A Kickstarter Retrospective on a Canceled Campaign

Firstly, I apologize in advance for the long post. The TLDR version will be at the bottom.

It has been around a week now since I cancelled my campaign for War of Supremacy. I have had a bit of time to reflect on the whole experience; what went right, what went wrong, mistakes made and lessons learned, and wanted to give a retrospective on the campaign in general.

Running a Kickstarter is a rollercoaster, with lots of ups and downs (more downs if you don’t fund). You can’t help but watch and refresh the page when you can. You get thrill and excitement with the mad rush of the first day and when your total amount pledged increases thereafter. On the reverse side, you always question yourself and get a little sense of sadness when someone cancels. You can’t help but ride the ups and downs, especially if you are pushing to fund.   

However, overall, I am glad I experienced the campaign. I learned a lot about the whole process and would like to point out some of the mistakes that I made as well as what needs improvement for next time. I am no expert, but hopefully people will find it interesting and avoid some of the mistakes and traps I fell in to.

Before I get to the mistakes of the campaign, I want to point out that I did a lot right. I have been researching the Kickstarter process for over a year.  I know what a good Kickstarter page looks like and applied it to my campaign. I knew what had to be included; introduction, reviews, how to play, components, etc. I would recommend doing the following points before launching a Kickstarter. They will help you learn the whole process and what to include on your campaign.

  • Read Jamey stegmaier and James Mathe blogs. They have a wealth of information and will help with everything Kickstarter and game development related.
  • Follow and back a number of Kickstarters. I backed over 100 (a lot at $1) to follow the campaign and learn the process. Some key points into why you want to back other campaigns are: you get to look at their campaign pages and get a feel of what you should include, see what they write for updates, learn how to speak and communicate with customers, learn how the manufacturing and fulfillment process was handled. Another reason being is that when you launch your campaign, people see that you have backed products and are part of the community.
  • Be part of the community. There are a lot of great facebook groups, BGG forums and other places that have everything to do with boardgames as well as Kickstarting. Join them and be part of them.

So, now on to the main question: Why, if I did my research and generally knew how to run a Kickstarter, knew what to include on the campaign page, had a game that was fun (not everyone’s type of game, but one that was generally well received) with good reviews; why did it not fund? The main reason, to put simply, was marketing and advertising. I did not have a big enough audience going into the campaign, and I did not market the game well enough on the Kickstarter page itself to get new people to pledge.

Campaign Page

I will look at the campaign page itself first and get to external marketing after. The campaign page is where you need to sell your product. All your external marketing will bring people to the page, but you ultimately still need to sell the product itself, to get people to pledge. For the following points, I am going to ignore graphic design, art and the movie. There could be improvements which I will look at for next time, but the main focus of this post is to look at the information that could be changed and added.

While I had most of the information on the page for people to know what the game was, there was no point in the campaign where it said; this is why you should back War of Supremacy.

Making Your Game Unique/Selling Points

With so many games on the market and on Kickstarter, you really need something to stand out. Some of this can be with art, theme and/or gameplay. However, I have a fantasy card game. This type of game does not stand out in this day and age with so many of them.

Now I, reviewers and people that have played War of Supremacy, know that it has very different and unique gameplay compared to other card games. BUT, I did not display that well enough on the Kickstarter page. For someone that may be visiting the page, there was nothing to make them stop and read more about the game. People will skim it and then easily skip it as there is nothing telling them to stay. People probably perceived it as another Magic clone. I should have included something like below as an image, or prominent part of the page.

  • King of the Hillstyle gameplay. All players are playing and fighting for themselves and wants to win the central territory.
  • Gateway (plus)game which can be learned in five minutes but still offers a lot of tactical gameplay.
  • There is no mana like other card games. Create crazy combinationsand strength by putting together creatures of the same faction or type. Combine this with a huge variety of spells.
  • Very dynamic gameplaywith creatures having three combat scores that change throughout the game.
  • Scratches the itch if you like Smash Up or Magic/Hearthstone.

