Kickstarter Lesson #137: Should Repeat Creators Include a Reward Tier Specifically for Previous Backers?

9 February 2015 | 40 Comments

Back in the spring of ’13, when I was young, virile, and naive, I was busy preparing the Kickstarter project page for Euphoria. Overcome with gratitude for the 942 backers of Viticulture who made it possible for me to even consider another project, I tried to figure out a way to structure the Euphoria rewards to thank the old backers and welcome new backers.

I tried a few different options before I got some great advice from Michael Mindes of TMG. He pointed out that I had already rewarded the Viticulture backers by sending them Viticulture and by communicating with them throughout the production process. Now it was time to create something new, and those previous backers could decide if they wanted to return for a new reward.

Is that the only way to reward previous backers on new project? Not at all. It’s the path I’ve chosen to take, but I’ve seen other project creators try different methods. Brian Henk, for example, is a creator I really respect, and he created a $13 special reward tier on the Good Cop Bad Cop expansion project (compared to $15 for other backers).

Brian is currently a few weeks into the project, and I asked him to share some insights about that decision. I’ll give Brian the floor for a minute, then I’ll wrap up with my conclusion.

***

Conversion

We opened up the returning backer levels ($2 discount) in the Bombers and Traitors campaign to anyone who backed our previous two campaigns at a level that would get them a physical copy of Good Cop Bad Cop, either through the campaign or through BackerKit. This came out to 527 potential return backers.

We are about halfway through the campaign now and 120 people have backed at one of those levels, which means 22.8% of potential return backers jumped into this campaign early. I expect quite a few more to back at that level during the final 48 hours, but we shall see.

Verification

We had to verify that each person who backed at that level qualified for it. This meant auditing every account at that level, checking to see if they backed a previous campaign and if they backed at a high enough level.

The first step in the audit was to look on Kickstarter and compile a list of accounts that failed that audit. The second step was to take that list over to BackerKit to see if they added on a copy after the campaign through our pledge manager. If an account failed that audit, the third step was to look through emails to see if we could find a special circumstance where we might consider them “close enough” to being a return backer.

This audit process was time-consuming, but it was acceptable considering our relatively small, simple campaigns. It would be trickier if we had not used a pledge manager for New Salem because it becomes less clear which add-ons were selected through the KS pledge management functionality.

Compliance

Halfway through the campaign, our audits identified about a dozen returning backers who did not appear to qualify. This could have been an accident, poor communication on our part, someone using a different KS account, or because someone just wanted to try to get away with grabbing a discount.

We felt a little bit like we worked at a department store and the security system started beeping as a customer exited. How do you resolve the situation without losing a customer? We considered letting it slide but decided that it wouldn’t be fair to all of our other backers if we did that, so we contacted everyone with a very non-accusatory message and it has worked very well.

Would we do it again?

In building a business around Kickstarter, scalability is incredibly important. These returning backer levels require some overheard work that does not scale very well at all. They also create some difficult conversations with backers who do not qualify but feel like they should that we would rather avoid. The conversion rate from previous campaigns to this one is about what I expected without a returning backer level, so I’m skeptical about how many backers were influenced by it.

As much as we love rewarding someone for being loyal to Overworld Games, I do not anticipate we will have returning backer levels for future campaigns unless we come up with a better way to track it. Maybe your readers have some ideas for tracking compliance.

***

While I admire Brian for trying to reward previous backers, his data solidified my thinking that a project creator should not implement a reward specifically for those backers.

The key for me is this: If you’ve treated backers well on previous projects and delivered something awesome, that is the reward. When you’ve established that trust, any backers who are interested in the new project don’t need an extra incentive.

So what you’re left with are downsides: Special reward tiers for previous backers can take up a lot of time and/or can be less welcoming to new backers.

That said, there isn’t a strict right or wrong answer here. What do you think? Have you seen repeat creators reward previous backers in interesting ways?

40 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #137: Should Repeat Creators Include a Reward Tier Specifically for Previous Backers?

  1. The other way to look at this is clearly you have repeat backers BECAUSE of how you ran you previous project(s). Following projects from yourself, Artipia Games, Mantic and others clearly people will continue to back because of your reputation, not because of a special repeat backer bonus. CoolMiniOrNot is one to have alientated a number of their customers rather than keep them. Palladium have done themselves out of favour with many with Robotech Tactics as well.

