The Curious Case of Overlapping Kickstarters: A Guest Post by Bernhard Hamaker

21 October 2014 | 20 Comments

One of the curious things about running a board game publishing company that’s largely grounded in Kickstarter is the timing of launching new campaigns in relation to delivering on previous projects. It takes a long time to manufacture and ship a product–any product–so do you wait to launch a new campaign until you’ve delivered, or do you go ahead and run another campaign while the previous product is in the throes of production?

This question came to mind in a recent discussion with Bernhard Hamaker, the man behind the very successful Kickstarter campaign for Japanese: The Game. Bernhard shares his unique story below, along with some thoughts on how other creators can avoid the precarious situation he has encountered. Thanks Bernhard!

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PortraitHi, my name is Bernhard and I’m a serial Kickstarter. I launched a project back in January to create a card game that teaches Japanese. There wasn’t a product like it that I could find, so I had no way to know if it would sink or swim. To my surprise, it funded well over 2000% of goal, beating a handful of stretch goals and reaching backers in 45 countries.

The more you know about Kickstarter, the more likely you’ll guess that this was the beginning of big problems: I had to replace my computer, re-do a whole expansion deck for legal reasons, and order all the cards twice because my survey contractor ruined half of the backers’ names and addresses. Though rewards deliveries lagged on to be six months late, eventually they were shipping at such a pace that they’d be all done a couple of weeks before my next Kickstarter.

But complications at the distribution company (such as running out of decks) resulted in a few weeks’ extra delay for some backers. There I was, engaging in pre-launch promotion and hoping I could get it all sorted in time. Today the second campaign is more than half done, and it looks like it will end before some first-project backers get their rewards. So I was clearly wrong about timing, and now a lot of backers feel left out and some even unappreciated.

I really don’t want this to happen to you, so I want to share some points that may help you avoid the same odd problems or at least some of the consequences:

  1. Ask vague questions.

(Yes, I meant that.) I assumed I understood my printer’s “first come, first served” policy, yet my decks were warehoused for weeks while other orders were fulfilled around mine. I should have asked a vague question like, “What happens after you get my order?” or “What’s this policy mean?” You should absolutely ask specific questions, too, but don’t zoom in the whole time or you’ll lose the big picture.

  1. Talk about what you don’t know.

Usually I write an update every 6-10 days because there’s news about progress, but when there isn’t I always want my backers to know why. When I couldn’t get a response from the distributor because he was at a convention, I gave the best information I had, but I also explained why I couldn’t answer certain questions yet. That transparency and engagement gave many unrewarded backers the confidence to back the new project anyway.

  1. Take small bites.

Originalpoint25My overfunded project proved to be an awfully big helping of work, but every project owner will have sizeable challenges in the course of a project. To prevent making extra work for yourself from oversights, break down your to-do list items into small bites before you check them off. Some examples from my project: “Did I make sure my photographer will be shooting in portrait format so the subject is framed well on a card?” No, I did not. “Am I creating this file in a format my contractors will be able to use?” Usually.

Some of the backers were/are noticeably frustrated, and I don’t blame them. Over twenty backers from the original project tell me that they would back the current one if they had their first-project rewards. I’ve had over 300 backers join the current project from the last one, about 80 of whom still don’t have their rewards. More are arriving every day, but some may miss out on the new, cool stuff unless I do something about it.

To help them feel welcome, I’m rolling out a new tier with just one expansion. Unrewarded backers may really want one specific expansion deck but won’t want to go whole hog, so I’m making a low level with just one expansion, with the option to add others at $10. I’m also giving an exclusive bonus for free to anyone who’s backed both projects.

Have you ever backed a project when one was still pending? What factors would lead you to support or refuse? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

20 Comments on “The Curious Case of Overlapping Kickstarters: A Guest Post by Bernhard Hamaker

  1. For me, the great thing about Kickstarter is that I feel I have a guarantee. Personally, I’d back a second project even if the first was not yet delivered. However, I can understand the frustration of the first, unrewarded, backers. It may feel like you’ve moved on to something new and left them behind when you start your new project. It is key to manage perceptions. The idea of a free bonus for backers of both projects is great! It is a re-enforcement that not only did I not forget about you, but I am rewarding you even further if you back me again.

    This was a great read. I loved the first point. Too often it’s easy to get caught up in the details and miss the overall picture. Great tips!

      1. killerookami: Could you elaborate? I’m not sure who the “he” is you’re referring to. If you have any links to corroborate this statement, I would be very curious to look at them. Thanks!

