10 April 2014 | 2 Comments
Recently I was contacted by a fellow project creator, Paul at Underground Games. He currently has a game on Kickstarter called Allegiance: A Realm Divided, and he asked if he could share some of the insights he’s learned from running Allegiance (this is the second allegiance KS campaign) with my readers. That’s what I love to hear from other creators, so I asked Paul a few questions, and he replied with this detailed guest post. Thanks Paul!
If you or your company is looking to fund its very first game release on Kickstarter, there are some unique challenges to overcome. Kickstarter backers are a savvy lot, and (like any investor) they are going to be more wary of spending their dollars on an untested company rather than on one who has successfully put out a product and proven they can produce a good game. Here are some lessons that we learned from developing “Allegiance: A Realm Divided“, its first (and eventually canceled) campaign on Kickstarter, and the relaunch (currently live).
Key Lesson #1: You need to prove to backers that your game is awesome – not just tell them that it is. Established companies with games under their belts have already gained the trust of backers, but new companies have more to prove.
Kickstarter backers aren’t just going to take your word for it that you’ve made something amazing (and nor should they). You have to prove it. Backers need to visually see the value included in the box, hear from third parties who have played the game and loved it, and feel confident that they are getting in on the ground floor of something unique and exciting.
Third party reviews from popular and trusted review sites are even more crucial for first-release game companies than established ones. Network with bloggers, get involved in the communities of your target audience, and get the game into as many hands as possible so that you build a base of good-will and excitement that will help compensate for your lack of industry experience/name recognition.
On top of reviewers/bloggers, it is important to show the game to as many people as possible – at events such as boardgame meetups, local gaming groups, open gaming nights at stores, conventions, etc. – so that you will have a vocal group of supporters that can post in your comments and tell people that they tried the game and liked it.
To connect with reviewers and bloggers, there’s nothing daunting about the process – you simply email them, explain the overall idea of your game and provide them with some intro materials, see if they’d be interested, give them the basic timeline you’re looking to achieve, and see what sort of timeline could work for them. Some reviewers will review your game for free, while others may charge a fee.
The majority of reviewers/bloggers we contacted were very receptive, and there was really just one major factor to consider with the whole process: time. A lot of reviewers have quite a long backlog of games they need to get through, and the earlier you can get your game to them the better.
For the first Allegiance Kickstarter campaign we contacted reviewers way too late in the process, and they couldn’t accommodate us in time for our launch. This was terrible for us as we didn’t have reviews in place in time, and was one of the major factors that led us to decide to cancel our first campaign and try again after retooling.
For the current Kickstarter campaign, we contacted reviewers much further in advance, and were able to secure some quality reviews of the game to have in place for launch time. We felt we needed to meet a certain timeline between campaigns and couldn’t leave our initial backers waiting too long for the relaunch, so even with a window of a few months we still did not get every reviewer we would have liked to do a review for us.
Luckily for us some great reviewers were able to accommodate our timeline (UndeadViking, BoardGameQuest), but since we had an accelerated schedule, other great sites that we would have loved to have reviews from, like FatherGeek, couldn’t fit us into their timeline (even though they were interested in reviewing the game).
To ensure you get the all the reviewers you want to review your game, you need to have prototypes ready to send well in advance of your desired launch date – probably half a year in advance to be safe.
Key Lesson #2: Prioritize more expenditure of your pre-production budget towards your prototype and getting the game out there. Manufacture several (read: as many as you can) quality demo copies of your product, and go to as many events as you can to demo the game to create a group of supporters that will be vocal in their support for your game.
As has been discussed in previous lessons from Jamey (#50 particularly), ensuring the quality of your graphic design and artwork will be key to your success. This is unquestionably true. But we took that lesson and turned it into too much of a good thing. We commissioned some pretty spectacular art from well known fantasy artists thinking that it would draw people’s attention to Allegiance and convince them of the superior quality of the game. We definitely succeeded in wowing backers with our visuals in our first campaign, but we focused our efforts and budget on it too much for this point in the process. We ended up getting comments that said “The art looks amazing, but how do I know the game is any good?”.
With how we chose to initially spend our budget, we sacrificed the ability to get the game out into the public, and as a result, we didn’t generate any real comprehension of the game itself. We got distracted by creating a beautiful experience rather than sharing the experience. We believe strongly in having amazing visuals in Allegiance, but we should have shifted more of that expense to post-Kickstarter.
Having a budget for sharing your game doesn’t just pertain to creating prototypes, but also to being able to get out there to demo the game. With a large portion of our pre-Kickstarter budget already spent, and needing to not wait too long between our first campaign and the relaunch, even for our relaunch I wasn’t able to get the game out there as much as I would have liked. If I could do it all over again I would have budgeted more time and money in the very beginning not only for prototypes and sending them to more reviewers/bloggers, but also for travelling to gaming events where I could demo the game.
