Kickstarter Lesson #187: The Best Time to Announce Your Project

26 May 2016 | 39 Comments

We have a varied history of when we’ve announced our projects and products. Here’s a sampler:

  • For Viticulture, our first project, I didn’t publicly announce it until the day it launched on Kickstarter. At the time I didn’t fully comprehend of building a crowd focused on a specific product, nor had I established many press contacts in advance, so I didn’t really have anyone to announce it to until it was live.
  • For Scythe, I announced the game via this image on BGG when it was in early development about 10 months before the Kickstarter launched.
  • For Moor Visitors, I hinted at the project for several months but didn’t officially announce it until about 1-2 weeks before I launched the pre-order campaign.

Why am I talking about this? A few days ago I was listening to a podcast called Unattended Consequences, a conversation between Patrick Rothfuss and Max Temkin, when Max shared his strategy for announcing new products. Max is one of the founders of Cards Against Humanity, an extremely successful game. Here’s what he says at the 13-minute mark:

“The whole world is crazy. When everyone in the world does something, first they have a press release, and they’re like, ‘In one year, we are going to release this game or we’re going to do this thing.’ And they get some buzz, and people get a little excited, and they try to do more things, and then leading up to the release they do more things. Then the thing finally comes out, and nobody gives a crap. The reaction is like, ‘Oh, this thing…I’ve been hearing about this for a year.

“The one secret that Cards has figured out that is reliably extremely successful is we just do things. We don’t pre-announce it, we don’t have a lot of ceremony. You will never hear about anything that we’re doing until the day that it happens. The announcement is always: We did it, and you can click here to buy it right now.

“And what happens is that it takes the period of maximum excitement where people are most interested–when they first hear about it–and we seize on that with an action that they can take, which is to get the thing. That is a big reason why Kickstarters are successful, because people hear about it, they get excited, and they can do something, which is to back it right away.

“I don’t know why everyone else hasn’t figured this out, but the result is that whenever we do anything, we get a ton of media requests. Everyone wants to talk to us.”

So, I’m happy that Max has found a great strategy for Cards Against Humanity. But I wanted to explore what he said and the overall topic, because it’s presented as blanket advice to everyone, and I certainly don’t think that’s the case. Here are a few considerations:

  • first-time creators: Cards Against Humanity has a huge following–they don’t need to generate excitement for their products in advance because the tens of thousands of people who follow them are already itching to be the first in line to buy their next product. However, a first-time creator doesn’t have that advantage. They need to spend months finding and cultivating enough of a captive audience to make an early splash on Kickstarter.
  • backer budgets: I’ve found with my projects that backers really appreciate a few months advance notice so they can plan their budgets. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but I’ll put a poll on this entry so we can get some hard data.
  • managing hype: You might be fortunate to have people get really excited about your product if you announce it far in advance, but there is a downside to this. I experienced it with Scythe. To this day, people frequently reference the hype around Scythe and how that hype makes them dubious about the game. We humans have an odd reaction when people are more excited about something than we are.
  • getting press: Max mentions how the press gets all excited when Cards Against Humanity launches a new product. I think there is some truth about the media being drawn to live projects, because they can gauge the reaction to them. If a project is doing really well, the press knows that there’s a good chance people want more information about it, drawing an audience to their outlet. BUT the media can’t come knocking on every door. Cards Against Humanity has a big door. So if you buy into the idea of relationship-driven marketing that I advocate, it’s all about communicating with the media well before you launch.
  • attracting playtesters: I mentioned on this postmortem for Scythe that I think there was a direct correlation between the excitement generated by the early announcement and the number of blind playtesters we were able to attract 6 months later. If your product requires some sort of blind testing, generating excitement in advance can be a huge help.

My overall recommendation is that you determine what’s best for you, your company, and each product you’re planning to release. There is no globally correct answer, and despite what Max says, you’re not crazy for doing things differently than he does.

Before we get to the poll, I have an idea I want to float based on a good point Max makes, which is that the excitement generated when people first hear about something is often unmatched later on. When I recently announced Charterstone, it was at the top of the BGG Hotness list for a solid week.

The only way we capitalized on that excitement is by adding more subscribers to our e-newsletter (+358 people). Current subscribers had no action they could take other than sign up to playtest the game. Beyond that, they’re just waiting for the Kickstarter, for which I don’t have a date.

I think there is value in letting people take action when they first hear about something. The pre-order e-commerce platform I use, Celery, offers something pretty cool: People can place a pre-order without spending money. They simply enter their credit card or PayPal information, and at some point in the future, you charge their card. Before that point, the customer can easily cancel the order through Celery.

