Learning from Zombicide’s Success

1 July 2014 | 46 Comments

ZombicideOn Sunday evening, I noticed some posts on Facebook about Zombicide: Season 3’s quick ascension into the ranks of wildly overfunded projects. In the 4 hours since launching, it had raised nearly half a million dollars.

I shrugged and went back to what I was doing.

You see, while not ever miniatures project does really well on Kickstarter, CoolMiniOrNot has made a business out of creating really successful miniatures projects. It’s what they do. And I must admit that I don’t really care about miniatures–they certainly don’t get me excited enough to spend $100 on a game.

But then I stopped. What if there was something to learn from Zomicide: Season 3? What if CoolMiniOrNot was doing something unique that every Kickstarter creator could learn from? I decided to dig deeper. Here’s what I learned:

  1. History: CMON is now an established company. There have been a few brand-new creators who have done extremely well with miniatures projects, but you have a much higher chance of success if you have a solid track record.
  2. The Original Game Gets Played: It’s one thing to have a game raise a lot of money on Kickstarter, but it’s quite another for lots of people to actually play that game. Zombicide has 4,742 ratings on BoardGameGeek, and it has scored a very solid 7.59/10.
  3. Stand-Alone Game: I was a little baffled to see that the original Zombicide game wasn’t included in a reward level on Season 3, until I noticed that Season 3 can be played by itself. It’s a stand-alone game. This is pretty brilliant. It allows CMON to build upon the original world that people already know, while still remaining accessible to new players.
  4. Fear of Missing Out: For better or for worse, CMON is the king of “fear of missing out.” They use early bird levels and exclusive rewards to add a huge amount of urgency to the project. I’m not a fan of those tactics, as the last thing I want to do as a Kickstarter creator is to make my backers fear anything, but it’s working for CMON.
  5. Momentum: Recently I wrote about the science behind how momentum breeds success. Zombicide is all about momentum. Raising nearly a million dollars from 5,468 backers in 2 days catches your eye–you wonder, “If that many people like what they’re doing, surely they’re doing something good.”
  6. Stretch Goals: The Zombicide projects do a great job of inspiring people to spend more and share the project, because the more money is raised, the more stuff is included in the box. Even though I don’t care about miniatures, I have to applaud their stretch goals. These aren’t basic component upgrades–the vast majority of the stretch goals include new miniatures. People feel like they’re getting a ton of value for their money.

Also, though I don’t think this plays into their success, I found it interesting that all shipping is added on via pledge manager after the project. On one hand, this is good, because it ensures that everyone pays the price for their exact area, not a general region. On the other hand, backers in certain areas are so accustomed to having shipping included in their price, that some of them may be surprised when the project ends that they have to pay more. Overall, I kind of like it, because most game prices on Kickstarter are deceiving in a way that isn’t particularly beneficial to project creators. Someone might pay $39 for a game on Kickstarter, but really they’re paying $29 plus $10 shipping in a case where $39 for the game by itself would be a great price.

I’m not a backer, but I’m impressed by what CoolMiniOrNot has done. If you have any insights about the Zombicide: Season 3 project that will benefit other creators, I’d love to read them in the comments.

46 Comments on “Learning from Zombicide’s Success

  1. Interestingly enough, I was recently talking with a friend about CMON’s games. They have so many Kickstarter exclusives in their campaigns, that for people who like to have everything (completionists), he basically put it that you either pledge for their Kickstarters or you ignore their games. There isn’t really a middle ground.

      1. I pledged for Season 2 with all the KS-exclusive extras and at the time kind of regretted missing the original. However, all those extra minis are just more characters that don’t add all that much to the game. I like the game, so I do want to collect more substantive stuff for it, but I’d rather pay the usual discounted online prices for the retail sets and not worry about having 30 characters to choose from instead of 20. So I’m ignoring CMoN’s Kickstarters, but not their games.

        Normally, though, I’m a game completist. (Yes, I backed Cthulhu Wars, albeit at a middling level. . .)

