2 September 2014 | 29 Comments
A few weeks ago in the Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice Facebook group, someone gave a piece of misleading advice that worried me a bit. The next day, someone else gave almost identical advice about a different project mentioned on the Kickstarter Best Practices group.
The advice? “You should do X because Cthulhu Wars did it.”
Cthulhu Wars is one of the top-funding tabletop game Kickstarters ever, having raised over $1.4 million in July 2013. It’s an outlier, an anomaly–it should not be used as supporting evidence for dispensing advice or making decisions about your Kickstarter campaign.
The same goes for any mega project–any KS project that earns over $500,000. Just the other day someone e-mailed me for advice about their project preview page, and they cited The Coolest as the reason they made a specific decision. The Coolest is the most funded campaign ever on Kickstarter–it is not the norm!
Now, you may be wondering why we shouldn’t use mega campaigns as templates for our Kickstarter projects. After all, they clearly did something right, and we all want that same level of success. Shouldn’t we emulate them? Here’s why that’s a bad idea:
- It’s really hard to tell the difference between the elements that made them successful and the elements that made no difference at all (or even impeded their success): The best example of this is early bird pricing. As I discussed on my dissection of the Zombicide 3 campaign, I think these mega projects would do just as well without the early-bird pricing–in fact, I think they would have done better without it because they wouldn’t lose backers who are really turned off by early-bird pricing (my data shows that 50% of backers don’t like early birds, compared to 25% who do and 25% who don’t care).
- There are other reasons below the surface these projects are successful. When you look back at an older mega project, it’s really hard to see all of the aligning forces that made it so successful at the time. Looking at the Kicktraq graph can help–perhaps there’s a spike for which you can track down the source. Perhaps it was a key review or a celebrity endorsement. Or maybe the creator has a huge following from a previous career or project. The point is, there’s usually a specific reason mega projects are successful, and it’s not going to be clear from the minutiae on the project page.
- You lose any sense of project evolution during the campaign by looking at it after the fact. A Kickstarter project page is frozen in time forever after the campaign ends. It will appear to future readers as static even though it was completely in flux during the campaign, and it can be quite misleading as a result. For example, Cthulhu Wars has exactly 29 reward levels. Does that mean it started out on launch day with 29 reward levels? Nope. Does that mean that 29 rewards levels is the sweet spot for your campaign on launch day? Heck no. Aim for about 7, and if you need to expand during the campaign, do so sparingly.
- What you need to know is in the post-mortem, not on the project page…and way too few creators write post-mortems. We’re humans. It’s hard to admit when we screw up. Perhaps even harder when we screw up and things still turn out fine (we might even convince ourselves that we didn’t screw up). But I think it’s incredibly important for the Kickstarter community that project creators write a post-mortem after the project about the mistakes they made and the lessons they learned. It’s in these post-mortems that other project creators can learn about all the things on this list in one place. Here are all of my post-mortems in one place.
- The truth is, sometimes these projects are really bad examples for your campaign. Cthulhu Wars, for example, doesn’t have a single third-party review on their project page. Does that mean third-party reviews aren’t important? Not at all! They’re really important. Same goes with the 29 (!) reward levels I mentioned above. I could list 5-10 things like this about almost any mega project. They’re successful despite their faults, not because of them.
If you really want to study a mega campaign, back a live one for $1 (or more) and follow it very closely during and after the campaign. You can see all live mega projects here.
Otherwise, when using other projects as examples for your campaign, look at those that overfunded within reason. You should definitely still study successful projects, but you want to make sure they’re not Kickstarter outliers. Dig under the surface–read the project updates, poke around for a post-mortem/lessons learned post, future projects that showed their evolution as creators, etc. And find a few successful projects in your category that are currently live on Kickstarter to back and learn from.
The next time you see someone use a mega project as an example for Kickstarter advice, please point them to this article. I’m sure they mean well, but I think they’re doing a disservice to project creators (especially new ones) by using extreme outliers as our supporting evidence for why they should or shouldn’t do something on their campaign.