Third Time’s the Charm: Lessons Learned from Failing Twice on Kickstarter (a guest post)

29 November 2015 | 29 Comments

One of the hardest questions a creator must answer during a struggling or failing crowdfunding campaign is: Do people simply not want this, or do people want it, but my presentation isn’t good enough?

On this blog I talk a lot about successful crowdfunding campaigns. Today I have something different: A guest post from a creator whose project has failed to fund not once, but twice. Douglas Symon of Kyy Games has generously volunteered to talk about this vulnerable subject, and he also authorized me to chime in with my thoughts throughout the post. Thanks Douglas!

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bgg_banner2Having launched two unsuccessful campaigns (first project and second project) to fund the production of Cabals: The Board Game, we know what it is like to fail on Kickstarter.  So we thought we may be able to share some of the things we did wrong in the hope that others can avoid doing the same.

Advertising on BoardGameGeek

From the perspective of board games, BoardGameGeek is undoubtedly one of the most important and most useful websites online. However, from our experience, adverts on the site were definitely not the be-all and end all for a successful Kickstarter campaign. Having now spent over $1000 on adverts there, we can only report 17 backers directly originating from the site. That’s over $60 per backer and the average pledge we received was less than that. In fact in the second campaign, we only gained 3 backers after the adverts went live.

Why was this? Maybe our presence and activity on BoardGameGeek wasn’t enough and that needs to support the ads? We certainly tried, but that was probably true that there could have been more community based activity there. That doesn’t excuse such a low return on the ads, though, so perhaps the adverts were bad? Unlikely with the amazing artwork we have at hand. You can see the basics of the ads we used during this text so please feel free to give feedback in the comments below. Also are you a BoardGameGeek regular, did you notice any of the adverts for Cabals?

[Jamey’s Thoughts: I think it’s important to remember that no matter how good the banner ads are or whom they reach, when someone clicks through the ad, if they don’t find something they want, the ad doesn’t matter. This isn’t a criticism of Cabals, but rather an important reminder to creators that we’re the ones responsible for converting click-throughs to pledges, not the sites where the ads were featured.]

bgg_banner3Thunderclap

Another respected avenue for building awareness of a campaign is using Thunderclap. First time round we had a Thunderclap setup at the very beginning of the project and we think that aided to help a good start. However, in the second project we had a slightly better start, without a Thunderclap. No doubt because of the backers we had built up from the first project.

We ran a Thunderclap during the middle of the campaign instead to try improve momentum during the project. Unfortunately that turned out to be pretty fruitless and, in hindsight, a mistake. With Thunderclap being a trending based service to boost exposure it would have been better to use it again at the beginning like we did in the first project.

[Jamey’s Thoughts: My personal opinion is that Thunderclap doesn’t really do much at all for Kickstarter creators. It’s a cool idea–leverage your fans to create visibility on Twitter at a specific time–but I’ve really seen no evidence that it does anything other than bother the people who see the same tweets clog up their feed for a few minutes.]

General Buzz

That leads to the topic of “buzz”. It seems like we simply did not create enough. We did, what we thought, was a lot of contacting press in advance, and in different manners to try and build up a relationship, but the coverage there was not enough.

Perhaps spending the wasted advertising money on other popular board game websites would have been more effective, as well as strengthening connections we already have. We had even arranged for video reviews from Undead Viking and Board Game Brawl to be ready in the first week of the campaign.

However, it was here that we managed to make the most fatal mistake.

Launching Without Third-Party Reviews

We did not delay our launch date when it became apparent that the prototypes may not arrive on time. In the end it delayed the reviews so much that they were not available until pretty much the last week of the project and it didn’t have the same impact as their expert opinions would have usually.

The reason for that is probably the large number of initial people who saw the project, at the very start, were not exposed to those videos. They would have provided a much more reassuring account of the game than the videos we had showing the out of date prototypes with different artwork.

Launching Without an Online Demo Prototype

A second red light to our scheduled launched date was our plans to unleash a desktop version of our game on Steam’s Greenlight. The intention was to have this launched in the first week of the campaign and it may have exposed the Kickstarter project to over 10,000 gamers. However, quickly after launch of the Kickstarter it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be ready in time.

[Jamey’s Thoughts: After seeing the impact of the Tabletopia version of Scythe during my Kickstarter campaign, I think online demo prototypes have the potential of making a huge impact on tabletop game campaigns.]

bgg_banner1

If We Launch Again…

As I write this we haven’t decided if we will have another run at crowd funding or will we simply focus on other options. This post, though, would form a good basis should we wish to relaunch the campaign a third, and final time.

