The Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Other Kickstarter Projects in 2013

2 January 2014 | 30 Comments

bad45eb08f011dd6cc5881d1131a4f73_largeThe second Kickstarter Lesson I ever wrote–just over a year ago–was Back Other Projects. I personally found that I could learn so much from other campaigns, especially if I followed the updates for a while. Plus, I like supporting great people and getting cool rewards.

You can find many of the following lessons written about more extensively here and in these interviews, but this is the short version. Basically I just went through my list of backed projects in 2013 (a total of 35) and determined the most important lessons I learned from them.

10. Mini-campaigns to promote larger campaigns might be the next big thing for new creators. (The King’s Armory and Two Rooms and a Boom) Both of those projects ran smaller campaigns leading up to their main campaign, which gave them tons of support from day one.

9. Campaigns outside of your normal category can be really insightful. (Soberdough and Bluebird Man) I’m mostly interested in tabletop game Kickstarters, but I still try to look for campaigns in other categories for new ideas. Soberdough impressed me with their limited $1 offer to give backers a taste test of their bread during the campaign in exchange for a written review, and Bluebird Man showed me how beautifully a project video can be created.

8. Prior success does not necessarily translate into future success. (Galactic Strike Force) Greater Than Games has had huge Kickstarter campaigns for their Sentinels of the Multiverse line of games, but they struggled a bit out of the gate to reach their funding goal for their new game, Galactic Strike Force (they eventually reached and exceeded their goal). I spoke with their business manager, Paul Bender, a few months ago, and he said that they were so used to running campaigns for an existing game that they forgot that it’s a completely different animal when you’re trying to introduce something new to people. I took that to heart when creating the Euphoria campaign.

7. The price must be right. This lesson doesn’t have an example because there are a number of projects I didn’t back this year because the price was simply too high. Price really does matter, so budget wisely and be fair to your backers. The goal is to make backers feel like they got a great deal for their money (which was given to you months and months in advance of you creating your product) when they open the box.

The Agents 16. Art is king. (Dragon’s Hoard and The Agents) Do you ever open a Kickstarter page and immediately start salivating from the art? I’ve had that happen a few times for projects that wouldn’t otherwise intrigue me all that much, and once that salivation begins, it’s hard not to back the project. Art and design are incredibly important to the success of your project.

5. Even I am not immune to miniatures. (Xia: Legends of a Drift System) I’m not a miniatures guy. Which is a good thing for my wallet. But when I saw the miniatures in Xia, I needed to have my own spaceship to drive around the galaxy.

4. Relationships trump logic. (Council of Verona and Chaos & Alchemy) Okay, I probably would have backed these projects anyway. But because I had gotten to know their creators, I backed them immediately on day one. Kickstarter is all about forming genuinely relationships that aren’t self serving in intent (but often end up helping you).

3. Generosity is extremely attractive. (Tessen and Drive Thru Review) I am increasingly draw to people who spend the majority of their time helping and adding value to others and a small portion of their time asking for support for something cool. Chris and Suzanne at Cardboard Edison and Joel Eddy of Drive Thru Review are a few such people, and supporting their projects was a no-brainer for me. Don’t spend your time promoting yourself and asking people to promote you. You will be far more successful if you follow Chris, Suzanne, Joel, and people like Richard Bliss in finding ways to add value (insight, humor, content, joy, etc) to others.

Dungeon pack2. Backers are more important than money. (Dungeon Roll) If you haven’t backed and followed a Tasty Minstrel Games campaign, you’ve missed out on the genius of Michael Mindes. Dungeon Roll might be his crowning achievement, as he attracted over 10,000 backers. That’s 10,000 people who knew about his next project and his next one, and so on–I’m guessing he has a mailing list of over 20,000 people at this point. Focus on removing as many barriers to entry as possible on your project so you can attract as many people as possible, especially if you plan on launching other campaigns in the future.

1. Flexibility and participation are incredibly important. (Burning Suns) Over time I’ve come to realize that being flexible and adaptable to backer ideas–and encouraging those ideas in the first place–is probably the most important characteristic of a successful Kickstarter campaign. When you share something with thousands of people and give them a forum to discuss it, they’re going to come up with at least 1 idea that is better than anything you’ve ever thought of. Give yourself the freedom to incorporate those ideas during your Kickstarter campaign. Better yet, build your campaign around that idea. Have polls and surveys during the campaign. Let backers vote on names and art and stretch goals. Remain true to your vision, but let backers build your product with you and you will significantly improve your chances of success.

What did you learn from campaigns you backed in 2013?

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30 Comments on “The Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Other Kickstarter Projects in 2013

  1. Could not agree with #8 more. Art is king – because it implies both quality AND the ability to execute. My #11 would be “testimonials are queen.” They are getting a little overplayed now with campaigns listing quotes from play testers, and “Paid Previews” that look exactly like reviews, but they still matter.

