Kickstarter Lesson #50: How to Reboot an Unsuccessful Kickstarter Project

28 August 2013

relaunchA few days ago I explored whether or not you should cancel or finish a struggling Kickstarter project. Regardless of your decision, if you decide to reboot your project on a future date, you’re probably wondering what you need to do to increase your chances of success.

This is an interesting topic for me to broach for several reasons. First, I haven’t ever rebooted a project. I’ve consulted on rebooted projects, but I haven’t done it myself. So I knew this would require some research. I get excited about spreasheets, and I hope you find the data on the bottom of this lesson to be useful.

Second, at a quick glance, reboots are very project-specific. Sure, I would hope that project creators looking to reboot would read over my Kickstarter Lessons to re-evaluate their project. That’s all general advice that hopefully will help. But each project creator who is working on a reboot has very different needs.

I was recently chatting with Emil Larsen, the creator of a game called Burning Suns, about rebooting projects. Emil launched Burning Suns in March 2013, and he didn’t quite reach his funding goal. So he spent the next 4 months honing his game and his project, and he recently relaunched. In just a few days he surpassed his original funding amount, and he’s well on his way to overfunding. You can see the rebooted Burning Suns project here.

I asked Emil if he could share the top 3 things that every rebooted project creator should know, and he wrote the following (I paraphrased in a few places):

1. Ask and Analyze

I believe one of the dangers with a failed Kickstarter is that you’d be jumping to conclusions. Because how can you fail, when there’s an almost 50% success rate on board game projects?

If you fail, you should go directly to the market (backers) and ask why!

  • Ask them what made them cancel their pledge
  • What would make them pledge again and so on.

Whenever I had a backer that cancelled or didn’t pledge in the first place, I asked myself (and then the person) – WHY? Dig out the main problems with your campaign by analyzing these answers thoroughly.

Analyze the numbers on the dashboard, and on Kicktraq, analyze your bitly link data (or similar). You’ll often find answers to the activity and effectiveness of your campaign there.

2. Devaluation Isn’t the Solution

I have a feeling many failed projects are remapped in a hurry and launched based on these assumptions:

  • “Our goal was too high, lets lower it”
  • “The price of our pledges were too high, lets lower them”

Just because you didn’t hit your goal, doesn’t mean you should smack your budget down, lower your prices on everything and put your company at risk. It’s easy to just chop off a zero here and there, but it’s also an severe risk to take!

Here’s some of my suggestions for alternatives.

  • Keep the price and instead bring more value to the product, that doesn’t cost you extra. Maybe some digital stuff?
  • Lower your main pledge level, but increase the budget (keep it realistic and serious).

Raise the budget and include more content, don’t settle for half (I believe many backers have burned money on half projects, that only just reached their goal).

In general I think project creators are jeopardizing their own chances of success when they treat Kickstarter as a “economical gimmick” and not a business model and including the financial aspects of a production.

3. Nurture Your Previous Supporters by Sharing Your New Project Preview Page with Them

At first I was a bit disheartened by the fact that I had to create the project from scratch again (you can’t just copy the original project page). Didn’t I just spend 1½ months on this sucker, and now I have to start completely over?

I now realize how important it was for me to start over! It gave me a great opportunity to rethink every word, every comma, every piece of art, not to mention the order of all of the elements on the project page.

Once your project page is ready, share it with your previous backers (and new resources)! Here’s what you should do:

  • Make sure to put “subscribe to newsletter” link on the preview page–that way people who get the sneak preview can have a way to be notified when the page goes live.
  • Share your preview with everyone. This feedback is probably some of the most invaluable feedback you can ever get for your campaign.

While you’re sharing your page, make sure to regularly talk to your former backers, keep them in the loop, and let them help you wherever they can.

***

Thanks Emil! His advice applies to any rebooted project. However, I want to explore his second point after we look at the data from other rebooted board game projects.

I explored 9 different projects that went through a reboot and were successful the second time around (I included Burning Suns, which is currently funding but has already exceeded the original amount it raised). BGG user Matt Wolfe, who maintains this ongoing list of tabletop Kickstarter projects, helped me remember a few of these projects. Thanks Matt!

