13 July 2014 | 46 Comments
After all of my Kickstarter campaigns, I like to publicly reflect back upon the experience to help myself and other project creators. It’s been a few days since the Treasure Chest Kickstarter project ended, so I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts. Here are the top 10 things I learned from this campaign:
10. A 1-minute project video works wonders. With Tuscany, I thought we might be seeing the end of the relevance of project videos. It turns out that people still want videos–they just want shorter videos.
Tuscany’s project video was 2 minutes and 20 seconds long. 10,558 people watched it, with 34% of them watching the entire video.
In contrast, 11,648 people watched the Treasure Chest video (despite the campaign being 12 days shorter), with a whopping 60% of viewers watching the entire video. This wasn’t a testament to the video, which was rather bland. Rather, I’m confident it was the length–the Treasure Chest video was exactly 60 seconds long.
60 seconds isn’t much time to say much of substance, but perhaps that’s the point. It’s just an introduction to the project with a few good visuals and the most exciting elements. You can include other videos lower down on the project page.
9. The allure of possibility is just as strong as the appeal of impactful input. I tried something I’ve never done with my previous Kickstarter campaigns: I finalized every aspect of the Treasure Chest before the project started. The sculpts for the resources were complete and my artist was already midway through the art for the box.
However, to me, Kickstarter is all about building a community, so I wanted a way to still make backers feel engaged. Plus, I wanted to give them an outlet for the input they had. I knew people would say, “Why don’t you add ____ to the Treasure Chest?” It’s a fair question, and I wanted the answer to go beyond, “The design is complete.”
So I created a backer survey for a hypothetical Treasure Chest 2.0. Any backer could submit an idea for a new realistic resource token for us to create in the future, and I’d add it to an ongoing poll. The results would serve as a guide when we sought to prioritize the next Treasure Chest (assuming the first one is successful).
The poll (which you can see part of on the sidebar; it garnered over 7,400 votes) worked amazingly well for two reasons. One, it gave people a platform for feedback, thus deflecting any annoyance they might have for not being able to offer input on the Treasure Chest 1.0.
Two–this was the biggest surprise for me–the sheer possibility that there might be a future Treasure Chest and their feedback might make an impact on it was a reason that some backers pledged to the current Treasure Chest. I call this the “allure of possibility,” and I won’t underestimate its power again.
8. Past success does not predict future success. You may not believe it, but I always have huge doubts when I launch a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve seen great companies and creators with established track records stumble on certain campaigns, and I get really nervous that I’m missing something or I’ve communicated something poorly or I’ve priced something too high.
However, I’ve also been very fortunate to have success on Kickstarter, and I’ve been spoiled a bit by it. This came to light on the Treasure Chest’s launch day. My previous project, Tuscany, reached its $20,000 funding goal in 16 minutes and raised $140,517 on launch day (according to Kicktraq). So when I launched the Treasure Chest after talking about it for months and offering a lower price point than Tuscany, I thought it might follow a similar trajectory.
That did not happen.
The Treasure Chest did well, but Tuscany had overinflated my expectations. The Chest took about 2 hours to fully fund its $25,000 goal, and it raised $40,709 on launch day (Kicktraq). Which is great, of course–that’s still a ton of money.
But it really helped me put things in perspective. Each project is different, and I should do everything in my power to make each project as compelling as possible for its target audience. Having a robust mailing list doesn’t mean that everyone will want the next thing we put on Kickstarter. And an accessory product–which is new to Stonemaier–is very different than a game.
It was a bit of a gut-check, and a much needed one. I’ll definitely carry it with me in the future.
7. Stagger exciting announcements throughout the project for current and previous backers. As you can see from the chart above, the Treasure Chest campaign had a unique pledge curve. A strong end and a beginning are typical for projects. but what were those strong days in the middle of the campaign?
Even though I didn’t want to change the Treasure Chest itself, during the first few days of the campaign I gauged demand for an external pack of wooden stars. I knew we had to make at least 1500 of them, so I wanted to see if there were enough interest to justify that print run.
