Kickstarter Lesson #175: Adding New Rewards During a Campaign

18 February 2016

2016-02-18_1337Today I have three stories about adding new reward levels to a project while the campaign is live. They’re cautionary tales; ideally, the reward levels are finalized before the project launches. But sometimes new opportunities arise or backer feedback results in a great new idea for a reward level. If that happens, consider the following.

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The Tale of Adding an Unlimited Reward Level Instead of Add-Ons

A few weeks into my Kickstarter campaign for Euphoria, some backers started asking if they could buy extra dice. A few days later, other backers began asking if they could purchase alternate-art recruit cards (we already had the art).

I wasn’t prepared for either of these requests. I hadn’t heard from any preview-page proofreaders that some backers would want those things. I didn’t want to complicate my fulfillment system with add-ons. And I had carefully calibrated and budgeted the reward levels for months leading up to launch, so I was hesitant to change something so significant mid-stream.

After considering my options, talking to my manufacturer, and sending out a survey to backers to see if we had enough interest to justify printing the cards, I announced that I would be adding a new pledge level at $59 that included the $49 version of the game plus a set of extra dice and alternate-art recruit cards.

I waited with bated breath to see how backers responded to the new reward level. There was a legitimate risk to this decision: My manufacturer’s minimum for any printed component is 1000 units, so simply by adding the new level, we were committed to making 1000 supreme boxes and 1000 sets of alternate-art recruit cards (even if only a few backers supported that level!).

I was also risking human error while adding the new reward level. I spend months carefully crafting the wording of pledge levels before the campaign begins, and I was trying to add a new level on the fly during the project. As soon as 1 person backs a level, you can’t change or remove it. (This was in 2013, before Kickstarter allowed creators to choose different shipping costs for every country, which adds a huge opportunity for human error.)

Fortunately, by the time the project ended, 1,794 backers had either pledged or upgraded their pledge to the $59 level. It all worked out.

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The Tale of Adding Limited Reward Levels

Recently, one of the creators of Ghostel (Gino Brancazio), asked me a question about adding limited reward levels in the comments of my KS lesson about reward levels. Ghostel has a few custom-art reward levels, and Gino had realized during the project that he had room to add more. What’s the best way to do that?

I actually had something similar to this happen with my original Viticulture campaign and Euphoria. It’s tricky, but fortunately you have a few options:

  1. Add new rewards slots to the existing limited pledge level. This is the one way you can edit a reward level (specifically a limited reward level) during a campaign. The upside to that is you don’t clutter your reward sidebar. The downside is that it may be a turnoff to the first backers who felt super special to get in on those rewards, and now they might feel incrementally less special. I recommend sending a group message through Kickstarter to the original backers at that level before adding new slots to let them know how much you appreciate them.
  2. Add a new pledge level at the same price. This has the same downside as the first option, as well as the downsides as the first tale (human error). Also, for this and the other options, there’s an issue of timing. If backers are really eager to get the new reward level, only the lucky few who happen to be awake and online when you release it will be able to get it. Also, adding new reward levels can clutter your reward sidebar, confusing new backers.
  3. Add a new pledge level at a higher price. This addresses the issue of respecting the original backers at the limited pledge level (though it retains the other downsides from #2). However, it might feel like an early bird reward to people who discovered it “late”–now they have to pay more than the backers at the original level even though they’re a backer like everyone else.

Of those three options, my recommendation is#1: Offer the same reward at the same price, ideally by adding more slots to the existing reward level so you don’t clutter and confuse the reward sidebar.

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2016-02-18_1438The Tale of Adding More Early Bird Reward Levels

Isaac Childress (Forge War, Gloomhaven) knows I’m a huge fan, so hopefully he won’t mind me using his project as an example. Also, I should mention that I’m heavily biased against early bird rewards, both subjectively and objectively.

When Isaac launched Forge War on Kickstarter in June 2014, the project featured an early bird reward level ($54 instead of the regular price of $59) that would remain open until the project successfully funded. Isaac didn’t know, though, that prominent board game reviewer Rahdo would call Forge War “Easily the best game of the year” in his pre-production review. The number of backers skyrocketed, and the project reached its goal on day 2.

That’s when Isaac released the following update: “The problem is that I don’t feel that the majority of the board gaming community has even had a chance to know about the game yet. And if they have, they may not have had time to make an informed decision….” He goes on to say that he wanted to give “potential backers a full 4 days to discover the project, see if they like it and back it.”

