Kickstarter Lesson #82: Contests

2 March 2014 | 29 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Leave a Comment

29 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #82: Contests

  1. I’ve respected your KS knowledge base for a number of years. Most of it kept me from starting rather ill conceived campaigns. We’ve been working on a game app which is currently live in app stores but want to use KS to refine it. I have created what I’m calling a personal stretch goal. That is, download the game (it’s free) and complete level 10 within 30 days of the project successfully funding, and we will double the rewards in the tier you selected. From what I have read in this post and the accompanying comments, I think I’m ok. Any thoughts? This is an old post so don’t know if you’re monitoring it. :)

  2. In our project we’ve done a thing where all backers can play a hand of our game (it’s a social storytelling game) and the best story gets an extra small reward (one of the add-ons from the reward tiers.) Kickstarter hasn’t said anything but just in case I’m going to silently fulfill this latest one and not do another round (still run the games, but not for prizes.) The response has been low enough that I don’t think it will matter.

  3. A great rundown on running a contest and a great way to educate myself on starting a Kickstarter. Thank you.

    As I enjoy writing and am preparing to Kickstart a farming game, I was considering having a writing contest where contestants have to submit a 500+ word piece recalling their experience or a friend/family members experience with farming and agriculture. I am trying to emphasize storytelling, community, and agriculture with the winner getting a free prototype of the game (already printed). I am curious to hear thoughts on whether I should:

    a) hold the contest be launched and completed before the start (just before) of the Kickstarter and have them post it on my facebook page/website


    b) host the contest during the kickstarter and only limit it to backers

    I hope to to hear the Stonemaier Games community’s response.

  4. Sure, not everything has to be about attracting new backers. It’s just as important, in my opinion, to make sure current backers are having fun. It sounds like you planned it out really well and that reviewers had fun with it.

  5. KS seem to be okay with it if the prize is awarded to all backers equally, so I set up a couple of contests of the form “If this is solved, everyone gets an extra benny”. A lot of people enjoy solving a puzzle just to see if they can and kudos from the other backers for bringing all of them something cool is an individual prize that KS doesn’t get to complain about ;)

    The second one I did in conjunction with a few dozen other content creators of various stripes such that the clues were hidden over dozens of game review sites and that if the thing got solved five KS projects would offer a little bonus (just something little like ‘one extra card’) to all of their backers. I think some people really enjoyed being a part of that, there are 112 comments on the update introducing it, which is about 100 more than usual. Lots of the other people involved also seemed to get some joy out of it one way or another, which is what it’s all about in the long run :)

    I reckon I made some mistakes in the implementation of it, but I’ve got some ideas to try a new spin on the theme next time around. If nothing else, planning it out before I’m halfway through the campaign would be a solid proposition!

    1. Greg: That’s a really innovative idea about giving backers a puzzle to figure out, and if they do, they all get something special. I really like that, as well as your idea about connecting hidden clues on a variety of different blogs and review sites.

      1. Thanks. Who knew that the primary school approach to prize giving would serve me well later in life ;)

        I’m not sure how much good the hidden clues did in terms of attracting new backers, but the people hiding the clues had a lot of fun and my existing backers seemed to enjoy it so I count it as a win anyway. It was fun to watch too, I’m not sure if I was more surprised to see Rahdo hide a clue by making a link appear in the middle of his video for 0.4 seconds on the opposite side of the screen to the focus of attention – or that two backers actually found it! It took me a few attempts even when I knew exactly where it was.

  6. I think how you define contest is a very gray area. We are running “Social Media Stretch Goals” with Stones of Fate. For every 300 Facebook shares we get we are adding new cards to the game designed and submitted by the backers. The backers also get to vote on which cards from all the submissions are added.

    See our most recent update here:

    Or our BGG poll here:

    Is this a contest? I don’t feel like it is since every backer had the opportunity to submit a card, every backer has the opportunity to vote on the cards added, and every backer will eventually (assuming full funding) get these cards with their game.

    But I would guess that some may think it is a contest. I actually did not clear it with Kickstarter first so we will see how it goes. :)

  7. Some good pointers Jamey :)

    Hehe – I had a contest on my first Kickstarter campaign, (see over half-way down).
    I think I just completely forgot about the strict rules on this topic, and they didn’t see my campaign :D

    Now that the first campaign failed it doesn’t matter, but I think Kickstarter just didn’t notice my project because it was up for quite a while.
    I even encouraged to share the contest – since there would be extra prizes if more people participated… oh my, almost getting away with murder :D

    Best regards Emil

    1. Emil: I think you touched upon an important point here: If Kickstarter doesn’t know you’re running a contest, they won’t stop you! I wouldn’t encourage creators to push their luck, but I think it’s important for people to know that Kickstarter isn’t actually monitoring everything you do. They rely on users to flag activity that goes against their guidelines.

  8. The Tuscany video is great! I really liked the “rating card” toward the beginning. I am eagerly awaiting the kickstarter campaign, especially since I missed Viticulture the first time around.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts, Roger and Nicholas. I agree that Kickstarter isn’t out there policing other sites–they just care what happens on Kickstarter. I think the key, as both of you alluded to, is that you really do have to keep it separate from Kickstarter (you can’t promote the contest on your project updates).

  10. Nothing says you can’t run the contest on your company’s or game’s Facebook page, either. I’ve seen similar contests run very successfully there, and they also serve to generate traffic to your live campaign.

  11. The BGG contests are raffle-style giveaways – you just have to hunt down the clue answers to submit an entry (I think mainly for the purpose of driving people to the KS page).

    I’ve done raffle giveaways in the past on Today in Board Games and am currently running a giveaway for the Meeple Source Kickstarter (current) and the Tiny Epic Kingdoms Kickstarter (recently ended). As long as the giveaway is not on the Kickstarter page (or in an update) they don’t seem to care. When I run a giveaway for a Kickstarter part of earning an entry is visiting the Kickstarter page – and this also doesn’t present any issues. I’ve had project owners ask me to make “back my project” a way to enter the giveaway in the past but I declined as I feel this violates the spirit of the Kickstarter rule.

  12. Any contest off-kickstarter would need to state in the small print that the prize being offered is dependent on the kickstarter reaching its funding target.

    Likewise we are considering a promotional auction off kickstarter (on NZ equivalent of ebay) – and that will have to have a disclaimer that the winners money will be refuned if the project is not funded.

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