Crowdfunding 101 : Tips to a successful Campaign

success or failure

CROWDFUNDING 101 :
THE KEYS TO A (hopefully) SUCCESSFULL CAMPAIGN

The revolution in games publishing has begun.  In fact, it began some time ago now and the revolution is named Crowdfunding.

Anyone today with an idea and a bit of know how and willingness can launch a crowdfunding campaing.  But will it be successful?  When launching a crowdfunding campaign, the task can seem both easy as pie and totally insurmountable at the same time.

Do you have a great idea and no clue where to start?  Understanding what crowdfunding offers is crucial; and it’s not free money! Crowdfunding allows backers to pledge support for a project they want to see succeed.  Campaign success and business owner responsibility go  hand-in-hand.

First time publishers and long time industry veterans are turning to Kickstarter in droves when releasing a new game or gaming product.  While this platform has opened up opportunities that didn’t exist in the past it also means there is a LOT more competition for the consumers gaming dollars. At any given time there are, litterally, hundreds of active tabletop game Kickstarter campaigns going on. That is a lot of competition and it doesnt even include games that you see distributed through the normal, traditional channels!

crowdfunding

As with any platform, there are good trends, and there are some very bad trends.  If you are looking to run a Kickstarter campaign, obviously you want to avoid those bad trends!  Here are some tips and some advice for running a (hopefully) successful crowdfunding campaign.

THE PROCESS

In short, the process of running a crowdfunding campaing comes down to 5 not-so-simple,  yet simple steps.  We’re not going to go into detail on these at this point, but keep them in mind when you’re preparing to launch your
product.

1) Build your Brand
2) Create your Project
3) Run your campaign
4) Level up your campaign
5) Grow after the project

TIPS TO INCREASE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR CAMPAIGN

1) PLANNING, PLANNING AND MORE PLANNING

decision-makingPlanning your campaign and setting goals are the most important and exhausting first steps. Having everything prepared well before the campaign starts is important!

It is generally a good idea to start planning 6-12 months before you plan to launch your product.  If you’re still not ready, just remember; you don’t NEED to launch today! One of the biggest mistakes is launching too soon.

  • If you’re still looking for feedback; Don’t launch.
  • If you don’t have your stretch goals prepared; don’t launch.
  • If you don’t have a video ready; You probably shouldn’t launch.
  • If your game is not near completion (say 90% or better); You’re not ready to launch .. you’re not even ready to start your Kickstarter homework.

Have all your ducks in a row, then start hyping the product .. THEN launch.

Some things you need to do before you launch;

  •  Start a blog focusing on creating interesting and useful content.  Write 1-3 entries a week for 3 months.
  • Subscribe to at least 20 blogs related to your project.  Read them, every day.  Comment on at least one a day.
  • Read every Kickstarter lesson you can find.
  • Back 10-20 Kickstarter projects and read every update.  Note when you have the desire to unsubscribe from any.
  • Create a spreadsheet of at least 10 successfull Kickstarters that are similare to yours and compare them
  • Create a budget for your project, factoring in different outcomes and what they mean for production and shipping.
  • Figure out NOW how you’re going to ship your product around the world in a way that is time and cost efficient for both you and backers
  • Pay a professional artist to create some attractive art to show on your product page
  • Send out samples of your product to several high-impact bloggers or reviewers.  Don’t send them out of the blue but to people you’ve interacted with in some context.
  • Share you projects preview page to at least 20 people asking for feedback.  Pay close attention to the answers you get.
  • Clear your schedule fo rlaunch day so you can spend all day sending personal invitations to your friends, family and other contacts as well as responding to individual backers as they pledge.

Make sure all of your potential expenses are factored in as well, so that your Kickstarter doesnt end up costing you money.

You will need to plan for and include things such as;

  • Mailing costs
  • Packaging
  • Production (and your factories ability to ramp up production in the event your campaign is a massive success)
  • Artwork
  • .. the list can go on and on!

