Live-Blogging Lesson #10: No, We Don’t Use a Pledge Manager

27 October 2015 | 39 Comments

While I’m on the subject of frequently asked questions and answers that have a bearing on the greater Kickstarter ecosystem, I thought I’d share the second-most asked question during the Scythe Kickstarter campaign (here’s the first):

The question: “Can I pledge $1 now and upgrade my rewards on the pledge manager at the Kickstarter prices?”

My answer: “No, we don’t use a pledge manager. All pledges must be made in full during the Kickstarter campaign.”

I want to be clear that this is not a bad question or a dumb question. It’s a perfectly reasonable question that is indicative of what crowdfunding has become. It worries me a little bit, but for the most part I’m not judging the impact pledge managers have on Kickstarter; rather, I just want to talk about what it means.

I’ll get the worrisome part out of the way: It appears that some backers assume all Kickstarter projects use a pledge manager, including mine, even though the Scythe project page specifically contradicts that assumption near the top of the page:

2015-10-27_1832a

This worries me because I’m 100% sure there are going to be backers who contact me after 7:59 pm CST on November 5 asking to add onto their pledge or upgrade it. But at that point the price will have gone up, and certain versions of the game won’t even be available for pre-order. Stonemaier Games Kickstarter projects are like one long early-bird reward, and we draw a hard line when the campaign ends.

Now, the good thing is that I’m armed with this knowledge, so it means that’s something I will specifically call attention to when I send out reminder messages to each pledge tier at the 60-hour mark of the project, especially the $1 level, which currently has 487 backers. I’ve also improved the visibility of the pledge manager question and answer on the project page, and I’ve mentioned it several times in project updates.

So what does this mean for crowdfunding as a whole? It means that pledge managers are becoming more prevalent, and for at least some backers, they’re decreasing the importance of backing now since you can just join in later. 

Some might view that as being good for backers. It gives them more flexibility. They can reserve their spot now with a $1 pledge, and when they have more time or funds later, they can upgrade their pledge.

However, I think there is value in urgency. Not early-bird-level urgency where you can miss out on the best price in minutes, but the type of urgency that is inherent to the limited timeframe of a Kickstarter campaign. If a campaign is completely fluid and nebulous, that urgency goes away.

I think this will continue to be a frequently asked question, and I have just one small suggestion to creators to help alleviate any issues it may cause. It’s in the last part of the question: “Can I pledge $1 now and upgrade my rewards on the pledge manager at the Kickstarter prices?”

It’s perfectly reasonable to increase your prices post-Kickstarter. By that point you’ve hopefully reached a bunch of stretch goals–the value proposition is completely different. The product that was worth a $40 pledge might now be worth $50 or more. It’s fair to charge pre-order customers the higher price. They’re not there to fund your dream–they’re there to pre-order a product.

If more projects did that, I think that would create a clear differentiating factor for backers: Whether or not there is a pledge manager or a post-project pre-order option, they will assume that if they want to upgrade their pledge later, it’s going to cost more. So even if a backer assumes incorrectly that a project will have a pledge manager, they won’t be caught off guard when a creator tells them after the campaign that they can still pre-order the same stuff…just at a higher price.

That way the ecosystem continues to work for pledge manager and non-pledge manager projects alike, as well as for backers of both types of projects.

What do you think?

UPDATE

No Late Pledges No Late Upgrades icon-finalReader and designer Mateusz Rakowski (Raku on the Board) kindly made an icon that creators can add to their project page if they want to communicate that they won’t be offering a pledge manager (that is, they don’t allow late pledges or pledge upgrades, increasing the urgency and importance of the actual campaign). The icon is free for anyone to use.

39 Comments on “Live-Blogging Lesson #10: No, We Don’t Use a Pledge Manager

  1. This is an interesting topic. Personally, I strongly dislike the pledge manager process.

    More to the point though, maybe it is as simple as making a “We Don’t Use A Pledge Manager” graphic to create (ala the EU friendly banner). You made some of those previously I believe and they worked well.

    1. I strongly agree with your post. Any pledge increase after a campaign ends is a pre-order, and not the same as a backer. I hope that creators will make this definition common, so that we can retain the sense of urgency inherent in a Kickstarter.

