The Current State of Stretch Goals (2017)

4 December 2017

Stretch goals are one of the blessings and curses of Kickstarter.

As a backer, I love stretch goals because they make me feel like I helped to make a product bigger and better as a part of a greater community effort (and that I’m getting more stuff for the same pledge amount). Stretch goals are great for creators too–they’re a huge source of momentum for a project, and they make a great discussion topic for backers.

But when I was a Kickstarter creator, stretch goals were also a source of stress. There’s the budgeting, the planning, the selection of milestones, backer expectations and demands…you can read about this in depth in the 2016 report about stretch goals.

There are dozens of different methods for employing stretch goals, all of which I list on the 2016 report. Instead of rehashing them here, today I’m going to present the stretch goal method I would use if I ever returned to Kickstarter. I’ll call it the Root Method, after the Kickstarter campaign that inspired it.

Here’s how the Root Method works:

  • Divide stretch goals into two types: component upgrades and component additions. Component upgrades, if unlocked, will go in every copy of the game. Budget carefully for these upgrades using economies of scale. Component additions, however, will all be separated into an expansion that is included for free to all backers. Budget for these as well, but these additions come out of your per-pledge profit margin, not economies of scale. This gives you a lot more flexibility in the short run (Kickstarter margins are bigger than retail margins) without impacting the long-term marketability of the game. The expansion will be eventually be sold as a separate retail product.
  • Reveal goals in small batches (2 or 3 goals, each batch ideally containing at least 1 component upgrade and 1 component addition). This gives you full control over the milestone thresholds, especially early in the project when you may fund much faster than expected or in the middle of the campaign when funding may have significantly slowed down.
  • Use financial goals for most of milestone thresholds. If at some point you need to show progress and have a nice backer count number coming up (e.g., 1000 backers), assign it to a component addition stretch goal, as those types of goals don’t correspond to economies of scale.
  • Among the component additions, have a mix of small and large additions. It’s fine to, say, have a stretch goal for 3 new cards–every goal can’t be huge. But there should also be some big goals–new miniatures, meeples, dice, factions, players, etc.
  • It’s okay to have a hard stop if it’s communicated in advance. I’d never want to add anything that would add anything that would bankrupt me or significantly delay the project, so at a certain point I think it’s good to say, “These are all the stretch goals!”

I really like this method because it’s great for backers and also gives the game (and expansion) room to thrive in retail. There’s nothing exclusive about it, but backers still get to feel really special that they got an entire expansion for a pledge that was originally for a complete retail game.

What do you think about this method? Is there anything you’d add to or change about it? There are lots of other methods listed here.

22 Comments on “The Current State of Stretch Goals (2017)

  1. Personally I only think component upgrades are worth it. I dont need in-build-expansions. But YMMV of course.
    Funny thing: Kill the unicorns apperntlies is tying the stretch goals not to number of backers or money, but to stuff the community is doing with them (like taking a selfie with a unicorn and posting it on facebook). Its a form of advertising and if everyone would do it, it would be very annoying, but with this its a fun idea.

    1. Thanks for sharing! That sounds similar to the social achievement system used by a few projects I mentioned last year. It’s tough to pull those off, but for the right project and the right audience, it can be very effective.

  2. Any thoughts about stretch goals that are pledge add-ons? From a backer perspective it seems like this adds a ton of overhead in terms of fulfillment complexity but it’s also a nice way to bump $/pledge. Any insight here from the business side?

    1. Jeremy: I’m personally not a fan of add-on stretch goals. I’m fine with add-ons, and I’m fine with stretch goals, but the whole point of a stretch goal is to get more/better stuff for the same pledge amount. So I prefer to keep add-ons separate–don’t make backers stretch for them.

  3. As a backer and a start-up publisher, I personally think that SG’s should be set and stuck to before the campaign (unless there are variable ones that depend on backer choice like you want this character or this character, but wouldn’t effect production costs. Legendary Creatures did a good job of this by having a KS exclusive creature that was decided upon over multiple updates by backer votes ( https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ebaraf/legendary-creatures/description ) I think it was a good way to keep community involvement while also not throwing in something that makes the game deliverable.

    As for social SG’s some games they dont really feel right. Like exploding kittens and light casual silly games yes go all out on fun social goals weather they are tied to upgrades or not. But Heavy Euro or War games I feel are a lot less likely to be able to pull off 5 selfies with weaponized back hair.

    I think that projects should have all there SG’s set in advance and be able to deliver them. If you are doing a 5k project and have SG’s planned all the way up to 30k and you fund 40k on the first day as tempting as it may be to throw in all sorts of crazy stuff and keep momentum going up to 250k or beyond, It should be perfectly acceptable stick with your original SG’s and maybe 1 or 2 really thought out added in SG’s. I think that the vast majority of backers and publishers would be alot happier for there game fund with an unexpected 100k and be able to deliver an awesome game in a reasonable amount of time then push the game to 250k and then have all sorts of production delays and unexpected costs that make the game deliver in 1-2 years or even potentially bankrupt a company.

