Kickstarter Lesson #11: Stretch Goals

14 February 2013

stretch goals - Updated

Important to also read: The Current State of Stretch Goals (2016)

I don’t know if the first Kickstarter project that had stretch goals, but in the last year or so they’ve pretty much become a standard addition to most successful Kickstarter projects. In addition to providing better value for your backers, having visible stretch goals can actually increase the chances of your project funding in the first place.

The Purpose of Stretch Goals

Stretch goals are things that you’ll add to most of the reward levels at no additional cost if you overfund your project. If you set out to raise $10,000 and you raise $15,000, you might give everyone an extra marshmallow, a bonus short story, or promo cards for your game.

Stretch goals are closely tied to your funding goal. Your funding goal should be the bare minimum you need to create a minimal viable product. Thus your stretch goals are ways to expand upon and improve that core product, but if you don’t reach them, you can still deliver your passion project to your backers.

The reason stretch goals work so well is (a) they encourage backers to pledge more (especially when they check in on the project at the very end to see that they’re $X pledge gets them much more than they originally thought), and (b) they encourage backers to share your project with other people. The more stretch goals you meet, the more everyone wins.

The Pitfalls of Stretch Goals

I can sum these up in a few points:

  1. Make sure your stretch goals add real value to your product.
  2. Make sure your stretch goals don’t cause you to lose money or delay the project.
  3. Make sure your stretch goals are given to every backer who receives your product (it’s confusing and insulting to backers if you have a few reward levels where they get the game, but they have to pledge even more to get the game and the stretch goals).

The Golden Goose

I would highly suggest that your project have at least one “golden goose” stretch goal at 400 or 500% funding. This stretch goal is something that adds a huge amount of value to every backer. This goal really whets the appetites of backers and gives them something to strive for as a group–not only does it help your funding up to that point (even if you don’t reach the goal), but it creates a sense of community around the project.

A good example is TMG’s Ground Floor Kickstarter campaign. At $75,000 in funding (500%), TMG gave every backer an extra game called Skyline. That’s a huge reward–two well-designed games for the price of one. Not only did it help Ground Floor raise $75,000, but every backer who checked out the project after that level was reached knew for sure that they were getting two games, so  an additional $38,000 was raised after that goal was reached.

A word of caution that ties into Pitfall #2: Make sure you aren’t losing money per unit if you reach your golden goose stretch goal (taking shipping, art and design, and manufacturing into consideration). Calculate costs based on the assumption that you will meet that goal. And then do everything you can to actually meet it!

Theories on the Visibility of Stretch Goals

There are a few different theories on how you should reveal–or unveil–your stretch goals. The two overarching keys are to know exactly what your stretch goals can be before you launch the project, and remain flexible during the project to add more stretch goals or change the dollar amounts if you can afford it.

  • Only share one stretch goal at a time: This is a strategy employed extremely well by Dice Hate Me games, which currently has the game Compounded on Kickstarter. Backers have a very concrete goal to focus on, and no one is the wiser if they don’t reach the stretch goals that they haven’t revealed.
  • Share multiple stretch goals, but not their funding amounts: This strategy, which I believe I’ve seen Greater Than Games employ for Sentinels of the Multiverse, whets backer appetites for future stretch goals, but allows the creator to remain flexible in adjusting the funding amounts as needed.
  • Share all stretch goals and funding amounts: This is what I did with Viticulture (as seen by the image on this post), except that the goals changed over time as I reduced thresholds and added new goals in between. I think this method can make backers really excited about future goals, and as long as you remain flexible to reduce the funding amounts needed for the stretch goals, there’s no harm in sharing those numbers.

If I did it again, I might do a mix of those three strategies. Leave some things a mystery, but let backers know up front how greener the grass can be on the other side of the original funding goal.

stretch goals - UpdatedDifferent Categories of Stretch Goals

As you can see by the image to the right, we did something a little different with Viticulture. Our stretch goals were more like milestones, as some weren’t connected to funding. I incorporated milestones based on Facebook Likes to encourage people to spread the world on the largest social network, and I had milestones based on the number of backers to show that the project was more than about raising money for a game–it was about building a community around a game. I get excited when I see a lot of stretch goals on a project, and I think many of my backers shared the same enthusiasm.

