Steven S. Long is a writer, game designer, and all 'round great guy. According to the secret files of the KGB, he once singlehandedly defeated the Kremlin's plot to attack America with laser-powered Godzillas.

« Doorstops And Pockets | Main | Game With Me And Pat Rothfuss At StellarCon 36! »

Reflections Of A First-Time Kickstarterer

The Hero Games Kickstarter for The Book Of The Empress recently succeeded, and I’ve just launched my own Kickstarter for Mythic Hero. I figured it might be a good idea to do what so many others have done and post my thoughts, suggestions, and advice for the whole process. I know plenty of people out there are thinking of doing Kickstarters for gaming-related products. I’ve benefitted from the wisdom of those who came before me, and hopefully some who come after me will learn something from my experiences.

Herewith, said thoughts, suggestions, and advice. ;)

#1:  Do Your Research!


The first thing you need to do (which you’re hopefully doing by reading this blog entry, in part) is conduct some research. Find out from people who’ve done this what they learned and what problems they encountered. There’s no point re-inventing the wheel, after all.

Some websites that I benefitted from when conducting my own research include:

Kickstarter.com itself, which has all sorts of useful information, statistics, guides to creating a good video, and so on



—various posts in Fred Hicks’s blog:  this one and this one


The Game Whisperer podcast, which is all about funding gaming projects via Kickstarter (check out episode #26 with me, me, me!)


—Daniel Solis on reaching the tipping point early


Crowdfunding Cheat Sheet (not specifically aimed at games, but good general advice)


Some of the tantalizing facts you’ll learn through these sources:

—90% of Kickstarter projects that reach the 30% funding point at any stage of the project will ultimately become fully funded. Getting to that 30% benchmark as early as possible is a Good Thing.



—$25 is the most common pledge; the average pledge is about $70


—everyone seems to agree that the video for your project is really important — Kickstarter itself says projects with videos are more likely to succeed (50% rate versus 30% rate) and raise more money when they do. So, as much as a pain in the ass as it can be to create a video, do it, and make it a compelling one. Make sure it showcases your interest in the project and the features that are most likely to inspire someone to want to back it. And try to keep it at two minutes or under; more than that and folx are likely to tune out. (That sounds easy, but it’s not — you’ll be surprised how little talking you can do in two minutes.)


—end your project on a weekend — a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (most people seem to prefer Sunday). You’ll see more activity with your Kickstarter on the weekends (or at least, I have) and you want to take advantage of that. Some people think ending later in the month is best (people have received a second paycheck by then); some prefer earlier in the month (people may still have a lot of discretionary income then).



—set up your account with Amazon Payments in advance. Getting it all approved and whatnot can take time, especially since you may have to fax in a bank statement rather than doing it all electronically (you may get approved quickly, but best to prepare for the worst case scenario). And make sure you create an Amazon Payments Business account; you can’t use a Personal account.



—try to set a project deadline for around 30 days unless you have a good reason not to. For example, I extended my Mythic Hero Kickstarter to nearly two months. I did that in part because I launched it during tax season and wanted to allow time for people to file their taxes, get a refund, and use that refund money to make a pledge. But most successful Kickstarter projects stick to about a month’s worth of time. That timeframe allows you enough days to get the word out and drum up interest, while still retaining a sense of “gotta get it now!” immediacy.


#2:  Plan Your Reward Tiers For Success


One of the biggest keys to Kickstarter success, if not the biggest, is your reward tiers. Getting people to become one of your “patrons” is tough — sometimes a little bribery is required! Obviously one of the main rewards will be one or more copies of whatever it is you’re creating (a book for RPGs or fiction, various other games, a CD of your band performing, whatever), but you can go a long way beyond that.

First, be careful not to overload backers with reward options, thus creating “choice paralysis.” The ideal number seems to be 5-7. And make sure each one is distinct from the others; easily-identified differences between tiers is better than small variations.

Second, include some low-level tiers (so people can offer at least token support if they want to) and some high-level “big ticket” tiers (just in case! ;) ). In theory these are mostly intended to encourage people to go for the mid-level tiers that are going to be your bread and butter, but you never know when an enthusiastic fan may have some extra cash burning a hole in his pocket.

