Kickstarter Retrospective #1: What You Can Learn from Dungeon Roll’s Success

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):

  1. Dungeon Roll - A Dicey Dungeon Delve by Michael Mindes — KickstarterEconomy 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

21 Comments on “Kickstarter Retrospective #1: What You Can Learn from Dungeon Roll’s Success

  1. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the update strategy for Dungeon Roll. I was an early backer, and I got annoyed by the ridiculously large number of project updates that went out. In retrospect, I wish I had waited to sign on until the end, just to avoid the annoying emails. But the strategy evidently worked!

  2. Michael–That’s a great comment, and I think I’m going to add to the post in a minute to mention a few things that Michael could have done better. I unsubscribed to the updates rather quickly, but I must say that I still checked them on Kickstarter from time to time to see what was up. I think he posted updates at a rate of about 1.5/day. That’s too many.

  3. Hey Jamey! I believe one backer tossed in $2500 just to meet the stretch goal! Michael really has a great fanbase :)

  4. I think that’s interesting that the look of the game was a big factor. Hopefully the look got them in the door, and the gameplay will keep as an advocate for the game for a larger market.

  5. Ryan–I heard that the other day. That’s very cool of that backer to do, and it’s a testament to the community that Kickstarter projects can help create.

    Chris–The look and design of the game can definitely be a big factor in Kickstarter projects, and that’s a great point about the gameplay helping to tap a larger market when the game is published.

  6. I’m one of those last minute backers. You bring up a lot of points that pulled me in. This is my first ever Kickstarter project that I’ve backed, and as of now it will be only my fourth “hobby game” in my just started collection. Here is what really pulled me in:

    A. The price. I’ve been a little timid to pull the trigger on any games, let alone on on kickstarter, since I’m just joining the hobby. But, the basic $15 level was a great value for a game anywhere, a better value with the free shipping and an amazing value with the kickstarter bonuses.
    B. The hype on the internet. I don’t remember where I first heard of the game, but I know I saw it numerous different times. I got more and more pulled in each time I came across something that mentioned it. Whether it was Reddit, just browsing Kickstarter, or board game blog type things.
    C. Got to back the local guy! The one thing that hooked me was finding out Chris is from the St. Louis area. In fact, an email from either the local game store or the local board game meetup group (which I still haven’t been able to make yet) is where I found that out. So never forget, while you are marketing towards everyone on Kickstarter, don’t forget the hometown connection.
    D. Good product. It looks like a cool game, and should be fun. None of the above matters without a good product.

    So that’s my take, from a non-industry, non-hardcore board gamer perspective. Can’t wait to see the finished product and play it.

  7. Raymond–Thanks so much for chiming in. You make some great points here, and I’m glad you brought up the hometown connection. That’s huge. I’m in St. Louis too, so although I had already backed it by the time I found out Chris is here too, that made me feel particularly glad that I supported it.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  8. Its really very interesting.

    I have to say i backed it mostly because of the cheap price and out of sheer curiosity about the campaign as you say Jaime – not the art (lets be frank, it’s fine but its now looks pretty sub par considering the 250K earn) or the gameplay. Im not really the target audience though. I also thought the stretch goals of single new cards were in fact VERY measly (they probably each represent say 10 hours of design and testing, a piece of art, and the additional print cost).

    I think Michael ran a great campaign but i think the success of this game is so much due to additional factors around managing that campaign that lesson need to be carefully analysed, as you have done.

    Sorry to bring it down but surely the hometown connection is a nice but insignificant factor as it is true wherever you are.

    One other thing. Doubling the price for international backers and then calling it FREE shipping is insulting peoples intelligence. Call the costs what they and be done with it I say. And having to pay that full additional (FREE!) shipping for each additional copy had me ROFLing.

    Jaime how about a similar analysis of Machines of Death – The game of creative assassination ?

  9. Hi Jamey

    As usual I’m the nitpicker:

    “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 67% drop in cost per unit.”

