to pull people in. Even if your video is fantastic and amazing, you need to hook someone with the project title & header text before they watch it!

    2. Have a $1 Tier
    – Important indeed, I have backed absolutely 0 projects with $3-10 ‘entry pledge’ levels (I did back one at $2…but reluctantly because its’ silly). On the other hand, I have a whole slew of them I’ve backed for $1, and even one (Shadows of Brimstone) where I’ve given them $200 in the pledge manager via a friend after getting an update about it, hows’ that for effective!

    3. Streamline Your Content
    – Absolutely. If a project has me hooked, I want to read all the information on some of the content-heavy projects, but if I’m on the edge? Nope, it’s just going to push me away. If you want to have a huge quantity of information, put it in an update, or on your website, and include a link on the main page to take you there, that’ll do nicely =)

    4. Remove Reward Tiers
    – I’ve noticed Jamey mention this a number of times over his many articles, and its’ one of the strange ones, because I don’t understand why projects have so many sometimes! It utterly baffles me and does kind of put me off to see 10 variants of a product…What for, I just want to get the product, the easier that is, the happier I am as a backer.

    5. Price Point
    – I think this is a difficult one. The awkward truth is that less is always better because its’ easier to make the decision to hit the ‘back’ button. On the other hand, so long as you do a good job of demonstrating the value in the $X I pay, I’m a happy person.

    ——-

    1. Game on the Side
    – I’ve got to agree with Jamey on this one. I came to back product X, not J. The one exception I might make is that I don’t overly mind them being available via the survey or via a pledge-manager used post-campaign, for convenience, but keep the project page & updates clean, please ^^.

    2. Pushing in the Dates
    – I’m a bit in two minds on this one. On the one hand, I personally don’t care if a project is up to 9 months away, or even a year depending on the project (E.g. I tend to expend a long lead time on a video game, but not on a book). On the other hand, if you *can* deliver early, I think its’ a good draw for people newer to kickstarter, and indeed 2 years ago I’d have been more inclined to waiting 5 months than 9.

    As far as on time/delays are concerned, I just want to take a moment to emphasise that it does not matter if you deliver early, on time, or late – You just have to keep us updated, the frustrating bit is just not knowing.

    3. Custom Dice
    – So um….I watched and then backed Euphoria because the dice looked pretty. No really, I kept looking back to see if they’d be made available separately so I could pick up a set! One day I decided to actually read about the game rather than just want the pretty components, and got hooked (In fact its’ in my top 5 games now ^^).

    I’m one person of many of course…but its’ effective, =)

    ——-

    Your Biggest Takeaway
    – Well, this bits you just being lovely, so I’m taking the opportunity to say thanks for the article, and I wish you the best in your ongoing endevours =)

    1. Thanks for your detailed comment, Chris! I think your last point might be the most interesting to me, the idea that a special component can hook someone even if they’re originally not interested in the game. It’s a good reminder to me that people are “hooked” into projects in a variety of ways.

  5. Extremely useful article.
    Custom dice is always a great element of a game, one which lets you to enter its realm deeper.

    As per the ‘Murder’ I am surprised that Jamey was against it. I understand the arguments against it, it is in fact a different game & it introduces a distraction from the main one. Though Eduardo said it well that it also serves as a validation of him as a designer. I would also add that it creates option of customisation & has a great potential to bring you closer to your goal. For this reasons it out-weights the distraction factor.

    The price is a significant issue, I think, mostly on the start. Since with every later project you are relying on your quality, which you want to keep thus it might be even a must to increase the price. Though if raised to high it might negatively affect gain of new backers.

    Thanks Jamey for sharing & Eduardo for writing.
    Keep up the good work, both of you :)

    1. Konrad: Yeah, the whole concept of including an unrelated game in the reward levels is something I’m generally against (see https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-63-stay-focused-or-lose-backers/). For example, on my projects I offer my previous products for sale during the campaign, but directly from our website, not through Kickstarter. I think Ed could have established that validity by simply talking about his previous experience as a game designer and linking to a review or two on the project page. However, as Ed noted, in the end I think the key is that he clearly stated that Murder of Crows isn’t related to or needed for Lift Off at all, thus avoiding any backer confusion.

      1. Thanks, Konrad!
        I think it is worth note that if I end up doing a kickstarter for The Siblings Trouble, I would not include Lift Off! within the campaign. I generally agree with Jamey’s rule, but sometimes there are enough conditions and dependencies you should break a rule.

