Kickstarter Lesson #10: The Taste Test

10 February 2013

No matter what kind of Kickstarter project you have, there is a way to deliver a digital sample to potential backers. If you’re writing a book, post a sample chapter. If you’re making a board game, post a print-and-play (PnP) version of the game on Dropbox or Box.com. If you’re making a movie, post a sample scene or the script. I’ll explain why this is so important by addressing the two most common fears for posting a taste test for backers:

What if someone steals my idea?  I think this is something that all of us idea generators have feared at some point. And you’re more than idea generator if you’re on Kickstarter–you’re a creator. So you’ve spent all this time creating something, and if you put it out there for the world to download, why would they pay you for it when they can just print it out?

This is mostly a concern when you’re sharing the digital entirety of your project opposed to a sample chapter. The answer is this: It’s really expensive to print out one version of anything. Let’s take Viticulture, for example. When I got the final files from my graphic designer, I took it down to the local copier and had them make a copy for me to demo until I got the advance copies of the game. Total cost: $60. The retail cost of the game is $60, and trust me, it’s way nicer than the Kinkos version.

If that’s not enough to convince you, be assured by this: If you’re worried about someone infringing upon your intellectual property, the best thing you can possibly do is post it publicly. That way if you ever have to prove that you created it first, you have the post date to corroborate your claim.

What if people don’t like it?  This is a distinct possibility. Some people aren’t going to like your work. However, they are MUCH more likely to feel good about your project if you give them the chance to invest their time in it. If you share a sample of your work with potential backers and ask for feedback, you’re engaging them in your work. They’re becoming part of your project. Again, some may not like what they see, but now they have the opportunity to give you a few pointers. Even if you disagree with their feedback (which is fine–as a creator, you need to know when to implement feedback and when to decline it), connecting with them through their feedback could easily change them from ambivalent, potential backer to invested, enthusiastic backer.

What if it’s so unpolished that I’ll look bad? This was a big concern of mine during the Viticulture campaign. None of the art for the cards was finished, and the rules for the game were in Microsoft Word. First, as I noted in the lesson about art and design, the key is not having ALL of the art and design done when you launch your Kickstarter project. Rather, the key is to have a few finished pieces so you can demonstrate what the final project will look like.

The same applies to the sample you share. A small portion of it should look good. But Microsoft Word rules are fine. A sample chapter with a few typos is fine too. Backers know that you’re trying to raise money to create a final, polished project–they’d much rather see that you have a version of the rules written than none at all. Also, as with the previous point, their feedback about the unpolished sample might lead you in a direction that will save you some time in the long run.

gutsOpen Sample vs. Pay to View

For Viticulture, I offered a PnP version of the game to people who asked for it, as I wanted to know exactly who was testing the game so I could follow up with them for feedback. That seemed to go over well, and there was no backlash that it wasn’t publicly posted (rather, I posted that I would be happy to share the PnP upon request). That’s one method.

Another is to simply post a link to the sample file on your project page.

The last is a method I saw implemented by Guts of Glory: pay to view. For that project, a $5 pledge got you the print-and-play version of the game. This was a good idea, but as far as I’m aware, you couldn’t gain access to the PnP until the end of the project, which defeats the purpose of everything I’ve described above.

I think the better way to do it–and perhaps the best of all of these options–is to include the PnP with every pledge, effective as soon as the backer makes their pledge. You could explicitly mention it on the $1 pledge level, and have a note about it on the project page for the other pledge levels so their descriptions don’t get too lengthy. By making people pay something for the PnP, you know exactly who is sampling your work (so you can follow up for feedback) and you’ve gotten your foot in the door–you know exactly who you should follow up with later on to see if they’d like to increase their pledge to get the full version of the project.

Your Thoughts

What has been your experience with sampling Kickstarter projects? Have you seen any particularly clever (or off-putting) ways this has been done?

For more on this topic, watch this short video blog about PnPs.

Up Next: Kickstarter Lesson #11: Stretch Goals

14 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #10: The Taste Test

  1. I liked what David Chott did with his recent campaign for Lagoon: Land of Druids. He had a series of puzzles created to help teach you various aspects of the game before you get the final copy. It was also nice to have a version of that game without the artwork to distract you from actual game play. I knew that if I had a version with the final artwork, I would be spending the majority of my first time playing it examining each and every tile. This way, I was able to focus solely on the game play and see that it was more than just a pretty looking game, it is a fantastic game with solid game play. I’m sure it will be one of my favourite games from this year.

