Kickstarter Lesson #252: Group Pledges

27 August 2018 | 21 Comments

When I was in Seattle a few months ago at Mox Boarding House (a game cafe), the folks behind the Fantastic Factories Kickstarter stopped by to say hi. We were chatting about the campaign, and they said something that stood out: They were surprised by the number of backers who wanted to make group pledges.

A “group pledge” on Kickstarter is when a few people (usually living close to each other) pool their funds and have a single backer place a pledge for multiple copies of the game to be shipped to the same destination. The most common motivation for this is to save on shipping costs.

My Recommendation

I’ll cut to the chase and make a recommendation, as I used various types of group pledges on Kickstarter, and I finally found one on Scythe that worked really well.

Basically, in the text each pledge level on Scythe, I included the following text: “Add up to 2 more copies at $X each.” X was the amount of the pledge for 1 copy of that specific reward.

So, I allowed group pledges as part of the core reward system, but for a limited number of copies per pledge, and at no discount. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • The limit does a few different things that I learned the hard way–some of my previous projects didn’t have a limit. The biggest reason this didn’t work out was shipping. Couriers and fulfillment centers have no problem shipping a big box, but they’re not built as well for shipping multiple big boxes. Scythe comes in cartons of 4, so I limited group pledges to 3 copies each (that way the fulfillment centers could reuse the cartons but have room to add proper padding around the edges).
  • The limit relates to shipping fees as well–it’s easy to calculate the shipping cost for 5 kg, 10 kg, and 15 kg boxes. But what about a 120 kg shipment? That’s very different weight class.
  • Another reason for the limit is to reduce the chances of scams. A lot of these group pledges are arranged among strangers on social media–this is a great organic marketing tool for your campaign–so you’re entrusting an unknown entity with your money if they’re the one to place the pledge.
  • Both the limit and the lack of a group discount tie into how I tried to include retailers in my Kickstarter campaigns (read about this in detail in the “Retail Support” section of this article). I wanted smaller group pledges and larger retail pledges to coexist, so I clearly delineated the two–retailers pledged at the $1 level and worked out their pledge with me behind the scenes.
  • I used the same price as each reward (e.g., for the $59 reward, adding a copy was $59). Any additional shipping fee remained the same, as I had a $10 shipping subsidy built into every reward–that way, when added copies increased the overall shipping fee, the subsidy covered the difference.
  • Put a note on the FAQ indicating that each pledge must be shipped to the same destination–it’s not a loophole for backers to split a group pledge into multiple destinations while only paying for shipping once.

You will most certainly have backers asking you to offer special bundled pricing, but it still costs you the same amount to make each game–why would you devalue your product just because someone is buying 2 copies instead of 1? If a backer asks you to do this, a possible response is to say, “We can’t do that, but you still save on shipping costs, as they remain the same whether you pledge for 1 or more copies.”

I didn’t use a pledge manager on Scythe, so I asked backers on the survey how many copies of the game they had pledged to receive. It was easy to sort my spreadsheet to see when people answered inaccurately. If you’re using a pledge manager, hopefully the software lets you limit the number of copies per backer in case you try to implement a group pledge limit.

That’s my recommended method, but it’s certainly not the only option. What other options have you seen or used? What do you think about my method?

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21 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #252: Group Pledges

  1. I entered into my first group pledge with the recent Snowdonia kickstarter. I had looked at the campaign and was interested in it, but the $80+ price tag was just too rich for my blood… A friend pointed me to a group pledge in our area and I ended up getting it for $48! I had never heard of group pledges before inside the US and based on how much I read on how favorable shipping costs are in the US compared to overseas markets, I figured it wasn’t really a thing here.

    I recently got to play it with a friend who owns the first printing and am excited to get the master set!

  2. Thanks for the shout-out for Fantastic Factories Jamey! In the end we did some fairly similar to what you did for Scythe. We had a two-pack pledge level. Anyone who wanted more could add to their pledge. We ended up giving a $2 discount per extra copy but also explained the main advantage is saving on shipping. We didn’t put a limit on how many extra copies. I don’t think we were high enough profile to be a target of group buy scams, but time will tell. Asking how many copies they ordered in the survey is a good idea and something we will be sure to do!

    It was great meeting you in Seattle!

  3. Wow, this could not have come at a better time! We are set to launch next week, and I did have some information in our shipping section that we encourage group pledges. We did not realize how it might have opened us up for abuse, or maybe even just simple unintentional miscommunication. I have made changes accordingly.

    Sincerely, thank you, Jamey!

      1. I did. Again, not a thing I would have thought of had you not mentioned it, so thank you! I’m running it by the team tomorrow and will likely submit the campaign for review afterward. Your advice was in the nick of time.

  4. I saw this as i sit down to work out global group pledge rates for our live Guild Master campaign. timing! We set our game at approximately MSRP on Kickstarter ($49) but offer FREE SHIPPING to USA, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ. Basically most of the places english language gamers live. Yes we lose a chunk of our margin doing this but less than we do selling via distro – but we maintain the critical value perception between KS and retail.

    Of course countries outside the free zone still have to pay additional shipping charges beyond what we bundle in… and they rely on group pledges to mitigate that.

    However, just today i had a polite request from a UK backer requesting an additional group pledge discount for 6 or 12 copies of Guild Master. He agreed that getting free shipping already to the UK was incredibly rare and persuasive… but suggested a slight discount on MSRP would be an even more powerful tipping point for potential group backers in the UK. interesting!

    I think retailers are now somewhat used to there being a variety of ways people might get hold of a game at slightly below MSRP. I mean online shopping for games has a far bigger impact on value perception. most game on KS tend to advertise themselves at lower then MSRP even if shipping makes it more sometimes. So its muddy waters.

