Kickstarter Lesson #230: Is Your Crowd Big Enough?

6 July 2017

I was recently surprised by a Kickstarter project that failed to fund.

The project was a board game called Epoch: The Awakening. You might recall seeing it mentioned here, as the creator wrote a guest post about authenticity.

The campaign surprised me because it failed despite doing so many things well: The entire project page is a impeccably designed; the reward levels are streamlined, reasonable and push backers towards the premium version; the art direction is excellent.

When Marc eventually cancelled the project so he could focus on gathering feedback and relaunching (July 11 relaunch), I reached out to him with a theory: Is it possible that he simply didn’t have a big enough crowd before he launched?

The core of this idea is that the vast majority of creators need an existing crowd of people who are eager to back their project the day it launches on Kickstarter. That crowd is your foundation–they make the project more appealing to other backers.

I also think there’s a second type of crowd: People who don’t know much about your product, but they’re at least aware that it exists. I think this helps to avoid making people think that a project isn’t worthy of backing because “no one is talking about it.”

Without the combination of those two crowds, a project–even an extremely well-constructed project–can flounder the first few days and fail as a result.

Based on the numbers Marc shared with me, it’s that second type of crowd I think he missed out on. I’ll show you why:

  • e-newsletter: ~1,000 subscribers
  • Facebook page: 250 likes
  • Twitter followers: 160
  • YouTube subscribers (or podcast/blog): very few
  • BoardGameGeek fans/subscribers (of Epoch): 36/72
  • BoardGameGeek thumbs on Epoch box image: 12
  • Playtesters: 250
  • Instagram followers: 1,392

Some of these numbers are quite good for a first-time creator: There’s nothing wrong with 1,000 e-newsletter subscribers, 250 Facebook fans, or 1,392 Instagram followers. And 250 playtesters is a great number, especially since they’re personally invested in the game. Of course, the Twitter and YouTube numbers could be better.

The numbers that really stand out to me, however, are the BoardGameGeek numbers. That’s the biggest sign to me that Epoch wasn’t a big enough part of the overarching board game conversation to be ready for launch.

So what does this mean for you? I think the key takeaway is that in any industry–games or otherwise–there are quantifiable metrics available to help you see if enough people know about your product to result in a successful launch. A few notes about this:

  • There are no magical targets to hit–these numbers will vary widely from creator to creator. Rather, I recommend that you’re simply aware of these metrics for your product so you can see if you need to focus on some of them more than others.
  • The types of people who comprise these numbers matter more than the numbers themselves. For example, you might have 4,000 friends on Facebook, but if hardly any of them care about board games, that number has no correlation to your project’s changes of success.
  • The ways people joined those numbers also matter more than the numbers themselves. For example, if you ran a contest where you gave away a copy of Terraforming Mars if people liked your page, you now have an audience of a bunch of people who want free stuff, not people who care about your game.

 

If you’re preparing for a project launch, I wish you the best in looking at these metrics for your product as you try to gauge the size of your fans and the overall buzz around your game. Remember, if the numbers aren’t there, you don’t need to launch today.

What do you think about this concept of using metrics to gauge project readiness? What’s your take on the importance of a product somehow being a part of “the conversation” before launch?

Also read:

Oh, and mostly unrelated: Some great creators and myself are featured in a board-game web series, the first episode of which is now live.

32 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #230: Is Your Crowd Big Enough?

  1. Very interesting read Jamie. I’m active on FB pages, kickstarter (backed 9 projects this year) and BGG and I don’t recall hearing about this. I think you’re spot on!

  2. Key lesson learned: neither marketing nor product viability can replace the community-building aspect of developing a crowd for crowdfunding. For me, this stutter-step has been part of the success process, and I’m grateful for the hands-on experience that is informing all of my decisions now. First-time creators should be willing to fail so that they can gain the traction necessary to overcome obstacles at any level. I embrace it.

    1. On the plus side, “failing in order to succeed later” seems to be quite a viable tactic now. It gives creators two bites at the “first 48 hour” apple while keeping all of the fans who backed it the first time and will back it again Day One the next time around.