    Another benefit to having print and play is that it can help someone who has already backed the game convince others they need to back it as well. This is what happened with Lagoon when I played it with a friend. He obviously had been thinking about the game after we’d played and before the project ended, not only had he backed the game, but he convinced a couple of his friends to back it as well!

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Marcel. I agree that David’s puzzle was brilliant, and for the most part we used his methods of leaving the artwork off our Tuscany PnP (the exception is the board).

  2. Jamey,

    I’m in those exciting (but scary) early months before launching my first Kickstarter board game, and I myself have worried quite a bit about this “taste test”. I’d like to point out a couple of things about this issue.

    You mention that actually going through the trouble of printing the PnP version may cost a potential backer $60 or something high like that. If they do go through with it, and consequently get a decent impression of your game, they might think twice before dishing out another $60 or so for the actual game, unless they are truly awestruck with your game (which is a bit unreasonable to expect out of a low-polish PnP version).

    To be honest, for every Kickstarter game I’ve backed (including yours), I have never taken advantage of the PnP version. I think the reason has always been that I couldn’t trust myself to actually buy the game once I gave the PnP version a fair shake. Many gamers I know crave variety (my group included) and would normally be ready to move on after 3 or 4 plays. I didn’t think it fair, therefore, to sample a game “for-free” instead of rewarding the creator with a proper pledge and trusting them to deliver something worthy of the money. I know I’m not addressing a few of your other points here about why PnP is a good thing, but I just thought I’d share this one caveat.

    Also, I’m very curious what you thought of Chaosmos and their $10-30 “PnP” pledge levels?

    Thanks,
    Vlad Oprica

    1. Vlad: Thanks for your comment, and I hope your Kickstarter prep work is going well.

      I definitely relate to what you’re saying about the PnP. I’m the same way–I don’t think I’ve ever printed out a PnP from a Kickstarter project. I either back or don’t back. Occasionally I look at the PnP online to see what the game looks like, but usually I just look for images on the project page for that.

      Chaosmos had 75 backers at the $10 level, which is more backers than I see on many PnP rewards. It gained them $750 at no extra cost to them (other than the time it takes to prepare those files). However, that’s $750 out of $135,000+ in total funding. I think that illustrates my point that a paid PnP won’t make or break a project, so you might as well just make some version of the PnP accessible to everyone (or at $1) to get more people in the door.

  3. For my upcoming Kickstarter for Mech Defense, I have created a basic PnP version of the game that is pretty much just a tutorial for how to play it. It doesn’t include all of the customization options, but instead works off of our “Quick Start” unit concept.

    The game itself is a Legacy-style game that has a ton of stickers and unlock packs.

    My question is, do you think it would be valuable to include some aspects of the stickers and other legacy content as part of the PnP even though it would require people to buy potentially expensive sticker sheet packs to print them?

  4. Great points Jamey! I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, on whether I should release a playable demo for my videogame project. Generally, demos are considered a bad idea for videogames, since they almost need to be better than the final product to convince someone to buy a game they were on the fence about (the Extra Credits series is one of my go to resources, and they have a great video on the subject).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QM6LoaqEnY

    But crowdfunding is a different beast, and all about trust. So now I think it would be best to give my potential backers a taste and release the demo along with my Kickstarter. As long as I’m clear about this being an early version of the game and that we want feedback, I think it could go a long way towards building trust in that we can actually deliver what we promise. I think most of the same principles apply as board games, but just curious if you have any additional thoughts for videogames specifically. Thanks!

    1. Rob: That’s really interesting, and I appreciate your insight (via Extra Credits) about the video game industry. My inclination in the video game crowdfunding space would be to give backers a little taste of the gameplay through short videos or even gifs. Give them a feel of what it will be like to occupy the world and play the game. It’s kind of like the difference between a movie-style trailer for a video game and a gameplay trailer–the former is great, as it immerses the viewer in the world, but the latter is probably what will help them make their purchase decision.

  5. I see Scythe has a free PnP to download without buying anything. Have you decided to provide the PnP version of all your content without a purchase? What changed your views on that? Upon seeing your rules for Scythe, it makes me want to buy the game more than any other advertising so far. Also, thanks for your blog and hard work.

  6. Brendan: The method I’ve used for a while is that I provide a free “lite” PnP during the Kickstarter campaign and while the game is in pre-order. After that I remove most of the content except for the rules, as I want our games to be played with the real components–we design a specific tangible experience for our games that I don’t want people to replace with a homemade version. The rules are always available, though.

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