Kickstarter Lesson #127: Give Each Backer a Voice

12 November 2014 | 14 Comments

Have you ever felt helpless at work because you didn’t feel like any of your ideas for making the organization better were heard? Or, even worse, that even if they were heard, no one with authority is ever going to act on them?

As Kickstarter creators, we have the power to listen to backers and selectively act on their suggestions, or we can cut off every idea they offer until the “community” dwindles to 1 or 2 comments a day.

This is something that’s on my mind every time I launch a Kickstarter campaign: How can I foster an environment where backers feel free to share their ideas despite the fact that I can only responsibly act on a slim percentage of those ideas?

I found my answer in an article on a Signal vs. Noise blog entry by Claire Lew. Claire lists three ways you can encourage people to speak up and share their ideas. She’s talking about employees, so I’ve translated these to Kickstarter.

  1. Recognize the messenger. Reply to every backer who posts a suggestion, and credit those whose suggestions you implement in project updates.
  2. Explain why you’re not doing something. Don’t just say “no, we can’t do that.” Explain why. Backers want to know what goes on behind the scenes. You can also use this method to ask a backer exactly how they think you could implement an idea (in explaining it, they’ll often see for themselves that it won’t work, and every now and then you’ll realize through the explanation that it actually can work).
  3. Act on something small. Find little ways to say yes, and backers will see that you’re genuinely interested in acting on some of their ideas. Also, sometimes you can turn it around and inspire the backers to act on their own ideas. For example, I had a backer suggest that we make custom avatars for each of the meeple types during the Tuscany campaign. I told him that it was a good idea, and I asked him to make the avatars. He did, and they were awesome.

I also think backer polls are a great way to show backers that you listen, but I focused on one-on-one interaction here, because that’s the core area to create an open environment for backer feedback.

Backers, what are some things you’ve seen creators do that make you feel comfortable sharing your ideas? Creators, how do you foster creative environments on your projects?

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14 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #127: Give Each Backer a Voice

  1. Geoffrey: Thanks for your questions! I have a few thoughts; take them with a grain of salt.

    First, you might ponder the question: What’s best for the game? Because, in the end, you’re trying to create an amazing, immersive experience for thousands of people, which far outweighs the 15 people who could name aspects of the game. So, in my mind, while I appreciate your creativity for creating a limited reward level, I would lean towards (c).

    However, if you definitely want to sell those naming rights, I would create a single pledge level for them (limit of 15 backers). As for pricing, you’ll probably get a lot of different answers from different people, but I would say $40-$50 at most.

    Yes, absolutely I’ve seen backers abuse this kind of privilege. It’s not like they go into it thinking, “I’m going to make a mockery of this!” But something happens when money is involved, something that’s hard to explain. Like, I had very specific instructions for custom art on Tuscany, but a few people just outright refused to follow the instructions. That puts you (the creator) in a tough situation, because in the backer’s mind, they’ve paid for something, so they deserve to get it, and they could make a pretty big fuss about it if they can’t get it. But you can’t remove their pledge.

    This is an extreme scenario, but imagine if one of the fifteen people says that they want to name a fictional city Boobville. You e-mail them and say that they haven’t followed your guidelines for naming, and you’d like them to choose another name. They respond to say that they’re sure you can make it work. You reply again to say that you really appreciate their generous pledge, but you need them to change it or you can’t use it. They reply and say that Boobville had important meaning to them because of a road trip they took with their father in the last year of his life, and they were really hoping to honor their father in the game, but you’re ruining it. You reply to say that you’re sorry about their late father, but having a city named Boobville in a Japanese-themed game just isn’t going to make sense. They reply in sheer anger and disgust that you’re not listening to them, and you get feeling that if you don’t acquiesce, they’re going to erupt in the comments of the main page. So you agree, and now you have a city called Boobville in your game.