Ask dumb questions.  Go to people that know what they’re talking about to get the information you need.  Everything from setting up your business to setting up supply chain and finding manufacturers can be done through the internet and by going around asking dumb questions.

If you have not done all these things, you are not ready to launch your campaign!  Even if you already told everyone you’re going to launch today, nothing bad will happen if you don’t.  Just tell them you’re delaying the launch and why.  They’ll understand.

When it comes to preparing your Crowdfunding project page, check out this advice : The Anatomy of a Crowdfunding Page

kickstarter homework

2) MAKE IT EASY TO FIND OUT HOW CONSUMERS CAN BUY THE GAME

easy to findThis should be common sense but there are many campaigns that you have to search to find the backer level that actually gets you the game itself!  Once a potential backer is interested, the main thing they want to know is how to get the product and how much it’s going to cost them.

The number one rule in any ecommerce solution is “have the least amount of barrieres to purchase for the buyer”. This holds true with Crowdfunding as well.  Once a potential buyer shows interest it needs to be as easy as possible for them to get your product.

The product you’re looking to fund is the main reason they are there.  Muddying up the waters with TShirts, prints, mugs and other unrelated items just causes confusion.  The pledge level that provides your audience the product itself should be one of the first couple of options (unless you have REALLY good reasons for other levels).

Keep your backer options simple and clean! Backers need to be able to quickly and easily find what they want. They need to be able to tell the difference between reward levels at a quick glance. If your reward level is more than 8 lines long, you’re doing it wrong (I’m guilty of this too). Reward levels should be clear, concise, and non-repetitive. List the most important/unique aspect at the beginning of each reward level’s description. If every reward level gets the same thing, you don’t need to say it over and over again. Either mention it on the project page or on the first reward level.

3) PHOTOS, IMAGES, ARTWORK

Campaigns that are nothing but a wall of text almost never succeed.  Gaming is visual.  The first thing people do when they come to your Kickstarter is scan the page to see what the game and its components look like.  If you havn’t provided any photos or images, many will simply move on to the next campaign and never return.

Let’s face it; most web visitors don’t have the attention span to read walls of text.  Text is intimidating and requires a time commitment that most people just aren’t willing to put in. Viewers will typically spend an average of 10-20 seconds on a webpage (according to the Nielsen Group).  If you want to play it safe, make the time it takes to convince your potential buyers to stay on your page before leaving half that; 5-10 seconds!  The best way to accomplish this is through high quality pictures and video.

You don’t have to have your game fully illustrated and finished, but you should have it started at the very least.  If you don’t believe in your game enough to have some early artwork done, then why should a potential backer? A picture is worth a 1000 words!

4) CAMPAIGN THUMBNAIL

Sometimes, when people are bored, they will browse through Kickstarter using it’s “discover” option.  They will scroll through the list until something catches their eye.  This would be your campaigns thumbnail picture!

If the campaigns image looks professional and eye catching it can cause someone to pause long enough to check it out further.  You only get one chance to make a first impression and if your thumbnail looks amateurish it will be detrimental to peoples perception of your campaign.

5) INDEPENDANT REVIEW

consumer-trust-online-reviewsNow that someone has gone to your campaign and you’ve lured them in with great looking artwork, they want to know if the game is actually any good.  The best way to tell them this is by having someone to backup your claims!  It doesn’t have to be the most respected or well known reviewers, but it should be someone that is NOT you (or a friend).

There are a ton of great gaming reviewers out there.  Contact some of them early on about doing a preview of your game. By early, we mean months before launching your campaign!  Previews take time and most people have very busy schedules.

Previews or reviews are all about building trust.  Consumers trust online reviews, especially from multiple sources.  Having a few independent people talking about your game and how much they like it provides validation and helps to drive traffic to your campaign from their own review sites as well.

6) GAME PLAY VIDEO

Some people like to read the rulebook.  Others like to be taught how to play.  Even if you’re using prototype components, they want to see a few turns being played.  This provides people with a feel for your game.  If your game is not at the point where you can do a game play video, its not ready to be launched as a Kickstarter campaign, plain and simple.