I did learn a few things from the Facebook Like milestones, though. First, there was some discussion on Reddit about whether those milestones encouraged people to Like something that they didn’t even know if they actually liked it or not. I think that’s somewhat fair. In the future I might make it clearer that people should only Like the project if they actually like it. It’s a little nitpicky, but that’s what Reddit is for.

Second, my original Like milestones (which unlocked hidden reward levels) were counterproductive. There’s no good reason to hide reward levels. Plus, I set the Like goals so low that we met them all the first day, which took the fun out of anticipating the next goal. In the future if I have Facebook Like milestones, I’ll probably use them to reveal art from the game, with maybe 1,000 Likes adding something of real value.

Your Thoughts

What are some of the most exciting stretch goals you’ve seen on Kickstarter?

Also see some insights about stretch goals I wrote after my Tuscany Kickstarter campaign here, as well as here.

Matthew at Designing Cardboard wrote a great data-mining post about stretch goals here. Worth a read.

Up Next: Kickstarter Lesson #12: Shipping

49 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #11: Stretch Goals

  1. Nice article!

    Have you seen a campaign that has reward levels unlocked along with stretch goals? e.g, a stretch goal unlocks a special deck of character cards, and an associated reward level allows you to put your likeness on one of the cards. The reward doesn’t make sense without the goal, but getting people to pay more for the reward accelerates progress toward the goal; so it’s something of a chicken and egg problem.

    1. Jeff–Thanks for your comment. If you look under the last second of the above entry, you’ll see something very similar to what you describe above. After trying that with Viticulture, I don’t think that unlocking stretch goals is effective because some backers might wait to back the project until all of those reward levels are unlocked instead of supporting the project right away. I think it’s fine to come up with new reward levels during the project, but dangling hidden ones seems to be counterproductive.

  2. […] Back when I was researching Kickstarter campaigns in preparation for my Viticulture project, I noticed a trend among successful game projects: Most of them offered some form of exclusive content. On some projects it was built into the primary level for the game (like promo cards); on other projects it was included as a premium reward level or on the stretch goals. […]

  3. My biggest problem from only sharing one goal at a time is that it can keep potentially big features hidden until late in a campaign when I may have decided to back other projects, and in my eyes leads to less promotion for the creator. A good example is DHMG’s VivaJava: Dice Game. I was mildly interested in the game, but didn’t back until the solo player goal was reached. The solitaire option had already been hinted at in a review, so not seeing it immediately left me uninterested in the campaign until I knew it would be included. Meanwhile if I had known it was a goal from day 1 it would have allowed me to promote the game for a longer period of time than simply towards the end of the campaign. I am by no means an expert on KS, but I feel like the more you share with backers on launch day the better promotion you will get over the life of your campaign.

    1. Jim–Thanks for your perspective. I think that’s a great point about having complete transparency about stretch goals up front. I think the only downside (which can be mitigated) is that I think some of the best stretch goals organically happen during the project thanks to backer feedback. So even if a project creator has a bunch of ideas budgeted for stretch goals, a new idea may arise that throws them all off. As long as the project creator is clear up front that later stretch goals may be changed or shifted before they are reached to make room for new ideas, I think it’s still fine to publish them all up front. I think it’s good to show backers what the game can grow to be so they can, as you say, help promote the project from day 1.

  4. I would add two comments –

    #1) If you aren’t going to reveal all the stretch goals at the beginning, I think it is important to at least consider hinting at your “golden goose” goal as early as possible, even if you don’t set the exact goal level to leave room for altering the intermediate goals. Some people need to have something to shoot for and get excited about. I am a backer on the Character Meeple campaign, and according to their welcome backer message, we have already blown through all their original stretch goals (which is awesome), and they have seem to have a good mix of goal types and keeping backers engaged, *but* I can’t help but wish there was a “golden goose” of some sort, although I can’t think of a good one for that campaign, there are soooooo many personal choices that it is unlikely to get the majority of backers behind any one specific goal/meeple (I am totally impressed by their releasing a slick add-on calculator today!).

