Kickstarter Lesson #77: The 10 Reasons I’ll Back a Kickstarter Project

28 January 2014

This photo will almost make sense if you read the following lesson.
This photo will almost make sense if you read the following lesson.

Recently I listened to a great podcast over at The Cardboard Republic involving a series of tips to help you decide if you should back a Kickstarter project or not. Around the same time I was interviewing with Plato Magazine, and they asked me a similar question: What factors do you consider when deciding if you should back a project?

As I wrote out my answers, I realized that these essentially equate to things that a Kickstarter project should have if you want to attract as many backers as possible. This isn’t a list where you can pick and choose one or two of the options–this is a checklist for you to account for each and every one before you launch.

So here it is. These are the things I need to see as a backer of about 100 projects to convince me to support a Kickstarter campaign. In somewhat order of importance:

  1. Art: I need to see a few pieces of beautiful art. I don’t need a lot–just a taste to see if I connect with the art.
  2. Graphic Design: I need to see that you have a graphic designer who knows what they’re doing. If you have good art but terrible graphic design, the art doesn’t matter at all. This is especially the case for games, in which graphic design can make a huge difference in the ease of play.
  3. Value: I need to get a good deal. Better yet, I need to feel like I’m getting a good deal. Make me an offer I can’t refuse.
  4. Engagement: I need to know that you are an active participant in your own project. If I see 20 comments with no replies from you and only 1 update even though the project has been live for 3 weeks, I’m leaving.
  5. Uniqueness: I need for you to make something new, something unique, something special. Something that I can’t already buy among the billion products out there. Even if it’s just one sexy component.
  6. Competence: I need to trust that you know how to deliver on your offer. If there are hints that you haven’t researched the full extent making and shipping the product, I’m not going to risk it.
  7. Passion: I need to believe in you, the project creator. If this is your first project or your tenth, I need to know that this project really matters to you.
  8. Generosity: I need to see that this isn’t all about you. You can show me this by backing other projects, by not constantly asking backers to do things for you, and by demonstrating on blogs and podcasts that you’re not there to promote your product, but rather to add value to other people’s lives.
  9. Quality: I need to see that you have a quality product by hearing what third-party reviewers have to say. Whether it’s a game, a box of chocolate, or a hat for cats, I need someone unbiased to tell me it’s awesome. In fact, I even just need to see that you had the foresight and courage to put your product in a third-party reviewer’s hands–they don’t have to love it for me to want it.
  10. Pliability: I need to see that you are somewhere between 90 and 99% percent finished designing your product…but not 100%. 100% to me is a pre-order system. I don’t fault someone for using Kickstarter as a pre-order system, but it’s not something that interests me as a backer. I’d rather you be almost done and then tap the wealth of knowledge and input from your backers to complete the product.

What compels you to back a Kickstarter campaign? Even though I’ve made a list out of this, it’s not like I pull out a checklist every time I look at a project. It’s these elements that drive that gut feeling I get that tips me from potential backer to actual backer. What provokes that tipping point for you?

Also read this artist’s 7 reasons she’ll back a Kickstarter project–it’s a good read.

45 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #77: The 10 Reasons I’ll Back a Kickstarter Project

  1. I had number 3 hit me today. A Kickstarter link was shared with me for a game. The entry level to get a physical copy of the game was $30, shipping included. It said in the right up that the MSRP of the game was going to be $20. That stopped me in my tracks. I may back it still once I see what the stretch goals are (which weren’t revealed at all, just said that they’d be there), but what would have normally been an excited immediate back became a “wait and see”.

  2. #1 and #3 are my biggest motivators for initially backing a project. #4 is the most important to me though. Lack of engagement or disrespect of backers will cause me to back out. But even if Im not a fan of #1 or #3, engagement may get me in. The Kings Armory was a great example of this. Tons of backers loved the art but for some reason it just didnt appeal to my taste. For that reason I tottered in and out of backing. But John won me over! His engagement was amazing. And I will admit that the more art Im seeing from this game the more Im warming up to it. :)

  3. For me it’s unique theme, value, and quality. I like games with a unique theme that is something I haven’t really seen before as that will get me interested in the story behind the game. As for quality I almost won’t back anything anymore without a respected third party having given their opinion on it. If there is value in a campaign (e.g. getting something included now while others pay more later) that is another good way to get me in. If those are there, I’m likely to back otherwise I’ll wait until the mass market has given their opinion.

  4. For me, WHO I’m backing is often as important or more important that WHAT I’m backing. I’ve backed more than 100 Kickstarter projects. I had little interest in in some of those projects, but I very much wanted to support the creator of that project. Your video needs to tell me who you are and why this project matters to you personally.

  5. This somewhat unique to games (I guess it could apply to other projects as well) but I will not back without either a gameplay video or link to the rulebook. Basically, something to tell me what I’m getting. Some game descriptions are so far off what the actual mechanics are that you can’t tell HOW you play.

