Kickstarter Lesson #63: Stay Focused or Lose Backers

9 October 2013 | 45 Comments

At this point I’ve reviewed hundreds of project pages for fellow project creators (see my advice and consultation policy here). Each project is unique, and each project page has unique issues that hold it back from being a great project. But there’s one piece of advice that I have to give to almost every project creator after seeing their project page rough draft:

Stay focused.

Stay focused on what you’re raising money for. Stay focused on whom you’re creating it for (more on that here). Stay focused on what you’re trying to deliver to backers.

Why does focus matter? Because every time you lose focus–whether it’s in your rewards, on your project page, in your updates, or elsewhere–you dilute your primary objective.

If a potential backer looks at your project page for the first time because he wants to buy your game and he has to weed through 5 pledge levels before he can find the actual game, you may lose that backer. If a potential backer is intrigued by the name of your project, but she can’t figure out what you’re raising money for by looking at your project page, that’s a problem. You’re going to lose that backer.

Sell What You’re Selling

Here’s a common example of what I see on those rough draft project pages:

$1 – special thank you on Twitter

$5 – postcard with a photo of us making the game

$15 – art print from the game

$25 – t-shirt with our game company logo on it

$50 – the game

When I see that, I ask the creator, “What are you trying to sell here? Are you in the business of selling art prints? Is your dream to make and ship a bunch of t-shirts, or is it your dream to publish a board game?”

If you’re trying to raise money to manufacture a game, the people who come to your project page are looking to get a game. They’re not looking for a postcard, an art print, or a t-shirt. So don’t make them weed through all that to get to what they want.

(During your project, if a bunch of backers request art prints, you can add a pledge level that gets them the game + the art print. But not by itself. Stay focused on your core product.)

The “Kitchen Sink Method” Doesn’t Work

As a project creator, you might think that including every possible reward will help you achieve your goal. Every dollar counts, right?


Not only do you dilute your core mission every time you include a $5 postcard level or a $25 t-shirt level, you also add all these ancillary items to your to-do list that take up your time. Time that you could be spending actually running the bakery you raised money for or playtesting your game.

It really comes down to this: The success of your $20,000 project to raise money for cat surveillance cameras doesn’t hinge on the 10 people who choose the $5 postcard level. It hinges on you finding 200 people to give you $100 each for a cat camera. Input some sample numbers on KickTotal if you want to see for yourself. [Update 2020: at some point this website ceased to exist.]

And yes, not everybody who will support your project wants a cat camera. That’s one of the reasons why you include a $1 reward level. $1 reward levels aren’t about the money–they’re about engaging people and getting them excited enough to either upgrade or to spread the word.

More Streamlined = Less Confusion

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of not confusing your backers. Everything should be crystal clear. A backer should know within 5 seconds of looking at the page what you’re raising money for, how they can get a copy, and if that copy is the “complete” copy or not.

A few months ago I found a project from a successful company on Kickstarter that had two games in their rewards. They seemed somewhat related, but they had different names. One was less than half the price of the other. One bore the name of the project, while the other didn’t seem to fit. It was confusing, and it was a big turn off.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult. Stay focused on what you’re creating, and you will attract and retain more backers.


What do you think? Has a project ever caught your eye but then lost you due to lack of focus?

Leave a Comment

45 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #63: Stay Focused or Lose Backers

  1. I think the vast majority of people are going to buy the “real” version if they like the game, not just play forever with the PnP version. The PnP can help some of those people decide if they like the game or not, as it gives them a chance to test it.

    You could offer a “lite” version of the game as a PnP, or a version that only has prototype art/graphic design if you’re worried about it.

    Here’s more about PnPs here:

  2. I think a free PnP for a card game maybe is not a good idea. Because it is really easy to make a free printed copy at home. But if not for free what pledge level is right? What do you think? 1-3-5?

  3. I offered a £3 full PNP (full game was £14+postage) and – because £3 is close to £1 – didn’t have a £1 tier, since folk can pledge that anyway.

    About 25% of folk went for that tier, but I think it was a mistake.

    I don’t know how many folk pledged £3 for the PNP and how many did it for support. One friend said on FB that he wanted to give me money but not get the game and was missing a £1 pledge level – this was someone who’d attempted a KS in the past, who didn’t realise you can pledge any level anyway! If he didn’t realise, I’m sure tens of others didn’t.

