Kickstarter Limitations and How to Work Around Them

5 May 2013 | 29 Comments

Kickstarter is an amazing platform for making your dream projects come to life and gauging interest in your products, but as with any example of great design, there are certain things it can’t do or won’t allow. Today I’m going to talk about some of those things and how you can work around them for your Kickstarter project.

For Creators:

  1. Reward Your Advocates: LivingSocial has a neat reward system for influential buyers. If you share a LivingSocial deal with three people who purchase the deal, you get the deal for free. There could be other ways to reward backers who share your project, but that’s one of the most elegant designs I’ve seen. Workaround: When you survey backers, ask them if they were referred to your project by another backer. You can offer those influential backers a special discount on your next project or just a special thank you note.
  2. Buy It Now: Many Kickstarter products won’t exist for quite some time after a project is funded. But some exist right now. For example, there might be a project for a fudge shop to fund an expansion. Many of the reward levels involve fudge. What if you could pay a little more to get some of that fudge now instead of later, and that payment goes through right away, regardless of whether or not the project is funded. Workaround: Include a link to PayPal or your website on the Kickstarter page.
  3. Sell the Product After the Campaign Ends: Your project is forever on Kickstarter, so people will be discovering it for years to come. Why couldn’t Kickstarter let you create a special post-campaign reward level that respects those who gave their money first but allows newcomers an easy way to get extra copies of your product? It could be a limited reward level based on the number you’re making. Workaround: Before your project ends, post a link to your website at the top of the Kickstarter page or to Outgrow.me, a site the specializes in selling post-Kickstarter products.
  4. Tipping-Point Rewards That Don’t Activate Until They’ve Reached a Certain Number of Backers: This is kind of like a Kickstarter within a Kickstarter. You might have a reward level that you can only justify if you reach a certain number of backers due to the economies of scale. They would have tipping points on them (i.e., “40 backers to activate”). Workaround: Run a separate Kickstarter project just for that specific reward.
  5. See How Many People Have Clicked the “Remind Me” Button: It would be really helpful to know how many people have clicked that “Remind Me” button so you can prepare for the final 48 hours. Maybe there’s an influx of people; maybe just a trickle. A little heads up would be greatly appreciated.
  6. Decrease Reward Level Prices for Existing Backers: Once one person has pledged to a reward level, you can’t change that level. However, I’ve seen many projects in which the creator decides to lower the price during the project, and it creates some confusion among the reward levels and existing backers. It makes sense that you shouldn’t be able to increase the price of an existing reward level, but a decrease? Who’s going to to argue with that? Workaround: You can add pledge levels whenever you want, and you can e-mail people within a specific pledge level. It’ll take some work, but you could effectively decrease the price of any reward level.
  7. See How Many People Subscribe to Updates on a Day-to-Day Basis: There is a chart on Kickstarter that shows how many backers and pledges you have on a daily basis. I’d love to have access to a similar chart that shows number of update subscribers and number of update unsubscribers. That way you know exactly how many people you’re reaching when you send out an update, and you can pinpoint annoying updates that cause people to unsubscribe so you can change your tactics. Workaround: Ask a question at the end of every update. You can gauge the number of readers relative to previous posts from the number of comments.
  8. Integrate Add-Ons: As it is, it’s nearly impossible to determine if someone has included add-on items in a pledge. As a project creator, when a new pledge comes through, you get an e-mail saying, “New Backer Alert! Jamey has pledged $75 to Nantucket Fudge Shop.” But you may not have a $75 reward level–that might be the $40 reward level with several add-ons. It would be much better if backers could select add-ons when they select their pledge level. Workaround: Make reward levels for each add-on combination.
  9. Improve Referrer Trackbacks: As James Mathe discusses here, Kickstarter is not built to give you accurate referral information. Which is unfortunate, because those stats are really helpful, especially if you’re paying for marketing. Workaround: Use bit.ly URLs instead of the full Kickstarter URL (you’ll get stats on bit.ly), and poll backers on their referrers at the end of the project.
  10. Run Contests: I understand why Kickstarter doesn’t let backers run contests or giveaways. Games of chance have no place on Kickstarter–too many opportunities for the game to be rigged. Unless, that is, the capability were built into Kickstarter for you to, say, give away a free copy of your product to any backer as a promotion. Workaround: Run the contest off of Kickstarter. You can’t mention it on Kickstarter, but they can’t regulate what you do elsewhere.
  11. Set Shipping Tiers for Different International Locations: I got this idea from Albino Dragon’s excellent blog entry about Kickstarter shortcomings. It’s inevitable for this to happen. If you’re shipping from the US, the cost to ship to Canada vs. the UK vs. Japan vs. Brazil is completely different. They shouldn’t all be lumped into “international,” and reward levels that outline long lists of shipping tiers are a burden. Workaround: Make different pledge levels for each shipping destination. UPDATE: Alert reader Rocket noted that Kickstarter made this change a while ago, which is great!
  12. Poll Backers in Updates: Polling backers is a great way to engage them and get instant feedback. How hard would it be to implement a simple poll system for project updates? Workaround: Host the poll on your blog.