      By the way, I loved the line, “Stonemaier Games Kickstarter projects are like one long early-bird reward, and we draw a hard line when the campaign ends.” This is what I like Kickstarters to be.

  2. I think there’s a bigger disconnect here of (a) why/how are project owners using crowdfunding, (b) why/how are backers using crowdfunding, and (c) are project owners setting the expectations as they desire their project to go and/or to account for how their backers see their role in participation of the project.

    The problem with a nebulous crowdfunding platform where lots of different types of projects are using the base tool, in this case Kickstarter, in vastly different ways — there’s a disconnect in both the expectation of what backers have and what project owners have, and the tools the platform provide isn’t sufficient to enforcing and/or communicating the expectations.

    The reason backers, ESPECIALLY in the tabletop space, continue to have the expectation that a KS project is a pre-order is because tons of successful boardgame companies and project owners continue to use KS as a pre-order platform regardless of what line of demarcation certain projects have. Backers don’t see a separation of pre-order from pledge.

    Now, I’m a bit biased obviously, but I find the Kickstarter survey process for most projects that have a variety of potential “add-ons” or upgrades extremely cumbersome to have to figure out what is what and hope that I fill it all in correctly and ensure that what I put in matched what I pledged. For smaller projects with no changes to the rewarded items I’m getting, an address is all they need and maybe a “hey sign up for our mailing list”. That’s perfect for the survey. Anything outside of that, you’re just asking for exponential work the more complicated your project gets. I, as a backer, want simple. Please don’t make me math the 12-gajillion add-ons I want and ensure I paid the correct shipping. Show me what is included in my pledge, and which add-ons I’m missing, so I can ensure I get all the things. That’s entirely why I made PM because minis projects were so painful both for me as a backer, and for the project owners having to decipher and validate all that data on the back-end.

    I want to support you and your games, don’t make it harder for me to give you money.

    For me, this means either make your pledge levels super simple where there aren’t choices, or use an appropriate post-campaign tool later to help me give you money in the quickest and simplest way possible.

    Granted, your projects are considerably simpler by design, so I’m sure that helps out a ton with the “No really, you need to pick just a pledge level, we aren’t using a pledge manager”, but that doesn’t dissuade the expectation that backers perceive their pledge as a sort of ticket to reserve their spot now and actually pick what they want later.

    The fact you have a $1 level just perpetuates that expectation of a “here’s my reservation to participate later” because that’s how other projects use a $1 level. If anything, stop using the $1 level or put the “We do not use a pledge manager, so be sure you reserve your copy above” and I bet folks will stop using it that way. The stray folks that want to use the $1 just to be able to comment know how to do that anyway.

    1. Adam: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I certainly understand the merits of a pledge manager–both for the backer and creator–though that’s not really what this post was about. It’s about how some backers associate a pledge manager with the ability to get the KS price after the KS, which makes no sense. What’s the point of having KS prices if they don’t change after the KS?

      I don’t agree that my $1 level perpetuates that expectation at all–I think the wording of that level is extremely clear. Don’t you think it’s actually the campaigns that let backers pay $1 now and pay more later at the KS prices that are perpetuating that expectation?

      Perhaps you can offer some data here: What percentage of projects that use a pledge manager allow for backers to add more funds at the Kickstarter prices after the Kickstarter is over?

      1. >> I don’t agree that my $1 level perpetuates that expectation at all

        It’s ok, we can agree to disagree. I’d still argue the other way. It’s not you, it’s everyone else, which means it becomes a problem for you even if you don’t intend it to work that way. The mere fact that you have a $1 level is enough to cause folks to assume. We both know some backers just don’t read unless you hit them in the face with it.

        >> Perhaps you can offer some data here

        Subjectively — off hand from the handful of projects I can think off the top of my head, it’s 60~70% of projects have higher costs for additional purchases. Some work it in slightly different ways where you may be able to buy the product at the KS price but additional shipping needs to be paid to cover that extra weight, or simply the base product(s) are higher for any add-ons.

        For example, Coolest Cooler allowed folks to buy into the base product only at the special price if they pre-paid via Kickstarter so you had to have enough credit over your base pledge level to buy one at the KS price, and if you didn’t pre-pay you were in the pre-orders group that they had to pay full price for and were sent in a different wave at the end.

