How to Form and Strengthen Bonds with Backers: A Guest Entry by the Creator of “Linkage”

8 May 2014 | 8 Comments

Today I have a special guest post from a fellow creator, Kickstarter blogger, gamer, and friend, John Coveyou. John is currently running a campaign for his game, Linkage. I’ve seen how active and generous John is to the Kickstarter community through his participation on Facebook, his blog, and even on a recent Funding the Dream episode, so I invited John to share some of his wisdom here on my Kickstarter blog. I think you’ll enjoy his creativity, humility, and insights.

linkage what is it

I am running a Kickstarter campaign for a simple game called Linkage: A DNA Card Game. Here is a quick overview of the basic metrics to help give you a context for my campaign (as of today – May 8).

We are running a 35-day campaign starting Wednesday the 16th of April at 10:00am CST and ending May 21st at 9:00pm CST with the intent of raising $3,800. We were just over 50% funded in the first 24 hours with somewhere right around 115 backers and fully funded at the end of the 5th day with the 212th backer. We are currently 21 days into the campaign and have raised $7,915 with 395 backers.

I won’t bore you with a novel on the topic, but I thought the metrics above would be helpful to give you a quick reference and context. I blog about a lot of my preparation for this Kickstarter campaign, which you can find here. (I’m an engineer and researcher by training so I focused on mainly on the financial numbers and campaign logistics.)

I think I did some things right and I think I did some things wrong. In short, Jamey asked me to write about those things for you guys so you can hopefully take something away from my experience.

One New Thing I Tried

Getting 100 B4B Backers Prior To Launching

One of the major challenges with running a Kickstarter campaign (especially if you’re a new project creator like me with a very small following) is to appear credible from the very start. By this I mean, get backers to support you early on, so that your page is active and looks credible to potential backers who are outside your immediate sphere of influence and who find your page through Kickstarter, Board Game Geek, a review, a blog etc.

I did this by promoting a B4B, or “back for a buck,” drive prior to launching my Kickstarter project.

I have seen a lot of other projects promote a B4B drive during the slow spots of a Kickstarter campaign, but what I wanted to do was get people to commit to supporting me on the day we launched! More specifically, I attempted to gather 100 friends and family to do so. I didn’t end up getting 100 people to commit, however, I still believe this effort was overall very successful!

Before I explain why, let me make a simple point. I will say there is really no way of objectively verifying whether it made a significant impact on my campaign or not, since I don’t have the exact same Kickstarter project without the B4B campaign prior to launch to act as a control in order to compare it. In either case, here are my conclusions.

I had roughly 38 people give a prior commitment to give $1 on the day of the campaign. Of those, roughly 27 came in with pledges on the first day, while another 8 pledged within the next couple days (only 3 people didn’t actually pledge). But here’s the really incredible part. Only 3 of those 27 people from the first day pledged one dollar, while 11 pledged the full amount for the game ($12 to $14), and the remaining 13 pledged to receive two ($25) and more copies of the game!

These 27 people accounted for roughly 11% of my funding goal on the first day! I also received another 42% from other backers who were unknown to me. I think that the quick push we had from those 27 committed backers on day 1 really helped launch the project and gave it some serious credibility!

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Five Common Things I Did That Worked

1. Paid For Exceptional Artwork and Graphic Design (Especially the Cover Image)

I have heard this advice a lot and so I will only expound on a few key points.

First, I have heard Jamey (and many others) say that you don’t have to have all the artwork finished, but you should have a couple pieces of artwork that are really exceptional. I agree. I would add that one major piece that should be exceptional is the art you choose as your cover image.

A few of my backers said that they clicked on my project purely because the thumbnail was so attractive and alluring; they eventually wound up backing the project just because the thumbnail stood out to them while they were scrolling through all the thumbnails on Kickstarter.

Second, I think it’s a good idea is to pay a graphic designer a base rate plus a percentage of the campaign. I have found this simultaneously reduces upfront costs (heavy upfront costs are why you’re raising funds in the first place) and gives the artist a real sense of ownership and personal vested interest in the project. Through my limited experience this has brought me a much higher quality of graphics.

