Kickstarter Lesson #94: The Top 10 Ways to Survive and Thrive on BoardGameGeek

6 May 2014

I try to make these Kickstarter Lessons as universally applicable as possible (even though I make board games, this isn’t a board game blog), but today I’m going to step away from that rule to write about BoardGameGeek, or BGG. This is an entry written specifically for board game Kickstarter creators.

My first exposure to BGG was back in 2011 when I started designing Viticulture. Many readers of this post will have far more experience than me, so feel free to chime in with your wisdom.

Just in case there’s any doubt, posting your game and being active on BGG is an absolute requirement for any board game project creator. This is where people who love tabletop games go to talk about tabletop games. It’s ranked among the top 5,000 websites in the universe. And membership on BGG is free.

Here’s what I’ve learned during that time as a project creator:

1. Post Your Game to BGG: As soon as you have a name and a somewhat accurate description of your game, claim your spot on BGG. I would describe this elaborate process here, but a fellow blogger has already done so much better than I could have. So go check out that entry on This Is the Front (unfortunately, it looks like this entry is no longer available to the public) if you haven’t gone through this process before. The article also delves into the process for posting images to BGG, which is really important–people love visuals, and if enough people “thumb” your image, it will appear on the homepage (you can recommend that backers thumb specific images from time to time, but you cannot make a contest out of it).

BGG_image

2. Subscribe to Yourself: One of the cool things about BGG is that you can subscribe to pretty much anything or anyone. There’s a “subscribe” button on the right side of the page for any game, and it’s in the drop-down menu for any user. Although it’s completely self-serving, I think the most important things to subscribe to are your games, your name, and your company. That way, whenever anyone writes anything about you on BGG, you can read about it (that can be a good and a bad thing–I’ll get to that in a minute). Whenever you log on to BGG, you’ll know how many new subscription-driven notifications you have based on this box in the upper left of the screen:

BGG_notifications

3. Ads Are Worth the Money…If Done Properly: As I discussed on the Tuscany stats blog entry, we spent $700 on BGG ads during the Kickstarter project and had a $12,500 return on investment. Thus I definitely think BGG ads are worth the money, but you need to make sure they’re professionally designed–an ugly ad is going to hurt you, not help you. Also, no matter how great your BGG ad is, if someone clicks through to find a confusing, over-priced, unappealing Kickstarter project, the ad isn’t going to help.

Also, very important: Do NOT make ads that have moving or flashing images. They might be eye-catching, but it’s the wrong kind of eye-catching.

The other nice thing about buying ads on BGG is that BGG will then put a Kickstarter widget under the main image for your project. The minimum for a BGG ad (three banner sizes) is $500, and you can “take over” the BGG homepage for a day for an additional $200. I would recommend contacting Chad to schedule your ad: chad@boardgamegeek.com

final week - Tuscany wide banner

4. Subscribe to the Kickstarter Board Game Geeklist: A geeklist is a list of items (usually games) that anyone can compile. There are many useful geeklists on BGG, but the single most important list to you as a project creator is this geeklist created and maintained by Matt Wolfe. It’s a daily update of every new Kickstarter project, complete with Kicktraq graphs and summaries. This is your daily research. Subscribe to this list and look at it once a day to see the new projects and what people are saying about them. Even if the projects aren’t interesting to you as a backer, I would recommend clicking on most of them to learn what other project creators are doing. See what works and what doesn’t work, and make notes about any innovations you see. Also, if you’re in Europe, you should subscribe to this geeklist by andvaranaut.

5. Interact, but Pick Your Battles: As I mentioned in #2, by subscribing to all of your own content, you can essentially read everything anyone says about you on Kickstarter. This is great, because it provides a way for you to interact with tons of people and to be really proactive about answering questions. It can also be a great way for you to learn to respond to constructive criticism without being defensive, or even when to “pick your battles” and not say anything at all. People need to feel free to discuss your game in an openly constructive manner. These are things I’ve learned over time, and I’m still learning them.

BUT…sometimes people can be cruel. Especially online.

