Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kickstarter Chronicles - Part V: Our influence on other projects

If I had been on the ball, I would have started a series of blog posts about my Kickstarter experience with Eminent Domain. I would have called it The Kickstarter Chronicles, and it would be in several parts. I did not do that, so instead I'm going to pick up in the middle. I'll include a complete outline, and maybe one day I'll go back and fill in the missing chapters:

Part 0: What is Kickstarter?
Wherein I learn about an interesting new crowd-funding website, and implore Tasty Minstrel Games to use it.

Part I: Designing our first KS campaign.
Wherein I try to optimize pledge levels to offer desirable rewards in a cost effective way.

Part II: Running the campaign.
Wherein I observe several different ways of promoting a Kickstarter campaign, what worked, and what didn't.

Part III: Production post campaign.
Wherein I discuss the learning process of producing a game on a larger scale than expected, and the growing pains involved.

Part IV: Complaint department.
Wherein I enumerate lessons learned in customer service, and observe what Kickstarter means to the people pledging.

Part V: Our influence on other projects.
Wherein I note specifics of recent Kickstarter projects which appear to be a direct result of the events involving ours.

Part VI: The final word.
Wherein I form an opinion on the Kickstarter campaign after it's finally over - will I consider it a success? Would I do it again? What would I do differently?

Part VII: The future of Kickstarter
Wherein I examine earlier thoughts on the evolution of Kickstarter as a tool to fund board game publication, and form an opinion about whether I think it will be worthwhile, or even possible, for us to use it again.

Part V:  Our influence on other projects

In the previous chapters I discussed (or would have discussed) a few different things about EmDo's KS campaign. We were not the first to successfully fund a game on Kickstarter, there were several games before us... most notably Alien Frontiers by Clever Mojo Games. Their campaign was a rousing success, bringing in almost $15k - 3 times their target amount. Of course, their target amount was low - probably a lot less than it actually cost to print the first run, which I believe was only 1000 copies of the game. The first run was such a success that the first run sold out immediately, and some people even had trouble obtaining pre-ordered copies.

I definitely wanted to learn from that experience, take what I thought worked well for Clever Mojo and avoid what caused problems. So my project was clearly influenced by others before me. As it turned out, through some confluence of quality, strength of character, coincidence, good marketing, or just dumb luck, Eminent Domain not only me but surpassed our lofty goal of $20k - bringing in an unprecedented $48k for a board game! After that performance, it only makes sense that other projects would look to ours, try to choose what we did right and avoid what we did wrong in order to enjoy their own success.

Well, that was then, and this is now. There has been an explosion of KS game projects, some well run and some not - some successful and some not. Until recently I could only see influences from our campaign itself in other, newer campaigns. Only now, 9 months later, have I started to see more lasting effects of things that have transpired (see Chapter IV), and the influence that has had on other projects. Here are a few things I've noticed about some of the new Kickstarter projects, where I see they may have been influenced by our experience, and in some cases my opinion on them.

Looking at some of the more successful recent projects: Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Glory to Rome Black Box Edition,  and Carnival, each of which has surpassed their goal by a lot. One thing I see that may have been influenced by Eminent Domain is this: Tiers for multiple copies of the game. We included:
* A tier for a single copy of the game, for those who simply wanted to pre-order themselves a copy,
* A tier for 2 copies, for people who wanted to go in with a friend (this would save us money on shipping)
* A tier for 3 copies that was a better deal all around (cheaper per copy, Limited Edition) than the 2 copies, to encourage people to go in with *2* friends
* A tier for 6 copies - specifically intended to facilitate overseas orders

While the specifics vary, all of the current heavy hitters seem to have adopted a similar structure. Also, in-game real estate for a high dollar amount, like the planets and tech cards in Eminent Domain, went well for us, and I see it popping up in some of the current campaigns as well (such as Clever Mojo's new Sunrise City project).

