Kickstarter Lesson #172: Should Your First Project Be Epic or Humble?

14 January 2016

A few days ago I received a great question in my inbox from a new game designer interested in self-publishing: “Would you advise going for an easier project seeing as its our first Kickstarter, or going for the big one?”

As I usually do when I got a private question, I looked at my Kickstarter Lessons list to see if I had already answered it. This is a topic I cover in my crowdfunding book (Chapter 8: Go Small to Win Big), but as I discovered, I haven’t written about it here.

The situation is this: Say you have a few different product ideas you want to launch on Kickstarter, ideally things that will someday grow into a full-fledged business. One of those products is small. It involves few components, it doesn’t cost much, and you only need to raise a few thousand dollars to make and ship it. This type of product would result in a humble crowdfunding campaign.

The other product is much bigger. It has a lot of components, it costs a lot, and you need to raise a significant amount of money to make and ship it. This type of product would require an epic crowdfunding campaign.

Which do you choose?

Here are some things to consider for both, followed by my recommendation:

  • A humble product is easier to make in almost every way–art, graphic design, manufacturing, etc. There is a learning curve for product design, and it’s a much shorter curve for a humble product. An epic product, on the other hand, has a greater chance of having some kind of issue or delay.
  • An epic product typically has a greater chance of capturing peoples’ hearts, imaginations, and wallets. Think of a Kickstarter campaign for a new type of shampoo vs. a robot who shampoos your hair for you. One is simply more exciting than the other. In that way, while a humble project may have a better shot at reaching its funding goal, an epic project has a much higher chance of vastly exceeding the goal.
  • A humble product, however, has a lower barrier to entry for the backer. The cost is much lower, as is the risk proposition. It’s easy to be confident in a creator who is making something small rather than something big and complex.
  • An epic project can better align your fledgling company for future success, though it comes with a higher risk/reward proposition.
  • A humble campaign is a better teaching tool for a new creator. It’s like learning to swim with an instructor once a week for a summer in a private pool versus being thrown off a boat into churning, shark-infested waters.
  • An epic campaign is more likely to attract media attention than a humble campaign, though the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both. You may have found your answer in that list. If not, here’s my overall recommendation to new creators: Choose the product that will sustain your interest, excitement, and passion for the next 1-2 years.

The common denominator for all of these factors is YOU. You have to want this product to exist more than anything in the world. You have to stay up late for it and wake up early for it. You have to let total strangers critique it in an effort to make it better. You will sacrifice time, money, family, other hobbies, and more to make it possible.

So choose the product that you’re not just excited about today, but that you’ve been excited about for a long time and will continue to be excited about for many months to come. If you reflect on that, I think you’ll find your answer.

I’d love to hear in the comments from creators who started out with humble or epic campaigns, why they made that choice, and how it impacted them in the short and long run.

Also read: How to Run a Humble Crowdfunding Campaign (by Michael Iachini)

43 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #172: Should Your First Project Be Epic or Humble?

  1. Humble. We are finding that with our first Kickstarter campaign for
    Get Adler! Deduction Card Game. I think if you are successful it will give
    more credibility for your next KS. And your blogs have been a great
    help in that regard – to have a first successful campaign! Thanks!

  2. From a software startup perspective, I think a small campaign is a better choice for a first-time creator. You need get a minimum viable product out there, learn quickly, and adjust course accordingly. Like Jamey said, a humble campaign is a good teaching tool, and a massive campaign can be more difficult to execute.

  3. Jamey,

    Great advice! Your response clearly falls into the “teach a man to fish” camp by not giving him the answer (the fish), but giving him the tools and perspective to make the decision right for him. The “learning by doing” is one to which I can attest and honestly, by having an Unsuccessful Kickstarter the first time, allowed me the room to grow, develop, and learn…none of that would have happened if I had succeeded in the beginning…or at least to the same magnitude.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  4. I agree with Sheldon because I would argue that no first time designer is ready to have an epic campaign as their first experience as a self publisher. I think it has a much bigger chance of putting that designer in a bad situation. I think you have to have the passion and patience to run and complete that humble campaign as part of the process of leading to that epic campaign. If you can’t do that then I feel you don’t understand the hard work that goes into being a self publisher. Just my opinion but I do believe everyone should attempt to achieve their goals.

  5. You all make good points. But one thing I wanted to avoid here was the assumption that a humble project creator will necessarily do their research and preparation any better than an epic project creator. The same goes with budgeting–any type of project creator can budget correctly or incorrectly. However, as you note (as as I note in point 4), the risk/reward proposition is higher with an epic project.

  6. Jaime, what an excellent post! Mike and I both have talked about this many times over the last 2 1/2 years. So here we are about to launch a project we are both very passionate about. Again as I have said in the past, thanks so much for your guidance, support and inspiration. It is invaluable my friend.

