8 October 2018 | 13 Comments
Is there an anticipation sweet spot?
I posed this question on the Ludology podcast a few weeks ago. While Geoff and Gil didn’t have a specific answer, our overall conclusion was that some anticipation is good, but if you wait too long (like Kickstarters that take years to fulfill rewards), people tend to forget that they are anticipating anything.
The topic of anticipation has been on my mind quite a bit recently. Actually, it dates back a few years. Here’s a brief history of Stonemaier Games anticipation:
- In December of 2014, I revealed the box art for Scythe on BoardGameGeek, starting a roller coaster of excitement, assumptions, and trepidation that resulted in a huge launch day on Kickstarter in October 2015.
- I announced the name and theme of Charterstone around 18 months before the game was released, leading to a long series of design diaries and speculation, particularly in the Charterstone Facebook group.
- A little over a month ago, I announced a product, accepted pre-orders, and started shipping a completely unknown game, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, all on the same day. The only potential for anticipation was while their pre-orders were in transit.
- Several months ago I started talking about Scythe Encounters on social media, followed by an official announcement and the opening of pre-orders last week. Despite the low-key, unadvertised approach, we’ve sold 1826 copies in 5 days.
So I’ve tried different methods, and each of them have pros and cons that I’ve detailed here. In fact, on that article I featured a reader poll asking how far in advance backers like to hear about new projects, and the top two picks were (a) 1-3 months before the campaign and (b) a few weeks before the campaign. But that’s a Kickstarter question–does anticipation work differently now that we don’t use Kickstarter?
I did some online research about the psychology of anticipation, and here are a few highlights:
- According to multiple studies, “Anticipation of experiences was linked to greater happiness, more pleasantness, more excitement and less impatience than was anticipation of material possessions. Looking forward to a vacation or other such experience was also more positive overall than not thinking of any new purchase.” To me, this signals that people really do look forward to the campaign portion of a Kickstarter project, not just the product itself.
- This article discusses a studying involving conditioning monkeys to expect an incoming treat. “What the researchers found was that once the monkeys had learned that the light meant juice was coming soon, their dopamine levels were highest when the light was turned on—as opposed to when they finally tasted the juice.” I’ve certainly experienced that when I’m looking forward to a new book, movie, or game, especially if I know in advance exactly when I’ll get to consume that new content.
- As cited here, “This study illustrates how anticipating a future situation (especially a pleasurable one) can sometimes help us to get through a difficult present situation.” Anticipating something in the future often makes us happier in the present.
But I couldn’t find an article that indicated if there is an exact sweet spot between when you learn about something new and when you actually get to experience it for the first time. I will say, though, that the results of the Scythe Encounters method is particularly encouraging. Here’s a rough description of how that method applies to us (and how it could work for you):
- 1-2 months before official announcement: Start talking about the product on social media.
- Official announcement and pre-order launch: Reveal MSRP, SKU, and release date, opening direct pre-orders. Fulfillment of those pre-orders begins soon afterwards.
- 2 months after announcement: Retail release date.
Obviously things are a bit different on Kickstarter, as there’s a big production gap after you successfully fund. But you could use similar methods twice instead of once: Start openly talking about the product a few months before launch, then start to really churn up excitement again as you approach the fulfillment process and retail release date.
I would love to hear your perspective on this topic. How much time do you want to maximize the good feelings you get from anticipating something?