The other reason you want a gameplay video is because YouTube videos are good for SEO (search engine optimization).  YouTube happens to be the second largest search engine in the world.  Use this to your advantage!

7) RULE BOOK

This should be self explanatory.  People want to read rules.  This is the best way for them to discover the nitty gritty details of how the game plays.

Your rules don’t have to be finalized, but they should at least be close.  If your rules aren’t close to finalized, again, your game is not ready to be launched as a Kickstarter campaign.

Every backer of a game will want to see the rules at some point so you’re best to get it out there right at the start. All the pictures in the world are great, but if the rules arent available in some form people will assume your game is
not close to being done yet and it becomes a risky bet to back it.

8) PRICING

pricingPrice is a major factor when people decide to back a game.  You can have a game that looks amazing, but if it’s $150 to back it that is a difficult choice to make.  It’s a tough choice to make when someone can actually hold the product in their hands, let alone when it’s something that hasn’t even been produced yet and may not be for 6-12 months (or more).

Make sure your game is priced intelligently and your funding goal is realistic.  Know what you need to get your game produced and start with that.  Then, think long and hard about how to price your game.  Make pledges too high and you will price people out of backing.  Make prices too low and you can end up losing your shirt.  Backers don’t know your costs and most likely don’t care.  What they do know is the average price for a similar style of game!  You should be in line with those unless you have a really good reason not to be.

9) DISCOUNTS

Give people a reason to back your game today instead of waiting until its released.  If you are selling the game at MSRP then you run the risk a possible backer will just wait and buy it online later at a discounted price.

There is a lot of competition for consumer dollars and they want the best value for money.  The very least you can do is give your backers a discount.  People who are on the fence about backing can often be swayed by a good discount.  It doesnt even have to be a big discount! 10-20% off retail is enough to sway most people into going for it.

10) EARLY BIRD DISCOUNTS

coinsThink long and hard before doing an early bird discount; a cheaper, but limited quantity backer level.  They may convince some people to back early, but an early bird can also turn away those who missed out on them!

We’re not talking about a small $5 early bird discount on a $100 project, but missing out on a 25-40% discount because you didn’t happen to check Kickstarter on day one of a campaign is a sure way to turn people away.  Not to mention it shows your game really isn’t worth what you’re asking for it and people will feel they are overpaying.  Preception becomes reality and you set a percieved market price with early bird discounts that are too steep.

If you do use an early bird discount, make it a small amount.  5-10% would be enough to give early backers a benefit and not risk greatly upsetting those who didn’t get in early quite so much.

When deciding on whether or not to use an Early Bird, ask yourself; “Who does this benefit?”.  In all fairness, the Early Bird is a marketing ploy designed to benefit the product creator.   If anything, it makes the potential Backer feel rushed and pushed into a corner. More importantly, it’s not fair to the other Backers who didn’t happen to check Kickstarter that day. You’re creating a class system in your Backers; those who got there first and those that did not. Even worse it’s not a well-functioning class system. If any of those first 100 Backers cancels, it opens up their spot. It then becomes a luck draw to see if a Backer can get the game cheaper or not when they arrive.

11) STRETCH GOALS

Are these necessary?  As a backer, they are enjoyable because it gives something to keep an eye on during the campaign and a reason to stay interested. It gives people a reason to toot your horn for you when they want to hit those stretch goals and get more stuff.However, you have to be careful with stretch goals.  People can tell when you’re simply pulling basic parts out of a game and putting them back in as stretch goals.

Stretch goals can be great, but they need to be used to make your product better, not just to make it playable.  Provide upgraded components, alternative pieces or other non-essential items.  THIS is when you throw in those fancy prints or t-shirts or variant cards.

Let’s also keep in mind that, while those non-essential items may be a great draw, it also means extra time for production and packaging, extra expense in shipping, and extra design time.  If you don’t have the time and havn’t factored in the extra expenses, they can add up fast.  Make sure you’ve designed this into your backer pledges or they may end up costing you dearly!