  7. Jamey, if Mike and I had read this post before beginning our current project, I am quite certain we would have still continued along the same path. It has become such a labor of love. I am not sure if project creators actually come to a conscience decision of big or small. I know in our situation, it was a matter of deciding on what we wanted our project to be and then took off running. By the way, I am sorry about the spelling of your name in the previous post. I really do know how to spell your name. :-)

  8. Hi, Jamey

    This Lesson came just in time for me and my team. We are actually going more towards the Epic scale for our first campaign (to launch in March! though nothing like a $100K funding goal); admittedly, we were sucked into the idea of easily earning tens of thousands of dollars to bring our project to production. However, since we’ve decided to take this leap, we’ve found out just how many more factors there really are to address behind the scenes.

    That being said, I predict that regardless of the size of the campaign, being engaged with the community, both on and off Kickstarter, will help to solidify success. It may be possible to fund $5,000 easily but without the full experience of having to respond to an indeterminate number of backers with a larger one, I feel a humble campaign may not yield the same stresses that can happen with an epic. I have to admit, the humbler approach will get someone through the entire process, from running to fulfillment.

    Would you consider Viticulture a humble or epic first project? It definitely seems to have elements of both.

    I do not regret one second the decision we’ve made and am quivering with excitement just talking about it here. Thank you as always for sharing your thoughts and cannot wait for Scythe!
    Ben

  9. Stan: No problem about the name. :) I’m glad it’s been a labor of love for you and Mike! I think that’s a great motivating factor–if you choose a project you truly love, it’s worth all that extra effort and expense.

  10. The answer: “PASSIONATE!”

    If your Passion Project is Humble, then Humble!
    If your Passion Project is Epic, then Epic!

    …but if your Passion Project is Epic, and you try to force some humble one just to get experience and gain a following, then you’re lying to yourself, to your backers, and then when crap gets hard… you – are – going – to – burn – out!

    You need passion to get through this, cause it’s not easy.

  11. So yeah, in short: I agree with Jamey 100% here. Trust us on this one. “You gotta want this product to exist more than anything in the world.”

  12. Ben: Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you’ve done your research and thought through the pros and cons, which is great.

    I’d classify a humble campaign as any campaign seeking $10,000 or less, so the origianl Viticulture campaign ($25,000 goal) wouldn’t be humble.

  13. Well, it may not be the best move, but we went with Epic for our first project, and it has certainly cost us in terms of both timeline and finances. However, as Jaime noted, I’m passionate about the project existing in the world precisely because it is epic. What I’ve learned is that no KS project is easy, even a humble one. And I don’t believe a KS can be truly successful if you aren’t passionate about it. So if the only to get that passion is to create an epic game, then your stuck with a longer timeline and greater financial investment…hopefully with a greater reward. Like so many things in life, you tend to get out of things what you put into them!

  14. I’ve been debating this monthly, I decided to push back my project and keep refining it. I know its slightly different than board games as a self made object hoping to use kickstarter for some newer equipment, get some exposure with reviewers, and then hopefully build by business with that momentum.

    I’m budgeting for the next step up, building in some buffer room, and hoping to hover about 12k for a funding goal, In terms of options I think the project will be epic, and I’ll have put in the time to have the end products 90% there before launch.

    My end goal is to still get the project out there, and its already beyond a humble project with one or two products, but I feel it is neither in the epic proportions, but somewhere in between that is hopefully manageable.

  15. Good advice, as usual, Jamey. Thanks. As for myself, so far I have tended to stick to humble projects, if for no other reason than I have an extremely humble budget, so I don’t very much funding at all to invest up front, which seems necessary to really develop epic-level prototypes and early marketing materials. In fact, I’d argue that my SECOND project is even more humble than my first, owing to the learning curve and struggles I experienced on that first outing. So this time I scaled it back even more so that I could really perfect each step, building my business by degrees at a pace that’s appropriate for me. :)

  16. Wow..this one really speaks to me! I was aiming to go humble and learn the ropes, but I’m not passionate about the project. My epic game that I’m in love with could make a big splash if I do everything right. Thanks for help deciding, Jamey!

  17. Great post as usual Jamey.
    I ended up aiming halfway in between! There’s always a scale of epicness to go for. I also checked out Michael’s post that you reference, and it’s really good. There are some real tricks in creating a successful humble campaign, but more risk in creating an epic one. Lessons…endless lessons!

  18. I am just reading up on all your KS lessons, Jamey, and for this one in have to say I am going for the epic style KS. If I had read these lessons nearly 3 years ago when I started my project I would have changed my mind and gone humble. I do not regret my decision for the epic. If my game is successful it will have other humble games related to that universe.anyway. My passion was for the epic in the beginning and I will follow through, especially after all the money and time I have put into it.

  19. Lots of valuable insights in this post! We’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought lately. The game we are developing could have very different price points depending on the components we choose for it, i.e.: cardboard tiles vs. cards. Since the game itself is quite simple and this will be our first campaign, we are leaning more toward a humble one.

    I recently listened to Richard Bliss’s podcast about running a KS using The Game Crafter and I’m thinking this could be a real possibility for a campaign aiming to raise a few thousand dollars to produce 100-200 games. I still need to research this more and look for examples of other campaigns that have done this.