    In addition to that I think #7 is the most important to me. Of course I wouldn’t know of a creator’s passion if it weren’t for their engagement so #4 is pretty important as well.

  6. The number 1 thing that gets me behind a project or not is the quality of the product. If I like the person, it helps, but a project that still has a ways to go, or it is obvious the person is incompetent will turn me away. For that reason, I tend to disagree with #10 above. I like the confidence of knowing that a project is 100% done and ready, they are just in need of backer help to get it out to people. Show me you’re ready, tested and tried and passionate about making this happen, and I will gladly support it.

  7. It sounds like Jeff and I have the same criteria for backing Kickstarter board games. A rule book and/or gameplay video (preferably both) are essential to me before I back. #1 Art and #5 Uniqueness pull me in and get my attention, but #4 Engagement hook me in and often get me to up my pledge and more actively spread the word about the campaign.

  8. Thanks for your thoughts so far, everyone! I definitely agree about the rulebook (if it’s a board game project–you can learn a lot about a game and their design skills from the way the rulebook is written, even if it’s still in Word.

    Kelsey, I agree with this: “Show me you’re ready, tested and tried and passionate about making this happen, and I will gladly support it.” But I want all of that AND for the project to be not quite finalized. It’s like if a friend invited you over to get your advice on painting their dining room, and when you got there with your paint samples and ideas, you found that they had already painted it. It might look great, but there’s something about that little bit of engagement that goes a long way for me. Of course, for me at least, if a project is well under 90% complete, that’s a big turnoff for me too.

    1. It’s been 2+ years since this article (and followup comments) so I’m curious at this time about #10, the dislike of a completed project. I’m going into mine next month with a completed project so that I don’t have to worry about tying up lose ends during/after, and so I’m mostly ready to ship. But of course, the capital for production is very important, hence Kickstarter. I’ve been complimented on being ready with the game; I wonder if this is a change over time, or if it is a matter of preference?

      I do not know what to leave to the audience to give feedback on, because it is a card game with completed cards, though it has potential for game expansions (which are fairly certain if the KS goes through). I could do a “mystery” card, just for backers and have them all vote on which of a few options to go with. So questions are, has your stance remained the same, and is there a lot of awkwardness currently toward creators who want KS in large part to get funding for their projects? Thank you

      1. I think even more than 2 years ago, I believe in putting things on Kickstarter that are at least somewhat pliable, whether it’s in terms of stretch goals to make the thing better or that the product itself still has a little room to grow. Otherwise it might as well be a pre-order on a separate platform. However, that’s very much my opinion, and I know it’s not shared by everyone. I should also emphasize that I believe in bringing the product to the precipice in terms of design, development, testing, etc so that it’s ready to be made as soon as the project ends.

        I think perhaps the key for you–if I may make a recommendation–is to keep an open mind. Passionate backers want to be involved and want to share their ideas, and you’ll probably have to say no to many of those ideas. But there will likely be at least a few ideas for which you’ll want to leave some buffer in the schedule and budget. Feel free to report back to let me know after the fact if and how that happens! :)

  9. great post. really breaks down the psychology behind decision making within the KS community. Everyone’s a little different, it would be fun to break down the KS user segments to paint an even more vivid picture of who these people are, and which points are most important for them. Well written!

    1. I first of all have to say a huge thank you to you guys. We are about to launch our first kickstarter campaign and I am constantly referring back to this site. Although we are not at all in the game industry, the wealth of knowledge and passion in particular are unmatched. Thank you so much. As for the above I also have to agree that allowing backers to add the cherry on the top is quite attractive and in my opinion embodies the spirit of crowdfunding in general. It has to be more than just a spin on Groupon, there needs to be some co-creation involved. Could this happen at the stretch goal level do you think? i.e. letting backers generate ideas for add ons that they believe would be value adding / motivating? Cheers guys and loads of love for Stonemaiergames!!!

      1. Zak: Thanks for your comment! I’m glad my blog is helpful for you. I don’t think you need to relegate backer feedback to a stretch goal. Backers are likely to have interesting ideas during the project. Many of them won’t be feasible for your budget or timeline, but there might be a few great ideas for stretch goals or add-ons among them. Just make sure to keep the budget and timeline in mind, as some of the most successful projects can fail big time if they add too much stuff or veer too far away from their core competency.

  10. Great post as usual Jamey!
    For the case of board games, I would definitely add gameplay video, as Jeff and Nicholas suggested. Many times you read a project that just describes how beautiful the components are and how great the art is. Those are important of course, but it’s a boardgame! Ultimately, what really matters to me is how fun/interesting the actual gameplay is. I need to see if I’ll have a good time when I play it with my friends.

    1. Tiago–I definitely agree. In fact, I think that would apply to any project category. A video that actually shows that thing you’re trying to make and how it works is really helpful for backers.