        1. https://www.unnamedmethod.com/

          “As part of the purchase agreement, UM has assumed responsibility for all outstanding J:tG orders, including unfulfilled Kickstarter pledges, unfulfilled website orders, and orders placed for out of stock product sold by CTI at various conventions around the U.S. and abroad.”

  2. I’m actually in this exact situation! 404 funded last year and I’ve had a lot of problems on the manufacturing end, I’m supposed to have launched Wizard’s Academy back in July but we’re holding off until we’ve delivered on the last project. It doesn’t feel right to ask for more when we’ve not delivered anything yet.

    This is really challenging for me personally because unlike most KS creators I’m working on behalf of an art company trying out a new market. I don’t want to quit my job there, but until the next project launches they’ve only got a few hours work each week for me. It’s not their fault but the way things have shaken out prevents me seeking other full time work but also doesn’t pay enough to support me and makes it difficult to claim any sort of support. I get occasional part time work to see me by but it’s tough going and may not end soon. I’ve not mentioned this to my backers because I think it’s really unprofessional for KS creators of successful projects to start talking about how hard it is for them when a project is late when it’s the backers who are waiting – but I wanted to highlight that depending on your other circumstances a policy of waiting to launch project #2 if project #1 isn’t done can come with a noticable personal cost.

    Despite that I think that it’s still the right thing to do, especially for a first project. I can imagine if I already had 3-4 games under my wing I could maybe say “I’ve always delivered before, so trust me, it’s just a little late and I can’t speed up manufacture so I’m launching the next thing in the mean time” but I’d still feel bad about that and I hate it when KS creators focus all of their energies on their current project when there are people from an unfulfilled previous project who are just left waiting.

    Thinking on it that seems to be the key thing to me – that a creator should never abandon their previous backers in order to get new ones. Looking at the article I think the most important point is the second one, have a constant channel of communication with your backers even if all you can say is “I don’t know, but here is how I’m trying to find out”. I’d place folding money that that approach went a long way towards mitigating your problems and seeing so many repeat backers even among those who’d not had their original rewards yet.

    1. Greg, you raise a lot of good points I had to consider. Mostly I thought about how I’d want to be treated and I realized the same thing: I wouldn’t want my delivery to be slowed down because of the new Kickstarter. As long as someone’s not abandoning me (in spite of my supporting them), I think it’s fine if they want to start a new project or go on vacation or do whatever else. In this case, I’m fortunate to be done with my side of the work. All I can do now is check on individual orders and stay in contact with the distributor. I wouldn’t feel right about starting another Kickstarter if it meant slowing down the first, say if I were still selecting artists or contracting the making of boxes.

      1. Aye, so I guess the challenge is in how to communicate “My new project isn’t slowing down my last project” in an effective and helpful way that doesn’t interfere with what you’re putting out about the new project.

        Certainly there are presently examples of people doing it wrong, posting about their second KS project while people on the comments thread of the first project are posting “What’s going on? Why are you ignoring us?”

    2. Greg: Thanks for sharing your experiences with 404. I certainly agree that “a creator should never abandon their previous backers in order to get new ones.”

      I’m not sure if there’s a black and white, objectively “correct” answer about holding off on launching a new project until the rewards for the previous project are fulfilled. It’s one of those areas where I think capitalism wins out. If you fully deliver on your first project and people love it, and then you launch a new project, you have a greater chance of funding and overfunding the new project. That’s one of the reasons I’m waiting until backers receive their Treasure Chests before I complete the design and launch the project for the next Treasure Chest–I simply think the response will be better after previous backers are fully informed about the first version and after people have been able to review the end product (especially with the tactile nature of it and board games in general).

      1. Aye, I think it’ll depend a lot on the situation. I mentioned that I might have a different perspective once I’ve got several games under my belt.

        I can see why it’d also be especially important for a direct sequel as well. It seems honest to let people have a genuine experience with the first one before asking about a second.

  3. My rule is, if it’s a project creator’s first project and they’re late delivering, I won’t back their subsequent projects until I get the first one. I need to see them fulfil their end of the bargain and I also need to see the quality of what they produce before I commit more money.

    I’m less hesitant to back a project from a creator who has previously fulfilled their commitments, regardless of the status of their current project. Even if I haven’t backed them before, I can still find reviews and comments to tell me about the quality of their end results.

    I tend to avoid project creators that have more then a couple of projects running at the same time. l want my money to go to someone passionate about what they’re doing, not someone who’s just churning out stuff because they can.

