Why We’re Not Using Kickstarter for the Token Trilogy Pre-Order Campaign

21 April 2016 | 19 Comments

3D BoxToday I launched a pre-order campaign through our website for a new set of realistic resource tokens called the Token Trilogy and reprints of the metal coins featured in Tuscany Prima and Scythe.

You’re reading that correctly: I’m using the term “pre-order campaign.” It’s not a Kickstarter project (though it’s intended to feel similar to one, complete with a funding tracker). It’s also not an ongoing pre-order, as there is a specific end date to the campaign (May 1).

A few people have asked why we aren’t just running a Kickstarter campaign for the Token Trilogy. It’s a valid question, one that I thought I’d explore in detail on this post.

First, let’s go back mid-January when I explained in a project update to backers of the previous treasure chest campaign how they could get the Token Trilogy:

I’ve now run 7 tabletop-related Kickstarter projects. I keep returning to the platform when creating new things for a few reasons:

  • Build community (through comments and updates)
  • Gauge demand (for precision in manufacturing quantity)
  • Raise funds (particularly on a trusted ecommerce site)
  • Gain visibility
  • Make the product better (via stretch goals)

All of those aspects combine to differentiate a Kickstarter project from a direct pre-order.Like, when I pre-ordered Pandemic Legacy from Z-Man Games last summer, I clicked a few buttons on their website and was done. There were no comments or updates. They were gauging demand, but they were also definitely making the game–there was no need to reach a funding threshold. And perhaps most importantly, they weren’t seeking to improve the project through stretch goals. They were ready to press the “print button,” and they just needed to know how many copies to make.

Well, that’s where we’ll soon be with the Token Trilogy. By the time we’re ready to start accepting pre-orders, we’ll no longer be debating which tokens to include or which colors to paint them. You saw that on the previous campaign.

On the previous campaign, we had stretch goals. We started with 20 tokens each and worked our way up to 28 tokens. It felt good for us to work together to make the chests bigger and better for everyone.

But…the problem with that method–a problem unique to these treasure chests–is that the exact quantity of tokens makes a big difference in their utility. For example, Civilization requires 28 wound tokens. Knowing that, it doesn’t seem fair to you to expect you to back the project before we’ve reached the 28-token stretch goal.

So we’re not doing stretch goals for the next campaign. In fact, we’re not even using Kickstarter.We’re just going to run a campaign using the pre-order platform we used for the Viticulture Essential Edition, Celery, so we know exactly how many copies to make of the Token Trilogy.

In summary, we don’t have anything against Kickstarter–I love that platform. But for this specific project, it wasn’t a good fit. Consider the following:

  • A Kickstarter project insinuates necessity (funding goal). This isn’t true for the Token Trilogy. We’re committed to make at least a minimum print run (1500 units) of each chest, and we have the cash on hand to make that happen.
  • A Kickstarter project insinuates growth potential (stretch goals). As explained above, these treasure chests require a level of precision that doesn’t mesh well with stretch goals. These chests are incredibly expensive to make, so the budget cannot be over-inflated on top of what we’re already including.
  • A Kickstarter project insinuates collaboration (flexibility to make changes). We’ve been working on these tokens for about 6 months through a collaboration with the sculptor (Scott Wadyko), the manufacturer (Panda), and backers of both previous treasure chest projects. As much as we love backer feedback, we’ve already received that feedback in advance, so the campaign itself isn’t a time for collaboration. We’re ready to start making these tokens on May 1 as soon as the project ends.