    It’s not a 67% drop, it’s a drop of 33% :-)

    – Morten

  10. @Kim, I have to say that I’m guessing you haven’t play tested too many games. :-) Adding a card to Dungeon Roll represents at LEAST 8-16 hours of work by the designer, 8 hours of work for an artist, and then at least 10 hours of work each by 3-4 people (and preferably more like 8 people). Added up, that comes to 64 to 104 hours… and I bet in some cases, that’s an UNDERESTIMATE.

    Each new card has to be play tested for its interaction with the other cards. Yes, in a game with hundreds of cards the play test time will be reduced, but not in a game where only a few cards are used each time.

    To give you another example, my game group has been involved in play testing Euphoria. I have no idea how much design time Jamey and Alan have sunk into it, but I know the artists have had significant hours already. We play tested each of 3 sets; each time, I spent at least 2 hours preparing (printing, cutting, sleeving, laminating) the play test cards and boards, we spent at least 2 hours going over the rules quietly by ourselves, an hour discussing the rules and setting up the game (this was a bit quicker with v2 and v3) and then two hours playing. We also then spent ~30 minutes debriefing each time. Keep in mind that when I say “we” I mean 2-4 people each time… so collectively, we’ve spent over 60 hours on Euphoria… and we are ONE gaming group and none of us has ever met Jamey in person. We are not the only gaming group who put this kind of time and effort into it, either. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to learn that 500 – 1000 hours have been spent playing Euphoria to make sure it’s ready to go for Kickstarter.

    Dungeon Roll is a smaller game than Euphoria, but in some weird ways, that means MORE play testing is needed to make sure that there are no weird balance issues, disconnects between card powers, or ambiguities in the cards or rules.

    I’ve helped several other people fulfill Kickstarter rewards after successful projects and international shipping is mind-bogglingly expensive. You may think Michael ripped people off on Dungeon Roll, but I’m willing to bet that what he charged backers is about or less than half the cost of sending those rewards. Also, everyone seems to forget that a human being has to do work to prepare the labels specially, fill out customs forms, and all the rest of it. That stuff can take a lot of time for every single package shipped, never mind tracking it down when it doesn’t show up at the destination in a timely fashion. Shipping to the US is so much easier and cheaper that I know some project creators have gone to US only, which is a shame… but international is truly a PITA.

    I did suggest a US-based 6-pack of Dungeon Roll pledge level at reduced shipping. Michael added this, and lots of people backed at that level. I actually only need three of those copies; I’ll probably gift the other three, and I was glad to throw the additional money at the campaign. Michael will definitely have a better margin on that pledge level because he will handle one box instead of six for labeling, shipping, and tracking. Given that 276 people backed at “my” level, I’d like to think that I made TMG a couple hundred bucks. They deserve it; they are a great game company. :-)

    Was the Dungeon Roll campaign perfect? No. But I loved the energy of it, loved the frequent updates (I did NOT unsubscribe to them), and thought it was a great model for a quick and festive project. I’ve backed well over 200 projects now (maybe that means I’m insane) and most of them are dead boring compared to Dungeon Roll.

  11. I’m only seeing this blog post now, so I’m a little late to the party.

    Jamey: this is a great retrospective, and very informative – glad to see it’s archived somewhere people can find it!

    Kim: You said “I also thought the stretch goals of single new cards were in fact VERY measly (they probably each represent say 10 hours of design and testing, a piece of art, and the additional print cost).” Suppose you’re exactly right – I’m curious what you think that SHOULD cost.

    I’ve noticed a couple of things people tend not to comprehend:
    1) People don’t tend to value game content creation. I have seen many posts and comments complaining about the price of a game which is “essentially just a handful of cards and a board” or whatever. They say they could print it out at home for cheaper than buying it in a store. Nobody wants to pay for the actual game content. Art on the other hand is something people don’t mind paying for. An illustration takes work, and it’s relatively easy to see how much work went into it – people see an amazing illustration and they think “yeah, that’s awesome, that must have cost a lot.” Then some of those same people wonder why kickstarter projects can’t just throw in more game content as a stretch goal, as if it’s a trivial thing to do.

