Is “Return to Dark Tower” a Perfect Kickstarter Project?

16 January 2020 | 20 Comments

Return to Dark Tower by Restoration Games is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect Kickstarter project.

It’s not just that the project is doing well–it’s exceeded $2 million after 2 days–nor is it just that it gets so many of the fundamentals right. It’s also that Return to Dark tower refines, innovates, and implements a few specific strategies in what I would describe as near-perfection.

Today I’ll talk about those strategies in chronological order of implementation, starting with gauging interest. Restoration Games does this long before they decide to proceed with game. Right in the middle of their website’s homepage is a place for you to tell them exactly what you want:

Restoration Games is in a unique position to ask this question because their focus is on modernizing older, out-of-print games. However, I think it’s still a question worth asking your audience, like our future printing request form.

After RG decided to proceed to make Return to the Dark Tower, they openly talked about it for several years. Then, as the Kickstarter launch date approached, they invited people to sign up for a launch notification email, offering a free metal active player marker to each backer who did:

I think this is particularly brilliant, as it turns signing up for a notification into a no-brainer. I saw people sharing it all over the place. It’s not an exclusive–you can add it on during the campaign–and there’s no commitment to pledge (you just don’t get the marker if you don’t pledge for a copy of the game). And everyone who signs up is more likely to back the project, as they have a sense of endowed progress entering the campaign.

The only challenge here is how exactly they’ll tell their fulfillment software that a few thousand specific people need this add-on for free. UPDATE: Backerkit enabled this through their launch function.

When the project launched, backers immediately saw that RG set a goal that reflected the amount of work required to bring this game to life. It features a massive mechanical tower, an app, and a team of people who have spent quite a bit of time on the game (and will continue to do so). If a backer saw all that next to a $40,000 funding goal, they may have had serious doubts about Restoration Games’ budget and intent.

Instead, backers see a no-nonsense goal of $850,000:

Sure, there is risk in such a high goal, but right away it establishes trust and transparency. It feels accurate, and I like it.

There are two pledge levels I think are worth highlighting; again, I think they’re executed to near perfection. The first is the $10 pledge manager reward. Traditionally, this reward level has been $1, but that can lead to too many backers simply pledging a dollar now (and perhaps upgrading via the pledge manager) instead of making a project-impacting choice to push the campaign towards stretch goals. I discussed this issue here.

$10, however, requires backers to actually think about their level of commitment. It presents an opportunity for RG to encourage those backers to upgrade their pledge during the campaign when it matters most, and there’s a greater chance those backers will at least upgrade during the pledge manager.

Finally, we get to the piece de resistance, the retailer pledge level. Last year I wrote about how difficult it is for tabletop Kickstarter creators to appeal to both individual and retailer backers. My conclusion was that you either go all in…or you don’t try at all.

Well, Restoration Games went all in for retailer support AND still managed to make a project that appeals to individual backers. Here’s the retailer reward level, as well as a detailed explanation:

I highly recommend reading the detailed explanation, as I view this as the perfect template for creators who want to offer retailer pledge levels in the future. It includes notes about payment timing ($50 deposit, with the rest paid when the produced games reach fulfillment centers), a distribution embargo (it gives the retailers a reason to bet on the game now instead of waiting), a free demo copy if you order at least 9 copies of the game, and a note about breaches of the outlined terms. From my perspective as a publisher, it’s superb.

I’m in awe at the care, attention, and innovation Restoration Games has put into the Return to the Dark Tower Kickstarter. I don’t usually do case studies like this for this blog, but there are so many clever strategies here that I thought it was worth a full article. If there’s anything I missed that you think is worth highlighting, I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.


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20 Comments on “Is “Return to Dark Tower” a Perfect Kickstarter Project?

  1. Wonderland’s War put out the similar tactic of sign up your email for notifications for a freebie if you end up backing the game. It really is a great marketing idea.

