Kickstarter Lesson #249: Referrals and Affiliates

30 April 2018 | 14 Comments

Have you ever shared a referral link?

When I was thinking about this post, my initial answer was no. I was thinking about it in terms of specific tweets or Facebook posts where I mention a project and share a referral link, which I don’t recall doing.

But then I realized that I’ve definitely embedded referral links in this blog. Not often, but it has happened. Last week I did it while writing about GROWL. There’s one for Capital One in my accounting and finances post. And I’m sure there are others.

The key, I realized, is that I haven’t actively shared referral links on social media. Rather, I’ve passively included such links in related posts.

I mention this because it impacts the way I’ve previously viewed the concept of referral links. In the past I’ve considered them somewhat disingenuous. If you share a referral link with me, is it because you genuinely believe in the project or product, or are you just trying to enhance your pledge?

I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. That’s kind of the point of referral links–they give people an excuse to share something they’ve already bought into.

Should You Offer Referrals?

My perspective on referral links has evolved into this: They don’t hurt, and they might help.

Let’s use a concrete example: Say you’re running a project where the core reward is $20. If someone pledges via a backer’s referral link, you will give that backer a $5 refund.

So every time a referral link does its job, you gain $20 and then lose $5. It’s a net of $15 that you almost definitely wouldn’t otherwise have (there’s no proof that the person wouldn’t have backed anyway, but I think it’s unlikely).

There’s a soft benefit as well: goodwill. When I click on a friend’s referral link, I feel like I’m helping them, which makes me happy. This happiness will carry over to the way I view and engage with the project.

Types of Perks

Here are a few examples of perks:

  • $5 refund
  • 10% refund
  • free shipping
  • promo cards
  • bonus copy

That said, I think the most effective perks are those that allow both backers to benefit. For example, if you click on my referral link to back a project, I get $5 and you get $5. That doesn’t work well for a project where the reward is $20, but if it’s $50, you have more margin to work with. This is what Capital One does: I get $10, you get $25.


Types of Services

I’m aware of two services built specifically for Kickstarter referrals: and

  • This platform, while still in beta testing, is extremely flexible. It allows creators to choose both requirements and perks. I used it as a backer for GROWL, and it was quite easy to create my referral link and see the stats for it. On the back end, they’re planning to sync the referral data with the Kickstarter survey data so you don’t need manually update each applicable pledge.
  • This is more of a pure affiliate service. Boosters–people who share the links–get a % commission on the new backers they bring to the project. While it doesn’t have the flexibility of, it encourages boosters to discover new projects on its platform (and then share them to increase their commissions).

Post-Kickstarter Publishers

As a publisher that no longer uses Kickstarter, of course I’m interested in the potential of referral and affiliate marketing beyond crowdfunding. I could use it to provide links to reviewers, ambassadors, and followers, but there’s one area I’m more interested in than the others: tracking return on investment (ROI).

For example, I was recently approached by a huge YouTube creator about having them feature any of our games on their channel (it’s not a review channel, in case you were wondering–I would never pay for a review). The cost, however, was quite high. Let’s say it was $10,000. If I spend that much on a video, will I increase sales enough to justify the expense?

To a certain degree, it’s impossible to answer that question. If you watch a video today about Scythe, it may nudge you towards buying it someday, but it doesn’t mean you’ll rush out to buy it today.


With a referral link, however, I can do a much better job of answering that question. I can look at the number of people who click the link and the number of people who actually buy it on our webstore to determine if I received a justifiable return on my investment. Also, it could potentially help me negotiate a lower up-front cost: Instead of spending $10,000 on the video, I could perhaps spend $5,000, with $10 from every referral-link purchase going to the YouTube creator.


What are your thoughts on referral links, perks, services, etc? If you’ve used referral links as a creator or backer, what has your experience been?

Also read: Why We Share and this retrospective about GROWL

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

Leave a Comment

14 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #249: Referrals and Affiliates

  1. What about the referral link option that Kickstarter proposes once the campaign is launched? Is it a valuable way to promote something? I think it would be especially for those campaigns which struggle a bit in the mid term of the campaign to reach their goal. If I back a project I would be glad to promote it a bit within my network.

  2. Referral links could be valuable if they’re on other gaming sites where you go to read reviews or other industry information. If one has a lot of followers, then referral links might equal $$. If you check out various mom blog/reviewer sites, they have a lot of links for all sorts of products. So yes, links has its upsides but it depends on the size of the audience that will see it.

  3. I wonder if referral links will prevent anyone from backing, like the guy that waits two months to buy a pizza from Round Table until the coupon is for $2 off a large. I’m sure they bring more than they slow down though.

    1. Well, IMO only if it’s wrongly set, it might work this way. I would imagine putting referral link in KS campaign will sort this out.

  4. I already do that without a referral link.

    Any time I see “What game should I buy”, I always recommend Viticulture, online and in private conversations. I’ve talked loads of people in to buying Viticulture.

    It’s the perfect answer for “What is a great next-step game?”, “What is my next euro game?”, , “What game should I get for my wife/girlfriend and I?”. Or “What game should I get?”, and then I ask them “Do you like wine?” :)

    I tell everyone that they already know the rules of Viticulture, and they do.

  5. Art of Boardgaming would not exist without referral links. They, along with a handful of sponsorships, keep me from going to patreon or kickstarter for funding. I make just a little more than it costs to run the site – but it’s enough to allow me to enjoy keeping the website going.

    Of course there are those that will say anything for a buck – but like almost any good thing there are people out there who will abuse it (like replacement part policies for instance).

    Also – It’s neat to be able to see some analytics. For instance, I know that in the past 14 months, over 500 board games have been purchased after visiting my website. It’s cool to be able to see that impact, and I would have no clue about without a referral link.

  6. I like them. As a media/content consumer rather than creator, I like to support great content creation. If I watch a video and decide “hmm I’ll buy [game]. [reviewer] likes it and the video was informative.” Then I like being able to support the content creator, especially if it’s no out of pocket for me.

    If there’s no affiliate link, then I just go to MM/Coolstuff/Amazon anyway to buy it. Might as well help the content creation.

    1. Matthew: Thanks for sharing. I think that resonates with what I was saying about how referrals can feel like a win-win for friends. Even though we may not personally know reviewers, we want them to continue making content, and it’s really easy to click on the link on their video/blog/podcast.

  7. Referral links are how most sponsored YouTubers survive. You’ll see it most often in their open boxing videos.

    As an admin of a group where Tabletop Kickstarter Links are encouraged (, I actually have to say no referral links in the description. Because of the targeted nature of the group and the availability to share most KS links freely, I immediately saw a bunch of Growl links where the poster was actually just spreading their link as far as possible, rather than with a select group of people interested in his content, as you did.

    I dunno. Jury is out on these types of promotions and how they intersect with social media. I think a service such as Kickrockit would actually work better as a way for creators to focus their marketing efforts even more with industry influencers, as you alluded to in the post, rather than a free-for-all for consumers.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Daniel! That sounds like a good policy for the Kickstarter group. And you make a good point about focusing on key influencers (though still make the links available for anyone to use).

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