    If a project NEEDS a special discount to obtain repeat backers then likely your new project isn’t enticing to begin with. If you HAVE to make special discounts to get backers maybe it’s time to Cancel the project and start again with a new project design.

  2. Oh, I disagree, Jamey. I think there is a right and wrong here, and it goes beyond the feasibility of pulling it off. People really don’t want to feel like they’re being taken advantage of, certainly I don’t like that feeling. And seeing the same product available for less than you’re being asked to pay, I think, invites that feeling. We’re not getting a better product for the extra money, no early delivery or extra bits, we’re merely being asked to pay more than someone else is asked to pay for the exact same item. I think that feels a little insulting, no matter whether it’s due to early bird pricing or repeat customer discounts. Of course I realize it’s not intended to be insulting, because those reward methods exist to generate early interest in a project or encourage repeat purchases. And in Brian’s case, the price difference is minimal. But it still feels a bit unfair, and I would encourage project creators not to take this route.

    Indie Boards & Cards had a slightly different take on this when they launched Dragon Slayer just after the Coup expansion. If you backed the first project, you could get the second at a discount because they would combine shipping. Logistically that made sense and felt fair. And, as with Brian’s project, the full purchase price was already low and the difference was small enough to not be off-putting.

    I don’t know how many would agree with me, so it’ll be interesting to follow the comments here. But of course if everyone thought like me, CMON wouldn’t sell a billion copies of Zombicide at $10 above their early bird pricing every year.

    1. Ray: I agree that it isn’t the most inviting thing to new backers to see different rewards priced in that way. As you noted, I don’t think that was Brian’s intention at all, but perhaps it had that effect on some people.

      That’s a good example about combined shipping (though from my experience, combined shipping doesn’t save much money–it’s a slim margin).

      1. Shadows Over Normandie is another example here. They had a 25 pound level for Heroes of Normandie backers that gave them access to the stretch goals for the new project without having to “buy” all the Shadows Over Normandie core box again.

        The thing to note here is it’s not giving anyone anything special though and they’re still contributing financially to the expansion project.

    2. Very interesting. I suppose it’s all about perspective. Since $15 was the lowest we could reasonably charge for the game and have an obtainable funding goal, we looked at it as rewarding previous backers by giving them a discount and risking taking a loss on the copies we send to them. But if someone is not a return backer, they may see the value of the product at $13 while they are paying a price that is higher than this perceived value.

  3. Jamey,

    It worked exceptionally well for my campaign, Cthulhu’s Eldritch Knowledge, where one quarter of my Backers were former Backers from my earlier Kickstarter. For $25, they had access to my Curiosittie Shoppe, and they received 10% off of the “Pledge” required of the new Backers. I had folks from Pittsburgh, PA to Perth, Australia return to Crafthulhu.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. From a backer’s point of view it can be disappointing when you have to pay than somebody else simply because you didn’t participate in their previous game or core box. While you may wish to provide an extra incentive for previous backers don’t underestimate how potential new backers feel like they’re being shafted – whether or not it’s a minor difference.

      The other question is do you have information that those repeat backers did so BECAUSE of the lower pledge level, or that you lost a number of new pledgers who felt they were paying more to subsidise your previous backers? On many projects 10% is a very significant difference too, especially taking many international exchange rates into account. Plus there’s the fact that a 10% discount eats up revenue when you’re already discounting your product as well.

      1. Mark: I wish I had that data. Now we have to accept that we accomplished the goal of rewarding our loyal customers, but it was at the expense of an unknown quantity of others.

      1. Jamey,

        Actually, no. I’ve kept in touch with a number of my Backers, and even visited a couple in Italy last year and got to play Arkham Horror with my pieces on their Gaming Table.

  4. Mark,

    One of the unfortunate realities of a Kickstarter is that you’re not going to please everyone ~ kinda like board games, really. To that end, I have to evaluate taking care of my previous Backers and not alienate them, at the same time reward those new Backers to my designs. It’s a delicate balance and honestly not one I spend a significant amount of time over-analyzing.

    You mention “the other question” but I only saw one question, regarding the repeat backers or loss of new pledges. I do know that a number of the previous Backers returned to capitalize on the fact that they could obtain pieces previously unaffordable or unavailable (as the KIckstarter Project had ended) to them. I can’t obviously speak to the second half of the question…I’m in law enforcement, so that’s tantamount to asking me how many crimes did I prevent because of some new security measure…I’ll never know.

