KS Experiment #3: Backer-Influenced Stretch Goals

21 August 2014 | 47 Comments

The KS Experiment series is a new type of blog entry where we feature a different, new, or innovative method for Kickstarter projects to be more attractive to backers and creators. We’re not advocating these ideas–we’re just putting them out there to get feedback in the polls and comments.

After TMG first introduced backers to the idea of stretch goals over 3 years ago, stretch goals have become an imperative inclusion for any project page (particularly in the board game space). We’ve seen a lot of different variations on stretch goals, and I’m sure we’ll continue to see many more.

Today I have a new stretch goal proposal I’d like to pose to you (if this has already been done on a project, awesome! Tell me about it in the comments). There is a poll at the end on which you can vote (but please read/skim first if you’re going to vote, as your vote could influence many other project creators!).

The Idea

Put stretch goals up to a backer vote.

The Problem

Stretch goals aren’t really a problem, but some issues can arise from stretch goals:

  • If stretch goals aren’t tied to actual dollar amounts and economies of scale, they can vastly change a project’s budget.
  • Creators have no idea how their project will do in the first few days, so they might meet a lot of stretch goals well before they anticipated, which kind of defeats a core purpose of stretch goals: Entice people to share the project.
  • The opposite can happen too: Stretch goals can have too much space between them, even if they are accurately tied to real dollars.
  • Sometimes stretch goals come across as core components that should have been included in the game anyway.
  • Backers want some stretch goals more than others. They might not want some of them at all. Sometimes you can anticipate this by getting feedback before the project, but hearing from 20 people is very different than hearing from 500.
  • It can come across as presumptuous for a project creator to have a funding goal of $20k and stretch goals outlined through $300k on day 1. However, if you only list a few stretch goals, backers will wonder if you’ve planned well for overfunding. However, if you have a big stretch goal at $150k, some backers will ask you to lower the funding level for that goal because they want it more than other stuff below it (even if the costs don’t add up for you to feasibly do that). It’s an endless loop of catch 22s.

The Full Concept

1. Put stretch goals up to a backer vote. Here’s how I envision this: Before you launch, budget for a long series of stretch goals just in case your project overfunds. But on the project page, don’t list any of the stretch goals. Simply list the funding goal and a link to a poll where anyone can go to vote on the the next stretch goal. Picture this:

Funding Goal: $20,000

Stretch Goal: Click here to vote on the next stretch goal. The poll will close 24 hours after the previous goal is reached. The funding amount for that goal will depend on the cost of adding it to every product.

The poll itself would offer three options, each with an amount to add to the previous goal to determine the funding level. For example:

What is your choice for the next stretch goal?

    1. 4 new location cards (+$5,000)
    2. Upgraded cardstock (+10,000)
    3. 1 new set of 12 custom wood werebeaver meeples ($15,000)

The top vote-getter would be the next stretch goal, the second place finisher would be bumped to the next poll, and the goal with the lowest number of votes would be saved for later.

Why It Might Work

Aside from addressing the issues I mentioned above, this system would allow for lots of backer ideas to be integrated into the stretch goal voting by giving you quantitative data about what other backers thing. Sometimes a few people might be really enthusiastic about an idea, but no one else cares–this is a way to see who really cares about those ideas.

In general, I love polls, because they keep people actively engaged during the project. Also, I really like that this system puts the power in backers’ hands in terms of correlating perceived value with actual cost. They might really want those werebeaver meeples, but it will take longer to reach that goal.

Last, I think this system would work well for project creators to spread the “hype” of stretch goals throughout the entire project instead of burning through them on launch day or the final 48 hours. Having constant momentum throughout a project goes a long way.

Why It Might Not Work

I see a few potential issues with this system:

  1. Backers might want to look ahead at future stretch goals to get excited about them. This might not be a big issue, though, because you could still list potential stretch goals on the project page or the poll page.
  2. It could create a system where some backers feel like they’ve “lost” several votes, and it may discourage them from voting again or may hurt their impression of the project. That said, I think this system helps mitigate the impact of a vocal minority versus what the majority of backers actually want.
  3. Though this system is meant to maintain momentum, it might also interrupt some momentum since it would be impossible for more than one stretch goal to be met per day.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that it doesn’t address the problem we had with Tuscany on launch day. Granted, it was a good problem to have–we raised over $158k in the first 24 hours–but it meant that so many stretch goals flew by that day that none of them got much attention. If you raise a lot of money in a short amount of time, all of the polls will end up feeling retroactive, as you’ll already have reached the funding level by the time the poll is complete.

