Home What to expect when you're Kickstarting (part 2)

What to expect when you're Kickstarting (part 2)

The Campaign Itself

What should it look like?

Make a video. 30 seconds to three minutes. Ideally show off the art, but most importantly, tell me what I’m getting. Art sells games, and people respond to faces. Even 30 seconds of your head is better than nothing. Get energetic. Smile, make faces, bring the ENERGY!

If you go wild and have a flashy sizzle real or mockups of the product, that’s even better. But give something.

Use the FAQ to clear up questions (note: Kickstarter doesn’t let you edit this until after launch), but more importantly, use the text of the campaign to be clear about what the product is. Don’t make people hunt.

Open with ART! As I said, art moves games. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does.

Pull Quotes

Get people who’ve played your game to say something nice or descriptive about it! People respond well to comments from people they know, or from strangers who aren’t affiliated. It doesn’t have to be a full review, but a good pull quote is HUGE in getting people to press that back button.

Here are the pull quotes from the first Cyberrats campaign:

“You know you’re in for something special when you’re making your little mutated rat and you discover that, YES, you can strap on three (3) jetpacks at the same time. This is the high-octane, loaded-cybernetics rat game you’ve been looking for!” —Ty Pitre (@eldritchmouse)

“Wait, is this an anti-capitalist game?” —Melanie Nanke

“I put every single point into making a wicked knife for my rat. She could have been taken out of commission with 2 hits, but boy did she have a knife. What more could you want?” —Samantha Leigh (@GoblinMixtape)

After art, Pull Quotes are the most effective way to move a game. They don’t have to be from famous people (though if people do know your quoters, they’re more effective). Even a great quote from a friend or player can do wonders for your game!

Reward tiers

Keep reward tiers limited. It makes your life easier when fulfilling, AND it makes things easier for your backers. Once they decide to buy, they can make one choice, instead of muddling through a dozen options.

Every different reward level is a different survey, and a different spreadsheet. It’s cognitive load for both you and your backers. Keep it simple.

If you need to, use add-ons to spice things up while keeping the big options simple.

What about big ticket rewards?

Big tiers are GREAT, usually someone goes for them. Letting someone name an NPC or pitch a faction or villain is great. Asking someone to pay you to write an adventure for you is bad. It’s a bad look, a bad practice, and it reduces your authorial control over the product. Don’t do it.

Obviously, there’s a middle ground between those extremes. Stick to the ones that let people leave a mark in a simple way. For a $25 book, I usually put those at $75. The more specific these are, the better. “Name a CEO” is better than “Give me a name and I’ll put it in the book somewhere.” Balance this with the advice above re: pledge levels. You WILL sell out more if you have a limited “Name a CEO”, a limited “Name an adversary” and a limited “Name a weapon” than if you have one “name a thing” tier. Specific is engaging. Figure out how to balance your own headache there.

Additionally, you can open up more tiers later. If you open 25 slots for “name a weapon”, few will fill up. If you open 5, and periodically open 5 more when they fill, people will snag them up. It’s a sort of artificial scarcity, and you can argue that it sucks, but it’s effective.

Any time you need information from someone (Name an NPC, run a game for them), that takes time. Backers can be hard to reach. Make sure that you time-limit these rewards for your own peace of mind. I had someone reach out to me last month, more than three years after Cyberrats finished fulfilling, asking if I could ship them their book. Putting a disclaimer about needing to claim rewards by 1 year of fulfillment lets you breathe a sigh of relief and stop chasing people down. That’s not to say that you can’t make exceptions after that in extraordinary circumstances, but you’re letting yourself out of the obligation. Trust me, it doesn’t feel good to hound someone so you can fulfill a reward like running a game for them.

With all of your reward tiers, remember that you have margins too! Don’t price something at $50 if it costs you $45 to make.

Tell people what they’re getting. Do this on the campaign page, in your advertising, everywhere.

It’s not enough to tell a million people that your product exists (BUT ALSO DO THAT! IF THEY DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT, THEY CAN’T BUY IT), they have to know what it is. It’s better to have 1,000 interested people than 1,000,000 uninterested people aware of it.

If Kanye retweets your RPG Kickstarter, you might get some sales. If John Harper or Matt Mercer retweet you, you’ll get many more. Find the right audience, not the biggest.

Speaking of audiences: use and build your audience. Use itch.io, Twitter, Discord, and especially your mailing list. The closer people get to you, the more likely they are to see your message and buy your things. What do I mean by that? Twitter isn’t close to you: most people on Twitter follow a LOT of people, and the algorithm decides what they see. Signing up for a newsletter is very close to you: they are explicitly saying that they want to see YOUR news. People don’t like garbage in their inboxes.