2. Searchable, Catchy Title and Short Blurb

Again, this is pretty straightforward, so I’ll be quick and to the point. Make the “project title” and “short blurb” both catchy and searchable. Think about it this way: it’s most likely the second thing someone will tune into once the cover image grabs their attention. You only have 60 characters in your title and 135 characters in your short blurb, but they should explain the best parts of your project. Sort of like a 135 character pitch!

At the same time, make sure it’s searchable. Ensure it has those few critical keywords that people may use to search for your project. For example, my card game has the words “DNA”, “science”, “genetics”, ”mutate” and a few other keywords in the title and blurb. So if anyone on the Kickstarter platform has a particular interest in any of these items and thus uses these keywords to search for something related, my game will pop up.

3. Give Out a Quality PnP as Early as Possible

Give out a PnP so backers can play it at home and give you feedback, write reviews, take it to their gaming group, etc. The feedback you will receive about your game and the edits this will allow you to make to your game directions alone is absolutely invaluable.

I know what you’re thinking: “But my directions are perfect! I’ve had them edited by ten other people and they explain every detail of the game just the way I want them to!” I hate to burst your bubble, but no matter how many times you have gone through your directions, there are will always be some subtle wording that just gets interpreted the wrong way.

This is why I think making a quality PnP available early is so important (especially for smaller games like card games, or card and dice games where a PnP is super easy to print!) The backers who are willing to actually print it and play it are the same type of backers that are most willing to actually read through your directions, to try and play the game, and to let you know how it goes. Some of us get a sick little kick out this!

And this is also important to note – these backers know NOTHING about your game. So they bring no previous knowledge through which to interpret your directions (which by this point your friends and family probably DO). If the directions don’t explain it well, the game just won’t work for them. Then, these backers will message you with a list of criticisms (let’s be more positive and call these “edits”) and explain all the ways in which your directions don’t actually explain how to play the game. Normally you would have to beg or pay someone to do this!

Think about this – free, detailed critiquing of your game directions before you start manufacturing. I think it would be absolute absurdity to past this up!

4. Turning Vocal Critics into Vocal Allies

Every game has a theme, and no matter how accurate this theme is to reality, a few people who are avid hobbyists, connoisseurs, or otherwise experts in that theme will be more than happy to tell the world about every detail that is even remotely inaccurate. You have two options when this happens… I’ll try to let you decide which is better.

Option One – Fire right back about how right you are and how wrong they are. Maybe even throw in a few personal insults so they know to never challenge you again. I mean, you’re the one with the Kickstarter campaign, not them, so who do they think they are! (Hint – read option two before settling on this tactic.)

Option Two – Let that painful feeling in your stomach subside; don’t take the criticism personally; try not to let your emotions rule your next few actions. Then, thank them for their feedback and the advice they have given to help make your project become even more accurate. Not just a “thanks” but a sincere “thank you” and comment about how impressive their knowledge is and how you really appreciate that about them. You can even go a step further and ask them for their insight about some other detail you were wondering about or something you were trying to decide upon but you couldn’t find someone with enough knowledge to refer to, and so now you want to use their expertise… Anyway, I am taking this a bit far, but you get the point.

This has happened to me a few of times during my campaign. I will only mention one quick example and the result. I had a backer send me a nasty email about the inaccuracy of one of the genetics details in my game (I won’t go any further  – they may be reading this). I responded per “Option Two” above. They quickly sent an answer to my question in a much more cordial tone. I again made them aware of my gratitude and asked them if I could contact them again if I need their expertise.

Later, when another nasty critique came up on a public forum from someone who was not a backer, I simply went back to this first backer and posed the complaint. They were more than willing help me think about the accuracy of the detail and even offered to post a rebuttal on the forum for me. For many reasons, I asked them to let me handle it, but you get the picture.

5. Listen to your backers

This piggybacks off of my previous point above. Backers will make very blunt comments about what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Sometime these comments are totally off the wall, but sometimes they are extremely valuable feedback that shouldn’t be neglected. I know we all fear doing something wrong in the public eye because it will make us look like dummies!