You can click on the screenshot below to embiggen it, or you can click here to go to the live Google doc. You can add the data for other rebooted projects here to help other project creators.

reboot_data

Here are my overall takeaways from this data. These are things you should do to increase the chances of success of your rebooted project:

  1. Don’t Wait Too Long: Almost across the board, these projects rebooted within 4 months of the original project’s launch date. That’s a fast turnaround. All of these projects had backers the first time around, and they didn’t want backers to forget about them. As Emil said, nurture those backers and then give them what they want within a few months.
  2. Decrease Your Funding Goal: This contradicts part of Emil’s second point. I agree with Emil that you should take a close look at your budget to determine how much you actually need to raise. However, if you lower your funding goal, not only do you inherently have a better chance of raising that much money, but you also get to factor in the excitement backers feel when they’re part of an overfunded project. Just make sure that you have the resources to cover the difference if you don’t end up making what you actually need to manufacture the game. Jeff Cornelius, the creator of the Stones of Fate project, made a great observation about the funding goal: From the backer’s perspective, the funding goal needs to match the type of project. He had a goal of $19k for a light strategy card game, and it was perceived as too high. Aim for $8-$12k for a small card game, $15-$25k for a medium-weight strategy game, and $35-$50k for a heavy miniatures game.
  3. Decrease the Cost of the Core Reward: Most of these projects decreased the cost of the core reward. As Emil said, only do what you can actually afford. But if you can lower the barrier to entry, you’re going to get more backers and raise more funds overall. Jeff Cornelius also made the great point here that you need reward levels at several different key price points. He heard the backers say they wanted a special $30 or $40 reward level (his core reward level was $20). I experienced something similar with Euphoria–backers wanted a way to upgrade their pledge and receive something of value in return, so I added a $59 reward level (the core level was $49).
  4. Display Rules, Reviews, and Final Art Samples from Day 1: Although some of these projects had polished project pages, a number of them were missing key elements that can inspire confidence in backers. Make sure all the core elements of a great project page are there from Day 1.
  5. Reduce Confusion: As you can see on the bottom row of the data, I tried to find some of the intangible elements of each project that were fixed in the reboot. One common element I found was a reduction in confusion. Many of these original projects were either confusing from the start or became more confusing as reward levels and backer suggestions were incorporated during the project. If you have backer suggestions that fundamentally change the way your project is structured, cancel your project and start over from scratch to avoid any confusion.

There’s one other point I need to make before I wrap this up: Many unsuccessful board game Kickstarter projects I see have subpar art and graphic design. The problem is, when you’re a project creator, you see your art and design through rose-colored glasses. It’s very, very hard for you to recognize your own subpar art and design. You can get backer feedback, but your backers are the ones who aren’t bothered by your subpar art and design–they’re not the ones you’re worried about. You should be worried about the thousands upon thousands of backers who looked at your project and thought it looked like unicorn crap (even though there might be a great game underneath).

So here’s what you need to do before you reboot (and ideally before you launch in the first place): Ask someone who doesn’t give a damn about your feelings what they think about your art and design. In fact, readers, if you have an eye for great art and design and you’re willing to tell people their art and design sucks, post your BGG name in the comments below. I’m telling you, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and trouble if you hear it up front and can invest in a proper artist and designer before you launch or reboot.

Despite all those general points, Emil’s first point is probably the most important: Listen to your backers. They’re a savvy lot, and they’ll tell you most of what you need to know to improve your project for a successful reboot. Good luck!

37 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #50: How to Reboot an Unsuccessful Kickstarter Project

  1. Great tips! I was a backer of the Nanobots reboot, and I thought it was very interesting that they retooled their project from a miniatures game to a tile-laying game. I wasn’t interested the first time around (barrier-to-entry too high), but I jumped on the reboot.

    Also, I do quite a bit with graphic design for my employers, and would be willing to provide feedback on art/graphics. My BGG username is FreedomGunfire.

    1. Thanks Dustin! I was the same with Nanobots. And thanks for giving project creators an honest perspective about their art and graphics.

  2. Thanks for the great info. I would agree with Emil’s first point but would also question his second. I know with Stones of Fate we were definitely shooting to high. Admitting that to yourself and to your bankers is the right thing to do. You really have to be brutally honest with yourself to do a successful reboot

  3. I’d be happy to take a look and give feedback. Don’t have a graphic design background – but then again, most backers wouldn’t! I’m Levzilla on BGG.

  4. I try to help out creators where I can and I’m definitely pretty honest and straight forward about my opinions. At the same time, I try to be as helpful as I can. I’ve said before that I’ve benefited much more from other people’s honesty and frankness than from pandering. I’m willing to look over just about any board game kick starter (or even serious prototypes) and help out where and when I can. My BGG account is TheNameForgotten.

    I’d also suggest utilizing Facebook – there are some very helpful people in the Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned group. Nothing beats asking the right people directly (and nicely) though.

  5. Yay.. am I famous now? Where’s the limo Jamey, you haven’t send it yet? :D
    In all seriousness – thanks a lot Jamey! It’s just great to be able to share some lessons learned with you and everybody else.
    Continue your great work – and have a wonderful weekend!
    Best wishes Emil

  6. This is cool to see two great kickstarter designers sharing notes. I backed Jamey on Euphoria and I am backing Emil on Burning Suns (this time.) Emil makes a lot of good point. Jamey also hits it spot on about Art. The new art for Burning Suns is amazing and that is really what is pushing me to back it.

