25 September 2014
Note: I try to write these lessons so they apply to any type of Kickstarter project, but a lot of what I discuss in this particular entry applies specifically to board games.
Recently I was talking with Eduardo Baraf, creator of the successful Kickstarter campaign Lift Off!. Ed asked if I had written about how some game projects get a lot of attention when they arrive to backers and others don’t at all. I hadn’t written about that, but I thought it was a great topic to delve into.
The subject has been on my mind a lot lately for a couple of reasons. The first is that I recently attended Gen Con, and I’ve been informally tracking many of the games released at Gen Con on BGG. The main things I’ve looked for are rank on the hotness list and number of ratings. It’s fascinating to me to see the games that appear to be actively played and discussed compared to the many games that seem to garner very little attention post-release. Note the emphasis on the word “appear”–more on that in a minute.
The second reason this has been on my mind is that I’ve received a lot of games I Kickstarted over the last two months, and I’ve been tracking them on BGG as well. Again, the appearance for a few of them is that they’re being played and discussed, but there are a few that have 0 ratings on BGG. 0! These were successful projects on Kickstarter, and now no one is talking about them.
Granted, before I continue, I should note that there is a huge gap between the number of ratings on BGG and the number of games being played. For example, Dominion has several million copies in print at this point, but the based game only has 38,556 ratings (a huge number for BGG, but still a small percentage compared to overall sales). I can speak specifically about Euphoria since I published it–there are 9,000 games in print right now, and it has 2,285 ratings on BGG.
What’s going on here? Why are some games in the public eye while others aren’t? What can we do as project creators to make sure that our products arrive with a boom, not a whimper?
Here’s my answer, followed by some actionable steps: It’s human nature to get excited about stuff that other people are excited about. It’s why we wait in line for an hour to get brunch when we could walk half a block to the place with no line. It’s why we inexplicably pay attention to sports we don’t care at all about if our roommate is the sport’s most passionate fan. It’s why we’re more likely to jump on a Kickstarter campaign that has wildly overfunded than one that hasn’t funded yet.
We’re drawn to popularity. Popularity breeds popularity, just like momentum breeds success.
The thing is, you don’t get to choose which products of yours are popular. You can try, of course, but the true popularity is out of your control. You can, however, make a big impact on the perceived popularity of your product. Here’s how:
- Write Backer Updates: Have you ever been excited about a new movie, and in the weeks leading up the movie you see more and more commercials for the movie, and every time you see one you get more and more excited about the movie? Use backer updates to do this as you get close to the release date. Your backers are your best asset because they wouldn’t have backed the project if they weren’t excited about it, so you just have to help remind them of that original excitement 6 months later. Post photos, fun details, share your excitement, shipping updates, etc.
- Post Photos on BGG: One of the most important areas on the BGG homepage is the images section. Leading up to the game’s release and for several weeks afterwards, post one beautiful photo of the game per week. Give it a few days to garner thumbs, then share the photo somewhere (Facebook, Twitter, project update, etc). Don’t bribe for thumbs–just put the photo out there so people who like it can thumb it.
- Get People Talking About Your Product: This is a pretty broad category, but the key is to view yourself as a moderator. Your job is to create the potential for discussion. Start threads on BGG that pose questions. Ask questions in project updates. Talk about the game on your blog or Facebook or Twitter in a way that invites opinions and feedback. A big part of all this is that you want people to play the game as soon as possible, so if people see others discussing the game, they’re going to want to play the game so they can be a part of the discussion. Make sure to be an active part of these discussions, and continually invite more discussion through your responses. For example, even if you definitively answer a question, leave the door open for other questions or discussions about strategy.
- Have a Limited-Time Money-Back Guarantee: The heart of why we offer our money-back guarantee is trust. But there is also an ancillary reason tied to the one stipulation of the guarantee: The guarantee expires 1 month after a backer receives the game. The purpose of that (other than to ensure that people don’t ask for their money back years after they received the game and played it to death) is that we want backers to play the game upon arrival. We don’t want our games to sit on the shelves for months. Of course, there are many other ways to get backers to play your game that are more important (i.e., make a great game with accessible rules and beautiful components), but the extra push of the money-back guarantee is really helpful.
- Make a Call to Action for Backers: As I’ve discussed in detail elsewhere, you should use calls to action very selectively with backers. Asking them to Like or thumb or share something in every project update will quickly lead to mass unsubscribes. But when the time is right–perhaps a week after they’ve received the game–give backers a specific call to action. The easiest things to do are on BGG: thumb a photo, become a fan, or subscribe to the game. You can also remind backers to mention the game the next time they’re at their local games store. Remember, backers are your biggest fans (until you let them down): They want your product to do well post-Kickstarter.
- Invite Fun Engagement: I much prefer this to the more self-serving call to action method. The idea is to give backers the opportunity to share the game in fun ways. For example, the aforementioned Eduardo Baraf did something at Gen Con where he encouraged people to take one of the meeples from his game and take a photo of it doing something mischievous and silly. I love that idea, and it’s a great way to get backers to open up their copies of the game and hold the components in their hands, building excitement. They can then take photos or videos (I think the kids these days use Vine? Maybe?) with those components in a fun way as you suggest and post them on Facebook, Twitter, BGG, Pinterest, or YouTube. Encourage unboxing videos. You could do this just for fun or make a contest out of it. Again, this is a way to get the game in the public eye.
- Send to Reviewers: You should absolutely send copies of your game to reviewers. Even if they don’t like the game (though you might want to start off by targeting reviewers who you think will enjoy the game), they’re drawing in hundreds or even thousands of people, many of whom may have never heard of the game. As much as it might sting, pay attention to the comments and engage in them selectively (don’t get defensive or interrupt a discussion that is already flowing well).
- Send Out Press Releases: Press releases don’t have the impact they once had, but particularly in the board game community, there are lots of blogs that have weekly news sections. Be a part of that news by telling the press when your new game is on the market. This can lead to interviews and perhaps a designer diary on BGG–basically, you’re doing the same kind of press tour you did during your Kickstarter campaign.
- Advertise: If you’re doing your job with backer updates, your backers know when the game is being released. So at best, a few thousand people are aware of the release of the game. What about the other 10s of millions of gamers around the world? Banner advertising isn’t a sure thing, but it’s worth considering on BGG when your game comes out.
The combination of all of these factors should result in the appearance of popularity, which will hopefully lead to actual popularity.
Have you seen some Kickstarter projects release with a boom using these methods or others?