Kickstarter Lesson #145: Achievements vs. Stretch Goals

2 April 2015 | 41 Comments

Recently I’ve noticed a possible emerging crowdfund trend that intrigues me. I’ve only seen it on mega projects, but I see no reason why these method couldn’t be used by any creator.

The method in question is the use of achievement systems in addition to (or in place of) stretch goals. The two projects I’ve seen this on are Exploding Kittens and Con Man (thanks to Chris from TROBO for alerting me to the latter).

The way these achievements work is the creator presents a series of goals–many of them related to social media–and when a few of them have been met, the creator gives all backers something cool.

How the achievements on the Exploding Kittens campaign linked to stretch goals

It’s very similar to the typical stretch goal system, but the part about “when a few of them have been met” makes a big difference for projects that have fewer stretch goals (i.e., the product they launched with is already really nice). It gives backers the sense of progress by taking away the feeling of big gaps in funding between each goal.

It also allows for creators to offer lots of fun little things for backers to do. For example, on the Exploding Kittens campaign, one of the achievements was to post 25 selfies with goats. Selfies with goats does nothing to help with the economies of scale of making a card game–it wouldn’t work as a stretch goal that improves the product. But it’s fun, and the motivation of getting backers closer to a new item was enough to get them to do it.

Before I write more about this, here are some big screenshots of what the Exploding Kittens and Con Man achievement charts look like:



Here’s a summary of some types of achievements used (including some new ones) that are applicable to non-mega projects:

  • % of funding goal
  • $ total funding
  • # of backers
  • # of photos (silly or showing some element of the product)
  • # Twitter followers
  • # Facebook Likes
  • # YouTube subscribers
  • # e-newsletter subscribers
  • # of people who respond to a backer poll
  • for repeat creators, # of backers from your previous best project and $ funding from previous best project

Even as I’m writing this, I’m like, Why aren’t I using this system for my new treasure chest project? It fits the description of a project that could benefit achievements: It doesn’t have many stretch goals, and the stretch goals it has are spread out (every $25k). They’re also not particularly exciting–they just offer more resource tokens. An achievement system might inject some life into them.

Benefits of Achievements:

  • Build community
  • Make it about them–I like the “Look what you did!” banner at the top of the Exploding Kittens achievements
  • Spread the word about the project
  • Keep forward momentum despite limited stretch goals
  • Give backers various ways to participate without spending money
  • Have fun with backers
  • Easy to add new achievements


  • Fan saturation. Social media stretch goals dilute the audience who actually wants to stay in the loop
  • More art, more cost. Requires art (added expense) to be visually effective
  • Hard to find how to participate. For example, I see on the Con Man page that more Facebook Likes will help the project, but there’s no nearby link to Facebook
  • Hard to see progress. I see on Con Man that 50,000 Likes unlock a new achievement, but how many likes does it currently have? I think this could be solved by adding a “current number” tracker in each row of achievements that you update once a day
  • Potential for “dud” achievements. I’m kind of amazed that 25 people took goat selfies for Exploding Kittens. If people hadn’t taken those photos, that achievement would have looked a little sad sitting there (and it might make those who did take a goat selfie feel helpless that their efforts didn’t result in anything)

Should You Use Achievements, Stretch Goals, or Both?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer at this point, as this concept is still quite new. My early hunch is that you should choose an achievement system OR a stretch goal system, not both. Focus is good.

  • If you’re offering a really nice, “complete” product from Day 1 with limited possibilities for stretch goals, an achievement system might be the way to go.
  • If you’re offering a bare-bones product from day 1 with tons of little stretch goals, a traditional stretch goal system is probably best for you.


What do you think about achievements? Should I try it out on my upcoming treasure chest project?

Leave a Comment

41 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #145: Achievements vs. Stretch Goals

  1. Jason: I think getting people to interact with your game on BGG helps to move it towards the hotness or get the image on the front page, which can get other people to click on the game to learn more about it.

  2. Hi Jamey! I was wondering about achievements/social stretch goals tied to BGG. Do you know what getting more fans on BGG and/or more thumbs of a photo on BGG is intended to do? Is it more about building community on that page, or is it intended to drive the hotness rating, or is it for a different purpose? If it’s to try to drive the hotness rating, I assume that is just a temporary benefit then, but I wasn’t sure if that’s what people are trying to accomplish with achievements tied to BGG likes/thumbs. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

  3. Just found out that if you open a new Twitter account, your tweets won’t be searched — so they won’t be found on your #hashtags or @usernames. So, basically, if you make your backers use social media and they don’t use it, both of you may just be ****ed. And, by ****, I don’t mean “hate”. :P

