6 November 2017
Today marks the 2-year anniversary of Stonemaier going Kickstarter-free, as our Scythe campaign ended on November 5, 2015.
Since then I’ve loved seeing other creators continue to use Kickstarter in innovative and evocative ways. I’ve also enjoyed seeing publishers use traditional model of distribution in ways that simulate some of the benefits of crowdfunding, like building community, gauging demand, and generating awareness.
Today I’m going to look at the past 6 months since I posted Part 3 to see how the move away from Kickstarter has impacted Stonemaier Games. First, a quick recap:
- Part 1 was about why we stopped using Kickstarter (fulfillment risk, time, human nature, relationships with distributors/retailers).
- Part 2 was about how we could simulate the benefits of crowdfunding without using Kickstarter (polling consumers, distributor pre-orders, Facebook groups).
- Part 3 was about the reality of how those ideas were working out.
I’ll continue to use the format from Part 3, as it focuses on what I consider to be the top 5 purposes and benefits of crowdfunding. I won’t rehash things that haven’t changed since Part 3, so if you’re interested in the full answer, I’d recommend reading it too.
- A big part of my former Kickstarter strategy for building and maintaining community was the idea of regular, insightful project updates. They took a lot of time to write and engage with, but they were worth the effort. I’ve continued this practice through my design diary posts in the Charterstone and Scythe Facebook groups, and they’ll be joined by others in the future. This isn’t a complaint, but I recently remembered that one of my reasons for moving away from Kickstarter was the sheer time it required to run and maintain projects, so by simulating aspects of Kickstarter elsewhere (like the design diary posts), I’ve probably increased–not decreased–the amount of time I spend focusing on the “crowd.”
- In the comments of last week’s post about our annual charity auction, reader Joy mentioned that one of the great things about community on Kickstarter is that its transience allows for greater engagement. Basically, because a Kickstarter campaign is comprised of such a short, intense period of time–instead of being perceived as an eternal commitment–people are more likely to engage with it. I’d like to find a way to simulate this for each of our new releases, though I’m not quite sure how. Any ideas?
- With our substantially increased focus on relationships with distributors and retailers in the post-Kickstarter world, a big part of community building is through them. As part of the monthly updates to retailers and distributors, I’ve tried to listen to what they want/need and respond accordingly. For example, sometimes a retailer somehow doesn’t get any copies of a game from their distributors, so if that happens, I want the retailer to know that I’m here to help. If they feature one of our games in a tournament or demo event, I’m happy to provide promos or prizes. Retailers seem to be responding well to the outreach.
Improve the Product
- Blind playtesting makes games better, but a big part of Kickstarter is improving a project through stretch goals and listening to what people really want. Stretch goals I have covered–I stretch the budget for all of our games to put the highest quality components in the game (e.g., Charterstone has over 350 unique illustrations, 36 metal coins, and 230+ wooden tokens). But what about listening to people? With Charterstone, all of the public engagement about the game has happened after the game already entered production, so there’s no room for feedback at that point. This is a tricky subject, because I don’t want to talk about a game too far before release. Perhaps I need to expand the way I talk with our ambassadors about games while they’re still in development.
- A big part of my strategy over the last 6-8 months has been to gauge distributor demand for upcoming products and print runs so I can guarantee quantities. For the most part, this has worked out well, but distributors simply aren’t accustomed to being asked for such estimates many months before release dates. While some respond well to it, others have expressed frustration (even though I think they would be more frustrated if we didn’t make enough games to cover their demand). So I’m trying to learn to walk that line.
- One thing I’ve really liked about the move away from Kickstarter is that I can include localization partners in the initial print run without worrying about the estimated delivery date you have to note on Kickstarter. While there’s still pressure to release a new game, it’s nice that we have the time to gauge demand among our international partners to allow for a bigger overall first print run.
- When I used Kickstarter, part of my commitment to backers was that I would deliver to them before selling the game through distribution or at conventions. In the post-Kickstarter world, I have to say that it was really nice to be able to sell Charterstone and The Wind Gambit at Essen Spiel without worrying about such promises, as the convention created some nice buzz for those new releases. Sure, ideally the worldwide release would happen at the same time or immediately after a big convention like that (instead of a little over a month later), but it’s nice to have the flexibility.
- A big part of our strategy for generating awareness and buzz is through reviewers. For The Wind Gambit, I sent around 10 advance review copies and told the reviewers they could release their thoughts whenever they wanted. For Charterstone’s advance copies we used a reviewer embargo so no one would feel like they had to rush through the campaign to post the first review. I felt more pressure than normal for these reviews, because there was no Kickstarter campaign solidifying pre-sales: If reviewers hated those products, their thoughts would have had a huge impact on sales of games that are already on the boat from China. There’s no safety net.
- Back in May, we initiated a print run of over 200,000 units of various products, all estimated for retail release during the holiday season. We didn’t have the cash on hand to afford a print run that big, so we turned to distributors to see if any of them wanted to pay up front at a small discount. We were fortunate to have a number of distributors participate. In hindsight, it’s a big reminder to me that cash flow is a fickle beast, and if we want to continue making print runs that big, we may need to consider other sources (like bridge loans).
Overall, I continue to be happy with our decision to move away from Kickstarter, despite my love for the platform and the benefits it provides. Sure, every now and then I get nostalgic when I see a big, exciting campaign in progress, and I wonder what Charterstone may have looked like on Kickstarter. But I’m pleased with our path.
What do you think? Is there anything you want to know about Stonemaier’s last 6 months or beyond in relation to us no longer using Kickstarter?