(Co-Founder and CEO, Flying Leap Games www.wingitthegame.com)
Crowdfunding the Money to Make Your Dream Game:
What it Takes to Succeed on your Board Game Kickstarter Campaign
That is the percentage of first time game Kickstarter campaigns that succeed, according to Kickstarter itself. Let’s look at this another way: For every 1 campaign that meets its goal, 3 fail. These odds remind me of a comment I’ve heard from multiple entrepreneurs, who often say some version of the following: “If I had known how hard it [starting a business] would be, I might not have done it.”
And unlike Indiegogo, Kickstarter is all or nothing; you either meet your goal and get everything, or you get, well, nothing… after several weeks or even months of preparations.
Wow. You ready for the challenge? You will be soon after you read this. Case in point: my co-founder Jon and I knew almost nothing last June about how to raise enough money to print the first few thousand games, and by late September, we were done with an intense first Kickstarter campaign and we were preparing to go to print. So... You got this.
Whether you’re a new game designer, new entrepreneur interested in managing your own manufacturing process, or, perhaps, a game designer of MANY years who wants to try your hand at self-publishing, I hope that by knowing both: 1) that the odds are against us, but 2) that there is an easy step by step process you can follow to succeed, that you will join the ranks of the 26% and not the 74%. I want to show other game designers new to crowdfunding that it is a completely surmountable – if formidable – challenge.
Alright, here goes.
Please note, this isn’t ALL encompassing because hey, this is an article, not a book, but I’ve mentioned the steps I feel are necessary and I’ll say where to find more advice.
Let’s start with the ~2 months leading up to the Kickstarter
First and foremost, reach out to reviewers, and line up reviews. Months before, research board game reviewers, bloggers, and vloggers online (you can find them easily by searching for some version of “board game reviews” on google, checking out who has reviewed previous Kickstarter campaigns for games, or asking game store managers for the names of reviewers.
Next, write every one of them you can find, asking them to review your game and release the review just before or during the Kickstarter. Don’t only go for the big ones; they’re often too busy to respond to emails or write a review anyway. Even if your reviewers are the type with a small audience, you can still broadcast that review across social media, pull quotes from it for your campaign page and website, and use it in a press packet for stores later on. Stonemaier Games’ blog will tell you that no reviewer is too small, and I believe it. Good reviews can only help, and besides, if you’re new to the industry, and their and your audiences are small, you’re helping a reviewer out and building up your/their reputation. And remember: many friends or family members who pledge won’t care if a particular reviewer is one of the “most important.”
Next big step: Plan a video. Pick a date, ask a ton of friends to play your game on video. If you can’t find enough people, ask your friends to ask their friends. Then watch a TON of videos from successful Kickstarter campaigns. You’ll see what works and doesn’t work when it comes to holding your attention; now use those notes/lessons learned to plan a script. Make the video engaging, which means you want to “catch” your game players in the action having (gasp!) fun with your game. And for your viewers’ sake, don’t ONLY show how to play the game. Sure, it’s key to show game play and explain it, but make it a little fun and quirky, too, because there are faaaar too many boring videos out there.
Other tips: if possible, find a professional videographer, or, at the very least, someone who knows the basics of making a video look classy and visually interesting enough to keep people from clicking away after 30 seconds. And, of course, begin and end the video with something unusual and exciting: marketing research shows that people remember the BEGINNING and END of an experience more than any other part, so these are most important. For a sample script, see our campaign video, but just note ours was far too long. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/965812484/wing-it-the-game-of-extreme-storytelling
In the 2 weeks leading up to the Kickstarter
Edit your video and run it by a few people (e.g. business partners, game designers, or family or friends with a good eye for videos). Try to edit yours down to 1-1.5 minutes or so. I did a lot of research on editing software and chose Adobe Premiere Elements 15 because it’s for amateurs like me; affordable; and gets good reviews. But iMovie works, too!
Now the “easier” tips: Network like crazy in preparation for launch day. Make a list of EVERYONE you’ve ever met whom you’d feel comfortable emailing so you can announce your campaign and ask them to pledge. It helps if you categorize them (I listed “Family,” “College friends,” “St. Louis friends,” “Brooklyn friends,” “New Haven friends,” and so on…). Pick a core of 50 to 150 of these people and write them ~1 week before the campaign to say that the campaign is coming and mention the launch date. Prepare the body of your email for during the campaign, because once it starts, you’ll feel like you never have enough time to promote it!
Choose rewards: First review several successful game Kickstarters and choose which rewards you like the most. Be aware, sometimes the HUGE rewards get no takers. That’s why I kept our highest levels at “only” $250, $300, and $350. Also, let’s be frank: most people want the game, not stuff (e.g. t-shirts), as I learned from some of the countless YouTube videos and blogs I read on “how to run a successful Kickstarter” (and review these same videos, too, online!). Sure, if you really don’t mind designing and ordering shirts or other swag, go for it, but my advice is to stick with the game itself; versions of the game; expansions; and game-related rewards that require your TIME but not a ton of money. For example, my two backers at the $300 level received 5 games (market value: $120) and will be receiving a raucous game night and classy dinner party, cooked by me and served at their home. They paid for an experience, for the most part, vs. something physical. We did that with multiple reward levels.
During the Kickstarter Campaign
Immediately post launch: Announce your campaign on Facebook and any other social media accounts you’re on. Do this at LEAST once a week, although for later posts, try to say something new about the campaign so you don’t drive your social media friends crazy!
Immediately post launch: Be sure to write personalized emails to as many of your 50-150 person “list of everyone I know” network as possible during the first 24 to 48 hours of the campaign to ask them to pledge. Sure, save some emails for the trough, that scary, low-grossing middle segment of the campaign when almost no money comes in and you’re worried. But keep in mind: most successful Kickstarter campaigns raise half their money in the first two days.
Your friends’ Facebook walls are important, too! Some people will repost for you and that’s awesome. But be sure to reach out to friends who love games, friends who have large networks, and friends who are connected to any niche markets to ASK them to write a post on social media and/or send an email to a handful of their own friends. (For us, that meant asking a friend to post in her writing and English teacher Facebook groups, because our game, Wing It, could be and has been used to teach storytelling skills in the classroom).
Post reviews you’ve received on a) Facebook, b) in updates to backers, c) on Twitter, etc. On social media, be sure to post max one review per day to space them out and give you more opportunities to remind people in a fun, less direct way that this campaign is going on. Use stellar quotes from these reviews so that REVIEWERS are saying to potential backers, “This game rocks.”
Send updates 1-3 times per week. We did NOT do this, and we should have, if only to keep everyone more in the loop and encourage them more often to ask other people to pledge.
Hold game nights at local board game cafes and bars. Jon, my co-founder and good friend, each held a few of these. To be totally transparent, sometimes you’ll spend 3 hours only reaching a few people, and sometimes you’ll reach 15+ people. You just won’t know until you try it out… but this gives you the opportunity to engage with potential backers in a personal way. We definitely got some pledges from these events with total strangers.
Sleep enough to be happy and not get sick. It’s an intense month, maybe the most intense in years, but, hey, it’s only a month, given that most campaigns are ~31 days. (31 days i the ideal length, although you get to set the campaign length yourself).
And while you could fail and get another shot, which has been done and led to later success, let’s be clear: this is HARD, and once is plenty. Until your next game…but then it gets easier, Ir hear.