For Backers:

  1. Choose More than One Reward Level or Choose the Same Reward Level Twice: Currently it’s impossible for you to choose more than one reward level per project or choose the same reward level twice. This isn’t a problem for unlimited reward levels, as a backer can simply increase their pledge amount to include an extra copy of the product. But it’s a big problem for limited reward levels, because they’re usually limited for a reason. Workaround: Create a second (or third) Kickstarter account. It’s completely legal–it’s actually Kickstarter’s recommendation that you do that (per an e-mail I exchanged with them last fall).
  2. Subscribe to Categories: I don’t understand why this isn’t an option. I want to get a notification from Kickstarter every time someone starts a new tabletop game project. I’m sure most people are interested in specific categories and are not at all interested in others. Isn’t it good for everyone if we an subscribe to specific categories? Workaround: Reddit users are really good at tracking Kickstarter projects. And fortunately Board Game Geek members have an ongoing list of Kickstarter projects as well.
  3. Subscribe to Project Updates with the “Remind Me” Button: Why do I have to pledge to a project to get project updates in my inbox? You have access to public updates for any projects, but you only get them sent to you if you pledge at least $1 to the project. This doesn’t make sense to me. Workaround: Pay the friggin’ dollar.
  4. Rate the Project and Project Creator: I picture this as Yelp for Kickstarter. When you arrive at a Kickstarter project late into a campaign, it’s really tough to gauge the quality of the campaign unless you go back through the updates and the comments. What if backers could rate the quality of the campaign by scoring categories like communication and competence for new potential backers to view? Kickstarter could use that information to determine which projects get more promotion than others. Backers could also rate specific project creators so that newcomers to future projects could get an instant impression of the type of project creator they are. I view this as a system to weed out bad creators and strengthen good ones to improve the overall Kickstarter platform. Workaround: Vote with your money.

Can you think of anything else that you’d like to see on Kickstarter? If you have a clever workaround, let us know!

Next: For Better or for Worse

29 Comments on “Kickstarter Limitations and How to Work Around Them

  1. Also: USPS recently upped their international rates, but some companies have been successful in negotiating cheaper shipping; so do that early (or ship via GameSalute or someone else that can negotiate with them) so as not to scare international backers away.

  2. Good point, Tor. I’m going to discuss the option of Amazon fulfillment in depth during the Euphoria Kickstarter campaign–I think it’s a good way to offer reasonable shipping to backers in Canada and the EU.

  3. Another good article brimming with useful tips thanks Jamey.

    With the KS fulfillment via Amazon do you know if its possible to do international fulfillment directly from China to at least the Asia / Oceania region (they have at least 2 Amazon centers I think). Or whether Amazon will ship your game to other Amazon fulfillment centers eg in Europe and the US for fulfillment in those regions?

    Theres been a little discussion in BGG re (non amazon) fulfillment from China https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/970401/kickstarter-fulfillment-via-china

  4. Thanks Kim! Happy to help.

    You’re correct that Amazon has fulfillment centers in China. The only problem as far as I can tell is that it only services China, not surrounding countries. Otherwise it would be ideal.

