15 October 2018 | 55 Comments
3 years ago, I was in the middle of my final Kickstarter project (Scythe). I didn’t know at the time that it would be my final campaign; that was a decision we made the following summer, and then I formally addressed it on this blog a few months later.
Since then, Stonemaier Games has published 3 new games, 6 new expansions, and a bunch of reprints. For each of them, we’ve simply made a bunch of copies, sold them to distributors, and shared them with our community and beyond. For a few of them, we’ve also accepted direct pre-orders ranging from 0-60 days before we received the product at our warehouse.
It’s important for me to note up front that this method has worked quite well: Compared to my 7 tabletop Kickstarter projects, which raised a total of $3.2 million over, our non-Kickstarter revenue since mid-2016 (after delivering Scythe) totals around $14 million. I’m constantly experimenting, learning from my mistakes, and trying to evolve Stonemaier as a publisher, but I’m pleased with what we’ve done post-Kickstarter.
I actually didn’t realize how well this method would work until I immersed myself in it. I quit Kickstarter as a creator and focused on other ways of building community, improving the product, generating buzz, gauging demand, finding funds, and shipping the product worldwide.
So for quite some time now, whenever I think about crowdfunding, I really struggle to think of a reason why I would use Kickstarter instead of my current method. This is a bit hard to explain, so I’ll try to use an oversimplified analogy:
[UPDATE: If you’re about to read this analogy, especially if you’re visiting here from Reddit, here’s the deal: This analogy is not meant to be an accurate portrayal of what Kickstarter is. I love Kickstarter as a backer and a creator–my company would not exist, nor would it have grown to what it is, without Kickstarter. The whole point of this analogy is that this is genuinely how I view Kickstarter for Stonemaier Games after immersing myself in other publishing techniques over the last 3 years.]
Let’s say you want to make some chocolate chip cookies for your friends. You’ve made them many times before, and you have a great, well-tested recipe. You’ve already bought the best ingredients. You even know which friends like chocolate-chip cookies and which don’t. You now have two options:
- You make the cookies. When they’re ready a few hours later, you invite your friends over to eat them.
- You wait to make the cookies. Instead, you confirm with each of your friends that they do indeed want the cookies. Many of them have their own ideas about what the cookies should be. Based on their preferences, you end up with 4 different versions of the cookie, including add-ons like sprinkles and frosting. Finally you start to make the cookies. You spend the next 6 months telling your friends exactly what the ingredients look like, how your fancy new oven works, and that the baking process is taking longer than you expected. Many of your friends are really excited about the cookies, but a few claim publicly that they’re overhyped. Eventually you ship the cookies to your friends, though several of them moved and didn’t update their address (they still want their cookies, though). The post office also mishandles several packages, and the cookies arrive in crumbs.
Which method would you choose?
I’m trying to illustrate how it’s difficult for me to even comprehend why I would use Kickstarter instead of my current method, despite my experience and success as a creator. For those creators who always use Kickstarter, you may look at my world through an equally distorted lens.
I think it’s a problem that I can’t even imagine the possibility of using Kickstarter in the future. I’m way too dismissive of the idea. Even if I don’t ever return to Kickstarter as a creator, I need to at least know the value Kickstarter could add to Stonemaier Games. I’m too far on the outside looking in (despite all of my articles about crowdfunding and entrepreneurship).
So on Thursday I’m going to write a post about what it would look like if I returned to Kickstarter as a creator (I intended to do it today as part of this article, but it’s almost dinnertime, and this is already long enough). I need to be able to put myself in those shoes again.
And honestly, in the brainstorming I’ve done so far, I’ve gotten excited about the hypothetical idea of returning to Kickstarter. It’s exciting to be in the throes of a Kickstarter campaign, the sense of ownership instilled in the backers as a result is unparalleled, and Kickstarter’s “follow” feature significantly expands our reach. I could actually see it working for my civilization game.
If you have anything you’d like me to cover in Thursday’s article about the elements of a modern Stonemaier Games Kickstarter project, please let me know so I can think about it. Thank you! [Update: Here is Thursday’s post, If I Returned to Kickstarter, Here’s How I’d Do It.]
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