    #2) Also, every once in a while a stretch goal actually makes significant changes some component, rather than adding something. for example – B/W to color, an alternate (KS exclusive) box art, or a change to the material type of a certain component. Usually the vast majority of backers view these changes as upgrades, and I know you can’t please all the people all the time, and sometimes these options come up mid-campaign, but If that particular goal had been mentioned from the start, those backers wouldn’t have much cause to be detractors after the fact (or course they could lobby for their position *before* the goal is reached).

    1. Becky: You make a great point about “golden goose” stretch goals–hinting at them can make a big difference.

      That’s an interesting point about letting people know about component upgrades in advance. That gives people plenty of time to voice their opinions before the stretch goals actually happen (giving them time to change).

  5. Jamey – I back mostly TMG projects and stay pretty active in the comments so I may be placing too much emphasis on a minority of vocally hard/impossible to please backers.

    Complaints about changes seems to come up with them almost every time a component gets changed (non-play impacting), in particular the change in the Dungeon Roll box from retail (brown pirate chest) to KS exclusive green mimic box. Throughout the campaign there were several vocal detractors of the revised box and repeated requests to be able to get the retail packaging instead.

    The same thing came up in Scoville, although that stretch was a last minute “wow, we need another stretch goal, what would be cool?” change so there probably wasn’t much that could have prevented it, but I know of at least one backer who vocally departed from the campaign because of the stretch goal that changed the platinum (most rare) pepper component from wood to an acrylic “phantom” pepper.

    I may be overly sensitive to the vocally unhappy backers (who are likely less than a fraction of 1%), but I would think most projects would rather prevent truly negative comments (or ultimatums) from coming up as well. If these types of goals are out there up front, people can make their own decisions on if having a green box instead of a brown one or having 10 out of 100+ *custom* pepper-eeples be acrylic instead of wood is a make-or-break for before backing, instead of bring down everyone else after the fact.

    1. I’m sure that Michael appreciates having such a loyal customer like you!

      This really is a great point about stretch goals with component upgrades. After I read it, I looked over my stretch goal list for Tuscany…I think I only have one component update stretch goal, so it shouldn’t be a concern. :)

  6. I’m in for $1 on a board game KS at the moment, and they did something interesting with stretch goals. Of those listed in the campaign, they let backers vote on which they wanted most, and they’re making that stretch goal “free” if the campaign funds. But beyond that, they’re rearranging the remaining stretch goals to reflect the voting. So those that backers want the most are now the most attainable.

    I thought this was a nice way of catering the rewards to the backers, while providing incentive to keep raising money. And even if a campaign can’t afford the one free stretch goal, they might consider rearranging existing goals to make the campaign a bit more interactive. Some stretch goals are sequential (i.e. 50 more cards, then 100 more cards, etc.), so it wouldn’t work out, but many are not (i.e. better box, custom meeples, or thicker cards).

    The game is “Stockpile: The Stockmarket Game of Insider Trading.” I’m not associated with it in any way beyond my $1 backing level, and it actually may not fund (it will be close), but this particular idea seemed clever and I felt I should give credit where it’s due.

  7. I think exploding kittens did an excellent job with their stretch goals. Stretch goals weren’t contingent on just how much they made but rather a set of 30 achievements that backers could achieve in any order. Achievements are extremely common in games so it fit very well with the category, it did a great job getting the community directly involved and some of the achievements were absolutely hilarious which worked really well with The Oatmeal’s highly exaggerated energetic art. In my opinion, they did an excellent job merging their own theme with the familiarity of achievements and engaged and excited the community all at the same time. While Exploding Kittens is definitely an outlier in many aspects of Kickstarter, I think a great deal can be learned from their campaign.

  8. Stretch goals do confuse me slightly because aren’t projects being pitched on the idea of “I need this much to make this happen”. And if projects really are being offered at a low cost, then creators profit is minimal. So each stretch goal met costs the creator for whatever it may be. Things like upgraded components definitely aren’t free from the manufacturer so unles the creator is being very generous with his savings, he is most likely taking some of his profits from each pledge and applying them to cover the cost of the stretch goal. Which in turn means that those costs were calculated in the funding goal, which means that if the stretch goals aren’t met, the creator actually makes more profit? So is the idea that a creator says ” here is my thing, if we work together we can make it everything we hope it can be”? So he gets the best version of his project, as do the supporters, or he makes more profit?
    Hopefully you can understand what I am trying to say, as I may have just confused myself more!