I’m not talking about when someone doesn’t like your game and they have some negative things to say about it. That’s perfectly normal, and hopefully those negative things are constructive. I’m talking about mean-spirited cruelty that has no place on such a welcoming environment as BGG. If you read every comment, you will experience this at some point, and if you’re anything like me, it will really shake you. You will be shocked that someone would go out of their way to feel or express that level of hatred.

So, for your own sanity, when you encounter a truly cruel BGG user, block them. Don’t respond, don’t linger on the comment–just block them. It’s in the drop-down menu next to their name:

BGG_hide_user_post

BGG_badges6. Geek Gold and Microbadges: Like the geeklists I posted above, there are some BGG users who spend a lot of time creating incredibly helpful resources on BGG. You should reward those users with more than just a thumb or a comment–you should give them Geek Gold. I’m still learning about Geek Gold, so feel free to fill in the blanks, but from what I can tell, Geek Gold is a currency earned by participating on BGG (uploading images, etc) that you can spend on microbadges.

Microbadges are the little icons below your avatar. I’ve been told by more experienced users that it’s important to maintain and update these badges over time. You can buy them by going to the “My Geek” tab near the top of the page, and you can earn more of them over time for free based on your level of participation.

BGG_Hotness7. The Hotness. Every game designer wants to see their game on the ever-present Hotness list on the left sidebar.  These are the most talked-about games on BGG at any given time. How do you get on the Hotness? Nobody knows the exact formula, but it’s likely a combination of every form of participation on BGG (searches, comments, geeklists, images, thumbs, etc). I have noticed an almost direct correlation between Rahdo Runs Through and the Hotness…maybe it’s a complete coincidence, but after watching a Radho video, I often go to BGG to learn more, so perhaps there is a connection.

So what should you do as a project creator to get on the Hotness (other than sending your game to Rahdo and other reviewers)? Find ways to get people talking about your game on BGG. Post images on a regular basis. Encourage conversation as a moderator and a participant. Drive external traffic to your BGG page. A lot of this is out of your control, but do what you can to get that visibility on BGG.

8. Ratings and Rankings. Before and during your Kickstarter project, some of your playtesters might rate your game on BGG (the easiest way to do this is to search for a game and then input your rating among the search results). That’s very nice of them, but I would discourage it. Your playtesters haven’t really played the game–they’ve played a prototype of the game that probably looks and feels (and plays) very differently than the final version.

However, once the game is released, you definitely want people to rate your game. The more people who rate the game, the better your visibility on the BGG rankings. BGG dilutes your game’s ratings with a bunch of subpar ratings so that you won’t have the best game on BGG if three people give it a perfect 10. So the more people who rate your game, the less those diluting ratings will impact the game.

My recommendation is that you encourage people to rate your game through project updates from time to time. Make sure to be clear that you want honest ratings–don’t try to play the system. Also, keep in mind that some BGG users (perhaps the type that you will someday block) will rate your game really, really low. You know your game isn’t a 1 or a 2 out of 10, so don’t burden yourself by looking over individual ratings. For example, Terra Mystica, the #6 ranked game on BGG out of all games, has been given the lowest score of 1 by 37 BGG members!

Here’s the chart from the BGG wiki explaining how to rate games:

BGG_ratings

9. Blogging. You can create and subscribe to blogs on BGG, like this fantastic blog about solitaire games from the designer of Viticulture Automa. The ongoing debate I’ve had with several people is: Should you blog on BGG, on your own blog, or a little of both?

I don’t think there is a right answer, but I’ll say this: If you’re trying to start a company, you want to drive people to your website through search engine optimization, and one of the ways to do that is to build up a wealth of content on your website. BGG will not help you with that at all. So if that’s important to you, blog on your own website and occasionally link or post entries to BGG to encourage a diversity of participation.

10. Read the News. BGG does a fantastic job of reporting on everything related to tabletop gaming in the News section of the home page. Read it every day, and if you have news worth sharing, contact the moderators on BGG to let them know.

BGG_News

I’m sure I’ve missed something big and important, so please fill in the blanks in the comments. Thanks!

Also read this great article on Indie Game Report.

61 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #94: The Top 10 Ways to Survive and Thrive on BoardGameGeek

  1. Fantastic and priceless information as always. We’re hoping to launch a KS campaign in August and I find myself frequently referring to these blog posts. I realize you are looking into a book deal but I find the always up-to-date aspect of the blog excellent!

