Kickstarter Lesson #189: Can’t We Have This Conversation in Public?

9 June 2016 | 40 Comments

As a Kickstarter creator, board game publisher, and blogger, one of my biggest roles is to inform and clarify: 

  • I’m not here to sell you anything. Rather, I’m here to give you the information you need to decide if our products are a good fit for you.
  • I’m not here to change your opinion. Rather, I’m here to clarify any inaccuracies about my company or our games and, when possible, to help.
  • I’m not here to interrupt the conversation. Rather, I’m here to have fun with you.

I can perform this role best when I answer questions in public. In public, I’m able to serve the needs of the many. In private, I’m only able to help one person at a time.

So whenever I get a private question that makes me think, “Can’t we have this conversation in public?”, I do three things:

  1. I thank the person for their question.
  2. I share a link where the question has been at least partially answered or could be answered publicly.
  3. I encourage the person to post their question in the comments on that link, and I assure them that I’ll respond there.

If you have a question for a creator, publisher, or blogger that doesn’t entail private or personal information, please ask it publicly, not privately. You can tag them on social media or post it in the comments of their blog, website, Kickstarter, etc.

What do you think about this focus on public exchanges?

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40 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #189: Can’t We Have This Conversation in Public?

  1. I suppose one issue is that public, in forums etc. is forever and a creator could stop paying attention to something they put out three or four years ago. People think that by contacting someone directly they’ll get a response because they know the person is paying attention whereas sometimes comments on things like blogs that are years old can just get passed over.

  2. Wow. Tony is making a fantastic observation I think we too often overlook.

    If I am in a lecture hall I am completely aware of the audience of my question = everyone. That awareness inhibits questions, true…but it also inhibits the vast majority of folks vomiting up some of the nastiness that can occur in public posts.

    When we are posting online, in a public forum, we still concieve of the conversation as private (between myself and the creator) and maybe [?] we imagine everyone else as passive bystanders.

    Jamey would like to leverage the medium to increase information flow…is it possible that many users are still using the medium as a means of personal connection?

  3. Something im really curious about after reading alot of these comments, is the internet still considered to be anonymous? If anyone feels comfortable trying to explain this to me, what im reading sounds equivalant to say, walking up to a public speaker with an interpersonal question, and that speaker turning around, addressing the entire hall and saying “this person (gestures to u) asks x”. i can see how that would be an embarassing/uncomfortable situation for many, But we are discussing questions over the internet. Is this a sign we are putting more of our identity into our online personas? To be concise, why doesnt the separation of an internet handle remove the anxiety of a public question?
    I know prose can sometimes make the writer sound cold, but please dont take it that way, this is fascinating to me.

  4. I completely understand what you’re saying. On the other hand, I can see why some people would ask a question personally although it would be more beneficial if asked publicly.

    As weird as it may sound, there is a level of anxiousness for some people posting publicly on the internet. For some people it’s something they can get over and for others unfortunately it’s something they can’t help. Therefore, I can understand them sending a personal message because it’s safer. All those thoughts going through their head worried about how their message going to be perceived (Am I asking a dumb question? Will people think I’m dumb? Are people going to hate me for what I say?) are somewhat minimized by sending a personal message.

    I personally am one of those people who get very anxious posting my opinion publicly. As a result, my hands get extremely sweaty (I’ve had to wash them 4 times already to get the sweat off and feel comfortable again about writing this), so for those people I don’t think it’s necessarily “selfish” to send a message personally.

    I’m not implying that everyone who sends you personal messages falls into that category, but certainly a few do.

    1. Kevin: Thank you for sharing this. I experience that type of anxiety in large groups of people, so I can relate to your desire to avoid that experience in areas where you experience similar anxiety.

      I wonder if there’s some type of cue I can look out for in private messages from someone like you so I know to just respond in full in private instead of asking them to post it elsewhere.

      1. That’s a tough one. I’m not sure that there is a cue (I’ll keep an eye out though) and depending on the type and level of anxiety the way each person would want their inquiry to be treated is different.

        The best you could probably do (especially considering the volume of inquiries you probably get) is to say at the end of your initial response something like: “If you’re truly uncomfortable posting there, let me know and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”. Hopefully, you don’t just end up with everyone immediately responding back so they can get a personal response.