    So i think group pledges that reduce or remove additional shipping fees are a no brainer. Specially for getting games more affordably and closer to MSRP in remote countries. Jamey you will recall Ive been a passionate advocate for levelled shipping as wide as possible for years. And if a slight saving on MSRP per game (eg $2 – $3 saving from $49) is also possible I think that is OK too from a retail perspective.

    We did this for Unfair without ANY negative feedback from any part of the supply chain whatsoever. And we will do it for Guild Master too.

    What are your thoughts on that approach?

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kim. In the example I used on the above post, I was selling Scythe + promos ($80 MSRP plus promo costs) for $59, well below MSRP (probably too far below). That was part of my Kickstarter philosophy–if people are spending money before the product has even entered production, they deserve a discount (and retailers had a slightly lower price that we discussed behind the scenes). That seemed to work well.

      1. How did prices compare once you added on shipping to most places though?

        Did you get grief from retailers about the price discrepancy – thats a big theme from retailers now.

        How do you think the deep discounting on KS approach affected retail sales of some of your less mega-hype titles?

        1. Prices were still lower than MSRP after adding on shipping. Like, in Australia, I think the total cost was around $68, which is still lower than MSRP. I may have gotten a little grief from retailers, but because they could get an even better price during the campaign and because the prices went way up the second the campaign was over, it was minimal.

          I honestly didn’t see the deep discounting impact retail sales. The bigger impact was deluxe versions of the games–people wanted them instead of the retail version (we offered the deluxe components for purchase separately after the campaign).

          1. Yeah I think mega hype (as with Scythe or Gloomhaven) nullifies the price differential friction for retailers. I was wondering more about things like your solid successes like Between Two Cities and whether you felt any retailer resistance there?

            These days there are many vocal retailers who decry large KS discounts. The current thinking seems to be that anything beyond say a 5% KS discount over MSRP (inc shipping) adds friction for KS savvy retailers. How widely held that view is Im not sure.

          2. Kim: Yeah, I was trying to think back to those older projects when answering your question, and I think the same thing applies there. The only pushback we seemed to get from anyone was regarding the deluxe versions. But times may have changed quite a bit since then! :)

  5. Vocal is the key word in my opinion. I don’t have any data to back it up, but I suspect the average retailer doesn’t look at Kickstarter much less the price of the original Kickstarter pledge.

    I’m a KS creator and superbacker so I’m pretty familiar with KS board games. When I see a game in retail that was on KS, I’ve pretty much never looked up the original campaign to see what its price was.

    Both retailers and customers have to be doing this for it to even begin to matter. The average consumer doesn’t even use Kickstarter.

    1. Yeah I wondered about this too joseph. I think there are KS savvy retailers…. and retailers who are just trying to snatch things from the firehose of games aimed at their face.

      I wonder if the same applies to group pledge discounts – and whether slight discounts there add any friction.

      1. One thing to be aware of though is that distributors make the first choice about whether to stock a game and they do factor in KS vs MSRP pricing among many factors… and they also now have to be very selective about what they can fit in their overfull warehouses.

        1. I recently heard that distributors are going to be taking a much more measured approach about what games they will stock and it what quantities. It was explained to me they will do limited releases in increasing amounts to gauge consumer demand. This makes sense for their business model with regard to KS projects, but new publishers using Kickstarter may want to be cautious about how many units they print above those ordered during the campaign, even if you have an established path to distribution.

          I’m wondering if it makes more sense to do a second Kickstarter based on demand, instead of doubling-down on the initial print run, at least until there is enough capital to weather lower-than-expected demand for a title that doesn’t catch on for whatever reason. I’m not a fan of this though since it makes it far more difficult to get games into FLGS, which I think still serve a very important role for our gaming culture, even in the internet age. Who doesn’t love walking into a game store?

          1. Yep. Things are in flux. The danger with shallow orders is that if the publisher printed small to minimise risk with small orders the new normal, they give away a lot of cost per unit margin… and it can take 5 months for the restock to come online… by which time 30 great new games have lined up to take that shelf space. ugh

            So it might work via consolidators who can keep stock…

            But yes game stores are key.

  6. The BGTCUK Facebook group in the UK use group pledges extensively.

    We have 11.5k members and a trusted core run the group pledges for our group which is the largest here, if not the biggest in Europe.

    We’ve had some great results and often order 60 plus copies to be delivered to one address for onward distribution at conferences in the UK or mules between areas by mutual friends.

    We are a tight knit gaming community here and people tend to be known to each other.

    It’s also great to build community spirit and give people an excuse to meet and make friends whilst also bringing to bear some financial muscle for postal and discount savings.

    But I agree, don’t trust you’re money with just any random stranger.

  7. As an Australian, the group purchases (and the cost savings) are often the thing that will tip the scales on whether or not we end up Kickstarting a particular board game.

    A popular game might easily get 10 or 12 people in on each pledge.

    On the upper end of the spectrum, there are two group-pledges for recent Kickstarters that have me slightly concerned though–there’s one for Snowdonia with 24 people on it, and another for Escape Plan with 37 (several wanting multiple board games), so someone generous soul will likely end up with a pallet of games delivered to their house. It’s possible the people managing the campaign may not have anticipated this demand…

  8. Thanks for sharing, I really needed this info as lately I have been reading about KS pledges lower than MSRP on facebook groups and it looks to me like retailers are applying pressure not to do it at all.
    I believe if a person is taking a risk and investing his money on KS and waiting for that game for months in case it will deliver, they deserve a small discount for sure.

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