  2. As far as blogging goes – though I haven’t tried it myself – I’ve noticed a number of BGG blogs are just entries with an image and a link to a blog post on a personal website. This seems like it could be the best of both worlds, as you put the actual content on your website and still get the attention of the BGG community.

    1. Isaac: I agree that it’s a good method, although I think it’s best if used sparingly for big, important blog entries. Otherwise you’re creating redundancy for the people who follow your work.

  3. Jamey, priceless content! One critical question I have – I have discussed this with a few other game designers (I not very fluent with BGG yet but getting up to speed quickly), and the consensus is, put your game up there early and let people discuss the mechanics, game play, give feedback and make suggestions etc. Just like you said…

    But couldn’t this also come back to bite you? I have seen people put their game up there early and get terrible ratings for an unfinished product, which is difficult to recover from. I know the Wild Wild West of the internet isn’t really “fair” to begin with but I thought I would throw this out there just see if you had any further thoughts? Thanks!

    1. John: I agree that getting the PnP out there early and often is a good idea, but I think it’s key to have a separate, private forum off of BGG to discuss the PnP for the very reasons you mention here. That’s what we did for Tuscany testing.

  4. On the subject of images: certainly make sure that, if you have good prototype components, that you have pictures on BGG. I doubt it would break a campaign if you didn’t, but it can certainly /make/ a campaign. Look at Xia: Legend of a Drift System for this – I only learned about it (and I’m sure many others did too) because for a fair amount of time ALL of the front page images were of Xia. After a while, you get curious and go “what’s going ON with this game? I must at least learn about it if it’s dominating the front page!” Effectively, I’m saying the more appealing you make your game, the more it’ll show up in places people look (Images on the front page, GeekLists, the Hotness, etc), and the more views you get on your KS page, and the more backers you get. Making your game appealing can happen from pretty pictures, but it can also happen from activity. Just make sure it’s activity that fits with the community…

    (Cody then went on to run one of the best Kickstarter campaigns I’ve seen. His communication is near-flawless. His breakdowns of the impact of everything is fantastic. If you’re doing KS for board games, then you need to learn from Jamey, here, which I’m sure you’re doing if you’re reading my comment, and also from Cody of Xia fame.)

  5. Thanks for the shout out! :) I find it difficult to believe that an even remotely serious game designer in this day and age doesn’t know about BGG, but the fact is that there are many KS projects (some ofthem even quite professional looking) which start without the game in the BGG database – as serious a mistake as it gets! If your game is not on BGG you are missing out on a *huge* chunk of the buzz you might be generating (if your project is worth it, of course…)

    I also appreciate the shout out to Morten :) and of course to Matt’s Geeklist. Maintaining the EU-friendly geeklist has given me some perspective on just how much work maintaining Matt’s list involves. (It has also made me understand why he doesn’t editorialize – it takes a ridiculous amount of time).

  6. Fantastic advice as always! Having had my first KS project fail last year, I immediately started researching what I may have done wrong. Shortly after, I stumbled upon BGG, which I had never heard of. Needless to say, I posted my first thread on BGG asking for feedback on my failed KS project, and immediately received an overwhelming amount of advice on what went wrong.

    From that point forward, I knew BGG was going to be my best tool in pursuing my next board game project. There is a wealth of information in this community, and you’re so right about BGG being an absolute requirement for any board game creator. Over that past 10 months, I have delved into dozens of threads, and have tried to be as active of a member of this community as I can. Everything you’ve mentioned in this blog is spot on with what I’ve experienced as a member of BGG, and I couldn’t agree more with all of these invaluable points.

    I will add just a few things, as I’ve noticed many new game designers are unsure of how to go about putting their material out there, especially regarding copyright issues. As we now have KS, the amount of self publishers has really taken off in recent years. Many come on BGG and are hesitant to want to put their WIP out, unsure of copyright laws, etc. As a result, they miss out on invaluable feedback, which is important during the design phase. Basically what I’ve learned is, once you put your material on BGG, it’s considered copyrighted. BGG posts the time and date of every post and submission, which is essentially your proof you put the work out first.