So what if the next time I announced something far in the future like Charterstone, I let people start to place pre-orders right away through Celery without any money exchanging hands? The benefit to the user would be that they would be locking in the lower possible price for the product. Plus, they wouldn’t have to worry about missing an announcement later. At that point, they wouldn’t have much information about the product, but it doesn’t matter since they can easily cancel their pre-order later if they don’t like what the product turns out to be.

I don’t know…it’s just an idea. It wouldn’t work for every product or every company–it still requires a fair amount of trust. I’m curious what you think.

39 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #187: The Best Time to Announce Your Project

  1. I think Preselling a product before the kickstarter will have the bad effect of lowering the amount of people that buy the game on the start of the campain. Lowering the ranking of the campain inside KS. That could be bad when atracting new buyers.

  2. Jamey,

    Absolutely spot-on! When you’re as hugely successful as “Cards Against Humanity” you may forget that what you already possess and have established is that which first-time creators absolutely require…a base of support! Additionally, there’s a HUGE difference between a 100+card game for an entry fee of $20 and a board game with 20+ pages of rules, several decks of cards, a board, possibly minis, etc…with an entry fee of $69!

    Cheers,
    Joe

  3. This is something I talk about often with other designers. You are correct that the CAH method only works if you have a huge following. They are also selling things like manure in a bag, a legally questionable slice of an island, and just asking you to give them money for nothing. If people had time to think about what they are buying in advance, they might realize that the joke is on them. I point designers to Stonemaier games, Minion games and a few others as the RIGHT way to build the crowd before you crowd fund. I’ve backed a lot of Kickstarter campaigns (more than 400) and I’ve come to the conclusion that I like about a 90 day/3 month run up to the Kickstarter launch. Enough time for me to see the project and be aware it exists, but not so much lead time as to to cause fatigue.

  4. Jeremy,

    Great points…and the poll seems to be trending along the line of reasoning you posited in your post. An overwhelming number of respondents (nearly 60%) enjoy a period of 1-3 months heads-up before launch.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  5. My problem with pre-ordering too far in advance is I forget about things…easily…

    I’d hate to just see random charges appear on my cards. Perhaps some leadup in the near term prior to release, with some sort of notice to those who’ve ordered before the press going “You pre-ordered this, we’re going to be telling folks about it, don’t buy it again! (unless you want to)”

  6. Very intrigued to see the results of this poll. I never really thought about how long a business can tell me about a product they will create eventually before I don’t care anymore.

    I’m expecting the results to show that most people want a little bit of a heads up so they get that “I can’t wait” feeling instead of “I don’t want to wait anymore” feeling. I wonder though how much the results may be skewed towards what the standards are for Kickstarters.

    Regardless, I’m still looking for “a few weeks before the campaign” to come out on top. And if it doesn’t, I’ll learn something :)

    1. Kevin: That’s an interesting point about the careful balance between “I can’t wait” and “I don’t want to wait anymore.” We’ll see how the results of the poll turn out!

  7. I’m relatively new to the whole Kickstarter thing, starting this past fall. I’ve backed five projects and have received one. Products on Kickstarter are strange in that, at least for me, it has a feel of an impulse purchase. I don’t buy enough games or follow the gaming community enough to know what’s coming out in advance.

    But despite it feeling like an impulse purchase, once you make the purchase, you have to wait and wait and wait. So whatever I excitement I had mustered, whatever prompted me to want to buy the game in the first place, has largely vanished by the time I receive it.

    Scythe has been the exception of the projects I backed because ever since I backed it, I’ve been receiving updates, reading comments, reading the blog, Jamey’s book, etc. In the case of Scythe I have bought a lot more than a game.

    Which brings it back to Jamey’s point of building community. I have seen people back out of some of the other projects I’ve backed because they have no idea what is going on. That initial excitement has worn off.

    I wonder, too, if there is a difference in the amount of advance notice wanted between serious gamers and casual gamers like myself, especially, as Joe said, given various price points.

    1. Jonathan: I agree that even after making a KS pledge, you have to wait so long that your excitement may completely abate by the time it comes out. A creator can keep backers informed, but even that can only go so far. That’s actually why I tried the Moor Visitors expansion the way I did–I wanted to announce a product and be able to ship it to people within a few weeks.

  8. I agree the cards against humanity model works well for them, they had a $25 duffel bag as their latest product and sold out in a few hours. However with games like yours which are under rigorous play testing, it may be hard to keep things under wraps till day of. Stonemaier could get away with day of, or 1-3 weeks in advance now that the audience is built, and for Moor Visitors, that was probably the best strategy as it was a small budget item.