        1. Thanks Kevin! I like the addition of that kind of line. There are some requests for which I wouldn’t say that (as I truly cannot offer one-on-one consulting for Kickstarter projects), but for others, I think that’s a great idea.

  5. Overall, I agree that a content creator should look to carry out conversations that can benefit “the many” in public.

    However, each person who writes in with a question privately comes with a unique set of reasons for why they didn’t ask publicly in the first place. Just drawing from the above comments, the two main themes seem to be:

    1. It’s not worth it to the person. Granted, this person may have been able to take the same amount of time to post a question in social media and tag you in it, but you, as the creator, can either ask them to do more work or answer the question for them. As was mentioned earlier, I think meeting halfway and asking for permission to post their question (along with your answer) publicly meets this concern of it not being “worth it” for the person to post it again, and they still get their answer.

    2. Respecting privacy. A project creator may know that a question is commonplace, but a person stumbling across a project may come in with the perspective that says their problem/issue/question is unique. I think it still works to ask if you can post their question publicly, but I think it’s important to maintain flexibility and be ready to answer them privately if they’d prefer not to have their conversation taken to a public place.

    I think content creators – especially those in smaller businesses – need to be ready not only to make the big executive decisions, but get down on their hands and knees and do the chores of business at times. I think maintaining a friendly, personable face to a business is more important that one’s personal pride, and sometimes answering private messages may seem like a waste of time to a creator, but unless they can delegate that responsibility it falls on their shoulders to handle it unique to every situation.

    I think people interested in content also need to approach with a certain level of understanding (which often they don’t), and realize that the level of support offered by a company by Stonemaier Games already far exceeds what could be expected of a small company. It would be somewhat selfish of me to assume that even here, on you own blog, you would be expected to always respond to my every comment. But this brings me to my point…

    Fostering a strong community, as you’ve been working to do, will do more to answer questions than you (as a creator) ever could alone. This allows anyone to post publicly to find the information they need, without having to feel like they need to message you personally. To be a part of a community, you do have to be an active participant and not a bystander, which, while it may be intimidating for people who don’t think “it’s worth it” or who want their privacy respected, it still provides more avenues for “the many” to ask their questions publicly. I already know I can turn to the community grown up around your latest game, Scythe, for any answer I need, and I try to answer questions there as I can as well.

    1. Kyle: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree that people have different motivations for asking private questions. I also agree that content creators should be willing to respond to those questions. I try to respond to every message I get, and I don’t consider it a waste of time. It’s just that sometimes my response is one that extends the conversation to a public forum.

      I agree that a strong, well-informed community can be really amazing. I try to reply to questions as soon as I see them, which is often within 1 minute of the person posting them, but even then, sometimes people like you beat me to the response! Which is great–I love seeing that type of community in action.

  6. I just wanted to mention something that usually goes unnoticed, probably because people like me don’t make comments that often. As a woman, and a video & board gamer, on the Internet, I tend to avoid public comments as a matter of course. Frequently we (as a group) get toxic or belittling responses (or worse) to our questions or concerns. (just look at the Massive Darkness “Mila” thread on BGG for current evidence)

    So when I do ask a creator a question in private, that is usually because I want to remain private / anonymous, at least on the site / interaction space in question. If I were told “No, I won’t answer you unless you re-post this publicly on such-and-such site”, well, that ain’t gonna happen 99 times out of 100. I’ll do without your answer, and may well decide to do without your product, going forward.

    I do like Paul’s suggestion above, about asking permission for the CREATOR to re-post the question, and send the person a link to the response, as that keeps ME anonymous but I still get an answer.

    1. @wavsite: Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s sad to hear that toxic responses have discouraged you from asking public questions. It’s also unfortunate that your experiences with some creators has impacted the way you interact with other creators. Though you felt comfortable posting here, so that means something! :)

      It’s also interesting that you connect a creator trying to create a public conversation with your desire to purchase products from that creator. How are the two related? As you can see by this thread/post, my intentions are good when I steer people towards public conversations. From my perspective as a creator, if someone e-mailed me and said, “Unless you answer my question privately, I’m not going to buy Viticulture,” I would feel like they’ve backed me into a corner. I don’t like that feeling.

      I do like the re-post idea. The only problem is that if I’m the one posting the question, you can’t subscribe to the comments. Of course, you can just check back to see the thread from time to time.