  2. Unlike their season 2 campaign, they’ve kept the pledge levels simple this time around. Your options are a) game or b) game + expansion. This is rarely the case for minis-heavy KS projects, and even CMON’s own history shows a different modus operandi. Improvement!

      1. It’s actually kind of genius from a funding perspective. Once they fund, they don’t really have any incentive to make people spend more money on KS anymore. Why give KS/Amazon the extra 10% when you can get people to add things on via their pledge manager and keep the 7~7.5% for themselves (Paypal still wants their 2.5~3%). They know people are going to buy the extras, given single Zombicide exclusive figures can go for $100 on eBay and entire season-sets for multiple thousand dollars.

  3. “because most game prices on Kickstarter are deceiving in a way that isn’t particularly beneficial to project creators. Someone might pay $39 for a game on Kickstarter, but really they’re paying $29 plus $10 shipping in a case where $39 for the game by itself would be a great price.”
    Eh, you’re doing that too?
    Anyway, good post! I too have raised an eyebrow at this project, with almost zero chance of me backing it.

    1. Martin: Right, it has become standard to include US shipping on Kickstarter, even though it’s not particularly helpful for creators. It’s not even all that good for backers, because when they see the game on a deep discount retailer a year later at the “same” price (plus shipping), they feel like could have waited, while in reality they got an amazing discount with shipping included. I like things on Kickstarter that make everyone feel like they won, and this isn’t one of them. I don’t know if I have the guts to break the mold, though!

      1. I really like to read the words ‘Free shipping to the EU’. I like to read the words ‘Add $8 for EU’. I really hate to see stuff like ‘Add $30 for the EU’. I can also tell you why, it’s a marketing principle. People rather pay for the product than for the shipping. Shipping is a useless add-on that does not add any value in the mind of the consumer. So if a product costs $25 and shipping would be $25 for example, it’s not a very good idea to list $25 (add $25 shipping). Percentage wise, 50% shipping is a lot. So you could much better make it $40 (add $10 shipping). The difference between that and $50 (free shipping) is much smaller in the consumers mind, because $25 -> $10 is a bigger difference than $10 -> $0, and consumers know that shipping is not free, so they are wondering what part of the $50 would be the shipping.

        1. Oh, trust me, I know how it works–that’s a big part of the reason why my Kickstarter campaigns have been successful. It’s the standard on Kickstarter and I don’t see it changing, but Zombicide is showing us that it is possible to do it another way.

          1. Yeah I never doubt that you know what you’re doing. But this charging shipping after the campaign thing, I don’t like it and from what I read about this exact topic on a dutch forum, most others don’t like it either, they want to know exactly what shipping will be on beforehand.

          2. Yeah it seems like an easy thing to do for a creator.. forget about shipping for now, we’ll figure it out later, but I don’t think that a lot of backers actually like that. It may not be enough reason for most not to back a project, but I guess most people don’t like it. Like there are at least 3 things per Queen KS that I don’t like, yet I ended up with backing 2 or 3 of them in the last couple of months.

          3. We shall see how much backlash there is. I think it’s a little risky to change gears from previous campaigns when there’s an expectation that shipping was included in the past. I’m sure it will work out for them, but I’m sure they’ll also have folks that are upset that didn’t catch it before hand.

  4. This is another insightful write-up and I think captures CMON pretty well. I’m a backer of Season 1 and Season 2 and I am not sure if I will back Season 3, despite loving the game and having a good group of players who will gladly put it on the table with me. For me, my hesitations come from a few things:

    I do not like Fear of Missing Out. I freely admit that I am susceptible to it, but I don’t like “feeding” it and I especially do not like encouraging companies to use it.

    I do not like escalating Kickstarters, where you unlock the ability to buy more stuff. I actually find the activity of actively monitoring a campaign to see if I need to change stuff a little tedious. This, of course, is related to my fear of missing out.