  9. Conor: The concept of stretch goals are built around economies of scale. Say, for example, you have a game that costs $14 to make for a minimum print run of 1500 copies. Your funding goal should be based on that amount. However, if your project does well and you’re now able to make 2000 copies, your cost per unit might go down to $13.50. Thus you have $0.50 per game to spend that you didn’t have before–it’s not coming out of your own pocket.

  10. Hey, Jamey. Thanks for the information. I’m enjoying your book right now, very helpful.

    Concerning Stretch Goals, I’m struggling with coming to a conclusion on what to expect from my soon-to-be Kickstarter campaign…which is making it difficult to determine what intervals to use for SG’s. Of course, I expect my campaign to do well, but obviously can’t know what to expect.

    For instance, if I have a funding goal of $25k and an overall (personal) goal of $100k (being hopeful), not knowing how well it will do, how do I space my SG’s apart? Do I judge by the pace and success of the campaign and determine them as it goes? Predetermine a $10k interval? $15k?

    This may not be as difficult to determine if I didn’t already have plans for the SG’s. As of now, there are 7 and are (for this particular game) mostly component/game upgrade goals. So I obviously want these things to be unlocked. But don’t want to make them too “easy” OR too “difficult” to reach.

    Hope this makes sense…

    Thank you.

  11. Jason: Thanks for your question! This is something I ponder for every project. There are a few different answers:

    The first option is to purely use economies of scale. I’ve talked about this in other posts, so I won’t go into the calculation in detail, but the basic idea is if your minimum print run is 1500 copies and at that quantity it costs you $10 per copy, how many more copies do you need to make to get the per-unit quantity to decrease at an amount that’s equal to the added cost of the stretch goal (e.g., component upgrade) so the cost per copy remains at $10.

    The second option is to take the first option into consideration, but then to space out the goals in a reasonable manner. That’s where things get tough, because you really have no idea how your campaign will do. I’ve run 8 campaigns and I still have no idea whenever I launch a new one.

    I’d say this: It’s a whole lot better to run out of stretch goals that you’ve properly budgeted for than to overstretch. So if this is your first project, I would recommend spacing out the stretch goals every $5k (or $10k for more expensive additions), and if you reach all of them, promote the fact that everyone is getting a 100% complete edition that you can deliver on schedule. And you never know–backers may think of some ideas that you haven’t considered, and you might be able to add them if they don’t add extra time or break the budget.

  12. I see. Thank you. Let me also ask this: Is it “wrong” to already have the costs for planned SG’s (all component upgrades) worked into your funding goal? Would it be frowned upon to further funding by using those SG’s and possibly come up with other things to add to rewards? When you look at a campaign’s funding goal, it would be difficult to tell if this is the case, thus making it unclear if it’s common practice.

  13. Jason: Yeah, that’s certainly not the intent of stretch goals. If you’ve already included them in the funding goal, there’s no reason to stretch for them. Instead, just don’t do stretch goals or decrease the funding goal.

  14. I understand. I just wouldn’t want to make the game at all if it wasn’t the best iteration of the game. That would be a worry and the reason for the question. But it seems choosing one of the two options you mention could rectify this. Thanks for your time and info.

  15. Jamie, what do you think of a stretch goal in the form of a donation? For instances, once the stretch goal is met, a donation of a 100 games is given to non-profits, schools, rec centers, etc. A current kickstater, “good night stories for rebel girls” has raised over 600,000 with less than 48 hours to go. One of their SG is donating 400 books to the organization “Read to a Child” once they hit $400,000.

    This method of donating product is used by tom shoes and others in what is called by many “caring capitalism”. I’ve included a link to the goodnight stories in case anyway is interested. Thanks.

