Kickstarter Lesson #161: The Power of Public Progress

31 August 2015 | 35 Comments

Recently I’ve become a huge fan of author Brandon Sanderson.

First I got hooked on his “superhero” trilogy called The Reckoners. Then I discovered his Mistborn series, which is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read–it’s the kind of book I can’t wait to finish, but I also dread the day I read the last page because I’ll want more.

But the reason I’m writing about Sanderson today isn’t the content or quality of his books–rather, it’s how he communicates to his readers the status of in-progress works and how it applies to crowdfunders.

Most authors work in a vacuum. Readers have no idea about how much they’ve written or where they are in the revision process. Usually all we get for our favorite authors is a blog entry telling us the release date. (I’m the same as everyone else–that’s exactly what I did for my upcoming book, A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide).

Sanderson does it differently. This is what the top of his website looks like:


The highlight is at the bottom right of the image. It’s here that Sanderson tells his fans the exact status of his works-in-progress.

This is an incredibly powerful tool. The status bars offer reassurance through precision that everything is moving forward.

Imagine if every project creator added a status bar to their main project image as soon as the project ended. You can now edit the project image on Kickstarter whenever you want, so you could update it every week or every time you post an update. Backers wouldn’t have to week through updates to see where the project is–they’d see it as soon as they arrived at the page.

So as a little experiment, I’ve added a status bar to the main project image for both of my in-progress projects, Between Two Cities and the new treasure chests. I’m not a graphic designer, so they’re not the prettiest progress bars ever, but I think they convey the necessary information:

Main image status 66

I based the percentages on a somewhat standard post-Kickstarter schedule for a tabletop game:

  • final proofreading/graphic design (30 days)
  • digital pre-production (30 days)
  • non-printed component production (30 days)
  • printed components/assembly (30 days)
  • freight shipping (30 days)
  • reward fulfillment (30 days)

Each of those amounts to 17%, unless my math is way off.

I’m curious to see how backers respond to this, if they notice it at all (though it’s pretty hard to miss at the top of the project page). I’m also going to try to create something similar for our other products.

What do you think? Is Sanderson onto something that’s helpful for creators and backers?

Also see how Roxley Games shows progress on Santorini, like on this project update. Very nice!

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35 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #161: The Power of Public Progress

  1. I’d love to pretend that I’m so creative, but I borrowed the idea from a creator who’s far more talented than I am (and his version is prettier):

    I notice that when you go to a finished campaign it defaults to “updates” so keeping an updated version at the top of the campaign page will only be seen by the people who actively click over to it. If you start an update with a graphic the “updates” page only shows the text that immediately follows the graphic not the graphic itself. So it seems that the project image is the only image that a new visitor will see without more clicking (unless you’re doing ASCII art) I can see why a way of doing it in the campaign image appeals, though I think it’d have needed more forethought.

    Perhaps a campaign image could be designed with a box with space for text. At launch it could read “day one project” during the campaign you could switch it over to show review text or talk about recently unlocked stretch goals and then at the end it could say something like “Most recently completed task: New corridor art (see updates for details)” and you could flick it over to new text every time you changed something. With the right layout and a file on layers you could do it yourself without having to call up your graphic designer each time.

    I’m not sure how easily such a thing could be worked into an image without detracting though. I might ask Matt when he’s designing the image for the next campaign.

    1. Thanks for that example, Greg! That’s really cool. And I like the idea of also putting the status image at the top of every update, as well as the idea about the main project image with a built-in status bar. If Matt figures it out, let me know!

  2. With my projects I add a workometer that shows all of the jobs that I need to do or need to have done to reach the next major milestone (at the minute starting production) and every two weeks post an updated version and talk about what’s progressed and what’s not. I’ve had really positive feedback from this approach so far:

    I’d shy away from % for fear of giving an impression that “% complete” is indicative of time. I think it’d be frustrating for something to hit 10% in a week and then not be done after ten weeks, but with “one box equals one task” it’s understandable because an update can say “That box represents an artistic change and the artist has quit so we’re on hold until we find a new one” or whatever else the specific problem is.

    Once something is out of my hands personally – generally after passing things to the manufacturer fine grained feedback is more of an outright lie. It’s hard to give a detailed account of how much they’ve done, at that point I prefer to pass along their estimated time to delivery and then update backers about our communications if that looks like it’ll slip.

