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?

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