  4. Turns out I just needed to see it in action to fully grok how it changed things.

    Seeing it in action, particularly the way you’re doing it in the New Treasure Chests kickstarter with the almost gamified ‘tokens’ idea, I’m wondering if/how it could tie in with your Backer Influenced Stretch Goals idea, of backers voting on what stretch goal to try and unlock next – We’re earning generic tokens for various things, some money related, others economies of scale related, and some marketting related (but in a fun way rather than a nagging way). Would the next level beyond what you’re doing with that, for a campaign without as linear a deliniation of stretch goals as ‘adds six tokens’ each time, be voting on how to spend the tokens we’re earning? With more difficult to fund goals costing 7 or so tokens, while adding a card being worth a single token? Obviously such a concept might require the achievements to be worth different amounts of tokens themselves, with perhaps money goals being worth more tokens than fun with picture goals, almost like the arcade ticket systems of old.

    The tl;dr version is that I’m wondering if this idea can be integrated with

    1. Stephen: That’s very clever. I really like the idea in theory; in reality I wonder how it would work out (it might be too complicated, and it’s heavily based on backer participation). Here’s one way:

      Each achievement is worth 1 token. There is a vote every 3 days based on the accumulation of tokens since the previous vote to decide what the tokens are spent for (or if they should be reserved for a future vote). Each stretch goal would have a certain number of tokens assigned to it. Near the end of the campaign there would be several polls for leftover tokens.

      Even in typing that, I see potential issues and frustrations (by backers). Honestly, I think the system would work best if each backer were awarded the tokens. Maybe they’re not even tied to stretch goals. When you back the project, you get 1 token for every $10 you pledge. You can then spend those tokens on stretch goals, with each new item or upgrade requiring a certain number of tokens to unlock (like, 100 tokens to add a new card). This would require a system integrated into the funding platform.

      Also, a separate note: In hindsight I wonder if it would have been interesting to make a few achievements dependent on time. Like, if we get 1,000 backers on day 1, that’s an achievement. Unlike time-based stretch goals, there’s no huge loss if those achievements aren’t reached in time, because there are plenty of other achievements to reach later.

  5. Achievements add a nice little Skinner box element to the campaign and IMHO give people more incentive to check back and keep up with progress. It’s easy to see when funding is approaching a certain level, but when will 25 goat selfies be posted? Check back often and see!

    And while it’s true that social media achievements dilute the pool of those already following for the sake of information, it also broadens your audience, or at least ‘potential’ audience for the future – not only of this project but of the next and so on.

    Thanks for the breakdown. As always Jamey, great info!

    1. Penny D: Well said! I like the Skinner box element. I have, however, made our achievement system without social media achievements, as I don’t want to dilute the people who subscribe to our content because they’re interested in the content with those who just want to complete an achievement.

  6. Thank you for the interesting article.

    When I saw the achievements on the Exploding kittens kickstarter, my first thought was that there was some pretty good marketing behind the campaign, because of the following reasons:

    Some of the achievements may have looked ‘just’ funny. But the goals couldn’t have been met if only those achievements had been fulfilled. There where also some serious goals. And unlike normal stretch goals, mostly just a pledge amount, they had imo a cleaver combination of pledge amount and nummer of backers. As a creator of a kickstarter you have an amount that you need to manufacture just one copy of your product. When the nummer of copies increases, the costs per copy lower and you have some ‘space’ to improve the product. But when there is just a percentage or amount stretch goal, you don’t actually know if there is pledged for enough copies to make this space because of the added shipping costs (true, an experienced kickstarter project leader will know the proportion of domestic, EU and Canadian backers an so on, but these rates can vary if the exchange rate changes.) With a number of backers achievement included, the math can be done much easier.

    Some of the other achievements, like the likes and shares, basicly just modify a ‘normal’ stretch goal. You don’t only get the amount needed if you combine such an achievement with a percentage or amount achievement, but you also get some airplay which might increases the number of backers even further. I don’t know if likes and shares pay off but I guess there will be some lists (x shares will get you y backers) to tell you their value.

    The ‘just funny’ achievements had to be met to get the upgrade. Even they can contribute to the project I believe. If chosen wishly, backers will feel like a part of the community and it will give them a good feeling, just because it’s fun, I think. And they will talk about your project enthusiastically. This way, even the funny achievements will gather some extra airplay. (F.i I really liked the between two anything photo’s and definitely talked about it with some collegues and gaming friends).

    The hardst part I think is to come up with the right funny achievements. They must be linked somehow to the project and appeal to your audience. And for that, you have to know your audience. I think that’s the biggest risk when using achievements.

    Thanks again for the interesting article.

