Kickstarter Lesson #99: Backer-Only Project Updates

25 May 2014 | 23 Comments

2014-05-25_1636I’m not a fan of backer-only project updates.

You see, whenever you post an update on Kickstarter, there are a few options to the upper right of the update page (see image to the right). If you select the “backers” option, the only people who will be able to read your project updates are, obviously, your backers. Everyone else will see the words “For backers only.”

Here’s why that’s a bad thing.

First, imagine you are either (a) a potential backer looking to learn more about a live KS campaign or (b) a potential customer looking to learn more about a product after the KS campaign has ended. One of the things you might look for are updates about how the manufacturing process is coming along. But instead of seeing information about it,  you see this:



How does that make you feel? A proverbial door has been slammed in your face.

This is a lost opportunity to include people instead of excluding them. Granted, a project creator has a responsibility to put his or her backers first, and sometimes that means sharing information with them before the rest of the world. Project updates are a quick and easy way to do that.

But here’s the thing: If you post a project update with the intention of sharing the information with backers first, guess who will be the first people to get to that information? Your backers, naturally. They’ll get an e-mail about it. Everyone else will discover the update weeks or months later. You don’t need an artificial way of delaying your special Kickstarter updates.

Still not convinced? Here’s something else to consider: Not all of your backers are backers.

Sure, 99% of the people who support your Kickstarter campaign pledged on Kickstarter. But consider these other groups of people who support the project but didn’t pay through Kickstarter:

  • backers without access to Amazon Payments who paid through an alternate source, like PayPal or ShopLocket
  • bulk backers who pledged through someone else for a group discount
  • people who supported the project through non-financial means, like social media

Out of the 100+ project updates I’ve posted for my Kickstarter campaigns, I think I’ve posted exactly one backer-only update, and I can personally attest to the fact that all three of those groups were unnecessarily excluded (I heard from people in all three groups). After that, I swore off backer-only updates.

As a project creator, more and more I’m looking for ways to include people, not exclude them. If that’s a philosophy that you embrace, I would recommend that you make your project updates accessible to backers and non-backers alike.

Perhaps their are exceptions to this rule. If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments (be warned: I may point out why it was totally unnecessary for them to be backer-only updates! :) ).

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23 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #99: Backer-Only Project Updates

  1. As others have noted I think backer-only updates are a good idea if they’re a distribution method of material to backers (so long as you are happy for backers to use the “honour system” and not leak that stuff to non-backers).

    I think they are a terrible idea if all you are doing is providing information to backers. Sure, you might think it’s a good way to cover up stuff you don’t want the public to find out about and thus save your reputation a little, but if you have bad news you probably have disgruntled backers, and if your backers are disgruntled they’ll just spread the news around anyway.

    If your project has been at all successful you probably have dozens if not hundreds or thousands of backers; the odds of every single one of them keeping that update secret is basically nil. And as others on this comment thread have noted, people aren’t idiots: if they go to your page and they see a mass of backer-only updates, odds are they’re going to smell a rat – especially if those updates have then prompted discussion on the main comments section (which, of course, everyone can see).

  2. Right, you’ve convinced me. I am now squarely on camp, “Always do a publicly accessible PnP version.”

  3. As someone who often has a need to check on Kickstarter statuses of campaigns I don’t pledge to after they end, I can’t agree more with this sentiment. Not only does it make my job of following indie publishers even more difficult, it conveys that feeling of exclusivity. And I’m much more likely to just move as a result.

    This is doubly so if you’re someone who is going to want to have people continue to pre-order after the Kickstarter ends. I can see rare occasions when a backer-only update is necessary (and in those cases go for it), but in general, the more information you share publicly, the more people can talk about your game. And is the most important aspect of all.

    1. Ryan: You said “the more information you share publicly, the more people can talk about your game. And is the most important aspect of all.”

      I couldn’t agree more. Really, that applies to any product you want to catalyze on Kickstarter and continue to sell afterwards in some form.

  4. Great post Jamey. As an international backer I agree completely! We have often done group purchases (to save on the steep international postage) and it’s frustrating and annoying when only the person who actually backed the project can read the project updates on Ks or visit backer links. We’ve got around this to an extent now though – those who aren’t the main backer still back the project for a $1 so they get access to updates. But the point you are making is about inclusion and exclusion – and we’d never have had to create a work-around if project creators were including their hidden as well as their visible backers.

