Kickstarter Lesson #88: Project Creep

3 April 2014 | 21 Comments

extension matWe just entered the final week of my Tuscany campaign, prompting me to read my own Kickstarter Lesson about what a project creator should do at the start of the final week.

One of the key points on that entry is the “call to action.” A call to action is a request for backers to do something–share the project, upgrade their pledge, etc.

So I started to write a project update about a call to action for Tuscany, and I realized: Other than asking backers to share their opinion through a few polls during the project, I haven’t issued any calls to action until today.

Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing–in particular, it’s helpful to recommend creative ways for backers to share the project during the campaign. But I think it’s also really important not to ask too much of your backers. Here’s why:

Your backers have already done SO much for you by becoming backers in the first place.

I think it’s really, really important for project creators remember that. Out of 6 billion people on this planet, a few hundred people have decided that they want to give you their hard-earned money months in advance of getting anything tangible in return. That is remarkable. In many ways, that’s more than enough for them to do. It’s not their responsibility to also share the project with their friends and add more stuff to their pledge.

Now, social network sharing and upgrading pledges can be beneficial for everyone, especially in terms of reaching the funding goal and unlocking stretch goals. But keep the calls to action in check.

This topic came up on the Tuscany boards the other day, and several types of project creep (when project creators keep adding more stuff and asking backers to do more stuff) were mentioned:

  • Excessive add-ons: Some projects start out with a lot of add-ons, but perhaps the worst culprits are those that accumulate more and more add-on options during the campaign. This preys on gamers’ “completionist” tendencies. Miniatures projects are somewhat notorious for this, and sometimes it can have a drastic impact on the project schedule. Solution: create some new add-ons during the campaign to keep the momentum and excitement, but limit them to 1 a week at most.
  • Excessive upgrades: Some projects start off with a few pledge levels, but as the project grows, more and more rewards are added, and the right sidebar becomes bloated with options. Not only is this confusing for people looking for the “complete” game, but if you keep adding more, the backers become jaded about whether or not the project creator knows what “complete” means. Solution: I’m a huge proponent of the “premium option,” a reward that makes the regular option same blase in comparison, and at a fair price. Have a few of these on your project, but not too many.
  • Excessive polls and surveys: Some projects are constantly asking backers for their opinion. Now, I love polls and surveys–they’re a great way to engage backers. But everything can’t be up for discussion, and after a certain point backers get tired of them. Solution: Limit yourself to one poll a week, and be clear about when the poll will close. Remember to share the results.
  • Excessive calls to action: This is probably the most common example of project creep. Some projects constantly ask backers to share, Like, Tweet, thumb, etc. Backers start to wonder, “Is it ever enough?” Solution: It’s important to empower backers with specific, creative ways to share the project. But limit these requests to no more than 1 update a week. And definitely don’t do this or encourage it in the comments section. You can kill a vibrant backer discussion really fast if someone is constantly telling backers to go share the project instead of building community within the project.
  • Excessive project updates: We’ve discussed this before on the KS Lesson about project updates: Don’t drown backers in updates! Save up until you have something really important to say, then say it in one update, putting any ancillary information at the bottom of the post–don’t write an update on consecutive days unless it’s absolutely imperative that backers read it right away. Solution: The best way to learn about project updates is to subscribe to a project and follow the updates until you get so annoyed with them that you unsubscribe. Jot down why you unsubscribed, and then make sure you don’t do the same thing when you run your project.

Can you think of any other types of project creep? Please don’t use the comments here to point fingers–this is a learning experience for all project creators, including me.

21 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #88: Project Creep

  1. Not sure if this applies, but I’d throw excessive updates into the creep category. I’ve backed some projects where we were getting daily updates by the last week. That’s way too much. It got to the point where I’d skim it quick to make sure I wasn’t missing anything vital and then hit delete. I would have just unsubscribed but was afraid of missing an important update.

  2. The excessive add-ons are an absolute no-go for me. I don’t remember which project it was (it was a miniature one), but in the end the add-on section was a complete mess to browse through since there were add-ons needed to complete the package, add-ons that were included through stretch-goals and finally add-on-packs (some just a collection of add-ons, some included add-ons that were exclusive to the packs). The result of this was the number of add-ons never being constant as new got unlocked and previous add-ons were included in the base-game and finally me backing out, since I found it nearly impossible to calculate the ammount I had to pledge (with increased during the campaign and the add-on-spree).

  3. There was campaign I backed (say no names as not to point fingers :-) that added character likeness reward levels some time after the launch. This was fine by me, but what was not taken in the calculation was the additional time it would take, post KS, to complete these sketches prior to manufacturing. In an update the project stated that they had to move the delivery date back BUT the project would be even better with these with these new character cards.

    But what bothered me, was that I thought the stock character were fine the way they were and these add ons really only benefited the people who would now have their faces on them. So in the end, it was just a missed delivery date in my opinion.