    Thanks,
    Duncan

  7. Working on a reboot right now. I look forward to implementing some of this.

    I also recently posted on BGG a new thread – “Kickstarter: A successful fail”. And asked people who didn’t pledge, why they didn’t pledge. I got slapped around quite a bit, but I chose to take that before I wrote the post… hence writing the post. The feedback was tremendous! I would recommend doing this to anyone. Here’s the thread
    BGG Thread here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1028049/kickstarter-a-successful-fail

    1. John–Thanks for sharing that method. You got so many responses! Well done for asking the hard questions and being receptive to them.

  8. You know, you gotta. If you can’t take constructive critcism you’re doomed. In fact, if you can’t take constructive criticism, you’re screwed when the haters show up! Haha.
    Like I said on the thread at one point:
    Hearing what people who pledged thing is great.
    Hearing what people who only pledged $1 think is better.
    Hearing what people who think I suck think… is best.
    “With many counselors plans succeed…” ~Solomon

  9. Hi I would gladly help to look at art and such but only when I have the time. I write know might be tight since I´m reading a course in interaction human-computer.

    But I do have a question. Almost all that lowered their funding goal ended up overshotting the previous total. Some by alot. Do you know if the split for making the core elements of the changed?

    Like this First camp level 20 $ of that 12 goes to the core element rest to taxes, kickstarter/amazon and rewards. Second camp 15 level 8 to core and 7 to rest.

    Or more macro first camp goal 20 000 $ $ second 10 000 $ 10-15k $ strech 15-20k $ strech and the strech goals. Maybe this is clearer did strech goals lead to diminished returns since they where desined with higher value and lower cost?

    I hope you understand what Im trying to ask here. Otherwise say so and I ll try again.

    Also this paragrap felt off. you use the word either but it does not connects to anything even thoug I think it was meant for burning sun.

    ” explored 9 different projects that went through a reboot and were either successful the second time around (I included Burning Suns, which is currently funding but has already exceeded the original amount it raised). BGG user Matt Wolfe, who maintains this ongoing list of tabletop Kickstarter projects, helped me remember a few of these projects. Thanks Matt!”

    Thanks for doing what you do!

    1. Michel–That’s a good question. I think a good approach when rebooting is to look at your costs and see if you can reduce them for the core game, only adding in the extras via stretch goals. That can help reduce the funding goal, and I’m guessing that’s what several of these projects did.

  10. Great article. As a Kickstarter with a tabletop game that wasn’t initially successful, then rebooted and met it’s goal (and then some), I am excited to see this support here. Just remember… Don’t give up on your dream, just reshape it so everyone can see it the same way that you do.

    1. Congrats! And I really like that line: “Don’t give up on your dream, just reshape it so everyone can see it the same way that you do.” Well said.

  11. Hey Jamey and readers!
    So after 2 months of work and 2 weeks in to the campaign, it is not looking good for Mice & Dice on kickstarter :( I have learned so much from this blog and a lot about myself the past few weeks (namely that I do not deal well with “failure”, hahaha) I am thinking it is time to pull the plug barring miracle from our time on Funding the Dream and a few other podcasts. I am hoping that one of you might be willing to check out our campaign and give us some honest feedback about either the page or the game or both. I really would appreciate some criticism and suggestions if you are willing to give it here, or feel free to shoot me an email at stessogames@gmail.com
    Thank you :) our kickstarter can be found here: http://kck.st/1cepSkV

  12. Thank you Jamey for your information about cancelling a Kickstarter campaign. After actually cancelling my campaign I found some definitive answers to my questions that I will share here in case anyone else runs into this as you can’t find it in the KS help. Q: How do you cancel a KS campaign before it has run its course? A: On the Basics page (or they may have moved it but it’s on one of the owners project tabs) at the bottom there is a “cancel funding” button, this is the same as cancelling the project and it also stops and cancels the funding. Q: Does your project go away (off the KS website)? A: No it stays there forever, no one can donate, but you can still add comments to guide people to your re-launch if you make one. Q: Is a re-launch your existing project just re-launched at a later date? A: No you must make a completely new project and submit it again for approval. You can use the videos, pictures, information, etc. though in your new project. Q: Can you (or should you) use the same project title? A: I didn’t get a clear answer to this but I think you can although I’m not sure how that would work when people search, do they get project 1 or 2?. NOTE: Before I cancelled my project I added a “Bulletin” at the top of my project asking people to go to my website for updates. I also emailed all of the backers that had donated and explained what I was doing to be sure they’d come back when I re-launch. Suggestion: I have a good product http://www.swiftshade.com and thought that I had prepared enough for a launch but I realized after about a week that I was wrong. I did not get the word out near enough and of the people that actually see your link only a small percentage actually become backers. It’s a fine line between annoying someone and trying to get a donation. For my friends and family I only asked for a small donation so they could become backers and most were in the $25 range but that was not near enough to fund my project. The secret lies out in hyperspace and figuring out how to make contact with bloggers, people in your industry, social media folks, and so on I have not nailed how to do yet. BTW right after a launch you will get a lot of solicitations for services to promote your KS campaign…beware…I always asked “can you guarantee backers” and the answer was always no. Remember they have nothing to lose since there is no guarantee. Feel free to email me at loren@sciencerd.com if you have suggestions for my re-launch but please no sales unless you have written guarantees.