      It worked for Quodd Heroes relaunching within the month. Best of luck!

  3. This was also the first time I heard about the game… sadly, as I would have backed this project. I have also backed several projects on KS this year and have been on that site quite a bit. The time sensitive nature of KS is also a factor. Having some “buzz” about the game right before launch is very important.

    Thanks for taking the time to share what is under the hood so to speak. Just like in some games, hidden information can be frustrating when there is not a way to figure out anything about it. knowing that a project failed is one thing, knowing why it failed is something else!

    I hope this game gets a re-launch after having more people talk about it.

  4. They asked me for some advice, which I gave and will share here as soon as I get back to my desktop (will be next week). Ultimately, I think the campaign suffered from being confusing. There was a miniatue pictured, but it wasn’t a miniature game. Also, instead of a component overview, the component images were super long, too long, and contained too much detail/focus on items that shouldn’t get that much attention. Campaign page didn’t use good, well laid out, headings. It was just hard to gain any real info by skimming, which is what most people are going to do.

    1. Yes, Richie gave us some great tips–we agree wholeheartedly with the premise that people scan for data — and that the header image with the miniature was confusing.

      We were, however, very intentional about the graphics and how they are presented. We did exhaustive research for project pages for many, many campaigns of different types and feel that our visual presentation was more of a strong point than a weak one. The aesthetics are central to the story and experience of this game.

      We also know that people scan for content in different ways—some hunt for specific data (as Richie suggested)…but others want to be enticed by the rich visual language and discover things as they scroll down, finding treasures along the way. Catering to both audiences is a challenging balance. The community has responded well to how they are presented, however, we’re going to break up the content areas more clearly as Richie has outlined and try to create more clarity on the project page because we agree with him. Thank you, Richie!

      Based on the community comments across our various platforms, it’s still clear that our biggest hurdle has been gathering a large enough crowd, although the momentum is building and we’re excited.

  5. Having been a backer on his project I think that while your comments ring true, there were significantly sized other projects that really pinched gamers wallets that also played a role. Sometimes you can have a fantastic execution of any project but if you launch at the wrong time it drastically impacts your success. You don’t launch a lemonade stand in February in the Midwest and I think epoch just came at the wrong time. When you have heavily marketed projects like green horde from a big company like cmon and highly marketed lords of Hellas….it’s very easy to get lost especially if you’re a new developer trying to earn trust from backers.

    Having watched orange nebulas campaign and reading his posts, he clearly has put a lot of heart into this game and been extremely reflective with his backers which is one of the qualities you also have Jamey and that I respect the most. Seeing a developer show that kind of attention and care for his backers I think is what earns you loyalty and a following, but it is also the hardest thing to advertise. It’s a lot easier to show advertise 1000 miniatures in a game than it is to say this game has heart and so does the person who made it. It requires persistence to continue to reach out to your gamers….connect with them on a personal level and not let them feel like you’re more interested in the contents of my wallet (even though in the end, it is a business)

    I have great faith that Epoch is brimming with heart and will capture the audience it deserves when it relaunches on July 11. Taking on an abstract game of redemption and self worth isn’t an easy sell as much as zombies, but his intentional design mechanics of connecting that journey with the game board is an outstanding concept. He just needs to persist with showing the heart he has for this game to others like he’s been doing in the draft of epoch and like he did in the ks itself. I have no doubt that if he remains persistent creating that buzz you speak of and naturally shows that heart he will have the following you speak of.

    Lastly, it needs to be noted that all great leaders/artists/designers fail. It’s the cornerstone of growth and evolution. Its through that failure that greatness is found. It’s all how you learn and grow from it that defines you. I have been impressed with how he has demonstrated poise through the reset of Epoch. He opened the draft of the new kickstarter and listened. It’s extremely difficult to do that when you’ve been humbled but the way he’s embraced our feedback and responded makes backers feel PART of it. That will pay off i dividends by sharing that ownership with the community. I’m sure board games designed by you can be a very personal project and it shows poise to open yourself up to feedback to others. Doing all of this is why I am convinced as a backer that he’s going to knock it out of the park when he relaunches.

