20 March 2013
Last night, a tabletop game called Dungeon Roll (interview on the blog here) made history by accumulating 10,877 backers, the most ever for a tabletop game on Kickstarter. It ended up raising $250,070, just barely exceeding its final stretch goal. Here are some key takeaways from this project’s success that you can implement in your Kickstarter projects (board games or otherwise):
- Economy of Scale Matters: Michael Mindes, the mastermind behind the Dungeon Roll Kickstarter campaign, went into this project knowing every aspect of his manufacturing and shipping costs. He knew that if he could attract a ton of backers, he could drop the manufacturing point so low that he could make a profit (I would wager that if Michael ended up with “only” 2,000 backers, he might break even, not turn a profit). I don’t know Michael’s exact numbers, but just to give you a frame of reference: an early version of Viticulture had a per unit production cost of $13.13 if we ordered 1500 copies. However, if we ordered 5000 units, per-unit production cost dropped to $8.90. That’s a 33% drop in cost per unit. Keep in mind that other costs don’t scale as well (Kickstarter fees, freight shipping, individual shipping, etc.), but it’s still significant. Similar decreases in cost-per-unit apply to the artist and graphic designer. You might pay a graphic designer $5,000, and if you only make 1500 copies of the game, that’s $3.33 per until. However, if you make 5000 copies, that’s $1 a game.
- Price Matters: What’s the first thing that caught your eye when you visited the Dungeon Roll page (other than those pretty custom dice renderings)? The price for one copy of the game–US shipping included–is $15. $15! Over 8000 people backed the game at that level. You know why? Because Michael removed the financial barrier to entry I discussed in the Monday’s blog entry. $15 is very little to pay for anything. Sure, it adds up, but by itself it’s really hard to say no to. The combination of this plus economy of scale enabled the other points I’ll make below.
- Existing Fanbase Matters: I think Michael went into the project with a Tasty Minstrel Games newsletter subscriber base of 7,000 people, and he estimated that somewhere between 25-35% of them would back Dungeon Roll. That’s a good rule of thumb to consider when launching a Kickstarter–about 25% of people you know will support you. In fact, that number might be much lower, but 25% seems accurate if you’ve had the chance to demonstrate your reliability to those people as Michael has. Thus if you don’t have an existing network of people who know you and trust you, start building that network now. And make it about them. Don’t make network building all about you. Also, because of the number of backers Michael has on this project, he potentially just doubled his newsletter list. 25% of 7,000 newsletter subscribers is 1,750 people. 25% of 14,000 people is 3,500. Think about the impact that will have on Michael’s next project.
- Scale Matters: Dungeon Roll started out with something like 6 cards. Thus even adding 1 card seemed like a big deal. If you take that out of context, it’s bewildering that people would care about stretch goals that add a single card. After all, in most games, adding 1 cards seems like a drop in the bucket. But not for this game. The key here is to start small (while still maintaining the integrity of the game) to give your project plenty of room to grow. If your game works just fine with 10 cards, that’s the base you should start with, because adding 1 card is then a 10% enhancement. That’s opposed to starting the game with 30 cards–adding 1 card is only a 3% improvement then. I’m not saying you should skimp on the basic product. Give people something cool even if you barely reach your funding goal. But you’ll have a much better chance at engaging more people and raising more funds if you leave something to be desired.
- Stretch Goals Matter: This piggybacks of of #4, but the key point here is that Michael offered a mix of Kickstarter-exclusive rewards and overall enhancements to every copy of the game. I think this might be a good answer to the debate about exclusives vs. non-exclusives: include both, staggered throughout the stretch goals.
- Flexibility Matters: As I mentioned in the interview, Michael started out with 3 reward levels: US, Canada, and international. By the end of the project he had a total of 10 reward levels. Some of them might have been planned (you don’t have to start off with all of your reward levels–save some to add excitement later in the project), but you can tell from the updates that Michael responded to backer feedback by adding many of these levels. Staying flexible made the project more financially successful and increased the engagement with backers.
- Reddit Matters: I was surprised during the Viticulture campaign that people found the project through Reddit. It wasn’t on my radar, nor did I ask anyone to post the project there. Michael seemed equally stunned that a lot of people–over 500–found his project on Reddit. That’s a lot of people. Make sure your project ends up on Reddit (you might not even need to do anything other than have a cool project). I’ll explore Reddit deeper in a future Kickstarter lesson.
- Goals Matter: When Dungeon Roll was approaching the final 48 hours, it had raised about $160,000. At this point, Michael could have reduced the final stretch goal to, say, $200,000 (if production costs allowed it). But he didn’t. Rather, he made the bold move to stick with $250,000 as the final goal. And he hit it, just barely, due to a lot of backers joining in, spreading the word, and increasing their pledges. He formed an entire community around that goal. I would wager that if Michael had set a lower goal, he wouldn’t have gotten close to $250,000. So keep that in mind. Escalate your stretch goals, and if your project is packed with enhancements when you’re near the end of your campaign, keep (or add) an audacious goal. You might just reach it.
A commenter mentioned one key flaw in the campaign, so I wanted to extrapolate on a few things I think the campaign should have done better. Take this criticism with a grain of salt–obviously Michael knows what he’s doing.
- Too Many Updates: Dungeon Roll ran for 22 days. During that time, 35 updates were posted. That’s about 1.3 comments a day. As much as I wanted to keep my eye on the project (which I continued to do whenever I visited Kickstarter), I unsubscribed after a few days. I think the content in the updates was fantastic, there were just too many of them.
- The Game Took Second Stage to the Campaign: This was a particularly interesting campaign to follow because the game itself was a nonfactor. That isn’t to say it’s not a good game–Michael did his due diligence and sent prototypes to a number of reviewers. But did people really care how the game worked? I don’t think so. I think they wanted custom dice and cool stuff and it was hard to say no to $15 for a game. We see a similar effect with miniatures games on Kickstarter. Remember Kingdom Death: Monster? Does anyone know how to play that game? Does anyone care? No, people just want the miniatures. I actually think this is the commentary that the Emperor’s New Clothes project is making.
If you have any thoughts to add, let me know. I’ll try to do some more Kickstarter retrospectives in the future if you found this helpful.