    However for bigger campaigns and programs Cards against humanity has not followed that. Blackbox is a fulfillment service that hasn’t launched yet, that has been building up buzz, that the rumor is will launch sometime this year. They fulfilled Exploding Kitten, and will be doing Secret Hitler. It has been building buzz for a long time before launch.

    I think its a matter of what you are doing. You don’t want to reach out to the media, or start advertising until the project has launched. You wouldn’t put an ad on BGG unless the Kickstarter has launched. However building organic buzz with fans, releasing tidbits I think helps build your following leading up to the campaign, like what you did with Scythe. Then like they are doing with Seafall, releasing a weekly designer blog, once the preorder campaign is in full swing, helps to keep drawing new customers to the project.

    1. Sean: I agree, playtesting plays a big role in the time needed to keep a game under wraps. Though game companies manage to do this pretty well by tapping into their volunteer core for blind playtesting.

      I like the Seafall example of using the designer diary to keep people engaged from week to week as they wait for the game. Also, your note was a good reminder for me to check out this week’s entry! :)

  9. I think early hype can definitely lead to some burnout. I’ve been hearing about Seafall for so long now that I’m starting to feel like it’s already been out for ages.

    I do think 1-3 months is the sweet spot. Just enough time to be excited without moving on to the next hotness.

  10. preorder payments through celery seems OK but there are a few practical issues. Backers forget, cards expire, circumstances change. Of course Stonemaier is a reliable company but backing something before development is even complete does not seem an attractive proposition.

    1. Paul: Yeah, that makes sense to me, especially given the indeterminate amount of time involved. Perhaps it’s better simply to make the actionable point to have people sign up for our e-newsletter.

      1. What about a bit of a mix of the two, a seperate newsletter list for just the prelaunch game? Many of the above points were good, preorders would be a negative impact to early kickstarter hype (its all about those first day numbers and early funding, preordering so early even with no charge can be effected by cc changes, fatigue, etc.) With a seperate newsletter, you can be more targeted, and prevent the people new to you from glazing over a full company newsletter.

        You can reduce doubling your work by attacting these specific newsletter text to the main company newsletter, and of course provide links in the specific newsletter to sign up for the main company one.

        I think that strategy could target both the “less is more” people as well as the ones who want to dig deeper. A 3 month window also works well for this as it provides little reminders in thier inbox for when the game actually launches

        1. Tony: That’s an interesting hybrid solution. Something I’ve started doing is using game-specific Facebook groups to provide more regular updates about our games/products. Those groups are handy because they not only allow me to post information, but they also allow fans to post photos, questions, and ideas too. That might be a good way to engage people who want to follow the progress of a newly announced game. Though, I say that, and I’m still hesitant to do it for Charterstone at this point, as I don’t want to say too much until more of it is set in stone.

  11. I feel like the longer I have to wait for a game, specially without info, the less excited I get. And I feel I’m rather lenient with a wait time of around a year before I lose interest. That’s from the moment I back it, so I wouldn’t like Celery, because it would make the wait seem that much longer. Then again, some games I back and forget, and some I just pine after. I was excited for Millenium Blades the entire time, and I’m super excited for 7th Continent months later. So I still think it all depends on the game.

  12. I want to say 8-12 months, simply because I like hearing about what’s upcoming, particularly if I can get involved (Such as being a playtester), but I think that really I like it being a shorter about of time so that the ‘hype’ doesn’t just die off.

    I think this is even more so with a kickstarter project, because waiting 6 months is one thing, but waiting 6 months so that I can wait 6 months…that can be frustrating.

    So I’m going to go with a few weeks, with the noted exception that if I can get involved in some way then a longer period is ok.

  13. For me it kinda depends a lot on the particulars of the specific game. If it’s a light little filler game, like say Dice Heist, to pull a name that’s been buzzing around this past week or two, 1-3 months seems about right. That’s roughly in the distribution/solicitation window so a producer really has to start talking about it as it starts showing up on order sheets and such, but with that type of game there’s not a lot of details and different systems to discuss or tease out so there’s not much cause to start earlier than that. On a bigger project like a Scythe or Gloomhaven you can stretch that out a lot more because you’ve got enough meat-on-the-bone to actually reveal new mechanisms/lore/art here and there for a much longer window. Add in the desire have a very deep pool of playtests (I would say need, and it *should* be need.. but we’ll be honest here and admit many, many projects clearly don’t drive their production times around it) for a larger more complex game and it is indeed hard to not have info buzzing around for quite some time before anything can go live.