    Sorry for my English. I’m pretty far from native.. ;-)

    1. Dirk: Thanks for sharing your detailed thoughts! Lots of great stuff here.

      What I’ve ended up doing for the new treasure chest campaign is to feature a majority of achievements that directly relate to the economies of scale you mention here. A few of them are about backer participation (there’s one tied to a poll and another related to some fun photos), but because they don’t directly relate to producing the product, I’ve kept them to a minimum.

  7. Hi.
    The achievements showed in the examples present some sort of merging of a campaign and a game progress that you often see particularly in ‘every’ steam game.
    This similarity is only positive as it gives a backer, as you mentioned in the article, a sense of progress even if the numbers on the campaign are not changing.

    I do not think that achievements have to unlock anything in form of an additional content. They should be used more as an integral part of the campaign indicating its progress. This way giving a backer the reason to be proud of as it is thanks to their support that the project is going forward.

    Thank you Jamey for the great article. All the Best :)

    1. Konrad: That’s a really interesting concept that achievements may not always need to tie to a specific perk–sometimes it’s just a way to feel good about moving forward. I like that!

  8. Craig: Yeah, I agree about economies of scale. I think many of the achievements I’ll use will refer to funding just to make sure it works out in those regards. I created the chart earlier today to see how it looks on the project page, and I used that exact idea for the photos. :)

  9. I think you ought to try it because you’ll never know what it’s like until you try and given your expanding knowledge of Kickstarter, this is something you probably should find out. Another downside to the project creator is that the economies of scale that justify the cost of stretch goals may be given up if the participants focus on the “free” stretch goals, unless those convert into enough additional backers.

    If you go with goals using submitted pictures, I would love to see something like “Pictures of your group playing a game that could use these tokens”.

  10. Hate ’em. I think Achievements depends on your target audience. It’s pretty obvious that the Oatmeal audience would be into social media and goofy snapshots. But BoardGameGeek? I doubt it. You better take a poll on BoardGameGeek if they’ll go for this stuff. I doubt they’ll go for these gimmicks — quite a few already dislike Early Birds and Exclusives.

    1. That’s an interesting perspective–“hate” is a strong word. I don’t like early birds and exclusives because I don’t think they’re good for backers and customers. Achievements, on the other hand, could be good for backers and customers.

    2. Okay, if you don’t like the word, “hate”, how about the word, “won’t fund?” I’m less inclined to support KS projects which *force* me to promote them, which is ironic, since I’m one of the more active supporters of a project, which I support through forum posts. I’m still not seeing how Achievements are good for *your* target audience, since BGG’ers see KS as a pre-order service, not an interactive social media site. I think KS projects which have a “party” atmosphere, like potato salad and The Oatmeal, work fine with Achievements, but not boardgames which act like pre-orders..

      I do think a geeklist of photos backers take with Treasure Chest components would be an idea, since it more directly promotes the Treasure Chest and is tied to BGG, a site more appropriate to your target audience than Facebook or Twitter, which some BGG’s strongly dislike, even hate. Perhaps run it as a contest (although check with BGG) where posters with the best pictures get promotional Stonemaier Games stuff, free games, or whatnot.

  11. I’d be happier with them if they showed progress. The weird pics worked well for The Oatmeal because that’s their primary audience.

  12. i often thought about making a 2nd facebook account only for subscribing, liking and stuff. But that somehow feels wrong. Because i wouldnt have any friends on that account that would see my likings etc. it would just be there to follow, like etc. But that is not the way it is intended in ways of Social goals etc. but until now i have not started on that.

  13. I am on the bandwagon of being against “follow” or “like”. I make it a point of not “liking” anything or “following” anything to try to keep the algorithms that show me content clean.

    I do think a few of the silly ones like “Take a picture of X and post it” are cool, as that is just silly fun.

  14. Personally I would avoid a campaign that was exclusively based on these as I don’t use or like any form of social media and so I would feel I was not contributing to things. I have been involved in a couple of fundings that used this sort of thing but only for one special ‘social media’ stretch goal. They just added something not directly tied to the main funding goal as a thank you for the additional advertising, the ‘improvements’ in the product were cash related so I did not feel obliged to participate or guilty when I did not (one was for the Malifaux/Wyrd Games rpg and the reward was a special edition figure from their existing range, so related but not essential to the main goal – post funding this was a great example of how not to keep your funders engaged and on-side)

    1. Paul: Yeah, I understand that not everyone is on Twitter and Facebook. Achievement systems are strictly better than social media stretch goals in that way, as there are other ways for you to contribute to moving forward with those goals.

    2. ‘I don’t use or like any form of social media’

      Should be ‘I don’t like use or like MOST forms of social media’

  15. I always thought that Facebook likes and Twitter followers felt a little cheap. I understand that it spreads the word, but if I like a thing enough to like it on Facebook (or follow it on G+), I’ll do that on my own.

