KS Experiment #4: The Golden Ticket Strategy

16 October 2014 | 25 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.

Terra Mystica
photo credit to BGG user Helge Ostertag

If you’ve read Roald Dahl’s classic book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” you know the concept of the golden ticket. In the book, 5 golden tickets were randomly stashed inside ordinary chocolate bars. If you were lucky enough to open a candy bar with a golden ticket, you were able to take a tour through Willy Wonka’s factory.

The concept of the “golden ticket” was actually something we considered for Tuscany. The idea we discussed was to have our factory put one “golden ticket” for a trip to the real Tuscany in one of the boxes for a backer to discover. For various reasons as I’ll mention below, we decided against it.

Flashforward to yesterday when I was poking around on BoardGameGeek’s page for the Terra Mystica expansion, and I stumbled upon the photo on the right. At first I thought that’s what the pieces in the expansion looked like, but then I learned that they’re actually hand-painted tokens inserted randomly into 5 copies of the German edition of Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice being released at Essen.

Today’s KS Experiment is all about this golden ticket concept. Can it work? Is it a good idea for Kickstarter creators? We’ll find out based on your votes.

The Idea

Insert something special into 5 random copies of the Kickstarter versions of your product.

The Problem

Unlike the other KS experiments, I wouldn’t necessarily say this idea addresses a specific problem. Rather, it might help to generate more press and buzz around a project that people are already excited about, and it might give people an extra reason to back the project now instead of waiting until the retail release.

The Full Concept

  1. Announce to backers from day 1 that there are going to be 5 extra-special versions of the product randomly distributed among all backer copies.
  2. Create the special components and ship them to your factory during production.
  3. Have your manufacturer place the special components in 5 random products. You would have to make sure that you have a backer version of the product and a retail version (separate SKUs).

Here are some ideas of various golden tickets for the board game space (though this would apply to any product category:

  • a special paint job as seen on Terra Mystica (this would also work with miniatures). The challenge here is that your factory would have to send the painter the components, which adds expense and potentially time
  • a special version of some of the components (i.e., metal dice). Ideally this wouldn’t change the overall weight of the game by more than a few ounces
  • a special set of custom clay resources or meeples

Why It Might Work

Do I think this would have a significant impact on a project? Probably not. A project would already have to be very popular for people to even care about the golden ticket items.

However, I think it would be a lot of fun to try this or be involved in a project that does this. Can you imagine opening a box and discovering components like those pictured above? It would be a magical moment. We’re in the games business–it’s all about creating fun, memorable, magical moments.

Why It Might Not Work

That said, I see the potential for several negatives:

  • Completionists: Many gamers–Kickstarter backers in particular–are “completionists,” meaning they want the whole, complete game…or nothing at all. So I wasn’t surprised to see the following comment on the Terra Mystica golden ticket thread: “So what you’re saying is that when this comes out only 5 people in the world can have a complete Terra Mystica set, and the rest of us will have incomplete sets.” This is unfortunate to me, because it sucks all the fun out of an idea like this, but I do have a solution: If you commission an artist to make the special pieces, you can share that artist’s information with everyone up front to say that if you don’t receive the golden ticket version, you can still pay the artist to make special pieces for your set too.
  • Creating lots of “losers” and very few “winners”: This is at the core of why I don’t like early-bird reward levels. You’re creating a system of winners and losers. This may not bother most people, but if you back the project because you want the extra special resources, you might just prefer to pay for them up front as a special reward level.
  • Kickstarter guidelines: It is possible that this idea would violate Kickstarter’s nebulous “no contests” policy. It don’t really consider it a contest, but there is an element of randomness to it, so it’s possible.
  • Laws against lotteries and sweepstakes: It’s also possible that this idea would violate state or local laws against lotteries.
  • It’s expensive for minimal gain: The 5 special copies of the product could end up costing you hundreds of dollars each. Is that worth the chance that you might attract more backers?
  • Creating hype at the wrong time: Sure, a golden ticket strategy might create some hype around the project during the campaign. But that hype will climax when 5 people actually open their games to discover the special pieces inside and proceed to post on BGG, Twitter, Facebook, etc. At that climactic point, it will be too late for people to back the project to have a chance at getting those items.


What do you think? Would you like to see project creators incorporate the golden ticket strategy into their projects, or would you prefer for extra special items like this to be included at expensive reward levels instead?

Leave a Comment

25 Comments on “KS Experiment #4: The Golden Ticket Strategy

  1. Hey Jamey! I love the idea if it’s for something like a trip to Tuscany. Nothing lost & nothing gained if you don’t end up being a golden ticket winner. It just serves to bring more excitement to the entire purchasing experience as well as enriching the story of your KS for anyone writing about it. Cheers!

  2. Feels off for me for reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on…

    …Although it might be connected to 0891gate the entertainment industry had here a few years ago…

  3. I like the idea when it doesn’t really altar what people get in the game. Signed art and trips wouldn’t bother me at all. Alternative art does a little. FFG uses alternate art as prizes, which I think drives completionists up the wall.

    Mostly it is like what you said though, as far as KS goes it doesn’t help at the right time, so maybe this is a good non- KS promo done on your website for a future game expansion? Maybe a lottery for your most active followers?

    1. Gamer Dave: That’s interesting to know that things outside of the game (and signed stuff) fall into a different category than alternate art, special pieces, etc.