    “Boy Seth, you’re making an awfully big deal out of this point, why do you care about this so much?”

    I create game content, and I don’t think it’s trivial :)

    2) The actual cost of providing a stretch goal is higher than people think. Kickstarter is tricky business, and from the outside it looks like high funding levels mean you can afford to do more things. In some of those updates Michael posted (the ones that people unsubscrbed to because of their frequency) he did a pretty good job of explaining why the addition of 2 cards required $5,000 of funding, and why the spacing of stretch goals needs to stretch out at higher funding levels. I highly recommend reading that – especially if you’re considering running a kickstarter project. Here are some of the costs that a stretch goal adds to a project:
    * 2 cards has a low additional manufacturing cost, but even a low number x 40,000 (final print run) is significant.
    * 2 cards means 2 Illustrations to pay for
    * 2 cards means 2 characters worth of game content (this was largely ignored in the Dungeon Roll project. See above.)
    * Any funding received is reduced by 10% for Kickstarter and Amazon fees
    * As stretch goals are achieved, additional hidden costs can crop up such as increase in shipping

    Hopefully this comment will prove helpful for someone, though commenting on a month-old post probably means nobody will see it :)

    – Seth

  12. Thanks so much for chiming in Seth! You make some great points here. I agree that there is a cost to content creation that is often overlooked. On Euphoria, I’m drawing a somewhat hard line and saying that even though I’m open to backer feedback about anything, I’m not creating additional content for the game at this point because we’d have to playtest it, and we’re beyond the playtest stage. So I won’t have any stretch goals that involve content creation. However, there is the sunk cost for content creation for stretch goals that you may have designed and tested in advance in case certain financial goals are reached.

    It’s definitely a different way of looking at stretch goals and the costs that go into making a board game. thanks Seth!

  13. @jewelyaz – Sorry if I came across sounding a little harsh – in fact I’ve play tested games nearly 100 times across around 12 games. Half of that for my own game. So I hope I’ve earned the right to make some calls, even if wide of the mark in this case, about impacts of adding new elements / cards to games. But lets not derail the main points here.

    I want to reiterate that this was a wonderful and wildly successful campaign – my comments were part of the intent to review it, and like any project, there are some things that can be critically analysed for the benefit of all.

    I acknowledge your points about fewer cards needing more play testing for balance, specially as I see now they are rules-bending-across-a-whole-session- type cards rather than cards that may have 2 or 3 impacts then be gone. I probably didn’t appreciate that like I do now I’ve played the game.

    I agree with most of your many points about the rigour and time that goes into play testing and commend you for the awesome work you did for Jamey. You no doubt made it a better game and I think it is impossible to sing enough praise for play testers. That kind of work is of inestimable value but is in fact not actually valued monetarily – ie you get little to no financial reward for that service (apart from perhaps a free copy of the game I presume) and it is not part of the designer / publishers cost calculations. Possibly in some fuzzy way the profit margin is intended to cover the costs for the designer and publisher staffs time spent on play testing, but not the wider circle. So despite the truth of the value you raised I think typically its not a consideration for most backers considering the value of stretch goals – despite how much it should be.

    @seth the same goes for content creation which I do in fact absolutely value.
    A presumption in my brief summation of limited cost for the single card stretch goals was that they had already been content created and extensively tested (as is often the case in KS campaigns) before the KS campaign was launched, and were just being unveiled as stretch goal incentives. I may have been only partially right about that. I agree with Jamey that there are risks with adding content on the run as part of stretch goals, although I understand the temptations with wildly successful projects like this one. My assumptions about art costs were approximately correct. The print and weight costs are certainly more complex to understand and Michael clearly had a way of calculating those that worked for him and that is great. My point was one I think Michael acknowledged by being so wonderfully open about justifying the 5K for one card stretch goals in one of his many updates: 5K seemed to be a lot for 1 card to be added, specially if you presume it has already been content created and tested. That’s just an observation that people can take or leave when deciding on their stretch rewards.