  11. Very much agreed about #9, especially the “courage to show it to people” part. Posting a print-and-play demo makes me much more likely to back a project, even if I don’t have a chance to play it.

  12. One thing that has changed for me is whether I’m interested in the end result or not. I used to only back projects for which I wanted the product. Now I will back with $1 for any project where the creator seems well organized and passionate. If you’re giving it everything and you’ve done all the due diligence, then I’m glad to back for at least $1.

  13. There are 2 big reasons for me. The first is relational. I will absolutely support creators that I have a relationship with (even if it’s simply on Twitter) or if it’s someone like you Jamey, that provides a tremendous amount of value to people. The second reason is that the product is super cool and I want one!

  14. #3,5 &7 are the ones that really speak to me! It is amazing being at the beginning of an idea before it becomes a reality and then you feel like you were a co-creator :)

  15. After coming across this from #QuestScouts I really feel I backed something awesome. I have never backed something before and I’m new to kick starter. Reading this makes me feel I’ve done a good thing. Helping someone else active their dreams and goals is inspiring and makes me want to do the same.
    Thanks for giving me some things to look out for when deciding if I should back something or not.

  16. I feel like the number one thing that gets me to back a project is probably a combination of everything you’ve said. I want to be EXCITED about it. When I see something and be like, Wow I cannot *wait* until this is done/live/shipped out/etc. And to get excited you need a bit of everything: good art and design, readiness, engagement. Definitely uniqueness.

  17. Hi, Quest Scouts sent me over to read your article. I’m new to funding Kickstarter projects so I’ve appreciated your perspective. The number one reason I back projects is because they represent things that I want to see in the world. It doesn’t have to be something that I personally want to own but it does need to be something I want to exist.

  18. It really helps when there is already a clear vision behind the kickstarter, and you can get behind them and easily understand them

  19. Quest Scouts sent me as well. :) For me, the biggest reason to back a Kickstarter is the value I’m getting for my money. I mean this in two ways – for one, I’m disabled and broke; as much as I’d love to support every awesome project that comes along, I can’t. So I need to be getting something “physical” out of it that’s roughly equal in value. And two, again with the whole broke thing, it needs to be something I’m passionate about or that makes me passionate about it. Because I don’t have the spare money to back everything, I have to be picky.

  20. Great list, including all the comments. I have spent most of the afternoon reading each of your # lessons! Invaluable – thankyou for taking the time to pen all of this. I have a list of things to do before I press ahead, but from all that I have read I think my project seems like a fit for KS. I wasn’t sure beforehand.

  21. Jeff, Nicholas and Tiago’s comments about the rulebook and gameplay videos chime well with me, as a lifelong games geek who yearns for the days when you could go into a games store and actually open the box before you bought.

    Nowadays, most game stores shrinkwrap their games and refuse to open them because it immediately knocks 30% off the price. But I need to at least glance at the rules and components before I commit to a game. I need to know that it’s elegantly designed, has the right ‘feel’ and looks good.

    Now Kickstarter and the Geek do what good gamestores used to do. They show you the game, let you open the box, read the rules – hell, they even show you how it plays! It’s a little less personal than ‘that guy at the gamestore’ laying it out in his back room and chatting about the latest game he’s really excited by, but it’s a lot better than trying to figure out whether the game’s a gem or a turkey by reading the blurb on the back of the box.

    1. Mike: Thanks for sharing! This is a very interesting comparison to game stores and how you need some way to look at the rules and components before deciding if a game is right for you.

  22. When I discover a Kickstarter project (almost always board games) The first thing I look for is a new game that makes me go “ooh!” I don’t have something like that (so a new game that seems unique in some way). After my attention is grabbed I then look for the price next. If the price is good, I’m probably in. If the price is much too high, then I will probably pass. Finally, I will scan the rest of the info to see if the creator(s) seem to know what they are doing.

  23. Jamie – I agree with a lot of these points. However, I think you missed a few. A big factor for a lot of backers is on an emotional/psychological level.

    11. Being a Winner – First day funded is now more important than ever. Low goals are critical so that people see success. People don’t want to back a failure. I have seen several comments around the web stating as much. “This project didn’t have a big first day so it must not be good.” Backers want to be part of something successful.

    12. Nostalgia/Familiarity – People will back a game about their favorite 90’s cartoon character regardless of the other 10 points. Now, some of those other points still might apply. Art/graphic design/quality for example are perhaps the reason people liked those things from their childhood. Now they get to see them again.

    I also think Uniqueness is probably the most important item in your list. I’ve seen campaigns with crappy art, questionable rules, etc. but something totally different that garners 1000 backers just on that.

  24. Rick: Thanks for sharing these! I absolutely agree that having a project be funded has a big impact on whether or not I’ll back a project. However, if that were in the top 10, no projects would ever be funded because everyone would wait for them to fund! :)

    Nostalgia is another one that can have a strong impact, though it’s pretty niche.

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