Kickstarter Lesson #48: It’s Okay to Say No

23 August 2013

One of the toughest challenges you’ll face while running your Kickstarter campaign is saying no.

It’s exciting to say yes during a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s extremely flattering to know that strangers around the world are thinking about way to make your project and your product better. You’ll get suggestions from tons of people about new stretch goals and reward levels, changes and additions to the concept itself, and different ways you can expand the audience for the project.

You’ll also get some backers asking you for special favors. They might ask you to sign their project or send the two halves of a two-pack to different locations or to give a special shoutout to a project of their own.

It’s okay to say no to these suggestions and requests. Here’s why:

If you say yes to every suggestion and every special favor, you will damage your ability to deliver on your promises to all backers. You’ll have to decide for yourself what those core principles and promises are. For me, they are:

  1. Deliver a fun, challenging game.
  2. Deliver an awesome-looking game at a fair price to backers that doesn’t bankrupt me.
  3. Deliver the game on time.
  4. Never stop connecting with backers.

Many suggestions that backers have will help me deliver on those promises. If someone comes up with a great idea for a stretch goal that we can afford and it will make the game look more awesome, absolutely, that’s a yes…unless it would significantly delay the game (if it was a significant gain in awesomeness for a small delivery delay, I would consider it).

Solid-Gold-Monopoly-Board-GameThe decision to say yes or no to a good suggestion often comes down to budget. Sure, it would be cool to dip every copy of the game in gold, but the shipping increase alone would bankrupt you. If you’re bankrupt, you can’t make or deliver all copies of the game. So that would be a time to say no. Treat backers with the respect that comes with being honest to them about what you can or cannot do for them.

I’m exaggerating, of course–in fact, as you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking that you’ll easily know when to say yes or no to stretch goal and reward level suggestions. However, it’s much harder to determine the right answer in the heat of the moment.

Kickstarter backers are a savvy group, and they’re going to come up with some great ideas. You’ll want to say yes to some right away, but that may not be the right call. You’ll also want to say no to some right away, but I’d recommend taking some time to think about that first. Just because someone’s suggestion goes against your original plan doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Keep returning to those core principles and promises.

Last, I mentioned that some backers will ask for personal favors. Some of them will offer to pay for those favors; others may not. Even in the face of money, sometimes you just have to say no. In fact, it’s very rare that you should say yes to a personal favor. I love to connect and engage with backers, but my time is precious, and I want to be fair to all backers. If I sign your game, hand-pack it, and hand-ship it, what does that say about all the other backers who would love a perk like that but didn’t get it?

Here’s the thing: I think you’re much more likely to regret saying yes to a special favor than saying no. In hindsight, I am unsettled by almost every special favor I’ve granted. It’s not just about time and money–it’s the fact that I said yes to someone and treated them better than other backers. I want to treat all backers equally well.

Backers, on behalf of all project creators, I’d like to request two things of you:

  1. When you contact Kickstarter creators with suggestions–and please, please continue to share your amazing ideas and insights with us–make sure you have all backers’ interests at heart, not just your own. Take the overall cost of making the product and the schedule into account.
  2. Please don’t ask for special favors. That puts a creator in a really uncomfortable position. We love your support, but we need to treat all backers with the same fairness and respect. It’s tough to do that when one backer asks us to treat them better or differently than the others. It’s a different matter if you think of a new reward level that could apply to a number of backers–that would fall into the first category above. [Update: Someone brought up the question of signing games at conventions or here in St. Louis. I love doing that–to me that’s not a special favor, it’s connecting with my backers face to face.]

To my fellow Kickstarter creators, good luck figuring out when to say yes and when to say no. Can you think of any examples of times when you had to say no to a great idea?

Related topic: Flexibility, Filtering, and Responding to Feedback

Also: How to Say No

7 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #48: It’s Okay to Say No

  1. Thanks for another great post! What’s your thoughts on turning a special favor into an add-on for all backers? For instance, a backer requests an autographed copy and is willing to pay. Is it reasonable to say “Yes” and then offer the same deal to the other backers as an add-on for those interested? Curious to get your take.

    On an unrelated note I’d love to get your take on the connundrum posed in the most recent article by Greg at 3DTotalGames found here: http://3dtotalgames.com/stuck-in-the-middle-with-you

    Thanks for all your sage Kickstarter advice!

  2. I think that something that more or less works is requesting suggestions in the public comments section, instead of via more ‘private’ methods. That way, there’s some peer pressure against suggestions which are perceived to be risky to the project (because of cost or time) or not in its spirit. On the other hand, sometimes this creates a snowball of support which can put the creator in a slightly awkward position – but at least this is somewhat of a guarantee of backers support down the line (I’m thinking about the Euphoria Supreme edition, for instance).

    Having the discussion take place in public also helps with the occasional frustrated backer – he/she is likely to be flagged down by the rest. Most people taking the time to comment are rather reasonable individuals.

    I like your take on special favors, although Roger raises up a good point – if it’s something you can offer as an addon for all backers (and you think that it will be worth the hassle), then go for it.

    1. Roger and andvaranaut–I agree that a special favor that is presented as a new reward level for a number of backers is something that is worth asking about, but I would put that in the first category of “suggestions,” not special favors. 99% of the special favors I’ve been asked to do are private–people asking me to make an exception for them.

      andvaranaut, I like when people post suggestions on comments threads. That’s a quick and easy way to see if other backers are interested in the same thing. I can always open a poll if I want to know the true thoughts on the majority.

      Roger, I’ll check out that article in a bit. Thanks for the link!

  3. The “special favors” section is an important one, I feel.

    In several of the higher-profile board game KS campaigns in which I have participated, there has been a weird push from a handful of vocal backers to immortalize a couple of rabid backers/commenters in a character card, or something similar.

    Perhaps, from the publisher side, those rabid few make for great publicity and it’s thus a worthwhile stunt or “tip of the hat”. But, to an unassuming (and mostly quiet) backer like myself, it comes across as preferential treatment.

    1. FreedomGunfire–That’s really interesting. I actually did see that with Euphoria. It was neat to have backers acknowledge the efforts of some individuals who went above and beyond to make the project great, but I think acknowledging those efforts in public is a good enough. Plus, I don’t think those people who go the extra mile are doing it for special treatment–they’re doing it because they believe in the project.

      1. I actually cancelled my backing of a project that I wont name, because said project decided to put actual pictures of a small group of backers, into the game as cards. Not only does it make the rest of us feel kind of crappy(or just me maybe), but I don’t want to stare at pictures of strangers when I play a game. Cartoony pics, maybe; Not real pictures.

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