19 January 2014 | 24 Comments
One of the ongoing debates about Kickstarter is the use of early-bird reward levels to get some forward momentum on a project right after it launches. I wanted to see what the average Kickstarter backer thinks about this subject, so that’s the topic for this week’s Kickstarter Face-Off.
I’m Julia Ziobro. I live in Bellevue, WA, where my husband and I have built a 900+ board game collection over the past eight years. Between our three KS accounts, we’ve backed over 350 projects in two years, with about 225 games or game accessories so far. My image has also been incorporated into four games’ art… it’s a weird form of vanity, but I get a kick out of it. I make my living as a Documentation Manager and I love to edit/proofread rules and game materials. @JewelyaZ
This week I’ve backed twelve projects, half at an early-bird level, and half from the tabletop games category.
1. The discount. Ah, the controversial part. I do love early bird levels that offer a few dollars off… it’s a little tip of the hat from the project creator to those folks who take the biggest risk, backing a project when its value has not been fully examined and the community buzz has yet to be built. I often grab an early-bird spot as soon as I realize I’m interested in a new project, BEFORE I’ve even read the description (chances are great I’ll never watch the video). Correctly-planned early-bird discount levels are all taken in one to twenty-four hours and get the project to between 33 and 50% of the required funding, and I consider a project “at risk” if the early-bird spots are not all gone within 48 hours. For what it’s worth, I think project creators earn the early-bird level’s discount money back from me in the promotion that I do for them and their project throughout the campaign on Kickstarter itself and in my personal contacts at the FLGS, at our weekly game nights, and sometimes on Twitter.
2. The activist cred. The credibility that comes from finding a project early and talking it up in the community can’t be underestimated. I was an early bird for Euphoria, but that really was a zero-risk thing. :-) [Editor’s note: There were no early-bird pledge levels for Euphoria, so I think Julia was just there from day one (maybe even hour one).] A better example was my early-bird pledge for the 3Doodler, an unproven but very cool looking 3-D printer in the form of a handheld pen about as big as a soldering iron. I backed immediately, talked it up in my circle, and along with the other early-bird backers, we fanned the flames of a project that turned into a roaring success (over 7800% funded with a $30,000 goal). Similarly, I really enjoyed being in very early on Ground Floor; I made a PnP of the game, we played it, and I wrote a review all in the first days of the campaign, and I know TMG appreciated that additional boost. My review remains one of my most-thumbed contributions on BoardGameGeek probably because many backers checked it out from the campaign home page, and it’s led to other designers asking me to do reviews of their new games.
3. Getting rewards first. This doesn’t always happen, but I’ll admit, I’m a full-on member of the Cult of the New, and not just in the tabletop games category (see 3Doodler; I got mine in October, and also, Nock pen cases, where I got my reward almost immediately). I love it when rewards are shipped in backer order (more or less); many campaigns that involve customization like Dave Howell’s PennyGems and Ultimate Gamer’s Storage Bags, Bibelot Games’ Reliquary Collection, and Charlie Brumfield’s Artisan Dice do this. I like it. I love getting my stuff fast, though I am also among the most patient backers when it comes to projects that suffer through a lot of delays. I feel it’s my responsibility to give the project creator great feedback and positive buzz about the rewards when I get mine early and they’re outstanding; when I get mine early and they are not great (it’s happened a few times), I offer constructive feedback in hopes of improving the rewards for later backers, or I don’t cause too much trouble. Praise in public, criticize in private, mostly, just like at work. :-)
In short, I love early bird rewards. Project creators that don’t offer them risk losing me if I notice their campaign early on; I usually think “oh, that’s interesting, I’ll come back to it later”… or I even star the 48-hour reminder… and then I don’t remember in time. If they have an early bird level and I snap one up, I sometimes forget to come back and revisit that pledge, so they get to keep my backing.
Rebuttal from Jason
Concerning the “discount” argument, I don’t I agree that backers who pledge early are taking the biggest risk. Perhaps if pledges were written in stone, then yes, that statement would be accurate. But the truth is that a backer can cancel their pledge at any time. Both Julia and I admit to having grabbed an Early Bird (EB) tier rewards prior to really examining the project closely. I’m pretty sure, though, that if cancelling our pledges were not an option, we’d be more careful about the projects we back due to them offering an EB level.