By around Day 5 or 6 I knew we were close enough, so I announced the addition to current backers. That resulted in a nice bump. I also added a pack of 16 updated recruit cards for Euphoria to every Treasure Chest at the same time, and my update to Euphoria backers prompted another nice bump. A few days later I sent an update to Tuscany backers as well.
I was particularly sensitive to the fact that there are a number of backers who supported the Euphoria, Tuscany, and Treasure Chest projects (see sidebar), so I made sure to never post more than 1 project update per day on any project, past or present. My goal is to make sure they stay subscribed to those updates by not pestering them.
6. Bundled rewards are incredibly compelling to backers. I must admit that I’m no longer a big fan of reward levels where you get 2 copies of a product at a discount. At least in the board game category, it doesn’t cost less to make a second game, so why should you charge less? Just offer the lowest price you can for each game, and additional games should cost the same amount. (Even combining shipping doesn’t save you more than a few dollars–you still have to pay for the added weight and the pick-and-pack fee if you’re using a fulfillment service.)
However, I discovered with the Treasure Chest that bundled packages work really well. They create a win-win situation for both creators and backers.
For the Treasure Chest, you could pledge to receive a copy of the Treasure Chest with early adopter shipping for $39 (a TT with non-early adopter shipping was $33). You could also add a set of metal coins for $19 and/or a set of wooden stars for $9. The full package ($39 + $19 + $9) would equate to $67.
We charged $59 instead. I love reward levels that end with “9”.
We created the $59 reward level mid-way through the project, and I would have been happy if 100 people selected it. Much to my surprise, the reward attracted 798 backers.
I think the success of that reward level goes beyond the price–it’s also more convenient for backers. It’s still really confusing for many backers to manually increase their pledge total to account for an add-on. You can make it a lot easier for those backers if you have a bundled reward they can click on and check out without any additional hassle.
5. You probably don’t know your best pitch. I always seek a lot of input on the project page from our advisory board and ambassadors before we launch a project. But I don’t think I fully appreciated the value of their input compared to my biased intuition until now. It has reinforced the value I placed on that early feedback.
I ordered the Treasure Chest project page in a way that I thought prioritized the most compelling elements of the pitch at the top. However, someone mentioned that the most compelling graphic was pretty far down on the page.
I’ll be honest–I dismissed that first person’s feedback. I had spent hundreds of hours honing the project page. What did they know after looking at it for 5 minutes?
But then someone else said the same thing. Then someone else. So I moved the graphic up on the page. Other people still commented on it, so I moved it higher up on the page. It ended up being a marquee feature on the page, one that a backer extrapolated into a well-populated list on BGG.
The point is that you probably don’t know your best pitch because you’ve been looking at it from the inside for so long. Trust the feedback of those who take a quick glance at your project preview page, because that’s the same impression backers will get after you launch.
Here’s the graphic I’m talking about:
4. BoardGameGeek ads make a difference. I’m pretty excited to share this data, because this might be the most unbiased BGG data you’ll ever get. Kickstarter tells you the websites where backers come from, but you can’t tell if backers discovered your game’s page on BGG or if they clicked on your BGG ad. Other than the list I mentioned above (which mostly only backers knew about), the Treasure Chest doesn’t have a BGG page, so almost all of the BGG click-throughs came from the 11-day ad we paid $700 for.
Here’s the data:
- As of midnight on June 27, before we activated the BGG ad, Kickstarter showed that 44 backers had discovered the Treasure Chest through BGG for a funding total of $1,593.
- As of midnight on July 6, before we activated the BGG home-page takeover, a total of 79 backers had clicked over from BGG for a funding total of $3,675.
- When the Kickstarter project ended, a total of 129 backers had come from BGG for a funding total of $6,627.
Thus it would appear that the $700 ad directly created approximately 85 new backers for a funding total of $5,034. That’s a 700% return on investment, which is excellent.