So he created a new early bird level for the next few days, which ended up attracting another 369 backers.

I talked to Isaac about this decision in an interview with him around that time. My perspective is this: If decide you must have an early-bird reward level, at the very least, respect the artificial scarcity you’ve created. Don’t add more.

Adding more early bird slots will make the original early bird backers feel marginally less special, decrease the sense of urgency from new backers (who might think you’ll continue to add more slots at your whim), and reveals the truth behind the carefully constructed fantasy that you can only offer X number of backers the reward at Y price.

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There they are, three cautionary tales of adding new pledge levels to an active project. I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences about these situations, whether it’s from the perspective of a backer or a creator.

 

 

22 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #175: Adding New Rewards During a Campaign

  1. We literally just did this 2 days ago with Villages of Valeria – adding a new Deluxe level mid-campaign. Luckily, we did everything you said, Jamey – we listened to what backers were saying, posted about how this would HYPOTHETICALLY look like in an Update and kept an eye on comments, reached out to individual backers to get feedback, talked to the manufacturer, and made sure to double and triple check everything. Take a look at our kicktraq for the results. :D

  2. Isaias: Thanks so much for sharing! That’s an awesome example (and a great checklist of things to do), and the results speak for themselves: In the days preceding the change, you were averaging about $5k a day in funding (which is still great), but in the two days after the change, your daily average jumped up to over $12k!

  3. As a potential backer, I completely agree with the principles you outlined here. I find myself commonly scratching my head at games that have extensive lists of reward levels with tiny differences between them. The new Android app for Kickstarter defaults your view to the reward tiers by themselves, and being mostly mobile I get exposed to the side bars before I actually see the campaign description. Seeing a long list of complicated rewards makes me less likely to click through the 3 or so pages to get to the actual description.

  4. Personally I have mixed feeling about adding new rewards to a campaign. On the plus side it makes some backers feel great because their voices were heard, and they will have something that had been slightly customized to them. On the down side it can make you look flimsy, make previous backers feel less special (as you said), and complicates the production and fulfillment process.
    And I have personal conflict over whether a Kickstarter page should be a final product, like your game, or a living breathing thing that grows and changes, like social media. Is crowdfunding a form of social media? And therefore should aim to be flexible and let society mold it. Or is it a platform for pitching business plans and products to investors? And therefore should remain solid in it’s structure.

  5. Charles: Thanks for pointing out the way the reward levels are displayed on mobile devices–that makes a big difference these days!

    Betta: Those are interesting questions, and the answers might be different for everyone. For me, I always ask myself, “What’s best for my backers?” Sometimes that means accepting and implementing a backer-driven idea, and often it means rejecting backer ideas (as they would have a negative impact on production, fulfillment, etc).

  6. Thank you for the challenging post, Jamey.

    As a backer, I am not normally a fan of Early Birds, though one time I was prowling a campaign to get a gift for someone and when I saw a spot had opened up I felt rather triumphant jumping on it. Most of the time I am late to the game which is why this time was exceptionally satisfying.

    However, with my upcoming [first] campaign, I am going in with a mindset to not add any further rewards midway through; that may change but for right now I would feel a lot more at ease to have everything set going in, as you do. If there was an unforeseen demand from backers I would do my best to accommodate them as you and Isaias have, though I am very wary of the side bar flood.

  7. Just went through this with Mysteries of the Yokai. Our “Create your own Yokai” tier sold out extremely quickly while the rest of our design tiers sat with several open slots. We came up with similar options to the ones in this post:
    1. Open more slots
    2. Add a higher priced tier that let you create a yokai and a character
    3. Add a lower priced option that was the same but did not include artwork
    4. Add a lower priced option that only allowed a certain type of yokai (an animated object)

    We were worried about backer reaction to option 1 so we sent out a message to all current backers of that tier asking for their feedback. To date we’ve only gotten one response which was positive but the backer thought the first five should be given some perk over additional slots. Meanwhile we sent out surveys on social media and in a backer update asking which of the options people would be interested in, the winners were option 1 followed by 4.

    We’ve implemented option 4, but it has yet to gain any traction despite interest in surveys. The campaign is still running so that may change as we approach the final push and people re-evaluate their pledges.