Getting a message to your Itch followers is easy: launch a pre-release page and everyone who follows you gets notified. BUT you can also use Itch to send a message to everyone who owns your game. 6,000 people own Solipstry. Some from sales, some from bundles, and some from community copies. Don’t spam these messages. People can (and will) unsubscribe. This works best for a related project (like an expansion or sequel). NOTE: By default, Itch will not let you message people who received your game for free (e.g. through a community copy). It looks like you can, but they are silently removed from the messaging tool. You can use Itch’s import tool to add those people to a different list. Is this allowed? I don’t know! But it works.

Personally, I consider it fair game to trade getting a game for free for receiving one message about a related game, especially since that message has a big ol’ UNSUBSCRIBE button on it.

I always try to get people to sign up for my newsletter. I control it, not an algorithm, and those people are clearly indicating that they want to hear about my games. There’s no muddy signal there. If you sign up for that, you want to know what I’m up to, not just if I release a sequel to your favorite game.

Stretch Goals

Make sure these won’t break you! It’s possible to agree to a stretch goal that is more expensive than you can afford. Things like upgrading all copies of a book, or going to hardcover. Research your margins!

Keep these simple. People are buying your product. They don’t want a coin or a T-Shirt. You’re selling a game, not a hat. Some people do stickers. These are great: they’re high-margin and can act as free advertising. I’m not the biggest fan of stickers generally, but we did them in the Cyberrats: Rise of the Briny Bastards campaign as an add-on because they let us show off Boog’s incredible art.

Quality improvements. More are, more content, thicker pages, built-in bookmarks. I like these, but keep it simple. Remember that you’re paying for all of these too. When I launched my first project, Solipstry, there was actually one stretch goal that we couldn’t afford. Luckily, we didn’t hit it. Triple check your math.

Keep talking about your game while it’s funding. Continue to run it at local game stores and in public. But know this: Kickstarter works on a bathtub curve.

A bathtub curve

The first two days and the last two days are the biggest. The middle? A terrible slump of very little sales. It’s hard to keep the excitement up.

Counter-intuitively, shorter campaigns are good. They give you less time to get the word out, but they minimize the slump, and amp up the urgency and exigency, two things that Kickstarter campaigns thrive on (like I’ve said many times in this article: should it be this way? Maybe not! Is it this way? Undoubtedly).

Practical matters: If you tweet a link to an update, there will be no image. Link to the main page instead. Take advantage of custom links to find out where people are coming from. Kickstarter lets you set these up easily.

ART IS IMPORTANT! Twitter likes when you post art. It doesn’t like when you post links, it suppresses them. A common trick is to put a link in the second post of a thread, with an image in the first. The algorithm changes from time to time. It’s fickle.

Drop art and a pitch in one post, follow it with a link.

Remember, the last two days are huge. People will join when there are 48 hours left. That’s when Kickstarter sends out its first reminder. People will wait until the project has funded before jumping on. People will message you after the campaign is over saying they had no idea it was going on. Decide how you want to handle that (Backerkit lets you do late pledges, you can also arrange payment outside of this structure).

Speaking of messages, during your campaign you will be INUNDATED with scammers offering to advertise your project for you. You will get people asking how they can support you, or asking permission to back your project. Ignore them all. No one will guarantee you success, and the Kickstarter UX isn’t complicated. It’s unlikely that someone can figure out how to send you a message but can’t figure out how to press the big green “pledge” button.

After the campaign

Kickstarter holds your money for two weeks. Decide if you want to aLlow pre-orders and late pledges. Backerkit has support for both.

A not on itch

If you’re going to distribute through Itch, they’ll verify you, which takes a few days. They have a bulk CSV importer, but it’s a little non-obvious how to use. You have to have your file in a very particular format. Namely, it must look like this:

Email,Amount alex@example.com,$1000 bob@example.com,$1000

If you don’t have the headers spelled exactly like that, or if your amounts don’t have dollar signs, the input will silenty fail

DrivethruRPG is much easier to distribute through.

Exigency moves games. Kickstarter is the single biggest mover of product. I sell about 2 copies adventures a month. Gratitude and Cyberrats move a little faster, especially during jams, sales, and bundles (but selling on Itch is a different topic). Kickstarters are big opportunities.

Reprints are more successful than first times. It’s a proven track record. It seems odd, since you feel like you’ve exhausted your audience, but it’s true. Second editions perform similarly. People like to see a tried and true product, even if they’ve never heard of it. Bonus points if they have.

Running a Kickstarter is STRESSFUL! Don’t plan to get anything done the day you launch. If it’s your first one, consider also laying low the second day and the final day. Remember to breathe.

As of now, I’ve successfully launched five Kickstarter campaigns. If I can do it, so can you.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

What to expect when you're Kickstarting (part 1)

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