      1. Oh, I didn’t mean that the actual public conversation would make me vow never to buy again! I just meant that, if I got a terse response such as “I won’t answer you unless you re-post your question publicly at this link [URL]”, I would find that very off-putting and it would sour me towards the person I contacted quite a bit. Add to that many folks’ general uneasiness towards posting publicly on the internet, and you get an unhappy customer who didn’t get her question answered.

        To be honest, if that were the kind of ultimatum I received from creator about a question, I wouldn’t issue any kind of ultimatum in return – I’d just stop communication with them entirely and avoid any further personal contact. THAT is what would potentially lead to a loss of a customer, not the “public question” request in the first place.

        I totally understand why you’d want that question made public, both to help others who haven’t asked yet, AND to save yourself some time and energy in answering the same thing repeatedly. Like I said, Paul’s suggestion seems like a great compromise.

        As an example – there’s one creator / company I no longer support on Kickstarter or at retail, due to his frequently rude communication style in newsletters and updates, and in the comments I have seen him make both on Kickstarter and on BGG in response to other people’s questions. Never directed at me personally, but not someone I’d WANT to deal with personally, either. Tact and empathy are important, no matter how good your game / product may be.

        1. wavsite: Thanks for your reply. It sounds like part of it is the way the person nudges you towards a public post. I usually try to be nice about it, though I tend to get more blunt if the same person continues to send me private messages that should be public conversations. :)

          I totally agree about tact and empathy–well said. I can understand why you would not want to support a creator who doesn’t demonstrate those qualities. I’d do the same.

  7. Hi, all. I might be a little self-focused here, but I think I might be the final push for Jamey to make this post. : P I asked a fairly unique question to him privately just 2 days ago. : P

    That said, I did so for a reason. I, similar to Eduardo above, like Jamey, know his public-please policies, and all around enjoy each other’s existence. … I still asked my question in private. Why? I had my own reasons, and reasons that were intended to respect the privacy of Jamey’s position on the topic.
    I too have the public-please policy on questions regarding my blog, and my experiences with it have varied. I’ve had people quickly post the comment on the article I’ve referred them to, and I’ve had people never do it. I can only imagine that 2nd group felt the cold thing that I, Eduardo, and many other feel when it happens to us (as I too have been on the receiving end of the public-please policy). – Just kinda thinking out loud here, I hope it adds to the discussions above.

    All in all, it really does depend on the question. In my recent one to Jamey, he was kind enough to reply privately, something another person I asked the same question to wasn’t willing to do. In fact, the other suggested I hire them as private consultant if I wanted to them to answer privately. – Heh. There are so many ways this can all fall out.

    Happy June!

  8. Well i would imagine that the majority of people who read this blog are often frequenters of bgg or atleast some site where u have a community presence. To try to play devils advocate for those people that play your games and have no idea how community oriented you are, or how active in those public spaces: what ways are available for the person who bought your game from a flgs or an internet vender to know about the public venues where you archive such questions/answers?

    Mind you i am always amazed when people puzzle over questions that are answered in the first 3 results from a direct google search but, thats people for you.

    In my opinion the way you currently do things (connectivity wise) can only really be improved by more ways to find your communities for those people above.

    1. Tony: That’s a good question. I think it depends largely on the question. For example, some of the questions I get are rules questions about my games. The best place to post those questions is BoardGameGeek, followed by a Facebook group, followed by Twitter. How do people find out about those places? They come to this website (which is listed on all of our game boxes). In fact, on all of our games now, we print something like: “If you have a question, post it @stonemaiergames using the hastag #viticulture.” That’s not even the best place to post questions, as it’s not as permanent and searchable as BGG, but at least then it’s public.

      For Kickstarter questions, I get a ton of questions from people who are fully aware of this blog, so for them I don’t think it’s a matter of not knowing where to look.

      1. In the interest of giving feedback, i went thru the website, specifically the game sections, and not all games have a faq section. Looking through the game pages, thier info pages and faqs where applicable i only saw one link to bgg, and that link was billed as a place to follow up on the development of that game. Being an outsider looking in, i believe the way you have the site set up, specifically your vast amount of personal replies in the comment sections of those pages, can give gamers new to you the impression that direct communication with you is the norm. With the lack of search tools in those comment (Q&As) i would imagine many would give up after browsing for a bit and think, “well there is his email right there, ill just ask him about x, since i couldnt find it”.