        Exploding kittens was the opposite, you could buy as much as you wanted at the KS price. Some projects, like the complex mini’s projects, generally want you to buy into a “set” to get the KS price otherwise you have to pay more — just from a logistics perspective so they can cover their picking fees. They can save a ton if they pre-package those types of things.

        We’re working with another project now that allows them to buy one extra set of items at the KS price (including shipping), and any over that is at the higher pre-order price with additional shipping. It all really varies.

        But all in all, it doesn’t seem like most folks are averse to paying extra or a slightly different price if they still get to participate and possibly defer the cost of participation for a few weeks (especially around the holidays). A lot of that is just expectation setting. We also find that offering folks the ability to upgrade or add-on also increases the amount of funding you make up front simply because you defer the charges across different pay-periods, ESPECIALLY on huge mini’s projects because the costs can stack up. If I’m in for a $150 game, then a few weeks or even months later I can buy a few more upgrade sets, the initial pain from the cost of the base pledge is gone and it gives folks the flexibility to get more over time.

        1. Adam: That’s really interest–thank you for sharing. It’s interesting to see the variety of different methods that creators use. I actually think that’s great that there’s a diversity of methods–hopefully that we combat some of the assumptions about projects that some backers may have.

      2. I personally feel like your $1 tier is very clear. I’m a $1 backer. Excited to get B2C sometime soon but I’m just not in the market for a big game like Scythe at this point.

        As far as I’m concerned, I’m paying to be ‘part’ of the campaign and also get the thrill of you giving me a shout-out.

      3. Jamey: I found your post interesting, but because the pledge manager gives a much better user experience, I think it is intrinsically tied to the issue of backer assumption.

        When I go to a store in the US, I assume they will accept credit cards because they offer a better user experience than cash (from the UX perspective, I realize there are other factors, but ease of use is a huge selling point). However, people can point out that credit cards are contributing to people going into debt more easily. But those issues are interwoven.

        Ease of use is seen as a desired feature, particularly in commerce and tech. Backers assume new projects will facilitate that. I imagine that pledge managers could be made to not allow purchase of new items, but again, backers will assume.

        I do agree with your points about the backers who don’t commit, to a point. I wouldn’t mind committing to some sort of base pledge. But to have to plan out all my add-ons (bits upgrades, art books, etc.) before the campaign ends is psychologically tiring for me. It makes me realize how much I am spending on the project, and would discourage me from picking up any add-ons. Just my experience though.

    2. I agree with these points. Excellent exploration of the issues. From personal experience, the people I know view the $1 as a way to get a foot in the door, vs a way to comment on the project. I think Kickstarter has the ball here, in introducing a way to comment without paying.

      However, do people who have only pledged $1 contribute to the comments and project? I think eliminating a $1 buy in will reduce the pledge manager expectation.

      Again, I feel KS is on the hook. They know how people are using the system they built, but they don’t build out features to accommodate add-ons. The best surveys are still ridiculous from a user experience point of view (select yes/no for every add-on? really?). This should be a similar to a shopping cart experience.

  3. Its a really intriguing question to ask about a project that has well and truly reached it’s production goal – are the people who are asking this waiting for a particular stretch goal? Have stretch goals become so ubiquitous that they have completely replaced the core product as the determining pledge factor?
    Or are they simply unaware that they can change their pledge (must admit I wasn’t clear on this my first couple of KS pledges!)
    You are also right – it /will/ kill the sense of urgency. if KS has any control over this, then they must be *banking* that they will get more money from pledge manager upgrades, than they will lose in terms of less projects funding because of this trend. If that is the case then I think they are flat wrong.

    1. JiaoshouX: That’s an interesting question. I hadn’t really associated this question with stretch goals. My sense is that a few of them don’t have the funds available now and want to wait until they have those funds later. And the others have simply experienced this in some other campaigns and assume it’s standard. I’m not sure why they would want to wait, though.

  4. For your projects, the Kickstarter pledge manager works, and you have made it work and I commend you for it. For other projects its a necessary tool.

    Using a recent example “The Others” had a few pledge tiers but a giant pile of addons. Figuring all that out is cumbersome, in comes a page like https://www.kingpledger.com/ where it is a pledge calculator for projects like these.

