26 November 2018 | 60 Comments
Recently there were two very successful board game Kickstarter projects that shared something else in common: They both had a significant number of $1 backers:
Now, that’s just two projects out of many Kickstarters. Also, this is a specific subset of projects that offer $1 reward levels from which backers can expand to include full rewards at the same price during the pledge manager. But I think it’s worth discussing.
A few years ago, I wrote about why I believed a $1 reward level was a positive for any project. While I stand by the reasons mentioned on that post, I’ve wavered on the necessity of an actual $1 level, as Kickstarter now presents backers with a “make a pledge without a reward” option right at the top of the sidebar.
Here are some specific reasons why the $1 level pledge-manager access reward is good for creators and backers:
- Thanks to Kickstarter’s “follow” feature, every pledge–including $1 pledge–has the potential of significantly increasing the exposure to a project.
- It’s better than not backing at all, as backers may end up upgrading their rewards during the pledge manager. If they do, you avoid the Kickstarter fees.
- The $1 pledge includes backers who might otherwise feel excluded. There are a variety of reasons why a backer may be intrigued by a project but not ready to commit: They might be waiting to see if certain stretch goals are reached, they may not have the funds at the time (this may be seasonal), or they may be overwhelmed by the amount of information available.
- Some projects don’t tell you the shipping fees during the project, leaving a lot of uncertainty for backers. If they pledge $1, they can wait to see if they can afford shipping before committing to a large expense.
There are a few reasons why these numbers might raise a red flag for creators:
- A big reason why creators use Kickstarter is that they need the funds to make the product. For Tidal Blades, for example, if those 2,137 backers had paid for the core reward plus shipping ($71 total), that would be an additional $151k up front for Druid City Games to put towards bringing the game to life. And yes, to be fair, the $782k they raised is more than enough to make tens of thousands of copies of the game. But what happens if the percentage of $1 backers increases to 30%? 50%?
- There is the possibility that animosity may arise between $1 and full-pledge backers, as it’s the full backers who are directly and significantly contributing to achieving stretch goals. While stretch goals are largely a marketing tool to keep backers engaged, excited, and motivated to upgrade and share, backers are still entitled to their feelings, and some may feel frustrated that they’re carrying the weight while $1 backers get the same thing at the same price later.
- Backers at the $1 level create a certain level of uncertainty for the creator when it comes to the order quantity. At a certain point–hopefully soon after the project ends–they need to lock in a quantity with the manufacturer and start making the product. This can be addressed by launching the pledge manager soon after the campaign ends, though it could still lead to backers being disappointed if they wait too long and no more copies are available.
Is It a Problem?
I’m sure people will have different opinions about this, and you’re welcome to respectfully express them in the comments. In my opinion, based on what I mentioned above, I do not consider this increase in $1 backers to be a significant problem…yet. At a certain point, there is a tipping point where the lack of direct benefits of $1 backers outweighs the indirect benefits. That tipping point depends on the project and the timing of the pledge manager.
For those who consider this an issue, creators have some options to choose from:
- Stop offering the $1 pledge manager reward. This isn’t as drastic as you may think. For example, Scythe had a $1 reward to address the above reasons, but Scythe didn’t have a pledge manager. If you wanted to get the special versions of Scythe at the Kickstarter prices, you had to participate as a full backer during the campaign.
- Adjust stretch goals in the final 48 hours based on the number of $1 pledges. If projects are missing out on stretch goals but they’re confident a certain number of $1 backers will upgrade later, they can adjust a few of the stretch goals late in the project based on projections.
- Increase the price in the pledge manager as compared to the Kickstarter. For backers specifically, I don’t think a drastic price increase is necessary, but even a small increase will (a) motivate more backers to make a decision during the project, (b) make full backers feel valued, and (c) not alienate backers who need to make a decision during the pledge manager. They key, of course, is to clearly communicate this increase during the campaign.
- Increase the cost of the pledge-manager reward. This is the solution I discussed on this recent post, which was specifically addressing the perception by some people that a Kickstarter pledge is a 0% interest loan. I proposed a reward level of $9, though it could be $5. However, I do think there is a significant psychological gap between a $1 pledge and even a $5 pledge. If I believe in a project, even if I’m unsure I want the reward, a $1 pledge is a no-brainer. $5? Logically it’s not that big of a difference, but it feels a lot higher, and I’m not sure I’d act the same way if that was my option.
- Offer something to full backers for free that $1 backers and late pledgers must pay for. As long as this is clearly communicated, this has some merit. Again, it’s similar to what I did for Scythe–if you pledged during the project, you got the promos for free. If you pre-ordered it afterwards, you had to pay for the promos. I think this may feel weird to $1 backers who have been taught to the expect that they get the same thing as all other backers at the same price. I even ran into this for Scythe a number of times despite the top of the project page being VERY clear about it:
This is a nuanced topic, and I’d love to hear your respectfully worded thoughts about it. Also, if you have any data to share, I’d love to hear what percentage of $1 pledge manager backers actually upgrade their reward later.
Thanks to JB Howell and Alex Goldsmith for sharing their thoughts on this topic!
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