Kickstarter Lessons from The Emerald Flame Pt. 2

In my previous post I introduced many steps that should be taken before the campaign to help it succeed, but after being interviewed on the Meeple Marketing podcast I realized that wasn’t really the full list, so this post will include some actions for before and during the campaign. (My episode isn’t up as of my writing this, but the podcast is a great resource for marketing tips from a wide variety of tabletop game designers.)


Setting up your Kickstarter page

I started out by looking at a lot of pages for other campaigns and making an outline in a document for what I needed for my page. This document included notes about sections, specific information that needed to be included, as well as which graphics and assets I would need to prepare. This was really helpful because it also acted as a To Do list and allowed me to check off items as I went.


Let’s break down some essentials:


Main campaign video

It is generally recommended to keep the main video to a minute at most. It should have a hook (why is this game special?) and explain the basic premise. Leave the details for the page itself; the purpose of the video is to grab the viewer and make them want to learn more. With such widely available editing software it’s easy to make a video yourself these days, but if you’ve never done it before you may not want this to be your first one. Remember that it’s going to be many people’s first impression of the game, so you want it to look as polished and professional as possible. A big thank you to Jan-Luc for help with my campaign videos.


Images

This is probably the most important part of the page and I highly recommend getting the best possible photos taken of the game. Again, if you don’t know how to do this yourself, try finding a photographer, or at least a friend with a good camera and a decent light setup (I’ll add a big thank you to my pal Hillary for this one.)

Put the best photo at the top of the page. It also helps to have GIFs or videos throughout, but make sure to space them out and not use too many or it can get overwhelming. Don’t be too afraid of showing spoilers---people want to know what they’re getting, especially if they’re paying a lot of money for it.

Eye-grabber for the top of the page

Information

This part gets tricky because as the designer you have all the information in your head and sometimes it’s hard to extract everything that you need others to know. Generally, more information is better than less, but it’s best to have the most important points at the top of the page, and those who want to know more will take the time to scroll down. People also don't like to read big blocks of text, so bullet points can sometimes be more helpful. You’ll want to have a description of the game, how it’s played, what’s included, as well as practical information such as shipping costs and timeline for delivery. If you have multiple pledge tiers, it may be good to outline them in a graphic too, along with stretch goals, if you choose to have them.


Graphic design and page layout

Ideally, the design of the campaign page should be on theme with the game. Just like with the photos and video, if you don’t know anything about graphic design, find someone else to design the page elements for you. I know this may all seem like a lot if you’re on a tight budget, but ultimately it will help you have a much more successful campaign, and then you will be able to recoup the costs. A clean, professional, and informative page will show people how much thought you've put into it, and that will only make them more likely to back the project.


Reviews

If you have reviews for your game, scatter some links and pull quotes throughout the page. If you have a video review, you can embed it right in there.


Example of a pull quote banner link

A personal touch

I’ve found most campaigns to have an About section at the bottom of the page and I do not recommend skipping this portion. Aside from crediting the appropriate people who worked on the project, backers often want to see who the creator is, their experience, and their relationship to the project. I created a short personal video for the About section of me talking about the game and showing some of the process of creating it, and I think it was surprisingly effective. Why is this? First, putting a face and a voice to your creation helps build trust with backers and shows them you’re honest and passionate about the work. Second, that passion is contagious, and seeing how excited you are will help excite others as well.


Get feedback before launch

Once you think you’ve got it all set up, send the preview link to a couple of friends and ask them what they think. Is all the information clear? What seems confusing? Does anything seem out of order? What questions are they left with? Think of it as a playtest of the page and don’t be afraid to make changes. After you've improved it, send it to a few more people to look at. The more feedback you get, the better.


Use the Kickstarter pre-launch page

Once your page is mostly ready, you can submit the project for approval by Kickstarter. You can still make changes after the project is approved, so there isn’t any reason not to do this early. Why? Because once the project is approved, Kickstarter allows you to set up a “pre-launch” page. The pre-launch page doesn’t let you put a whole lot of information about the project and it doesn’t make it searchable on Kickstarter, but it is a fantastic tool to get more backers right on launch day.


The beauty of the pre-launch page is that you can share the link anywhere you want and once the campaign is live it will redirect to the live page. But here’s the kicker: there is a Follow button, and everyone who clicks that button will get a notification as soon as the project goes live. Use this. I actually tried to set up goals around the pre-launch page followers, promising an extra weekly puzzle during the campaign if we reached 500 followers. Once we did, I said I’d make another if we reached 1000. Those 1000 followers + my newsletter subscribers are a big reason why we funded so quickly.


Pledge tiers

How many should you have? What should they include? The answers to these questions will differ from campaign to campaign, but here are my general takeaways:


Have a $1 tier for those who want to follow along with the campaign. These folks may be interested in upgrading their pledge later on, but even if they don’t, the more backers you have the better your campaign will perform in the algorithms.