But it’s more than just realigning expectations. Hosting the pre-order campaign on our website (via Celery) also gives us some flexibility that Kickstarter doesn’t allow:

  • We can allow backers to easily select any combination of multiple rewards. On Kickstarter, if you want to order multiple copies of one reward and add on another product, you have to manually change the dollar amount and then report the exact configuration on the post-project survey. On Celery, you just click on each of the things you want and adjust the quantities as you wish.
  • We can change shipping rates on the fly. If you forget a country or mistype a number when you’re entering shipping fees on Kickstarter, as soon as 1 person backs that reward, you can’t change any of the fees. You’re locked in. On Celery, I can easily change shipping fees if I make a mistake.
  • We can mold the project page as we wish: I like the clean format of the Kickstarter page, but it’s been nice to work with our web dev, Dave Hewer, and our contact at Celery, Edward, to create our own project page. I particularly like how most of the images on the page and the sidebar are shown in thumbnail size but can be clicked to see in high res.
  • We can block toxic backers. I really don’t want to limit conversation of any kind in regards to our campaigns, whether it’s good or bad. But on Kickstarter, every now and then there are truly toxic backers who don’t care about the project at all–they just seem to poison the well. You can’t do anything about those backers. The entire community for this campaign is located on a Facebook group for which I’m the admin, so if there’s a truly toxic backer, I’ll check with the members of my team to make sure I’m not just overreacting, and if they agree, I’ll block them from the group.
  • No backer survey. I don’t mind Kickstarter’s backer survey, but it’s an extra step that can cause a lot of hassle. Using a platform like Celery lets us collect all of the information we need at the point of purchase.

Despite all this, there are still downsides to using our website/Celery instead of Kickstarter. Among them:

  • Backers are charged right away. This is the thing I don’t like about Indiegogo as compared to Kickstarter, but it’s necessary here.
  • It’s more of a nuisance to cancel your pre-order. If you place an order and decide against it in a few days, you have to contact me (there’s no automated way to do that).
  • Decrease in discovery: Kickstarter is pretty good at helping people discover new things, but with a self-hosted project, that’s not the case. However, we are advertising on BoardGameGeek for this project, as we’re not trying to solely rely on our current audience.
  • It’s not Kickstarter. People are familiar with Kickstarter. People trust the platform. People also associate it with Stonemaier Games. So no matter how much I explain that this project isn’t a good fit for Kickstarter, I’m sure there are quite a few people who won’t pre-order just because it’s a little different.

Those are my thoughts! I’d love to hear yours. I’ll follow up in a few weeks with the results and lessons learned from this campaign.

Leave a Comment

19 Comments on “Why We’re Not Using Kickstarter for the Token Trilogy Pre-Order Campaign

  1. A lot of great points here raised about more custom pre-order campaigns hosted on your website. If you have an existing website you can certainly use it to your advantage and run campaigns directly there. When you move away from an crowdfunding platform, you can manuever freely (more freedom) and have the ability to make customizations where needed.
    You have more control over the campaign and can cut down on excessive fees as well.

    I actually work for Thrinacia(https://www.thrinacia.com) and we have different white label crowdfunding solutions available as well. Which allow you to run custom crowdfunding campaigns directly on your website, or outside URL or you can even start a small portal alongside the website. Backers do not have to be charged right away, contributions can be processed at the end of the campaign. As this can be customized, depending on what kind of campaign you want to create.

  2. > The entire community for this campaign is located on a Facebook group

    Although you (presumably) don’t mean it, this comment can easily be read as excluding people who refuse to use Facebook. I can’t be a part of your community unless I acquiesce to Facebook’s rules.

    1. Kevin: Sure, it’s your choice to join the community where I make it. But part of that community is here in the comments on WordPress, where you’ve chosen to comment (which I appreciate!)

    2. I think it’s just a simple statement of fact that the community is actually located on Facebook, not that it states “you are not welcome unless you’re on Facebook”.Obviously if you don’t have Facebook you can’t participate, but that doesn’t mean the comment is excluding you…

      This is similar to saying that if the group is active on BGG, that you are excluded if you’re not on BGG -this isn’t the case, it’s just that BGG is where the group is and IF you want to participate, that’s where it is.

      It is absolutely no different than if I held a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese and invited friends. Someone I invited might have an objection of some sort to being there and supporting them, but it’s their choice to join, and if they DO they’ll have to go to Chuck E Cheese to participate.