    As for the Celery per-order thing.. on a non-kick project like Moor or the new chests that could certainly work well, provided there was some sort of reminder system alerting everyone as to the final price point and availability and such was in place. I agree with the others that it would probably not interact as well with a purely Kickstarted project. There’s probably *some* way to make it work, but it’s definitely territory fraught with landmines and hidden dragons.

    1. Carl: Blind playtesting is when your game is playtested without you present. People use a prototype (usually a print-and-play version of the game) to learn the game on their own, play with their friends, then submit quantitative and anecdotal feedback about their experience. There are other variations of blind playtesting, but that’s the general idea.

  14. This is all really interesting, and even though I back a lot of Kickstarter projects, the entire notion of announcement before the campaign seems kind of weird to me. I find out about 99% of the projects that I even hear about, much less back, through kicktraq, Kickstarter itself, and occasionally through creator newsletters, all of which always say, “new Kickstarter NOW”. The notion that people might want to save money for future purchases is a good point, except I’m terrible at saving money, and I work freelance so if the project happens now or later, whether I can afford it will be based entirely on when the campaign ends, in other words, when I have to pay, not on when I know about the campaign. I end up backing stuff based on either, “I can afford that now,” or, “I want that too much to let it slip by, so hopefully I’ll have the money by the time I have to pay my credit card bill.” That’s not necessarily a very responsible way of doing it, but that’s how I am.

    Also from a backer perspective though, I feel like the Kickstarter campaign IS the announcement. You hear about a project, and not only to be able to own a copy, but in many, many cases, for the product to even be produced at all, you have to pay now. Then, a few months, or in some cases a few years later, you get the product. It seems to me that announcing a project beforehand just adds even more time to the wait. Of course, as you said, this is different for each creator and each project. And brand new, independant creators probably do want to drum up hype and attention before the Kickstarter goes live, just because without it, the campaign might fail. But still, the whole Kickstarter dynamic seems very weird to me. I see a project I’m really interested in, and my first thought is, “does this need help to be produced?” Which is supposed to be the purpose of Kickstarter to begin with. Then I think, “is there stuff I can’t get if I wait for retail?” Then, “Is this going to be more expensive at retail?” Then I go back to, “How interested am I; how badly do I really want this thing?” As long as a game is appealing enough to me that I know I would want to play it: if a project needs help to even exist, or if I really like the creators involved, or I’m going to get extra stuff that’s not available at retail, or I’m going to get a significantly better price than I would at retail, I’ll back it whether I have the money right then and there or not. In a sense Kickstarter is designed so that you don’t have a choice. You have to back now or: the project won’t exist, or you won’t get a bunch of exclusives (or will have to pay A LOT more for them later), or the game will be a lot more expensive. Plus there’s just the feel-good nature of supporting a project’s development, even if that feeling is a total illusion and the game would be produced anyway.

    So I feel from my limited perspective of personal experience, that the campaign going live is the announcement. I don’t care if it’s announced beforehand, and if it is I might even forget about it before the Kickstarter itself. The Kickstarter campaign creates a sense of urgency in that you have to act on it now, before the campaign clock ticks down to zero. But it also feels like a release announcement, because you have to wait so long for the actual product.

      1. Thanks for responding! Your commitment to interacting with your customers and backers, along with the excellent quality of your games of course, is one of the reasons I love sypporting Stonemaier Games so much!

        An additional note: I feel like Tony’s sort of hybrid approach regarding use of Celery for pre-orders might be a possibility.

        And I feel like in general, an order-now-pay-later system is a good idea. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s pre-order system works that way. You pre-order a product, you can cancel at any time before release, and you’re charged when the item ships. Their prices also fluctuate in really odd ways, but if you pre-order, you are guaranteed to pay the lowest price listed for the item from the time you place the order to the final ship date. It’s a good system.

        However – and a lot of this is sort of just mirroring things that people have said above – I kind of feel like it’s a good system only if you’re not also doing a Kickstarter. Unless there’s an element that I’m missing that sort of allows pre-order customers to also participate in the Kickstarter campaign, I feel like offering pre-orders in that way would negatively impact the number of backers, hype, and excitement for the Kickstarter. If you’re doing stretch goals, some project creators will continually update information with the totals from other sources, but then I feel like if you supported the project sonewhere else you don’t really feel like you’re a part of the Kickstarter campaign. I know that Kickstarter is not supposed to be used as just a pre-order system for games that will be released anyway…. But I really enjoy the process of reading about, following along, and commenting on a Kickstarter project. I feel like it needs to be one or the other, and pulling off both successfully would be very difficult.

        Just my two cents. I guess that’s four cents now. I’ll stop rambling.

        But thanks for interacting with us, your customers and fans! I can’t wait to have Scythe in my hands!