Concerning the “activist cred” argument, again, I don’t agree that backers are more likely to promote a project or expand their promotion activity based on snagging an EB tier. Perhaps that would apply to a small percentage of backers, but I don’t believe it would apply to most. I will admit, though, that an EB tier can lead to a higher surge of pledges early within a campaign. That, in return, could lead to increased promotional activity simply due to their being an increased number of backers. This is the one “pro” that I will advocate in regards to EB tiers.
Lastly, concerning the “getting rewards first” argument, I don’t agree that allowing a certain percentage of backers to receive the game earlier than the rest is really advantageous for the creator. Unless those backers are receiving a prototype and the finished product will be based on their feedback, any feedback given after the product has been produced and ready for shipment is a little too late to be immediately valuable. I’m not stating that the feedback would not be beneficial moving forward, but I’m not sure that the feedback of backers who receive their product one or two months earlier than the rest will be more helpful than the feedback of those other backers.
My name is Jason Wright and I reside in Harrisburg, PA. I’ve been married to my wife, Carrie, for close to seven years now, and my son, Grayson, just turned a year old this past week. My first Kickstarter was for a sequel to my favorite tower defense game, Defense Grid. Since then, I’ve backed a number of projects, with my most recent backing being the Double-Six Dice campaign. Now, I will admit that the number of projects that I’ve backed may not be as numerous as others, but the main aspect of Kickstarter that enthralls me is studying the social dynamics of crowdfunding.
One area that particularly grabbed my attention was the impact of EB pledge levels on a Kickstarter. Personally, I do not feel that EB pledge levels are “evil”, “sadistic” and “just plain wrong” (I’m not sure who I’m quoting there, but I’m sure somebody has said these things of EB pledges at some point or another… if not, my bad, that’s why I’m not a real journalist). However, I do feel that EB pledges cause more harm to a Kickstarter than they do good. The main reason I’m negative on EB pledges is due to my opinion that they just seem to tick everybody off. I will highlight, what I believe, are three reasons why they put backers on edge.
1. “It’s not fair!!!!!!” – While that quote may seem childish, it is somewhat true. Depending on where a backer lives or the type of occupation they have, they may be at a huge disadvantage for “grabbing” EB spots. For instance, if a US Kickstarter launches at 4PM Eastern and has a limited amount of EB tiers available, those backers on the other side of the world who are currently sleeping are not likely to be able to grab those spots. Or, if you have two types of backers, those who work a desk job where they are allowed to surf the internet all day, and the other who work in a factory, the former is at a huge advantage to grab those lower-cost pledge levels. Recently, I’ve seen EB tiers limited by time instead of by pledge numbers. I believe these are the lesser evil, however, it still could slight someone who has limited access to the internet.
2. Misleads Backers and Creator – I’m sure we’ve all seen it. A game seems ready to fund at 2000%! Or, at least it does until all of the EB tiers fill up. One example of this is the Mega Man Board Game which is currently running. Within 48 hours, this campaign had raised over $200,000 and seemed to possibly be another “Cthulhu Wars”. But, once the early bird tiers dried up, so did the pledges. Since the initial 48 hours, the campaign has been creeping along at an average of $3,500.00 per day.
Why do I believe that misleads backers? Because, as a backer, one of the first things I look at are the stretch goals. I then ask myself whether I feel the game in itself warrants the monetary value of the pledge. If my answer to that question is “No”, I then ask myself the question again, but this time I include stretch goals that I believe will be achieved based on how the project is trending. EB tiers skew me from being able to do that.
I also believe that EB pledges mislead their creators. Why? Because it also skews their ability to project how successful the campaign will be. Also, I know personally, I will grab an EB tier even if I’m on the fence about the game, because I want to have that spot in case I decide to follow through with backing the project. That may make me a horrible backer, but I’m sure there are plenty more like me. So again, EB pledges may throw the creator off in projections due to a higher amount of bailout prior to the project funding.