    1. Helen: I think that’s a good rule of thumb for a first project–from my perspective as a backer, I want to see them deliver the product and show that it’s awesome before I pledge to something new.

  4. Berhard, thank you for writing this. I have been (and currently am) on the backer side of this issue. And I appreciate your perspective from the creator. I see the potential complications and understand the frustrations from the creator’s side. But, with a backers’-first mindset, I don’t see why it’s ever a good idea to launch project B before project A has been completed.

    In my current situation, I’ve backed a project that has not started shipping rewards yet and I just began receiving updates about their new campaign they’ve launched. And I can honestly say I was annoyed, frustrated and confused why they would start a new project while still not having finished the one I backed. And then to have the NERVE to ask me to back them again…. That was my gut reaction. I’ve also been a KS creator and know how much work goes into running and fulfilling a campaign – So in this specific instance, every day I don’t get my reward I’m losing faith in the creator I backed. (I must add that I am not upset that the fulfillment time is being pushed back – this creator has communicated well and is working to get the bet possible product. I’m fine with waiting. I am not fine with being solicited to back another project.)

    I suspect that this situation could be handled well. Hey – even in your circumstance, Bernhard, I’d understand you starting the next one while in this midst of fulfillment for the last. That is so say, if I see you getting the rewards out – even if I haven’t gotten mine – I know it’s coming, so I’m more OK with you starting the next project.

    I know that I am infinitely more likely to be a repeat backer if I’ve seen the end of a project and liked the results. I don’t think creators can honestly expect a first-time backer to become a second time backer without that backer first seeing the end product. I may hate the game you designed, I may be unhappy with the software you delivered. So, it would seem to me to be a better choice to prove yourself with each community of backers for each project. Get the project done. Send out rewards. Then, once they love your work, invite them into the next project.

    From my POV, there is never a time I will back project B when project A hasn’t yet delivered.

  5. Kelsey: As a backer, I agree with you 100%–my backing behavior is nearly identical to yours based on what you wrote above.

    The one aspect that I wonder about from a creator’s perspective is your first point–that a backer-first philosophy (which I believe in and try to act on in everything I do) translates to never launching Project B before Project A was delivered and complete.

    Let’s use the example of my Treasure Chest campaign. I was completely finished with all files for Tuscany at that point (the campaign for Tuscany ended in April, and The Treasure Chest project launched in late June). The files were approved by the printer and were in the early stages of production (mostly digital stuff done by the manufacturer). There was no conflict of time or resources for me to run a completely separate campaign, both at that time and on the back end. The backer benefit was that I could ship some copies of the Treasure Chest by Christmas if I ran the project then.

    Granted, I had a short track record at that point, proof that I knew how to deliver on campaigns with attractive end products. I think it would be different if that weren’t the case, like Helen noted above. But I don’t think that me running overlapping campaigns was in conflict with my belief in putting backers first.

    However, I’m open to other perspectives–do you see it differently?

  6. Here, have another obscenely long reply, because apparently I’ve forgotten how to condense things down into key points ;P

    I’ve backed a few projects where I’m still waiting for the first when I’ve backed the second, so I can’t really claim it worries me too much! I’ll talk about them a little more specifically, but some general points of view of mine on the topic:

    1. Finished (No, I don’t mean delivered!)
    For me, I think of a project as ‘finished’ when I’ve seen final art, some proof of final gameplay (rulebook/reviews), and possibly mock components/box either by well done prototype or hard proof from the manufacturer. If a project is finished (And this could even be on the day of the projects launch), I’m more ok with backing another. Do I care if its’ delivered? No not really, so long as they’ve not got awful ratings on my next 2 points ^^.

    2. Reputation
    Well, this is the obvious one. If the creator has delivered before, either through other kickstarters or some other business (Traditional publishing for example), then I am far more confident that they can handle more than one at a time.

    3. Communication
    The final thing of importance (That I can think of right now ^^) is communication. Are they updating once a week or every 2 months? On top of that, is it useful, accurate information or are they going on tangents about unrelated matters. If a creator has fantastic communication, they inspire confidence in me to let more of my money go their way.