  20. ~ Maggie,

    I’m currently working, as a developer, with designer Kris Kycia, on his card game Tradewars: Homeworld (if you want to check out the art, he has many pieces posted on his Facebook page and over at the Board Game Designers’ Forum (BGDF). He’s used the Game Crafter for the prototypes (and they’re quite nice), and may consider using them for the full-blown sets after his Kickstarter later this year.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  21. Invaluable blog post again Jamey, thanks for that.

    If I think about it, a lot of designers leaning towards epic campaigns, because its in correspondence with present era. Its too many games out there and every day bring new batch of it, that humble project can be even harder to lead to its successful ending, because of its lack of visibility and attention of everyone.

    I can consider our project as epic one with your measures, but on the other hand, we develop PC game, that needs whole different level of budget to finish and in compare to other awesome indie video games I can suggest, that humble project could be up to 50.000€, because real epic video game project can easily cost millions.

    But yes to get that much money as first time ks creator is like challenge NASA to build a Deathstar :D:D Good point is, that after reading your lessons, I decided to postpone our ks campaign by several months to polish the game more, engage and build up community more etc…..

    More I read and learn of you, more I know, that I knew nothing before and was utterly naive, like that common hype around indie game industry these days says “ks gives you easy bucks for your dreams”.

    After year of working out of my passion and love on our project, I must admit, we are not prepared yet, to have chance with that much of fascinating campaigns all around us. Yes we can hopefully depend on sheer luck, but that’s not responsible way that I not recommend to anyone. So be prepared 5x more than needed before your launch :)

    Good luck to all crazy developers who loves gaming :)

    1. Elothia: Thanks for your comment. It’s hard to admit that you’re not ready yet, and I admire you for recognizing that and taking the time to get it right. I wish you the best when you’re ready to launch!

  22. I’m gearing up to run a humble campaign to fund a novel I wrote. At most it’ll be $3,000, maybe less.

    My biggest worry is coming up with reward levels. Novels don’t lend themselves to things like special artwork or premium game bits.

    1. Michael: May I suggest that you look through Kickstarter to see what other novels have used as reward levels? I think you’ll see a lot of creativity there. Keep in mind that novelists with big fanbases may be able to do some things you can’t (like mark up the price of books or sell expensive signed copies/book readings), but perhaps you’ll still get some ideas from them.

      1. I have been, and you are right about the fan base. Also books that aren’t number one in the series can use previous books as rewards. As neither applies to me, and it’s not a graphic novel with all the fun pictures, I’m still in research mode.

  23. There are some fair points here from commentors like Elothia that there is some danger that humble projects may be overlooked now due to the huge press and truly epic size that some of the bigger games are getting.

    That said, I still think that the learning opportunities afforded by a humble project make it the way to go to start out. I’ll be going humble in 2017 in order to maximize my ability to really impress the backers that I do get. If you stumble on an epic project, it’s so much easier to tarnish your brand.

    Plus, from a personal level, I think that most folks would get a big moral boost from seeing any project, even a small one, through to fruition and then use that drive to power through larger projects.

  24. Great suggestion Jamey; I’m reading your book and the humble crowdfunding campaign really popped up. I’m working on a board game and thought of running a humble campaign to test the game and get feedback. What do you think about running a humble campaign, with the backers getting the chance of playing the game and give feedback, with the reward of discounted or free copy of the board when it is released?

  25. Behnam: Thanks for your question (and for reading my book!) I’ve seen one other project try to do that, and what they found was that people don’t want to pay to test an unfinished game. Some people are happy to get involved by playtesting it, but at worst they should do that for free and at best you should compensate them with a copy of the game or with direct payment. While you could essentially do that with a discounted or free copy of the game later, Kickstarter’s rules prohibit future discounts and coupons.

    My suggestion would be to either do what John Wrot did and run a campaign focused on raising money for the art, offering rewards related to the art (and offer a free PnP for people to playtest the game) OR just using other methods of finding and engaging playtesters without a humble campaign (that’s how most people do it).

    1. very good points Jamey, appreciate it. The game does not have much of art, but I was thinking of developing a simple app to enable playing and testing the board game and giving feedback. Such an app I can run a humble campaign for in Kickstarter, I guess, right?

        1. I’m thinking of a web page or a html-based mobile app that can enable people to play the game, and give feedback. I will be able to get more metrics from a digital game than a hard copy. Also, with such a digital system, I may be able to play with them over Skype and observe them in action, if they want to.
          Definitely, if I can give people a copy of the board game to play with, it will be better and more fun, but creating copies of the game and sending them to people in different countries will be expensive as well.

      1. Behnam: As Sheldon eludes to, your first step is actually make this thing (in some form). I didn’t realize you hadn’t made any version of it yet, but that’s definitely your first step. You can worry about Kickstarter later–for now you gotta make something and see how it works. :)

        1. Jamey: I think the discussion is becoming a bit confusing. I have made the board game and have tested it in a small scale. I want a way to test it in a bigger audience, with more people playing it and giving feedback before I launch it. And I was thinking of using a crowd funding campaign to do so, if possible.

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