3 February 2013
I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time. As I’ve said on a few other “lessons,” these are the opinions of one Kickstarter creator. The best way for you to figure out your reward levels is to study similar (and successful) projects on Kickstarter and know your costs through and through. Create a spreadsheet so you can easily compare reward level prices and number of backers.
Again, I’m going to focus on board game Kickstarter projects, but there are a few points I’d like to make for ANY Kickstarter project:
- Kickstarter is NOT a store: Kickstarter has been abundantly clear on this. It’s a place for people to make their passion projects a reality, and the people who support them get something in return. I used the term “pre-order” on the Viticulture project page to be succinct, but really the term isn’t accurate. People backed my board game dream project–they didn’t pre-order a game. To me, this idea that Kickstarter is not a store means that you should not charge store prices for the “product” you’re putting on Kickstarter. It’s up to you how low you want to go, but it should be lower than retail. Otherwise many people will wait to buy it when it comes out in stores. (For a great write-up about this, check out this blog entry by Stonemaier Games advisory board member and project creator David Winchester.)
- Kickstarter is NOT a charity: This is the second reason that you should not charge retail pricing–or higher–for any “products” you’re putting on Kickstarter. This is probably the number one thing I see project creators do wrong. They treat Kickstarter like a platform for charity. Just because people are supporting your dreams doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t offer them fair value for their support.
- Include a $1 pledge level: Not $2. Not $5. $1. $1 is very easy to spend, and here’s what you get from it: Backers who pledge to this reward level get your project updates in their inbox from then on, so you get to engage them and show them the type of project creator you are. The hope is that they’ll like what they see, and later on they’ll increase their pledge to get a copy of your creation. I also saw some backers who were part of group buys back the $1 level just to show their individual support. Have some fun with your reward at this level–we had a blast with Viticulture’s $1 level.
- Scarcity is important: This is something I’ve come to believe the more I study Kickstarter. You need to give potential backers as many reasons as possible to back the project NOW, not later. You might only get one chance to engage them as part of your dream, so if they think, “Oh, I’ll just come back later,” there’s a decent chance they’ll never return. The good news for backers is that if they support your project and they later decide it’s not for them, it’s totally fine–they can cancel their pledge anytime during the campaign (we let people cancel their pledge after the campaign as a show of goodwill). This is where scarcity comes in. Sure, you should have a few unlimited reward levels. You need an anchor price somewhere among the rewards–a standard price for the product you’re creating. Backers will use that price as a point of comparison to the other levels. For all other reward levels, make them limited levels. Even if they’re limited to large groups of people. Give people a reason to back the project NOW instead of later.
- Structure your pricing so shipping and add-ons aren’t confusing for you: This is just an accounting note. For Viticulture, I had a $59 reward level and a $79 reward level, and international shipping was a $20 add-on. So I had a bunch of $79 pledges come through, and it was impossible to know from the subject line of the backer alert e-mail if it was a $79-level pledge or a $59-level + international shipping pledge. It’s a tiny thing, but it’ll make your life a little easier.
- Don’t have too many reward levels: Yeah, I shouldn’t be talking after having so many reward levels on Viticulture. It’s a learning process, folks. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that too many reward levels is confusing for backers–rather, I think the way you write reward levels is what separates the confusing projects from the non-confusing ones. But I just can’t think of a GOOD reason that a project would need more than 7-10 reward levels. 7 seems like the sweet spot to me. I would suggest starting with 5-7 levels and eventually increase to 8-10 levels based on backer feedback or some nice surprises you have planned.
- Give backers something NOW: Many of us who have backed multiple Kickstarter projects are used to waiting a long time to get our rewards. It’s just the name of the game–things take a while to be manufactured. However, there are some people that want something now, and that’s okay. Give those people a reward level that appeals to them. For Viticulture, that meant that we shipped out corkscrews and wine glasses to domestic backers within two weeks of the project ending. Those people will receive their games in May. This won’t work for every project, but if it works for yours, make it happen.
If you follow those guidelines, you’ll be fine. Here are a bunch of other recommendations and topics, mostly for board game projects:
- Early Bird: I wish I could give you a definitive answer on early bird reward levels, but there isn’t a right answer. They can be a great way to jumpstart a project, and if you price them correctly in comparison to your product’s anchor price, no one is going to complain (I literally received 0 complaints for having a $4 early bird discount). However, if you’re worried about turning off backers who arrive to your project after the early bird level is filled up, don’t do it. Use the following strategy instead. [Update from future Jamey: I’m now much more against early-bird rewards than I used to be. See the debate here.]