    Keeping shipping in the KS is just easier. My pledge is now less valuable than it was before.

    And the big thing is bloat. Zombicide is a scenario-based game. It has spectacular replayability. At this point, I have stacks of equipment and zombie spawning cards that are too big to shuffle. I have enough maps to cover my dining room and basement tables. Simultaneously. And enough zombies to, well, have a lot of zombies on those table. Realistically, I bet I have at least two years of good play left in what I have today. I simply don’t need more. The expansions have almost come too quickly.

    Maybe that makes my TL;DR: you can have too much of a good thing.

      1. I don’t mind if you can expect it from the start. For example Artipia Games seem to have taken to putting a (Fairly early) goal or two as ‘upgrade’ paid additions. This is however clearly marked on the goals right from the beginning so you know before backing that it may be an extra cost to pay.

        When it comes to things like last 2 days adding $100 of possible add-on content like Zombicide does, then it’s very uncomfortable.

        1. Great point, Smoothsmith. I think it is about transparency – being able to see what is coming and having a reasonable amount of time to make a decision.

  5. I got Zombicide season one as retail (Christmas present), having missed out on the first kick-starter. I enjoyed the game a lot, and it’s had a lot of play, but the basic set was a bit lacking in variety of survivors & in rules to make play-to-play feel different.

    I backed the second season because I wanted more, and I’m glad I did as I now have something like ~30 survivors as well as plenty of tiles/different zombies to make the game more replayable. In this sense I loved the extra’s from the project, as I was able to get a ton of content for the price. On the other hand, it revealed how weak I can be as a person to pretty things, and I got probably too much in the way of addons and spent a huge chunk of money.

    This third time round I’m not backing as I already have the variety I need, and the 2nd project kind of scared me of how easy it is to burn money into such projects.

    ———

    1. History: I did see the first Zombicide when it went up, but knew too little about the company to take the risk, so there’s definitely something to be said for a companies track record (Although I was also only just getting into board-games so bigger risk there too).

    2. Original Game Gets Played: Well, yep, I backed the 2nd season because the first is fun ^^.

    3. Stand-Alone Game: I think this is great from a project perspective, but is very frustrating as an owner of another set. Many equipment cards got duplicated, as well as the first 2 seasons meaning I have considerably more normal zombies than are required to play that you can’t help but feel could have been money better spent elsewhere. It’s not exactly the worst thing ever, but it ups the price of an already expensive game and that’s a bit of a painful effect.

    4. Fear of missing out: Definitely a major factor here. Part of the reason I got a bit too loose with my wallet for Season Two was that I wanted certain things that I knew would be hard/expensive to get later. The fear of missing out on those extras certainly helped them get my money ^^.

    5. Momentum: Again, another huge thing. Particularly in the final hours of Season Two things rose to a fever pitch, with comments being ecstatic about the final additions and the urge to just add that extra survivor from the egging on of other backers to hit just a couple more stretch goals being a powerful thing. If I cut-aside to another project, Myth, many people including myself shied away from backing until it got to ~200k, as which point momentum took over and the project flew as confidence formed from it’s success…success breeds success ^^.

    6. Stretch Goals: Indeed, this is the major thing that drives the attraction, you get a ton of extra content from backing the big miniature projects with tons of extras thrown in. I think there was almost double the miniatures in Season Two when stretches were considered (Myth being over double to mention it again)

    7. Shipping: The add-on after the fact is a major push away from a project for me. While it makes sense from a business perspective, as a backer, I want it to be reflected in the price I pay immediately rather than feel like a hidden cost…It just makes me uncomfortable to imagine the pledge manager coming out and suddenly realizing I have this extra bit to pay just so it actually gets sent to me, bleurgh.

    1. Chris: Thanks for your analysis. I hadn’t thought of the downside for previous owners in terms of the stand-alone aspects of the game–I can see how that creates a lot of redundancy. I wonder if there is a way to do that without adding any redundancy, but it may not be possible.