    1. Denny: I think it’s a neat idea, though I’m a little surprised Kickstarter hasn’t flagged it. They have rules against using Kickstarter for charitable donations: “We’re all in favor of charity and investment, but they’re not permitted on Kickstarter.” It’s right on the front page of their rules:

  16. Jamie. Thank you for the response. Since Kickstarter has allowed this “donation” stretch goal (assuming they know about it), I wonder if the “donation” rule only applies to the overall project? As long as you’re creating something as your main objective, you can than have a side objective of a stretch goal donation. Thoughts?

    Assuming you can have a donation stretch goal, how do you think the gaming community would respond to such a stretch goal? Thanks.

    1. Denny: Honestly, I think if Kickstarter knew about that stretch goal, they would tell the creator to change it. The thing is, Kickstarter only has about 20 people on staff, so they rely heavily on users to flag stuff like that. If a user hasn’t flagged it, Kickstarter doesn’t know about it.

      However, say in the off chance this is allowed, how would the gaming community feel about it? It’s a generous community that responds well to companies serving those in need, but on Kickstarter, I think backers want all possible resources to go into creating and fulfilling rewards. After that, they’re fine with extra resources being devoted to something like that, but not until that point.

  17. Great article. I’m curious what your thoughts are on charging backers for Stretch goals. I backed a project that teased their stretch goals for a while and hit 1414% backed when they announced the final one. However, when they announced the final stretch goal, they also announced that all stretch goals would have to purchased separately. It isn’t something I’ve seen before and not sure how I feel about it. Promoting the kickstarter to unlock the stretch goals helped get the funding up. However being told a week before the kickstarter ends that the stretch goals are more along the lines of add-ons was a bit disappointing.

    1. Christina: Thanks for your question. Personally, I’m not a fan of the type of stretch goal you describe here, as the reason for the “stretch” is economies of scale (make more stuff and you can afford to add more stuff). I think the one time it makes sense to offer stretch goal add-ons is if there’s an element of those items that costs the creator more money, and then on top of that it costs a lot to actually make the item.

      For example, if you’re going to add a big miniature to a board game, the 1x cost for creating that miniature is design and mould cost. That cost can be covered by the stretch goal. But the actual miniature itself also costs money to make–sometimes quite a bit of money–so the creator might charge backers an add-on price for that miniature. I think that’s fair to do, though hopefully the creator would set that expectation early on in the campaign, not near the end after lots of teasing.

  18. I find myself intimidated by the concept of stretch goals. I want my game to be as good as possible to begin with. I can think of ways to make the components cheaper and then add stretch goals to make it the way that I already plan it to be and I can also think of ways that I can make it even better by adding more cards, but that will delay the whole process by at least a few weeks. Are there any projects these days that just offer a good product to begin with and don’t bother with stretch goals or is it basically an expected feature that is basically a requirement at this point?

  19. Stretch goals are so popular now! I think it would be great for Kickstarter to incorporate them into their platform. Until then, they’re stuck as being an entirely manual process (hack) to a campaign. Jamey, what do you think? Could Kickstarter create stretch goal functionality that is flexible enough to meet most project needs. Or do you think the current way stretch goals are implemented project creators is good enough?

    1. Ethan: I’ve gone back and forth about that. While it would be nice, having a ton of flexibility on stretch goals can be really helpful for a creator too. So for now I’m okay with the current system, but if Kickstarter came up with something cool and flexible, I’d be curious about it!

  20. This is superb advice, so thank you very much! I’m still a little unsure as to the difference between rewards and stretch goals, though. And the amount of organization in costing out your stretch goals seems astronomical, especially when, like you did with Viticulture, you have non-financial targets for unlocking things. Seems mindblowingly complex to me; I guess Kickstarting for the first time is a pretty fearsome thing, though! Thanks again!

    1. Simon: I think I can clarify that. A reward is the specific thing a backer pledges to receive. So, a reward might be a copy of the book, board game, or movie the creator is making. A stretch goal, however, is a commitment to make the reward better if a certain goal (usually a funding level) is reached.

      For example, say the $20 reward for a project is a copy of a 150-page book. The project may have a stretch goal that says, “If we reach $10,000 in total funding, we’ll add 10 more pages to the book.” If that goal is reached, each backer at the $20 reward level would get a 160-page book instead of a 150-page book.

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