  6. Great article, Ed, thanks for taking the time to write it up for us.
    I got lots of advice from Jamey during our runs of The King’s Armory, and from our own experiences on Kickstarter I now run an advice column of our own (www.gatekeepergaming.com/kickstarter-advice-columns/), inspired at least in part by Jamey’s kindness.

    As for the advice that Jamey gave, I think what I see is advice that is “Kickstarter” related (exclusively) and advice that is “Game/Publisher” related (exclusively); and I think it’s important to acknowledge the difference.

    The advice regarding Video, Pledge Tiers (less and $1), Streamlining is certain “Kickstarter” related. Every project should have these aspects. Advice in the category (if good) can be outright objective. Kickstarter is a game in-and-of itself. It needs to be played well to win.

    The advice regarding Murder of Crows, and custom dice, are NOT Kickstarter issues. They are Publisher and Game issues (respectively); and where advice can be given on these, it should be done with a grain of salt. Advice in this category is 99.9% subjective. – It might WORK, but it’s still subjective. – And the Kickstarter project owner should feel comfortable making the final decision.

    Regarding that 2nd set of advice, I think Ed made a good choice on MoC but not the dice.
    Here’s why. (99.9% subjective, fyi)
    MoC is already made, you have leftover games laying around just HOPING to get sold, and any funds raised are either cushion or pure profit. Ed didn’t force these on anyone by bundling every tier, he just, as he said, gave himself credit as a designer thus encouraging confidence. (And it clearly worked).
    I do not think Ed made the right choice on dice, though this is subjective as well.
    Here’s why:
    1) “has caused me more greys than I intended to have at this age.” – not worth it! Kickstarter has enough stress on its own. There’s rarely good reason to make such a stressful change last minute.
    2) “I have yet to see the final final cost”. Wait… …He reduced the game’s price by $6, reduced shipping by $5, then added dice that he didn’t know the cost of..? – That’s a big disservice to the backers (and possibly anyone relying on him financially.). Don’t be Atlantic City.
    My #2 piece of advice is “Budget… then Budget again!” (https://www.gatekeepergaming.com/article-7-budgets/) You should not pull out lots of funding, then add a rather expensive component, fail to re-budget and then launch hoping for the best. Especially when: “I couldn’t afford keep $10K in my pocket to make up for shortfalls”.
    Shipping along costs a bajillion dollars (https://stonemaiergames.com/euphoria-stats-edition/), taking risks like that are not an option.
    Is it doable? Of course. At $50, with only a few d6, it won’t be too bad, but the correct solution is: Ask for a quote, wait two more weeks, and launch then (see lesson #68) when you’re certain.
    (That last bit of advice I gave is “Kickstarter” advice, and is Objective :) )
    Take a look here for our guide to budgeting: https://www.gatekeepergaming.com/article-7-budgets/

    Finally, I’d add that Advice should just that: Advice. If it’s critical, maybe you run it by them again a 2nd time, but It shouldn’t get “Heated”. Both parties should always “take it or leave it” and trust intelligent parties to make their own decisions.
    Worst case: They make a mistake and then share the wisdom reinforcing the advice.
    Best case: Maybe they’ll break new ground!

    Again, great article from both parties. And thanks to Jamey for publicly “eating crow”. …get it? : )

    Thoughts? I stated some stuff I claimed was objective, and some stuff I claimed was subjective. What do you think?

    1. John: You make a lot of great points here, and I agree with the spirit of all of them. The one thing that I think to point out is in regards to this line: “He reduced the game’s price by $6, reduced shipping by $5, then added dice that he didn’t know the cost of..? That’s a big disservice to the backers”

      I think it’s important to keep in mind that those reductions were relative to their previous prices–that doesn’t mean those previous prices were correct. The previous prices were $45 for the game plus $25 for international shipping (a set price for all non-US countries). I think Ed might have funded the project at this prices, but I don’t think he would have gotten close to crossing $50,000. And sure, he should have budgeted for the custom dice in advance (I told him to do that a month before the project), but that doesn’t mean the custom dice were a mistake.

      We don’t know how the project would have done if the game was $45 with $25 international shipping and no custom dice as a dream goal. My guess would be that Ed would have raised around $35,000 instead of $50,000. Ed, which funding total would you prefer?

