15 March 2018 | 16 Comments
Today is the first day of the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament. 64 teams compete in a single-elimination tournament, with an estimated 40 million people filling out brackets to see if they can guess the winner of each game.
I’d wager that only a portion of those people care about college basketball before March. It’s a rare cultural event in America where it’s completely normal for you to go from not even knowing there is a Lipscomb University to refreshing your browser every 10 seconds to see if they pull off the upset against UNC.
Imagine if you had that kind of engagement on your Kickstarter campaign or business website.
I had a sense of deja vu as I was thinking about this blog entry. Then it hit me: I’ve done this on a Kickstarter campaign. And I think you can too.
On my Euphoria Kickstarter campaign 5 years ago, I hosted something called the Tournament of the Apocalypse. Euphoria is a game about running a dystopia, and many dystopias in fiction are the result of world-changing events. So I selected 16 scenarios like alien invasion, bipedal dolphins, and robot takeover, put them in a bracket, and let backers vote on each head-to-head matchup.
The level of engagement was incredible. The tournament was a major focus of conversation during the campaign on project updates, our website (where the polls were posted), and elsewhere on social media. Backers returned to the project day after day to see who was winning, and over 2,500 people voted on the finale (internet disconnected vs. moon implosion).
I don’t think this is an isolated phenomenon. I think there’s something in us that likes to participate in this type of low-stakes tournament. Here are some guidelines I’d recommend when considering creating a version of March Madness for your project or business:
- Let people fill out brackets in advance. I didn’t consider the value of this–as far as I can remember, backers didn’t learn about each bracket until I announced it. There are lots of websites for creating custom brackets, and I think people have fun filling them out.
- “Seed” the competitors. I didn’t do this either, but I think it creates situations where people can pick “upsets.” It’s fun to root for the underdog.
- The impact should be meaningful. The challenge for you is to pick something for your tournament that has a meaningful impact on the project. That is, backers will walk away feeling like they’re part of the origin story of the product. For the Euphoria tournament, I designed 4 “apocalyptic” recruit cards based on the results. Similarly, in the original Legend of the Five Rings, tournament results had an impact on the overall story arc of the game.
- The impact shouldn’t be TOO meaningful. Inevitably, in a tournament format like this, there are “winners” and “losers,” concepts that I try to avoid. That’s why I think it helps to keep the tournament light and fun. It’s a tough balance, so please talk to people in advance to make sure you’re on the right track.
- As always, don’t post too many project updates. Backers know where your project is. If they want to check in on the tournament, they can do that on their own. I tried not to post more than 1 update every 2-3 days.
Have you seen other projects run bracket-style tournaments? I’d love to hear about them. If you’re struggling to think of tournament ideas for your project, feel free to provide some context in the comments and people can chime in.
- Kickstarter Lesson #127: Give Each Backer a Voice
- Kickstarter Lesson #80: How to Create Community Through Conversation on Kickstarter
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