    My game is a card game, so I know of at least 3 folk who printed out their own copy, 2 of whom will be getting the real game. Someone thanked me for the PNP option (I don’t know if they printed it out yet) saying that they basically just wanted to support me and not take the PNP for free.

    But next time, I think that I might make a £1 pledge to be a demo version + me publicly shouting your name in a busy street and then jump to the full game.

    1. Behrooz: Thanks for sharing this. As you can tell, I’m a fan of this idea. :) I make a playtest PnP of our game available to everyone, even without the pledge–if people are signing up to print out and test the game for us (and share it with others who might also pledge), that’s a huge asset in our favor.

  4. Great post Jamey. We’ve streamlined our project as best we can, while every level offers the game (or a version of it, pnp, etc.). Though for the sake of good options and upgrades we do have ourselves a fair # of tiers.

  5. Embarrassingly, not ‘lots.’ I just submitted my first KS project last night. I was rushing a bit because I feel it’s important to get it up there before the holidays come and nobody has any extra money to spend. Most of the the other projects had the standard rewards you walk about not doing here–T shirts, Posters, etc

    1. Well, you can still make edits to your project. Spend a few hours today researching other film projects–it will be time well spent.

  6. Yeah, makes sense. I wish I had as many options. I’m a film maker, not a game maker. Gotta say I felt a bit ridiculous trying to come up with rewards other than the movie itself. Finally settled on an exclusive content release of the soundtrack (it wont be available any other way than through KS, ever) and a private link to a ‘pop up video’ version of the movie which won’t be made public until 6 months after my backers get it.

    Thanks for being awesome.

    1. Ryan–Yeah, it’s a little more tricky for a movie. Have you looked at lots of other movie projects to see what they did?

  7. Hey Jamey. Just wanted to say thanks for writing all these KS articles, especially since you seem to offer a fee based consultancy on the very same thing. Well done, sir!

    Secondly, I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here. If offering rewards other than the final product weakens your pitch, then ideally, the final product should be the ONLY reward you offer, yes?

    1. Thanks Ryan, and that’s a great question. I would say that you can offer any reward that strengthens the core product as long as it is in conjunction with the actual product. For example, some projects offer original art from a game as a reward. By itself that’s not okay. But if a copy of the game is included with the art, then the art is enhancing the core product. There are lots of things that can enhance the core product, but without the core product, they don’t belong.

      Let’s look at Euphoria as an example. About 40 or so people (out of 4,700+) requested that I offer the custom dice by themselves. But there are a variety of reasons that would not be good for the Kickstarter campaign or Stonemaier Games. I’m not in the business of selling custom dice. It’s a completely different business than making and selling board games. It would require different packaging and a new ISBN if I want to sell it on Amazon, or if I wanted to package and send it by hand, doing so would take a ton of extra time that would take me away from making and selling board games. Having that option on the project page might confuse backers: Is my goal to make a game or make dice? And sure, a few of them may not back the project because all they want is the dice, but others might back the project *because* of the dice, which is cool, because that means a cool component has converted a potential backer into a backer of the thing I really want to create.

      So what did I do after I got those requests? I created “supreme” version of the game for $10 more than the deluxe game that includes an extra set of custom dice. Instead of getting 40 or so backers to pledge $15 or so for dice by themselves (I could not have charged $10 for the dice alone), I had 1,794 backers upgrade from the $49 deluxe game to the $59 supreme game.

      Make sense? :)

  8. Jamey, great advice. Thanks.

    I’ll admit, I’m working the pledge levels for my own Kickstarter and that constantly lingering fear we all have of “will they really like my game?” can appear in the over-compensation of ‘fluff’ in the pledge levels. “If I throw all this other stuff in, maybe then they’ll want to buy my game.” No, they should want to buy your game, because of your game.

    Thankfully, in my own pledge levels, common sense is slowly prevailing, not to mention my enormous lack of knowledge on how I would actually wrangle any possible ancillary rewards beyond the game itself. It’s hard enough figuring out how to get your game designed, printed and distributed, let alone throwing in the “lead lined underoos” and “dark matter thumbdrives” rewards.

    1. Joe–thanks for your thoughts. I can certainly understand that tendency. But you sum it up well: “they should want to buy your game, because of your game.”

      I would chuckle, though, if I saw a project with lead-lined underoos.