    To sum it all up, the game community should try to stick within there means and focus on delivering a solid product to as many people as they can. With that being said there is also something to be said about pushing yourself to the max to grow as a person as well as a company. What do you think?

    1. Gold Nugget: I totally agree that stretch goals should be very carefully planned and budgeted for in advance so they don’t impact the production schedule. However, given the positives of stretch goals, I personally would not try to estimate the success of the project in advance and have all of those thresholds set. It can be exciting to have a big Day 1 where you achieve all the stretch goals, but it has a huge impact on the momentum of the project to be all out of stretch goals that early in a project. Hence my suggestion of revealing them a few at a time.

      1. I should have elaborated on that part. I don’t mean that if you have a big first day to just release all the stretch goals at once, but I don’t think a publisher should feel pressured to just add goals out of the air.

        They should have a base game that is perfectly fine on its own with a funding goal that can bring that project to life. Then all the awesome things they would like to add but aren’t necessary for the game to be played should be planned out so that you can add them in if certain economies of scale are met. But if the first day completely smashes all the goals you had for that scope of project for the most part publishers shouldn’t have to make up new ones just for the sake of momentum although it is very tempting. I don’t know which way would be best telling your backers you reached all SG’s but just revealing them 1 at a time or just adding one at a time with new reachable $ amounts to be reached. I lean towards the first as it is completely transparent, but could see how people would lean towards the second because I think you could hit a larger funding goal that way. But I would rather be fully transparent and have a 50k kickstarter then be kinda tricky and get a 100k kickstarter.

        This is coming from the perspective of a backer though and a soon 1st time project creator so I am by no means experienced at all.
        – Cody Thompson

        1. Cody: It’s pretty tricky, because you really have no idea how Day 1 will go. That’s why if I did it again, I’d have stretch goals that are tied to economies of scale and thus are connected to actual dollar amounts as well as component additions, which are literally just a marketing tool–they eat directly into your margins, but they can also help your project get much bigger than it would otherwise. For them, the funding amounts are irrelevant, so there’s no need to set those amounts in advance.

          I encourage experimentation, though, so I look forward to seeing what you try when you launch! :)

          1. I think we are on the same page :)

            And first game am looking to run a kickstarter in the next 6 months barring any delays. Not looking to blow the world away with this one, just looking to hit a very modest goal and get the momentum going for future projects.

            Thanks for all your input on the industry!

  4. This is all good advice. I get nervous when a campaign starts rolling out stretch goals that only apply to certain tiers, for example – especially if they are based off of pure dollar amounts.

    Due to print/manufacturing run size requirement, you can run into problems paying for production if, for example, you have three versions of the game, and certain stretch goals unlock stuff that only goes in the most expensive one.

    For example, an SG is for an additional mini, but you’re only including it in the highest reward tier. If the manufacturer requires a everything be in lots of 1000 units, and you get 2200 backers at the top level, then you end up having to pay for 800 unused minis.

    Including SG’s in an “expansion” that everyone gets seems the safest way to do it, and it makes sure no backer feels left out.

  5. As a backer, I hate stretch goals. Broque upgraded components are mostly useless since they ususally don’t add to the game. Other game stuff either should have been in from the beginning, or should not be in.
    I pay because I’m willing to see the game published. Point. Anything more is advertising masturbation.
    Same reason I hate the tons of updates sent to backers. One when the game is funded should be enough.

    1. Bruno: First, I’m honored that you’d comment here! Very cool to have a celebrity in the comments.

      Second, I agree with the spirit of your point. I wouldn’t want to ever put an incomplete game on Kickstarter and then rely on backers to complete it.

      However, you’re a designer–has a publisher ever told you that they couldn’t include a special component because they were aiming for a specific price point? Or maybe an entire aspect of the game–a 5th player, a set of cards with special abilities, etc–that a publisher decided to save for an expansion? I think that kind of content–if fully designed–is ripe for stretch goals. It’s stuff that you can’t put into the retail version of the game and retain its marketability.

  6. Knowing that a huge cost is involved with the design, molding, and production of additional miniatures offered through stretch goals, I’m wondering if this is taken into consideration before a campaign, and already factored into the pledge amount? Games like Rising Sun, Lords of Hellas, and the just completed Monster Slaughter unlocked so many additional miniatures in their stretch goals, that a company would go bankrupt if these additional miniatures weren’t part of the original plan and price point. Unless the company like CMON plan to make up the difference through the retail copy of Rising Sun. Your thoughts? Thanks in advance!

    1. Eric: This is what I was talking about with economies of scale. I can’t speak for other companies, but the principle behind this is that you start off with, say, a game that costs $10 to make. That $10 cost is extrapolated into the KS pledge price. It’s that exact version of the game that you put on Kickstarter from Day 1. Then if you reach a stretch goal that costs $0.25 to add, you calculate that goal so it corresponds to economies of scale–by making more than the minimum number of units, your costs drop, giving you room to add the new component.