    As to the 10% discount…yes, it’s a lot of money and cut deeply into profits. Admittedly, though, all of my Kickstarters, thus far, have been to give back to a broader community of gamers. Unlike professional publishers like Jamey, James Mathe, and others, I’m fortunate to pursue this as an extension of my creative outlets…not to rely on them for food, clothing, and shelter. Who knows…maybe a decade from now, I can dive deeper into the pool…for now, however, I’m happy to design and develop both our pieces and a number of games for designers around the world.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Thanks for the reply. Great to hear more about your experience as a project creator, and great that you’ve been able to absorb the 10% loss in those pledges.

      Also how you (any project creator) see things and how we as backers see things can get a bit muddled at times!

      On a related issue of favouring previous backers, I’ve also recently another project which has relaunched which has caused a bit of a spat due to the way the project is a relaunch yet backers of the original project had a stack of freebie cards new backers weren’t going to get – although later after many complaints the creator made them available for an extra $10, which people were fine with (the problem new backers had was not getting them at all). The biggest problem for the creator here was the negativity it was causing in the backer comments. I daresay though that this particular case is a bigger one than a small discount for previous backers, since it was actually content they are missing, where as a $10 discount isn’t really such a big deal.

      I think still the only risk is that with the discount new backers feel that you don’t think they’re worth the same as repeat backers. It’s a bit like certain projects where they’ve missed all the previous KS exclusives from a previous project so aren’t really interested if they can’t get them (a lot of KS backers are collectors). Artipia Games (and through Mage Company) have done this well, offering previous promos for their games or optional add-on games through each Kickstarter project. I think making promos that aren’t specifically exclusives is a great way to go.

      It would also be interesting to see where having a pledge level(s) for previous backers stops being economical or feasible to manage. For smaller backed projects (maybe <100 backers) it's more worthwhile than some like Mantic who may have 10,000 backers. For the smaller audiences and more narrow niches at may actually be more feasible to offer a special pledge level with a higher discount. I think the key here also is to make it a special price rather than offering special (exclusive) content that others won't get.

  5. I think it’s better to provide discounts for early backers, rather than only for previous backers. You can give your previous backers the heads-up and let them know when the project will be available, and I think there is distinct value there. But, as stated, it’s just too much work to try and carve out stuff just for previous backers.

    And I’m not really sure they want/need it anyway. If you really want to reward your backers, then give them something as part of your previous campaign. Then let them decide if they want to back your new project. I don’t always have all the money I want to back all the projects I want (a problem many backers have), so it’s more about rewarding loyalty than rewarding good behavior, if you get what I mean.

    Ultimately it’s the product that should speak for itself.

    1. Dave: Yeah, I tried not to mention early birds at all in this post, as I strongly believe that the entire Kickstarter project is the early bird. That’s a different debate that I’ve already talked about elsewhere on the blog. :)

      I like your point about rewarding your backers as part of the rewards they receive–take it one project at a time, basically.

      1. I generally agree with this. While it can entice people early on later people may feel a bit left out. It depends on the project and the early bird difference. If the pledge is say $100, offering $5 off isn’t going to offend anyway. If a pledge is $200 and you’re offering an Early Bird for $175 then THAT is a big difference. The trick is obviously working out where the line is depending on your pledge levels. I think Early Birds are fine when the difference is negligible.

        From what I’ve seen though (having backed over 170 projects, many for just a dollar, big pledges for some and everything in between), the bigger problem is giving certain backers exclusive content when others don’t have a chance to get it (either free or as an add-on).

        1. Jamey had a point on a FtD podcast about giving something tangible for early backers, instead of giving a discount. I had thought of giving a bookmark for early backers of my next project, or a sticker – something small but that you can actually hold in your hand.

          But it all just leaves a bad feeling in mouth. I know each backer has their own personal taste, but for me, I back a project when I like the creator or product, not because there’s a discount or something special for backing early. And I only had ~400 backers for my project, not the ~gazillion that Jamey has.

          I don’t think you, Jamey, should worry about early backing levels or rewarding customers at all. AT ALL. You already give so much for free with this blog, your products are A-class, and your work with Richard gives much back to the community.

          I think we overcomplicate the situation by trying to add flash where none is needed. Perhaps this is a natural progression as the industry tries to figure out how stuff works, but there is nothing you can do to replace a well-run project that delivers a great product, on time and with continual communication. Those are the factors that will get backers in early, not a $5 discount or a free bookmark.