    Thanks for the post and continuing to do what you do Jamey.

    1. Very well said, Matt. I think Marc’s work in being available to backers like you and me instills a sense of loyalty that will inspire us to back the reboot.

      As for timing, I agree that it was probably part of the issue. Though I think it’s hard to find a time on Kickstarter these days when there aren’t a few live mega projects. I’m aware of a few projects launching next week that will likely do quite well, including Legendary Creatures. I think it’s more important than ever for board game creators to refer to and fill out this Google Doc so they can see when other projects are launching: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1eo1zHVhxJ-KuYmD7rwYhqyt748DMtvVJyM5WdWhcExc/edit#gid=334235661

      1. Jamey,

        Thanks for highlighting that google doc, it will surely help! Just curious, is there a reason that some are in colors and others not? Or why some are in certain columns? Knowing what is coming out per date is very helpful.

        -MAR

        1. MAR: My pleasure. I created the Google Doc a while ago and have pretty much just let people self-regulate it. I think the colors come from people wanting their game’s name to stand out–otherwise they don’t mean anything (as far as I know).

      2. Thanks Jamey – that spreadsheet is very useful in identifying a good launch date. I agree with Matt with his comment about wallet pinching. I guess the easy way to keep this in mind for smaller, first time publishers is to remember that new smaller low budget movies do not launch the same day as a blockbuster.

      3. Just a quick update letting you wonderful people know that Epoch is in its final 48 hours. If you haven’t done so check it out on kickstarter. It’s significantly funded and brimming with content :). Orange nebula knocked this out of the park with tons of intentional design and built a fantastic community. He really has outdone himself and I hope you check it out. Sometimes it just means getting back up and trying it again :).

  6. We had similar crowd numbers and suffered a very similar fate with our initial launch of H.E.A.D. Hunters. Some more insight I’d throw in is Twitter followers & Facebook page likes don’t translate to crowd size especially if you focus on a follow/follow back strategy for Twitter or if you run Give-Aways on Facebook. Interaction is key – how many people like or respond to your tweets or posts is a much better guide.

    Breaking through on BGG for a new game or publisher is a daunting task in today’s flood of game releases. You truly have to earn every fan and be an active advocate for the hobby by participating in board game conventions and community events (such as playtests).

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. James,

      I completely agree. I see accounts with thousands of followers and I get a tinge of jealousy, but then I remember that they have great content and have been around for awhile. Then I see the “likes” and the interaction with the posts and it’s a fraction. i.e. 200-300 likes and 0 comments for a page with over 10K followers. These numbers are a more grounded basis for determining interest.
      It can be so easy to get wrapped up with the “internet hug” contest of who has the most follows, that we forget that interaction and making relationships with people is what is most important.

  7. Well you officially “Have people talking about it”! : )

    What bothers me is not the site, (I backed it, even asked for artist references).
    What bothers me is the culture: “People are not talking about it, so I’m not going to back this FANTASTIC LOOKING game.” … what!?

    CMON isn’t the only company that creates good games. Nor Stonemaier. Nor my own Gate Keeper Games. There are literally thousands of unmade games, and if one of those gems makes it far enough to LOOK as good as Epoch, and have 250+ playtesters like Epoch, if it is anywhere near your style of gaming, in anyway, that is enough to back it.

    MetalDawn recently had a similar problem, and they’re an established company with 7 Kickstarters. They ran at the same time as CMON and a few others and just floundered.

    Maybe I’m just a big “support small businesses” kinda guy, and others are not.

    Regardless, I’m super picky where I throw my money these days. Epoch had my full pledge and will again.

    Again I say, congrats OrangeNebula because you officially “Have people talking about it”! : )

    John Wrot!