Update: I think the solution for that is to have a few launch-day stretch goals in place without implementing the poll, then the poll kicks in after that.


So what do you think? Vote in the poll below and feel free to join the conversation in the comments.

Leave a Comment

47 Comments on “KS Experiment #3: Backer-Influenced Stretch Goals

  1. I voted no. My reason being that I see stretch goals are there to provide something for the whole crowd to get behind, the project creator sets them then their tribe pushes for them. In the end people vote for a current goal by backing. Making stretch goals divisive seems to defeat the whole purpose, having people who lose several votes will divide your tribe.
    Also, when people do look to friends for backing to unlock stretch goals I want them to say, hey, if we get x many more backers it’ll unlock y, then z. I don’t want them to have to say, if get x backers I think we’ll get y, then maybe z, or a, or possibly 1.

  2. Let me share with you my experience with backer determined stretch goals!

    Since update #5 I’ve allowed the backers to vote and help determine what the upcoming stretch goal is going to be. In the first Monster Poll I created a list of monsters and posted a geek poll on BGG. It worked great and I think I got over 100+ responses (https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1251091/monster-poll-1)

    In my last update, I tried something different. Instead of sending people to BGG, I just told them to vote in the comments area. Strangely enough, only 27 people responded. I suppose it’s easier to respond to a multiple choice with 30+ choices than writing down the answer between 2 choices. It’s also possible that people outside the project responded to the BGG poll, which is open to the public.

    Anyways, my experience with allowing the backers to vote for stretch goals is a success, and I will definitely do it again in the future. It’s just good fun, and very appropriate for kickstarter in my opinion.

    1. Payton: Thanks so much for sharing your first-hand experience with the stretch goal poll idea. I think it was very clever of you to post the poll on BGG. I’m curious to see if you would get a similar response on a self-hosted blog. That’s what I’ve done with polls in the past as a way of limiting them to backers instead of the BGG public (not that either one is better than the other), but posting it on BGG is neat too because you bring non-backers into your project. Can non-BGG members vote on BGG polls?

  3. Greg, Jamey, – I actually just gave a kickstarter some advice regarding voting, they too were concerned with the notion of some feeling like they lost. One thing to remember, is that we’re not voting for an all or nothing “Red vs. Blue” presidency, where there’s guaranteed to be 50% of the nation ticked off because every issue is white or black, with no middle ground, and full of tension. – We’re usually voting on “What do you like most: Goblins or Orcs”. Fine I vote: Goblins, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like Orcs; only that I like Goblins better. One thing won, but the other I still like. Categorically, it’s just as good as the other. Two choices that both live in the middle ground of: Fun to me. Just don’t make them vote on immigration reform. ; )

  4. I’m always hesitant to get backers to vote on things, I think the high people get from their option winning doesn’t have as much impact as the low people get from losing and you’re necassarily going to create both reactions.

    1. Greg: A few thoughts on polls: First, I think they can work great if you’re very clear that you’re just gauging people’s opinions (instead of making a decision strictly by vote). In fact, I think they’re much more effective in that way than asking people to respond in the comments, as the vocal minority can be misleading.

      In the case of the stretch goal poll, they key is that the other options aren’t eliminated based on the poll results–rather, they’re just delayed for future polls. Thus the feeling of “losing” the poll is minimized.

  5. We did a bunch of polls for our 12th coin in the Tinker Gearcoins campaign. I nailed down costs and tied stretch goals to that, but the design of the coin was driven largely by a series of polls. We had problems in that campaign, largely due to scaling and fixed price points, so there were growing pains here and there, but the community-driven designs for that coin were a big help in keeping things upbeat and positive amid the growth issues.

    So, it’s not quite the same thing as a more free form, open “what do you want to stretch to” approach, but getting people involved in making a particular stretch goal more exciting was very helpful.

  6. I voted ‘don’t like’, not because I’m radically opposed to the idea, but because there’s a problem that troubles me: it might actually hinder momentum. SGs are not only about the added perks – they are also a way for you, as a creator, to control the tempo and engagement in the campaign, and if you let a vote sway the interval between SGs you might find yourself bound by it and unable to dangle a nearer SG, or change plans, to better suit the behavior of the campaign.

