Statistics and Lessons Learned from the Viticulture Essential Pre-Order Campaign

21 September 2015 | 9 Comments

IMG_4669On September 1, we did something a little different (for us), though it’s completely in line with our Kickstarter philosophy.

We ran a crowdfunding campaign without Kickstarter.

Specifically, we ran a pre-order campaign using Celery (and a dose of Shopify). The difference is important to us, as we draw a clear line between crowdfunding and pre-orders.

The Difference Between Crowdfunding and Pre-Ordering

For Stonemaier Games, crowdfunding is used when we want to create something completely new for the first time and we want to build community, gauge demand, raise funds, and create the best version of the thing together with backers.

pre-order is used when we already know for sure that we’re going to create something, we already have the funds to make it, we’ve already started making it, and no element of it is subject to change. In this case, we want to give people the opportunity to secure their copy by pre-ordering it. Also, by knowing pre-order destinations in advance–hence the limited time frame of pre-order campaign instead of an open, ongoing pre-order–it allows us to know how many games to freight ship to specific fulfillment centers around the world for direct sales, significantly reducing shipping costs for our customers.

Preparation

We almost didn’t do a pre-order campaign for the Viticulture Essential Edition, but a few days before I was set to send out our monthly e-newsletter, Celery announced their new “Launch” feature, which is geared towards time-sensitive pre-orders. I have a good relationship with Celery, so I asked them if they wanted to help me put something together, and they were kind enough to work all weekend to make it happen.

This is in stark contrast to my Kickstarter projects, which I spend months preparing for. But that’s a running theme of this pre-order campaign–it was much, more more relaxing and hands off than a crowdfunding campaign. I’m not saying that’s always better, but this purpose, it was perfect.

Now, companies do pre-order campaigns all the time, but we tried several things that were a little different, so I wanted to detail what we did and the results, just in case you want to try something like this in the future.

Overall Numbers

My hope for the Viticulture Essential pre-order was to get 100-200 backers. That’s a big difference from my Kickstarter campaigns, which average about 3,500 backers, but this was a simple, no-frills campaign for a product that will be in stores in a few months no matter the number of backers.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the results for this 15-day campaign:

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That number doesn’t account for a few retail backers. The true total is $57,735. Again, this is far less than our Kickstarter average, but it was still really nice to see that amount of enthusiasm for something that we did no advertising for other than 2 e-newsletter mentions and 2 Facebook posts.

I have a few theories about why it did so well:

  • When Viticulture sold out to distributors in June and people started having difficulty finding it, they came to our website and signed up for the e-newsletter. They didn’t want to miss out again.
  • It’s appealing the pre-order something and know that you’ll have it in your hands in 2 months (instead of 6-8 months on Kickstarter).
  • Because there was no forum available on the pre-order page, all conversation had to happen on BGG, which increased its visibility to people paying attention to Viticulture, forums, and the Hotness list.

Location Data

I’m always curious about where our backers come from, both within a project and in comparison to previous projects. Here are the results for this campaign:

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I particularly like to share this data because it has the potential to help other crowdfunders determine their ratios for freight shipping destinations when they’re putting together their estimates. Keep in mind that this is based on pretty low shipping fees since we use fulfillment centers in Asia, Australia, Canada, the EU, and the US.

Here’s the overall data from all of our campaigns:

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It’s notable that Canada saw a pretty big drop, perhaps because of the weak Canadian dollar. However, I was happy to see that we’re even closer to 50/50 split between US and international backers. That’s been my arbitrary goal for a long time.

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot from this pre-order campaign, mostly about Celery’s capabilities and benefits. I’ll discuss them point by point below. I want to be clear that I don’t work for Celery and have no financial connection to them.

In fact, the only thing I’ve ever asked of Celery is that they give my readers a discount if any of you want to try it out: If you sign up for Celery, e-mail discounts@trycelery.com, and mention that you were referred by Stonemaier, they’ll waive the Celery fees (their portion is 2% of each transaction) for your first $1,000 in pre-order sales.

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As I mentioned early on in this post, I consider Kickstarter and Celery good for different purposes, so it’s not really fair to compare them. But I’m going to highlight some of the differences below, just so you’re aware of them.

