Kickstarter Lesson #174: Creating a Spectacle

8 February 2016

Imagine a game that’s 80% skill and 20% luck. It requires some long-term strategy as well as short-term tactics. Each player has a limited budget to spend on their units.

This game is actually a series of games that ends in an annual single-elimination tournament. The final game of that tournament is so well known that the publisher doesn’t even have to advertise it–rather, other companies sponsor the game to get better exposure, and it receives an incredible amount of press coverage.

Most people who watch the game don’t even play it, and some of them aren’t interested in the game itself. They watch it because they feel like everyone else is watching it. They watch it for the sheer spectacle of it.

I’m talking about the Super Bowl, of course.

In terms of sheer spectacle, few events compare to the Super Bowl. The NFL does such a good job of creating this spectacle that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a glorified board game.

What does this have to do with Kickstarter? Well, I think we creators can learn about the idea of spectacle from the Super Bowl. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Build up excitement in advance. Imagine if the NFL didn’t tell anyone the date of the Super Bowl until the minute it started. There would be no spectacle, no groups of friends huddled around the TV. The same applies to a Kickstarter project. It shouldn’t be a surprise to people. Talk about the campaign on social media well in advance so people can prepare for it and get excited about it.
  2. Keep it short. Imagine if the Super Bowl lasted 40 days. You might tune in near the beginning and near the end, but again, the spectacle would be gone. It wouldn’t have a sense of urgency or relevance. In terms of Kickstarter, you have a much better chance of a campaign feeling like a spectacle if you keep it short. My typical recommendation is 35 days for a first-time campaign, 25 days for a repeat creator, and around 15 days for a well-established creator.
  3. Add live commentary. NFL announcers do an excellent job at maintaining excitement for the game during the game. They tell stories about the players, they give us insights about strategies, and they create a welcoming environment for people who don’t know much about football. When your Kickstarter project is live, you inhabit this role in the comments, project updates, and social media. The key word here is live. By being present in real time, you’re inviting people to participate in the spectacle.
  4. Keep the press informed. Media outlets cover the Super Bowl because they want a piece of the audience pie. For your Kickstarter campaign, you have the opportunity to give media in your field something interesting to talk about. If they do, give them the exposure they seek by linking to them on your project page or project updates.
  5. Emphasize your brand. The NFL runs ads for the NFL during the Super Bowl. Weird, right? They’re not trying to get more people to watch the game, because those ads will only be seen by people who are already watching the game. Then I realized that the NFL is reinforcing its brand image to its biggest audience of the year. A Kickstarter campaign is no different. This is the best possible time for you to let people know what you and your company are all about. For example, if you reply to private messages in a timely manner, that creates a positive image of they type of customer service you provide in general.
  6. Implement amazing art direction. The Super Bowl is an exceedingly well choreographed event. Imagine what it would feel like to watch if there was just one camera anchored in place at midfield. It would have a huge impact on your experience as a viewer. The same applies to the art direction on a Kickstarter page. It’s easy to get drawn into a project with beautiful art and graphic design. We’re human–we love shiny things.

What was the last Kickstarter campaign that felt like a spectacle to you, and why did it feel that way?

13 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #174: Creating a Spectacle

  1. Admittedly, I’ll leave you out of the equation, Jamey, as you’ve perfected this notion.

    The last time I backed a game which felt like a spectacle was Randy Rathert’s “The King’s Abbey”

    First, you had a great community of Backers who were engaged on the Comments, along with Randy, himself, an ordained minister, involved in the dialogue. Who better to discuss the creation of a medieval abbey than someone who actually studied the history of that era! This is not dissimilar from those who are sportscasters…former NFL players.

    Second, the art was evolving based on the input from the audience…it’s as if we were allowed to “call plays onto the field” using your NFL metaphor. This was great for us, as we regularly received updates which included the new art. Anna, the artist, was lovely with her time and attention, engaging us at every opportunity, as well…she wasn’t just behind the scenes, but an active member.

    Third, as the components were enhanced, we again had a chance to get involved…when Randy had considered using orange for a new set of player pieces the hue and cry from the Backers was ecstatic as we spoke endlessly of the “Orange Brotherhood” (remember, we’re talking about monks!) ~ seriously check out the Comments.

    From beginning to end, this was a glorious spectacle…and what made it particularly exciting was that his first attempt didn’t fund, which meant that Backers returned because they had faith in the creator (no spiritual pun here at all, really) much like my brother still cheers for the Redskins…anyway, yes, even board game designers/KS creators have much to learn from a glorified sporting event.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  2. I love the point on self-promotion DURING the event. I never quite understood it until I realized that people are much more likely to be there than be watching at any other point in the year. Getting your word out to the fringe that’s just there to “see what’s going on over there” is a great idea.

  3. Dragon Keeper was a very recent Kickstarter that had some really amazing and attractive art and graphics on their Kickstarter page. After checking the pledge level I think I backed their game in about 60 seconds.

  4. Great article as usual Jamey! Advertising your brand to people who are backing you, so they really come to connect with you and become repeat backers…now that is a good idea!

    My choice for “spectacle” project was yours – Scythe. I could feel the momentum from the moment you started posting up the pics about it. And I couldn’t wait to find out more about it. I predicted $1m for you, but you smashed it out the park. No idea how you kept up with all the messages and updates and comments…jeez!!

  5. @Kenneth American football as board game is essentially the reason that my fiance introduced me to the sport, actually…

    @Jamey I’d dispute that the Superbowl doesn’t already last 40 days in relative terms – the only slower paced sports than American Football I can think of with decent followings are Baseball and Cricket (5. Day. Test Matches. Even Snooker takes less time for a world final than that, and that’s played Best of… IIRC 39, might be 37.)

  6. Stephen: That’s true, it is a long game (I think it lasted about 4 hours this year). Baseball is a great example of the opposite–with a 7-game World Series, it doesn’t get close to the ratings that the Super Bowl does.

  7. @Jamey It’s not so much the length, even, that bothers Brits watching it, as the fact it’s a 60 minute game crammed into that three to four hour period, compared to e.g. association football’s 90 minute game* packed in just shy of two hours.

    …Apparently the Germans (I think, this is third hand via my fiance and he’s not in at the moment) have embraced such, with one coach on a German American Football team saying that he thinks fans don’t appreciate his no huddle offense, since it means there’s less musical interludes (…Apparently going to an American Football game in Germany is a bit like going to a nightclub where an American Football game breaks out).

    *Actually it’s estimated that if the game were played on a 60 minute clock, stopping the clock when it went out of bounds, during natural stoppages in the game, rather than the referee adding time for excess stoppages e.g. for injuries at their discretion, it would still last that little shy of two hours, so maybe that’s ‘a sixty minute game spread over two hours’ rather than a ninety minute one.

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