    Also Looking at all those addons and combination of those addons, Shipping is variable. Kickstarter doesn’t integrate increased shipping due to increased addons. If your addons are going to add significant weight and or size to a pledge, I believe that a pledge manager is a must, both for the sake of the creator and the backer.

    1. Sean: Yeah, I like the Kingpledger calculator a lot–I can see how it can greatly simply the calculation for a complex project.

      As for incremental shipping, I see the merits in a pledge manager. Though the main point of feedback to consider there is that backers really, really don’t like shipping to be uncertain as they place their pledge. Even if it’s not added until after the project, they want to know exactly what the cost will be up front so they’re not caught off guard later.

  5. I’ve noticed that a few projects have started to add a $1 “BackerKit” pledge level. From what I’ve seen, it’s for the backers that have already reached their spending limit for the month but still want to get in on the campaign.

    Project creators using our service have the ability to offer different prices to backers depending on their pledge level. For example, creators have the option to offer discount pricing for add-ons to their early-bird backers while keeping pre-orders at full-price for people that didn’t pledge during the campaign. Creators can also get creative by offering special add-ons only to backers at certain pledge levels.

    This preserves some of the sense of urgency because backers still have the incentive to back the project while it’s still running. The risk is that the backer won’t actually follow-through and order the items later during the survey process, so it’s sort of like giving these backers a $1 option to purchase rewards in the future.

    On the plus side, the $1 option pledge gives your backers more financial flexibility and makes it easier for more people to jump in and increase your backer count early. They’ll also be subscribed to future project updates so you’ll be able to communicate with them in the future.

    If a creator feels strongly about keeping Kickstarter prices within Kickstarter, the creator can set all of the add-on prices for backers at the $1 pledge level to full price (which is pretty much the same as a pre-order) or offer an intermediate price somewhere between the Kickstarter price and full price to give these backers a small discount to reward them for pledging during the campaign.

    1. James: Thanks for your comment from the perspective of BackerKit. I definitely love the $1 pledge for most of the reasons you mention here.

      For BackerKit, would you say that 60-70% of creators charge more post-Kickstarter, as Adam indicated above for Pledge Manager?

      1. Jamey: It’s difficult to go into the database and get a hard number on the percentage of creators that charge more post-Kickstarter because there’s many different ways that they can offer upgrades.

        From what I’ve seen, most BackerKit project creators keep add-on pricing the same as their Kickstarter/Indiegogo pricing. The philosophy here is that backers should be rewarded for pledging during the original campaign by having the option to purchase more items at the original campaign prices. If there is a price increase, it’s often to account for the incremental picking and shipping costs as Adam mentioned.

        The majority of our creators also enable the pledge level upgrade option that allows backers to “pay the difference” and upgrade to a higher pledge level during the survey process, so this counts as keeping pricing the same.

        And then there’s the pre-order menu open to new backers. This is usually where creators increase pricing to full price.

        That said, Adam’s 60-70% number is a good ballpark figure if you count in shipping fee changes. Many creators also use BackerKit to fix problems from the original campaign, if they forgot to charge for international shipping for example.

        1. Thanks for sharing, James! That’s interesting that some creators differentiate between backers who pay during the project and new customers after Kickstarter. I have a “backer-first” philosophy, but in terms of rewards and payment, I consider any purchase made after the KS campaign ends to be a “pre-order,” even if the person also backed the project. We’ll consolidate shipping, but the price goes up for everyone.

  6. Jamey, I just got your GREAT book and am starting to read crowdfunding blogs, so I have no knowledgeable opinion on this. However, all of this info is almost like getting a college degree again. Thanks!

    1. Hi Neil, thanks so much for checking out the book! Just wait until you run your first Kickstarter–that’s one of the best educational experiences you’ll ever have about creating and running a business. :)

  7. I’m curious… if a backer increases his pledge amount post-KS campaign via a pledge manager, doesn’t that mean that Kickstarter doesn’t get their cut of the upgraded pledge amount (since its done outside of Kickstarter)? I mean doesn’t KS charge about 5% or 10% of your funding amount? Don’t they have something to say about that?

      1. Gordon & Jamey: I’d say that we have a good relationship with the major crowdfunding platforms. We fill a need for projects that need help managing a large number of backers or just want a more powerful survey.