Something that's decidedly different however is the number of different trinkets, exclusive items, and bonuses. I think giving everybody a little something more (i.e. adding something additional to the game) at certain thresholds after meeting your goal is a great way to encourage people to get their friends to pledge! However, for logistical reasons I think offering handfuls of different options will prove to be very difficult and potentially problematic. As for exclusive items, well - I've written about this elsewhere - I don't think they're a good idea at all... there's a setup cost involved, and once you've paid that, if it's not game content, then I think it usually makes more sense to add the item to the game altogether rather than making it exclusive. Give the value-add to all of your customers, not just a select few. And if it IS game content? Well, the thought of an ever growing group of people who will be forever unable to access all of the game content is just terrible!

I've noticed the following disclaimer at the bottom of a couple KS projects lately:

From DiceHateMe's Carnival project:

Without our Kickstarter Backers, DHMG would not be able to bring quality games to market. To show our respect and appreciation, DHMG promises that backer copies of Carnival will be shipped out before copies are available for purchase at retailers or conventions. DHMG also pledges that any reward marked as promotional in our Kickstarter campaigns will never be offered for sale in stores by DHMG, either alone or as part of any product. 

And from Clever Mojo's new Sunrise City project:
We recognize and appreciate the important role that our Kickstarter Backers and Springboard Retailers are playing in the launch of Sunrise City and the success of Clever Mojo Games. Therefore, we make the following promises to you:
  • The promo cards and tiles noted as EXCLUSIVE will remain exclusive. We promise not to sell them individually or as a set, and not to include them as a part of any game expansion or re-printing. Once the Kickstarter Backers and Springboard Retailers have received their exclusive items they will NEVER be re-printed.
  • Sunrise City will be shipped to Kickstarter Backers at least two weeks before the items are available for purchase at ANY convention or store. Actual delivery dates will vary depending on your local postal service.
  • Stores who participate in Game Salute Preview Nights for Sunrise City will receive a preview copy for their Game Library in advance of the scheduled release date.

Both of these games look like fine products. I have read the rules to Carnival, and it sounds like a solid, lightweight filler. I don't know much about Sunrise City, but based on the video it looks like a fun city building game (I have fond memories of Sim City)... I have nothing against either of these projects. I bring this up merely to point out that, although potentially a coincidence, these "Our Pledge" sections appear to me to be in direct response to what has happened recently surrounding Eminent Domain (again, see Chapter IV).

So it seems that we've had an influence on the current crop of KS projects, but not necessarily in a positive way - more in a sort of "cover your ass" or a "what not to do" way. The two biggest complaints that cropped up about EmDo were that the "exclusive content" ended up in all of the first run boxes, and that the games were available for purchase at Gen Con when the KS supporters had not received theirs yet. I absolutely cannot fault either Dice Hate Me or Clever Mojo for taking that route - for including exclusive items and for promising that the supporters will get their copies first - that's clearly what people expect and/or want for their pledge (see Chapter IV again). They're not pre-ordering a game, and they're not helping a small company get off the ground... they're shopping for trinkets and exclusive items.

On the down side, this propagates a dynamic that I think is bad for the industry - exclusive game content - and it also degrades the efficiency of Kickstarter in the first place - trinkets. Things like pins and ball caps cost money to make and money to ship. Enticing someone to add $10 to their bid in order to also get a hat that costs you $9 a unit to make, well that's not getting you very far. when I was researching rewards for my KS campaign, I also found that a lot of people did not seem interested in a hat, or a t-shirt, or even a poster print of game art - and here I thought those were all great ideas!

So it remains to be seen whether a small company or self publisher will be able to succeed on Kickstarter the way *I* think they should be able to - offering people the opportunity to pre-order a game and help it get off the ground, or if it will be a novelty emporium for gamers to shop around for trinkets and exclusives. Is there room for both of those types of projects on Kickstarter?


Tim Harrison said...

FWIW, unless the game is highly likely to sell out or is offered on KS for a price below online retailers, exclusive game content is the only reason I support KS campaigns.

