16 November 2015
I recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for a game I designed called Scythe. I’ll delve into the stats in a post later this week, but in short, the project was successful, raising $1.8 million from 17,739 backers and garnering (to date) 17,968 comments on the main page. We did this without early bird reward levels or Kickstarter exclusives.
After the dust settles for any of my campaigns, I write a postmortem blog entry about things I learned from the project, particularly mistakes I made that other creators can avoid. This isn’t meant to be overly negative–overall, I’m very pleased with the Scythe campaign, and I’m honored by the ourpouring of support for it.
Mistake #1: The Daily Goal System
This is the one big thing that I wish I had done differently, because I really believe it would have worked if I had made a few small–but important–tweaks.
Here’s what I did: I revealed 5 stretch goals on the first day of the campaign, with a note that I would announced 1 new stretch goal every day for the duration of the campaign. It would be based on an attainable amount for that day; like, if the previous day ended at $200,000 and the project was averaging about $15,000 a day, I would make the new goal $215,000. The idea was to give backers a fun reason to check the project page on a daily basis and to give new backers a sense of contributing to something specific that day. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to feature Jakub’s art with a big reveal every day, not just a tiny thumbnail in the stretch goal chart.
The final Day 1 stretch goal was $158,632. I think we reached that within the first hour that day, maybe even faster. By the time the first 24 hours had come to a close, Scythe had raised a little over $650,000. So I set the Day 2 stretch goal as $675,000.
I had explained how this was going to work on the stretch goal chart, but it wasn’t until backers saw the huge gap between $158,632 and $675,000 that it really hit them. A small but legitimate number of backers voiced their dismay and anger on the comments of Update #1. They felt like I had disregarded their pledge since it hadn’t “counted” towards any stretch goals. Some backers pulled their pledged or reduced them to $1, vowing to increasing their pledge every day until we reached that day’s goal, then reducing their pledge before I determined the next day’s goal.
There was a lot of negativity in the comments that day. It was unexpected and disappointing, to say the least. I had tried to pack the game with tons of custom, beautiful components at a great price ($59–including a $15 shipping subsidy–for a game that would have an $80 MSRP [even more if you want the promo content post-Kickstarter]). But it didn’t seem to matter. All of the attention was on the daily goal system instead of on the myriad of other cool things we could be talking about.
So I changed it to the traditional stretch goal model. I filled in the gap with a few achieved goals and restructured the remaining goals. I still just revealed one goal at a time, though, to maintain that element of daily discovery I was originally aiming for. We actually ended up reaching about goal a day for the next week, at which point I revealed all remaining goals and their funding amounts.
Here’s what I should have done: It should work a little bit like those holiday calendars with the chocolates behind cardboard doors. On Day 1, showcase a graphic displaying the funding amounts for every stretch goal. However, the goals themselves–the new cards, upgrades, etc–would be hidden. I would reveal one goal each day, even if the funding amount for that goal had already been reached. The chart would also include a spoiler link where backers could click through to see ALL goals. That way they know I’ve actually planned everything out.
The nice thing about that system is that gives you a fun reason to feature goals over the entire project instead of bunching them together at the beginning and the end. You might reach the funding amount for the last goal on Day 5 of 20, but you would still have a sense of progression throughout the project thanks to the daily reveal.
Mistake #2: The Campaign Was Too Long
Now, before I talk about I mean by this, I want to say that I greatly enjoyed the Scythe campaign. It was a lot of fun, and the sense of community was truly awesome. I’m not saying the campaign was too long because it was a drag or anything like that.
Rather, I’m saying the campaign was too long because it didn’t need to be 24 days to achieve what we set out to achieve. Everything we did in 24 days we could have done in 12-16 days instead. I think we would have raised the same amount from the same number of backers, we would have had great conversations during and after the project, we would have time to fix little things early on in the project, and it’s still enough time for new-to-Stonemaier folks to discover the project. We would need to make sure that we released the PnP of the game (and Tabletopia) before launch day, though.
Note that I’m not advocating that every creator run 12-16 day projects. Pick the length that’s right for you.
Mistake #3: Getting Caught Up in Negativity on BGG
The vast amount of chatter on BoardGameGeek during the Scythe campaign was positive, constructive, or collaborative. Which makes it more of a shame I let a few negative threads get under my skin. I spent too much time and energy reply to them instead of engaging on the other threads.
I had a healthy chat about this with my co-worker, Morten, during the project. Morten is good at identifying when I’ve let something get under my skin and aren’t responding as well as I should. He pointed out that I didn’t need to be the one to reply to those threads, especially when the project is so close to me. That was really helpful for me to hear.