    Let’s not kid ourselves – backers will naturally gravitate to the flashier option. This can be OK if you can concoct a poll where more or less each option is on equal footing, but that’s not the case on your example. Who’s going to vote for a measly 4 cards when you have the option of übercool werebeaver meeples? :P

    So you are enticing backers to go for the big fish, which means added interval between SGs. If you are knocking 2 SGs per day that’s great, but if you have a $20K campaign which just funded in the lull weeks, a $35K SG with nothing in between is a pretty huge step. I know you (as in Stonemaier) could afford to do $15K between SGs and do well, but I’m not as confident for the average KS creator. Also, if the campaign closes at $30K, you’re going to have people ask you to pretty please include the +$10K option either way, which means you have lost on the positive effect of that SG

    As an aside, I would not be opposed to the idea if you just had a number of pools of SGs, and people would choose between them. Eg:

    $20K – funding
    $25K – Regular SG 1
    $30K – Regular SG 2
    $35K – Super SG 1
    $40K – Regular SG 3
    $45K – Regular SG 4
    $50K – Super SG 2

    …and so on. You would then have a set of “regular” SGs (4 extra cards, alternate art, whatever) and a set of “super” SGs (added meeples, free expansions), so that the cost to you as a creator is roughly the same for all elements within a group, and then allow backers to pick SGs from the correct group for the next upcoming SGs.

    You can even add twists, such as keep the next “regular” and “super” polls open simultaneously, and use the first and second option of the “regular” poll if two regular SGs are knocked down in the same day.

    1. andvaranaut: These are great points about tempo and momentum, and you’re right that stretch goals have a very different impact on a project that’s struggling to get to their funding goal than one that is severely overfunding.

      I’m curious if backers would all choose the flashier option opposed to the option they get sooner. Sometimes it’s hard to compare options–the examples I gave above are three very different types of stretch goals. Some people might be really passionate about having high-quality cardstock, and others might think that werebeavers are silly (that’s what werebeavers want you to think).

      I do like the idea of a hybrid solution that mixes set stretch goals and polled stretch goals. After running four projects, I definitely have the perception that backers want more control over the stretch goals, and it seems completely possible for a creator to put more of that power in the hands of backers as long as they’re well informed. Plus, the engagement could be awesome.

  7. One more thought — if a backer immediately has the right to “vote” on particular stretch goals to be added, that may well encourage early backing, because the earlier the backer, the more voting opportunities conceivably available. Indeed, you could have a “first vote” at the time the Kickstarter is unveiled. Early backers the first X days get a vote on the first “TBA” stretch goal. If you keep the goals to be voted on comparably costed, it won’t put you at risk at all.

  8. I think my outlook on this is very ‘take it or leave it’. I’ve voted ‘Like’ in the poll because I’m not against the idea, but it wouldn’t serve as an attraction to me, and my perception of it would be that they’re all planned to happen and we’re just changing the order.

    It would be more attractive to me, I think, to have something like this but at a number of set intervals through the project (Say 2-4), where you have a couple of your own suggestions, but then a number of other options explicitly requested by backers (Trimmed of poor/unattainable ideas) which would be voted on – Backers may just vote for the creator idea, but it would give the feeling of being truly a community source project. You’d need to have a sort of ‘suggestion box’ somewhere in the project for people to post their desires. (Also, it would be cool to potentially launch the suggestion box ahead of the campaign to perhaps allow bigger ideas to slip into the goals, which might be otherwise impossible due time constraints).

    A lot of effort still, but it would appeal to me more than the idea of voting on all the goals. (But like I said, I’m totally ok with that too!)

    1. Chris: I definitely like the idea of a system that really encourages backers to submit and vet ideas they’re excited about. Doing that before the project is particularly helpful so we can estimate costs, but it’s not impossible to do during the project if there’s enough time left.

  9. The idea seems sound as a means of community building in a way that you seem to love doing. The biggest issues I can see is selecting when stretch goals go into which poll, when ‘eliminated’ stretch goals come back into procedings, clearly communicating to backers what stretch goals are available, when which will be being voted on, and how the voting will work (“Is that +$10k of now, +$10k of when the poll started, or +$10k of the last stretch goal?”) – Things that make it harder to understand what to expect from a project, as a backer, are definite off putters.

    Closer to your Treasure Chest 2 poll than what you’re suggesting here, but Northstar’s Evolution campaign had, as a backer perk, voting on the theme for the first expansion…

      1. Maybe preannouncing the + numbers when listing the that will at some point be in the polls, but putting the real number this translates to into the poll itself would work?