        1. Dan: Thanks! Yeah, I completely agree that a pre-order campaign does not pair well with a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve always done one or the other. Like, you saw this with Scythe: I had a 24-day campaign on Kickstarter, and then the minute the Kickstarter ended, I stopped accepting pre-orders for the KS versions of the game, and the price went up for the game and accessories for an ongoing pre-order through our website. That creates an element of urgency during the campaign when funding is most important, as we’re determining how many copies we can afford to make.

  15. So glad I came across this blog, and this post. I’m debating just how much pre-promotion to engage in prior to a campaign. So many tasks to handle to get things right and I fully expect to mess up a ton of them.

    Thanks for all the great info Jamie.

  16. Hi,
    Forgive me, whilst this may appear long winded and irrelevant, it is absolutely relevant to this particular post (having spent many hours reading dozens and dozens of the lessons).
    Firstly I have to admit that I am not a gamer. 30 years ago I was driven to design a very specific type of boardgame (abstract strategy) for a very specific reason. When I say “driven” I mean obsessed.
    Having spent every waking moment of every day for at least 6 months in an effort to complete my goal I was confident that I had the “finished article” and began contacting game forums and companies with the prototype.
    Largely the response was that it was a niche market with the established games dominating and little to no margin for newcomers. Until “MB games” in 1990 said they wanted to include it in their Christmas ’92 range.
    Naively I assumed they were stalling for time to steal my idea so I asked them to return the game. I placed it in the wardrobe where it remained for the next 27 years. Over the course of these years it became apparent that whilst the board itself was indeed the finished article, the rules were not. They are now.
    With the onset of computer games in the mid ’90s I had no reason to believe that the market was anything but smaller.
    However, with the resurgence in tabletop gaming and my recent awareness of “Kickstarter” my obsession has been reignited with a vengeance. As a result, I intend launching a “Kickstarter” project in January and whilst I am trying to soak up as much information as possible (and may I say that these lessons are by far the most valuable I could have hoped to come across), I am eager to promote to and inform relevant parties of the game and intended launch of the project.
    This particular post though has stopped me in my tracks. Whilst I am beavering away (evenings and weekends due to work constraints) wondering if I am at the relevant stage to put it out there ? I must now contend with the idea of wether it is too early to put it out there. I accept that I need to educate myself in regard to taxes and fulfilment among a multitude of other aspects, but I at least thought I could begin drumming up a collective of would be interested parties.
    That said, I don’t really have a question regarding when to promote, I have deduced from this thread that 3 months would be the ideal notification period.
    However, given that this particular audience may be a little more tolerant of early disclosure I would be very much obliged if you would look at and become aware of the game. I created a Facebook page for it but as yet haven’t tried to promote it, only a few close friends and family are aware of it. “Linear Pursuit” @HogPot Games.
    Thank you for your indulgence, and once again, loving these lessons.

    1. Stuart: Thanks for your detailed note! I appreciate you sharing your story here, and I’m glad my blog has been helpful for you.

      I think the key takeaway from this post for a new creator is that you should not wait until the last minute to share your game with the world–don’t take the Cards Against Humanity strategy unless you have an audience of 100,000 people ready to buy anything you make. Really, for you, I don’t think there’s such thing as talking about it too early. You want to get the word out there and engage people who are excited about it. I took a look at your Facebook page, and you’re off to a good start!

      1. Thank you Jamey for such a prompt reply, I am aware of your views regarding “affirmation” however, I have to say that on what has been and is proving to be a long and testing journey, (I wouldn’t have it any other way or the game would not be as refined as it is) those few words have given me a substantial lift.
        Thank you for your obvious dedication to the promotion of your passion for the benefit of others.

  17. […] Minimal gap between announcement and delivery: A few years ago, Riot Games announced a board game called Mechs vs Minions. The announcement came out of nowhere, with high-profile reviewers posting their thoughts at exactly the same time. To the delight of people like me who looked at the pre-order information that day, we didn’t need to wait months to get the game–if we ordered right away, we would have it within a few weeks. This was revelatory to me. I love anticipation, but there was something unique about this, especially given the stark difference between this method and Kickstarter. The Cards Against Humanity folks use the same method. […]

  18. Wow! 88% of your poll want a game almost as soon as possible, between 1 month to 0 days. Instant gratification. Looks like nobody wants what the video game industry thinks is best, over 12 months wait.

    Video gamers would answer in the same way. Do you want Street Fighter VI in 2 years or right now within the next 30 days.

    What about playtesters? Do they typically give suggestions indicating that they really want to be overpowered so they can win easier? That’s a rhetorical question to make a not so subtle point :)

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