19 January 2016 | 70 Comments
Kickstarter and crowdfunding are used in ever-evolving ways as creators innovate and backers’ tastes change. It’s fairly common to see advances in one project category impact the methods used by creators in other categories. Today I’m going to talk about the current state of stretch goals on Kickstarter and where they might be headed.
The traditional stretch goal system is one that increases the quality and/or quantity of components based on the funding level. The underlying concept is that when the manufacturing cost per unit goes down based on number of units produced, creators can re-allocate those marginal costs to improve the product.
Over time, creators have innovated and enhanced the stretch goal system in various ways. Please note that the following is simply a list, not an endorsement of these methods (in fact, some of them I heavily discourage):
- Backer Count Thresholds: Using the number of backers as thresholds for unlocking new goals in addition to the funding level. (Euphoria)
- Inclusive vs. Exclusive vs. Promo: Inclusive stretch goals are those that improve every copy of the product. Exclusive stretch goals are those that only backers receive. Promo stretch goals are included for free in every Kickstarter product and for an additional cost post-Kickstarter. (Scuba)
- Timing of the Reveal: Some projects show all of their stretch goals from the moment they launch, while others show none (or only some) until their funding goal is reached. (Toast)
- Graphic Design: While some projects display the list of stretch goals as a text-based bulleted list, others feature eye-catching illustrations. (Steampunk Rally)
- Backer Voting: Allowing backers to influence the order in which the stretch goals will unlock or the contents of those goals. (T.C. Petty and Get Adler)
- Global vs. Limited: Stretch goals apply to some rewards but not to others. (The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction)
- Pre-Order Continuation: Stretch goals can continue to be unlocked after the project ends if the creator continues to accept pre-orders.
- Add-Ons: Some projects unlock new add-ons (at a cost) or even decrease the cost of add-ons as stretch goals are unlocked. (Avignon)
- Achievements: Give backers a bunch of different types of achievements and unlock new goals when sets of achievements are achieved. (Exploding Kittens and Treasure Chests)
- Timed Goals: Unlock a goal if and only if the funding goal is reached during a set amount of time, like within one week. (Trickerion)
- Daily Goals: Reveal a new goal every day of the campaign. (Scythe)
- No Stretch Goals: Don’t include any stretch goals at all. (Hocus and The Legend of Korra [which revealed new information every day])
Separate from those ideas and methods are two global certainties:
- Stretch goals should be budgeted and planned in advance: This doesn’t mean you can’t add goals on the fly as backers contribute interesting ideas (just make sure you run the numbers before adding them). But most should be planned well before you launch your campaign.
- Backers love to improve the product via stretch goals: In a poll I ran in 2014, the #1 answer to the question, “What are the top 3 most compelling reasons for you to back a Kickstarter project today (instead of waiting for the retail version)?” was “improve the product via stretch goals.”
While stretch goals are an extremely effective tool at getting backers to support a project, from a creator perspective, they can be a bit of a beast for the following reasons:
- In theory, the core product–the version with which you launch your campaign–should be good enough to entice backers to support the project. It should be a version of the product that you’re proud of. By itself, it shouldn’t need stretch goals to make it playable or usable or fun. But it’s really tough to draw that line. Some component enhancements that might make a product truly special–despite not being necessary for functionality–are expensive.
- Ideally, stretch goals would be a source of engagement and excitement throughout the entire project. In a way, they serve as a carrot on a stick. If the carrot is almost entirely eaten on Day 1, it stops serving its function. However, creators have no idea about how quickly their project will fund. We have estimations and projections, but it’s really a shot in the dark, and it can result in the carrot being eaten too soon. I’ll give you an example: On my Tuscany project, I had high hopes that the project would reach $50,000 in funding on the first day ($20k funding goal), so I had small stretch goals at $30k and $40k, and I made the $50k stretch goal a big one. But Tuscany exceeded my expectations, raising $156k in the first 24 hours, resulting in 7 stretch goals being unlocked (including 3 big ones). While this was temporarily exciting for backers, it mean that those “carrots” were yesterday’s news by Day 2. There was no build-up of excitement for them.
- It is possible for creators to use economies of scale to precisely calculate every stretch goal funding level. But this doesn’t always align with backer expectations. Like, I’ve found that backers want something big to happen at key numbers like increments of $100k. But in terms of production, that’s just an arbitrary number. Similarly, backers seem to want an ongoing stream of big stretch goals. I get it–I’m a frequent backer too–but from a production and budgeting standpoint, it simply isn’t possible. Creators have to mix little goals in with the big goals, just so there’s always something within reach. Last, I’ve heard some backers bemoan that if all stretch goals aren’t unlocked, they’re not getting a complete product. This is a logical fallacy, of course–something that doesn’t exist yet can’t be “incomplete”–but it’s a perception that creators have to manage. I experienced that frequently on Scythe despite the the significant value offered even in the core product with no stretch goals, and it was frustrating. It felt like no matter how good I made the product, it was never going to be good enough for some backers.
Where does this leave us? Well, I had a bit of a revelation the other day while browsing through Kickstarter: Games are the only project category with widespread use of stretch goals.
My first thought when I noticed that was: Really? All this time and the other categories still haven’t caught up with games?
But then I realized that something important was happening. Yes, stretch goals originated in the games category. And yes, creators in other categories have had plenty of time to adapt stretch goals. But they haven’t. They’ve simply created something awesome and are offering that one thing in all of its awesomeness. They either fund that one thing or they don’t, an all-or-nothing proposition.
I’m not saying that stretch goals are done. But I do think it might be time for tabletop game creators to start learning from creators in other categories. They might be onto something here.
So for my next project (Token Trilogy), I won’t be offering stretch goals. I’m simply going to offer a complete and final version of the product from Day 1. Doing this feels so different from a Kickstarter campaign, though, that I won’t be using Kickstarter at all–I’ll be using the pre-order platform Celery. It won’t be for a few months, but I’ll talk about it here when it goes live.
What’s your perception of the current state of stretch goals? What would you like to see more of or less of?