    I do love the idea of putting it front and centre though, as I say I’ve had good feedback from putting it into updates, but I think having one on the front page of the project is a great idea since it gives a single URL people can check and non-backers are more likely to see the updates about how well things are going.

    1. That’s awesome, Greg! I really like that visual. You might have the visuals and creativity I don’t have to figure out a way to incorporate something into a main project image–let me know if you do! :)

  3. Similarly, but very different, is something I’ve seen on some pre-release (and early access) video games which in addition to ‘in the latest update we added x, y and z’ will sometimes provide a ‘roadmap’ of features they’re planning on adding, in some cases tracking how much of those features they’ve already added. Which combined with weekly or fortnightly updates practically turns the Change Log a progress bar.

    These are definitely a great concept, but it’s currently unclear if you’re 66% through freight shipping, 66% through the project from start to finish, or 66% towards the next milestone (backer fulfillment?) from your previous milestone. Looking at the site you’re basing these on… I think that your innovations that, while providing more data, make them less clear on what, exactly, they’re representing.

    If you want a more detailed version for your KS project page images, maybe go the Installation Manager route, to use a metaphor, of having a bar with the progress of the current task and a statement of what that task is (as present on the Brandon Sanderson page), and a separate bar with the overall progress of the project (containing the estimated completion time), with just the Current Task for an overall summary on the, maybe linking to a fuller breakdown of them – Either the same as the current task/overall progress bars that I suggested replacing the current layout for the KS images, or going into even further detail with a list of each task in the project, along with progress, along with an overall completion bar for the entire project.

    The concept is a great one, and I found it quite useful at the bottom of the newsletter, but… The implementation needs improvement, and the implementation you’re trying to improve upon, while having less features, I find more useful as a user. Hopefully you’ll be able to figure out a way, of providing the more complete information while maintaining the easy to read nature of what you’re basing this on, because the idea is great and I do think it’s something that will be useful for both KS backers wondering how you’re progressing after the project, and people in general who heard that you were, e.g., making a Euphoria expansion and are wondering how that’s coming along, and… If you can figure out a way of keeping the easy to read nature of the originals, and provide the extra information you seem to be trying to provide in your version, I think it will be the perfect tool for that.

    Good luck with this – I want to emphasize that conceptually this is brilliant, and the increased information you seem to be trying to bring into it would be useful to have if you can do it without making it trickier to read, but as a communication aide, if you get idiots like me asking “Is that percentage for that specific task, or the overall project?” it’s probably best to rethink the design of it, and possibly reduce the information you’re giving in that specific communication aide to disambiguate. Communication aides, such as this, shouldn’t produce questions about how to read them.

  4. I think progress bars are great for a Kickstarter. I think they would be even better if you put a widget on your website that did similar to Sanderson’s. It lists the ongoing (announced) projects with progress on each. That way, fans can visit the site and know when to expect the next Stonemaier game.

    P.S. As others have mentioned, Stormlight is very good. Better story than Mistborn, though I think I like Mistborn magic better. Alloy of Law is the red-headed 4th book in the Mistborn trilogy, set in a wild west sort of setting, centuries after the first trilogy. The new trilogy continues that story with the first book coming this fall.

      1. Shadows of Self, followed by Bands of Mourning. They should both be out late this year or early next.

        I recommend reading Alloy of Law first, since the characters are carried over to the new trilogy, but I think there are three books still to come in that time period, and Alloy of Law is considered stand-alone.

        And for fun, I think his original plan was to eventually write a third trilogy set on Scandrial that would be 1980’s level technology, space travel, etc. Though I think it’s still up in the air.

  5. Point blank: the status bars are awesome! Once again, Jamey, you are raising the bar for how a small company communicates and builds relationships with its constituents. Well done!

  6. The Mistborn books are awesome – I’m looking forward to reading the sequel trilogy when it’s done too!

    One thing to consider with your percentage-done bar is the colouring. You’ve got red at the “good” end, where red is generally considered a negative/warning/danger colour (at least in western countries), while green would imply “everything is going great!”
    I’d consider swapping them, or even getting rid of the red entirely, and going from yellow through to release-green.

    Or even just go an “empty” bar, and fill it with green to show how much is done.