          1. Dave: Well said! I completely agree, and I like the way you summed it up at the end: “I think we overcomplicate the situation by trying to add flash where none is needed.”

            I would definitely put Brian in the same category as a creator who has earned the trust of his backers by delivering a great product, communicating well, and running an engaging campaign. All of that adds up to more than enough to reward past backers to support his projects again.

    2. Dave: That’s a solid option. Give a discount to early backers and give previous backers a heads up about it. I think early birds are a useful weapon for newer publishers but do come with some of the negatives we’re seeing with return backer levels.

  6. Mark,

    I couldn’t agree more ~ volume matters! With a limited number of Backers, I’m able to engage with greater frequency and duration, via Skype and personal e-mail versus Updates to the broader community of Backers and non-Backers.

    You mentioned a relaunched project, which leads me to believe that the first one proved unsuccessful ~ in that case, I agree that it’s a bit disingenuous to offer something to only those that backed it previously…but not to full funding. For all of my Backers, however, I always offer a 5% discount for anything ordered in the future from our website.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. I’ve seen several relaunched projects which have supported previous backers. The last project in this situation though was unlike the previously cancelled or unsuccessful projects, the production company appeared to have stopped their work on the game and without being able to refund the project creators. So it was both a relaunch to fund the originally successful project and a new project at the same time, along with new stretch goals and freebies. The contention here was that while the previous backers weren’t able to get the product they backed without the new project, the new one is essentially the same project, and without it the previous backers wouldn’t get the product. So that is a really questionable one.

      I have also backed projects which only funded on their second or even third attempt, with a couple of them giving bonuses exclusively to those who backed their previous (failed) project. Again it does raise a point of contention with new backers because without them it wouldn’t be possible to fund the new project…

  7. I went and took a look at the KS project and thought about it from a non-previous backer’s perception. Based on the current success of the KS campaign, It’s obvious that providing the discount to previous backers works, but I’m not sure I would do this in my own KS campaign for the sole reason of possibly discouraging new backers from backing the project. Instead, one option I might consider doing is sending an email to all of my previous backers and let them know about the new KS campaign, and if they back the new project, a special ‘bonus’ reward (card/item/token/etc) would be included in their KS fulfillment package. Initially, this keeps the incentive between you and your repeat backers, yet new backers do not have to feel as if they are missing out on something. The incentive can also be sold as an add-on for new backers and even disclosed there as well that previous backers would receive the item with their rewards for free. Most times, I don’t look at the add-ons until after I receive my survey/pledge manager and then make my add-on decisions at that point.

    1. Mike: That’s an intriguing option as well. The only downside I see there is that non-previous backers may feel even worse if they find out this business was going on “behind their back” than they would have by knowingly missing out on a previous backer discount. These are the types of situations we try to avoid as much as possible in our campaigns.

      The more we talk about this, the more I like Jamey’s philosophy of treating the whole campaign experience as the reward. Creators can work to make each one as fun and exciting as possible and trust that it will be enough to keep people coming back for more.

      1. I agree with Brian’s comment. I wouldn’t want to have something that could be found to be a “secret deal” and result in new backers pulling out, possibly to the extent the project fails to fund.

  8. An alternate way to reward prior backers is give them a sneak-peak at the campaign before it goes live, as well as the opportunity to provide you with feedback that will help you tune your presentation.

    Improved campaign? Check.

    Better tuned to likely repeat customers? Check.

    Initial viral marketing push primed? Check.

    Instead of providing special reward levels only for prior backers, make sure there are open reward levels that prior backers consider special.

  9. I think it’s possible to reward prior backers without the logistical nightmare of having to manage a special reward tier then chase down people who picked the cheapest tier and weren’t prior backers. Much like they pointed out, I think on smaller projects it may be manageable, but holy cow what a pain it’d be on a large project.

  10. Not just Information — Inclusion. Another thing you can do is provide Recognition. One thing I did on my Blu-Ray project was have a list of all the backers on the disc; on the next project, I’ll do something similar, but specially mark the repeat backers. I also listed all the backers on the associated project wiki (https://www.animeigo.com/wiki/doku.php/crisis:ultimate_edition_staff) and got the major “crowdproduction” contributors IMDB listings.

    1. Robert: I agree that Recognition is a safe way to reward return backers. A lot of folks dislike when they miss out on a financial benefit (even a small amount) or a card/piece in a game, but I haven’t heard of anyone being upset by not having an opportunity to be recognized in some way.

