What Makes You Feel More Special: Building Something Unique or Being Selected?

3 June 2019 | 16 Comments

Would you rather build a lightsaber or be selected for a magic wand? Today I’m going to use two huge franchises–Star Wars and Harry Potter–and their respective theme parks as examples for a psychological question about Kickstarter and publishing.

Part of the new Star Wars Disney theme park recently opened, and one of the experiences available there is a lightsaber-building shop. As you can see in the video below, the whole experience is dripping in lore and tiny details (like when everyone turns on their lightsabers for the first time). A key element of it is that you are selecting a combination of parts for your lightsaber (1 of 4 crystals and pairs of 4 different parts), all of which seem to be very high quality.

Let’s contrast this with Ollivander’s Wand Shop at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which offers an equally thematic experience, though just for one person out of a dozen or so. Ollivander makes several attempts to pick the right wand, with the wand “casting” errant spells. Eventually he realizes that an off-the-shelf wand is the right pick, even blowing “dust” off of it to make it seem like the wand has been waiting for the right wizard. Here’s the video:

While I’ve only seen these two experiences on video, I think they both seem magical and amazing in their own way. All of the little details and the personal touches seem to make a big difference–they wouldn’t work if they were vending machines. And yes, they’re created to sell products, but they’re making people happy, so I applaud the effort.

That brings us back to the big question of the day, though: Is either of these methods inherently “better,” particularly for creators who want offer something like this? Do you feel more special when you build something unique (like the lightsaber) or when you’re selected to receive something unique (like the wand)?

On Kickstarter, I’ve seen creators use variations of both methods.

  • For the “build” option, a lot of projects offer combinations of add-ons so you can customize your product per your specifications (with basic and all-in options offered as reward tiers)
  • For the “selected” option, some creators may send special rewards to some backers based on their contributions to the campaign. Sometimes this is a formal process; sometimes it happens behind the scenes.

I think there may be a lot more flexibility and examples beyond Kickstarter, though:

  • For the “build” option, Build-a-Bear has created an entire company around the idea of letting kids create their own unique stuffed animals. You may have also heard of the “IKEA effect,” which demonstrates the value people place on things they create and put together themselves.
  • For the “selected” option, Wonderbly has a series of children’s books that integrate the name of a specific person into the text and illustrations (even though this requires a building element, the result is that the recipient feels selected and special when they read the book). There’s also the recent game Keyforge, in which every deck is a unique combination of cards, and each deck has a uniquely printed back. Also, there are bespoke clothing services where you tell them about yourself and they send you a box of clothes they think would look good on you.

For a Stonemaier product, I could see a few variations of these techniques, though I’m curious which has more mass appeal:

  • For the “build” option, it could involve a specific component in a game, not the entire product. Like, perhaps you use stickers to build your own coat of arms when you open the box (purely for aesthetics–no gameplay components would be permanently altered. Or maybe an entire product could be geared around this concept; for example, we could let people build their own Wingspan birdhouses from a combination of several modular components. Or maybe you could build your own Viticulture board based on your favorite vineyard.
  • For the “selected option, an in-the-box concept would probably be some sort of digitally printed component (like Keyforge) or some combination of unique elements that don’t impact gameplay (like a different combination of castle tokens in Between Two Castles). We also have individual numbering on some of our game boxes–it’s a small touch, but I think it offers a sense of uniqueness and ownership. I think the strongest version of this would be if you input information about yourself on our website or even have a brief chat with us, and we used that information to select something unique specifically for you (like a unique quest card for My Little Scythe). This might be difficult to scale.

I’m curious if you have other examples or ideas, and I’d love to hear your general thoughts via the poll below. The lightsaber and the wand are just examples.

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16 Comments on “What Makes You Feel More Special: Building Something Unique or Being Selected?

  1. For me with board games and specifically with Kickstarter games I like feeling ‘chosen’ or more accurately I like being recognized for helping bring something I wanted to fruition. The simple perks like having names of backers at the end of the rules for example. Just that little nod that ‘wow I helped do a thing’ feeling. I know a lot of Etsy sellers who market jewelry and such will often throw in a ‘bonus’ item (small earrings for example) as a thank you for supporting their creative endeavor. The items aren’t worth a lot of money objectively but the creator takes the time to find a complimentary piece to what you ordered and sends it along, that has had a huge impact on my jewelry purchasing habits over the years.

    1. Amy: Thanks for sharing! I like the example of being recognized in the rules for helping to bring a project to life. We do something like that with our playtesters (their names are printed on the side of the box bottom

      I like the Etsy extra touch you mentioned, especially if it feels like the seller selected the addition specifically for you. The closest analog I can think of is at a restaurant when they bring a free appertif or side dish because they thought the table might like it.

  2. I think being chosen gives be the feeling of getting something for nothing. “I won something”.

  3. It seems “being selected” has a notion of exclusivity built in: I was picked for something special because *I’m* special; whoever did the picking would’ve been less satisfied if they’d had to pick someone else. If a kid who gets a wand sticks around and sees the wand-guy passing out the same wand to the next 10 kids, the magic goes away.

    Many people have this experience in the realm of romance: you meet someone, they flirt with you, and you feel awesome until you find out they flirt with everyone else too. When the exclusivity disappears, so does the special feeling.

