Kickstarter Lesson #181: Love Your Competitors

23 March 2016 | 12 Comments

On Saturday I had an amazing lunch at a new fried chicken restaurant in St. Louis called Southern. Southern shares a building–and even a hallway for the long lines it attracts–with a very popular barbecue restaurant, Pappy’s.

After I finished my meal at Southern, I stood in the lobby of Southern while I waited for one of my friends to go to the bathroom. It was then that a Pappy’s employee walked by.

“How’d you like the chicken?” he asked.

I told him it was awesome, though I’d probably choose a slightly less spicy version next time.

“Totally,” he said. “My favorite is the original, with some mild sauce on the side. It’s so good.”

I had to smile at the interaction, especially since it reminded me of most interactions I’ve had with my fellow Kickstarter creators: Here was an employee at Southern’s immediate competitor speaking highly of their competition.

It made me want to eat at Pappy’s the next time I’m in the mood for some Southern food (which, admittedly, is almost always). There’s something congenial and welcoming about people who speak highly of their competitors. I’m much more drawn to people who speak highly of competitors than those who say bad things or try to sell their product to you instead.

I’ve found this type of friendly competition to be very much in the spirit with Kickstarter too. When I run a campaign, I don’t feel like I’m competing against other live campaigns. In fact, I try to avoid launching on the same day as other game-related campaigns using this Google Doc so we’re not jostling for attention on the same day.

It’s one of the reasons I’m comfortable sharing my love for other games, designers, and companies through this blog, my YouTube channel, and social media. I know technically these are my competitors, but I’m in the board game business because I love board games (not just my own games), and I want to share that with people.

The actionable point here for you is to speak freely about other creators and projects you admire. Don’t be afraid of losing customers by doing that; rather, doing so will attract and endear people to you.

Can you think of a time–on Kickstarter or elsewhere–that you came to like a person or company more because of the way they spoke about their competitors?

Also read: The Most Dangerous Thing a Creator Can Do, Cross-Promotion Between Kickstarter Projects, and Top 10 Ways to Be a Likable Content Creator (#9 in particular)

12 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #181: Love Your Competitors

  1. The #1 thing that causes me to back Kickstarter projects is when other designers I respect (many of whom put their games on KS, either as publishers or through licensing) freely promote a game and say how much they like it.

    I’d say that 95% of my backing projects comes because I hear about a thing from somebody who would be considered a competitor of that thing. And I love that – in my mind, if somebody I respect gives an unbiased positive review, that’s enough for me to take a chance on a game.

  2. Jamey,

    I recently attended GameStorm in the Portland OR area and was coincidentally on a crowdfunding panel (for which I am surely underqualified, gah!). On the panel with me were Jonathan Liu from GeekDad and Brian Poel from Harebrained-schemes (among others), who contributed greatly to the discussion.

    One of the things that struck me as we discussed the topic was that in gaming we have a distinct advantage…our audience is likely to support many game companies and designers because the products are all different. There may be limited choices today, but our core audience may consume all of those products eventually. So competition isn’t really a word we use much.

    However, in many other industries I find this to not be the case, so I think your post is significant and timely.

    As a branding guy, I can tell you that the goal of brand building is differentiation, especially for an emerging brand. In my creative company, we consult our clients to reconsider the traditional concept of leveraging yourself against “competition” for a couple of key reasons. One, there is only one you. Worrying about what others could do that might hurt you immediately draws a comparison between your offering and that of other players who have similar offerings but probably don’t share your passion or the things that make your brand *uniquely* valuable. Two, you limit the opportunity to strengthen the community / industry with strategic alliances, as you stated above. In a Coke/Pepsi conversation, this doesn’t apply in the same way, of course.

    Creating alignment with other, like-minded project creators will generally have more benefit than risk in my opinion, especially when you consider the long term relationship and connection gains. You are living proof. Again, it’s largely about trust. And, as we’ve already found, people respond to generosity because it lowers the barriers to trust and invites engagement. Just my 2 cents. Or maybe 3.

    1. “One of the things that struck me as we discussed the topic was that in gaming we have a distinct advantage…our audience is likely to support many game companies and designers because the products are all different. There may be limited choices today, but our core audience may consume all of those products eventually. So competition isn’t really a word we use much.”

      You took the words out of my mouth.

      This is the thing I absolutely love about the board game industry and have yet to find anything similar to it anywhere else. Throughout my studies in business it has always been about beating out the competitor, and that never sat right with me (mainly because of how it was done and how it seemed to negatively affect the whole culture of a business). Needless to say, I’m very grateful for how the board game industry conducts business.

      1. FWIW, board games follow the economic principals of equivalent products. When there are equivalent products in the market, there may be perfect replacements and imperfect replacements.

        A perfect replacement is something that you derive the exact same economic benefit and/or joy from. Choosing a Mustang or a Camaro for example. From an economic standpoint these are pretty interchangeable. If one disappeared tomorrow, the other would consume the market.

        Board games are a situation of an imperfect replacement. Choosing one board game over another is heavily based on the experience you expect to get. Simply having another board game available for sale does not mean that it will provide the experience you want. And thus you may not choose to buy the replacement. Or you may purchase both since they are different experiences.