  3. I really want these, and I actually LOVE that you’re not using Kickstarter. My only sad point is that, thanks to an irresponsible drunk girl, I haven’t been able to work enough to be able to afford this…
    I’ll be keeping an eye on it, though!

  4. Jamey, thanks for putting all this stuff online. This blog is a great resource for people getting started with designing and publishing our own games. Good luck with the new non-Kickstarter project!

  5. Great to see a nice explanation of this sort of decision, thanks for writing it!

    One point I didn’t notice (Possible I skipped the section though) was financial benefits to Stonemaier Games.

    By not doing Kickstarter are there less fees involved for yourself? Or roughly the same?

    1. James: There is a decrease in fees (about 5% compared to 8-10%), but that’s not a motivating factor, as the difference between the total we’d make on Kickstarter versus doing it this way would far eclipse that variance in fees.

  6. I have no problem doing it through an online store but you’ve given me about a week to find 100$ USD plus shipping… I would have appreciated a more definitive notification. I’m really excited for this product but I’m probably going to miss out on the pre-order and that’s really disappointing.

    1. Erikk: I’d recommend subscribing to our e-newsletter–I’ve been talking about this for about 4 months on it. After the pre-order campaign ends, we’ll continue to accept pre-orders at higher prices.

  7. You need to stop making things that I want to spend my money on or I won’t be able to afford food. So far I’m on the hook for Viticulture:EE, Moors expansion, Scythe Art Connoisseur, 2 treasure chests, and now some Metal Lira. I’m sure to pick up Tuscany:EE if it ever appears as well.

    I’m not a game dev, but I really appreciate the blog. There are a lot of interesting insights and a lot of posts that show your integrity as a developer. You’ve definitely shown people how they should run a Kickstarter.

  8. I love the integrity that’s presented in this, Jamey. I know there’s much debate on whether it is legitimate (should I say ‘moral’?) to use Kickstarter as a pre-order platform, especially when a publisher has sufficient funds on hands, or whether it should be reserved for those projects that really do have “necessity,” as you stated. I’m a member of the latter camp, myself.

    While what you’ve articulated here isn’t necessarily an extension of that argument, it nonetheless embodies the kind of business integrity I think should be present in all projects and from all designers. Thanks for making this choice.

    1. Geoffrey: For me, necessity is a bit of a nebulous thing. Like, for the Token Trilogy, we’re committed to making at least 1500 units of each, and we have the cash on hand to do that even if pre-orders don’t reach that level. So perhaps there is some level of integrity involved in our decision to keep the pre-order on our website instead of Kickstarter.

      At the same time, even if a company has cash on hand, I think Kickstarter (or a pre-order campaign) is needed to gauge demand and raise the capital to meet that demand. For example, on Scythe, we may have been able to afford a minimum print run of 1500 units. But the demand ended up much, much higher than that. Even if we knew going into the project that nearly 18,000 people wanted copies of it, we wouldn’t have been able to afford those copies. In that way, necessity was very much connected with meeting demand, not just affording a minimum amount. So I don’t think it’s a question of integrity when a company–particularly a company that is perceived to have a lot of money, like Cool Mini or Not or Sony–launches a campaign on Kickstarter. That’s my opinion, at least. :)

      1. A normal pre-order campaign on your own website would already give you that 18,000 number, AND the cash to make them, so I don’t see why you’d need Kickstarter to find that out.

        I presonally think you are taking the right step here. You’re already sure you are making the product and don’t need crowdfunding or crowdsourcing for it, so it’s just a pre-order.

        Pre-orders do not belong on Kickstarter unless there is the possibility they are not made, or need more input. But hey, I’m sure not everybody will agree with me.

        I feel many companies are (ab)using the Kickstarter brand visibility to get more pre-orders. And though that may be good business, I feel it goes against the idea behind crowdfunding, which I see as a way to get things made/done that would not otherwise be feasible. Not as a way to max out profits.

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