  11. My “late to the party” two cents as a backer:
    I’m not one to generally get upset about missing out on discounts and such. However, my experience with the Bombers and Traitors campaign was unique: even though I knew exactly what was going on and why, I still had an emotional response.

    I saw the pledge levels for return backers. I asked if qualified for it as a New Salem backer and was told “No”. While it makes sense that Overworld would only reward backers of the original game, I was still offended. It bothered me enough that I still have not pledged for a continuation of one of the best games of 2014.

    I don’t say this to complain at Mr. Henk. Hopefully, it would help other project creators to see that even little things like this can offend otherwise reasonable people.

    1. Good hear another backer’s opinion. I’ve not followed this project or it’s relatives so I just had a look for the first time. Interesting that even a $2 difference creates this sort of reaction, which raises one of my concerns that some people may not care WHAT the price difference is, but just that they’re being alienated at all. To be honest I’m surprised given what you think of the product $2 means that much. If it was more than 10% I’d expect it. I think Derik’s case illustrates that every backer should be equally important to your (new) project.

      The essence is whether you really need the backer pledge and how it may affect your project (Derik and other not backing for example), along with the revenue lost from the revenue margin. I still think that if you have loyal followers and people love your project they’re going to back the expansion just because it is (an expansion), and you shouldn’t need to entice them; and from that I still think if you really NEED to entice them with special pledge levels maybe the project isn’t enticing enough in the first place.

      As a niche game the 12 Realms series also appears to be going quite well without special repeat incentives.

    2. Derik: Thanks a ton for chiming in here! This is exactly the kind of situation we want to avoid with our campaigns, but these levels made it difficult. If you were offended, you were probably not the only one, so we need to do something about it. I talked to Clayton about this today and we’re going to open up the previous backer level to our New Salem backers too.

      This may seem like a case of “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” but we realize we would have done this from the beginning if we could do it over again, so that’s why we believe it’s the right thing to do right now. Man, I wish more people would give us this kind of feedback when they feel get a strong positive or negative feeling about the things we do… that would remove a lot of the guess-work out of running a campaign. :)

      1. Indeed. There’s nothing like challenging questions or feedback to help a project creator out. Jamey, you should make a post about feedback. ie: Project creators want feedback. If you don’t like what they’re doing.. tell them!

  12. Well, you wouldn’t believe how many emails I got over the course of my project asking “is there still time to buy a set and get my name on the disc?” I literally ended up sending a final video file to the authoring house the day before we generated the final mastering files.

    Given that it can be a really good marketing tool for the after-campaign signup process, it makes sense to see if you can do it in a way that lets you lock it at late as possible.

  13. Just today I saw a cool new board game (Fijian Trader). It has some backers already, but the steep price difference for early bird backers (55$ instead of 65$ for the first 50 backers) made me stop looking at the rest of the game. At the moment there are only 28 pledges at the normal level after 2 days so I think I’m not the only one thinking that way.

  14. We, like your younger more virile self, really wanted to thank our The King’s Armory backers and encourage them to visit our new Halfsies Dice campaign. To that end, we added an “Early Birds” Tiers (something we controversially stand by), and promised the TKA folks that they’d be the first to know about the campaign. We launched, and one of the first orders of business was to send a TKA update inviting them to back, and letting them know of the Early Bird.

    Our logic being: Well, EBs are largely good for campaign starts anyway (so long as they don’t make other tiers totally lose all value), and we can have a thank you that doesn’t shun other new backers. They can enjoy it to. After day one, there’s still some left, and everyone gets a piece of the pie. With a few slices to spare.

  15. @Brian

    Maxwell from BackerKit here. We actually have a feature that makes it really easy to detect who is a repeat backers within projects that are in BackerKit. Even if you didn’t use BackerKit for those old projects, you can sync them and use this feature for new projects at no extra cost! Just shoot us an email and we can help!

  16. My intention with my next project is to launch an expansion for my previous game at the same time as the new one, this is so that I can save a bit on freight shipping since the expansion is small enough to just fill up spare room on the main game’s pallet. As such on the new project I’m going to put a tier for return backers that also includes the expansion at a reduced cost. Its pretty much useless to people who didn’t back the first project and means that those who have been loyal to us get something extra at a reduced cost.
    Curious what people think of that idea for returning backers?

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