  7. yes, there may be a minor difference, but when i get an “Kickstarter update” email and i click on the header of the update or “comment on kickstarter” button i am directly jumping to the beginning of the update (i.e.:

    So for me it is faster to see it in the update than on the picture, that i would have to scroll up to again. For me (personal) i find it better to implement it in the text i am reading anyways. But there may be others just directly going to the page and see the picture.

  8. There are a few kickstarters already using this type of information communication. The best and most detailed i have seen is already “quite old” (started Dec. 14) – Steampunk Rally:

    One of the newer, lighter approaches on this is done i.e. at the Dale of Merchants campaign:

    i really like this info panels, at least if they are getting updated at least once a month. Else they are “useless”. :)

    There were some video games too, that had such info graphics – for example starbound had a very detailed pixel map that was fun to use. But that was a video game where people like to play around. Board games only need an info graphic.

    1. That’s great! Thanks for the examples. However, they’re not what I’m describing. I’m describing a status bar built into the project image so someone doesn’t even have to open an update to see the status of the project. I think all of those examples you gave are great implementations of similar ideas, though–I always love to hear about creators who keep their backers well informed.

    1. Steven: I’ve tried to get into the first Wheel of Time book, but for some reason it didn’t capture me. Perhaps I’ll return to it someday.

      I will say that the best fantasy trilogy I’ve ever read is Acacia by David Anthony Durham, and recently another series called The Emperor’s Blades made it into my top 5. It’s excellent.

      1. Cool, I’ll have to check out Acacia. Jordan’s not for everyone, but that’s where I learned about Sanderson – he was the author selected to finish the series after Jordan passed. The Emperor’s Blades was good too, though I haven’t gotten to the second book just yet.

        I’d also recommend Patrick Rothfuss or Susanna Clarke. And, if you’re looking for something a little more modern, check out Jim Butcher.


  9. I love Brandon Sanderson’s work and I’ve always appreciated his status bars. I think it’s a great idea to bring into your company. For Brandon, it helps to build hype for a product long before it’s ever available. This does fly in the face of some publisher’s preference to keep things hushed until and official announcement.

  10. Another interesting idea. I’m sure a progress bar on the intangibles of a game would be fantastic, i.e the art work is now 49% done. But I would be weary that a progress bar on something like shipping could cause frustration “shipping should take 3 weeks and it’s week 3 and that progress bar still hasn’t moved.” It will most assuredly add some excitement and hopefully drive traffic to the site. I know I will keep checking back to see where the bar is today. I am excited and hopeful to see this turn into another great tool.

    1. Tory: That’s a good point–progress is good as long as you keep making progress. :) My hope is that the visual I used will convey the idea that I’ll update it once a month, not daily or weekly.

  11. I’ve seen other creators do similar things. One campaign listed every step to delivery and gave updates every week for which items had been completed (or in progress). I like these measures of progress a lot!

  12. My wife and I love the writings of Brandon Sanderson!! We started on the ‘Evil Librarian’ series a few years ago and my wife is currently on the ‘Reckoners’ series. (And she liked mistoborn…but I’ve never read that one) I like the progress bar. Are there any media tools out there so you don’t have to manually update the graphic…just the numbers?

  13. I enjoy Sanderson’s work greatly, and I like seeing how he’s progressing on his books. I think that the progress bar might be part of his motivation for writing, and he wants to get the stories out. I love the Cosmere and enjoy the Reckoners greatly. I’m not sure how helpful the bar will be on your projects, but it’s welcome.

    An unrelated matter that will be affecting him and a few other authors is the boycott of Tor that some folks have undertaken. This was begun in response to some comments made by Tor editors in professional context, in a public forum, insulting fans and writers with politics different than their own. Not just saying it’s bad taste, but calling people neo-nazis and some of Tor’s own authors “bad to reprehensible”.

    This has nothing to do with Brandon, he’s a class act, but unfortunately he may have his sales hit by this on cosmere books. I personally hope he pulls out and takes his stories to Baen. Baen’s lead editor doesn’t care at all about an authors politics, only if the books are good and if they sell; Baen has authors all over the political spectrum, and sometimes they work together.

    Sorry for the rant, Jamie. You’ve made great efforts to affirm your backers and other customers, and that is a lesson of itself: insult your audiences enough, and they will leave.

  14. You should definitely read Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. The opening would hook you and never let you go until you finish the book. He’s so good at describing elaborate fight scenes in the most concise way.

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