Case in point. I just recently sold my "Space Cranes" promo cards from Alien Frontiers for $48 -- within 15 minutes of listing it on BGG. That's more than I paid for the game on KS. Those exclusive rewards substantially mitigate the risk of purchasing what might turn out to be a game I don't like.

Also, FWIW, I only supported EmDo on KS because of the promised rewards. While I haven't complained about it on BGG or directly to you, to be quite honest, I doubt I will support a TMG KS campaign again without a very good incentive.

Seth Jaffee said...

Tim, I understand your position, and right from the start (of our KS campaign) I was aware of it. I tried to structure the KS rewards such that the price would be decent (I don't know about below online retailers, but for future reference that's a good starting point), with free shipping, so people wouldn't NEED exclusive items. I didn't want to include exclusive game content, because I hate the thought of thousands of fans not being able to play the whole game because they weren't around for the 30 days of the kickstarter campaign. I would have been happier not using the word "exclusive" at all, but we compromised on "exclusive until an expansion" (which was a dumb thing to put, by the way - if you're doing a KS campaign, I recommend making content that's NOT exclusive, but include it free to kickstarters).

What I'm saying is, in my opinion the incentive for people to support a project on Kickstarter is not supposed to be speculative. I had hoped to offer a good product at a good price, with the added value of bonus planets included for supporters. If that's not enough, then people should not pledge. Some of the verbiage and specifics of the EmDo campaign muddied that a bit, and I wish it had been presented better - I think 95% of the people who did pledge would have still pledged, and TMG could have come out of it looking a lot better.

Whether or not all that hubub ocurred with the EmDo incentives, I would not expect you to support another TMG game without a good incentive - KS is not a charity, it's a fund raising tool.

Jeff said...


Not sure if you saw this thread and poll at BGG (http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/661694/kickstarter-campaigns-what-rewards-interest-you/page/1), but it generated some interesting feedback about what people were looking for in Kickstarter campaigns.

nolan said...

I generally agree with you, Seth. I'm not a big fan of trinkets (clutter!) nor exclusive content that would change a game.

This, I think, is where you are mis-reading your potential supporters:

...there's a setup cost involved, and once you've paid that, if it's not game content, then I think it usually makes more sense to add the item to the game altogether rather than making it exclusive. Give the value-add to all of your customers, not just a select few.

Some Kickstarter supporters need something more than "I want to see this project happen" as an incentive. While it might make sense from an efficiency standpoint to make a high quality ("pimped out") component available to all your customers, you are sacrificing the special quality that a supporter might want. Sometimes you have to ignore your engineer brain and listen to your social/psych brain.:)

As for me, I supported EmDo because I had played it, and I wanted to have a production copy sooner rather than later. I bought 2 copies and went in with another so that I could pay less per copy, with the added bonus of getting an LE copy. Everything else (getting it first, the bonus planets, etc.) was a "nice to have", but unimportant. I might be in the minority in the sentiment.

In contrast, I did not support the Glory to Rome project. I'm interested in trying the game, and may end up buying a copy. However, they clearly didn't need my support (they had surpassed their target at least once over when I started looking), and all I really wanted was the game. If they had been below their target, that might have been more incentive for me to pledge than any other incentive.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Jeff: I did not see that - thanks for the link! I will certainly check it out right away!

@Nolan: "Some Kickstarter supporters need something more than "I want to see this project happen" as an incentive. While it might make sense from an efficiency standpoint to make a high quality ("pimped out") component available to all your customers, you are sacrificing the special quality that a supporter might want. "
I think you're only talking about the people who specifically want exclusivity here. Because otherwise, the supporters ARE getting the upgraded production value, so there IS incentive for them to spread the word (so thy get fancier bits).

For the (I suspect very few) people who specifically want exclusive items, if they are not interested in my project then that's fine.

What bothers me is the idea that because many projects do offer Exclusives, more and more people will pass on my project if I don't offer Exclusives - even if I offer a fine deal otherwise.

