Kickstarter Lesson #163: The Power of Certainty

13 September 2015

Last week I had a date at a restaurant in a busy neighborhood a few miles from where I live. As I turned into the neighborhood, I checked the clock in my car–I was on time, but not early. I prefer to be early for dates.

I idled past the restaurant, looking for a place to park. At dinnertime in this area, it’s very busy–there were no parking spaces in sight.

That is, until I saw the paid parking lot. $2/hour for the first 5 hours. Not bad. I almost pulled into the lot…before deciding at the last second to keep driving and find free street parking.

I had a moment of introspection as I drove on. You see, I almost always find street parking. I only choose paid lots if I have no other choice. Valet? No way.

Yet a part of me really did consider the paid parking before my date. So I asked myself, “Why would you consider doing something completely out of character and paying for parking? And in general, why do people pay for parking when there could be a free parking space close by?”

My first thought was just that I’m really cheap. But I quickly shot that down. I’m frugal, but I spend money on plenty of much more frivolous things.

The answer hit me as I walking to the restaurant (this was around the time that I got a text from my date saying that she was running a few minutes late): Certainty. If I pulled into that paid lot, there is a 100% chance that I will have a parking spot. Not only that, but I’m certain that the parking spot will be close to the restaurant.

Conversely, there’s a lot of uncertainty if I keep driving in search of street parking. It’s a big question mark. I could be driving around the block in circles for 10-15 minutes. The spot I eventually find may be really far away. Or it may not. I really have no idea.

This is a very long introduction to my main point: Certainty is very powerful. I think it has a strong impact on crowdfunding backers, especially given that we creators put projects on Kickstarter many months before backers get any tangible benefit. There’s a lot of uncertainty there?

So how do creators create certainty in an uncertain environment? How do we make sure that potential backers don’t keep driving by our paid parking lots? I’ll give a few examples.

  1. Predefined costs (reward and shipping). I ran a poll a while ago to see what backers thought about paying shipping costs via a pledge manager after a project ends instead of during the project, as it’s only then that you can calculate the exact cost of shipping based on the final weight of the product (assuming you have stretch goals that add weight. 65% of respondents said that they did NOT like the idea. A number of people commented that they worried about being surprised by over-the-top shipping fees. So I recommend that creators always have backers pay shipping fees on Kickstarter, even if it means overestimating on weight a little bit.
  2. Unbiased third-party reviews. One of the big questions I ask when I’m looking at a project is, “Will I like this product?” It’s really tough to tell. This is where unbiased third-party pre-production reviewers can provide amazing insights for backers. They can never provide 100% certainty that you’ll like the thing they like, but they can usually give you a pretty good idea.
  3. Examples of art and graphic design. Just yesterday someone asked me about this after I spoke on a panel at a local game festival (Pixelpop). They asked how much art they needed before launching their project. My answer for first-time creators who ask this is: At the very least, have a few marquee examples of art and graphic design that convey the look, feeling, and creative direction of the game. That’s almost always enough for backers to know for sure–no uncertainty–if they’re going to like the look of the final product.
  4. Money-back guarantee. What’s more certain than a money-back guarantee? Okay, it’s not 100% certain–some backers might doubt that a creator will follow through on that promise. But it’s pretty close to removing all uncertainty for a potential backer. If they’re on the fence about a pledge, knowing for sure that they can return the product within a month of receiving it for a full pledge refund is a big deal. Stonemaier even pays for return shipping. So far, out of 21,000 rewards shipped, we’ve only had 7 backers return their products for a refund. I say this not to brag, but rather to assure other creators that the risk of returns is quite small.
  5. Creator history and track record. At first glance, this may seem like something that’s out of your control. You can’t help if you’re a first-time creator, right? That’s true. But you do have the power to choose your first project. Perhaps consider starting with a small, humble project, enabling you to create a respectful track record before you launch your white whale project.

Those are just a few ways to help creators establish certainty in an uncertain environment like Kickstarter. If you can think of some other examples, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

19 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #163: The Power of Certainty

  1. I tried to leave a comment from my phone, but got a message that the request timed out. Sorry if it ends up double posting.

    Numbers 2 and 5 are key points for me. I tend to be very frugal with my gaming budget, and never buy a game without researching it first. I spend a while reading reviews, watching gameplay videos, and if at all possible, playing it several times first. Obviously with KS games that’s not always possible, so in those cases I rely heavily on the creator’s track record. I know they’re the minority, but I’ve read too many horror stories about creators disappearing with KS funds, or delivering shoddy work to back a project I’m unsure about.

    One thing I really admire about Stonemaier games is that you consistently run fantastic campaigns. I will be backing Scythe one day one, and have no doubts or reservations about what sort of product I will end up with.

    On a related note about number 5, I had been wanting to ask you if I could post a review of Scythe on BGG, based on the third wave of playtesting. I know there were some caveats about what could be put online, so I thought I should ask permission first.

    1. Sorry about the timeout! I’m trying to figure out why that happens (I’ve talked to GoDaddy about it), so if you want to let me know any information about the original post, that would be helpful.

      Thanks for sharing the things you value when looking for that element of certainty in campaigns. I think the cases of creators disappearing with funds are extremely rare, but I hear your concern (and I appreciate your trust in Stonemaier).

      Absolutely, Scythe is open forum for reviews from those in Wave 3. Just make sure to be clear that your review is based on playtesting a prototype. :)

  2. Number 5 is exactly why we decided to do Stones of Fate before Campaign Trail. Now that we are on the cusp of launching Campaign Trail (Wed, September 16) I can say that I am so glad we did that. I feel like I know so much more this time around and having this large of a project is hard enough. I think it would have been next to impossible if it were our first.