Most people will back the tier that just has the game, and that’s to be expected. If you have a slightly higher tier with extra puzzles or goodies, people will often opt for that if they’re excited about the project. In the case of The Emerald Flame, this was the Master Alchemist tier, which included the main game and an Apprentice Pack (which contained two extra puzzles and enamel pins.) I also offered the Apprentice Pack by itself for those who wanted to support the project and get a small taste without committing to the full game.


Premium tiers like a Collector’s Edition or personalized games definitely have their appeal for some. You’ll probably want to limit these in number (especially if they’re being handmade) but it may help with first day funding to have higher-tier items get picked up. Of course, this is not applicable to every game.


Stretch goals

I’ve heard some people express a dislike for stretch goals because they unlock things that should already be included in the game. This may be the case for some, but I think stretch goals are a great way to make people excited, add momentum to the campaign, and make the game nicer all at once. Most of The Emerald Flame goals were cosmetic upgrades and some were bonus items for backers only, like an extra enamel pin and refill kit. Bonus items can encourage people to back the Kickstarter rather than waiting to get the game later.


Most campaigns are set up to raise funds for the minimum cost to produce and ship the game, which is why a lot of board games offer things like card thickness upgrades as stretch goals. And why not? For Emerald Flame, stretch goals allowed me to make my ideal version of the game, which included nicer, sturdier, and more realistic components. These would have been difficult to include up front due to the cost of manufacturing. Making 3500 copies rather than 1500 allowed for these upgrades due to the increase in scale, and I was happy to show gratitude to my backers for making that happen. Sometimes your backers will also come up with ideas for stretch goals. You certainly don’t need to take every suggestion, but occasionally you’ll be surprised at the good ideas you didn’t think of yourself!


Anticipate questions

The truth is, even if you have all the information on the Kickstarter page, people will still miss important key points. You can’t add your FAQ to the Kickstarter page before launch, but you can anticipate what some of those questions will be and prepare it in advance. I put up a few FAQ answers right after we launched and added more as I received questions throughout the campaign.


Respect your backers

They’re giving you money based on their faith in you and your product and deserve a lot of appreciation for that. Remember always that they are people and not numbers, and should be treated as such. Make sure to keep up with your messages and the comment section and try to respond to people promptly. This is probably what you’ll spend half of launch day doing, and that’s okay, especially because those first day backers are the ones helping you the most. Good communication will not only make backers happier to support your project but also create good relationships in the long run.


Updates

Consistent updates during the campaign are important, but keep them for when you have something important to say, otherwise they can get a bit overwhelming. You definitely want to send a thank you update after the first 24 hours and at the end of the campaign. Otherwise, use them to give backers new information such as unlocked stretch goals, new reviews, images, or other interesting updates. Try to include pictures! And be sincere. Transparency and honesty go a long way. After the campaign, aim for posting an update at least once a month. Even if there is not much to report, at least no one will be left wondering if the project is still moving and at what pace.

A template I used for campaign stat updates

Advertising - to do or not to do?

Sigh. This is a tough question and it really depends on your budget. We initially weren’t sure if we were going to run ads for the Kickstarter, mostly because we didn’t have marketing experience or the expertise to effectively use Facebook targeting (but also because the ads manager is horribly designed for those just starting out with ads.) Running successful ads also seems to require a pretty large budget, which we didn’t have before the campaign launch. We were lucky that having so much momentum from early funding gave us the flexibility to hire an agency and run some ads for us.


We found this to be very successful during the campaign because people were very attracted to the artwork and therefore were more likely to click the ad. Would it have been as effective with different imagery? My guess is probably not quite to the same extent. And if the project hadn’t funded yet, the return from Facebook ads would have been significantly lower. The benefit, however, is that it can get your project in front of more eyes, and people are more likely to entertain an idea when they see it appearing several times in multiple places. Even if someone doesn't immediately click the ad, it does plant a seed that might grow if the person encounters it somewhere later on. Still, to see real success on Facebook will require significant spending. Unless you have a budget before launch, it could be more worthwhile to run ads after the campaign is already funded to just increase the traffic in that mid-campaign slump (which happens to everyone).


In any case, the bottom line is that if you don't already have an audience, ads are not going to make it for you, but they could help you grow what you've already built.


Audience engagement during the campaign

A while back I read this article about different levels of audience engagement: the waders, swimmers, and divers.

It inspired me to plan out a mini-game for the duration of the Kickstarter, which involved posting one puzzle every week and setting up an “in-world” community forum for people to solve the puzzles together. This allowed the waders to simply back the campaign, the swimmers to try and solve the puzzles if they wanted to, and the divers to engage further with the story and world of the game, as well as interact with other people who have the same interest and enthusiasm.


It isn’t necessary to set up something this complicated, but putting up free puzzles (whether before or during the campaign) is a great way to give people a taste of what they can expect from your product. It also increases the traffic and interest in the campaign, adding comments and improving its overall performance.


I would love to hear more thoughts about how to increase engagement in other ways as well. Leave your ideas in the comments!


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