        Kickstarter has just published a new resource page for their creators and they have a section for pledge managers like BackerKit: https://www.kickstarter.com/help/resources

  8. I am one of the 487 you mention and my pledge comes with no thought at all about a Pledge Manager-option but purely from the wish to follow the project closely. I’m usually not interested in commenting projects that I’m not involved in so that isn’t a thing either even if I know some people use them that way.

    I do my $1-pledge to get the projects updates (usually even the backers only-updates) to my mailbox. I haven’t found any other way to subscribe to them on kickstarter and if I just “star” the projects with the “Remind me”-button I have to check up on the projects manually which takes a lot of time if there are several interesting projects at the same time. At the moment I have 13 still active projects I’m keeping tabs on this way to decide before campaigns end which I want to back or not.

    Some of those pledges I will upgrade to “real” pledges, some of them I will keep to get further information about the project after deadline and some of them I will drop. If I decide to drop the pledge a loss of $1 will probably not mess up reached stretch goals or anything else for the creators so it feels like a more humane thing to do than dropping a full pledge would.

    I know I’m not alone in using the $1-pledge this way so keep that in mind when looking on them.

    1. Jessica: Exactly, that’s how I think most backers use the $1 pledge level. That’s why I send them an e-mail when there are about 60 hours to go in the project to help remind them that it’s time to upgrade (if they want to)–see the link in the paragraph where I talk about this in the post. Here are the other reasons I advocate creators including a $1 pledge level: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-113-why-every-project-should-have-a-1-reward-level/

    2. This is how I use the $1 level as well even on Scythe. I am secure in knowing that I can be part of the conversation and receive updates on projects that interest me, and I can throw a dollar to a project or creator I like but am not sure I want to or should commit more money than that.

  9. Jamey,

    I believe that it’s well within the rights of the creator to charge the late-comers the higher price, as you’ve rightly identified…they’re not really there for funding the dream, ostensibly the main reason why anyone places their dream-to-be-funded on Kickstarter.

    I’ve run several KS projects and never used a Pledge Manager in the classic sense, and folks who arrived late paid a much higher cost for our pieces…first, because they’re boutique items and demand a higher cost and second, the $1 placeholder doesn’t do anything for the “crowd” part of crowdfunding, essentially moving toward higher Stretch Goals or truly being part of the community one tries to establish through their work.

    On a side note, I just picked-up your book at Amazon today…I’ll have it by Friday thanks to being a Prime member.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Joe: I think you say it really well here (regarding increasing the prices post-KS: ” the $1 placeholder doesn’t do anything for the “crowd” part of crowdfunding, essentially moving toward higher Stretch Goals.” I think $1 backers can still be an active part of the community, though.

      Thanks for getting the book! I’m curious to hear what you think of it.

  10. Great conversation here, thanks to all! I’d like to chip in:

    1. If there is a point in time at which KS pricing ceases to be available, isn’t the end of the KS campaign the clearest and most logical point in time for that?

    2. A KS campaign can be an enjoyable event. The Scythe campaign certainly is for many of us. That event is more special to all of us because it has an end point, at which we can see how much was raised. The end point is probably special to Jamey because even he can’t be in KS event mode all the time (can he?).

    1. Well said, Andrew. I agree with the logic of #1. And you’re most definitely right that I can’t be in KS event mode all of the time–I wouldn’t ever be able to design other games if i were! :)

  11. Jamey, great article, thanks a lot! You have a great point there! I was considering using the pledge manager, but after your post I agree it’s not the best idea. Maybe let’s help people recognize the kickstarter campaigns where creator don’t use a third party pledge manager – we can create a “no pleadge manager” icon?

    I think creators can loose a lot of backers who think there will be that possibility later…

  12. I’m not using a pledge manager, but had a question. Can I still say “add an extra $X to get a second copy of this item” without having one? I have no add ons and do not want late backers, but are extra copies of items acceptable through kickstarter methods sans pledge manager?

    1. Tiffany: Sure, definitely. You can see how I did this on the Scythe project page–there are several explanations there to backers about how add-ons work. The thing you have to be careful about is that some backers who have used pledge managers assume that they can keep adding stuff after the project is over, so you need to be clear with them if they will be able to do that on your project.

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