  9. Jamey,

    I understand the concept of not “giving away” card and board games in the PNP format, but wouldn’t an RPG be an exception to your theory? It is quite a different animal as there is a “thriving” RPG PDF market. What are your thoughts?

    1. Rod–I must admit that I don’t know much about the RPG space, but I would think that a PDF could be a complete replacement for the game. That’s more like an ebook to a hardcover book, though–you don’t lose out on much. With a board game, you lose out on so many elements that the designer/publisher intended the game to be played with.

  10. Yes! As kickstarter gets more crowded, simplicity itself can provide valuable differentiation. Personally i get frustrated when having to decode bling fest pages with too many variations.

    I’ve studied about 10 games similar to the ones I’ll hopefully get on KS next year and they tend to have $50 – 60% of their backers at the core level. But I wonder what % of backers who went for the bling and the more complex reward level versions would have NOT backed the basic game had the more complex version not been there. But then I also wonder how much stretch goals really drive ongoing new backers compared to the inherent momentum of the core game + the buzz around its current funding level.

    I also worry for first time project coordinators who put so many balls in the air to juggle they are bound to drop some of them and add risk the project. This even happens to experienced KS project managers. More moving parts = more risk of delays or hidden gotchas which can risk your projects finances.

    One of the cleanest in recent memory was Martin Wallace’s Study in Emerald. a 1 pound pledge, a core game pledge, 1 early bird level with his sig on a sticker (i doubt was really needed), and then 3 bulk pledge levels. Oh… and global shipping inclusive!!!

    He claims he is a disorganised guy. I certainly don’t see any evidence of that in his campaign.

  11. Good points here. One of the things we’ve found in our line of business is that tzotchky items like keychains, posters, mugs and t-shirts are now giveaway-level items for the most part. Some exceptions – ie Muse Studios prints high-quality t-shirts from American Apparel – but otherwise American consumers are overcome by product when they’re really looking for substance.

    One of my first impressions when KS campaigns offer a bazillion levels is “why”? And then “can you REALLY get all this done?” Like you said, focus. Beyond that, keep it accessible. If the game is $100 but you offer a P-n-P at $35, that just might work if I want the game enough.

  12. I couldn’t agree more. The game (core primary pledge level) should be the second pledge level (after the $1 level) – or perhaps the third in rare cases where you have a PnP at a lower price point – though I’m leaning toward PnP’s just being a free download on the KS page. I’m looking forward to your article on the PnP issue – how significant was the portion of players who only went for the PnP and not the full game? I’m guessing the portion of players who will go to the work of making a PnP for the purposes of using it as a substitute for a purchase (and not just as a tool to make a purchasing decision) are an insignificant minority (but perhaps I’m wrong?). Even if there are a portion who choose not to purchase is it a bad thing to have people out there playing your game? I’m wondering if releasing anything less than the full game as a free PnP file works against you.

    1. Roger–Well, the issue that happened with Euphoria’s PnP was very specific. When I released the “full” PnP to backers, I heard from a few angry backers that I hadn’t released the art for the back of the cards. I was like, why do you need that? Just print and sleeve the cards–you won’t even see the backs. They told me that they had paid for the full PnP and wanted to get the full PnP in return (mind you, this was at the $1 level). They also wanted PDFs of all of the tokens in the game, which didn’t make sense, because in the real game the tokens are wood, not punchboard. They wanted me to make punchboards for them so they could get the full ROI for their dollar.

      It was then that I realized that some backers–yes, a minority, but a vocal one at that–wanted to use the PnP as a replacement for the game. And really, it was my fault for giving them the impression that they could do so. It wasn’t my intent. So I just want to have clear expectations for the next Kickstarter that backers who get the $1 PnP level aren’t going to get every little part of the game. I think that’s the key–creators should just be clear about the intent of the PnP and both price and structure it based on that intent.

      1. That makes sense – and that is where I see a PnP pledge level filling the #2 spot. If you are going to release a fully complete PnP designed as a replacement for purchasing the game (like your backers were expecting) then it makes sense to offer that at a reduced pledge level (but higher than the $1 level). I could see that being a boon to some people in different parts of the world that can’t affordably buy the game due to shipping / taxes but are still interested in owning a copy.

        I think the difference lies between a demo PnP (for the purposes of trying before you buy) and a production-level PnP (designed to serve as a replacement for a printed copy). In my estimation the former should be free and include everything needed to explore the full gameplay – and the latter (if offered) should have a price tag attached reflecting the cost of the design and art assets invested.

