Top 3 Mistakes and Insights from the Transylvania Kickstarter: A Guest Post

31 May 2015

In May 2014, first-time creators Loren and Jamie Cunningham successfully funded their board game passion project, Transylvania: Curses & Traitors. They raised $46,787 from 766 backers, and they delivered the game to backers this spring.

I ran into Loren and Jamie a few weeks ago at Geekway to the West in St. Louis, and I invited Loren to share his mistakes and insights on my blog. Thanks for taking the time to write this detailed post, Loren and Jamie!

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Loren
Loren

Hi, this is Loren and Jamie Cunningham, co-founders of WIBAI Games. WIBAI stands for Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If… and that really is our game design philosophy.  Creating Transylvania: Curses & Traitors was a blast and a few years ago we thought to ourselves “Wouldn’t it be awesome if – we could turn this into a real on-the-shelves published game!

So, we set out to get our little project funded.  Along the way there were things that we did right and are pretty proud of; and there are also things that we view as “learning opportunities” for the next time.  We would like to share with you, the top 3 from each category.

Top 3 Mistakes We Won’t Make in the Future

1. We should have been more on top of the art and graphic design process–we left too much to the end.

We love our artist, Kristel Raymundo.  She is amazing and her work speaks for itself, but it was our first board game and her first board game so we made a few mistakes that would have saved all of us a lot of time and hassle if we had known better.

Jamie
Jamie

By far, one of the biggest mistakes that we made was not having our art ready for printing.  We were really excited when it came time to turn in all of the art files to our manufacturer.  It felt great!  Everything was done.  So it came as a shock when our printer emailed us back saying that our art pieces did not have bleed line and cut lines.

This seems logical now, but we totally missed this until it hit us in the face. TCT has well over 100 pieces of unique art and so it took our artist 2 weeks to go back and add the bleed and cut lines to each token, stand-up, card and tile (because the amazing Kristel thankfully dropped everything and went back to working on our game after she thought she was finished with her part).

By the time we got all of our files back to the manufacturer for production we had lost about 3 weeks.  On this new timeline we just missed shipping our games out of China before the Chinese New Year (the games were finished and boxed up, but they couldn’t get on the ship until the ports reopened), which cost us another 2 weeks.

If we had been on top of the file format that the manufacturer needed and been adding the cut lines and the bleed lines to the pieces as they were created, there is little doubt that we would have shipped out before Chinese New Year.  This simple oversight was a big hassle for our artist to fix after the fact and it cost us 4-6 weeks on our delivery time.

2. We should have gotten feedback from more blind playtesters earlier in the design process.

We play tested our game – a lot.  But it was usually with at least one of us or our friends leading the game and explaining the rules (thank you Morgan Hillsman and Nathan Owens for running countless playtests of TCT at game stores and conventions!).

We should have been sending our baby out on its own to be played by blind play testers as soon as we had a nearly finished prototype.  Instead we were nearly ready to launch before we sent out the Print and Play.  Getting more blind feedback would have benefited us in 3 ways:

  • It identified our target audience. While it made sense to us- the game’s designers- that everyone should love our baby, it turns out that everyone likes different styles of games and our game is no exception.  It is richly thematic, but there is a lot of luck involved. It involves a lot of social interaction but it is not deeply strategic.  Getting very different feedback from different types of gamers helped us identify our audience and a better understanding of that audience earlier in our Kickstarter process would have helped us make fewer mistakes.
  • It would have been easier to incorporate new ideas and feedback if we weren’t about to hit the launch button on the nearly finished game.
  • Identifying things that people did not understand (when we weren’t standing there to explain it) led to a much stronger rule book. We wish we had been working on that before we launched the Kickstarter, rather than during and afterwards.

The great thing about running your first Kickstarter is that it introduces you to a lot of amazing people who are invested and passionate about the same types of games that you are.  When we are ready to get feedback on our next game, we have an abundant source of volunteers based on the awesome backers we had for Transylvania: Curses & Traitors.

3. We should have sent the game to be reviewed by reviewers who like our type of game.

Remember that mistake we discussed above about thinking that everyone would love our game and then later realizing that it, like all other games, has a target audience?  Well, that would have been really helpful for us to understand when we started sending out games to reviewers.

tileWe really thought that our best course of action was to follow some reviewers and develop a relationship with them and then send them our game to review.  What we did not realize is that we really should have been asking for reviews from reviewers who enjoy our type of game.

We found that reviewers who love highly thematic games gave us great reviews, while reviewers who really enjoy more strategic “Euro” style games did not love TCT and reviewed it from that perspective.  This led to mixed reviews when we launched our Kickstarter.

