Kickstarter Lesson #66: The Psychological Benefits of Framing Your Project’s Potential

20 October 2013 | 14 Comments

Terra MysticaIn Kickstarter Lesson #64 I referenced a book by Daniel Pink called To Sell Is Human. Pink shares a lot of proven techniques for generating supporting and enthusiasm for a product based on behavioral psychology, so I wanted to write about another concept he talks about.

Let’s start off with an example of a hypothetical board game Kickstarter project. It’s a heavy Euro game with a slight fantasy edge to it. We’ll call it The Lost Book of Sylva.

Not knowing exactly how to share the potential for his game, the project creator pitches it in the following ways throughout the project page. I’ve seen many versions of these examples on Kickstarter projects:

  1. The Lost Book of Sylva is the best game ever!
  2. You will have more fun playing The Lost Book of Sylva than any other game.
  3. The Lost Book of Sylva is the next Terra Mystica.
  4. The Lost Book of Sylva could sell millions of copies.

According to several pyschological studies, here is how Daniel Pink would do it (this is my prediction, not an actual line authorized by Pink):

  • The Lost Book of Sylva could be the next Terra Mystica.

Why is that any different than options 1-4? The answer can be found in a study published in 2012 by Stanford University’s Zakary Tormala and Jayson Jia and the Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton.

Those researchers studied the way that emphasizing a project’s potential can reap the greatest return on investment. In one study, they put people in the position of NBA managers who needed to give contracts to a veteran player and a rookie. The veteran had consistent stats over the last few years and the rookie was projected to have similar stats. However, participants gave the unproven rookie 25% more money at the same point in their career as the veteran.

Their other study tested two slightly different Facebook ads for a comedian. The two versions were as follows:

  1. Kevin Shea is the next big thing.
  2. Kevin Shea could be the next big thing.

Guess which one got significantly more click-throughs and likes? Yep–the second one. The one that showed the comedian’s potential.

I think the effect of this is even more drastic on Kickstarter. When you see a project making brash claims with complete certitude, it’s a turnoff. You might even wonder if the project creator is a bit delusional. How does he know that his game is the most fun ever? you wonder. I see that a lot. It’s like informing someone that you’re going to tell them a funny joke. Suddenly they’re going to be cynical about how funny it actually is. Don’t tell them it’s going to be funny–let them be the judge of that without you telling them how to feel.

Also, when you’re comparing your unpublished game or product concept to a masterpiece (“The Lost Book of Sylva is the next Terra Mystica.”), you make your potential backers doubt you. It’s such a brash claim–why should they believe you.

That brings us to the correct way to frame your project: “The Lost Book of Sylva could be the next Terra Mystica.” Just like the comedian example, you’re focusing on the game’s potential instead of what you know for sure. It’s passive instead of active–sure, it could be the next Terra Mystica, but maybe it won’t be. You (the backer) can decide.

But more importantly, by framing it that way, you get backers really excited about the project’s potential, all within a frame of reference of a game they’ve either played or heard great things about. If you back up your claim with a good-looking project with a clear ruleset and third-party reviews on the project page, people are going to get excited about the idea that they might be backing what will someday be considered a great game. Based on those studies I mentioned, the chances they’ll back the project will go up if you frame the project in that way.

Sometimes it’s the little things that can turn a failing project into a successful one, or a small project into a big one. So make sure to add a line on your project page that shows your project’s potential.

14 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #66: The Psychological Benefits of Framing Your Project’s Potential

  1. Very good point Jamey and a good reminder – cheers! It’s fascinating reading about this stuff because you start to realise why certain marketing messages put you off.

    Comparing your game to one that someone already knows and enjoys can really help people instantly understand what your own game is like to play (as long as it really does play like that!).

    But I have to admit that the ‘could be the next blah’ is lost on me. I would have to seek to find another, more descriptive way to communicate the game’s potential, such as explaining what expansions/ more minis could come. It just occurred to me that stretch goals are using the idea of the project’s potential within the scope and time frame of the project itself: “Hit $ and we’ll add in more minis!”

    1. Lloyd–Thanks for your thoughts. The neat thing about these psychological indicators is that they might be influencing your decisions without you even realizing it! :)

  2. It seems like the wording of this might be a bit tricky, especially on Kickstarter. I imagine you would want to emphasize potential, but avoid the implication that you are offering an incomplete product. Obviously something like, “This game could be great, but only if we hit these 9 stretch goals,” would be bad.

    1. Isaac–That’s a good point. I think if you stick to the wording suggested here (X could be the next Y), I don’t think that will be a point of confusion.

      1. Well, what I was trying to get at was that if you just say, “X could be the next Y,” different people could interpret that statement differently. My example was one way people could interpret it, but, specifically, I think that that statement asks readers to interpret it by answering 2 questions on their own: “How could X be like Y?” and “What is holding X back from being like Y?”

        Answers to the first question could be quality, popularity, critical acclaim, mechanics, etc. Answers to the second question could be lack of money, lack of awareness, time, lack of play testing, underdeveloped design, absence of stretch goals, etc.

        The first thing my mind went to when I read, “X could be the next Y,” especially after all the talk of potential, was that “X could be the next Y in terms of quality, but we need more time to refine the mechanics,” and I think if a potential backer jumped to that conclusion on a Kickstarter project, it would turn them off, as it would imply the project is unfinished.

        So, I’ve haven’t read To Sell is Human, and I value your insights, but my gut reaction is to err on the side of more clear language if you’re going to emphasize a project’s potential, so as to minimize off-putting misinterpretation.

        Of course, it is very possible I am totally over-analyzing all of this.

  3. Jamey – I enjoyed this article immensely.

    In the weeks and months ahead I’ll enjoy watching a radical shift in project slogans from “This is the only game you’ll ever need, you’ll even become dependent on it” to much more grounded projections of success.

    This change will be a representative visualization of the vast impact you’ve had on many project managers. Keep up the excellent work, your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    1. Alex–I sure hope so! I’ve definitely seen claims like that on projects, and it’s an instant turn off for me. Hopefully we’ll see a change. If you see projects that are doing this the “wrong” way, feel free to share this article with them. If the studies are true, it’ll help their chances of funding.

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