      1. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that those reductions were relative to their previous prices–that doesn’t mean those previous prices were correct.” – Fair enough, but if the campaign was budgeted at those rates (which I presume they were) it’s still a risk if it wasn’t all re-budgeted at the lower rates.

        I stand by budgeting.
        Numbers are reliable. If you budget for $35,000 without dice, then get $50,000 with dice, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can afford the $50,000. Economy of scale doesn’t apply to fulfillment shipping costs, and rarely effects manufacturing costs on a first Kickstarter. (ie: MOQ is 1,500 copies… with 1,100 backers he’s still only making 1500, …2000 maybe – but that’s then a risk in and of itself).
        So if his per-game cost isn’t coming down adding un-budgeted items is a no-no.

        Actually un-budgeted items are always a no-no.
        I’m surprised you don’t agree with that.

        1. Of course I agree with proper budgeting–did I indicate otherwise? Budgeting is about pairing what customers will pay (a fair, appealing price) with the actual costs at various economies of scale.

          1. I suppose then it may depend on one’s definition of Budgeting.

            To me what you stated is a part of Marketing, a more nebulous arena.

            Budgeting, a more numerical arena, is making sure your expenses don’t outweigh your forecasted earnings, else you limit the expenses.
            “Assets + Liabilities = Owner’s Equity”.
            So long as Owner’s Equity is forcasted to be $.01 or higher, you can do it; if OE = $0, -X, or ? you shouldn’t do it.
            You and I agree on 99% of stuff, maybe this is in the .01? : )

            Certainly still a great addition to the blog and another example of your humility and love of transparency. A difficult thing to ask another to post about on your own blog. So well done again! : )

    2. These are some great comments!! Sorry I didn’t respond to them before – I didn’t have it set up to send me notices. I think you commentary is spot on and I certainly made some missteps. Things got hot as I was finalizing everything and I made a few on the spot decisions. While I did not finalize every element of the budget on these, I did, generally speaking, calculate the range of potential risk. Where everything falls exactly is to be determined, but I don’t believe I’ve “screwed” myself.

      ATM, the dice aren’t hurting me as much as the delivery date is. Panda is totally swamped with Essen and I have not been able to get the type of turn around on response I would like. I think we are still tracking our March delivery zone, but I’d be much more relaxed with my original June date. As is I’m hounding them more than I’d like to be.

      I’d also note that Jamey didn’t make any decisions for me nor did he ever advise me not to consider the ramifications / budgets. There is just a certain dynamic at play when you are trying to get your first kickstarter together and have no idea how successful you are going to be.

  7. Really late to the discussion here, @Eduardo, I’m a backer of your campaign and am excitedly awaiting its arrival. Just wanted to come in and comment that i appreciated your mention of Murder of Crows on your campaign page. I had not been familiar with the game and I might never have otherwise heard of it, but when I backed for Lift Off, I ordered MoC from Amazon and both my wife and I have really enjoyed it! Since I was unfamiliar with you as a game designer, I appreciated the opportunity to try one of your games while I was supporting your Kickstarter endeavor. I suppose one potential negative would have been if I really didn’t enjoy MoC I probably would have dropped my pledge, but luckily for me (for the both of us I guess) that wasn’t the case :) thank you for introducing us to your previous game and for your exceptionally run kickstarter campaign (even if you’ll be a little late on the delivery).

    As far as the expected delivery date is concerned, I would much rather the creator under promise and over deliver. I’d agree that for most projects, if the estimated delivery is over a year away it’s going to be a tougher sell for many potential supporters. However I think the most important aspect is that you can communicate why the delivery date is expected “during x month”, whenever that happens to be. I’ve backed just over 300 projects in the last couple years and I am far more interested in being confident that the project creator has a reasonable plan for project completion, than any particular time frame for delivery. If the date seems superficially long or short, I wonder if the creator really knows what needs to be done or if this whole project is an unplanned shot in the dark. If you’re going to need 15 months to deliver, I can get behind that if you can tell me why. If you say you can deliver your card game in 4 weeks, I’ll really be interested in how you plan to accomplish that, and I’ll probably assume you’re going through a print on demand service. For myself, I’ll be much quicker to support a game where the creator can summarize the production plan, noting planned/expected benchmarks and recognizing points in the process that might add time, even if the expected project completion date is really extended (12+ months), than If the creator asserts ” the game is essentially done, once we’re funded, we’ll send off the files and we should be shipping in a couple of weeks.

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