    1. Loren: Thanks so much for sharing what you learned from canceling. I have two quick things to add: First, if you cancel a project, I don’t think that searching for it will reveal it among the search results (that’s one of the benefits to canceling instead of letting a project run the duration if it’s not going to fund). Second, you touch upon a few things to do to reach out to various forms of media before the project. I should say that there isn’t a quick and easy answer for doing that–it’s a long process of building relationships with people. I talk about this a lot in the KS lessons leading up to a project launch.

      Good luck with your reboot!

  13. Jamey-
    Unrelated to this particular post, but on your blogging as a whole, I have to say a big thank you! I’m new to all of this – my lone foray into board game design is still in early playtesting – but I was very curious about the Kickstarter process. Stumbling into your site was a revelation, and I have a 9-page Word document filled with notes as a result of reading your entire KS series over the past few weeks. And I’ll undoubtedly return to several articles in the future as I continue with my development efforts. The non-gaming aspects of Kickstarters were intimidating to me, and I’m sure I speak for many others in that regard. So while lots of work and additional research is needed, your series of blogs demystified the process in a way that was immediately approachable.

    It’s also got me interested in playing Viticulture at some point. So perhaps your KS blogs are a roundabout way of stirring up business, even when that’s not the primary intent.

    But if I do ever foray into the world of KS with my own creations – and I hope to at some point – I’ll owe you a large debt of gratitude for sharing your experience with us. Thanks again!
    -Mark

    1. Mark: Thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad you’ve found value in this blog, and I think it’s great that you’re doing so much research for your potential project. I always respect that in any creator, and it’s a big part of the reason why i’m writing a Kickstarter/crowdfunding book. Let me know what you think if you have the chance to try out Viticulture!

  14. Hi, Jamey. Congrats on the good review from Tom. (Though he’s not the “Godfather of gaming” like most believe, it’s a positive accolade, nonetheless.)

    Question:

    I’m considering ending my current campaign and relaunching. I COULD relaunch as soon as a few days (technicality changes), but I know GenCon is in just over a week and that may not be wise.

    What are you thoughts on when I should relaunch?

    (*context – not relaunching due to lack of audience, but errors made on my part as far as pledge levels and costs.)

    1. Jason: Thanks for your question. I agree that launching during or right before Gen Con probably isn’t a great idea, so the next week should work fine. Make sure to explain very precisely to backers why you’re doing it and when you’ll be back. You’ll likely lose 20-30% of them, as errors like that don’t inspire backer confidence. The more transparent you can be, the better.

        1. Follow up question:
          What would you say to messaging/emailing each backer (mass email) now, letting them know that we plan to cancel and relaunch, why we’re doing it, and why it will benefit them, and then asking them if they would continue to support the game in the next campaign? All this a week, or days, before the actual campaign cancellation… It seems that this communication and openness would build some good report and trust with the current backers, likely (hopefully) increasing the chances of them staying on board in the relaunched campaign. Thoughts?

  15. Also, we’re 15 days down with 15 days to go at 50% funded.
    How long would you wait before cancelling? (keeping Gen Con in mind) And then, how long after that would you relaunch? I would hate to lose time…. having too much “downtime.”

    With those questions answered, what would your thoughts be on shortening the duration of the relaunched campaign? The current campaign is 30 days… do you think it sufficient to have the relaunched campaign be 25 days…or even 20? (Assuming a good portion of the current backers recommit…and assuming those who have already considered the campaign will now join or not. (Gondola would have been live for 35 (15+20) or more days)

    Thanks so much for your thoughts and advice.

    1. I would go ahead and cancel now (though different creators would answer that differently). My take is that rather than focus on a failing project, focus on rebuilding a potentially successful one.

      I like your thinking on shortening the campaign to around 20 days.

      1. So cancel now and relaunch post-Gen Con? I at least need to let this message I send (tonight?) be read…I’m thinking? Or will they still be able to receive/see the message (directly through KS) after the campaign is cancelled?

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