      I like the idea of rewarding loyal customers–the lottery is a neat idea! I could also use them for our annual charity auction.

  4. Heh, I think I’m one of the few that do like the idea. Brian’s suggestion is a really good way of implementing it too.

    In terms of making it easier to get the fancy reward to the winners, could you just have the manufacturer slip in actual golden tickets (i.e. a fancy sheet of gold paper with a ticket printed on it), then have the backers who get one of those contact you and you then send the upgraded components to them?

    1. Helen: Yeah, you do appear to be in the minority here. :) But the vote might have been a little different if Brian’s idea was incorporated up front.

      I like the idea of including an actual golden ticket–that’s an elegant way to do it.

  5. Thanks again for the interesting post, Mr. Stegmaier.
    This one’s funny: I like golden tickets, but agree that it is generally a bad idea for all the reasons already listed. Although, I do like Brian’s suggestion of making the ticket a free upgrade for random backers. Again, not to drive sales but to reward backers with a chance at something extra. I think that would be the real question here: can this strategy build backer trust and/or excitement for you as a creator (or for your brand)?

    1. Derik: That’s a great question. I think it could build excitement, and as long as you’re transparent about it, it wouldn’t detract from your backers’ trust in you. But I don’t think it would necessarily grow or enhance backer trust.

  6. Well, this’ll be a short one, I don’t like the idea at all =P

    I just can’t see any good reason for giving some people something different, and I feel it would trash the fun of kick-starting a project to support it and make it feel like a lottery. I don’t want that, I want to back to make everyone get something awesome. I’m done =)

  7. While the way Terra Mystica implemented this idea might leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, you could certainly do this in a way to satisfy most parties.

    The first example that would come to mind is this:

    You have two tiers in your campaign: A is the more popular ‘game’ with stretch goals for 100$. Then you also have B which is A plus handpainted tokens, signed artist edition, whatever, for 300$.

    Then you say “Golden ticket style, 5 lucky backers of A will be surprised with a free upgrade to B!”

    Completionists have the option to acquire if it, if that’s really there jam, and some people get a cool carrot reward. Additionally, you don’t need to do anything special in your production plan (having things randomly inserted into boxes, etc). You just budget for X more of a certain tier that would already be producing. There is the small caveat of the B backers feeling ‘owed’ a chance at something cool.

    Also, I think your initial idea of winning a trip to tuscany is possibly the best idea. It’s an experience to be coveted, but no one can feel like they have a ‘lesser’ product for missing out on the trip.

    All of this being said: Definitely consult a lawyer about contest law, beyond kickstarter’s policy. It can vary wildly by state/country.


    1. Brian: Thanks for your creative solution. I like the idea of making it available to people in two different ways. That might address what some people perceive to be a problem about expensive reward levels (that they’re only for the wealthy), as it would give everyone a chance at the cool bits, but you could also buy them outright if you can afford them.

    2. I really like your idea, Brian!

      However, I worry that people would opt out of buying a deluxe version to test their fate in hopes of winning the deluxe version of the game. I could see that happening, especially if there is only a $10-20 price difference between your core set and deluxe version.

      I’m trying to think of ways this could work, without the risk of backers migrating to lower pledge levels to try and win the lottery ticket… but nothing is springing to mind. *_*

      1. Davy: I think this would be a very premium reward level, well above deluxe. So the normal game might be $39, but the premium version would be $150 or something like that, depending on the cost of the special components.

  8. The basic idea is really fun but I can see some people getting bent out of shape over it. “I paid the same amount why don’t I get the special stuff?” I’m not really a completionist and rarely if ever purchase the super expensive version of something (I have Tokaido on my to buy list but didn’t even back the KS because of too many level and too much expense) but I think component upgrades that are randomly inserted could alienate backers. I actually think a true golden ticket say a free pledge level or free pledge level upgrade in the next KS campaign might actually be better. It would be a way to create some fun but not randomly hand out possibly hundreds of dollars. Just my thoughts.

    1. Eric (Ortega): Several Erics on this comment thread today. :) I’m concerned about that element of alienation too. Your solutions are creative, but I know that Kickstarter doesn’t allow coupons or future discounts of any kind in the reward levels.

      Something I’m trying to understand is how Terra Mystica is pulling it off. I would think that most people at Essen who have heard about the promotion are excited about it, and it’s making a purchase that they were already going to make even more exciting. Sure, it would be cool if Z-Man does the same with their US copies, but it won’t impact my buying behavior either way. It’s like a cherry on top of an already great sundae. :)

  9. Instead of having the factory do it, you could choose the five backers randomly yourself, have those games shipped to you initially, add in the extras, and then ship them out. There would be some extra cost, but in exchange you would know exactly who got the extras, know their precise condition when you put them into the box, have an opportunity to label the box itself, possibly include a personal note, etc.

    1. One more thought: if you do the choosing, you can choose during the campaign, say choosing a winner every week or so. That lets you build buzz during the campaign, not after.

      Overall, I still lean more strongly to not having these golden tickets, but not by very much. They would not affect my decision to back a campaign either positively or negatively.

      1. Eric: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That’s true, I could randomly select the backers from my spreadsheet. That could open up accusations of favoritism, but I think there would have to be an element of trust to make this work. I also like the idea of choosing during the campaign, though that might be closer to violating Kickstarter’s terms of use (maybe? As I’ve written about, those rules aren’t very clear).

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