Statistics and Lessons Learned from the Token Trilogy Pre-Order Campaign

9 May 2016 | 26 Comments

3D BoxA few weeks ago, I ran a pre-order campaign through my website for reprints of some metal coins and a new set of treasure chests called the Token Trilogy. I used Celery as the e-commerce platform to accept orders for the one-week campaign, and web developer Dave Hewer helped us set up the various widgets on our website. We start production this week.

As I always do after a campaign, below is a compilation of data and lessons learned from the experience. The motivations and pros/cons are detailed in a post I wrote a few weeks ago.

Overall Numbers

In total, the Token Trilogy campaign raised $177,895 from 1,291 backers. Those numbers include a few people who have pre-ordered since the campaign at higher prices, as well as some retailers who didn’t pay through Celery.

In comparison, our first treasure chest campaign raised $181,157 from 3,221 backers and our newer treasure chest campaign raised $207,817 from 2,184 backers. Both were on Kickstarter, unlike the Token Trilogy campaign. With the tokens getting more eclectic, I anticipated a decrease in demand. We were just hoping to get close to the minimum manufacturing quantity of 1500 units.

Here are the total quantities for each product (the Token Trilogy contains 1 of each of the treasure chests):

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Would we have made more money on Kickstarter? Probably, yes. There’s much more organic traffic through Kickstarter, and Kickstarter has the power to give backers a sense of collective pride that a pre-order campaign can’t replicate.

Do I regret not putting this project on Kickstarter? For the reasons detailed here, not at all. I love Kickstarter, but I think this was definitely the right fit for this particular campaign.

Location Data

786 backers of the Token Trilogy campaign are in the US, and 505 are international. That amounts to a breakdown that is exactly in line with our average.

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Communication

The Token Trilogy pre-order campaign ran from Monday, April 21 to Sunday, May 1. I sent out an announcement to our 19k e-newsletter subscribers on April 21, whom also received our monthly e-newsletter with campaign reminder on April 29. You can see the resulting spikes in traffic on our website:

2016-05-09_1212

I communicated with backers through our e-newsletter, previous treasure chest projects on Kickstarter, on the project page, and on a Facebook group for the chests. The Facebook group currently has 253 members. Because all of the tokens were finalized before the project and there were no stretch goals, there wasn’t much to talk about during the campaign.

We also ran ads on BoardGameGeek during the campaign. They had an 0.48% click-through rate, which compares favorably to Between Two Cities (0.42%) and Tuscany (0.55%).

Retailers

I really liked what Celery enabled us to do with retailers, to whom we typically offer a discount on pre-orders. Celery lets you create “collections” of products, so we had one collection that we shared publicly through our website (here’s what it looks like) and another collection shared privately with retailers.

This method made the point of purchase much smoother to communicate and coordinate than collecting retail payments through PayPal or Kickstarter (where I usually use the $1 reward level to collect retail pledges–they manually change the $ amount).

Problems

Overall, I’m really happy with how this campaign went. I’ve spent months and months working on this project by engaging previous treasure chest backers, talking to Scott (the sculptor) and Beth Sobel (the box artist), and coordinating the sculpts and budget for Panda. It was really just a matter of knowing how many chests we needed to make, and the campaign was perfect for that.

As has been the case for a while now, Celery is awesome to work with. However, I wanted to mention two small issues. Celery is aware of them, and they are considering addressing them:

  • In Celery, you can create shipping categories, and it’s easy to apply products to different categories. For example, you might have a “heavy shipping” category with different prices assigned to each country and a separate “light shipping” category. Say, for this example, that heavy shipping costs $15 in the US and light shipping costs $7. If someone places two different items in their cart that are in different shipping categories, instead of the more expensive shipping price overriding the less expensive fee, they add together. So, instead of paying $15 to ship the heavy and light item in the same package, the customer would pay $22. That doesn’t make sense.
  • When you export a spreadsheet from Kickstarter, Kickstarter does something to the spreadsheet to make sure all special characters come through. I’m talking about non-English letters, particularly those in Scandinavia. However, spreadsheets from Celery show those characters as completely garbled symbols. Celery sent me a conditional formatting formula to help find them, but I still had to go through each of those orders and manually update the text (about 150 cells in the spreadsheet). Perhaps there’s a macro that fixes this automatically?
This isn’t Celery related, but the one other concern I have about this pre-order system is address updates. Kickstarter is very good at helping you get people to update their addresses en masse at the right time–somehow their e-mails get through spam filters in ways that my e-mails do not.
Would I Do Something Similar Again?

Largely for reasons mentioned on my original post, yes, I would absolutely do something like this again if the circumstances were similar. That is, if a project didn’t have stretch goals, if it was already 100% final, and if we already had a rough approximation of the number of units we would be making (and could afford to make), we might use a system like this.

The internal debate for me right now is whether or not to use this system to fund Charterstone. Charterstone is a legacy game with a ton of secrets, so I won’t be able to talk about much. It’ll be 100% final when the campaign launches. And it likely won’t have stretch goals–similar to the treasure chests, it’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing. There’s nothing to stretch.

It makes sense to treat Charterstone’s campaign like the Token Trilogy campaign. Yet somehow Kickstarter just feels like a better fit for it. Maybe because it’s a brand-new product, and Kickstarter is such a great place to bring people together for something new?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts about that, and about the format of the Token Trilogy campaign in general.

Leave a Comment

26 Comments on “Statistics and Lessons Learned from the Token Trilogy Pre-Order Campaign

  1. I am sad that KS has become stretch goal obsessed. If a game is awesome no stretch goals are needed. Stretch goals were invited to get hesitant people excited. Jamey do what you think is best, every project you have run has been to the highest of standards.

  2. Oh, I neglected to mention a key thing- I think a successful Charterstone KS is a BRIEF one. I don’t need to tell you the reasons, as you detail them in your book. 11 days, maybe? Something like that seems about right. Then, an extended 19 day Celery pre-order campaign at a few bucks more or something similar…

    1. Xenothon: Thanks for your thoughts about a Charterstone Kickstarter. I agree that it would likely be a short campaign. Though one of the other comments on this thread sparked an idea that might require a little more time (16-18 days total).

      As for a campaign after the campaign, we don’t really do that–I always raise prices the minute the campaign ends and just open the game for general pre-orders up until the point that we have to arrange for freight shipping (or until we run out). We’d do the same thing for Charterstone.

  3. In many ways, crowdfunding doesn’t make a lot of sense for a Legacy game because there’s so little to change or discuss. That said, you’re a master of maximizing bang for the buck on communicating exciting info. I think the one place KS wins is a big one- total exposure. I picture Charterstone as a $600k preorder product, but a $3mil KS product. I’d suggest checking with Rob Daviau and the Plaid Hat boys on their experience with SeaFall as a pre-order, as I’m going on observation and gut; Rob will have actual numbers and seems very happy to help.

  4. Hi Jamey, I agree with Juliana above and would like to add the following: besides being known for making beautiful games you are also known as the to go to guy for running kickstarters the right way. Not using that platform for Charterstone creates a disconnect with how you are perceived by your audience. Also the sense of community you created for Scythe would not have been this large if you used a pre-order campaign. People just love sharing their passion together, it creates a different feeling then just putting some money upfront.

    The only reason not to go with kickstarter would be from a business perspective if you believe you would make more money with another platform. But would you draw in more people to your community for future releases?

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Dieter! The money is definitely not a motivating factor for me–it’s on the bottom of the list after all the other ideas I mentioned. I was worried about the idea of building community around something that people can’t know details about, but Juliana and Isaac (Gloomhaven) have shown that it can be done, so I’ll follow their lead.