A Few Little Mistakes
- It’s hard to coordinate proofreading for a game’s rulebook AND run a Kickstarter project at the same time. Proofreading (and incorporating changes from other proofreaders) requires undivided attention, and during a Kickstarter campaign my attention is divided all over the place.
- I communicated to backers a number of times that there would be no pledge manager–backers couldn’t add stuff to their pledge at the KS prices after the campaign. However, what I didn’t do is clearly communicate to newer backers what a “pledge manager” is. I got a number of messages asking about that.
- At one point in the project I sent a message through Kickstarter to all backers. I assumed that all backers would receive that message. However, there is a flaw in Kickstarter’s messaging system (they’re looking into it) that seemed to randomly pick some backers to get the message and not others. Next time I’ll spot-check a dozen or so backers to see if the system works.
- Due to backer demand, I added an add-on option for wooden resources (some pledge levels offered the realistic resources but not the wooden ones). However, I made a cardinal mistake when pricing it: I priced it exactly the same as another add-on ($10). It’s not a huge deal, but as I’ve now spent about 20 hours going through the backer survey results, I can say that it sure would help to figure out some of the incorrect surveys if those prices were even slightly different.
A Few Things I’d Do Again
I’ll talk about some of these things in the stats post later this week, but here are a few that aren’t stats-driven:
- I started talking about Scythe in December 2014, 10 months before the Kickstarter launch. Some have said this was too early, but I’m really happy with the results. It gave people the chance to follow Jakub’s art for a prolonged period of time leading up to the campaign. It meant that there were tons of eager playtesters when the game was ready for blind playtesting. It meant that Scythe was one of the most sought-after games at Gen Con and Essen, even in prototype form. And all that excitement resulted in an immensely successful campaign. I’d much rather have people be excited about one of my games far in advance of the Kickstarter launch or game release than to leave them in the dark (plus, it helps people budget in advance).
- I must admit that I was disappointed when Rahdo said he wouldn’t do a run-through for Scythe (he was worried about the direct-conflict aspect). I really value his opinions, and I designed Scythe to appeal to couples who don’t enjoy clashing with each other as well as people who have fun with direct conflict. But from that rejection sprung an opportunity: Instead of leveraging Rahdo’s large following, I would use Scythe to bring some much-deserved attention to some lesser-known reviewers whom I hold in high regards. It’s awesome to see that the Forensic Gameology video review has nearly 13,000 views and the Bower’s Game Corner video has over 21,000 views.
- I got a full night’s sleep almost every night of the Scythe campaign. I made this a priority, as I was spending nearly every waking hour at the computer running the campaign. I was able to switch off every night because of Morten, our ambassadors, and backers knowing the answers to questions as well as I did.
- The comments on Scythe were a bit daunting for users to navigate, simply because there were so many of them. One thing I did to try to help was that whenever someone asked a question, I would try to quote the question in my response before answering it. That way something didn’t have to read the answer and then scroll down to hunt for the question. I like that method and would do it again.
One final note (added 12/6/15): I would probably call this a mistake, but not in a way that suggests that things will turn out poorly due to this. Basically, for many months I had it in my head that Scythe’s MSRP would be $70. Based on the quotes we were getting from Panda, that was a bit of a stretch, but I was confident it was fine. So I determined and announced the Kickstarter price ($59, with $15 shipping built in) based on that MSRP.
However, as we got closer and closer to the campaign and I continued to enhance certain components, I realized that I was putting the long-term viability of Scythe at risk by keeping the MSRP at $70. So I consulted with a few people and decided to increase it to $80. At that point I didn’t feel comfortable increasing the Kickstarter price to $69 (as it would have been if I had known earlier that the MSRP would be $80), so I decided not to change anything. I guess the lesson here is to not announce the prices any earlier than necessary? It’s tough to do, because some people plan their Kickstarter budgets well in advance–you might be surprised how many people asked for the KS prices 5-6 months in advance of the campaign.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments!
Also read postmortem insights from my other campaigns or my live-blogging lessons written during the Scythe campaign:
- Live-Blogging Lesson #8: The Feeling of Running a Mega Project
- Live-Blogging Lesson #9: No, It’s Just a Prototype
- Live-Blogging Lesson #10: No, We Don’t Use a Pledge Manager
- Live-Blogging Lesson #11: Foreign Translations and Language Independence
- Live-Blogging Lesson #12: Just the Facts, Please
If you’ve read my crowdfunding book and have some opinions about it, I would be honored if you shared them in the form of a review or rating on Amazon. This is a great way for you to spread the messages of community, generosity, creativity, and selflessness I talk about in the book.