This guide is advice on using Kickstarter from the perspective of
1) A game reviewer and news finder who sees a lot of Kickstarter games and campaigns;
2) A modest Kickstarter backer (23 projects backed), with all the joys and sorrows attendant to this role;
3) An employee of a traditional book publisher and a staunch supporter of editorial gatekeepers;
4) A thrifty person with a limited gaming budget who works a regular job and feels the results of bad purchasing decisions keenly. In other words, I would describe myself as a cautious observer and occasional participant in Kickstarter.
This guide is divided in two and is one gamer’s advice to two segments of Kickstarters:
1) Gamers who are considering backing projects on Kickstarter
2) Designers and publishers who use Kickstarter and would like the money in my pocket to be transferred to theirs. Again, this is one gamer’s perspective and doesn’t even reflect the views of all the writers on this site. Take it for what you will. (And if you want to read a fantastic series about Kickstarter that’s aimed primarily at content producers, I can’t recommend Stonemaier Games‘ Kickstarter Lessons enough.)
On to the guide!
Advice for Backers
- Be choosy. Just as you wouldn’t indiscriminately purchase all the goods in whatever store you enter, just because something is on the shelf at Kickstarter doesn’t mean you have to buy it. And Kickstarter isn’t the only way to fund others’ dreams. Consider: even a purchase of a product on the shelf of a store (especially in a niche market such as hobby board games) is helping to fund someone’s dream.
- Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you need to back their project. I have a lot of game designer friends and acquaintances on Twitter. That does not mean I own all of their games. If I did, first of all, these would be costly relationships to maintain. And second, it wouldn’t be true to myself or the designer. A four-hour space epic is not a game I will play often or enjoy much. Similarly, a simple children’s game isn’t in my range of interests. I have more “gateways” than I know what to do with. While I like and respect game designers, a relationship should not be the deciding factor on where to spend money (though it can be the tipping point if I’m on the fence).
- Ask yourself: Is there sufficient reason to back now rather than buy later? Are you missing something if you wait to buy the game? If not, you might be better holding off. First, you have money in your pocket now (which could mean you can get a different game now rather than one later). Second, you’ll have time for the game to be evaluated outside of the hype that often surrounds the shiny and new. Is a game really a good game, or is it a novelty? There are plenty of novelties in discount bins and on trade lists, but you’ll hold on to a good game for much longer, and thus get better value for your money. So the longer you can wait to evaluate the purchase with a level head, the better. If there is no immediate need to back, you might be better off waiting.
- Understand that you may be disappointed. This goes for any purchase of an untested game: you may not like what you get. With Kickstarter, though, there’s the added potential of delayed or shoddy production that comes with inexperienced publishers. Similarly, because when you back there is no product (unless someone is using Kickstarter in a way they probably shouldn’t…), there is a possibility you may get nothing at all. Projects like Odin’s Ravens and The Doom That Came to Atlantic City may be salvaged, but there’s no third-party obligation for them to be. My advice is to only spend on a Kickstarter what you would be okay to lose.
- Do your research. There are lots of questions you might want to answer when considering backing a Kickstarter campaign.Is the company or person you are considering doing business with reputable? Have they done anything in the past? If they’ve used Kickstarter before, have all past obligations been fulfilled–and in what manner? Is there another game that offers you what this one might, and is it already available? Are there any third-party reviews of the game (that are not from the publisher’s usual circle of friends)? Is there a rulebook or print-and-play (and is it worth your time to assemble)?
- Remember that promotional content is often not that great. There’s usually a reason that something is a promo rather than included in the base game. My record on promos has not been very good, even for well-established games. I’ve ended up selling almost every promotional extra I’ve received (unless it was bling to make the game look better). So…if what’s causing you to back now is just extra stuff that will likely not improve the game, is now the best time to invest? Of course, sometimes the extra content isn’t “promotional” but is early access to future expansion content. In either case, your mileage may vary. But it’s good to consider whether you have enjoyed promotional extras in the past.
Advice for Publishers
- I’d rather have a quality project delivered on time than a lot of extra swag. I’d rather have a well-designed game than a good-looking one (though, really, it’s best when the two go hand-in-hand). Similarly, when designing “stretch rewards,” I’d rather have more/better bling than untested cards and variants. (See bit on promos above.) And I’d really like for it to be delivered on time. I approve of the new trend to extend Kickstarter estimated delivery dates so as to deliver “early.” The comfort of receiving something early is much better than consternation at receiving something late.
- I need some proof that you have a decent product. Third-party game reviews help, but be advised: cronyism is obvious in a hobby this small. If the usual suspects are always plugging one company’s games, it limits the value I place on the review. Reviews are still helpful, though. So are rulebooks. In fact, a preliminary rulebook is absolutely essential to secure my backing. A full print-and-play is even better (and although I am unlikely to assemble it, it’s comforting to know it’s there).
- Give me an incentive to back now rather than when the game is on shelves. As callous as it sounds, “This game might not be made otherwise!” is not a good enough reason for me to spend money now while receiving only the promise of a product in the future. When I spend money in any sphere, I expect some form of return on my investment, especially if I’m not receiving a product or service at the time of payment. Just because the emotion of supporting a dream is involved doesn’t mean I should become more cavalier with my limited funds. Give me something that motivates me to action–a sweet discount, extra game content, some game-inspired bling (my preference is for discounts and bling). Otherwise there’s not much reason to back your project instead of waiting for it to appear on store shelves, when a more level-headed me might choose to purchase a different game.
- I have no obligation to support your dream, so please don’t guilt me into thinking I do. I realize, again, that this sounds callous, but it’s true. I work hard at my job, and I often take extra work on the side in order to fund my and my family’s own dreams. I realize the goal of game design is ultimately getting others to play your game (and, really, to have a salable product), but there are plenty of companies that have started out the hard way. A dream alone does not (and should not) give you direct access to my wallet, especially considering that there are a lot of worthy charitable causes to contribute to. An attempt at guilting me into support is more likely to have the effect of me contributing elsewhere.
- I’m more likely to back your project if you participate in the community. This doesn’t necessarily mean, “You need to back other people’s projects.” And it definitely doesn’t mean that you have to “kick it forward.” It does, however, mean that you need to be available on forums where gamers usually are. Board Game Geek is a good place to start, as is Twitter or other social outlets. It’s easy to spot those who show up only when they have a new Kickstarter project and are gone just as fast once funding is finished. I’m not interested in supporting (at least via Kickstarter) those who are not involved in the gaming community. It seems a violation of the crowdfunding ethos.
- Show me what is different about your game (hint: it needs to be more than theme). If your game is a rehash of something else, I’ll just buy that something else and not endure the teething troubles that often come from working with new companies. So you need to have something more than a reskin of something that’s already available. And you need to be clear about what your game is.
- Give me proof that what you have is more than a dream. There are idea people, and there are detail people. Sometimes a person is both a dreamer and a manager, but in my experience, the two don’t always (or even often) go hand in hand. So, what do you have beyond the dream? What skills do you, or a business partner, bring to the table? Can you deliver what you say you can deliver and in the time-frame you say you can deliver it in? The new “risks” section on your Kickstarter page isn’t another place for you to sell your game. It requires a sober look at your process. Are there any holes in your strategy that need to be patched?
Where am I wrong? Where am I right?