  10. Involving backers – people who are actually finding your dream – is a great idea. However, IMO voting on each stretch goal may very well complicate your life as a project creator too much. There’s a mid way between being too flexible (people are backing a project which is already supposed to be structured) and being inflexible and not responding to calls to remove an unwanted stretch goal. What I mean is you can let backers vote on some of the stretch goals. For example you have a project with a funding goal of $20K, day 1 results put your final estimation at $100K, you go with stretch goals every 10K -> you make polls for $50K and $100K… and apply the results.

  11. I’m not sure that it’s fair to have stretch goals that kick in only after an indeterminate amount of funding early on. Early backers will want the stretch goals as much or even more than the late backers (I backed at the last minute because I wanted every stretch goal to be met, and the wealth of support edged me on board). My fear is that if stretch goals don’t kick in until after the early backing is in, you may lose early backers, who will wait until they can “feel” their money having more impact. I’d rather you start with a modest and achievable set of goals them add others once the earlier goals are nearing completion. That will encourage early backers to spread the word and late backers to hop on board.

  12. A current kickstarter from Mayday games: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/maydaygames/dead-mans-draw-pirate-themed-press-your-luck-card started with a stretch goal inclusive of a special box cover for the kickstarter edition. The kickstarter was a relaunch of a failed independent one except with the pizazz of an established gaming company. What was clear when they sought feedback about the proposed special edition of the cover was that it was overwhelming pilloried as being quickly cobbled together and nothing special to the point that the final kickstarter stretch box cover is now something that came out of user feedback in a poll: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1213134/help-us-decide-limited-edition-box-dead-mans-draw.

    A simple poll just asking for prioritising stretch goals ignores whether the stretch goals are actually wanted. Example, they proposed at a high level reward to add in standard card sleeves when to many they would want the premium ones. These types of things should be optional extras rather than polluting their kickstarter project. What happens is that by including more add ons, rather than stretch goals, you also pollute the overall project and funding targets are at best vaguely irrelevant when they are achieved by add ons rather than core product.

    1. Solomon: Hm, I think this might be a little off topic (the part about add-ons in particular). In general, a well-conceived stretch goal plan is really important for a project. It’s true that some stretch goals will be more coveted than others, but they are a huge driving force behind both improving a KS product and encouraging backers to share the project. You can use my projects (Tuscany and Euphoria in particular) to see the power of effective stretch goals.

  13. I like the idea but I can see that it can be kind of bulky because of the waiting between the votes. I believe a nice sollution would be to have some standard Stretch Goals from Day 1 and between the standards you can have these mysterious voting SGs.
    In this way the backers will have a general idea of what to expect and can also have the benefits presented in this nice article.

    1. Foskolos: I like that hybrid solution, and I think it would meet the goals outlined here. Though for the most part I think launch day and the final 48 hours are the only two key times when it will feel like there’s a delay between votes. Perhaps the votes should always be one step ahead so people don’t feel that delay.

  14. Understood on the micro-poll. For us, it was a matter of timing. We only had so much time to make polls and post and survey, and update. For us (and by that I mean “Me”), it was easier to do it all at once. One feedback I did get was that people like a strong decision instead of fearing the flux as goals get closer; and they like to know what to expect. So we did it all in one shot to accomodate my time as a solo project runner and the backer’s request to get the goods upfront.

    I see merit in both. If you have the team to help arrange things, and remake the stretchgoal images, then you’re in good shape. If you’re flying solo… that can be scary! ; )

    John Wrot!
    Gate Keeper Games

  15. Love the idea. We did actually this! Only we didn’t list the costs to increase, we simply voted on desired items/upgrades, then I assigned the costs as required. (Costs struck me as more complicated than not for backers to have to deal with.)

    Partway into the campaign I asked backers what they wanted most via a polldaddy survey, the results poured in, and then we overhauled our stretch goal list mid campaign.

    This was great for me, because I know what *I* would want, but I’m not them. The list changed a good deal and everyone was happier.

    We even included “Stretch Goal” vs. “Add On” questions to best meet the needs and desires of our backers. It was all a huge success and resulted in an increased majority of happy campers. And that, for us, is the real “Goal”.

    Here’s the survey we made if ya’ll wanna see it.
    (I opened the survey for responses so you can take it. Avoid submitting it at the end if you please, so our data doesn’t get modified.)

    John Wrot!
    Gate Keeper Games

    1. John: That’s really cool! Thank you for sharing. It sounds like overall you had a good experience with this, which gives me a lot of confidence this could actually work. I do like the idea of breaking it down to micro polls to keep backers engaged throughout the project, though.