        I hope that comes across as critique and not critical.

        1. Tony: Thanks for doing that! The links to BGG are in the drop-down menus for each game–you don’t need to look in the FAQ to find them.

          The vast majority of questions I get as related to this website are about Kickstarter. Do you think there’s something about the way this blog is set up that makes people think they should contact me directly with questions? In multiple places, I specifically say that people should not do that (that they should post them publicly):

          1. Heres what i got for you. Read your response and thought maybe its my browser, i run chrome most of the time, so i switched to firefox and same thing, not seeing obvious bgg links. Switched to “request desktop view” and there they were. Your mobile optimized site only includes drop down menus for the site wide main portals (home, about, games, contact, shop, etc) on the mobile side alot of your desktop links from the desktop dropdown are left out, maybe just include bgg as an extra listed link on each games page ( at the top is overview, rules, faq, shop etc)

            As far as why i think the layout leads people to contact you directly, i now would point specifically to your mobile layout again. The structure of the pages is: infomation, FAQ style Q&As, comments on the page with answers by you every 2-4 posts. I think a typical user would go thru that skim for a bit, if they dont see thier question answered, might figure the page is too old to draw your eyes and then go to your contact page. (This is something you could check with google analytics, see what pages people who enter the contact us page come from)

            My suggestion would be to revisit how your mobile site is set up on the bigger browsers (safari, chrome, andriod) and include a paragraph on your contact page before your email address/contact form, spelling out that for rules questions BGG Is a great place for clarifications and seeing how others deal with complicated rules/variants.

            Hope that helps

  9. I agree with the public approach in the kinds of instances you describe where personal information is not involved.

    It’s admirable to open yourself to possible critical questions publicly knowing that it will ultimately benefit the community. I get that some don’t like the idea of “conversation via comment thread”, but the speed, consistency and tone of your responses have always felt personal and friendly to me. Knowing this is your policy I can avoid wasting time taking the extra step of personally emailing you with a question.

    In my view this is a win win for you as a business owner and for people who look to you as a major resource of knowledge and experience in the board gaming community.

    1. Thanks Joshua! You bring up a good point–I think if a creator sets a precedent for replying quickly, more and more people will post public questions. But if the opposite happens–if a creator rarely or slowly replies–people might be more inclined to send questions directly to them in the hopes of getting an answer.

      I say that, though, and I still get quite a few private questions that could easily be asked in public (to the benefit of the public)–at least a few every day! :)

  10. I agree whole heartedly. I hate having to bug people for answers and usually do a search first to see if it’s already been asked and answered.
    On a related note, when people post rules questions on BGG, I wish they would make their subject line more descriptive. Nothing is worse when looking for an answer on a forum then a bunch of subject lines like “a question after play” or “two rule questions”. It makes finding your answer so much harder.

  11. And now for an ‘on topic’ comment; yes, to me it’s almost always worth having both the question and answer in the public domain. For every person that has a question, and asks it, there will be at least 3 other people that would also like to ask that question.

    Rather than have to answer the question four times, having the debate in the public domain could save 3 other people time in finding the answer, and if hosted correctly will remain for the future to be searched and made use of.

  12. I dunno. Perhaps you have this flexibility since this is your full time gig, but I’m not interested in having every conversation in public every time. Not everything is worth a large discussion if it isn’t relevant to most people. I do think public is great most of the time.

    1. That’s interesting, Ed. So where do you draw the line. If someone asks you a question in private, and you think the answer could benefit even one other person, isn’t it better to answer in public?

      I mean, sometimes I get a lot of the same questions over and over that only require quick answers. Like, even though it’s in many project updates, I’ve gotten hundreds of people who ask me how they can update their address. I respond quickly, saying, “Please tell me your new address,” rather than refer them to a different forum to ask the same question. That’s a case where it’s clear that many people do have the same question, but answering it publicly doesn’t seem to help, as the answer is already available publicly.

      1. Well, basically, I make that determination when I read the email. If it falls into a FAQ, Interesting, or otherwise good-for-public range, I ask the person to post it publicly and I’ll respond or I often just post a variant on my own (“Some people have been asking…”). If I don’t see an inherent benefit there I just answer it.