  8. Ben: I’m with you–I always try not to mess with the rewards during the campaign, but I try to stay flexible just in case a really great idea or opportunity happens. :)

    Richard: Thanks for sharing your experiences with Yokai. That’s interesting that opening a new level didn’t seem to generate much new interest.

  9. I like early birds a little as long as they are only a sensible proportion of savings 5/10 bucks or so. i have seen a few ks projects do eb based on a time window rather than an absolute number and i like that approach. ultimately early birds if pitched right can get a ton of momentum early and lead to unlocking quick stretch goals which add value to everyone’s pledge. another solution which i have seen is stepped ebs so if normal price is 100 initial eb is 90 and when full up quickly offering a second tier of 95 ebs if still early in the campaign – yes it clutters up the options – but if the description reads early bird 2 then its pretty easy for backers to see what’s going on

  10. Hi, Jamey. Could you please write a little more (or direct us to a different page) about add-ons and how they work? This seems like a viable incentive program that wouldn’t necessarily back the project creator into a corner. Am I right? I’d like to better understand how add-ons work. Thanks!

  11. As a frequent backer, I’m *almost always* turned off by limited reward levels. Not just early birds (though I’m turned off by those for the same exact reason).

    This is because limiting the number of pledges at a given level almost always feels artificial to me. So instead of making me feel “special” (if I just happen to see it early enough), it instead usually makes me feel a little shafted.

    Basically, It’s rare that I find out about a campaign in time to pledge a limited reward level. So I rarely get a chance to pledge for limited reward levels, which means I almost always feel like I’m getting the short end of the stick just because I didn’t know about the campaign.

    For me personally, there’s only one exception to this: the limited pledge levels that involve getting your likeness in the game, or otherwise influencing the design of the game (naming cards, etc.) are by nature limited, so I understand that. Since it’s not an artificial limitation, it doesn’t bother me at all.

    So, to anyone creator thinking about adding any limited reward levels, I urge you to consider this:

    Yes, the people who get to it fast enough may feel special. But by design, this is a *limited* number of backers – and the rest of your backers end up feeling the opposite (definitely not special). In other words, the vast majority of the time you’re making more backers feel bad than feel good. And in general, I suggest this does not help you either get more backers or build excitement for the game in most of the ones you have.

    1. I agree with John. Early bird discounts actually put me off backing slightly as I feel a bit second class if I’m too late. I usually decide to back or not the same day I find the project but am no more likely to back if I happen to get an early bird discount.

      Adding higher rewards for certain stretch goals make sense, e.g. expansions or add-ons which entail additional production costs rather than increasing the cost of the core components.

      :-)

  12. Geoffrey: Sure, I discuss add-ons in two entries: https://stonemaiergames.com/live-blogging-lesson-5-external-add-ons/ and https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-14-the-value-of-add-ons/

    John: Thanks for sharing your perspective. Other than early birds, can you give an example of a limited reward level that has artificial scarcity? All of the ones I’ve seen have a true limit (or at least a prudent limit, like a game signed by the designer).

    I think you’re right that limited reward levels can have the impact you describe, and creators should be aware of that. At the same time, as you note, having something be limited doesn’t necessarily mean that most backers will feel shafted by it. For example, Ghostel has the custom art reward levels, and as a backer for just a copy of the game, I don’t feel unspecial just because some people have those rewards and I don’t. I think most limited rewards are like that–they’re expensive, premium awards that only a few people are willing to pay for anyway. Perhaps you can give an example of a limited reward (not an early bird) that evokes the reaction you described.

  13. During my campaign, I found it extremely helpful to add additional levels and also delete levels that weren’t funding. It allowed me to offer an even higher tier of support and eliminate clutter just a few days into the campaign. For my next campaign, I am trying to figure out what the balance is between offering add-ons or simply offering another reward tier with that add on. Is there any information about which yields better results?

  14. Doug: If you have core product A and add-on B, my hunch is that backers are significantly more likely to pledge to reward level A & B than they are to back reward level A and add on B. Part of this is behavioral psychology, and part of it is ease of use–it’s easier to click on a reward level and “submit” than it is to calculate the cost of the add on and manually add that cost to the reward before checkout.

    1. This backer behaves exactly as Jamey suggests!
      Yes, A&B. I have never backed A and gone for add-on B. I would only do that to buy an extra copy of a game for someone else. :-)

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