Next time, we will be more realistic about who probably will and won’t like our game and ask for reviews accordingly.

Top 3 Things We Love About Our Game and Project

1. All of our characters are real (and really awesome) people.

All of the Adventurers that you play in Transylvania: Curses and Traitors are backers of the game.  We really tried to take to heart what Kickstarter is all about. It is a community that involves backers into a unique project and gives them a sense of personal investment in the success of the project.

big game femaleWe did this by offering our backers the chance to become the main characters in the game.  There are 10 different character types in Transylvania: Curses & Traitors from the Mad Scientist to the Big Game Hunter.  Each character type has both a male and a female avatar so there would be no “token female” (a pet peeve of Jamie’s).

Most importantly, each of these 20 personas is based on a real person.  We had 16 backers choose to pledge at this level and the spots filled pretty quickly.  On the business side of the project, it generated $4800 early on in the campaign.  That was nearly 20% of our goal and 10% of our total funding.  Even more importantly, it gave us 16 amazing characters, each based on people uniquely interested and involved in the success of the project.

2. We really focused on the art.

Being newcomers to the world of Kickstarter game publishers, we knew we needed great art to make our project stand out if anyone was going to notice it. We wanted to create an experience that would immerse players in our version of Transylvania. Everything–starting with the game’s box and including each game component–needed to enhance that vision.

big game maleWe also needed an artist who could create not just characters but also architecture, scenery, and icons, all with Victorian flair.  Furthermore, we needed all of this amazing art on the start-up budget of a fledgling company.

We were looking for someone early in their career with a lot of talent who would be willing to work with us to create our dream, so it took us a while to find the perfect partner.  We did an extensive search, both locally at colleges and art schools, and globally through art websites such as Deviant Art.  We contacted a number of people about this project.

In the end, we could not have been happier with our artist and how all the components turned out.  We are really proud of the way Transylvania: Curses & Traitors looks and feels and we know that a large part of its success is due to Kristel’s amazing artwork.  More of her work can be seen at here.

3. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery–and there are a lot of people out there who should be flattered.

We didn’t do anything really ground breaking when it came to running our Kickstarter.  There have been so many successful creators out there, our main goal was to learn what they did, and then do that.

bookWe put a lot of research into how to run a Kickstarter long before we ever hit the launch button. This included reading several blogs including Jamey’s Kickstarter Lessons (which we read three full times, including all of the notes and comments) and the blog by James Mathe.

We also built relationships with other Kickstarter creators.  It usually started with us backing the projects that we most admired, and then asking questions, and over time this developed in to a number of great relationships.  We put ourselves out there and we met a lot of amazing people.

We found that if you have a great project and a lot of enthusiasm for it, there is almost no lack of people willing and excited to help you succeed.  We were absolutely blown away by the board game and Kickstarter community. When it came time to run our own Kickstarter we had a lot of help.

There were nearly perfect strangers who were willing to be play testers, Kickstarter creators ready to help us with shipping and fulfillment questions, and people in the industry who encouraged us and gave us advice on component quality and pricing.  Our list of people to thank is quite long.

Conclusion

Developing Transylvania: Curses & Traitors, launching the Kickstarter, and fulfilling all of the games has been a 3-year process.  The whole project has been a tremendous amount of work and it has been worth every minute of it! We would love to encourage and inspire others who are willing to put in the time and the effort required, that you can have the same success!

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If you have any questions for Loren and Jamie, feel free to ask them in the comments! You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or their website.

16 Comments on “Top 3 Mistakes and Insights from the Transylvania Kickstarter: A Guest Post

    1. Sheldon – The backer-based artwork certainly took some time to complete. We would not really call it a problem. When determining our delivery date we took this into consideration. It took about 3 months for our artist to complete all of the backer artwork which was the amount of time that we budgeted. The backer artwork was really fun. We had a great time getting to know those backers and working with them on their portraits. None of our backers were a problem. Some had very little input and a few had quite a bit but all of it was good. We would do it again on a future game if it fit that particular project.

  1. Sheldon: It hasn’t really been a matter of delays for us; rather, we’ve had issues with expectations. When a backer pays you to create an artistic image of themselves in a game, their expectations may not align with the publisher’s expectations. A publisher wants great art for their game, and hopefully a combination of thematically correct art. However, a backer expects for the art to look like them…and look like how they want to be perceived. That’s tough for an artist to pull off. A backer also might send a photo that doesn’t work at all for the pose or style of the game–I’ve had several backers at custom art levels who simply refused to send a suitable photo (their photos were extremely low-res and featured them looking directly at the camera, which generally doesn’t translate well to card art in games).