Pledge Levels and Exclusives

I started off the campaign with two pledge levels; The Core Box and the Hero Pledge. I later added the mini-expansion; The Rising Dread in the hope of helping push to get funded.

As these would all essentially be retail copies of the game, I had nothing to entice people to back the Kickstarter campaign. Backers on Kickstarter like fancy items; add-ons and exclusives. These things give reason for backers to pledge now rather than waiting for retail.

Next campaign I will be having a retail and deluxe version of the game. I am not a fan of gameplay additions to deluxe editions, so will be purely component upgrades. Some ideas I have had are; neoprene mat, increase Territory cards to tarot size, alternate art cards, deluxify tokens. Hopefully these component upgrades will give incentive for people to back the campaign.

If you put the deluxe edition within $10-20 of the retail edition, you will find a lot of people will back the deluxe edition if the price and upgrades are fair and good.

I will keep the hero pledge. I had a few friends that wanted to back at this level. I may reduce the cost slightly and increase the amount.

 I will get rid of the expansion pledge. I want to include as much as I can in the core box, including the two factions that were in the expansion box.

I did not add a $1 pledge level last time round. I almost did, but then took it out from advice in the community. This is a big talking point in the community at the moment with lots of pros and cons on both sides. I am still undecided for next time but will likely add one.

I did not have a retail pledge level. Retailers could contact me directly if they wish. Unfortunately, I did not do enough ground work, and we did not fund for any retailers to want to get the game.  

Price Point

Price point is a hard thing to determine. There are so many factors involved; manufacturing cost, shipping, competitor prices, fluctuating exchange rates (if you’re not in the US). Some people have said my price point was good and competitive, whereas others thought it was too high. The balance is to make sure you’re not underselling your product while making sure it is not too high that people won’t back.

I will ignore my expansion price as we won’t be including that next time and was an added late in the campaign to try and get funding. The core box I priced at $49 AUD, which correlates to around $38-39 USD. This included free shipping to AUS/US and subsidized everywhere else. Pricing is very different per country. I did my research of similar games in USD on Amazon. Smash Up on Amazon is normally $29.99 (although on sale for $23.99 at the moment). For comparison, in Australia it can be anywhere between $40-50 AUD). So, if you include the free shipping ($8 USD to US and $12 USD to AUS), it was in the ballpark of Smash Up pricing for both countries. It also has more cards than Smash Up, so I thought the pricing was fine. I also wanted to have the power of ending the price at 9

One problem though, is that Smash Up is an established brand and War of Supremacy isn’t. Secondly, my page didn’t help sell the product to warrant the price. For the relaunch, the price point will probably be adjusted and we will be adding a few things (eg a player board, another faction), to give the game more value.

Nothing to Entice Early

Another issue was that I had nothing to entice backers to pledge early. If you are a new publisher and are not established, I feel you need to offer something to try and get backers to pledge in the first few days. I tried this half way through the campaign but was not enough.

I am not a fan of early bird rewards. It makes people who missed out annoyed and potentially not back later. There are some alternatives however that both help get the product funded and give the incentive to back on the first few days without anyone missing out. The best solution I have found would be to add something to the core/retail box if you fund in x period of time. For me I am thinking of rewarding all backers with an additional faction if we fund within the first 48/72 hours. This is what I tried above, but you need to do it in the crucial period of the first few days where people see your product as it is on top of the newest list.

Not having a playthrough from a reviewer

Another point that didn’t help was that I did not have a full gameplay video anywhere. A lot of the reviewers did quick gameplay rundowns, but no full video of a game. This may have hurt a little as there was nowhere to see how the game played in its entirety, the interactions between people and seeing how much tactics, luck, take that was involved. I will try and get a reviewer to have a full video for next campaign.