  5. I would definitely vote Kickstarter! As broad as your reach is, I think there are a lot of potential backers who would find it through Kickstarter and aren’t on BGG.
    Having just run a campaign for Escape Room In A Box where virtually EVERYTHING is a spoiler, I think you could still have a beautiful page and fun updates. One of our stretch goals was to upgrade a certain component, but we couldn’t say what that component was. People were still into it.
    Given how much people love your company and your games, it would be neat to have some really fun contests and stretch goals. If you hit a certain amount you’ll sign 10 random copies before sending them. If you hit another amount, you’ll send out five “Stonemaier Game Bundles” to random backers. Make it all a game. If you don’t want to mess with the existing game, think of what you could do outside the game. One of our stretch goals was creating a soundtrack to enhance the game (without revealing or messing with anything IN the game.)
    Ultimately, I think you’ll find a lot more backers on Kickstarter and a community of people who want to be involved from the beginning, even if they aren’t actually changing the creation of the game.

    1. Juliana: This is really helpful–thank you so much for chiming in, especially given your experience with Escape Room in a Box. I like how people were receptive to a stretch goal even though they didn’t know what it was.

      Those random benefits sound fun. I’ve never quite understood Kickstarter’s contest system, so I’d need to tread carefully there, but that might be a nice way to keep people excited about the next step.

  6. What are the costs for you for Celery vs. Kickstarter? I would expect Kickstarter to cost more (a few percent of $177k is a solid chunk of cash), but Kickstarter likely translates into more viewers, and hopefully more customers. I noticed that you haven’t mentioned campaign costs as part of your reasons for choosing Celery vs. Kickstarter per project, probably because it isn’t a primary motivator, but you’ve almost certainly analyzed the costs.

    1. Kickstarter/Stripe get 8-10%, while Celery gets a 2% fee per transaction + 2.9% + $0.30 Stripe/PayPal processing fee.

      You’re right, though–the decrease in fees wasn’t a motivating factor at all, especially given that a Kickstarter project would have brought in more net profit.

  7. I understand all your reasonings but as a customer I just prefer the Kickstarter process with updates, community, stretch goals. The excitement isn’t here with a pre-order. I also think that these things are largely a part of the Stonemaier Game brand, not to say you can’t reach beyond that. Honestly Kickstarter is also just much more convenient. I still haven’t purchased the Moore Visitors expansion because its still not available on Amazon and I don’t want to pay shipping or open more accounts.

    I hope that you return to kickstarter with Charterstone, not that I wouldn’t purchase the game if you didn’t. And I hope you find a way to “stretch” to provide something cooler for those who back it.

    Its tough to balance what should be the best business decision vs. what might be a better experience for the customer, especially when you’re viewpoint is mostly from one side of the equation. As someone who runs a website with a lot of readers demanding things to be run a certain way and assuming to know the best way to run things, I know these things are often not the case.

    1. Peter S: Thanks for chiming in–I always appreciate your opinions. I completely agree about the excitement of a Kickstarter–it’s a magical thing. And I see what you’re saying about convenience too.

      The stretch is tough. Every time I think of something that could be a stretch goal, it ends up integral to the game–I couldn’t ask for people’s money if I’m not selling them a complete game on Day 1. There will likely be premium upgrades (resources, coins, etc) that I could potentially turn into stretch goals instead. I’ll keep playing around with ideas.

      1. I’ve always thought that stretch goals are best when they are premium game upgrades vs. extra content (unless, because its kickstarter, that extra content involved miniatures ? ). Appreciate as always how you give us a look inside this process and keep an open forum about it.

        1. I agree, those types of stretch goals are exciting. I’m just wondering how it’ll look (and how people respond) if we have, say, an upgrade to metal coins at $500k…and that’s the only stretch goal. :) I wouldn’t use stretch goals for premium versions of resources, as I want to give people who already have those resources the option not to get them (plus, some people prefer wooden resources).