- Delineate an exclusive/limited reward from your anchor price at a level that is good for everyone: The classic example of this is on the project Fleet (see image on the right). Fleet has an anchor price of $20 for the base game. That got 16 backers. You could also pledge $23 and get 8 limited edition cards. 6 backers there. Or you could pay $25 and get those limited edition cards, plus a few more Kickstarter exclusive licenses cards. Check out the number of backers there. 946 backers! (For reference, the next pledge level is $45. This is a case of pricing economics where everyone wins. The cost for the creator of Fleet to include those extra cards is next to nothing, but he made a few extra dollars (which probably came in handy–as noted in the previous post, shipping can push you into the red if you’re not careful) from a ton of backers. And the backers win too, because they get a copy of a limited, exclusive copy of the game at a reasonable price, and they feel like they got a great deal. Everyone wins.
- Multiple copies at the right price: Have one or two reward levels where people can get extra copies of the game at a discount. If they believe in what you’re doing and are excited about the game, there’s a good chance they’ll want to give a copy to a friend. A great example of this is on the project Ground Floor. The anchor price for this game was $50. Michael Mindes also had a $120 reward level for 3 copies of the game, and 155 people backed at that level. That’s significant–that’s $18,600. Again, it’s a win-win. Backers get extra copies of the game at a discount, and you get the funds you need to make the project a reality. [Update from future Jamey: I don’t ascribe to this as much as I used to. I’d rather just find the lowest possible price I can offer to backers and offer everyone that price, no matter how many copies they get, with the exception being big bulk orders.]
- Incorporate backers into the game as long as it doesn’t delay the project: Kickstarter is a way for people to make your passion projects a reality. Backers are there from the very beginning, forming the foundation of something big for you. Finding a way to incorporate them into the game is a great way to turn that foundation into a legacy. I think the two best ways to do this in a game are to include a backer’s name on a copy of a card in every copy of the game (I really like the way Mars Needs Mechanics did this in the flavor text of their cards, albeit at a ridiculously high price) and to include artistic renditions of backers on the cards. If you have a game with people on the cards and you’re putting the game on Kickstarter, there’s really no excuse that those people shouldn’t be your backers. And don’t charge $250 for that perk. You have to pay the artist regardless of whether or not he or she is using a photo of one of your backers as inspiration. That doesn’t mean that some people won’t pay $250, and if your artist charges that much…well, you might want to find a more reasonable artist for 3-inch drawings. I think the very most you’d want to charge for this perk would be $100 more than the price of the game (so, $150 for a $50 game). Go as low as you can–this is such a cool way to include the backers in the future of your game! [Update from future Jamey: There are other dark sides to custom art–I probably won’t offer that option again.]
- Have a group buy option: International shipping can be a killer not just for you, but also for your international backers. I had a bulk buy level for Viticulture (6 games for $179) that was aimed at retailers, but what surprised me was that I saw a number of international backers organizing group buys on Board Game Geek. This is cool not only because both you and the backers are helped by the consolidated shipping cost, but also because people are talking about your game! They’re rallying around it on forums and boards. That’s great for your campaign. I would highly recommend having a group buy level. Make sure to communicate to those people that they can add more copies at the group price, as they may end up with more than the exact number of people you had at that level. Make sure to charge the correct shipping, though–it’s going to cost much more to ship 6 games to Spain than it will cost to ship 1 game.
- Extravagant rewards: If you’re unknown in the industry in which you’re creating a project, no one is going to care about your most extravagant rewards. But you never know if someone might come along who really believes in what you’re doing and wants to support you at a high level. My philosophy on this is that if they want to pledge a lot of money, they don’t need a pledge level to enable them. But I don’t think it can hurt to have one really cool talking point pledge level at $500 or $1000. Something ridiculous and press-worthy. Have some fun with that one, and just make sure you can do it if someone actually pledges at that level.
- Multiple rewards: One thing that Kickstarter doesn’t do particularly well (or at all, really) is to allow backers to pledge to more than one reward level. So what if you have two very different reward levels that the same person might want to pledge to? (This happened with Viticulture.) There’s not much you can do, but there is something your backers can do: They can create additional Kickstarter accounts. It’s a little annoying, but it’s not hard to do. Your job as a project creator is to make sure backers know about that option, probably in the FAQ on your project page.
This is a monster post–sorry about that. I hope it was helpful. What are some of the best reward levels you’ve seen on a Kickstarter project?