18 March 2014 | 42 Comments
Over the course of the Viticulture, Euphoria, and Tuscany campaigns, I’ve learned a few things about custom art that I wanted to share with you. Before I get to the nitty gritty, let’s talk about why custom art is a good idea.
Within an hour of Tuscany launching, the 32 slots for custom art were sold out. They were priced at $149 each, and they included a “Prima” copy of Tuscany, valued at $59. I think this is pretty typically for a project with limited custom art. It’s a nice way for a project to have an early boost.
Also, custom art is a good way to separate your project from projects that feel like pre-orders. This is a direct way to involve backers in the game that they’re helping to fund.
Now, some people say they don’t like custom art because it looks…well, it looks like custom art. When you’re playing a game, you want the effect to be seamless. The thing is, for any art of a person, the illustrator is going to use a model of some sort. So as long as you have a good artist who is able to integrate the person into the flavor and feel of the game, it might as well be one of the backers who helped make the game a reality.
Here’s are some key points to consider:
- Pricing: Please be fair when you price your custom art rewards. You need to factor in two variables: The perceived value of the custom art and the artist fee. What that means is that you should charge more for the custom art than what the artists charges you, but be reasonable. You need to pay for the art either way, even if backers aren’t on the cards. I would say that the very most you should charge for custom art (putting the game and other components aside) is twice the artist fee.
- Gender Equality: For Euphoria, I had one level for 48 different recruit cards. Anyone could back it, man or woman. We ended up with about 37 men and 11 women. We didn’t like that it wasn’t more even–sure, there are probably more male gamers out there, but we want our games to reflect the real-world population, which is about 50/50. So for Tuscany, I created two reward levels–both $149, both with 16 slots available–one for men, one for women.
- Stretch Goals: This is something I’ve learned during the Tuscany campaign. When we launched, there were only 20 visitor cards in the game. The other 12 cards were early stretch goals. I didn’t want to bog down the sidebar with more reward levels every time a stretch goal related to these cards was reached, so I put all of potential custom art slots in the original reward levels and put a note in the FAQ about it. As we reached those stretch goals, a lot of people asked me if I would be opening up more reward levels. It created confusion for those backers, which wasn’t my intention. In the future, I’ll have the original game contents reflect exactly what’s on the reward levels. UPDATE: In the comments, Greg pointed out that Kickstarter now lets you change the number of available options on a limited reward level while the campaign is live. Very cool!
- Pre-Kickstarter Custom Art: In a way, limited custom art levels are early-bird levels, which I’m not a fan of at all. The first backers to arrive at the project claim those rewards. This is good for the project, but bad for backers who discover the project a few weeks into the campaign. However, if you open up more custom art reward levels during the campaign, you devalue the previous levels a little bit, you add unnecessary text to the reward sidebar, and the same thing happens with any backers who happen to be looking at the project page when you open those levels. So I tried to combat this before I launched Tuscany–months before. Back in November, I mentioned in our monthly e-newsletter that we would be selling custom art for Tuscany’s mama and papa cards. Anyone who was interested could fill out a Google Form, and we would randomly select a certain number of “winners” from that pool of people to be given the opportunity to buy custom art for a card. That way it was completely open to anyone. I don’t think you could do this during a Kickstarter campaign because Kickstarter looks down on any type of random selection.
- Ask for Commitment: When we put a game on Kickstarter, the development and design for the game is about 95% done. For Tuscany it’s probably even higher than that. What that means is that when the art and graphic design are finished soon after the project ends, we’re ready to go to print. Thus I have my artist work on custom art during the campaign, before any money has changed hands. We did the same with Euphoria, and after we had created the custom art for a few backers, they decided to cancel their pledge. Thus we had to pay the artist for their art twice. So with Tuscany, I was very clear with the custom-art backers that once they send me a photo, that’s a commitment to stick with their pledge. We’ll do everything we can after that to make sure they’re happy with the art, of course, and we provided samples in advance so they knew the style of the art. An alternative would be to not have your artist work on any of the custom art until the project is over and you’ve received the pledge money, but even then you should emphasize the commitment involved in case a backer asks for a post-project refund.
- Be Very Clear About the Photograph(s): First, ask your artist what type of photograph they want. I’ve worked with both Beth Sobel and Jacqui Davis on custom art, and they both requested the same thing: High-res photographs taken specifically for this project (not a random photo from 4 years ago you pick off of Facebook) where the person isn’t looking directly at the camera and the person isn’t smiling with teeth. It is weird to take a photo like this, but trust me, all of those factors add up to a much better piece of custom art than if the person is looking directly at the camera with a big goofy grin. That’s not going to integrate seamlessly with your game. Also, Beth mentioned to me that it helps her to have one photo with flash and one without.
That’s everything I know about custom art. What have you learned from backing/creating Kickstarter projects with custom art reward levels?
Also see a complete reversal on my stance about custom art here (Tuscany changed my mind).