    I say this just to drive a couple of your points home. Unless you are really going to add significant value to project, its best to just stick to the “meat and potatoes”

    Also, even though your list Jamey, is supposed to reflect the thinking of a project close to the end of a campaign, I think these are great things to remember even as we are preparing for Kickstarter campaigns. How to mitigate the “scope creep” even before it start. Great thoughts!

    1. John: It’s funny that you mentioned the custom art, because I essentially did that on the original Viticulture campaign! The difference was that I realized how it was going to impact the schedule, so I hired multiple artists to take care of it within the promised time frame. It’s definitely something to consider when planning and executing a project.

  4. I’ll just note that customization is one of the key advantages to something like a Kickstarter. You can customize outside of KS pretty easily with digital product (the myriad DLC from clothes for your Battlemage to anti-aircraft artillery for your towers to hemp for your simulated farm) but the logistics become atrocious for physical product. Hence the advantage of being a backer is to get something that will never be offered again. That justifies the presence of multiple reward tiers and add-ons.

    But only to a point. As the provider of a product, you don’t want to confuse a) your customers, b) your manufacturers c) your fulfillment folks or d) yourself.

    One of my favorite business communication rules is the Crayon-Workbook Continuum. If you can explain a business concept – in this case, your reward tiers – using only a crayon, everyone will get it. If you require a row-column workbook to explain the reward tiers, you limit your market significantly.There’s a happy medium that skews more towards the Workbook for products that evoke a particular passion (board games, andrino devices) but needs to stay closer to the Crayon for things that people aren’t likely to talk about in polite conversation (“I’m so excited about the 381 different mutual funds I can invest in! I want to collect them all!”).

    For example, there’s a fascinating game product in the RPG space on KS right now … and the 23 (yes TWENTY THREE) reward tiers and 33 (yes, THIRTY THREE) add-ons are also explained through an excel attachment and a multi-slide powerpoint. That’s just for the English product – there are more tiers for French-language product. And some of the add-ons are only allowed for reward tiers with a physical component (presumably to consolidate shipping), while other add-ons are disallowed for reward tiers that already include it (due to limited items). From a computational perspective, fulfilling an order requires several boolean lookups in a relational database to see what is allowed and what is not allowed. But, then again, it’s a pen-and-paper RPG and if anyone is better at board gamers than loving the details, it’s the RPG players.

    1. JT: I really like the idea of the crayon-workbook continuum. I might try that for future campaigns–if I can’t explain the campaign (or the game) with a crayon on a single piece of paper, then I’ve probably made it too complicated (or at least need to hone my pitch more).

  5. Hi Jamie, thanks for all these posts, I am not even working anything for KS moment, but they are very interesting reads in terms of understanding the logistics and details of launching new products.

    Off-topic Question: Will anyone from Stagmeier be at PAX East? Will there be copies of Euphoria and Viticulture there? I read Play To Win, post and I don’t recall that PAX does that…

    Would very much like to teach Euphoria to some out-of-state friends, but I don’t think I can bring my copy.

    On Topic… just my two cents, but the few board games I have backed have had limited, straightforward tiers, typically with a “premium that includes any unlocks.” I have actively avoided the miniature-style in particular because of the reasons you outlined above. Those add-ons might be attractive for an game/product line I have a history and investment, but are a total non-starter when you are trying to sell me on something new.

  6. Hi Jamey, Thanks for the quick response! Sorry my post was unclear, I do NOT KNOW if they havea play-to-win or not. Last year I was too busy to get to the gaming floor, so I just wanted to check and see if your games might be there.

  7. Definitely agree on the add-on thing. The more Recon, which I am backing and want to look forward to, keeps adding in the add-ons the more I am started to lean towards backing out of it completely as I do like get everything and what was already a high cost project to back as it was is going upwards more and more.

    This is also why I didn’t back the Super Dungeon Explorer campaign. Sure, 1 pledge level made it easy to get in on, but then everything else was add-on and after I checked back on it to see how it was looking after a few days it was already getting to about double the cost of the pledge and I didn’t look at it again.

    1. Duane: That’s interesting how a low entry price can get you into a project, but how excessive add-ons can later push you away from the project. I think that striking a good balance between the two is important.

      1. There is the budgeting factor when you look at backing something. If all or most of the add-ons are already there you have that factored in if you do go for them. When things keep getting added on that can really throw off a budget for someone trying to back the game.

        There is also the perception of cost. At some point you start to consider where the money is at, especially if you are re-evaluating it constantly to adjust for add-ons, and you start to wonder is that particular game actually worth it. If there are the “expansions’ (seriously do not like that term on the add-ons that are already present at the start of the campaign, I am fine with it if they may have been a possibility with stretch money that were in the works but weren’t going to be possible initially) you usually will think of those as a good thing to help with replayability and usually are more of an auto-add. Of course there are also the add-ons that aren’t necessary to play and are there to enhance the games. But, I know in my case (and I’m sure with a lot of us gamers) if I can add something to the game to replace a cardboard token I will likely try to do it. Meeples, extra miniatures that can be used in those types of games instead of the cardboard parts, etc.