    Unfortunately in the board game space, our reviewers are pretty lock-step with their preferences, so folks who enjoy certain types of games don’t really have trusted champions they can look to for guidance (think about how many players buy and love Munchkin and how many game reviewers hate it – something is amiss…). That said, if your taste are in-line with the bulk of reviewers, those testimonials I think guide people.

    1. Luke: That’s a great point about #11, and I’m a little surprised I didn’t include it here! I mention it on another similar post:

      I see what you’re saying about reviewers, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. People who love Euro games are hopefully going to seek out Ryan Metzler’s opinion because they trust his opinion about Euro games, for example.

      1. I think it’s not a bad thing for everyone, I think it’s a bad thing for some under-represented folks. We have an odd reviewer culture. It’s like if we were movie reviewers and we review every movie like it’s a procedural crime drama. Some folks LIKE Porky’s. In our case, if you like Euro games you are good to go – lots of quality folks out there and I do think those games hit designer-types in all the right places (they do for me!). The decisions are just so interesting. And when two reviewers disagree, it’s easy to pinpoint why based on the reviewer’s preferences (some don’t like decision trees that are too branched, others grok exactly that, etc…)

        I think the job of a reviewer is to help folks make an informed decision, leading them to a game that they will likely enjoy. One place our industry has a deficit is in reviewers that can lead fans of Munchkin to other games they will like. And the real shame of it is that Munchkin is played by a LOT more people than many of the most popular Eurogames with reviewers.

        BTW, loved the post you linked to. That would be a fun survey to do at Unpub – top 10 reasons you’ll back a KS project!

        1. I can see that about under-represented genres. Munchkin is a great example. I think there are probably quite a few games in that category that sell really well and people have a lot of fun with them, but reviewers hardly ever talk about them.

          Perhaps I’ll post a survey sometime to see how people would rank those 10 things (or rank a variety of elements to get a new top 10).

  2. Here’s how NOT to run a campaign, unless you thrive on negative attention, like a certain naughty five-year old I live with: Wallet Battles is a CLEAR rip-off in some ways of TMG’s very successful Coin Age campaign. The Wallet Battles project creator MAY have had his game in development for a while (only his family and friends really know) but several elements of his Kickstarter campaign pages are really obvious rip-offs, including his pledge levels. His tone has been defensive and hostile. His budgeting is poor, and opaque.
    He could have waited a little bit to launch his project even if he was ready to go, should have made his campaign page very different from Coin Age, should have used different pledges from Coin Age even if his early, pre-Coin Age planning DID use the same ones, and could have put a positive spin on being different. He could have even reached out to TMG to connect and in effect, sign a handshake-level non-compete agreement… it’s not out of the realm of possibility that TMG would have HELPED Robert. He certainly did not read or follow your Kickstarter lessons! LOL
    I’ve backed it for $3 from my secondary account so I can see the backer-only updates and keep tabs on it, but I had to hold my nose a bit; this guy does not seem to have much integrity, is not building strong relationships, and has damaged his brand with the thousands of folks who are keen on and loyal to TMG thanks to Michael, Seth, and Adam’s friendly, high-integrity approach, never mind the negative hype he’s building up for himself and his projects on BGG.
    As Gordon Ramsay would say, “What a shame”.

  3. Art is not only king, but it also the gatekeeper. If I backed everything I was interested in, I would have no money. So I deliberately flip through projects only skin deep unless something leaps out at me, and that something is almost always art. Sometimes it is “art” in the sense of a well designed board (comparable to well designed user-interfaces in video games, such as Endless Space), pretty miniatures, good looking tokens, but the entire visual aesthetic needs to leap off the page. If it isn’t the final product, it should give me a good idea of what the final product will look like. Good art is the first indicator of high production values, and high production values is what will convince me to pony up the cash now, instead of waiting to buy at an online retailer after reviews have rolled in.

    I am a Euphoria backer primarily because of the KS exclusives were exactly the sort of thing I look for – tokens, and items, and extras that don’t change game mechanics. All that extra stuff in the box is what made the price right. In a real sense, ideas are cheap, what this backer is looking for is execution.

    1. Well said, Kevin. With the sheer amount of Kickstarter projects out there, I definitely need something to catch my eye and draw me in. And one of the first things I look at after the art are the stretch goals, so they play a big role too.

  4. So true on Art is King… That rule has trumped ‘price is right’ before. Case in point – Camp Grizzly. My KS budget was thin but how could I not get that fantastic looking game, with Pixar level illustrations? Nice when the two can be aligned as they were in your art examples – Agents and Dragon’s Hoard are super appealing and a bargain! :)

  5. As always, great to read your short, straight to the point and inspiring articles Jamey! :)
    I wish I could be just as active on the sharing ideas and thoughts, but I guess I’m still searching for the right format. But it’s great to see my methods has also been inspiring you!