My advice for creators of their first project is to identify events where you could show your game to the right audience and build a following. For example, one audience (of many) that would really enjoy Allegiance are CCG players, including the “Magic: The Gathering” community. Magic regularly has large “Grand Prix” tournaments all over the world, and if I had planned properly I would have travelled to some of these tournaments with a quality prototype of Allegiance to share the game with people and build a following.
Even events at a smaller scale, such as local boadgame meetups, public gaming nights at local stores, etc. are a great place to show people your game. It would have done wonders to be able to demo the game for months at local events before launching our first Kickstarter campaign.
Our timeline for the relaunch unfortunately didn’t allow for months of demoing the game, but even the bit of time that I was able to commit to demoing the game before the relaunch led to a group of supporters that are now vocal in the comments and helping build excitement for the game. It even led to an in-depth review from one player that tried and loved Allegiance, which he posted to BoardGameGeek and allowed us to link to on our Kickstarter page.
Now that we have our current Kickstarter campaign up and running, I definitely plan to get out there and demo Allegiance as much as I can to build even more support for the game.
In terms of making a prototype, I truly believe that it’s important to have a solid prototype that not only looks good but feels good to play with. Poor quality game pieces and graphic design end up distracting from the gameplay experience more than one would think. People may say that they realize it’s only a prototype and that they can look past how it looks and feels, but in practice I’ve found that subconsciously people react better to the game itself when the prototype is professional.
There are multiple websites that will print prototypes for you (such as https://www.printplaygames.com/), but as time was a limiting factor between our first and second launch of the Allegiance Kickstarter, we weren’t able to choose this route and deal with production/delivery delays. We didn’t end up using a site like this so I can’t personally vouch for one, but I’ve heard good things about them from other game producers. If you are prepared well-enough in advance, it’s probably the best way to go.
Needing to work rapidly, we chose to do it the low-tech way: hand-made proxy cards and locally printed game pieces. Even so, we still took the time to make sure the prototype was of really high quality. Rather than printing out the game’s cards on flimsy card stock, I got a local printing company to do a high quality print job on paper, and then carefully cut and pasted them onto bulk Magic cards (stacks of which can be easily obtained for basically nothing). I then sleeved the cards in quality clear sleeves so they would shuffle well and play well. For the rest of the game pieces such as dice and glass beads, I separately bought pieces that would closely resemble what will be in the game from my local game store.
This method to create the prototypes was a ton (read: A TON) of work and didn’t scale well to making many copies, but we were able to do it by ourselves and fast – without having to accommodate a printing company’s timelines. The method we used to create the prototypes worked in a pinch, but if you’re listening to the advice to produce many copies, a website that can print games for you is likely the best way to go.
Even though it was handmade, we received positive feedback from multiple people about the quality of the prototype, which reinforces the idea that people notice these things and that it was worth the effort to make it as good as we possibly could.
The last thing we didn’t do with our first Kickstarter launch, that we really improved on this time around, is having a clear and concise core message about the game and communicating it well. We believe that we have an awesome game with Allegiance, but we underestimated how hard it is to convey that message to others that haven’t played the game (and no matter how much you demo your game, the majority of backers won’t get the chance to try your game before backing).
Depending on the type of game you’re making, it’s almost guaranteed that there are similar products already in the market. As the new kid on the block, you need to effectively communicate to backers what it is about your game that is new/unique/better/amazing. Refine a key message with only the strongest points, and tie the writeup, social media efforts, blog outreach, etc. to those points.
Here are the key differentiators for Allegiance as an example:
- Innovative game design with the heroes, their abilities, and the cooldown mechanic
- Depth of strategy and gameplay of CCG’s but in a self-contained game
- 10 unique heroes create a huge amount of replayability
- Tightly connected gameplay features and fantasy theme create an immersive experience
Once the message is communicated, it’s your job to prove that those things are true with examples, game details, and third party verification.
As a first time game producer, the onus is on you to convince your audience that they should buy into what you are offering. It’s one thing to tell them about your game, but another thing to prove it. Don’t underestimate the time, effort, and budget required to prove your game’s worth. If you have a quality game, people will respond extremely well when you give them the chance to experience it, and it will have been well worth the effort.
I mentioned to Paul that there’s one element of his post that I don’t agree with 100%, so I thought I’d share it with you so you can decide what feels right to you. Paul mentioned the idea that “the onus is on you to convince your audience that they should buy into what you are offering.”
Part of this is just semantics, as I agree with the idea that you should have third-party reviews, nice art, a description of what makes your game unique and fun, and demo your game as much as possible.
But I don’t think it’s a creator’s job to “convince” their potential backers of anything. Rather, give backers the information they need to decide if the product is right for them, answer their questions, and then leave the decision to them. It’s a small distinction, but an important one that will have an impact on how backers view your campaign and your company.
What do you all think? Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to write this!