30 August 2018 | 18 Comments
Yesterday I announced a new game, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig (the title of this post is a play on that name–I do not consider myself a “king” of anything). During my Facebook live video immediately following the announcement, someone asked, “Why all the secrecy?”
You see, I’ve kept this game a secret for a long time. While plenty of people knew about it–the designers, artists, playtesters, partners, etc–they knew to stay quiet about it until August 29 at 9:30 am CDT.
The secrecy is particularly notable because it flies in the face of something I frequently recommend to Kickstarter creators: Tell people early and often about your product. Get the word out so you can build a devoted following of people who are itching to back it on Day 1. Let people feel the joys of anticipation. Solidify proof that you are the originator of the work. And so on.
Given that, why would I keep a huge product–our 2nd and final new game of 2018–secret until the day we started accepting pre-orders for it, which is just days before we start shipping it to Stonemaier Champions?
Here’s why (and how):
- Accurate, simultaneous information for all: This is by far the #1 reason. I’ve had too many incidents in the past when people found out about a product at different times (including the infamous Rhine Valley leak…by me). This creates chaos on all levels of the supply chain. I’d much rather everyone learn the game name, SKU, price, and release date–or at least have access to that information–at exactly the same time.
- Timing without uncertainty: This ties into the previous comment about the release date. There’s so much uncertainty that goes into freight shipping a game from the manufacturer to our broker’s warehouse…many things can go wrong along the way. However, my level of certainty skyrockets the moment the game actually arrives at the warehouse–after that, I can announce the release date with confidence, as well as the direct pre-order ship dates.
- Minimal gap between announcement and delivery: A few years ago, Riot Games announced a board game called Mechs vs Minions. The announcement came out of nowhere, with high-profile reviewers posting their thoughts at exactly the same time. To the delight of people like me who looked at the pre-order information that day, we didn’t need to wait months to get the game–if we ordered right away, we would have it within a few weeks. This was revelatory to me. I love anticipation, but there was something unique about this, especially given the stark difference between this method and Kickstarter. The Cards Against Humanity folks use the same method.
- One perk I forgot to mention about this: If you fulfill orders within a week or two of the announcement, you don’t need to deal with address changes. The longer the gap between the order and the fulfillment, the greater the chance the customer will need to change their address (or, as often happens, forget to change their address until they get the shipping notification).
- Another perk is that there are much fewer cancellations using this method compared to Kickstarter.
- Yet another perk is that this method doesn’t require the hassle of stretch goals, as we’ve already made the game.
- Tease without telling: This is more about the method than the madness, but I’ve found that I can tease an upcoming game to help build curiosity and anticipation. I did this with Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig by revealing images on Instagram and Twitter. I could have also created a Facebook event–I’ll probably do that in the future. And I’ve mentioned certain concepts relating the game on various podcasts and videos for a while now–our games aren’t completely secret if you pay attention.
- Make a splash: I want people to talk about our games. In my opinion, this makes the release process more exciting, fun, and lucrative for everyone involved. I like the idea of the buzz starting and sustaining itself from the announcement through the release date, and I think we can best accomplish this by being able to ship pre-orders to customers very soon after the announcement. Ideally this also benefits retailers who will release the game on October 19, because the early reviewers and early adopters help to sustain that buzz for other customers.
- An existing, attentive audience: You can see our social media stats here if you’re curious. This is something that enables us to use this announcement method, while many first-time creators don’t have an audience yet.
I think my biggest regret is that I wish this announcement hadn’t come so close to the release of our other new game, My Little Scythe. Ideally My Little Scythe would have been ready for a spring release, but that didn’t happen. Fortunately there was still a 2-month gap between the official releases of those games, and an even bigger gap between their announcement dates. In the future, though, I’d like for each of our new games to have plenty of room to breathe and build buzz.
What do you think about this method?
- Lessons Learned from Quitting Kickstarter as a Creator, Part 3
- 5 Lessons Learned from a Precise Launch Day
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