    1. John I think you’re absolutely right that CMON and Stonemaier are not the only companies that make good games. The truth though is that the power of the popularity of a brand cannot be understated. We’re social creatures…so if it’s cool to have something, people are going to buy it even if it may not fit their interests or it doesn’t make logical sense. Many people buy things for social currency rather than the item itself. This applies to all things including board games. That’s why established brands like Zombicide can begin inching their prices north to find that sweet spot that people are willing to pay. Like anything, it becomes less about the product and more about the popularity.

      I believe you’re also right that there are SO many games out there that likely haven’t gotten the limelight they deserved. I believe Epoch will get its chance this 2nd go around and will find success. :)

  8. I don’t know if Epoch is a good example of an “extremely well-constructed project”. I watched the main video and read the description, but it uses “thematic” words to describe game mechanics and I’m just here totally confused, knowing only that there is a boring looking board and cubes that can be combined I think to gain some sort of resource.

    1. I had the same feeling. I read through the project page and just went “Huh”? It looked cool, and had neat buzzwords, but there wasn’t enough to draw me into the story of the game and wanting to play it.

      I starred the project, but couldn’t talk myself into backing it.

      I wanted to, especially after reading about it on the blog (I check out every project posted here, and back a lot of them).

      There was too much in the images to explain how the game played, and why it would, in the words of the author “Playing it will give you joy”.

  9. I don’t disagree with any of the above. But, from my experience a campaign may (over)fund even without the necessary crowd.
    ===================================
    My team’s project, Argonauts (2015) had no youtube channel to support, no subscription list, no Instagram, 10-20 likes on FB and likewise on Twitter. We had not opened a discussion on Reddit, my mom and the likes didn’t support us (what is a “backer”, son?). No ads too.

    On the other side, we had a BGG registry and tried to open threads for the game there. The only thing I admit our project had that others didn’t, was the theme. It is one thing to look at “another miniature game” or “another train game” and another to be intrigued as to “I haven’t seen anything like that – yet”.

    When searched for titles and themes, ours had the scarcity needed to fund on day 1. After 2 years and 2 successful campaigns, our 3rd one is having (if I recall correctly)
    -2 successful projects under our belt
    -a FB page with ~600 likes
    -a Twitter account with +500 followers
    -no Instagram account
    -no reddit account
    -3-4 highly responsive people available on BGG.
    ====================================
    After case study closed, my current behavior regarding the crowd is this:
    -Establish a profile pic for people to remember
    -Get involved in group discussions, share ideas, offer solutions
    -Don’t be picky; you can have digital friends more that relatives and neighbors

    As for #1, it was easy and one of Jamey’s suggestions long ago.
    About #2, it is draining my free time, but I enjoy it most of the time.
    Regarding #3. FB allows you to have as much as 5K friends, on your private profile (not group/page/public figure etc). I wanted to get involved with the intersection of crowds that play tabletop games and browse Kickstarter. One thing I started doing was accepting friend requests from people that asked, usually after liking our game page. Then I started adding those FB suggested on the right column, common friends of those new friends. I encountered questions like “do I know you?” or “sorry not interested in making digital friends of people I don’t know physically”, but it was like 5/1000. Short answer? “No we do not know each other, I saw in your profile that you like board games. If my request offends you, feel free to delete it :) ” Then, from those that accepted, I asked (and was asked) for people to like our FB page (and theirs). I keep having friend requests as we speak.

    So what I do know is
    -I just started being “me”, my profile image, not just a guy that answered.
    -If you are helpful, even if the advice is not followed, at least you offered to help and that is appreciated.
    -My friends list skyrocketed with people from Jamey’s #2 crowd.
    -They weren’t forced to do it.
    -IT was TOO time consumable. I have seen people having 4500 friends and now I myself reached a third of it, after 3 months. If I keep up with the pace, I’ll reach the cap in a year (I do not intend to though). Also as Jamey noted above “you might have 4,000 friends on Facebook, but if hardly any of them care about board games, that number has no correlation to your project’s changes of success.”

    Asking for reviews/previews is opening other gates to same crowd. We had 2 videos and a written review on first project, so it reached 3 kinds of circles (apart from random KS visitors of course). This time we target to 3-4 video reviews and 2 written ones, expanding the visibility of the project.