    Also, there are a ton of individuals on BGG that are available to help you in various phases of your board game creation process, from play testers, to artists, to editors, etc. One in particular I just happened to notice is a guy who will review and edit your rulebook for free, simply because he enjoys doing it. His name is Erik Capps http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/Capps
    There are numerous people like Erik on BGG who are willing to offer advice, help, and support for your project simply because they are passionate about gaming. The biggest tidbit of advice I could give overall though, is to interact and make as many connections as possible on BGG. Jamey, you’ve mentioned this before, and I just want to reiterate it because it is so important – engaging in conversations on threads in this community (particularly BGG) is one of the best things you can do, but most importantly not talking about your game in every single post. Engage in other conversations and various topics, offering advice to other people, and gaining their trust should be a prerequisite for building a following of your game, and setting your KS project up for success in the future.

  7. Games can’t really be copyrighted. The artwork, literary bits (not game mechanics, but storytelling) can be. This is why anyone can take an existing board game, make a version of it sans graphics and changing the names of everything and it’s perfectly legal. You should have at least a healthy fear of that. (this is also why all those silly simple mobile games have endless clones).

    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html

  8. You’re right, and thanks for clarifying that. We copyrighted our work (art and literary) just to be safe – it’s only $35 and doesn’t hurt to pursue. Likewise, any art/literary work you post on BGG is considered copyrighted the moment you put it on there. But you are right about the actual game mechanics and game play, you cannot copyright them.

  9. Unrelated to design/publishing so I’ll keep it short, but there’s a pretty cool monthly geeklist for spending geekgold called G4GG (Games for Geek Gold). You can tip gg to items on the list to get entries for a draw at the end of each month for the chance to pick up games ^^. Could be an interesting way of advertising a project to put your own entry in while you have a project running ^^.

  10. Jamey pretty much nailed everything I would have recommended! However, I do have one additional recommendation on ad timing to add to Jamey’s section on advertising properly.

    In my opinion, it is not essential to run ads for a project from day 1. In fact, it’s a bit of a risky proposition unless you’re someone like Stonemeier, Cool Mini or Not, Queen Games, etc, where you have a proven track record. My advice would be to see how your project is converting on traffic before running ads. If things are going well, and you’re on track to fund, then fire up the ads, since you’ve now seen you have a project that people actually want to pledge for.

    Furthermore, if you wait a bit, the project looks that much more attractive to users that will access your project via the ads. When they see that other people have already pledged, it definitely vouches for the quality of the project. Your early backers are likely people you have some sort of relationship with (they’ve read your blog, subscribed to you on BGG, played your game at a con, etc), whereas the ad clicks are flying in blind, so the project has to be as legit as possible to convert those visitors into pledges.

  11. Great article, and reminding me of the Geek List made me back 4 things! lol.

    You did leave out Contests though. By contacting the same person for advertising (Chad) you can set up a month long contest on BGG. This seems to get you on the Hotness list every time. The cost is $1,200. I have been debating on using a contest during our campaign coming May 21st. I’ve talked to several people who had contests and the best answer to “is it worth it” I got was “probably”. No one can quantify what the contest does for you. They say how many people come through BGG to the Kickstarter page, and they get on the Hotness list, but who knows what that brings in.

    I’m on the fence right now. If anyone has some real numbers to give when running a contest for a Kickstarter, that would be great.

    1. Christian: Thanks for your thoughts about contests. I think those are some nice perks to running a contest; the downside, though (and the reason I haven’t run one), is that a contest creates a situation where a lot of people lose and only a few people win. It’s more psychological than anything else. I’ve used this comparison for early bird pledge levels too–sure, 100 people feel like they “won” by getting a $5 discount, but everyone else feels a little bit like they lost.

      That’s more of a touchy-feely thing–maybe Chad has some hard data?

    2. I of course don’t have any hard data as to actual backers that come from contest, but I do have hard data as to the traffic is sends. Contests are currently achieving about 3,500 participants per contest. As you mention, this also tends to vault the game up the Hotness due to all of the page activity generated. Being in the top 5 or so of the Hotness will boost views of the BGG listing by 10,000-15,000 views while it is up there, which combos very nicely with the Kickstarter widget, since any visit to the BGG listing will see you’re currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign.