A BGG ad isn’t going to guarantee you extra backers on a board-game project, but if both the ad and the project are compelling, I think it’s absolutely worth the money.
3. Air freight as a premium option. My love for the “premium option” on Kickstarter is well documented. Set an anchor price for the core product, then establish a better version of it for a higher cost. It works really well for creators and backers.
I struggled with this for the Treasure Chest, as I only wanted to make one version of the Chest for various reasons. Finally I stumbled upon an idea: Why not give backers the option of including their product on an air-freight pallet instead of the standard, slow ocean freight? It would speed up the time it would take for them to receive the product by 3-5 weeks, which in this case coincided with the 2014 holiday season.
In the end, the ocean-freight option ($33) attracted 1792 backers compared to 1214 total backers for air freight December shipping. Not quite as many backers upgraded to the $39 early-adopter level as we thought, but it’s something I’ll consider again in the future if the price is right. I don’t think it would work well for a bigger, heavier game because of the high cost of air freight, but for something smaller like the Treasure Chest, the numbers are more compelling.
We’ll see how well it works out in December, though. I’ve basically promised December delivery (this isn’t the same as the typical estimated delivery date on Kickstarter), so if I can’t delivery as promised, I think the ethical solution is to offer the early-adopter backers a partial refund.
2. Instead of having an early-bird reward level, make the entire project the early bird reward. This has become my rallying cry on my KS Lessons (and this KS face-off. And this KS interview). Instead of offering an early bird price for a limited time during a limited-time project on Kickstarter, make the entire project the early bird reward. Thus you reward backers for a set price that’s locked in during the project no matter the stretch goals unlocked, but after the project you still offer the product for pre-order on your website for a price that better reflects what the product grew to become during the Kickstarter campaign.
The key to this, in my opinion, is to run a short campaign. I outlined a number of reasons why the Treasure Chest was a short (16.5 day) campaign on this project update. One of those reasons was to create a sense of urgency behind the project–back it now for the best price. Early bird rewards do the same thing, but they do it during the project, a time when you should reward every backer equally (in my opinion).
I don’t think a short campaign works for every project. If you’re hoping that backer engagement will help the product grow and evolve during the project, you need more time to make that work. But I’d still recommend this early-bird method over the traditional way. Plus, if you use ShopLocket, it’s really easy to offer the product on your website after Kickstarter.
1. Basing stretch goals on backer count instead of funding total does amazing things. The biggest lesson–and revelation–to me from the Treasure Chest was the way people responded to stretch goal system we created.
Here’s how it worked: For every 100 backers who pledged to the Treasure Chest (at any reward level), we added 1 resource token to every Chest. Simple as that. No limit, no other shenanigans. The only addendum I made was that I would round up at the end of the project so there would be equal numbers of each resource. As a result, the Treasure Chest ended up growing from 120 tokens to 156 tokens.
My favorite thing about this stretch goal structure was how inclusive it was (more about that on this project update). We’re only making one version of the Treasure Chest, so backers were making the Treasure Chest better for everyone, not just themselves. I love that we attracted over 3200 backers who supported that concept.
Near the end of the project I considered adding one funding stretch goal, something to add a little frenzy to the final 48 hours. But I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t. On past Kickstarter projects, some backers have continued to add more and more stuff to their pledge just to reach more stretch goals. I really appreciate that, but it never leaves me with a good feeling to stretch some backers that way. I want to make backers feel like their original pledge is perfect just the way it is instead of continually asking them for more and more. The backer-count stretch goal does this perfectly.
The only downside to it is that it creates some confusion around group pledges. I based the backer-count stretch goals on the visible backer tally at the upper right of the page. I think that was the right way to go since I was rounding up anyway at the end of the project, but I did have several backers asking about that.
I hope this long Top 10 list has been helpful for you. If you have any feedback about this concepts or anything we did for the Treasure Chest Kickstarter campaign, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.