    PS: Michael is a true beast when it comes to great social marketing and exposure, awesome work… 15k *phew* makes my 250 seem kind of insignificant, but hopefully it’ll grow with Burning Suns :)

    Thanks for all the inspiration!!
    Best regards Emil

  6. The mailing list is over 15,000 now, of which over 9,000 folks are very interested in what TMG is doing…

    That is because I only mail those who explicitly give me permission as opposed to what the CAN-SPAM laws allow, which includes that you can email anybody that has purchased something from you.

    If I did what CAN SPAM allowed for, then I would probably be emailing MANY more than that…

  7. I learned it’s like most things you get what you put into it and people are always the most important part of any project/idea/business venture.

  8. Great article. I do, however, believe that the way you worked out the free shipping part should be in this list as well. As a European backer, I often back out on a project after reading about the shipping costs. I don’t mind paying extra for a quality product, but paying $25 S&H on a $75 product just does not sound like a great deal….while free S&H on a $100 product might have gotten me to back the product after all. I guess clever marketing does work.;-) But also, it makes the creator come across a lot more sympathetic and professional, as they address issues that a backer might have. And I guess that brings it full circle with the comments you made above about creating a following.

  9. Great article. I agree on all fronts. The point that stuck out the most was #3. Since running a total of 4 campaigns since 2012 I have made a bunch of great friendships. I am always eager to back a project for a good cause or from a designer that gives back to the gaming community.

  10. My biggest lesson from campaigns like Havok & Hijinks and The Agents was how important price differentiation is when attracting backers. As a frequent backer I love it when campaigns offer me something of value at $5, a core (but complete) product for $20-30, and a premium product for $40-60. For campaigns like these I will always jump on board for $5, I often upgrade to the core product, and even when I don’t leap up to the premium level right away, if I play the game and enjoy it I’ll probably buy the premium version it at a retail store at some point down the road.

    1. Jeremy: That’s a great concept. I love the idea of the “premium” level–keep the cost of the game low to reduce a barrier to entry (and have a $1 level to get people in the door), and then give them a way to upgrade to a higher level if they decide that’s a good fit for them.

  11. I think #2 is the biggest thing for me. Which is why it boggles my mind to see people charging for PnP’s and basically limiting access to their game. With Stones of Fate we have a free PnP, we have had access to the game on the Gamecrafter for over a year, and we have taken it to over a dozen conventions and played it with hundreds of people. We set what we consider to be a great price point. We want people to experience this game. Hopefully it works for us in the end.

    1. Jeff: I like that a lot. The more people who have played the game, the better. That goes for Kickstarter and beyond. So that’s one way to remove a barrier to entry for a lot of people.

    2. This is so true. I don’t back RPGs whose rules I can’t examine first and I don’t pay for print and play games (the cost of printing them at a high quality, finding chits/tokens and the time it takes to put them together are high enough anyways). I’ve written about this before, but anything you can do to let the backer know whether or not they want the game before they buy it is a plus- even if that means they don’t back you. The goodwill that providing that info gets you is much better in the long run than the cash you get out of swindling people.

  12. A quick add to Number 10 or maybe a corollary – which is a thing you do very well Jamey. Create anticipation for the Kickstarter weeks or even months in advance by letting people know you are going to do a Kickstarter, some thoughts about what it is, and a very general timeframe on when you are going to do it. It also helps get some early feedback that you can incorporate into what people would like to see when they hear about the general idea.

    1. Feargus: Well said about anticipation, hype, and buzz. There’s no reason to catch people off guard with a Kickstarter project–let them know about it well in advance. Thanks for sharing that tip!

      1. I agree with Feargus about creating anticipation and buzz, it is essential. is a great resource that might help people out with that, check it out.

  13. Adding to your number 7. Price can be high if it is a quality product, but even then it may still scare away some people. Xia I think was the one Kickstarter with a high price that stood out as a positive. Cody said from the beginning it was “go big or go home” as he didn’t want a only really good Kickstarter product then a shoddy regular game to cheap out on the price. I was all over Xia, but the Kickstarter for Myth was different. Same price point and a great product where I was interested, but I couldn’t see my wife and I playing it as she would run from the table as soon as she saw the arachnid scenarios with spiders and scorpions on the table.

    On a tangent I did not do the “name your price” with Tasty Minstrel’s coin age, I wanted to go cheap, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it so I went without.

    1. David: That’s a great point about going big, and creating molds for miniatures cost quite a bit up front. I would be curious to see how much Xia costs per unit to manufacture so I could compare it to Euphoria. Cody, care to share? :)

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