      So, by the time you’re done, about 15,000 folks will see your game for the $1,200 spend, which would generally be considered an extremely good value. Of course, you’ll need those people to convert into pledges, which is the part I can’t quantify. What I do know is that most of our advertisers that do contests tend to return and do more contests.

      Also, there is some psychology at play here. When people enter a contest, they imagine themselves winning and owning that game. As Jamey says, most people lose (although all contests participants do get a shiny new microbadge for the contest!), but I actually see this as a positive rather than a negative. You now have all of these people, many of which who had imagined owning the game, who will need to pledge if they want the game. Contests also get people to look into the game more deeply than a banner ad generally will, so you may get a tighter attachment to the project than a banner might generate.

      Many Kickstarters even do both banners and a contest, which is a very good and comprehensive strategy. However, you need to be super sure you have a strong project for it to pay off, since you’re obviously spending a decent chunk of change on advertising at that point. It tends to be a very good investment for the right projects though!

      1. Chad, that’s a good point about people imaging and getting invested in a game through a contest. I’d love to see some data from a fellow project creator about the number of contest participants who end up backing the project (if it’s a great, well-run project, as you indicated).

        1. I do check Kicktraq data for projects that run contests on BGG, and there tends to be a visible bump in pledges during the contest. Totally unscientific, but it’s at least a visible result (assuming they didn’t also get a push from somewhere else at the same time).

      2. I justed wanted to chime in as a BGG user who has been in over 100 contests without winning one. It doesn’t bother me to lose. I don’t actually join the contest with the hopes of winning, instead I look forward to the FREE microbadge that EVERY participant gets.

        There are plenty of BGG users who are collectors and this plays into the mentality. Gotta get ’em all.

        Jorune

  12. I discovered BGG last year, when Lewis & Clark was about to be released, and learned a lot of things on the way. This article is very interesting and complete, as I learned new stuffs ;-)
    Thanks a lot Jamey

  13. Thanks for the quick reply! I agree, but I know only about 5 percent of the users are women. The game is obviously more geared for women than men, so I’m wondering if my advertising efforts should be focused elsewhere. What do you think? I’m playtesting now, so I’m finding your blog incredibly helpful!

    1. Teresa: Have you chatted in any of the “Women and Gaming” threads on BGG? It might be worth talking to that 5% to see what they think. Beyond that, if there are any websites that focus on Jane Austen, that might be a good place to consider advertising. But really, more important than advertising is building relationships with people who might enjoy your game. BGG is a great place to start, and you can branch off from there to bloggers who enjoy the games you love (and games that share similarities with your game).

    1. Hi Teresa! I love Jane Austen… where can I check out your game? Also, just a huge thanks to Jamey for this incredibly helpful post!

      1. Sorry. I just saw this. We’re still looking for a publisher, but we did take third at the Cardboard Edison Awards, so you can check out their site for a video. We’re not giving up, and I’m so glad you’re interested.

  14. Great Article Jamey. I have recently discovered your fabulous blog and have been catching up with all the interesting and valuable information you share here.

    That said, I wanted to comment on your Point #1 in this article: “Post Your Game to BGG: As soon as you have a name and a somewhat accurate description of your game, claim your spot on BGG”. I don’t know if rules have changed on BGG recently or not, but as bduerksen30 commented on thisisthefront’s blog article (https://thisisthefront.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/posting-your-game-to-boardgamegeek/), “BGG will only approve games that are ready for publishing if you’re not a major publisher. In other words, no games that are still in prototype or play-testing stages to try and build some early buzz.”. Readers might benefit from knowing this ahead of time before attempting to post a game that is not ready for publishing.

      1. Hi Jamey,

        I signed up to BGG right after reading this lesson – thanks btw – and while trying to ‘submit’ my new game [the 2016 Family Co-Op Game of the Year] I hit dead ends because my name does not show as a designer and my publishing company does not show either. It’s all new! Any tips you – or your erstwhile readers – might have on getting around this?

        And #B, same same, but in the case of trying to ‘submit’ myself as Game Designer :)

        “I love the smell of newbies in the morning; it smells like victory [points].”