      1. I think the duplication could have been avoided. While mechanics of course will have some copied aspects, things like the lower-quality equipment cards could have easily had new art, or even represent different objects with similar/same stats – instead they just copy-pasted..

        The extra normal zombies were more unavoidable (As the ‘berserker’ type in season 2 wouldn’t work well alone), but they seem to have avoided that issue with the new one as the ‘skinners’ work fine without other types to go with them.

        I wonder if the multiple standalone sets idea could apply to Euro style games as you tend to make, as with a bigger focus on mechanics over the theme it might hinder how much you can vary the two. (Though I guess Dominion manages just fine ^^).

  6. Thanks for bringing this up, Jamey. Zombicide, for me, is the perfect example for your constant dialog against KS exclusives. I missed the 1st campaign. Then, I saw the 2nd and was turned off by the extreme price and the tremendous amount of stuff from the 1st campaign that I missed out on. The game sounds like it is right up my alley, but the creator’s tactics turn me off almost as bad as a jerk / disconnected creator.

    1. Derik: I can’t speak to the character of the creator, and I would guess that for the most part they do good things for their backers or they wouldn’t have that many backers, but you know how I feel about exclusives–they’re not my thing. :)

  7. A friend/gaming partner of mine backed the previous Zombicide games and we had fun playing them. But after getting the prison and mall expansions it started to feel bloated (as others have pointed out). So he decided to list them for trade on BGG and had some ridiculous offers pour in. People offering him four games for one of the expansions. I think someone gave him two separate games from his want list just for some of the extra survivors he’d gotten.

    I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but I’d surmise that some people are buying this because they saw how quickly the other seasons escalated in price and want to get in now because a. it’s going to be rare and harder to get later, and b. having an in-shrink copy 12 months from now might be worth quite a bit.

    1. Jeremiah: Ah, I see. I saw that type of thing happen with Viticulture and Euphoria. It’s not that I’m opposed to a secondary market, but it kind of pains me as a publisher to see people overpaying by so much.

    2. This isn’t unusual, in fact your friend may have gotten shorted. Complete season sets can go for multiple thousand dollars on eBay with all the KS exclusives.

  8. I don’t care for zombie games, but I did back another of their projects, and your concern about add-ons costing more was a real headache…I had to monitor the campaign pretty closely to decide if I wanted to add to my pledge…and then not knowing what shipping is going to be until closer to shipping is a concern…

    I’d rather back another of your campaigns, than another of theirs.

  9. Interesting read, but I’d posit an additional reason for the success is: Zombies + Miniatures. I have no idea what it is about that combination that causes people to lose a lot of their rational thought and throw money at the project, but it happens. No rules? “Zombies + Minis” Horrible intro? “Zombies + Minis” ….

    I’m definitely not saying that Zombicide is a poor game or that CMON is a bad company, but I have seen quite a few zombie-themed games succeed on what seems to be based purely on having a zombie theme. :(

    Of course, I’m not a big minis fan and am absolutely not a zombie fan. I think my observations have some validity, though. Sadly, I would likely consider playing many of these games if they had a different theme. Clicking through to see “Steampunk setting … with zombies” is enough to get me to move on. (Just including zombies as a possible choice doesn’t bother me. All zombies all the time – *sigh*)

  10. As a backer of the first two seasons of Zombicide, I’m really happy to see your analysis of the way CMON handles their kickstarter campaigns. In addition to what you already wrote, I’d like to point out two things that are beginning to make me uncomfortable with the current kickstarter that I don’t think has been addressed much up to this point:

    1) Shipping for the US was included in the original 2 kickstarter campaigns, while shipping outside the US was a flat fee of $35 that backers added into their pledge…not including it in this one means that the full economic effect is not being reflected in the total. That has it’s own pros and cons in that shipping dollars are not being used to reach stretch goals and will actually be used for shipping (good for the creator, maybe not so good for the backer).