    Now the big chapter: Boardgamegeek. I proclaim myself a geek (mathematician, gamer, otaku, just name it) and love charts. I may love excel sheets more that Microsoft ! :P Now, because information is gold, I keep track of our previous campaigns to compare data with current one.

    The short way: we have a shot to fund.
    The long way: The project campaign is almost ready, waiting for reviews, art is 90% done, rulebook draft ready for sharing, playtests done, and we just started making fuzz about it. Both our previous campaigns started having interaction with BGG crowd way before launch. It kept for around 2 weeks (14 and 12 days respectively). Then we had a gap in time for a month or so (various reasons), then we launched. But the buzz was gone. And they funded anyway.

    This time, we are currently at day 10 of 13 (arbitrary average buzz time) and if all goes well, we launch next week. I want to believe the spark will be kept alive.

    I think I wrote a little essay about “using metrics to gauge project readiness” !

    1. Great insights Harry – it’s nice to hear your unique perspective on this subject. As an aspiring board game designer myself, when do you think the best time to start publicizing your game on social media is? Do you create a Facebook page right after you build your prototype? Do you wait until you’re doing blind playtesting and looking for testers? Or do you wait until a month before the Kickstarter launches with the hopes of creating some excitement for the campaign? What are your thoughts? And of course, everyone can feel free to chime in if they like.

  10. I did come across this project and it didn’t appeal to me. The graphic and presentation of the project doesn’t tell me instantly what I am playing and my objectives. It looked very confusing. The board looks really tired and not very interesting. The cards were the strong point from casual view. I think the graphics could do with some re-working. Just my 2 cents

    1. Thanks! Though I really didn’t mean for this to turn into open criticism about Marc’s project (unless Marc wants that). That’s not the intent of this post or this forum.

      1. My intent with sharing the details of my project is to help other people approach crowdfunding in a more informed fashion.

        One note on emotional branding:

        It is intriguing to me that different people critique a project page based on completely different criteria. How the content makes them *feel* has a somewhat intangible — but very significant — impact on the success of the campaign. I think there is data there that I may have to dig a little deeper for. I may write something up after this relaunch to discuss and analyze my findings. Stay tuned!

  11. I am not a backer, I looked at the game once during the campaign but it didn’t stick to me. Due to Jameys post I took another look and these are my impressions:

    – I can’t click on the rules link so I can’t really determine that right now. Couldn’t find them on the Orange Nebula web page either.
    @Marc: I would be happy to read them and give some feedback if you want to.

    – I really like the cards, I wish they where something of the first that you saw on the video/page.

    – I miss some sort of component overview of how the game looks in play at the top. There are some hints during the video but it doesn’t really do it. And it takes a while in the video before you actually get something visual connected with the actual game.

    – I think that the Uniqueness list is a good tool. Unfortunately most of the bullets on the list don’t feel unique. For the end-game triggers my first thought was Fluxx… and I don’t like Fluxx. Freeform action selection seems to be a common mechanic so I don’t really see the uniqueness. Very high replayability, for a game that lasts 60-120 minutes I would say that I’ll be lucky to play this game 5 times in total so it doesn’t really matter to me. I would say that a lot of games today have a high replayability. For me the number of combinations aren’t important, it’s the chance of having good combinations that matter.

    – It felt strange that the start image from the video contains a miniature that isn’t included in the base game. (Stretch goal if I understand correctly)

  12. This article you wrote, gave me the reason to look at Epoch a little closer. I saw it before, but I glossed over it and never gave it a deep look for a few reasons:

    1) I was already backing Archmage at the time which seems very similar. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesalute/archmage), and the hex tiles that flip and are revealed mechanic visually looks identical, they even have some of the same names – which is odd. Archmage is a resource managements, area control, mage themed game, so it might seem, especially on the surface that these are substitute goods.
    2) There is a lot of grey and brown, and that box art just didn’t appeal to me. And that is the first thing you see on the page and the mini-pictures. Once you scroll down into the page, the art really brightens up and looks more “magical”. So I visited it and the videos are really well done. Just nothing got me that far during the campaign.
    3) Lastly, Tabletopia … If a game is on there, I will play it, and I have purchased many that I have played on there because I liked them. Including Archmage. If people do not put there game on these platforms, it makes me worried that they do not trust there game to be played before it is backed. Might even seem like they are hiding something. I think “print-&-play” is going to be what chalkboard was to the smartboard, and the future is digital platforms for getting games out there for people to test and play before they buy.