        That’s why I like projects like Tuscany. It was all there when I looked at things. I knew if I wanted both games and the awesome coins there was the pledge level for it. Now if I decide I want more coins for other purposes I know I can add them on.

        Having backed MYTH originally I knew to expect something similar with Recon. I even over budgeted to begin with, but things are already beyond what I originally pledged for and was planning for so now I have to look at each add-on and either decide what not to get (never a fun thing) or just back out of it altogether. Though that would be money saved towards going to GenCon in August so not necessarily a bad thing :)

        SDE at least I was just monitoring the first few days as I have heard good things about the original, but watching how that campaign was turning out after those first couple days I stayed away having no idea what a final pledge amount would look like at the rate they were unlocking those $10-$15 add-ons.

        Overall though I don’t mind tossing in some extra funds towards add-ons that might come up during a campaign as long as things don’t seem to keep the costs spiraling upwards. But, the budget and cost perceptions both start to get skewed further as the add-ons start to, well for lack of a better term “add up”.

        1. Duane: That’s really interesting about when the ration between the perception of value and what you can afford increases, your interest in the project can decrease. Like, say you can afford $100 to spend on a minis project. You back it at $80, and the perceived value (based on MSRP, other projects, etc) is $120. Thus the perception:affordability ratio is $120:$80.

          However, say the project starts to add lots of add ons. The perceived value goes up, but the amount you can afford only goes up to $100. So at a certain point it might look more like $200:$100, BUT with that $100 you’re “only” getting $150 total perceived value. Suddenly you feel like it’s not worth the money at all if you can’t get everything, and you drop out.

          Is that somewhat accurate?

          1. That is the general idea. Other things can factor in of course, but usually if there are no other outside forces like unexpected car issues or whatever coming up then it starts to be a juggling game. Occasionally I will side with the minimal, but being more of a completionist I’d rather get everything for it.

            The mini games tend to be the ones notorious for those types of situations. Most other games I back I can usually either afford the add-ons that show up or depending on what they are I may be able to forgo them. What has kept me in the Recon one thus far is that having received MYTH I know the minis in the game are high quality and look great. Knowing what they have done with those I know Recon will show similar quality to them. Also as it is currently by backing Recon I also can optionally use those same minis to play their tabletop skirmish game, if I ever wanted to do so, with them. So there is that extra added value.

            In my case (and I know other people that are just as completionist as me that have gone and backed the mini games at some crazy amounts to get everything) I think I’d rather see a higher upfront pledge that was going to be based around the stretches getting unlocked instead of the stretches coming and then they turn out to be another huge expense that I couldn’t see coming. It is one thing to back something at say $150-$200 and then see more free stuff being added in to the game from them (doesn’t have to be exclusive as I’m not one of those people that whine about wanting exclusive KS only things and am more than happy to help just make the end game everyone can get that much better) than starting at the $100 mark and get some free stuff added and then having to throw in another $100, $200, or whatever more as the project progresses.

            Last year I backed Golem Arcana at $375. It is definitely not a cheap game to toss the money at, but that let me know I got one of every army figure that was going to be released from the Kickstarter initially as well as the fact that some of those were not going to be available right at launch, but over a period of time once the game does come out later this year. So I get everything and I have the bonus of having access to some of the things before the general public can pick them up. It also let me know that I had that much I had to budget in for that game and it happened around a point where I could easily work that in.

          2. Thanks Duane. I think you said it really well here: “I’d rather see a higher upfront pledge that was going to be based around the stretches getting unlocked instead of the stretches coming and then they turn out to be another huge expense that I couldn’t see coming.” I completely agree.

  8. I was watching a couple of campaigns creep in a different way, Some of them were the complete opposite, where the creator was being a part of the conversation, then less and less. As he did the project funding also started to slow, and even comments from us came back unanswered. Meaning some of the backers backed out. It wasn’t the same kind of creep, but it did feel like creep to me, a negative kind of momentum.

    There was also another project that had a great core concept (I thought) and nice goals and rewards, it all seemed fine to me. However, over the course of the campaign too many suggestions were accepted. None of the rewards or goals changed, but slowly and surely the core concept of the game shifted. It changed so much that I woke up one day and thought, “what is this? I didn’t back this?” in a literal sense, I didn’t know what it was for a few seconds. This also felt like creep to me, and I didn’t like it, I backed out.

    1. William: Thanks for this interesting perspective on project creep. I can say as a creator that while a KS campaign is invigorating, it is also draining, so it’s important for creators to keep an eye on that so it doesn’t impact the way they interact with their backers.

      As for creators who say “yes” too much, that’s tough too, especially if it’s the product itself that is changing. I can see why you’d lose confidence in that project.

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