Third, consider carefully the cost of the rewards you offer, not just in terms of money but in terms of your time. The best rewards are ones that add some value to the project (such as the author’s signature) but that don’t require a lot of time or money to provide. Rewards that require you to shell out cash or time — such as giving every backer of $X level or higher a t-shirt with your logo on it — may be more trouble than their worth. At the very least you should factor in that cost when determining how much money to raise (see below).

Fourth, for the higher-level tiers, consider rewards that are personalized to the backer. For the Book Of The Empress Kickstarter, for example, Hero Games established a reward where the backer could help the author create a character for inclusion in a PDF that all backers would receive. (Had the book not already been essentially complete, those characters probably would have gone into the book itself.) Other possibilities:  name a character after a backer; give a backer a special nickname in the dedication; include the backer in the book’s art somehow.

Fifth, plan ahead for what happens when you reach your funding goal early. As several of the websites linked above mention, your job doesn’t end when your project reaches 100%. At that point your job shifts to finding ways to encourage people to keep giving. It’s easy for potential backers of a project to think, “Oh, cool, they’ve reached the goal, now [the whatever] will be on sale after it’s made.” (That may or may not actually be true, but you can bet they’ll think it regardless — and in the case of RPG books there’s a good chance it is, in fact, a correct assumption.) One of the ways you can keep the “I reached goal funding slump” from affecting the rest of your project is to add a new reward tier. (You can’t change a tier once someone pledges to it, but you can add new ones.) If you can, plan for this in advance — know what you’ll add, and at what level of funding, so you’re ready right away. And make sure you don’t annoy existing backers by adding a reward that invalidates what they’ve already paid for, or offer a reward that seems cooler for less money. (If possible, allow existing backers take advantage of the new reward for a small additional pledge.)

#3:  Cover Your Full Cost


A number of commentators have suggested that when you create a project you shouldn’t expect to raise every penny of the funding you need through Kickstarter — you should plan to generate some lesser amount (such as half). The rest you either get from other sources, or you “contribute” yourself as sweat equity. The idea is, in part, that a lower goal makes success more likely.

This is a notion worth considering — if you’re not creating whatever you’re trying to Kickstarter professionally (by which I mean, for more or less your full living). If you’re doing a Kickstarter to produce something you create in your spare time away from your day job, or as some small part of a galaxy of money-making ventures you engage in, then maybe planning to cover less than your full cost of production is a valid strategy. Maybe.

But if you are trying to create professionally, I think this suggestion is a sure path to failure, if not bankruptcy. As a business, you have to cover all your costs, or you’re not going to stay in business for long. You have to plan your Kickstarter to bring in the entire amount you need to fund your project, not some percentage of that amount.

So how do you calculate that amount? Well, obviously that depends on a lot of factors, such as what you’re producing, but here are some things to include in your spreadsheet:

—your salary (or whatever you want to call it). You’re a skilled creator, and your time and effort have value. Particularly for projects that may take months to finish, you need to plan to pay yourself so you can keep food on the table and gas in the tank. For many such projects, your salary will be the biggest single line item in your budget. That makes it a very tempting place to try to trim things down — but resist that temptation!



—the actual cost of producing the item — of printing the book, of recording the CD, of manufacturing your cool plastic widget, whatever. Get several estimates if you can.



—shipping and related costs. These are not negigible, particularly if you have backers from around the world. Go to the Post Office, or UPS, or whoever and get solid estimates. And unless you want to box up every item yourself, don’t forget fulfillment costs (i.e., the cost of hiring someone to pack and ship your goods). And of course, all those boxes and bubble wrap don’t come free.


—research. Will you need to conduct research to write your book or create your masterpiece? If so, try to estimate that and include it in your cost of goods.



—ancillary services you can’t provide. Do you know how to do professional layout on your book? Are you a skilled enough artist to illustrate it? If not, you need to pay someone to do layout, and artists to create art. This may not matter for many creative projects, but for RPG books these are essential considerations.