    Amazon won’t send games to other countries in that way, but you could have your shipping company split the shipment at port in China and sent a few pallets to Amazon.ca, a few pallets to Amazon.de, and the rest to the US. That’s the solution I’m using for Euphoria–I’ll talk more about that soon. :)

    Thanks for linking to that BGG discussion. I agree that it would be great to find a distribution company in China to send games directly to backers in Asia and Australia.

  5. Idea 6 decrease backing costs for reward levels is very interesting. Something I’m looking at too as perhaps stretch goals. Kinda reverse engineering of the Mindes method of assumption of large print runs and low costs. Have you seen anyone do this strategically? And I wonder whether cheaper prices or more bling appeal generally more to game backers. Perhaps a mix of the 2 would work? Administrativly I imagine it’s a headache…

  6. Exactly–we’ll call it the Reverse Mindes. :) I’ve only seen people do this in response to a slow start, not a strategic stretch goal. The thing is, I don’t know if it would matter much unless it were significant–like, if you said, “If we reach $100,000, we’ll drop the price of the game from $45 to 40,” sure, that’s a nice savings, but if a backer is willing to spend $45 in the first place, is that extra $5 going to seem like a big deal? Or would they rather get an enhancement to the game? I lean towards the latter. Now, if it were organically built into Kickstarter’s system, that’s different. then you could have incremental tiers–every backer would feel like they’re making a difference.

    Part of me wonders if the ideas above are so far away from Kickstarter that someone should just create a new Kickstarter based on those concepts. :)

  7. Great information! Thanks for sharing. I have been researching using Kickstarter to fund a software project but I cannot identify any previous software projects. Any assistance for a Kickstarter software project will be appreciated.
    Winston Hayes
    251-714-4303 whayes4@frontiernet.net

    1. Winston–You probably don’t see too many software projects on Kickstarter because of this rule: “Kickstarter cannot be used to fund software projects not run by the developers themselves.”

      1. So does “software” include apps? for android/ios? Because there is lots of those…
        currently trying to get an idea i’ve had for an app made, but if i can’t use kickstarter because of that condition then there is no way it’s going to happen. :(

        1. Graeme: I’m 99% sure it includes apps–you can’t raise funds to make an app unless the developer is in-house. You could use IndieGogo for that. You should check with Kickstarter to make sure, but I’m 99% sure that’s correct.

  8. How do you run the contests? I’m working on a new tool that lets people easily run viral type giveaways on their site. Basically people who enter get extra tickets into the raffle if they also get their friends to join by posting to Facebook, Twitter, etc. Trying to figure out if people doing kickstarters would benefit from that type of thing.

    1. James–There are a lot of different ways to do contests. I like to keep them fun. For Viticulture, I had a caption contest on Pinterest. I didn’t do a contest for Euphoria, but I thought about using Board Game Geek for it.

      The platform you’re working on sounds a little like Rafflecopter. I must admit that I’m not a big fan of that type of promotion–I want people to Like or Follow my company because they truly like it or want to stay in touch with us, not because they want a chance at winning something. I think the unfortunate effect of platforms like those is that the end up spamming their friends for additional entries.

      1. Ah, yeah I feel ya. Yep Rafflecopter is a similar type of thing. Definitely does get a highish percentage of people that are just in it for the contest. Might be cool to give away something other than the product itself. Some kind of behind the scenes access to the process or game testing maybe. Thanks for the feedback. Grats on all the success so far, keep it up!

  9. “Unless, that is, the capability were built into Kickstarter for you to, say, give away a free copy of your product to any backer as a promotion.”

    This is illegal in the USA, and that’s probably why Kickstarter doesn’t allow it. You know how sweepstakes always have those free alternative methods of entry? Offering a prize to a random buyer (who paid money) constitutes an illegal lottery in the US (consideration + chance + prize = illegal). You would have to offer a free method of entry to stay on the right side of the law for lotteries, but you could still run afoul of sweepstakes laws in the states or countries of the backers if you don’t hire a lawyer to carefully look at the law of every single state or country you’re offering the promotion in (hence language like “Void where prohibited, voice in (state) and (state), open only to US residents, etc”)

    1. Koss: Well, let me give you an example that I don’t think is illegal (but I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong). I held a caption contest for Viticulture on Pinterest. I posted a few silly photos of Viticulture, told backers about it, and they posted captions on Pinterest. After about a week, I selected by favorite caption, and that person won a free copy of Viticulture.