    Re the cost per card Seth, I’m really not sure – it depends on a lot in the game calculations I just don’t know about. I’m just saying what I thought from the outside looking in, which should be valuable feedback.

    @ jewelyaz – I never said or thought that TMG were ripping people off. I was simply reacting to the transparent misuse of the term ‘free shipping’ when the costs clearly show international backers paid an additional $14 on top of the approx $5 already included for the US postage fees. Nobody likes to feel they are being spun. I’m happy to make my decisions on the raw truth eg “International backers add $14”. This is thankfully becoming more commonplace. I was also unconvinced that there couldn’t have been more savings in multiple orders – I have no idea about the real postage costs but Im aware its recently become more expensive to do international fulfilment.

    Luckily Jaime is paving the way on this front with the Amazon fulfilment method. I imagine Michael will have some interesting points to make on that re Fedex soon too.

  14. With 57 hours left to go, Robot Turtles http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/danshapiro/robot-turtles-the-board-game-for-little-programmer/posts/608292#comments has got 11,514 backers and has shattered Dungeon Roll’s record (his update today is a direct result of me cluing him in of the possibility of breaking that record on his last update). The coolest thing is that Dan has done this campaign and met with great success DESPITE not knowing about this blog and directly going against many of its/your recommendations (I do not recommend this; in fact, I’ve tried to get him to start talking to you, particularly about shipping). Just thought you’d be curious to check out this project…

      1. LOL It does seem that way… wonder why he hasn’t moved forward on cheaper shipping then? I know he’s really busy running the thing, but his numbers would have gone much higher if he could have done it. Oh well. I’m also puzzled at his insistence that this is the only print run he’s going to do. If he does another, people will be both glad AND angry… and if he doesn’t do another run, a lot of people will miss out, which seems to not meet his goals of getting the game out there to kids. I get being tired of the campaign and all the emails, comments, etc., but this seems like a natural for TMG or even Game Salute to pick up and reprint. Hmm. He doesn’t seem like a dummy :-) so I guess I just need to stay tuned. My 5-year old will have his copy, probably in time for his 6th birthday in April (I’m very doubtful that he will hit his original, very optimistic schedule…) and that’s my main concern; the rest is just interest in how campaigns grow and take on a life of their own sometimes.

        1. yeah i wondered the same too – his international backing costs could surely have been cheaper and that combined with the 11 hike for not be able to early bird that makes international backers see they have yet again to pay double for a game compared to US backers. $60 to $29 – but really it feels like you are paying for maybe $9 base postage + $11 late backer (when I’m not actually late!) + $20 international = $40 postage for a $20 game. So as much as i want to back it I’m out.

          He seems to have about 11% international backers. Jamey’s Euphoria example has 40% international backers. so I’d suggest if he had worked out international backing better he might have found another 3000 backers at least, and maybe a LOT more given his internationalization efforts…

          It is also baffling to me that people are not using popular kickstarter games to launch themselves into retail distribution. I know Jamey you changed your view on this somewhat during Euphoria – anything more to add?

          In fact I think its worth a whole post about ‘Kickstarting your game into retail sales.’

          Michael Mindes / TMG are possibly the best candidates to interview on that front?

          1. Kim–Well, something I realized during Euphoria was that I wanted to do everything possible to give the Kickstarter backers the best possible version of Euphoria. The result was a very expensive game to make. If we wanted the game to be profitable, we needed to make and sell retail versions of it as well (the retail version is still very high quality, but some of the components aren’t as nice). By producing retail copies of the game in the same print run as the Kickstarter versions, we could drive down the production cost for all units.

            Aside from that, it was during the Euphoria campaign that I decided that I wanted to try to grow Stonemaier into a sustainable business. Giving your product a life after Kickstarter is a huge part of that.

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