    Owing to this exclusivity element, “being selected” doesn’t seem to fit well with the Stonemaier ethos.

    A related concept that might fit better: the concierge service, where an expert takes the time to find out who you are and match you with the thing that will benefit you the most. It doesn’t make you feel special so much as cared-for. That’s in keeping with the Stonemaier ethos since it’s about personal touch.

    As for building something, I think when it works, maybe “special” isn’t the right word, but more something like “proud”. It’s also something like being your own concierge, because you can fit a thing to your tastes and needs. But it only works when it’s easy for someone to know what they want. You could, for example, have customers pick from a menu of rules to build-a-game, but because rule combinations generate tons of unanticipated 2nd order effects, those customers would end up making things they don’t want.

    1. Nick: I agree that some versions of being selected don’t work with our ethos, but if it were something unique included in every game (or every order), I think it could have a positive effect.

      I like the use of the word “proud” in reference to building something. I can imagine feeling that way with the lightsaber.

      1. “if it were something unique included in every game (or every order), I think it could have a positive effect.”

        I imagine the key challenge is: how to make sure it doesn’t feel like a tchotchke? Cracker Jack and Happy Meal toys work great for 8 year olds, but it’s hard to know what to give adults that won’t eventually feel like useless clutter or marketing manipulation to them.

        There’s also the issue of focus: what’s the opportunity cost of the time/focus/$ spent figuring out how to give personalized items? Could that time have been better spent making the core product better? I’m personally super paranoid about loss of focus on the things that matter most, and ancillary perks are often not among them.

        Here’s an essay that has influenced me greatly in that regard: https://medium.com/@dunn/get-one-thing-right-89390244c553

        1. I’m with you, Nick–that’s actually a big part of the reason why I rarely go to conventions. I would only do something like this if didn’t require much time or resources and the resulting benefit made a significant impact.

          I’ll check out that article now!

          1. The essay is specifically about how to start a company, but I think it applies to a lot of us board game publishers, because most of us have few salaried employees, and loss of focus can be punishing even for those of us who are established.

  4. I think you’ve created something that actually includes both of these with the scythe encounter cards. Fans got to create their own card, and then specific ones were selected for the print run. I wasn’t linked in the scythe community when it happened but I certainly would have loved to play a game with friends and say “hey! I made that card”. We’d probably house rule something when the card game up where I would have to serve them a drink or something of the sort.

    I always though it would be interesting to do something similar with artwork. But I digress.

    As to your question. There’s no cookie cutter answer. As it’s situational. I prefer building a lightsaber, but prefer a book that has my name as the protagonist. In the example for Star Wars and Harry Potter, both of these are tied to the theme of each franchise. Building a lightsaber is part of the Jedi journey. Being selected by a wand is part of a wizards journey. It has to be thematic, it would be thematic to build your own vineyards in viticulture, or have a unique scythe faction character who’s familiar chooses you to be the factions character for example. I certainly like the idea of my own custom scythe character over building a winery, but that’s because I enjoy scythe so much.

    1. That’s Steve! That’s a good point about the Scythe Encounter cards–I had a lot of fun with those.

      Also, the idea of custom building a Scythe character is really neat.

  5. I have not played either game, so my comment may not be very accurate, but one of the main draws for me to buy a game like Charterstone or Betrayal Legacy is the fact that the legacy process allows me to create a final game that speaks to my experience and choices while playing the story. I feel like I would prefer that uniqueness to come from a mechanism that prefers my choices over some randomness I never get to see, only trust from the mouth of the creator.

  6. I would feel more satisfied knowing i built something unique, by my own two hands. I generally get more from feeling accomplished in what i did, than just the luck of the draw.

    Side note: My wife and i have been to Ollivander’s and she got picked for the wand ceremony. It was cool, but i felt so bad for all the kids in the room that should have been picked. Our group thought it was hilarious that she was picked, like they thought she was a kid or something… (being at 5ft-even with a backpack and a goofy hat).

  7. The Aprocrypha adventure card game has a free companion app that provides a small little tweak to the game based on what day it is. That’s not entirely ‘special’ (since everyone playing today got the same tweak) but could be expanded to dial up a different tweak based on other elements, such as where you live or how often you play (assuming it bothers with accounts).
    Something that says, “Welcome back, Jamey. During your first scenario today, each player gets one reroll. Click here if you complete it successfully and are going on to a second scenario. Click here if you need to replay the scenario.” would seem pretty special to me. And have us using the app and coming back.

  8. I read an article this morning and was remind of our discussion: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/06/special-orders-dont-upset-us/591367/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

    It’s about how new manufacturing techniques combined with the direct-to-consumer revolution is allowing companies to personalize their products more than previously possible.

    Imagining these ideas applied to board games, it would be like a game company giving you a version of a game particular to your tastes. One person’s copy has more of a push-your-luck element, another person’s has more bluffing, etc.

    It would require either in-house manufacturing or a very different kind of manufacturing relationship than the kind we publishers normally have.

    I’m already convinced there’s enormous unrealized potential for publishers of direct-to-consumer models and this sort of thinking is another example of that sort of potential.

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