Kickstarter, a platform that just celebrated its 10 year anniversary this past April, has become the board game industry’s most meaningful and controversial stage. In 2019, there were 2713 Kickstarter tabletop projects that reached their funding goals and raised over $175,000,000 in total.
This may seem like a 100% positive thing for our industry, and in MOST ways, it is. We now have a plethora of new games from first-time and experienced designers alike, that likely would not exist if not for crowdfunding such as Kickstarter. New board game companies are sprouting up faster than weeds in a poorly maintained garden. Designers are being pushed to come up with more innovative and interesting ideas, and they are doing just that.
On the flip-side, in some ways, it feels as though the platform has been misused by the industry. Some well-established companies are using Kickstarter as a quintessential pre-order platform, or just as a means to make more money than going through retailers. However, because of this, it affords them the ability to provide you a superior product via gameplay additions, component upgrades, and other stretch goals.
However, this does introduce two potential problems with Kickstarter funding…
Problem 1: The consumer price-point is steadily increasing. Just a few years ago, a $50 game was seen as a huge commitment and now there are large-scale Kickstarter tabletop games that will cost you up to $500 if you want to get all the content they are offering. Even medium-scale games are trending towards and even exceeding the century mark.
Problem 2: The low barrier to entry that once made Kickstarter such an amazing resource for new tabletop designers and small publishing companies alike, is not quite what it used to be. This is largely due to increasing consumer expectations of what a successful Kickstarter truly looks like. Often people are expecting to see fully completed artwork, a full-fledged professional-grade prototype, highly produced videos, multiple previews/reviews, and a full team of people to handle the campaign creation and upkeep.
I am all for creators “stepping up their game” so to speak in order to meet these expectations, but there is no denying that this involves a substantial amount of experience, time, people, or money to do, and do well.
This is not to say that it is impossible to go at it alone as a first-time creator on a budget, but it does put you at a pretty large disadvantage, one that you will have to work extra hard to overcome.
I have taken on my Kickstarter campaign almost entirely on my lonesome and it has been a massive learning experience. I would like to share a few of the lessons I have learned with you now.
Lesson #1: Don’t Do it Completely Alone
Since the new year, I have basically been working 80 hour weeks just to get ready for this campaign. This, of course, includes aspects of the game-design and development as well, but frankly I consider both that and my work on blogging to be a much needed break to my Kickstarter preparations.
I would recommend that you save up some money to hire a graphic designer for the Kickstarter, a marketing advisor, and perhaps a photography/video team to take your campaign to the next level.
If your pockets are inverted like mine are, you can hopefully find some volunteers that have some expertise in those respective areas (friends, family, or even potential backers who believe in your product). You can also check out local universities for people who are studying marketing, graphic design, etc. as they will likely contribute for a fraction of what a professional would cost.
Lesson #2: Think of Your Optimal Launch Date…
And then push it back at least a couple of weeks or even a month. You are welcome to use the optimal date as a motivator for yourself and for your team (if you have one), but something unexpected may happen and you need to be prepared for that.
Also, any extra time you give yourself could be the difference between funding or not, because it affords you the time to get much needed feedback on your campaign, to run promotions, advertisements, and build a following (see next lesson).
Lesson #3: Build a Following Before Launch
Your success is highly dependent on having people who are going to jump in during the first 48 hours to back your project. Without that, you’re entire campaign will likely fall flat. People who discover your project after the 48-hour mark are tremendously more likely to get on board if they see that you have already reached your funding goal and are improving the project with stretch goals, add-ons, etc.
Lesson #4: Know Your Way Around Image Manipulation Software
Even if you have a graphic designer on your team to handle this part for you, this recommendation is still relevant. If you need to make a last minute change and you can’t get in touch with your graphic designer, you will want to be capable of doing it yourself without sacrificing too much on the quality.
If you don’t have a graphic designer for the campaign, be prepared to spend lots of time familiarizing yourself with these softwares. In fact, a majority of the hours I have spent on my campaign have been within GIMP (an open source software for Linux and Windows).
The reason this is so critical is because the Kickstarter platform literally has one font and only 3 variations: bold, italicized, and headline (large and bold). Many successful projects barely even use the built in text “functionality” within Kickstarter, rather, they create an image with the written text and add that instead. This is especially important for headers and text that you REALLY want to emphasize.
Lesson #5: Focus on What Makes Your Project Unique
The statistic I gave in the beginning of this article (2713 successful tabletop projects in 2019) was not just to show how huge tabletop games are on Kickstarter, but also, to hammer home the point that it is extremely hard to stand out in a very overcrowded market.
If you have something that makes your project unique, you need to focus on that, and make sure that the people who visit your project understand WHAT unique thing your project offers them that other projects don’t.
Lesson #6: Be Open to Feedback
Tabletop gaming is a tight-knit community. There are so many folks out there who are willing to volunteer their time to look over your project and offer suggestions. You can create a preview link and share it even during the beginning steps of the campaign.
Just to clarify, being open to feedback does not mean that you need to implement every piece of advice you receive, but listening to what others have to say and being responsive to it in a courteous manner will go a very long way. Even if you don’t use their advice directly, you are at least informing them that their opinion is valued, their voice is heard, and that you are the type of creator that is willing to engage with your backers.
Lesson #7: Start Small
This honestly could be taken as a generalized lesson for life, but think of your first campaign as dipping your toes in the water. You should first be testing whether the water is hot or cold, or whether you feel like you’ll be able to swim in it.
I would recommend starting with a small card game and with a reasonably low funding goal. Funding and fulfilling on your promise in a timely fashion is extremely important moving forward and will set you up well for future successes.
There have been a few creators that have bucked this trend and have seen massive success by starting big in their first campaign, but in general, consumers are much more willing to take a chance on a first-time creator if it’s a small project because fulfillment is more likely to be reliable and they are typically a much smaller investment financially.
Lesson #8: Have Fun
In all honesty, this may be the hardest lesson to follow. When you are invested in making your campaign look and feel professional, fun is the furthest thing from your mind. You just want to put your product out there and pray that it does enough to succeed.
Unless you are in it exclusively for the money (money you say? Oh you silly goose), then you need to remember that your project is something that YOU feel passionate about and your campaign should reflect that.
Adding a little bit of your personality to your campaign and adding some fun interactive things for your backers and followers to engage with will help people feel comfortable letting down their guard and trusting you, a first-time creator, with their hard-earned money.
My First Project
I was learning these lessons as I went, and because of that, the whole process ended up being much more time-consuming and exhausting than I could have ever imagined. In the end, while I don’t consider my project to be perfect or even exemplary, I am extremely proud of what I accomplished, especially for having completed it mostly on my lonesome.
Launching a Crowdfunding Kickstarter Campaign: In Conclusion
I hope that the lessons I have learned through creation of my first tabletop Kickstarter campaign can help if you should decide to publish a board game through crowdfunding.
If you have any other tips, lessons, or feedback, please feel free to comment below.