12) EXCLUSIVES

exclusiveKickstarter Exclusives are another risky item.  Backers LOVE exclusives.  Besides a discount this is the one of the best ways to get them to back today instead of waiting.  However, be aware you could alienate some potential retail buyers down the road when they can’t get ahold of those promo items.

Most people are fine with missing out on the Kickstarter version of a game that simply has upgraded components but still plays exactly the same.  Some get annoyed when they find out there are promo cards or other items they can’t get.

This is, however, about the Kickstarter and not retail.  This is a way to get people to back today.  Combined with stretch goals and discounts this may convince fence sitters to jump all in.

13) MONEY GRABS

Be very careful not to turn your campaign into a money grab.  It’s all about the perceived value after all. Half way through a campaign, if you throw in a new component for an extra $10 with no reason why it wasn’t included in the base game it will just feel like you’re trying to milk your backers for all their worth.

You may have reasons for requiring the extra cost.  Additional materials, extra development time, artist fees, etc.  Most backers won’t care. If you’re selling, for example, a card game with 80 cards for $20 and then offer an add-on with 5 extra cards for $10, people will balk at it. Make sure any add-ons make sense why they are an add-on and not part of the base game.  And make the price realistic.  People will back out of your campaign if they feel they can’t trust you.

14) KICKTRAQ

Get yourself on Kicktraq at the start of the campaign.  This site provides extra tools as a publisher and you will get a lot more traffic to your campaign.  Kickstarters own navigation is horrible so many people avoid it and use Kicktraq instead.

15) COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS

Feedback and communicating with your backers is an incredibly important aspect of crowdfunding.  Your backers are a valuable source of feedback and critique and you should never ignore them.

Your backers can provide you with a wealth of suggestions and praise, or they can be incredibly critical of your process and campaign.  In either case you need to be present and accountable and communicate with them.  If you’re not communicating with your backers they will lose trust in you.  Once you’ve lost trust, your campaign is doomed.

After winning over a customer base with your crowdfunding campaign it’s important to maintain that relationship. Keep on communicating after the campaign ends to let them know the progress of your production, including any hiccups along the way.  Keeping your backers in the loop provides comfort, especially if there are any issues that arise after the campaign has ended.

Keep in mind, no matter what you do, there are always going to be people who are positive and polite and those who are going to, for lack of a better term, troll.  Kickstarter has a community set up.  You cannot control the trolls.  You can’t remove them.  Its often invevitable. The best you can do is respond to any legitimate concerns and remain positive and professional.  Don’t feed the trolls!

If you take care of the Backers, they’ll take care of your goal. Sometimes you’ll make a promise, later to find out that, if you break that promise, you could benefit from it pretty well or that it might hurt you financially if you follow through. That’s when your brain starts trying to find workarounds, but if you keep firm in your mind, that the Backer is First, then you will always make the right decision. Always design your Kickstarter so that it benefits both you and the Backer.  The big companies can get away with more than you can as a small/individual producer.  When Backers go to those large companies, they’re preordering a game, pure and simple. When they’re backing a small publisher’s game, they’re backing a person. If you treat them like the large companies treat them, you won’t last long.

If you have confidence in your game, that it’s truly a great game that people will love, then you won’t need to use the same marketing centered paths the Big Companies use. Put the Backers first, and they’ll make your game successful. And be sure to thank them!

Now that we’ve given you some tips, you have a beter idea how to take your ideas and realize your dreams!

* Disclaimer : The author of this article has not run a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign.  All of the advice provided in this article is from a backers experience, small business experience and discussing running Kickstarter campaigns with those who have run  them and learned the hard way what does and does not work.  We in no way guarantee that this advice will work for your campaign but it should provide a good basis for a more likely success.  We suggest you read as many other sources as possible before launching your own crowdfunding campaign to learn from as many sources as you can.  Good luck with your product!  We’re cheeringfor you!