Kickstarter Live

This brings me on to Kickstarter Live. We ran a Kickstarter Live with full gameplay, answering questions throughout. This brought about a little spike in backers. I was able to show full gameplay which was previously missing and I was able to answer any questions from the backers. We probably did this too late in the campaign. For next time, I will be doing it within the first few days of the campaign and do them regularly. I will also look into other methods like Facebook Live.

Friends and Family didn’t know the Kickstarter process

Another slight concern was that friends and family didn’t know about the whole Kickstarter process. Some got confused on how to back, and the pledgemanager. Others didn’t understand the importance of backing and getting funded in the first few days. A lot of my friends and family thought that 30% funded after the first day was amazing. Next time I will try and explain these things better to hopefully get them to back early.

So those are all the big items for the actual campaign page that I have noticed and will have to change for next time. If you have anything else you think I might have missed, please let me know in the comments.

External Marketing

So that brings me on to the external marketing side of things. Bringing people to the page. As mentioned earlier, I did not have enough people that knew about the War of Supremacy, my company and me in general prior to launch. This is important. You need to have enough people interested in your product to get close to funding in the first few days. Otherwise, it won’t be on the top of any list and will get lost in the crowd of other amazing products on Kickstarter.

I will firstly discuss what I did, and then will explain what needs to be done for next time round.

Mailing List

I had set up a mailing list which people put their name and email down on. All up I had around 70-80 which probably wasn’t enough. I mainly got these from conventions, but also got a fair few from facebook sponsored ads, some from visitors to my website and other social media (BGG).

Facebook Sponsored Ads

I ran a few different facebook sponsored ads prior to launch (and then during). All up I spent around $500.

The catch with sponsored ads is that you can only run them from a page. Not a group. The difficulty in that, is that page posts do not show up nearly as much as group posts, due to new facebook algorithms.

I ran a sponsored ad that was specifically targeting getting people to like to my page. While this worked, and boosted numbers of likes on the page, it did not really convert to backers. Reason being that as mentioned above, page posts appear less than group posts.

The second sponsored ad I ran, I feel worked much better. It had an image of the components, and then in the description had a link to my mailing list and information of when the Kickstarter launched. It generated a lot of likes and comments on the ad itself and got a decent number of mailing list sign-ups. The problem however was that I do not know how many of those sign-ups converted to backers. They may have been less inclined to back if they had never played it before.

During the campaign I ran the same ad as above but linked the Kickstarter campaign instead of my mailing list. I tried targeting people that liked my page in the hope that I could get them to see the Kickstarter link. I also ran the same ad to the same target audience as my mailing list ad.

My target audience was

  • Ages 20-45
  • Targeting people who like board games and Kickstarter
  • Countries: US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Germany

I will probably do something similar for relaunch but may run a few different ads and see what grabs people’s attention the most.

Conventions and Local Groups

I did go to two conventions showcasing War of Supremacy. People enjoyed playing and I gained a decent amount of people to the mailing list this way. Local game groups and unpub events I did go to, but probably not as regularly as I should of and didn’t show off War of Supremacy well enough.

This is definitely something I need to work on. Getting people playing your game is the best way to generate audience.

Boardgamegeek

During the campaign, I did run ads on boardgamegeek. I did the basic amount of $500 for 500,000 impressions over the course of the whole campaign. I was able to cut this short as I cancelled early. As Chad from boargamegeek told me, this may seem a lot, but you are competing with everyone else and their ads. Those 500,000 was actually low saturation and they have over 100 million banners. Kickstarter does show how many people came from BGG and there was 6-7. So if it ran the course, it may of doubled that and I got the money back used in the campaign. I will probably have to rework and do better ads for the next campaign and may have to look at spending a little more.

Posting on Facebook Groups

I did post occasionally on facebook groups, letting people know about War of Supremacy. But as I will explain later, it wasn’t enough.

Posting on Boardgamegeek

I did post up on a few threads on boardgamegeek. I didn’t gather much interest. I am not involved too much in that community, so it makes sense.