Should we launch the project again, the following things really need to be ready for Day 1:

  • A mailing list of people interested in the campaign. Our e-newsletter had just over 100 people when we launched Cabals. Ideally it would have been 1000 and we would have been funded day 1, but that’s maybe hoping too much. (KS Lesson)
  • Third-party video reviews. In hindsight, at least one should be a really popular reviewer with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of viewers. (KS Lesson)
  • Key press coverage (KS Lesson)
  • Back other projects on Kickstarter. We definitely lost some backers because, although team members have individually backed projects, our Kyy Games account for the project had not backed any. (KS Lesson)

Other Points of Confusion on the Project Page

If we relaunched Cabals, we would fix the following elements of the project page (KS Lesson):

  • Convert long chunks of text to lists, short paragraphs, and explanatory images.
  • Make it very clear that Cabals is an Expandable Card Game not a Collectable Card Game.
  • Improve the project video to show more about the game and better convey our passion for it.

There are no doubt other things to do as well. Perhaps we can add more as we realize them or if you clever people comment below, but those are a few that are clear right now.

***

If you have any thoughts or questions you’d like to ask Douglas and his team, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Also read: Kickstarter Lesson #50: How to Reboot an Unsuccessful Kickstarter Project

29 Comments on “Third Time’s the Charm: Lessons Learned from Failing Twice on Kickstarter (a guest post)

  1. I can immediately see an issue with the ads shown in this post: in no way do they indicate what the product is about. The first one (the green lady with the gun) looks like a…zombie? A witch? Some kind of zombie witch?

    The second one adds in a suit-wearing skeleton with a cat, so my guess would be that he’s a supervillain? Like Dr Evil? Is this game the tale of a zombie witch fighting Dr Evil in the 1920s? That sounds like a solo game or a cooperative game (or a video game).

    The last image shows some kind of man being struck by lightning, a dragon, a monkey, and what looks like a modern Splinter Cell-esque character.

    I now have absolutely no idea what your game is about, and the name (Cabals) tells me absolutely nothing. All I know is that it’s a board game.

    Pulling up BoardGameGeek.com right now, I see an ad for Centaur Saga which says – in big letters – 4X, 1-4 players, $45. Bam. In one ad, I have ten times as much relevant information than the three ads in this post put together.

    Plus it has pictures of miniatures. I immediately know exactly what kind of game it is, and how much I’m expected to pay for it.

    (Also, by saying 4X and 1-4 players and showing minis, there’s no need to say “Board Game”.)

    Jamey, have you considered doing a post about effectively advertising? Perhaps specifically on BGG?

    1. Peter: You make some interesting points here. It sounds like you consider the most important information for a board game ad to be (a) what type of game it is, (b) how many players it supports, and (c) how much it costs.

      This blog is meant to talk about crowdfunding projects in general, not just tabletop game projects, but I’ll consider an entry about this topic, as I’d like to know what others think too. When I look at ads on BGG, I’m not looking for much information about the game itself–I know I can get that if I click through. What I need is some kind of hook to get me to click on the ad. For you, that hook is a combination of game type, player count, and affordable cost. For me, usually I just need one hook supported by great art and graphic design.

    2. Thank you for the excellent points Peter. It would certainly be a good idea to vary the adverts in ways so as to capture the interest more people and we’ll be sure to work on this in the future. Right now they appeal more to those who like to be immersed in the story rather than those who would like the facts first.

      Interestingly I wonder if giving more facts in the ads could actually reduce clickthroughs but increase the number of conversions. Not necessarily a bad thing as the ad will have got the attention of other people as well and will have saved the time of those who were really not interested in the game.

      We’d too be interested in a Jamey post on the subject, of course!

    3. I agree with Peter’s take on the ad (though I’d be interested in data on what works or doesn’t work for advertising). Cool art alone won’t get me to click, because anyone with a bit of startup cash can pay an artist to make them some cool art. I want to know something about the game, because that’s what will make me interested enough to click and read more. That could be:
      – Mechanics and gameplay — is this a social game? 4X? deckbuilder?
      – Theme and story — what’s the game about? Cool art can do this — e.g. the piece that’s the background image for this blog tells a very intriguing story! But the art for Cabals doesn’t do that for me. Seeing it I still have no idea what the game is about.
      – Physical components — if you’ve got cool custom meeples and cards and stuff, I would enjoy seeing them in the ad. (I personally hate sculpted minis, so I would like seeing those in the ad so that I don’t waste my time clicking, but for lots of people they’d be a big draw.) Getting cool components is fun in and of itself, and seeing the components gives me a sense of what it will be like to play the game.

  2. Jamey, have you considered a blogpost about working a way through BGG for new members. The struggles and successes of BGG as a whole. Just a thought and thank you for your insight in to Kickstarter and being a success.

