2 March 2014 | 27 Comments
No contests, raffles, coupons, gambling, or lifetime memberships. —Kickstarter Guidelines
There you have it. Kickstater Lesson number 82, done!
Not so fast…
Despite what appears to be a very clear-cut rule, you’ve probably seen contests on Kickstarter or related to Kickstarter, and you’ll probably see them again. A few examples, particular in the tabletop game space:
- Many projects run contests on Board Game Geek, with the winner getting a copy of the game. You can see these on the front page after the “Announcements” section. Usually they require participants to track down a number of clues to solve a puzzle or mystery.
- Leading up to the recent Draco Magi campaign, Robert Burke ran a very effective giveaway contest for all of his and Richard Launius’ games on Facebook.
- For Viticulture, I ran a caption contest using Pinterest, with the winner getting an extra copy of Viticulture. Kickstarter approved the contest, and I openly discussed it on project updates.
So what does the “no contests” guideline really mean?
Recently I tried to get answers about that, both for Tuscany and so I could share them with you. It all started when Kickstarter innovator extraordinaire Michael Mindes (Tasty Minstrel Games) sent out this e-newsletter regarding their Scoville project:
We are going to offer random backers the opportunity to help us name these crazy hot recipes throughout the campaign.
I really liked that idea (which I think ended up being reformatted during the Scoville campaign), so I thought I’d try something like that for Tuscany. I wanted to give all backers a chance to be randomly selected to get their names on a limited number of cards.
So of course I contacted Kickstarter to see if that would be allowed under their contest guidelines. Here was their truncated response:
We discourage the use of running a contest in conjunction with your Kickstarter project because it can confuse backers about the actual reward that they will receive.
It sounds like the plan that you have described would grant some people the opportunity to have their name printed at the bottom of a card. There does seem to be a raffle element to this offering (as you are granting a group of randomly selected backers the right to this offering, rather than all of your backers). We’d recommend reworking this to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to take part in this offering (perhaps offering it as a limited reward tier would be an option).
I had considered the limited reward tier idea–I’ve done that before, and it’s fine. But I actually think that does exactly what they’re trying to avoid: “ensure that everyone has an equal chance to take part in this offering.” If you have a limited reward level, it’s going to run out at some point, ensuring that the only people who have an equal chance to take part in it are those who get there first.
I clarified that I would give ALL backers the opportunity to participate in the random drawing–out of all backers, 36 would be selected to receive the naming rights for cards. The response I got was as follows:
Offering additional rewards to 36 random backers (whether in a select group, reward tier, etc) is not permissible by our guidelines.
So here’s what I can conclude about Kickstarter contests:
- Ask Kickstarter. If you’re considering a contest, ask Kickstarter about it first. Like, today. Don’t wait for them to find out you’re running a contest and then freeze your project because they don’t approve it.
- No randomness. For the same reason that lotteries are regulated, Kickstarter wants nothing to do with randomness. If you’re considering anything that involves a random draw, you can’t do it. Loophole: Do it before the Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter can’t regulate what you do before a campaign launches.
- Puzzles/mysteries/games are okay. The Viticulture caption contest and the BGG contests fall into this category. If all backers have an equal opportunity to hunt down clues to solve a puzzle or write a funny caption, then it’s fair game. However, I wouldn’t encourage this unless it happens completely off the Kickstarter website. For example, I bet if you posted a project update saying, “I’m going to pick the best comment on this update, and that backer will win a free game!”, Kickstarter would freeze your project within a few hours. However, you could do the same thing on your personal blog or BGG, and clearly Kickstarter has demonstrated that they don’t care.
- Finish the puzzle/mystery/game a few days after the project ends. Do this so that Kickstarter’s emphasis that ALL backers are eligible to participate. I think part of the reason they do this is the same reason you see “no purchase necessary” on your Mountain Dew Coffee Crunch Dance Party contest guidelines (and everywhere else): legal reasons.
Have you seen examples of contests related to Kickstarter campaigns that were allowed or shut down? Your input will help clarify what continues to be a somewhat vague rule.
Also, just for kicks, I released the project video for Tuscany (on Kickstarter on March 12 with no contests!) today. You can view it below.