    So as I was saying, simultaneous projects I’ve backed:

    a) Tiny Epic Kingdoms & Tiny Epic Defenders:
    – TEK/TED comes to mind fairly early on, particularly as before TEK is even delivered and either during or not long after the TED campaign, the third in the series has been talked about (Tiny Epic Galaxies). I was very on the fence about Kingdoms, but ultimately went for it, so backing Defenders was a hard choice indeed as I had no idea if GG would deliver. Ultimately the gameplay sold me (Damn it rahdo!) and I went for it too, bolstered by the fact GG seemed to have delivered projects in the past. As far as if TEG came out today…I’d be tempted to back it certainly, but I think it would tarnish my opinion of GG for not waiting longer.

    b) Tuscany & Treasure Chest
    – Ok so I would probably back 5 projects from this creator at a time with confidence, and supported both these projects almost immediatey (Having tested a P+P of Tuscany & held the awesome euphoria resources in hand). I do think its’ worth pointing out that the fact they are different types of project helps (A clear ‘Games’ line and ‘Resources’ line), as well as the fact SM Games have the best commication I’ve seen from a kickstarter creator (Although Cody Miller is certainly on par).

    c) Myth & Mercs: Recon
    Oh and look! Here’s the awkward one. So I backed Myth in April 2013, with the targetted delivery date of January 2014 (And hints that they hoped to get it out earlier…). Then in April 2014 the same guys launched a project for Mercs: Recon, which is to say, launched while their previous project was currently 3 months late and counting (Its’ finally at the shipping company in Germany to hopefully be getting sent out now, 10 months late!). I think I’m a little disapointed in myself for not backing away from this one really, but ultimately felt that because Myth seemed finished (Art/Models/Rules done, just production/shipping to go), and heavily because Mercs Miniatures are an established company with retail products out there, that I could go for it. I don’t regret the decision, but I do think it was foolish to put so much trust in a company with a very very large chunk of money (These are miniature games after all).

    d) Coup: Reformation & Resistance: HI/HA
    Actually I have little to say here, short time to delivery, no stretch goals adding content, and the former is a game that has been available previously in a different form (i.e. rethemed reprint). Indie Boards & Cards have delivered plenty of past projects, and their products seem to be finished when they kick-start them, so its’ far more of a pre-order than anything else. I’d probably back up to ~5 at a time from them, same as Stonemaier Games, albeit for different reasons ^^.

    Ok what is there to be taken from that. I think its’ safe to say I personally don’t mind multiple projects from a company too much. In fact I don’t really see them in much of a different light to if I just went and backed a project from a fresh creator, what’s important to me is that I think it will come, eventually. I think I should also add another point to the ones from above after talking about d…

    4. Limited or No Stretch Goals
    Ok, so like many people who back projects, I do enjoy stretch goals and I love the concept of content being added to them. But…after backing a couple of projects from Indie Boards & Cards, who’s stretch goals are just more of the same (Duplicate Cards, Reference Cards, etc) or non-existent, its’ something that gives me confidence in backing multiple projects. This is because I have that stronger feeling that the project is done and finished, and don’t have a worry that stretches are going to cause problems.

    So…If you want to spam projects and make me back them all, make sure they look finished, that you don’t tarnish your reputation with poor/undelivered products, communicate well, and keep you stretch goals clean or skip them entirely. Thanks for reading =P

  7. Chris: As always, I enjoy your comments. Two of your examples stood out to me as particularly interesting. The first is Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders. Michael did a fine job with both, but I’m 99% sure if they were my product lines, I would have waited until TEK came out before launching TED because they’re both within the same brand. Granted, TED isn’t a direct sequel or expansion–it’s a totally different game–but if I had that product line, I’d want to show off the first game before asking backers to support another similar game.

    The other one that’s interesting to me is Indie Boards & Cards. I think it’s because I see their products as 100% complete that I’m less interested in backing them. For Kickstarter projects, I like just a little bit of wiggle room (even just 1%) for backers to impact the product and let it grow/develop during the project. Maybe my stance on that will change over time, but it’s interesting to hear that the reasons I’m less likely to support those types of projects are the same reasons that you have more confidence in backing those projects.

    1. Indeed, I find it odd with the Tiny Epic series approach, and I’d suspect it’s a bit of a missed opportunity as if all the Kingdoms backers love it, there could be a nicely bigger audience for its’ sequel ^^. I think in a retail sense though, releasing a series of small format games like this a few months apart could work very well, so perhaps they were thinking of the final release dates rather than the kickstarter impact.

      I see your point about IB&G and their products already being complete. I think this would put me off from buying new games from them for the reasons you mention, but for expansions I’m ok with it as a way of picking them up easily and with some extra content. It’s certainly a lot less enjoyable though, the ‘pre-order via kickstarter’ approach…

      1. Chris: That’s a good point about the long tail retail strategy for the TE series–that could work out well for them.

        As for IB&G, I can see that about expansions, especially for compact games.

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