Celery’s Capabilities (and Caveats)

  • You Also Need Shopify: Celery allows for you to group items in “collections,” which makes it really easy and intuitive to add items to your cart without leaving the same screen (compare this to crowdfunding websites where backers have to manually calculate add-ons). However, the pre-order page I had was actually based in Shopify, which gave the Celery developers more flexibility to add things like the countdown timer and the current total.
  • Lack of Discovery: Kickstarter does a pretty good job of helping people discover new projects, whether its from browsing, staff picks, “friends who backed” notifications, and recommendations. For a pre-order campaign like the one I ran, there’s no element of discovery at all through Celery, nor would I expect there to be any. There’s also no element of discovery after the campaign, as there often is on Kickstarter.
  • No Forum or Updates: There’s no place for backers to comment on a Celery pre-order page. However, as I mentioned earlier, this was kind of nice, because it meant that ALL conversation had to happen on BoardGameGeek, which got the game on the Hotness list.
  • Refunds, Cancellations, and Add-Ons: One of my favorite things about Kickstarter is that your credit card isn’t charged until the campaign ends. This reduces the barrier to entry for that original pledge, and it means that it’s easy for a backer to cancel or change their pledge without requiring any effort from the creator. That’s not really the case in Celery, especially when you charge the customer at the point of purchase. This meant that whenever an order changed, I had to manually refund it or have the customer directly send me more money if they wanted an add-on. However, you can fix this for the most part in the Celery settings, selecting the option where you don’t charge customers at the point of pledge. This much more closely mimics the Kickstarter experience. Also, this works best when a customer uses their credit card via Stripe, so make sure to activate both PayPal and Stripe in Celery.
  • Notifications: When someone places a pre-order on Celery, you (the company/creator) get three notifications: One from Celery and two from PayPal or Stripe. That got old almost immediately. There is a way to turn off notifications in PayPal, but I didn’t want to turn off all notifications. So I just made a Gmail filter to delete all of the Viticulture Essential PayPal and Stripe notifications.
  • In-Stock Inventory: I was running a pre-order campaign, but I also offered a few related in-stock items like Tuscany’s metal coins and Tuscany. The difficulty here is that I have different stock levels at various fulfillment centers. This was a small hassle to manage, but Celery will soon be implementing a way to limit inventory based on location.
  • Export Spreadsheet: Midway through the campaign I discovered that the fulfillment export spreadsheet in Celery separated orders containing multiple SKUs into multiple rows. 4 out of the 5 fulfillment centers I use require each order to be consolidated into a single row. Fortunately, Edward (my contact at Celery for the campaign) was able to find a temporary solution, and he’s working on building it into Celery so you can export either version of the spreadsheet, depending on what your fulfillment center requires.
  • Too Late to Make Changes: This actually has nothing to do with Celery–it’s more about the something to keep in mind for a pre-order campaign like this. I had already started the final production of Viticulture when I launched the campaign on September 1. So when someone caught a typo in the rules, it was too late to fix (fortunately it was very minor). It was a reminder to me that while it’s annoying for Kickstarter backers to have to wait 6-8 months to get their games, having the flexibility to revise the rules or even add new components suggested by backers is actually a great thing.

Celery’s Benefits

  • Lower Fees: Kickstarter’s fees (KS + Stripe) add up to 8-10%. This campaign would have cost me $4,839 on Kickstarter. Celery charges 2% per transaction + a 2.9% + $0.30 Stripe/PayPal fee per transaction. Shopify costs $29/mo. Thus my total costs were about $2,618. Also notable here is that backers have the choice of using PayPal or Stripe-they don’t have that choice on Kickstarter.
  • Easy Add-Ons/Layout: The layout of a Celery campaign page is awesome. I really like that each of the items are front and center with both an image and a description. It’s easy to click each one you want to add it to your cart. In contrast to other pre-orders, Celery has the countdown timer at the top and the backer/$ totals–this gives backers a sense of how popular a campaign is (you can turn off this function if you want). And you have the flexibility to add notes, images, and videos if you want (and perhaps even polls in the future, something I’ve always wanted Kickstarter to add).
  • You Have Control: Remember back in 2015 when you had to get permission to launch your Kickstarter campaign? That’s not the case with Celery. When you’re ready to launch, all you have to do is change the page’s status from “hidden” to “visible.”
  • Incremental Shipping: I didn’t use this function, but it’s pretty cool. When you enter shipping prices into Celery, you can select an overall shipping cost per country as well as the shipping cost for an additional item. This can be really important, because shipping 1 item might cost $10 shipping, but when you double the weight of that package, the shipping cost might increase by quite a bit.
  • No Rules: I really like Kickstarter’s guidelines and rules, as I think most of them protect backers from unsavory creators. However, I have to say that it was really nice to offer a very basic contest through the Celery pre-order campaign without fearing the wrath of Kickstarter. Basically, I randomly picked 2 backers to receive complimentary copies of the Viticulture Collector’s Edition in addition to their pledge. It was just a fun little thing, and I will forever keep the heartwarming e-mails I got from the 2 winners.
  • Coupon Codes and Discounts: Celery has a discount code functionality that is super flexible and handy. Aside from rewarding e-newsletter subscribers, it’s even helpful to have a free shipping coupon set up to give to people if they forgot to add something to their order and want to do it through Celery without having to pay for shipping again.
  • The “Survey” Happens in Real Time: On Kickstarter, you have to wait until the project is over to gather addresses (which often results in you hunting down addresses from backers) and to know exactly how many copies of each product are associated with each pledge. With Celery, it all happens automatically in real time.
  • Low-Key Campaign: I mentioned earlier that this pre-order campaign required much less time to prepare for and execute than a typical Kickstarter campaign. This was a nice change of pace for me, and the team at Celery (Edward in particular) made the entire process as smooth as possible.