  3. Since this post mentions BGG ads, I figured I’d chime in!

    Thanks Jamey for already alluding to one very important aspect of advertising: ads drive traffic to a campaign, but are not the thing that sells the game. Many folks figure that if an ad didn’t bring in pledges, the advertising must have been bad. This can certainly be true if the ads’ clickthrough rates were terrible. However, in many cases, the ads are driving really good traffic, but the project isn’t converting that traffic into pledges.

    In the case of Cabals, the first campaign yielded a .62% clickthrough rate (a $500 spend yielded 3,080 visits to the project), which is outstanding, and the 2nd campaign yielded a .46% clickthrough rate (a $500 spend yielded 2,322 clicks to the project), which is still excellent. The drop in clickthrough of the 2nd campaign is easily predictable since it was a project many people had seen and checked out the first time around. So, the ads were quite effective at getting people to click. Like Douglas mentioned, the game had great artwork, and this is often enough to get someone to click to see more.

    The subject of why all those visitors didn’t turn into more pledges is the tricky part. Was the game too expensive? Was there not enough information about the game? Were there not enough reputable reviews? Were there too many other high profile projects sucking away peoples’ cash (Kickstarter has gotten to be less and less of a surefire thing these days, especially for new publishers without a track record)? Were there not enough pledgers coming from non-advertising sources (ad traffic tends to convert much better on a project with funding already in place; it vouches for the quality of the project when people see a higher dollar amount pledged, and people also have a fear of missing out)?

    I’m not saying any if these specifically apply to Cabals; maybe they do and maybe they don’t. It’s just a quick list of potential issues off the top of my head. But, when you see good clickthrough rates like this on ads, it means people thought the game potentially looked attractive enough to click and see more. When all those people willingly click to a project and then don’t pledge, it means there’s either not enough there to close the deal, or perhaps even something there that’s preventing the deal from closing. Identifying this is the tough job a project creator.

    1. Thanks for chiming in with these insights, Chad! I agree that with click-through rates like that, it sounds like the issues are rooted elsewhere. It sounds like Douglas and his team are taking a long, hard look at what they need to do better for the reboot.

    2. Thank you Chad for taking the time to give such a detailed response. Oddly our analytic data of the number actually viewing the second project from BGG is less than half of the numbers quoted. Perhaps we should investigate this further together (dougsymon on bgg).

      The questions in your reply are an excellent basis for us to explore how to improve things. The two that certainly stand out, thinking about it quickly, are the reviews and number of other high profile projects that were at the same time. No doubt it’s a combination of different things and we’d certainly love to know what was preventing the deal from closing if there was something.

      Also I think from your points we could add another bullet to the “If We Launch Again…” section. Namely that

      – make sure we have identified why the previous projects did not succeed and correct them

      Thanks again!

  4. Douglas,

    Great article! I will say that it appears as though you’re heading in the right direction. You lowered the goal from $35K to $25K while maintaining approximately the same number of Backers. If you can’t push the Goal down any further, you may want to try what Jamey (and other creators) have done…shed some of the unnecessary Reward Levels. Don’t sell Print-and-Play. It’s not worth our time and energy. If people want to P-n-P the game, make it available for free. Also, rid yourself of the $5 card options…focus solely on your game.

    I wish you the best of luck…keep your Backers informed while you continue to use Social Media to get the word out to new Backers.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Joe,

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. Glad you appreciate the article, it’s my first major blog post like this and Jamey’s commentary is no doubt a great help.

      Streamlining everything about the project and rewards like you suggest may be exactly the right direction to go.

      Cheers,
      Douglas

  5. I don’t see any people having Fun playing with the Boardgame in the first Kickstarter video.

    The creator is not smiling (You know, there Is this Old Chinese Proverb : A Man Without a Smiling Face Must Never show his face on a Kickstarter video). Where is the positive Emotion?

    Where is the Community? None advertising spending can replace a community (lesson learned the hard way thanks to Jamey’s Blog posts and his mandatory book for all Kickstarter creators whatever your project is!).

    The video is much too long and should start with the second part.

    This is just my opinion and I may be completely wrong. I’ve only spent 10 minutes.

    1. Thank you Michel for taking your time to comment. Good points! We agree that the content of the video could be improved with gameplay and portraying our passion for the project more (mentioned at end of this blog post)

      Being from Finland showing emotions into a camera isn’t very natural and, for a Finn, Mika was actually very passionate and smiley (honestly!) :D It’s unfortunate that doesn’t get portrayed to viewers as he did a great job and hard work went into it.

      The Cabals Community can be found at http://cabalsgame.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=70

  6. I remember seeing the ads and being drawn in by the artwork and the theme sounded interesting and unique. However, the game just didn’t look like something I’d be interested in playing. The price point was a bit high to take a chance on it. I don’t remember what else was running on Kickstarter (or just before, since that plays a role as well), but that could have been a factor too.