  3. A side note for #2: When they play a prototype, ie Rhado, I find that much more helpful because I can better estimate if I will like the game, not just what their thoughts were on the game. For some reason I also find their opinion more trustworthy having seen them play it then just a short review or a quote, which could be akin to the quote on a book from another author that leaves you still a bit unsure what they really think about the whole product. I hope I expressed that right.

  4. Let me add.

    6. Professional look of the campaign.
    (Those who take time to make a high-end page and video more likely will follow the same approach while finalizing, printing and shipping the game).

    7. The game is tested.
    (It’s a problem of many kickstarted board games that they are very raw. So if the game was heavily tested, it’s nice to tell about it.)

    8. Adequate additional purchases available.
    (If these are t-shirts and that’s all, I doubt if want to back this campaign. If I see fantastic paid addons, I start to believe that these guys are really obsessed with their game and will try to do their best. The one who is going to shit the project rarely will invest time in cool things.)

    9. Previous successes.
    (It’s obvious. As well that is does not work for the first project. I’ll add that sometimes I look in the comments section of the previous projects. I check updates. This way once I gave up backing the project XX Part 2, as comments from XX Part I showed that the game is not delivered yet, it is late on schedule, communication is bad and backers tend to think that XX Part 2 is just a way to gain additional funds for printing XX Part I.)

    10. Creator’s face in the video.
    (It’s easier to believe a real human being, than to believe Photoshop and Premiere).

    11. BGG page is OK.
    (I think that many potential backers check BGG page. If they see something weird, it does not improve their desire to support the game.)

    12. Communication.
    (In general, nothing new here. Communication in comments and on BGG shows, if one can trust the creator.)

    1. Denis: Thanks for these other examples of how to create certainty! I thought about mentioning #12 as well–when you see a creator participating in comments and updating on regular basis during the project, it creates more certainty that they’ll continue to be responsive after the campaign ends.

  5. Jamey ~ As always a great post!

    I’m particularly enamored with #s 2 and 5, as not only did that serve me well in my projects, but has been the main points I’ve made to those seeking assistance with their own projects. Once a month or so, I’ll peruse the nearly 500 offerings under the Games section of Kickstarter, knowing full-well that about half won’t succeed due to planning-related issues and another 30%-35% will make just enough funding to make the project viable. I’m fascinated in that 15%-20% that have it all together.

    With regard to #2 regarding artwork, I would suggest that anyone who wants to see the power of a little bit of art, coupled with feedback from the Backers (to whom every creator owes a debt of thanks!), look no further than Randy Rathert’s “The King’s Abbey” which had fine artwork, but Anna took it to the next level in the re-launch, following a solid campaign by Randy. Additionally, look to Mike and Stan Strickland’s “TAU CETI’ in the months ahead for their key pieces of art.

    Possessing a history and track record speaks volumes…especially the less than desirable “0 Backed; First Created” ~ not that it signals a death knell for the project, but I would offer, proceed with caution. I approached my projects, given the initial pieces and the Stretch Goals akin to the way I grew a small enterprise back in Philadelphia as a boy. I didn’t try to mow every lawn in the neighborhood…I guess I understood at a young age the idea of “scaling” a project. Start small, make a great impression, and scale-up as time and resources permit.

    Cheers,
    Joe
    P.S. Hope you had a great date!

    1. Joe: Thanks for your comment and those great examples! I really like the Tau Ceti example–Mike and Stan are doing a great job of revamping the art and involving backers in the process.

      I debated putting the “number of projects backed” concept in the list, though I couldn’t make a direct connection to certainty. It adds trust, though!

  6. Another aspect is just time, convenience, and mental well-being. My time is worth more than spending amount of effort trying to get the absolute best deal or saving a couple dollars.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about finding a good deal on things I’m spending money on, but there’s a point of diminishing returns that we don’t always recognize in our culture. Frequently folks are more exited about the deal they got then what they actually bought in the first place.

    Here’s my thought process. Is 15 extra minutes and no stress worth $2? Knowing I won’t be late and I won’t have to rush to get there on foot (or subsequently find my car later) from some unknown location, not stressing the entire trek to the restaurant or starting the dinner off in the wrong state of mind, AND I get to spend 15 extra minutes with my friend/family/client. NOW is it worth $2, $5, how about $10? Ab-so-lutely.

    Time is finite. You can’t make more of it. You can always make more money. You won’t ever get those 15 minutes back.

    1. Adam: That’s a great point. I considered convenience as the answer to my parking question, and I think it does play a huge role. But it’s dependent on the certainty. Or maybe the other way around. :) Either way, I agree–convenience plays a big part for me.

  7. Jamey, I had never looked at certainty that way but you make some excellent points. Specifically number 3 and 5 in your list above certainly applied to us when we were launching our first project. In fact those two things shaped which project we wanted to start off with as a company.

    As far as artwork goes we had quite a few games that we really liked but without the available funds to devote to a sufficient amount of artwork we felt it would’ve been a disservice to the games to move forward with them.

    For number 5, it is not only important for backers but the project creators as well. For first time project creators I highly recommend starting off with a smaller project. Even with all of the resources from you and others, there is a huge amount of uncertainty running your first campaign. Starting small not only builds your backers confidence in you but builds your own confidence and experience.

    As Denis mentioned above I think communication is also another must have and going a step further, honest/open communication. Circling back to your date analogy, there are a lot of things that can go wrong at a restaurant that I am willing to brush off as a fluke if the communication from the staff is great.

    Gary Mosman

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