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.