  16. You could easily have the first polls be retroactive if you blow past funding on the first day. You can also have the first few stretch goals set and have polls for later stretch goals.
    I think if you had a poll where you showed how much of the overfunding would be as fun for the backers.

    1. Eric: Yeah, in a way, all of the polls would potentially be retroactive depending up the winning votes and the pace of funding. I’m not sure I understand the last part about an overfunding poll?

      1. Sorry I was typing on my phone and it seemed to make sense on a small screen. :)

        What I meant was that for example your funding goal was $20,000 and somehow you reached $150,000 on the first day. Your poll would show that you have 130,000 of overfunding to spend. The Werebeaver meeple will use up $15,000, the Silver Log to defeat the Werebeaver will use up $30,000 and the wooden cross to defend from the Vampire Otter would use up $20,000. That way people would be “Spending” the overfund amount and know how much they are using up. Once you are ahead of the pledges your polls will not be retroactive if it is decided before the amount is reached.

        I hope this makes sense now to everyone and not just in my head.

  17. We announced an unofficial poll after reaching our first stretch goal. It was basically, do you want [A], which we reached, or [B], which would have been the next stretch goal.

    Pretty much everyone wanted [B]. But those who were excited about [A] were disappointed by the overwhelming majority of “votes” (comments) in favor of the other option.

    Justin ended up throwing in [B] for “free” to our backers, at a further unexpected cost I’m sure.

    So TL;DR – I wouldn’t recommend it. While it could stir up excitement, what do you do with those who “lose” or are disappointed?

    1. Charles: Yeah, that was exactly my concern mentioned near the end of the post, and I appreciate the real-life example. I think, though, that it might work because the “losing” option wouldn’t be erased completely–it would just be added to a future poll. The stretch goal voting would simply determine the order of the goals, not which ones will be added/removed.

      1. That makes sense. My concerns are for projects that might just reach a few stretch goals, not break the record for fastest funding! (1)

        Even assuming that you’ll hit, say, $60,000 on most projects, there will still be some stretch goals that don’t make the cut. I don’t know… just a thought! We’ll see how it pans out with the tile-laying, 2-15 player social deduction Euphoria spinoff =)

        (1) – ignoring Jeff Siadek’s $1 campaign

        1. That’s a good point. Even some bigger projects might have more spread-out stretch goals. I think the idea of stretch goals not making the cut is the case in a lot of campaigns, and perhaps another good reason not to list all stretch goals up front. You run into backers asking you to include unmet stretch goals anyway, which isn’t really fair to a creator who bases stretch goals on a budget.

  18. I really like the idea, but there is the problem with overly funding the first day, which is matched by the problem that if you put the first stretch goals out after the first day, it feels more like you only care about the money and less about making the game as awesome as it could be.

    Lets say your funding goal was $20k and you hit 50k in the first day. I feel with stretch goals the way they are now, if the funding goal was $20k, and you hit that 50K, but there was a $40k stretch goal in there, we get that stretch goal because you needed at least $40K to be able to make your game better, and we hit it, so it’s in, and we’re awesome, we helped to get you there, we helped make the game awesome – versus a goal set after the first day where you just want to make $10K more before you’re willing to make the game better.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the one new stretch goal a day thing is bad either. If you have the poll, and say the stretch goal will only be renewed max once per day, and set obtainable goals, then it’s something to strive for. “We need to get that +$5k today so we can see a new goal tomorrow!” But if you hit too much of a spike and say there is a stretch goal that needs $15k, and you hit $30k in a day, and you had two other $10k stretch goals on the list before, at least one of those other goals would already be hit, so would the total roll over? Could you possibly get more then one stretch goal in a day if you overfunded the day before? You’d have to figure out all of the logistics and plan out all of the possible situations that may arise beforehand so you don’t seem like you’re stumbling for an answer or a resolution to a problem part way through your campaign.

    1. Nik: Thanks for your detailed thoughts. I see what you’re saying about launch day. Perhaps launch day would work differently–you’d have a few stretch goals set in stone for launch day (similar to what Dylan says below), and after that you’d start using the polls.

      As for your last question, I think those stretch goals would roll over. So you might actually reach a certain goal before the polls have closed for that goal, which could be kind of fun.

  19. I’m really interested to hear more about this idea. Not only is this an awesome way to engage backers with your campaign but it’s a great way to gauge what backers want. I’d be very interested to see a campaign follow this stretch goal formula.

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