3. “I’d rather the creator make the game $1 less for everybody than allow a few people to receive the game at a $10 discount” – While in reality it is a rare case that the amount of money saved by not providing an EB tier could warrant a substantial discount to everyone else, many backers just don’t seem to get that. That’s why you see it flooded in comment streams. A recent example of negative comments about EB tiers was Cthulhu Wars, where interestingly, providing less of the lower priced EB tiers could have provided a substantial savings to others. This campaign had a silly amount of EB tiers, so much so, that even though the project scored over a $1.4 million, the EB pledge levels never filled up. As a result, there were just as many backers paying $110 for the base game as there were backers paying $140. So, for that campaign, realistically they could have offered the game to everyone at $125. However, even in the bulk of scenarios where a substantial discount could not be offered if EB pledges were removed, it relies on a backer’s intelligence to discern that fact. If a backer truly believes that they are paying a higher price for an item so as to allow for another backer to receive the item at a lower price, there is a good chance that it will leave a sour taste in their mouth. While they may still back the project, you will see the negativity in comments, which can be damaging to the campaign.
Early Bird pledges do have their advantages. But because they have the ability to turn-off potential backers, increase negativity in the comments section, and skew a project’s reality, I feel they should be avoided.
Rebuttal from Julia
I really agree with the “Con” side’s point number one… I have felt grumpy about this myself sometimes, but I actually consider this a service. If I am irritated enough about $5 or $10 to consider not backing a game or other project, do I REALLY want the project’s rewards, or am I just looking for a little hit of backer-happiness? Also, when I discover a great project that’s burned through all the early-bird rewards, I can look through the backer names and if I find folks I recognize from other projects, trust that this one is probably good — those people earned the discount by giving the project credibility and thereby recruiting me.
I spoke directly to point two in my comments; I think the wise project creator and backer aren’t misled at all by early-bird levels but can in fact gather very useful information about overall demand by how fast those first rewards are claimed.
As for the third one… this just doesn’t make any sense to me. As with airplane seats, chances are good that many people backing a project will get the same reward having paid different amounts… shipping costs vary, adding extra copies, early-bird or retailer discounts, and so on… if this bugs you, Kickstarter’s probably not a good fit for you because it’s not a pre-order system or a store (behavior of some companies (Queen) notwithstanding). And on the flip side, sometimes I’m HAPPY to OVERpledge for a reward because I have such a good feeling about the project, the creator, and the goals of the whole effort that I want to throw in a little extra… this feeling is why the “pay what you want” projects are often so successful, appealing to people’s sense of fairness and generosity. If a project has a problem with lots of people griping about this sort of thing, the project creator has let it wobble off the rails and should make an effort to bring their campaign on track with a surge of positive energy and updates that show ALL backers how awesome the rewards are, and why they are worth the full price and maybe even more.
Julia and Jason presented some great points here, taking a different approach than I did in my previous entry about early-bird reward levels.
I agree with Julia that being an early-bird backer somehow increases your loyalty to the project and those increases the chances you’ll promote it elsewhere. And it’s certainly a good way to get people in the door on day 1, especially for a new creator.
That said, I think you can do everything that early-bird rewards do in different (and better) ways. If you want to increase loyalty, do it by building trust, engaging backers in multiple formats, and offering something so amazing that they’ll want to share it with their friends. If you want to get people to pledge on day 1, offer a great price to all backers and create an exciting campaign that will make people want to jump on your Kickstarter train right away.
Here’s what I think it all really comes down to: early bird reviews are the easy way out. They might lead to a short-term bump, but if you really want to sustain your project’s success, it’s going to take a lot of work. Case in point: I recently met with two game designers who are preparing for a May launch for their game. They asked me, “How should we price our early-bird reward level?” The phrasing of that question indicates to me that new creators assume that early-bird reward levels are a necessity.
Those two game designers had spent the last 20 minutes talking to me about all of the playtesting they’ve done for their game at conventions, local game stores, and their large game group. They have a website and a Facebook page, and they’ve been engaging a growing number of fans for many months. They’ve engaged a ton of people well before their Kickstarter project.
So I told them the truth: They don’t need an early-bird reward level. All of those people are going to be there on day 1. They’ve put in all the legwork without even realizing the impact it would have on the first day of their project. And those people aren’t going to spread the word about the project because they got a $5 discount or priority shipping–no, they’re going to spread the word about the project because they believe in the game and the designers. Many of them are actively involved in the creation of the game, even if it’s just a random playtest at their FLGS. And I can tell from those designers that they’re going to continue to engage a lot more people all the way through the last day of their campaign and beyond.
Make something unique, make something beautiful, price it fairly, and engage tons of people along the way. That’s my alternative to early-bird reward levels.
What do you think?