    Also, before backing a project I’ll usually read up on it a bit (or a lot!). That usually includes reading the comments and updates etc. on Ks to verify information and confirm details. And there have been several projects where I went to read the updates only to find that over half of them were backer only. I didn’t bother going any further. If they were going to be secret squirrel with so much information before the project was even funded how open were they going to be if they hit production issues? It just sends all the wrong signals for me.

  5. I’ve seen backer only updates used to share print-n-play versions of games. The designer said “pledge at least a dollar and you can download the game”. I think that’s a fair use for a backer only update. It might be a good idea to post a public update at the same time, explaining what is behind the closed door, and what you have to do to join the club.

    1. Josh – I’m not sure that “pledge a dollar download the game” really works (on the limitation side)

      It’s too easy as a backer to pledge the dollar, download the PnP, then cancel the pledge.

      As a creator you’ve added noise and stress to your life (why did they cancel?) and made it harder for potentially interested backers to make up their mind (as they have to go through the pledge-download-potentially cancel process).

      I think it’s easier for everyone involved if the PnP is public, and ideally linked from the front page.

      1. I wound up taking a hybrid approach to this. The front page linked to a print and play demo, which contained 80% of the game, enough to play the game in full, but replays would lack variety – the backer only update contained the full PnP with the last 20% and was downloadable as the whole thing or just the extra cards needed to convert the demo to the full game.

        I didn’t get any complaints about this from backers (and I did get comments about the PnP) nor did I see a bunch of people dropping pledges so I’m not adverse to doing it that way again.

    1. Derik and Josh: I think a more effective way of releasing the print-and-play is to send a group e-mail to backers through Kickstarter.

      This is a different topic, but I’ve started to think that having an open PnP for anyone to look at and/or test is the best way to go for any project. I no longer see any benefits to hiding it behind a paywall. I’m a proponent of “lite” PnPs (e.g., PnPs with incomplete/basic art or PnPs that only include a representative portion of the cards), but other than that, I can only see good things coming from posting the PnP publicly on the project page.

      1. I’ve seen many project creators offer a light version of their game as print-and-play either as a cut-down version or as a greyscale-only version. We’ve debated on this for our own campaign for days.

        Our biggest concern is, a light version of print-and-play is by definition a diminished experience of one’s full game. Further, the quality of the build and the perception of the made product is entirely out of your control.

        That said, when we finally released our print-and-play publicly, it helped boost our campaign quite significantly. I think it’s mostly to do with trust and goodwill. Especially on Reddit (and we all know that place can be bloodthirsty), the tone and perception of our campaign overall had turned positive quickly.

        Still, I think I’m not quite ready to embrace doing print-and-play for all our future games just yet.

        How do you guys feel about the topic?

        1. Chaoticpattern: Thanks for your comment. I think it largely depends on the intent of the PnP. Is it meant to replace the game, give people a taste for the game, or let people fully playtest the game (but not replace it). I generally post a lite PnP for anyone to look at or play just to get a taste for the game, but my official playtesters get the full version (privately).

      2. I think that’s a great point, Chaoticpattern. I have seen a number of backers and designers express opinions that an early, free pnp is required for trust and goodwill. It’s not something important to me as a backer, but because so many others find it critical I will definitely be going that route for my campaign.

        1. Like you, PnP is not important to me as a backer. I’d even go so far as to avoid lengthy gameplay videos and previews.

          I really like it when I get the opportunity to discover a game in its final form. Imagine my surprise when I got Euphoria. I’ve never had a jaw-dropping experience with a board game until I held the gold bars in my hand.

          I want my first time with a game to be the way the creator intended it. From unboxing to learning the game through the rulebook.

          Still, kudos given to any project creator that do offer public PnP.

  6. I dropped out of one project because after being a little disgruntled with the way the creator was handling it I saw a lot of backer only updates on previous projects. I assume this meant things weren’t going well and they didn’t want others to know.

  7. I absolutely agree. However, I promised that some of my videos would be backer-exclusive content such as interviews with some designers. It was my way to create Kickstarter exclusives without getting hung up with manufacturing extra bits. It would just cost me time and some extra effort. That said, I have made a couple of the updates with extra material non-exclusive. So far, no one has minded (or at least said anything). it does leave me in a quandary on how to proceed with this Kickstarter material and future ones.

    1. I’m glad to hear that backers have been open to you posting regular updates with the extra material. I think the vast majority of backers–while desiring the respect and appreciation their pledges deserve–really just want the project to succeed and be awesome and get out there to the world. Open updates play a helpful role with that.

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