Reviewers

I sent the game to around 10 reviewers. This cost roughly $500-1000 for copies and shipping. All the reviews were great but didn’t generate backers as I expected and hoped. This is once again due to not having the initial audience, the sell points on the campaign page and the hype in the community. Reviewers can give their opinion and bring people to the page, however the page needs to sell the product.

I may have to look at doing one or two more reviews with some bigger channels (and will do live play throughs). But once again, it comes down the marketing my game on the page.

Facebook Event

I did create a personal event for friends and family for the first two days of the campaign. I need to also make a public event that anyone can join for next time and share it on the social groups. This is another good way to generate audience.

Feedback

There are a few Facebook groups that give feedback on art and the Kickstarter page. I did use these, but potentially not as much as I should. While useful to change issues, it is also a good advertising tool for people to find out about your game.

Competition

I also ran a competition with Everything Boardgames for a copy of War of Supremacy. This got people liking my page, fanning my boardgamegeek page, visiting my Twitter and the campaign page itself. I do not know if it converted anyone in to backers. I still think it is a good way to market the game however, as people will see posts and banners about the competition that will mention the game itself.

As well as the above improvements to be made, I will be doing the additional marketing to promote War of Supremacy.

Be Active in the Boardgame Communities

The biggest thing you can do for marketing is to be a part of the boardgame community. As mentioned above, not many people knew about me, my company or War of Supremacy. I needed to make comments and show my face more in those groups. The more a person knows you, the more they will be interested in a product you sell.

When I say, be part of the community, I do not mean spam your product. What I mean and recommend is to give back something to the community; whether that be posts about the hobby in general, commenting on other people’s posts, offering advice or giving content with useful information. The more you interact and post, the more people will start to associate with you. We have seen some popular publishers offer a lot of advice and external content for the community. Druid City Games with Boardgame Spotlight and their behind the scene videos. Pencil First Games/Ed with his designer perspectives and reviews. Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe with their blogs, plus many others. People trust and follow them as a person/company and therefore have more audience and trust for their products.

I will look to see if I can create some content for the community, but if not, I will be more involved in the groups, offering feedback where I can.

Push my Tabletopia and Print and Play

I did have a Tabletopia and Print and Play version prior to the last campaign, but I did not push it. These are great ways for people to try your game before backing the product. Unfortunately, I do not think anyone used these as it wasn’t really known.

Ask for more Feedback

Prior to the campaign, I did ask for feedback on my box cover and the campaign page itself. However, I will probably ask the general public for more things for next time round. Asking for feedback about the projects gives a number of benefits. These include, people knowing about the game prior to launch. Secondly, if you offer feedback, it can feel you are a part of the project.

In saying that, I wouldn’t recommend spamming the groups for every single little detail of the game, however asking some key points would be a good way to interest people in to the campaign and get valid feedback. I am currently wanting to add a sixth faction to the core box. This will be between the two factions in the mini-expansion. I have asked the community which faction they want to add. This can be voted on here.

If you know of any other marketing 

Overall, and the TLDR version is that running a Kickstarter is a roller coaster of emotions with lots of ups and downs. Do your research before running the campaign. Know what to put in the page and how to run one. If you want to succeed, you need to build your audience prior to launch. Build hype in the community and play the game with as many people as possible. You also need to market your game well enough on the campaign page itself to stick out from the competition. It was a long post. Thanks for reading. I hope this may help in running your own Kickstarter.

2 thoughts on “A Kickstarter Retrospective on a Canceled Campaign

  • April 15, 2018 at 12:07 am
    Permalink

    Hi, thanks for this post. It was a really interesting read! I’m about to launch a campaign in may and you just convince me to put much mor love in my campaign page. Thanks man and I wish you the best for your relaunch 🙂

    Reply
    • April 17, 2018 at 12:34 pm
      Permalink

      No problem Jeff. Glad it helped 🙂 Best of luck with the campaign. Had a quick look at your website and the game looks pretty cool. Will keep an eye out for it.

      Reply

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