    2) The pledge tiers for this kickstarter remain similar to Season 2, making this one, in effect, more expensive at least for for US backers. For example, for $150 in S2, I got the base game, the expansion, the add-on pack of zombie dogs and all stretch goals…with shipping included. This season’s pledge of $150 gets me the base game, the expansion, the add-on pack of VIP zombies, and all stretch goals…yet I still have to pay for shipping on top of it. It’s obviously less of a deal than the prior year.

    I’m still backing at this point, because as you mention, the amount of stretch goals does create value, and this is one of our favorite games to play. But I won’t be going crazy with all the add-ons this time, because at some point, you have to draw a line… :)

    1. Tavin: Thanks for sharing your inside perspective about this. There was some discussion earlier in the comments about their shipping methods, so it’s interesting to hear your thoughts as well. Have other backers noticed the price increase as you noticed?

  11. I may be a tad biased as Zombicide is probably my favorite game ever, but CMON is one of the undisputed kings of stretch goals and perfected the balance of paid-for unlocks vs freebies .

    Seeing how they’ve changed gears on this campaign should prove interesting to watch play out as they tend to influence how other mini’s games run their campaigns too. I like the minimalistic approach, but I’m not overly keen on knowing what the total cost is before I pledge. I’m sure it will be at their negotiated rates, but it’s a big change from the norm.

    1. Adam: I definitely agree that they know how to do stretch goals. You like the paid-for-unlocks? I don’t understand the appeal of that system. I think it’s fine to add more stuff to buy over the course of the campaign, but how do backers benefit by reaching goals just to unlock it?

      1. I don’t mind these too much as it makes sense to me as a backer. For any new item there are going to be fixed costs and per-unit costs. I see the stretch goal as covering the design/artwork/mold costs, but the add on price covering actual production. Of course, the flip side of that is I expect the add-ons to be relatively cheap, as the pricing should only reflect the production cost, not any of the fixed costs. When that clearly isn’t happening I tend to get a bit narkey.

  12. I think “like” is a strong word. I appreciate it from an availability perspective. Most of the paid-for’s are a 4:1, where I get 4 or 5 free things before a paid for unlock is made available. Even if I never wanted to buy the add-ons, the people who are buying add-ons are basically paying for me to get free things.

    But, as a completionist, I’ll be buying them too so there’s that.

    I don’t think it works for every type of project, but I think it’s easily used as a market-testing tool in other projects where you can start with the bare-bones and then push for improvements, and even paid-for add-ons. No different than unlocking an expansion and making it available if you can bring it up to scale to make it cost effective.

    1. Adam: Right, that makes sense. I guess I just don’t quite understand the paid part of it (not that people are actually paying to unlock it). I would think they could just as easily spread out announcements for new stuff over the course of the campaign (based on timing, not money) to keep excitement high and keep backers subscribed to the project updates. It’s mostly semantics, but psychologically as a backer I wouldn’t get excited about “paying” to unlock something I have to pay extra for. :)

      1. For me it’s not that I’m actively paying for the extras to the campaign as it goes, as I know I’ll pay later in the pledge manager (and it’s less of a pain to figure out what that cost will be). What I AM motivated to do is get more people to pledge for the base game by telling others so THOSE people unlock new goodies, even moreso with the simpler pledge levels. No more confusion on what I should be pledging for or recommending to others what to pledge for.

  13. A quick comment about exclusives – this is my philosophy that drives all our Kickstarters. Please also note, we have a no questions asked refund policy on our Kickstarters any time before we start prepping for shipping (complete if within 60 days of funding, less Kickstarter fees after since Kickstarter won’t give it back) – this also has a subtle effect on exclusives.

    1. As a backer, you’re taking a huge chance on us. Pre-ordering anything is inherently risky, and however you look at it we’re still a tiny company. We don’t have products sitting in our warehouse ready to ship so none of this is zero risk for backers.