    I’ve also realized that custom art doesn’t allow for the type of diversity I’d like to represent in my games. I think WIBAI did a great job with an even split of males and females–that’s something we did with our mama and papa cards. But diversity goes much deeper than that, and I’d prefer the artistic freedom to diversify much farther beyond a handful of backers.

    My more detailed thoughts on this topic are here: https://stonemaiergames.com/3-kickstarter-mistakes-we-made-on-tuscanythat-you-can-avoid/

  2. Loren, thanks so much for sharing these thoughts. I followed your campaign with great interest, watched your interview with David Lowry and was generally impressed with the polish and unique feel of the game and the campaign.

    It helped me a great deal as I was doing homework for my campaign that just wrapped up last week.

    You make an excellent point about the huge importance of the unique backer tiers like your art option. Especially from the perspective of KS funding dynamic – having a good chunk of funding influx early on really helps. I have never seen this point put into words until now but it makes a ton of sense – thanks for that.

    Congratulations again on TCT’s success!

    1. Artem – Thank you so much for those kinds words! I don’t know that every Kickstarter needs unique backer tiers but being our first campaign and knowing that we were complete unknowns to the industry we thought it would be a good idea. It also really fit our particular game.

  3. As a graphic designer, Mistake #1 one is one I feel like happens too often with KS. I think many people greatly under estimate the value of hiring any experienced graphic designer and just try to do it themselves. Even a designer right out of school would know about needing bleed lines and trim lines. There is a lot that goes into pre-press, and when you are working with deadlines, you really want someone that knows what they are doing.

    I think many creators just hire an artist to do their illustrations and and perhaps don’t understand the skill-set and value an experienced graphic designer can bring to a project. It may cost more money at the start, but I can probably save you many headaches in the long run.

      1. Also, Jamey’s blog does talk about the need to hire a graphic designer and an artist. Look what happens when you don’t take good advice! Our biggest problem was that on our first game we really didn’t know where to start and we didn’t know any graphic designers or where to find one.

  4. Just a note on the types of reviewer – I don’t think its’ a bad idea to include a small number of ‘not-the-right-type’ reviewers, say 1/4, because it provides a different perspective that some of us appreciate. Negative reviews often provide far more insightful information about games (And other things), as the reviewer will be more objective about what’s good/bad instead of glazing over the things they don’t like to talk about the positive.

    (Also, if you worry that might put as many people off as it attracts, don’t be – If half the backers that get your game rate it a 4 on boardgamegeek and sell it, it’ll hurt you in the long run, an exaggerated point, but I think a worthy one).

    1. Smoothsmith – you have a good point! I think as first time creators we just really didn’t know what we were doing. It does take time and experience to develop relationships with reviewers. We really don’t mind fair reviews good or bad but we had one review that was extremely unfair and that could have been avoided.

  5. Question about: “We also built relationships with other Kickstarter creators…” I’ve backed 108 projects to date but have no idea if we’re potentially ‘connected’ in some way.

    When I launch my campaign in September, will the creator’s who’s projects I’ve backed get some kind of notification about it or do I need to message them individually to invite them to view the project? (If thee are any tips or resources on how to leverage ‘creator to creator goodwill’ to connect to other creators within the KS system I’d appreciate any insights anyone has.)

    1. Steve: Creators whose projects you’ve backed won’t get a notification that you launched a project, nor should you invite them to view the project. There isn’t any implied expectation of backing your project–the two things are mutually exclusive.

      What Loren and Jamie are talking about is that they actively engaged some of creators of projects they backed. They participated in the comments and were an asset to those projects on social media. Perhaps they contacted the creators directly to help point out typos in project updates and things like that.

      Check out my article about “helping them first”: https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-74-help-them-first/

    2. Steve – just as Jamey suggested, we actively engaged some of the creators of projects that we backed. We followed them on Twitter and Facebook and asked a few questions here and there. After some dialogue was created, we then asked if they would mind if we asked a few questions about certain aspects of doing a Kickstarter. I think we ended up getting help from 4 or 5 other creators in some way. All of the creators received our requests very well. I think the keys are backing their project first, letting them know you are excited about their project, being part of their project, and then asking if they are open to giving out a little advice.

  6. Loren – Thanks for the clarification. I have left feedback/comments, ‘likes’ etc for many projects that I’ve backed. Where my project is in the photo/video/gear category, I was wondering about reaching out to those creators who’s projects were in the same category as mine and letting them know about my project launch. No strings or ‘asks’. (Jamey – now I’m wondering if you’d still view this scenario as a “shouldn’t.” I’d read “helping them first” a while ago and completely agree with what you wrote.)

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