        In the end this has interesting economic effects. In our Mustang vs Camaro example, the two are fairly direct in their competition, even at the most respectful levels. Customers are going to choose one over the other.

        Board games are more like restaurants. Theoretically we compete for the same dollars, but you might go to McDonalds today and Burger King tomorrow. Thus in an economic sense the real competitor for board games is non-consumption. Thus the need to make each game an interesting a fun experience!

  3. Marc: Thanks for your detailed comment! This is awesome stuff. I particularly like this line near the end: “people respond to generosity because it lowers the barriers to trust and invites engagement.”

  4. Hi there,
    Last night I ve been thinking a lot about the word KARMA and how it has evolved in terms of speaking and usage. Lately, the word by itself is carrying more and more a negative connotation which is a sad thing. I believe that KARMA has it’s positive side as well, so let’s differentiate between KARMA- and KARMA+, respectively comparable with the competitors talking garbage about their ‘enemies’ and the Dutch word ‘con-collegas’ (i.e. competitors that consider the other competitors as their colleagues).

    It’s a more philosophical approach, but nevertheless I thought it was worth sharing. Especially because these are universal laws and once you understand the logic within these laws you can use them to your and each others advantage.

    We once played Stone Age the friendly way, meaning that we would only hurt each other if really necessary and we would encourage each other when rolling the dice etc. The atmosphere around the table really changed and there we sat enjoying our game as con-collegas wanting the other player too score as good as possible. So in general it all has to do with mind-set and your sincere intentions.

    So Jamey, thanx for being such an inspiration for all of us.

    Reduan El Baghdadi
    Anti-Terrorist
    Brussels

  5. Great article and great advice. I’m on the sales and purchasing side of the gaming industry and the industry is relatively small. Those of us in sales are moving from one company to another all the time so it is always a great thing to praise the people that you really think do a great job. You might be buying or selling to that person some day. My closest competitor is probably Aldo at Impressions because we are basically doing the same job. We just got to meet again at the GAMA Trade Show recently. I love talking to Aldo because we get to commiserate on the difficulties of our jobs or the great things that are happening in our industry.
    Anyways, I wanted to say that I am in complete agreement with you on this topic. Thanks for writing about it.

  6. Great post and very true in this industry. I published my first game in 2008, launched it at Gen Con of all places, and had no freaking clue what I was doing… Shortly thereafter I met Mark H. Walker of Lock N’ Load Publishing and Uwe Eickert of Academy Games. Both have been mentors and friends over the years and we still share tips and ideas and feedback.

    The industry, for a publisher wishing to stay in it, is too small to alienate your competitors. Surviving, at least for me, is all about the relationships you build. I speak a bit about this at the GAMA Trade Show in my “Becoming a Publisher” seminar- because it’s so important and often overlooked. Go into this blind like I did many years ago and choose ‘not’ to help others and get help from others- and you simply may not survive as a company.

    Regularly, Uwe, Mark and I, back each other’s kickstarters, share them on our FB pages and twitter feeds, and show positive support publicly. Fans see that, they see we all help each other out, and they respond well to it by supporting each of our companies in turn.

  7. Plaid Hat Games, makers of Dead of Winter and more, have a podcast I listen to regularly. They always begin the cast by talking about the games they have been playing, and what they thought about the experience. Then they delve into topics on helping aspiring game designers. While I like their games I don’t love their games. Their is too much dice dependencies usually for me to really get behind them. I do however love their point of view and how open they are about the industry and their competition even if I don’t agree with their point of view.

    I appreciate everything you write about. Thanks for taking the time to make it easier for others to get into the business. I will be purchasing your book soon, and hopefully I can present you with my game one day.

  8. I love this model and always try to use it within company guidelines. Some companies discourage you from talking directly about their competitors, but you can always work in and around those guidelines to lead a consumer to what they’re looking for.
    I worked third party for a computer company, selling their stuff in a retail store. One instance, a lady came in looking for Christmas gifts for her kids. First, I asked the kids’ ages to get an idea of what sorts of things to start her out with. The youngest was below the suggested age for any of my tablets, so I sold her another brand. While this may have been against my company’s policy, she saw my genuine desire to help her get what was best for her and not just what I had to offer. She was so grateful for my honesty, that she told me she didn’t want any other brand for the remaining gifts. By selling one other brand product, I was able to sell three of my own.
    Bottom line is that people appreciate it when you’re genuine. Sure, you want to have pride in your store or product, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive of others with the same goal. It’s better to be positive and encouraging the competition than to be cocky and lose out on sales and respect.

  9. Great advice. I will say – I know that restaurants are an interesting business because they actually do better when there are other restaurants around, especially if they don’t serve the same things. It’s supposed to be because customers will generally think of going to that area, and only then think of the specific restaurant to choose. (I’m not 100% that this rule applies to fast food as it’s more of a convenience than a destination.)

    The same may be true of Kickstarter games to some degree. Potential customers browse Kickstarter because they’ve seen similar games on there in the past, so having those previous similar games might be of benefit to future Kickstarter projects.

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