    How do we reward backers for taking a chance on us now? Straight up discounts are good, but in my opinion do not adequately compensate backers for taking this risk – why not just wait until reviews are out and buy from an online discounter who has stock on hand?

    When/if complicated projects hit delays (and miniatures projects are complicated) – exclusives are also a reward for keeping the faith and not backing out, or having lots of buyer’s remorse.

    2. Effect on the normal market – Zombicide (the original) had 5k backers. To date we have sold 150k units of Z1 into distribution, and it’s still selling. This is because the game is complete – the Kickstarter exclusive items are very similar in tone to skins you see in some videogames – they don’t fundamentally change what the game is. Just because you don’t have the limited edition version of Star Wars Monopoly isn’t likely to change your core Monopoly experience.

    What’s the takeaway?

    First, our backers represented 3% of the total global audience – this is not surprisingly low, as early adopters are rare – enthusiastic risk takers ready to bet on a project and wait months for the fruit. However, early adoption has an exponential effect on future success due to the evangelizing done by happy early adopters. So, the lesson is that getting early adopters is important (and not easy), and making them feel special and valued is important, long after the Kickstarter campaign.has ended.

    Second, loss of the completionist collector did not have a huge impact on Z1 which is quite successful in distribution sans exclusives…

    Third, I personally believe that by keeping faith with our Z1 and Z2 backers helped/is helping the current Z3 campaign. You would not believe the enormous pressure we had from Z2 backers for release of Z1 exclusives. But that wouldn’t have been right – Z1 backers took a complete shot in the dark with us, our first project – who could have anticipated how it’d have turned out?

    1. Chern: Thanks again for sharing your insights here. A few thoughts in response:

      First, 150,000 copies of Zombicide sold worldwide is incredible. Congratulations to you and everyone at CMoN for achieving that level of success–it’s obviously well deserved, and it’s a testament to the concern we sometimes hear from game stores that the market for a game is the same as the number of Kickstarter backers. You’ve proven that’s not true.

      Second, I like what you said about using exclusive “skins.” You offer a complete game in retail, and then use the “skins” as exclusives to attract backers. That makes sense. I’m not sure it translates all that well to the non-minis world, but perhaps there’s some overlap. Actually, Tuscany’s Collector’s Edition is a decent example. The only element of it that’s unique to Kickstarter is the individually numbered wine-crate style slipcase on the outside of the box–it’s essentially a skin for the entire game.

      Third, I really respect that you all have honored the “exclusive” label to Z1’s backers despite the pressure from Z2 backers.

      Fourth, there are some exclusives that aren’t components. Our money-back guarantee is one of them, and prioritized delivery is another. That’s not a note so much to you as it is to backers–there are many different kinds of exclusives.

      Fifth, here’s the thing I’ve found and tweaked over time about exclusives: They’re somewhat limited from the production end of things. For example, when I made the KS versions of Euphoria (about 5700 copies), that number was based on backers copies, which totaled around 5500. That left me a pretty thin margin of error when it came to getting those games to backers. People have packages stolen off their front porch or they don’t update their address or a game is damaged in transit and needs a replacement. But when all is said and done, I had some leftover KS games, all of which had the exclusive label on them. For Euphoria, I was up front with backers about this from the beginning, and I said those extras would first be offered to backers, then to non-backers at a premium price. This solution worked well, but it was also a bit of a hassle, and I didn’t like that the margin of error was so thin, especially since we send our games to distribution centers around the world. So basically, for the Tuscany Collector’s Edition, I didn’t put an “exclusive” label on it so I could make extra copies in the first print run, ensuring that I can cover all the bad things that happen in transit to backers, and after I’ve delivered to all backers, I can freely sell those extra copies at a premium price without complication. It’s really not a big difference, but removing that “KS exclusive” label gave me a little wiggle room while remaining very attracting to backers.

      1. Our exclusives are marked Kickstarter and convention exclusives. The extras we have, we sell or give away at conventions to provide an incentive to see us at cons.

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