    If he launches again, I will look closer at it. I really liked the playtester videos, they have you a good sense for the game, and it sounds like something I would like. And if he puts it on Tabletopia I am VERY likely to back it :)

  13. Having the right people following you is far more important than the total numbers. I am trying very hard to learn from all these stories when I launch my own game. Thanks for the article Jamey ! Definitely going to work on my board game geek audience.

  14. I knew about it but didn’t back it because it’s a themeless euro. I think the game went up high on the BGG hotlist IIRC. I check that list daily and so do a lot of other people. The game wasn’t funded because it didn’t interest people. There is also something to say for an original theme with non-abstract elements. I wish the designer well but a pure euro is never going to do well on KS. I backed a project called Wu Wei that was a Taoist euro. Was cancelled twice and barely funded a 3rd time. I was interested in the theme, but I was ok with its abstract nature. I just wanted to see a passion project succeed. I hope Epoch succeeds only because passion projects should always succeed.

  15. Hi all,

    So I wanted to send you a quick update regarding Epoch: The Awakening. As a backer I’m excited to announce that Epoch relaunched SUCCESSFULLY and is FULLY FUNDED after 24 hours!!!!! The backer community has been extremely positive and the game has continued a #1 rating on klicktraq for quite a bit. I encourage you to check it out:

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/orangenebula/epoch-the-awakening-board-game/description

    Marc has really gotten involved with the community and I encourage all of you if you passed on this before to consider giving it another look. The community has a tremendous positive buzz that is responding to Marc’s passion for his project and has been very playful and supportive. Right now on BGG he has a great campaign going on allowing his backers to design a new relic. The community will be voting on it soon, so if you have ideas why not throw some out? He’s been very involved within the group and after reflecting on feedback from the first campaign has restructured what is offered to meet the desires of the backers while pushing the game to succeed.

    If you’re still on the fence, I encourage you to at least to keep eyes on it over the next month and watch how things evolve. There’s some good positive energy from this project though and it has a feel-good vibe attributed largely to Marc.

    It needs to be said that Marc has showed tremendous poise and strength in this process. He’s deserves a lot of credit for taking a project that he’s passionate about and worked tons of hours on and opened himself up for critique by the community. Making yourself that vulnerable I think shows a lot of poise (as I mentioned earlier) and he has earned my respect and admiration for doing that. I think the community has responded very well to his approach and it has made them feel very much part of the project. I think these same accolades are deserved for the team that has been working with him as well. He’s been so reflective which is a quality I deeply respect. I’m sure many developers (including Jamey) go through that struggle and I think Marc has handled it with class and dignity.

    This is a kickstarter with a lot of heart and I hope all of you give it a 2nd look if you haven’t done so already. He’s going to nail this. It’s going to be a piece of cake ;)

  16. I absolutely loved the graphics and video…super high quality. Great effort Marc. I see that the relaunch has already funded. Congrats! I think, as others have mentioned, the page of the 1st launch was a little wordy and confusing due to the miniature piece. I like the new even more streamlined page.

    As far as the number of followers/newsletter subscribers. I think sometimes the numbers can be misleading. We’ve collected almost 500 emails for Kingdoms Lawn Game through conventions, festivals, my website, etc. However, I suspect there’s a big difference between giving out your email vs purchasing a product. I have discussed this issue with my friends, family and co-workers and we all agree there is a society pull to leave your email when someone, in public asks you for your email. That pull isn’t as strong when you are asked to buy the product in the comfort of your own home.

    – Denny Weston

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