        1. Michael: Welcome to the world of BGG! I would recommend first submitting yourself as a designer and your company as a publisher into BGG’s database, then submit the game. Also, the admins there are very helpful if you have other questions.

  15. Jamey,

    Thanks as usual for all the great info. I’m getting ready to embark on my first Kickstarter and wanted to see if you had any specific thoughts or comments regarding the card game/party game category. Would you recommend investing in BGG Ad $’s to promote my game when my campaign launches? Being that it’s more of a social party game rather than tabletop, I wanted to get your thoughts.

    Thanks,
    Dan

  16. Dan: Thanks for your question. I think the best thing you could do is see if Chad at BGG can provide you some click-through metrics for games in the same category. I think if the ad itself is designed really well, any BGG user has the potential of clicking on it, but if the data shows that very few BGG users click through ads for social/party games, it may not be the best investment.

    Here’s another entry to consider if you decide put an ad on BGG: https://stonemaiergames.com/backers-decide-what-makes-you-want-to-click-or-not-click-a-banner-ad/

  17. Hi Jamey,

    I’ve been a user of BGG for ages, but only recently become a member. My game is in artwork stages (with a professional artist) and I plan to launch using kickstarter later this year – The costs are huge, but the idea of publishing my own game is too exciting to not go for it! Obviously I’ll be putting my details in the database asap, but I wondered your thoughts on discussing the game on there – You say it’s a good idea, BUT, If i teach the ‘Works In Progress’ forum, I can’t find any threads there for games which have appeared on kickstarter – Noting funded this year seems to have a thread on there (though that have a single post in the press release section). SO, is it really a great idea?

    Did you have a WIP thread for Tuscany so delivery information about it as it came to life? ‘Where’ do you suggest is the best place within BGG to start discussing your project?

    Thanks!

    1. Shep: Thanks for your comment. I’m actually not familiar with the Works in Progress forum, which might just be more (or, based on what you saw there, maybe it’s not something Kickstarter creators use). I always just use the main game page as the place to discuss the game, as anyone can start a thread on that page.

  18. Thanks Jamey. I see no posts from designers there showing new games, certainly not recently anyway. I shall dig deeper.

    Thanks for the great blog!

  19. Thanks Jamey, we’re getting there and slowly working through your lessons.
    I appreciate you hear this all the time but thank you, you really are helping the community massively with these lessons.

    This is a first post for me!

  20. Hi Jamey,

    sorry to resurrect and old post, but I just wanted to thank you for this article – and your blog of course :)

    We are going to launch a Kickstarter project soon and we are “investigating” this parallel universe that is BGG. It’s scary, huge and complex, specially for a first time user. There are things you can’t do, things you should do and things you can do only in certain places.
    But we already found a lot of friendly people that can help you :)

    A quick question, apart from BGG where do you suggest to start promoting a game? We saw some Facebook groups that help promote new Kickstarter projects and there are a lot of blogs regarding boardgame, but its not easy to keep track of all of them, they are so many.
    Do you have any suggestions for that?

    Thanks again for this great blog!

  21. I realize the importance of first time creators working on building our brand and community by adding value, and am working on that.

    In addition, as I look to get some information up on BGG, do you think it is helpful to put up a gameplay video of a prototype? Based on your other posts, I would be sure to make it clear that it is a prototype, and that the art/rules/pieces will not be exactly as pictured. The prototype is fairly decent quality, but don’t want to mislead.

    In my mind it seems like it would be helpful way to describe the game. I know gameplay videos are my primary way of learning about games. I didn’t see this mentioned anywhere, so wondered what your experiences would suggest?

    Thanks a million for all the great content.

  22. Just wanted to say, I’m a newbie game designer working on my first game, and I’m finding your blog to be one of the absolute best resources I’ve found anywhere for a starry-eyed Kickstarter hopeful like myself. I’m consistently finding bits of advice and information that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else– stuff that makes me sit up and take note, literally. I’ve got a list of links in a note of everything I need to consider over the next several months and your blog is on there SEVERAL times. Thank you so much for providing this resource, sharing your hard-learned lessons, and for all your hard work!

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