But think about it this way:

I would suggest listening and weighing ALL backer communications without letting your pride and emotions get in the way. Listen, say thanks, weigh the feedback, and realize that utilizing some of this advice may make you look like an incredible project creator instead of a dummy!

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Three Things I Will Do Differently Next Time

1. Have More Stretch Goals Planned and Budgeted

Okay, so here is a very simple thing that I overlooked which caused me a lot more work than it should have. When I launched the campaign, I only had one stretch goal posted, which was a card stock upgrade.  I was much too pessimistic about the interest in a super geeky genetics game like Linkage but fortunately for me, people seemed to pick it up much quicker than I hoped.

But, what I didn’t realize was that backers really expect a number of good stretch goals. And further, this was probably the number one comment/questions I heard from my backers at the beginning of my campaign – “when are you going to post more stretch goals?”

So here is my advice for new project creators: when you are getting quotes from manufactures try to get an itemized quote that shows the cost of each component you want to include. I would even suggest asking for a couple quotes with varying components so you get a feel for the cost of each.

Then have a number of stretch goals lined up before the campaign launches. Don’t show all of them, but make it clear you have them ready if needed.

2. Have a PnP from Day One of the Campaign

Earlier I stated that I did provide a PnP for the backers to play test. However, make note that I did not do this until backers specifically requested that I post it NOW, instead of later! I think this was a big mistake, and though I don’t think it damaged my campaign much it was still something I will do differently the next time around.

3. Have Up-to-Date Video Directions

When I launched the campaign I had a video that explained the old game rules. I didn’t want to remove this video because it thought it gave the backers a decent “feel” for the game and sense of how the game would play, even though it wasn’t entirely accurate anymore. This was simply foolishness on my part and added so much confusion, complication, and extra work that could have been avoided.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back I should have spent the time to make a quality video that was up-to-date. I started making one but had trouble with my camera and voice recorder, and then the campaign started to pick up and so I put the new video on the back burner.

In retrospect, if I would have spent the extra time early and finished that updated video, I would have saved myself a TON of time trying to sort out all the confusion that the video caused later on.

Many backers tried to use that particular video to play the game, and because there were various cards and mechanics that were not explained in that video, the game didn’t even work! This is TERRIBLE if you are trying to promote a game. It did me more harm than good in the end.


Thanks so much for writing this, John! I think you made some great points, and I really like the pre-campaign, back-for-a-buck approach.

If you have any comments or questions for John, feel free to post them in the comments!

Leave a Comment

8 Comments on “How to Form and Strengthen Bonds with Backers: A Guest Entry by the Creator of “Linkage”

  1. […] What does this have to do with Kickstarter? Whether you’re a DJ at a wedding full of strangers or a new Kickstarter creator, your biggest challenge is getting people to show up at the beginning. The DJ solved that problem using peer pressure, and then he made sure people had a good time afterwards. You can solve that problem by building a fanbase and creating relationships with the media well before your project launches–there are a dozen or so Kickstarter Lessons about that here, and John Coveyou talked about a unique method he used here. […]

  2. I cannot agree more about getting someone to take another look at your rulebook! It’s what I do of coarse but the few kickstarter projects that have come to me have seen some of the big things they need to change, and I’ve found many kickstarter games in their PnP version have rules that make it hard to learn. A bad rulebook can lose you backers very quickly, people want a playable game!

    1. Erik, thanks for your input and I think you make a great point: a bad rulebook could lose you backers because people want a playable game! I think the most enjoyable things about game design is make the actual game – everything else is just details, ie the rulebook. And I think that’s why its good to have people who are willing to read through them, play the game and give some quality feedback – people like you! I may have to send over my rules and have you take a look :-) Cheers!

  3. Sarcastic Robot – thanks and I hope it works well for you! An additional benefit I didn’t mention in the post was the health benefits to this! It can be very emotionally draining if a simple disagreement or critique turns into something bigger, especially in the middle of the campaign. I wanted to avoid this at all costs :-)

    And feel free to send me a link to your campaign or project at any point along the way! I would love to be your first backer and support you in your endeavors!

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