        I’d add that I’ve been on the end of your post-it-public responses. I have to tell you, even though we’ve know each other for a long time, when I read that kind of a response from you it feels cold and impersonal. Sorta like a Dear John letter. The matter may be a question you get a million times, but to me it is my question and you are putting another task / wall in me answering it. It is like customer help telling you to fill out a form before you answer a simple question. I don’t know if others feel this way, but you might consider that angle.

        Also, in the last instance around Treasure Chest expansion, it forced me into a public debate I’d just as soon not have had. Not everyone wants to talk about things publicly. It isn’t about you it is about the rest of the internet.

        1. Ed: I’m a little confused–are you referring to a specific message or response you got from me? As you can tell, I get a lot of people asking me for Kickstarter advice, and even for people like you who I know and am fond of, it’s much better to discuss those ideas and questions in public (most likely in the comments on this blog). That way the conversation can benefit multiple people, and those people may join in with some helpful thoughts and perspectives.

          As for the treasure chest campaign, here’s what your question was: “I’m super confused about this post. It makes no mention of Kickstarter. Will there be a Kickstarter campaign for this?” I think that was a great question to post in public, as I’m sure you weren’t the only person who was a little confused about the idea of us running a pre-order campaign that wasn’t on Kickstarter. Your question was helpful for other people.

          The debate you’re referring to stemmed from a separate comment you made (“FWIW, for whatever reason, this puts me at an impasse. These are no brainer backs for me on KS. Have all the other 4. Now I need to try to understand this new thing. I’m actually quite disappointed.”) I can understand why you may not want to talk about your disappointment publicly, but you didn’t have to continue to comment on the subject after the initial question was answered, right?

          As for prioritizing my convenience/benefit over the specific customer, I completely agree that it can feel that way. It’s my job to phrase my responses in a way that makes that customer feel cared for, and I don’t always do that well. My knee-jerk reaction when I get, say, a rules question in a private message is, “Why do you think you’re the only one with this question?” It feels selfish of someone to do that. It’s not a matter of valuing my time over the customer’s time–it’s a matter of valuing the time of the many people who have the same question over the individual who chose not to share that question with anyone but me.

          1. Your logic is always rock solid.

            All I would emphasize is that it is in no way your customers responsibility to be part of your community, your site, your blog, etc.

            I feel like your stance here is in someways at odds with other customer first perspectives you have.

          2. That’s fair: Just because someone has a question doesn’t mean their obliged to contribute to the community with that question. About 50% of the questions I get are from Kickstarter creators (many of whom are not backers of mine), so if they want my help–time spent away from my backers–they gotta follow my rules. :)

            As for the others–the backers–if they have a rules question that they e-mail to me instead of posting on Facebook, Twitter, BGG, or Kickstarter, I’ll usually just answer it right away directly to them. Often such questions are prefaced with something like, “I didn’t know where to post this, so…” After I answer those questions, I also answer the unasked question of where they could post such queries.

            So yeah, I don’t really think this contradicts my backer-first philosophy, though backers-first (plural)? I think it covers that pretty darn well. :)

          3. You guys are having a pretty interesting mini conversation here, so for what it’s worth here’s my thoughts.

            When it comes down to it, I (well not me, but a theoretical backer who just wants a cool game and nothing more) might have the perspective that I already asked the question, and to ask it again at a different location might seem kinda weird. That said, I totally get where you’re coming from when you ask that.

            But what about this? You could ask such a fella, “can I repost your question and answer it here (link)?” I imagine most people would say sure, and there you go.

            I think that might be a good middle ground. What do you guys think?

  13. With hind-sight, do you think it was a good idea to tell people that had bought Between Two Cities, to look for the promo at the UKGamesExpo, and for them to be told that they could only have the promo if they bought another game from you, or pre-ordered a new game?

    I wanted to look at Scythe, and may well have placed a pre-order, but when I heard that I ‘had to’ order or buy for the promo, I happily walked away from the demo and stand in question.

    Promos should promote the game, and the company. Not make them look cheap and grasping. Nice idea, but very poor execution in my opinion.

      1. Sorry Jamey, It was ‘on-topic’ to me, as I’d been considering dropping you a message to ask the question on the quiet, originally. But then after reading this post, thought I’d better ask it in public.

        I will of-course redirect the question to the other post.

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