        1. Roger–Exactly, that’s the distinction I’m going for. And while I wouldn’t hold it against any creator to offer a full PnP as a replacement for the game at a $10 level, it’s not something Stonemaier Games will do. I’ll use that as motivation to fight tooth and nail to get free/cheap shipping for every backer in the world. :)

        2. Roger, you comments have been very instructive and timely for me. Frankly, I have enough stuff sitting around my house and if I am gong to back a game (or any other project on Kickstarter) I do it for two reasons: (1.) I want the game, (2.) I want to support the project or creator (yes, I have backed projects just because I wanted to support the creator but didn’t really want the game.) I can’t say I have EVER backed a project because I wanted the “bling” (Thanks Kim!)

          With that said, your comments about the PnP are very informative. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, but the idea of providing the PnP version for a fraction of the cost of shipping is an intriguing thought, especially for the international market! I think it would be great if international shipping could be free or super cheap (as Jamey mentioned) but I wonder if this is almost as viable as an option? Of course, however, as a game designer you always want someone to hold the QA/QC version of the game in their hands because as it is a much more accurate representation of the game you intended.

          I think there is a LOT more to be said about this, especially considering the comments about PnP of this post far exceed the length of the actual post! Jamey, I am very excited to read more about the pros and cons of PnP options (if your write separate entry about this) on the Kickstarter pages, and hope some of the real Kickstarter heavy weights comments with their thoughts!

          1. Thanks John! I was giving this some thought following Jamey’s post yesterday and realized a fully-produced PnP might be a good offering for those who want to “pimp” their game. Some folks take a lot of time to custom make versions of games with all high-end components and this would be a way for them to do that while still giving credit to the designer/publisher in the form of a smaller pledge. Monetarily I don’t think offering this would reduce regular pledgers as I think you will find that those who implement a custom version of your PnP are likely spending more on their upgraded components than it would have cost them to buy the game from you in the first place.
            Of course, Jamey doesn’t need to worry about this as his games already come “pimped out” :)

  13. The first thing I do when I look at a new Kickstarter is find the reward level that gives me a copy of the game. If I have to scroll through a lot of ephemera just to get to there, it’s going to be a turn-off, because I can’t be guaranteed that the creator is going to spend his time on the game itself, or on the shirts, and mugs, and coins, and other junk. I can’t think of a single KS that people supported just to get the “extras” in large numbers. Why would I want a Numenera character creation app if I don’t have the actual game?

    1. As a KS backer, I can’t agree with Joe enough. Also, in response to “Has a project ever caught your eye but then lost you due to lack of focus?”: firstly, yes and; second I’ve also lost money due to lack of focus. Not to name names, but the OSR community has at least two major figures who have ruined their reputations for that very reason.

    2. Joe and David–Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more. As a backer, I want a project creator to be focused on the main product, not all the ancillary stuff. For a game, I want them to focus on making it a great game–not just in terms of money, but in terms of gameplay and testing and fulfillment. Everything else takes away from that core product.

  14. Totally agree. I’ve seen far too many campaigns that start throwing in art, shirts, coasters, mugs, and so on in between various reward levels or even as stretch goals. I don’t care about getting anything that doesn’t add to the game when I see great game-related goals further up than an art print or when I have to bump up to a level that includes a shirt/print I don’t want in order to get the better game.

    I really enjoyed the Sentinels of the Multiverse games, but really don’t care much about the art prints. I could have done with a slightly cheaper funding option or a new card or two rather than an art print. I know there was at least one more campaign that I was backing where the next 3 stretch goals were all for “fluff” items and the next game-related goal would have added much less cost to the project. The backers gave pretty heavy feedback on that and the creator lowered the threshold for the game-related stretch goal to something much more reasonable.

    I could see an argument for some sub-full-game tier that gave a print and play or something along those lines. For international backers (whichever way that shipping route lies), it can make a world of difference for postage and taxes for a game they might be perfectly willing to print/play themselves. Sure they won’t get the more interesting bits, but they’ll still give money and may buy the boxed game later.

    Thanks for posting these thoughts on running KS Campaigns. I can only hope that more game designers/publishers read through and learn from them.