  7. I played Cabals Online, backed the first campaign and backed the second one. (I’m not sure if I’ll backing the third one).

    In short – my strong opinion is that Cabals team should focus on improving the campaign itself, and the game.

    — The campaign’s page is weak. Including video. Including nearly everything.
    — The art is not the savior. It is very specific. It’s a challenging task to show it properly.
    — Cabals Online is CCG. Cabals Tabletop is something in-between. CCG’s are not a good target for crowdfunding, basically. The game could rely on online community, but it costs hundreds of bucks to get adequate decks in physical form here (and online players won’t run for half-playable decks from physical base set after having played full-strength online decks). The game tries to rely on newcomers, but…
    — But the gameboard, that is outstanding in online version, looks ugly in physical form. There are millions of tokens (I hardly can imagine how to play with all this), it scares away, when it is a TCG/CCG/LCG/ETCG. Cards does not look pretty on Kickstarter. Strong points are unclear. Art is strange. The game looks like an odd sort of CCG. Etc.

    I think that Cabals team should not look for the problems “outside”. The whole your post in this blog is about “others”.

    I believe that it’s not BGG, or anything else (I 100% agree with what Chad says). Probably you just need more testing, more public opinions about the game, AND someone who knows how to make a good campaign. Still having this, for a game like Cabals it’s not an easy task to succeed. However, that’s possible.

    Sorry for being too straight. (Maybe, someone should? :) I like Cabals Online. Best of luck with Cabals the boardgame!

    1. Hi Denis and thank you for your support of Cabals! We agree with a lot of your points and this post was overall looking at ourselves as to what *we* should have done better. Thank you for being straight talking as Finns tend to be that way anyway :)

      It’s clear defining what the game is, was definitely a problem. Despite backing both projects you hadn’t realised the game is definitely not a CCG as card sets are fixed. So this confirms that area of confusion for backers.

      We’re glad you like Cabals: Magic & Battle Cards. How are you enjoying the War of Cabals at the moment? It’s great to have a Sons of Osiris themed month as it’s been a long time…

      Enjoy playing Cabals!

  8. From a consumer standpoint visiting the page on my phone there is just too much text. When I finally got to the gameplay section I was greeted with two paragraphs without proper spacing and with two different fonts.

    It seems like the best thing you could have done was hire a professional web designer and let her do the work. It’s just kind of a mess. The game looks interesting, but if I notice signs that a Kickstarter page is not professional, I start to wonder about the state of the game. I get a little nervous about games based on existing IPs as well.

    So, I suppose what I need is for you to show me the world (no needless exposition). Tell me why I need this game. What’s unique about it? And why I should trust you with my money. All in about 600 words. But I need visuals. I very rarely watch Kickstarter videos anymore.

  9. I was a backer of both Kickstarter.

    I also saw a problem i also saw there: No rules online. Only a quick reference.
    I saw no real review, which also helps with Kickstarter.
    I also talked to you at Essen about the rules and about a german translation as well as iconification of some card texts. It would help a little bit with internationalization.

    Hope you may have another Kickstarter in Future. You may also contact me if you need some help.

  10. Hi Torsten,

    Thank you for your support backing the campaign and taking the time to meet with us at Essen. Sounds like you’ve picked up on the point about not communicating the right information with people well enough. So like the game being an Expandable Card Game we didn’t highlight the rules and reviews well enough.

    The rulebook ( http://cabalsgame.com/rulebookdraft.pdf ) was there in the second project and there are also links to reviews. Most interesting for you would have been the two in German no doubt. http://www.spielkult.de/cabals.htm and http://www.roachware.org/2015/05/sammelkabale/

    Thanks again :)

  11. Thanks for sharing, Douglas! I realize I’m joining the conversation late, but here’s my two cents:

    There were two things that could have been mentioned earlier in the video that would have given this project instant credibility (at least to me):

    1) The fact that the creator is a Magic the Gathering champion
    2) That there’s already an app based on the game (I can try, digitally, before I buy! Yeah!)

    These facts above tell me that the creator/company really knows games (digital or otherwise). It makes me think this project is legit and not another “take the money and run” production. I’m more likely to part with my hard-earned cash if I trust the creator and can see some history of success. In short, get your geek cred out there earlier.

    Good luck with the future of the game, guys! I’m downloading the app right now!

  12. […] After Hearthstone’s launch, Cabals’ developers turned to Kickstarter, hoping to transform their digital board game into a physical one. They didn’t reach their goal. Nonplussed, the team relaunched the campaign, only to see it fail a second time. The prototype looked fine, but poor reach and a confusing marketing campaign doomed it from the start. The project was shelved, its fate lamented in a candid post-mortem. […]

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