          1. $100k: The game is spell-checked before it’s sent out.
            $200k: We playtest it before printing.
            $300k: The game can play itself so you don’t even have to be there
            $400k: We sent you Scythe, instead.
            $500k: Back to sending you the game you paid for.
            $600k: We ship for free to any one island. Note: it’s not going to be Australia or Great Britain.
            $700k: Under creator, instead of Jamey Stegmaier we put your name.
            $800k: The game is suddenly a whole lot less racist.
            $900k: For every game sold, we plant a tree. Inside the house of that neighbor you hate.
            $1 million: We refund everyone’s pledge and you get the game for free!

  8. I would purchase Charterstone through any medium, so no problem there. It’s interesting to think that one reason you’d choose Celery over Kickstarter is because you don’t want the campaign to feel like many other campaigns feel – like a glorified pre-order system. Of course, it would be exactly that – even with add-ons, that’s nothing you can’t replicate through Celery like you’ve mentioned.

    Would you avoid Kickstarter because the project would be different from your other projects (a Legacy game) and as such, Kickstarter would force you to divulge more about the game than you’d like to, in the interest of transparency?

    Also, gotta say it would be tempting to see what a Legacy game would do on KS from you, but at the same time, I’m sure retailers would love the chance to be involved in the project as much as possible, which may be better long-term for SM.

    1. JR: That’s a good point about the irony involved in this system. In a way, I want it to feel like exactly what it is: a pre-order campaign. The differentiating factor between it and an ongoing pre-order is that there’s a tight timeframe to join in at the best price before we lock in the manufacturing quantity and start making it.

      I don’t necessarily think that a Kickstarter would force me to divulge more than normal–I’d still have to explain what makes the game unique, show some images, early reviews, etc. It’s what comes next that I’m worried about–that is, what would I talk about in project updates during the campaign if I don’t have stretch goals and I can’t reveal anything specific? Like, imagine what a Seafall Kickstarter would look like. The campaign page would look great, and I’m sure Rob could chime in with some design diaries in updates, but beyond that, what would you talk about?

      1. I think your updates could each talk in depth about an aspect of the core (beginning) game, showing images, explaining how it fits into the game…etc. I think Cool Mini Or Not does a great job at this kind of thing. I don’t think you’d have to focus on the future content aside from maybe a FAQ answering questions about the legacy aspect.

    2. Also, I say all this knowing that Isaac Childress ran a fantastic Kickstarter campaign for Gloomhaven, which is full of secrets. I’ve read every update of his. The problem is that Charterstone takes the secrets to a new level (one that might be similar to Seafall)–about 90-95% of the content of the game is locked away in tuckboxes when you open the game.

  9. I would make the argument that Kickstarter is a far, far better fit for Charterstone – as well as simply being a crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter has the ability to draw new eyes to your work, and get people interested who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of it. With legacy games being so hot right now (and with the success of Scythe), I would be incredibly surprised if Celery could offer even a fraction of the exposure you’ll get from Kickstarter.

    The third treasure chest had an audience already built in: I reckon you’d reached all the eyes you were going to reach on Kickstarter from the first two. Charterstone might attract people who have never even heard of your games, and so for that reason I’d strongly suggest KS as the platform.

    1. Like your points, except that I would never assume one of Jamey’s projects had maximum reach. The last tokens trilogy happened BEFORE Scythe was on KS – how many new backers would have heard of it because they found Jamey through Scythe, or because they were introduced to KS in the last year by that or other popular projects?

      1. Fair points! I would personally have put the third tokens pack on Kickstarter as well, but Jamey seemed pretty happy with his Celery results, and I can certainly appreciate his desire to diversify.

        1. Agreed. I think it’s cool that he’s exploring new options when he clearly doesn’t “have” to. Definitely makes me feel like an appreciated backer, and like he’s doing things the right way.

    2. Peter: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree to a certain extent, though I think advertising on BGG helps to draw many eyes of people who aren’t on our e-newsletter list. Though I’m sure there are still quite a few people on Kickstarter who are interested in games but don’t frequent BGG.

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