    1. Peter–That’s a great point that creators sometimes needlessly add “fluff” to the core level when that stuff should be left out to lower the price a buck or two. Let people who love art prints buy art prints with the game (well, maybe–we don’t do that), but don’t make everyone else pay for something they don’t want.

      I thought about mentioning print-and-play reward levels, but there are lots of other variables that go into that. But yes, if a project creator wants to offer a PnP with the intent that some people will use that as a replacement for the game, it could justify a $5 or $10 pledge level. My intent is not for people to use PnPs to replace games and I’ve set up the shipping infrastructure to level the playing field for the majority of backers. Although I’ll offer PnPs at the $1 level in the future as I’ve done in the past, they won’t be full PnPs. They’ll be enough for someone to put the game together and decide if they like it enough to purchase the full version in the box.

      1. I’ll admit to being a little torn on the PnP options. For a purely/mostly card game, being able to print out the game myself to play while waiting for the final product is a really nice function (even if not final artwork). For something like Euphoria, the PnP was way beyond me to try to put together so I’m happy to wait for the actual game. It just depends on the game. I put together a workable Viva Java Dice game from the files provided, but still would rather have the final bits and the cool coffee-themed dice over my PnP version. It’s still a full game, but I see the value in getting the fully produced final product even though I technically have all of the bits I need in order to play. For something like “Among the Stars”, the cost/effort to PnP is likely not worth it to me.

        I guess most of the time I see the PnP option as a way to play the game until my actual copy arrives. With possible delays due to all sorts of circumstances, being able to play while waiting helps keep the interest up.

        I do appreciate the series and hope more people follow along for your tips on running a decent KS campaign for a game.

        1. Thanks Peter–I would say you’re the target audience for the type of PnPs I’m happy to deliver to backers. But I learned through the Euphoria campaign that some backers use PnPs as a complete replacement for the game–even a game like Euphoria where all of the pieces are custom made. I love for people to play my games (really, I’m quite flattered that hundreds of people took the time to piece together a PnP version of the game), but I believe that our games aren’t meant to be replaced by PnPs. So, for example, with Euphoria I probably would have offered a PnP with some recruits and some markes, but not all of them. Therefore the game can be played tested during the campaign and people can enjoy it between the campaign and the delivery of the games, and they have both the final pieces and the complete version to look forward to.

          This could be a whole blog entry, but I try to keep the blog open to all sorts of campaigns, not just games. :)

  15. Great post! I know you encourage a $1 backer level. Keeping that in mind, if we have a game we want to have at the $45-$50 level, do you think it’s best to go directly from the $1 level to the $45-$50 level? I only ask, because a lot of advice out there says you *need* a $20-$25 level, so it can be tempting to throw something in there to fill that gap.


    1. I know you’re not asking me, but I was here, so I’ll throw in my two cents. :-)

      The first time I was on a project that jumped from $1 to $50 I thought “I wish there was a cheaper way to be involved”, but then it occurred to me that, in the projects I’ve backed that had cheaper options, I still didn’t go for them – as Jamey mentions above…I came to the page for a GAME – not the chotchkies that are being offered.

    2. Jeremy–Good question (and Paul, thanks for your insights). I’ve seen the data from Kickstarter on $25 levels, and I think it’s a little misleading. I think the truth behind that data is that people are more willing to spend $25 on a reward than $50 or $100. $25 is a palatable amount–so palatable that you really don’t have to think about it all that much. You might check your monthly expenses before spending $50 or more, though.

      So I think what that data teaches us is that if you have a lighter game that you can price at $25 or even $20, do it. Dungeon Roll got it down to $15, and look how that turned out. But if you have a game that needs to be priced at $49, have a $1 level and then jump right to the game. Don’t mess around with anything in between. It’s not worth it. If your great aunt wants to give you $20, she can do so and just get a hearty thank you. She wasn’t going to wear the t-shirt you were going to offer at that level anyway.

  16. I’ve backed a few Kickstarter games – Euphoria being the one that brought me here and I COMPLETELY agree with this. The graphs on the Eurphoria project page that spelled out the difference between the base, deluxe and supreme versions, plus the stretch goal chart were perfect. I’ve walked away from a number of campaigns simply because I stumbled on them and I didn’t have the time to fully decode their page to figure out if it’s what I wanted.

    1. Thanks Paul. You use the word “decode,” which is perfect. Potential backers shouldn’t have to decode project pages or reward levels to figure out what they’re getting.

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