    I know I’ve seen Likes as an unlocking mechanism in previous campaigns. I thought it was Kaosball by CMON, but I just checked and only see new things unlocked by Passholders (backers at a certain level or above).

    I do think they feel less cheap (and actually substantial) as unlockable achievements when they’re mixed in with other achievements (like selfies with goats). At least it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to take a small monetary hit on a current campaign in order for more people to advertise to in future campaigns.

    1. Casey: Well said about the Likes and follows. It seems like it’s more organic and less focused on quantity when they’re fun things that can be shared on social media.

      I’ll round up some goats.

  16. This is a very interesting article, Jamey. As you mentioned, when I saw the “achievement system” on ConMan, I have to admit I was intimidated at the amount of work it would take (and frankly creativity) to make such an extensive list. But it was kinda brilliant.

    I also believe these worked because the products are wacky and fun. I’d be interested in seeing a product that is more serious pull it off. ie, if the product or service doesn’t have buzz, can it get off the ground with an upfront achievement system.

    With stuff like this, I’m just waiting for the new Marketing degree in Crowfunding to be available in universities.

    By the way, did you just coin new terms for the crowdfunding industry? :]

    1. Chris: Thanks again for sharing the Con Man achievement system with me! It’s interesting for me to see that the achievements they seem to be struggling with are the fun/silly ones–perhaps Exploding Kittens made it look too easy.

      A Marketing Degree in Crowdfunding sounds awesome! :)

  17. i didn’t back any of those two, but in my opinion it is a double edged sword. There are people sharing all the stuff and liking, tweeting etc. but there are people like me who don’t want to like and share everything on Facebook etc. Facebook is for me to stay with far to reach friends or check for boardgaming events around my home town etc. I just don’t like to share my page etc. and let others post advertisment on my wall etc. All this stuff is annoying.
    But i have to admit that you got me when you wanted the picture contest. And twitter is far more anonymous than facebook. So although i didn’t participate it was just because of time and not because i did not like it. So doing some fun stuff and see some fun stuff like pics of special things like the mentioned goats or your between two xx is a neat thing that could be done.
    But don’t do 2000 likes or shares etc. – i am totally against it although i see that it helps to get more coverage and outreach.
    i like the monetary strech goals tension at the end of every project – so these should stay. But there are voices that say a game should be complete and fun without any stretch goals. So as long as there are cosmetic changes like custom shapes of tokens etc i am fine with it. But cards should ALWAYS have linen finish. So when do you start to use linen finish jamey? Is it so much more expensive? I really love the feel of it. But that is another matter altogether.

    as always just my 2 cents

    1. Malte: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree about the Facebook Likes/shares–I think the reason I’ve stayed away from that for a while is that I only want someone to like our Facebook page if they actually want to follow the content, not because of some unrelated perk. Perhaps it is better to stick to the fun stuff (like sharing a specific type of fun photo) than to go for social media quantity.

      Linen finish is a great example. I no longer use that as a stretch goal because (unless the game isn’t right for it), I want it as part of the game from day one. It’s not that much more expensive.

  18. I think the social media ones can be dangerous if it’s purely count based. Someone “buying” followers/likes for you is a horrible thing (and it’s insanely cheap) because it can severely impact your ability to reach your actual customers when your account is flooded with worthless followers/likes. Shares and retweets are much safer, and just as easy to meter safely.

    1. Kicktraq: That’s an interesting point. I would hope that no one would buy followers or Likes to manipulate the system–I definitely don’t want purchased followers or Likes. It seems like Shares and Retweets can be hard to track, though. Is there a system for doing so?

      1. Shares on Facebook are tracked the same as likes. I don’t know exactly how it works if someone shares something that someone else shared though (like if it nests back or starts a new count). I don’t have as much experience with retweets though I would think it would be even more likely to miss out on retweets if people retweet an edited retweet. Goodness that is a hard sentence to understand.

        A side benefit is that I would much rather have a person share a post than like it. When someone shares something they are much more likely to actually write their own thought on the share. If I see a person Share something, I know that it is more important to them than if they Like it.

        1. This, exactly Graham. The sharing is the real power here. Enabling your backers to help you reach interested people is the best bang for your proverbial buck.

  19. So, how does this achievement system differ from the stretchgoal system you had on (Viticulture [Which tied some stretchgoals to spreading the word stuff] or the mini-game you slapped into Between Two Cities of photos of yourself or a meeple #betweentwo things with that hashtag?

    Either I’m misreading what this style of thing is, or you’re already doing it in small degrees.

  20. Sounds pretty neat. Like getting a punch card at a sub shop or something. When you get 10 punches, you get a free sandwich. Like you said, it also gives micro goals with a sense of accomplishment driving the project forward without having to come up with umpteen different improvements.

© 2020 Stonemaier Games