Jeff said...


I wonder if there is really enough data to conclude that "people want trinkets". Are campaigns that don't include "trinkets" failing to secure funding, and are people stating that this is specifically the reason? I think it's just something that most campaigns have done, so campaign starters assume it's important and follow suit. But they also have generally included "your name in the rulebook" as a reward, and my poll shows that most people don't care about that. The poll shows that people respond favorably to stuff that enhances the game or that makes their copy slightly special in some way, but it's not clear that it would be a deal-breaker were those things not included.

I'll also gently push back against the negative light you're putting "people who want trinkets" in; it seems you want people to support Kickstarter campaigns with altruistic motivations. I don't think that's an entirely fair expectation, since a for-profit game publisher isn't using the service in a noble or altruistic way, either. And I say this as a prospective publisher who will probably use Kickstarter, or something like it, myself -- Kickstarter is a GREAT deal for the publisher: getting your entire print run paid for up-front, so that any proceeds you reap from the sales of the entire rest of the print run is "free money", is a great, great deal. I think it's wonderful if a supporter becomes invested in the success of the company they're supporting, but if they simply take a transactional view of Kickstarter, I think that's perfectly appropriate as well.

It would be nice if a board game equivalent of Kickstarter, that was more like a pre-order system, could be developed, since Kickstarter's emphasis on artistic projects isn't really exactly the same thing as what publishing a board game for profit is all about.

brettspiel said...

They're not pre-ordering a game, and they're not helping a small company get off the ground... they're shopping for trinkets and exclusive items.

I agree with much of your sentiment, but this sentence smells quite a bit like sour grapes.

I'm really not a fan of exclusive game content for pre-orders. I think exclusive game components are cool, but can be just as prone to trouble as anything else - anyone remember the Animeeple (god, I hate -meeple words) debacle with Agricola pre-orders? Exclusive game content is a terrible terrible terrible idea. Give your early backers special or upgraded versions of game pieces, but don't exclude the rest of your audience from actual game play content. That is just plain dumb.

MikeP said...

Here is my history with KS from strictly a consumers point of view:

Alien Frontiers - I JUST missed out on this. In fact, I was able to get the first printing before most of the kickstarters and cheaper by ordering from CoolStuffInc when they got a batch earlier than most. I'm glad I got in on it when I did, but it still bothers me that I'll never get a Space Crane card.

EmDo - tried it at Spielbany, but it just wasn't for me (I've not yet found a deckbuilder that I really like)

Flash Point - I ignored it at first since I have Pandemic, but it was eventually my first Kickstarter project because of the bonus content. I was a bit put off that it's all available to everybody already, but I can't really complain about this AND the lack of the Space Crane from Alien Frontiers.

Alien Frontiers Factions - I jumped right on board. This one seems a little strange to me, since the MSRP will be $25 and the bonus faction will be $10. The lowest tier on KS is $30 for just the expansion and $35 with the bonus faction. Now the kickstarters pay more? I considered cancelling, but I really like Alien Frontiers and there may end up being bonus content later. I'm a bit surprised that there hasn't been more complaints about the pricing, though.

Overall, I am not a fan of exclusive content. I don't like it with Kickstarter or with convention-only promos. It would be OK if it was upgraded playing pieces (like animeeples or rescue meeples), but it irks me with items that actually change gameplay. I'm fine with an exclusive window, though, like a year or so. That seems like it would be a nice compromise.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Jeff: The sentiment is more the direction I see things moving (or the direction I am concerned about things moving) and less a demonstrable "this is what has already become of Kickstarter."

@Brett: I know what you mean about that sounding like sour grapes - having raised $48k for Eminent Domain, I don't really have anything to be sour about. However, I do feel a little sour at the sentiment I'm perceiving...

@ Mike: I agree - it would be sketchy to complain about both EVERYBODY getting Flash Point exclusives and you NOT getting Space Crane.