    Read more about this here:

  2. Hey, Jamey! Wanted to get your input on this—as well as from anyone else who might read this. This seemed like the appropriate parent topic…

    We’ve got an upcoming KS game, and there are elements of the game that need names: fictional names of a fictional country and some of its fictional cities; perhaps a few fictional military military leaders. Not many: probably only about 15 names in total, not many more. So, three questions:

    1) What do you think is better: (a) creating a finite number of a certain pledge level awarding naming rights exclusive to those backers? Or (b) granting naming rights to the “top 15” highest backers? (c) something else?

    2) For a game with a retail of about $20, what do you think would be a reasonable price to pay over and above that for these naming rights?

    3) Have you ever seen or dealt with backers who really abuse this kind of privilege by offering really goofy or even offensive names? How do you cope with really undesirable submissions for customization?

    Thanks to anyone and everyone for thoughts on this!

  3. Jamey, I know you wanted to steer the scythe comments away from talking about stretch goals but this seemed an appropriate place to post this. So here it is:

    Have you ever considered the idea of backers being able to vote for stretch goals? It hit me when you said

    “it was odd to have such a big gap between the day 1 stretch goals and the day 2 goal, so I went ahead and unlocked several of the bigger stretch goals, including the one of the most expensive ones: dual-layered player mats with receded cutouts to hold tokens so they don’t slide around. ”

    This as a player is something I care very deeply about. The new 2 new objective cards?… not so much.

    The fact you are also using images for backers like first day, each of the factions, everything SG. could be an interesting way to combine the two.

    What if… you laid out a series of choices for the stretch goals? Say reveal 3 SGs at a time along with “voting images” to go with each one? e.g the red pigeon carrying envelop as the objective cards goal, the playerboard for the two layered board, the automata card back for the automata deck (just using examples of existing goals). Then have a border on the edge of the image. Red to indicate – I don’t care about the other stretch goals, Black to indicate – I prefer this goal over the others.

    Then as you go through the comments section day by day you can see what kinds of things your backers are into and what they aren’t.

    And if you wanted to get real technical with it.. you could check the traffic for each logo to see how vocal each community is.

    Oh and as far as your post about generating hype goes.. I disagree. If you put something like this in and it actually works, you could generate a LOT of hype and engagement by releasing new stretch goals every 1/2/5 days during the campaign. It’d give people things to talk about and give you valuable feedback as to what people want to see in the game.

  4. Sure thing Jamey.
    I wouldn’t imagine replaying literally to every single one in the situations you mentioned.
    Foremost, it would look like a machine answering the comments. After all we are humies.
    We are ‘lazy’, we dislike repetitiveness & with the amount of backers you experience it would be inevitable :)

  5. I think that every comment should be at least acknowledged. It makes you feel heard.
    Additionally, It lets a backer to get more involved in the project.

    Personally, I get more into a project if there is a conversation with the creator. It shows that they are involved in the project.

    @Tesh very good approach every one likes a prompt response and 24h just makes it considering one does need to sleep during a campaign :)

    All the Best & Thank you Jamey for the post.

    1. Konrad: Well said–it is ideal when a creator can reply to every comment. Though I’ve found that sometimes it’s almost too much. Like, there are moments in a project where a bunch of backers will post “congrats” after reaching a certain milestone, or maybe a few backers will get in a conversation between them. Usually when that happens, I’ll let them know that I’m there, or I’ll appreciate the “congrats” in bulk, but I don’t comment on every one, as it tends to look a little weird or interrupt the flow of conversation.

      But I agree with your overall point–if a comment should be acknowledged, I’m there to acknowledge or answer it, especially questions and ideas.

  6. I’ve tried to answer comments and questions within 24 hours, as respectfully and openly as possible. Some ideas people have are really great. Some we can’t do anything with, but I’m always as gracious as possible. It’s a simple thing, but I’ve seen that simple courtesy goes a long way. It’s a bit sad that it seems uncommon, but still, a little kindness goes a long way.

    1. Tesh: That’s a great point that I didn’t mention in the post: Prompt responsiveness is a great way to encourage backers to share their ideas. No one wants to post an idea and not hear anything for a week–that will shut down creative energy. Responding within 24 hours (or less) is great!

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