      For some of the campaigns you mentioned, many of the stretch goals aren’t related to economies of scale. They’re big additions, and they cut directly into their margins, though these companies probably are factoring at least some of them into the original stretch goal. The version of Rising Sun presented on Day 1 probably didn’t cost CMON $20 to make, for example. But for the most part, those additions, just eat up the margin between the cost and the pledge price.

  7. Thanks for the thoughts Jamey! We are running our second Dice Throne kickstarter in early 2018 (now partnered with Roxley). All of our games are stand alone & cross compatible. In our first kickstarter (http://ks.dicethrone.com), we played the ‘kickstarter game’ of upgrading all the components and adding new content. However, we will be release *many* new additions into the Dice Throne universe in the coming years, and we can no longer play the “upgraded components” game (it would be very odd to have one game fully upgraded while new ones are not). So, stretch goals are going to be a potential problem for us as we move forward. We have a couple of content additions planned, but are struggling to come up with more beyond that. We are going to be releasing multiple “sets” this time around and I’m even toying with the idea of having some heroes a mystery, and then revealing them upon certain funding thresholds. They can’t be content “additions” since they are too significant/costly and are a major portion of the product that backers are pledging for.

    I’m guessing our situation is an anomaly, but I’m curious if you have any thoughts/recommendations?

    1. Nate: That’s a great question/observation about what happens when you upgrade components in the base game–suddenly they become the default for eternity! :)

      It sounds like only a few component-addition stretch goals may apply to your project. I think the key for you to decide is: Do you want to have a bunch of different reward levels where people can pick and choose which set they want, or do you want to sell everything as one set on Kickstarter (then separately later). If you go with the latter, it would open up room for you to have some big stretch goals where you add entire sets to the rewards without charging more.

  8. As a first time creator, stretch goals were troublesome for me. I wanted to improve the product, and had reasonable stretch goals ready, but my campaign barely funded.

    What kind of advice could you offer for creators that cannot reasonably expect their campaign to reach the stretch goals they’re looking for? Should even a tease of stretch goals be avoided, or give backers a bit of information to build some hype?

    1. Aislyn: Honestly, I think there’s so much uncertainty for any creator, much less a first-time creator. You really never know how the project is going to do. That’s why I recommend revealing only a couple stretch goals on day 1. It’s nice to give people something to strive for, a sign that you’ve planned beyond the funding goal.

    2. On this, I’d add, don’t feel pressured to have them at all if it’s not right for you as a first time creator. There are enough challenges in creating the base product. From experience, SGs are things that can quickly get out of hand and each one generally costs more money and more time to create. Backers “seem to” demand them. Kickstarter encourages them. Jamey has some great advice about them… And they are good… but they can be done incorrectly to the point where it costs more to have them than not. Keep it simple. Adding additional components to a game has a host of implications that have to all be considered- what additional production costs will be incurred? What additional shipping costs from the added weight? Will the additional items fit in the originally budgeted box or will they ship outside of the box? Can you keep them all straight- i.e. who gets the SGs (a certain pledge level +) and who does not? Look at the pros and cons of each of those factors- for each SG you consider.

      SGs do help drive up the excitement and momentum of a project, and may increase the overall raised amount… but approach them with great planning and great care.

  9. I was impressed by the declaration on the Root page that all the stretch goals had been listed, and that there would be no more. I liked that they did it, and I liked the way that they did it: with an illustration of a cute character from the game (which you can see if you follow Jamey’s link to the Root campaign.

  10. Jamey,

    Waaaaay back in the first of these posts you would send, or maybe it was on the comments of the (2nd) Viticulture kickstart, I mentioned that while I would watch a page from the start, I often would not actually back until the last day or 2. I said that my reason was that I felt producers would sometimes have over anticipated the backing speed and a seemingly integral stretch goal would not be reached. By holding off, I could increase the likelihood that things were reached. This, as opposed to your style of immediate backing that allowed for more interaction with backers and producers while the project is live.

    I realize there are several errors being made in this situation. Truly important material should not be held out, but late backing helped even it out. On my side, sometimes momentum can be maintained if people see others backing, something I denied the project. Of course, you are aware of both of these and many more, being an expert on the subject. Still, at the time I considered it the right choice. You replied by saying it was an interesting alternate line of thought, compared to how you liked to back asap in order to participate with the community for a longer period. More importantly, you also said you didn’t think that many creators predicted stretch levels as a method to set their goals, and were more apt to use the cost as a guide.

    As it turns out, I now tend to back fairly early on almost every time I back at all. However, the lesson you posted regarding releasing goals in small batches seems to imply predictions to accommodate stretch goal pacing is a good tool to use. That appears to support the idea that a campaign could miss out on an intended stretch goal if backing suddenly dried up. I wonder if this means you have had a shift in how you believe projects should be approached, or am I missing an interpretation somewhere?

    Thanks,
    Dave

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