One other little note that’s primarily related to board games: I’ve seen lots of other pre-order campaigns that are similar to this ours, but they don’t show the current backer or funding total, and they don’t even let backers download the rules even though the games are in production. Why is that? It seems like all three of those things–crucial elements of a Kickstarter project–are ignored by some game companies. I think it was a big help to our Viticulture Essential pre-order campaign to have all three of those elements present on the project page.

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If you were a Viticulture Essential pre-order backer, how was your experience? Or if you’ve pre-ordered through another company, I’d like to hear what you thought about their system as well.

9 Comments on “Statistics and Lessons Learned from the Viticulture Essential Pre-Order Campaign

  1. I paid the 60$ version of the Essential Edition Viticulture game. I did it in the first hours of the campaign and only saw later that a discount had been applied on all items. Living in Canada, I confirm that the exchange rate really weighed in the balance. Because of that, I decided to pass on the metal coins. Having known that a discount would have applied later, my order would have been different. However, I believe that Stonemaier Games has done an incredible job with their games in general and their communication dedication with the players is awesome.

    1. Louis: Viticulture was priced at $49 from the the moment the campaign went live, so it’s odd to hear this. I’ll look into your order and contact you directly to make sure you only pay the same as other backers in Canada.

  2. I pre-ordered Viticulture, but didn’t see the metal coins. Can I add them to my order? How much are they with the discount. Thank you

  3. My experience was great. Luckily it came just before I was was going to buy a used copy :-)
    I ordered both the Essential Edition and Tuscany.
    I wasn’t aware there was a promo code I could use, so when I found out afterwards I emailed Jamie and had the issue resolved within hours. Great service!

    Altogether I am very happy with the preorder process. And can’t wait for the games :-)

  4. The only reason I didn’t jump on the pre-order was that the Essential Edition does not include things I would consider essential. It was a nice campaign but not for me so I’ll be continuing my search of the secondary market for a copy of Viticulture instead.

  5. Received my copy of VE, Tuscany and the metal coins. Very happy with the ease and simplicity of the preorder process. Pretty much everything Stonemaier does is great, so it was no surprise. I almost missed this one entirely. It was dumb luck that I stumbled across some info about the preorder on BGG before it was too late.

    One thing about KS vs. Preorder — If this had been a Kickstarter campaign, I would have skipped it and waited to see if I could buy it retail when the time comes. I despise Kickstarter. I’m glad Stonemaier chose to do a true preorder and leave KS out of it.

  6. Pat: Related to your comment, it’s been on my mind lately that I should consider running a similar pre-order campaign for our new treasure chests (instead of a Kickstarter), though I would run it before we start production so we can gauge demand and make enough of it. However, the one big thing holding me back is that it’s hard to emulate Kickstarter’s engagement system (comments and updates). Sure, I could create a forum where people can talk about the game, but it wouldn’t be nearly as integrated and intuitive as Kickstarter’s comment system. And the updates present a great way to keep backers informed during and after the campaign. Again, I could do this via e-newsletter, but the engagement isn’t there (I encourage a lot of engagement after treasure chest campaigns, as we end up talking a lot about the next treasure chest). So I’m a little stuck on that right now.

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