  2. I appreciate the realistic funding goal. I was an insta-back for this campaign regardless, but real goals are good for transparency.

    There was one campaign recently (I forget which) who made their goal and then cancelled because their “true” goal was double. Then they went into an explanation of gaming Kickstarter with low goals to achieve fast and double funding, yadda yadda. Very disingenuous to me

  3. I think the campaign is amazing, and pretty much flawless, Restoration are a company I have a lot of time for generally, I love so much of what they do.

    One teeny thing though, I notice they have a “Funded in 4 hours” note on their front banner. Wasn’t there Kickstarter guidance above not having such banners? Has Kickstarter given up on that guidance entirely now, because it seems a bit funny to have a project as a front page ‘project we love’ if it is ignoring their own guidance and requests?

    1. They’re primary concern was using an artificially low funding goal just so you could proclaim “funded in 12 minutes” or some such. I think our use of a realistic funding goal mitigated that.

      1. I totally agree that your campaign was not the sort that was intended to be the subject of the guidance against these banners, but it still had one and it was then heavily featured by Kickstarter on its page due to its excellence and success, which does ultimately create mixed messages. This is an issue with Kickstarter rather than Restoration games, there are tons of far worse examples of ‘funded in’ banners and I’m seeing more and more funded and cancelled projects.

  4. The kickstarter is clearly an excellent marketing campaign – 2.3 million just 3 days in – what more proof do you need ? Marketing to emotions and building hype really works and I agree this campaign has ticked all the boxes and is skillfully crafted as you detailed above.

    However in a years time the buzz of the worlds best designers and great marketing will be a distant memory and for those of us who backed it will be the reality of “the game” in our hands. Here is where I see the challenge.

    I have backed it, I can really see the potential of the game and excited to play it. But if you read the comments on BGG and KS there are quite a number of very clear and repeated areas of concern about the physical content, gameplay and quality of the product. I don’t want to list the areas here as it will sound like I am knocking the project when I am not at all. Maybe also with such a large number of backers you will have more people raising issues ? But still, I am surprised by how many areas of concern I have.

    It is a hugely ambitious project combining a number of new complex elements that makes it the whole package exponentially complex. Apps, electronics, bluetooth, sounds, lights, mechanical moving parts, minis, as well as traditional board game elements – you would struggle to make a board game more complicated than this. And maintaining the highest quality on complicated projects is very hard and very risky.

    I am really hoping the designers and Restoration take the opportunity of the extra funding the kickstarter is going to give them to try and address the areas that are being raised. I understand from the FAQ that much of the game is still prototype – the app is still being developed, there is only one prototype tower, etc, etc, – so there is a window/opportunity here for them to make sure the content /game delivers even more that the marketing already has.

    This is the thing I love the most about Stonemaier games is while the marketing is great, the gameplay and quality of the games themselves are astonishingly superb. We keep pulling Stonemaier games onto the table month after month and they never get boring, they don’t break, and they continue to deliver and work due to the exceptional quality of the finished product (components, gameplay, everything)

    If Restoration manage to do the same then this could be one of those milestone games that goes down in boardgame history. However I also have childhood memories of shiny plastic, battery powered flashing light mechanical toys that were exciting when you got them, but after a few months of play, and when the batteries run out or something breaks it ends up in a box, no longer working and because in the end it was just flashing lights and mirrors it ends up just gathering dust. I believe Restoration can deliver and I have backed the game for this reason, but the challenge is there.

    Sorry for the long post and probably the wrong place to write it :-)

  5. Justin, congrats on another amazingly successful KS. I met you at the 1st DT retreat and it always makes me happy when nice people like you and Jamey are successful. Keep it up!

  6. I think you’re burying the lede; this campaign isn’t on its way to $3M+ because of a free tchotchke or a $10 pledge level. It’s doing well because of the stunning visuals, the cool factor of the tower, and the two big names on the design team. That’s it. And that’s what they’re trying to sell the game on. We can know this because as of launch there’s hardly anything said about how the game plays, and only one play through, with Tom V, which from the comments generated pretty mixed reactions!