—the cost of providing any promised rewards. Are you going to have to pay to manufacture t-shirts (or bookmarks, or dice, or whatever) for your backers? Have you promised to travel to high-level backers and deliver their goodies personally? Rewards like this aren’t free, so you need to include their cost of creation into your budget.


I’m sure there are plenty of other things that could be added to this list, but I’ll trust you to know your own industry/market enough to figure them out. Above all, plan convervatively — or “pessimistically,” if you prefer a more cynical outlook. Don’t base your estimates of your expenses on hope, or guesswork, or luck. If you can’t nail the costs down with reasonable precision, plan for them to be a lot more than you expect... because they will be.

#4:  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate


One of the great things Kickstarter does is provide you with all sorts of tools to communicate with your backers. And you should use them — these people are your core audience, supporters so interested in what you’re doing that they’re willing to offer their money in advance to see you succeed. Take advantage of that enthusiasm, and don’t allow it to falter. Some specific suggestions:

—Kickstarter lets you send out updates to all backers at once. You should update at least once a week, and more often if you have news worth spreading. Not only should you keep everyone informed about how the pledge drive is going, you should offer some goodies or “glimpses behind the curtain” if you can. For an RPG book you might show backers the cover art (or interior art), give them a look at the character sheet, or provide sample text from a chapter.



—Don’t limit yourself to just Kickstarter’s tools, though, because you also need to let people who aren’t already aware of your project know that it exists. Facebook, Twitter, your own website, websites for people who are interested in the sort of product you’re creating, appropriate podcasts — all these and more are possibilities you should take advantage of.



—Just because your project has concluded successfully doesn’t mean you should stop communicating. Keep sending out those updates! Particularly for projects that take a long time to complete, updates are a fantastic way to keep your backers informed of your progress. They enjoy hearing that you just finished a chapter, or recently got to look at the molds for your miniatures, or what have you. It makes them feel like they’re a part of the process (which they should, because on some level they are).


Of course, don’t make yourself an unwelcome guest. Even the most enthusiastic of supporters doesn’t want to be bombarded with meaningless “announcements” every day. Stay in touch, but make sure your updates have purpose.

Kickstarter has even more communications tools for a project that reaches its funding goal. After that happens you have the ability to send out surveys that allow you to gather the information you need to deliver the rewards you promised. Typically you’re looking for things like the name the backer wants used in the credits, his physical address where you’ll send him the finished product, and so on. But you’re a creative person, you can use this tool creatively! For example, consider asking if the backer would like to receive an e-mail about your next Kickstarter. Keep the following in mind when preparing your survey, though:

—you can customize questions by reward level. Annoyingly, you have to. As far as I can tell there’s no provision for sending out the same survey to multiple reward levels. So be prepared to duplicate your work (for example, write out your questions in your word processor, then cut and past them into Kickstarter’s form).



—the survey form won’t let you re-arrange questions once you create them. Get them right the first time or you’ll have to start all over again from scratch.



—questions can be single-answer or multiple choice. The latter start with two default choice slots but you have the ability to add more.



—the survey comes with a pre-built “what’s your name and address?” question/form that you can remove if you want. If you use it, the form where the backer fills in the information can take international addresses. 



—you can only send a survey once per reward tier. So if you think of anything else you want to ask later, tough luck. (You can still use the update feature to reach everyone, or contact backers directly, if you have to.)


—as far as I can tell, there’s no “checkbox” or other option you can use to establish a deadline for responses. You just have to type one into the text of the question if necessary.


#5:  Judge For Yourself


Last but not least, remember this:  no Kickstarter advice (even what you’ve read in this sagacious blog) is universally applicable. Statistics and suggestions aside, you have to decide what works best for your project and your goals. Most projects do best with 5-7 reward tiers, but some have been very, very successful with a dozen or more. Ending on a weekend day tends to be the best bet for most projects, but that doesn’t mean you should go with the pack if you have a good reason for choosing some other day. You know yourself and your work best, so use that knowledge to help you pick the best path to full funding.


Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>