      I don’t think that’s illegal–I sure hope not!–but if it is, I’d like to know.

      1. I know this discussion is a few months old, but you’re right that example should be perfectly fine. What Koss is referring to is if you were only allowing backers to be entered in the drawing.

        Basically there always has to be a way for someone to enter without money changing hands – a “no purchase necessary” option.

  10. Can you not see how many people have clicked the Star? I currently have 14 active projects on my starred list. Under most circumstances I’ll pledge/not pledge on the last day of the campaign.

  11. I have a different perspective on “For Backers” section part 4, Rating the project creator.

    While I understand backers may find it useful to see rated creators and I do agree that we should weed out bad creators or those that don’t care about their backers and respect them as the lifeblood of their project, I think rating may have a few unintended consequences.

    1.) New creators; I’m not talking about people who don’t care and shouldn’t be creators, but someone who is just a bit to naive to have started their kickstarter and hasn’t done their due diligence. A hard lesson to learn yes, and one they may have gone away and researched and came back better for it ready, this time, to do it right. But now they’re rated. Their next project may not even get off the ground, even though they’ve mended their ways, this will be difficult to convince backers of. They may die out after one failure.

    2.) One – to a thousand +s; we’ve all seen ebay sellers with a million positive reviews, but we don’t read those do we, we read the negative ones. It may be hard to admit but I think a lot of us put so much more weight on those negative comments than we should. Introducing them on people could change the ecosystem of kickstarter as a whole.

    Just a few thoughts, we have to think of whether or not changes will affect us all for the better as well. Making sure we don’t create problems for the people we want to protect in the process, what do you think?

    1. William: That’s a really great point I hadn’t considered. Perhaps it could use a Yelp-like system where the 5% best reviews and 5% worst reviews aren’t factored in at all–it’s the other 90% in the middle. That would address one of the issues.

      The other issue is your point about a first-time creator making some mistakes and having to live with them (or make up for them) on subsequent campaigns. What I’ve found on Kickstarter is that it’s not so much the mistakes you make that matter–it’s how you own up to them, communicate them to backers, and fix them. I think a creator who did that would get appropriately good ratings, while a creator who makes mistakes and doesn’t do those things probably deserves the bad reviews, whether its their first project or their tenth.

      1. Perhaps we could consider middle ground, what if we want to solve the problem of showing crowd sentiment toward the creator for newer backers coming later in the game but without the permanency of a profile wide rating. How about we create ratings as part of the project?

        Only backers have access obviously just as they do the updates when they back, and right next to the comments tab is the sentiment tab (or something better I’m bad at naming things)

        It appears privately to the backers during the run and becomes publicly accessible after the termination of the project, on the page for that project. That way it remains a historical record but is way more attached to that project.

        It could also serve the valuable space as a feedback notification for both backers and creators alike. As updates are released you can view sentiment in real time (I’m thinking of a graph with time on the x axis and something akin to likes and dislikes on the y axis). updates and comment volume also can show up here, if the project creators release an update that is driving sentiment down, maybe we could catch and correct it before we lose people :)

        1. William: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking. :) They would definitely only be available for backers to use, but the public would see them near the creator’s name. I also like your idea of tracking a creator’s ratings over time (though that might be something just for the backer to see on their dashboard).

  12. Hey Jamey,

    I’m a big fan of Stonemaier (I’m a lurky ambassador and I also have Viticulture & Euphoria). I’m preparing to launch my own board game on KS soon, so I’ve been working through all your KS lessons. Thanks for creating such an amazing resource. I read through your book recently as well. Great job!

    I was wondering if you might want to include an update on this post regarding Creator Limitation #11. I know that you’ve written A LOT about shipping and fulfillment, but this post doesn’t seem to include any of the more recent updates, including the KS new shipping cost calculator thing (https://www.kickstarter.com/blog/weve-made-shipping-rewards-a-lot-more-flexible). :)

    Thanks again!
    Rocket

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