    To me it suggests the acceleration of the trend toward buying games “emotionally” based on how they look.

    1. Game play is literally the first section of the campaign page and includes a download of the full draft rulebook. Whatever some folks think of Tom, it was a full play through of the game. And, because some folks found the banter distracting, we’re trying to set up a “serious” live stream play with Rob, where folks can ask questions. We’re certainly not hiding the game play.

      1. @restoration Games. Please do make another playthrough video. Would love to see more of the game in action. Keep up the great work. Thanks. Can’t wait to see what more develops with RtDT

    2. I disagree. Game play is one of the biggest reasons I’ve backed it. Seeing how it’s a dynamic game and how it will change as the story and foes come on to the board intrigues me. I honestly have no nostalgia of the game. Didn’t know about the 80s version until adulthood. However as I see how this version develops excites me. Now learning that there will be competitive options as well as Co-op adds even more to game play. I feel as though I’ll be playing as “Witcher” I live that show, and I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. But some of that vibe is coming through :)
      Anyway my point is that game play was and is something I’ve kept my eye on. I watched the play through and read the descriptions. I’m guilty of backing Fireball Island (with no regrets) due to nostalgia. DT is being backed because of both Game play and Production value.

  7. Feeling rather cynical, charging $10 to get to the Pledgemanager to ‘convince’ people to just pledge is called “up-selling” a very old sales techinque. I Kickstart a lot and some have been after I pledged just $1 to get to the pledgemanager. I would Never pledge $10 just to get to the pledgemanger and that would actually push me to Not pledge $10.

    1. Yeah, there’s something to be said about that.

      At $1, you’ll pledge for access to the pledge manager without a second thought. What’s $1 if you change your mind or aren’t convinced. But $10… that would result in me not even pledging for access to the pledge manager. And I’ve upped a $1 to a full pledge during the pledge manager about 50% of the time.

      The upsell is the same, irrespective of whether someone has laid out $1 or $10, but I think by making it higher, you’re just shutting out prospective backers down the line.

    2. You’re not actually spending the 10 bucks though, right? You can cancel your pledge up to the moment the funding window closes and you owe nothing, if I understand correctly. Is this just a fear that you’ll forget about it and lose 10 bucks? In all fairness that’s not Restoration’s fault at all. Just set a reminder for yourself if you’re nervous you’ll forget.

      1. Generally speaking, I think the reason that people make these minimal pledges is either that they aren’t sure, but are willing to risk a buck for more time to think about it, or they don’t have the funds at the moment and plan to pay the difference later. Raising the buy-in doesn’t affect the latter (unless someone can’t even swing $10, in which case they probably have larger concerns than a KS game), but IMO it discourages the former, which I guess is the point. Some who are less sure won’t pledge, which gives the creator a better idea of how many actual pledges they’ll have in the end.

        I have a $1 pledge on a project where I’m waiting to see how fulfillment of the creator’s prior project goes. I was willing to risk a dollar, but not a pledge. I’d have pledged for that game had the publisher had more of a track record. But that’s not an issue for Restoration.

  8. The $850,000 is what really caught my attention on this campaign. Too many times I feel like the stated goal is artificially low in order to get an eye-popping funding %. I think too by setting the funding goal at that level, it made the pledge amounts easier to swallow since they are on the higher end. I have noticed some grumbling about the free coin being attached to the specific launch notification email (as opposed to being also available to those who subscribe to the normal Restoration Games emails) so perhaps that could have been handled a bit differently. But overall, I would agree with your assessment that this Kickstarter has been very well-executed.

      1. Yep, me too. The game is expensive enough that we weren’t all going to get it, so we just had to ensure someone in the game group was getting a copy. Thanks, Mike! ;-D

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