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In many ways, designing a game is the easy bit. Certainly when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns, the bit that you’re likely to be least familiar with (assuming you got into all of this as a gamer then as a game designer) is the business of actually getting stuff into the hands of backers, or Fulfilment. To me, Fulfilment was one of those things that I’d never really considered how it might work until I came to do this myself. Much like plumbing, and chocolate, they’re just things that happen by magic.

And like those things, there are people in the world that have a very good handle on how to make them happen. If you’re considering running a Kickstarter yourself, there are basically two options you can take – either you get a specialist company to do this for you, or you do it yourself. Companies like Spiral Galaxy, GamesQuest, Easyship, QML and Funagain are just some of the most popular specialists in this field. For you, at its simplest, this is a straight choice between money and time, although with a more complex project it may also be a question of whether it’s actually possible for you to do the job sufficient justice.



For my recent Kickstarter campaign for Ukiyo, I decided to do the fulfilment myself. This was for two reasons, both deriving from the small size and weight of the game. First, the games and their packaging wouldn’t take up a ridiculous amount of space in my house (assuming the campaign was modestly successful rather than a surprise viral hit) and second, the postage cost for a small package was very cheap if I did the shipping via the UK’s national postal service, Royal Mail.


Basically, if you involve a specialised fulfilment service (and there are many very able and experienced companies available that can help with this), they have a tiered pricing structure based on the weight of the package. And the minimum size is usually 500g, with the price only gradually increasing up to several kilos. So for a ‘big box’ game, this is great. But as an 18-card mini-game, Ukiyo only weighs 42 grammes (and only 60g even when it’s in a padded envelope), so this isn’t a great deal – no backer is going to pay £10 or £15 shipping for a game that only costs £7. So I went with Royal Mail, and assumed that if it was more successful than expected, that would be a ‘nice problem to have’.



This left me with the small matter of around 400 padded envelopes to fill, check and send. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will pass on some tips and observations in case you’re considering doing this yourself:

  1. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of the packaging as well as the postage. For each package, I needed a padded envelope, a compliments slip, a company logo sticker and a customs label. This worked out about 40p per backer – not a cost that makes a big difference to a backer, but it’s a big extra total cost for you if you’ve not planned for it.

  2. Customs labels are a chore. From the UK, any package going to any other country needs a customs label, which has to be filled in with the details of the package to avoid any annoying delays or packages getting stuck in customs. In my case, this meant writing out 300 labels by hand.

  3. And then there’s the Post Office – I definitely annoyed a few local people by monopolising the Post Office counter for hours with my 400 parcels. But then again, they weren’t spending over £1500, so I didn’t feel too bad…

  4. Know your restrictions and ‘de minimis rates’. In other words, for each country you’re sending to, what is the package value above which the recipient is going to have to pay tax or customs duty? It’s different for each country (here’s a great guide). If you’re working with a fulfilment company, you make arrange to have the VAT collected by them, and either you or they then claim it back. But if you’re not using a company, or you’re not VAT-registered, you can’t do this, which might mean a nasty surprise for your backers. On my campaign, I listed up front what backers should be paying in taxes (thankfully, in most cases, it was nothing).

  5. More positively, Mailmerge is great – this is an automated means by which you can take your spreadsheet of backers’ details, and use it to automatically print out address labels. MS Word has a tool for doing this; I ended up using Avery’s own online tool (Avery make the sheets of labels that you print onto). It probably took an hour to set up the spreadsheet, organise the data and get the formatting right, but then being able to bulk print saved six or seven hours of handwriting.


6. All this takes time – again, absolutely fine during a winter lockdown, as time is something I have right now. I might have felt differently if it was a July without movement restrictions!


7. Also, don’t forget about the space in your home – with a small game and a relatively modest number of backers this was just a case of having a few boxes lying around for a week. If you have 5000 backers for a sprawling, story-driven epic, where will you put them all?


8. Finally, the most important thing is getting it right. You want to be absolutely sure that every one of your backers gets what they were expecting, without mistakes. That means having a slick enough process and workflow so that you’re confident that you’ve got it right, and that you’ll spot any mistakes before packages get sent. If you’re not one for detail, or if you don’t feel like you need that kind of hassle, think carefully before committing to doing the fulfilment yourself.


In conclusion, this ultimately comes down to your appetite for what’s involved. There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s all on you if anything goes wrong. But it’s also a great way to learn, and there’s something really rewarding about doing the entire process of game creation, from having an idea right through to sticking on the stamps and posting the parcels. You can personalise the package (in my case, I hand-wrote a thank-you on each one); it can also save your backers money, as using your national postal service can often be the cheapest way to ship something, particularly if it’s small and light.


Just make sure you think about what you'll do if your 100 backers ends up being 2000...!

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In this episode in the current mini-series of blogs based around lessons and observations from my most recent Kickstarter campaign, I’m looking at the Kickstarter pledge manager and whether it’s got enough functionality to serve your needs as a project creator.


There are plenty of companies around that will offer Pledge Manager services for you, outside of Kickstarter itself. The big ones are Backerkit (now incorporating CrowdOx, previously one of its rivals), Gamefound (now also a crowdfunding site in its own right) and the clearly named Pledge Manager, a subsidiary of Kicktraq. But Kickstarter itself comes with quite a bit of functionality – my last blog looked at some of the data you get as a creator, and in this post I’ll make the case that Kickstarter’s own functionality might be everything you need.

If you want to engage the services of a pledge management service, you’ll need to pay anything from $200 to $500, possibly more if you project really takes off. Most of these services will say (probably reasonably) that you’ll make at least that much in extra pledges, but for a smaller project that’s still a lot of money, particularly if you’re considering paid advertising and/or paid preview videos (which can each set you back another $500).


For me, the biggest drawback with KS remains that you have to include shipping as part of the pledge total, which means it forms part of the funding total that Kickstarter take their 10% from (so it’s more expensive for backers and for you) and you also have to factor this in when setting your project funding total. If you want to add shipping on afterwards, you need an external pledge manager. A smaller drawback is that you can’t factor in ‘add-ons’, like a playmat, a bigger box or extra pieces – you have to factor this into core reward levels. It also means you lose the opportunity to ‘up-sell’, in other words to get backers to drop more stuff into their basket on the way out (like maybe other games you’ve published, or accessories). Again, you can build these items into your pledge levels, but it can get unwieldy if you have too many options and variants.


An external pledge manager also allows you to keep the door open for pre-orders after the project itself has closed (which feels a bit like cheating to me, but it makes sense for larger publishers). So fundamentally, these are your main advantages to using an external pledge manager:

- It saves money on shipping (because KS fees won’t be taken from your shipping total)

- It allows you to provide more up to date quote for shipping (particularly now, when prices seem to go up every week)

- You have more chances to get your backers to ‘upgrade’ their pledge, including after the KS campaign has finished

- You can sell other things to your backers, like previous games, accessories or merch.


But then, if you’re on your first or second project, and you’re just looking to get your game backed, you may not need all that extra stuff. So what can you do, if you decide to keep it cheap and simple, and go with Kickstarter’s built in services? Here’s the main features:

- Send one backer survey per reward level, which can have as many questions as you want, but cannot include marketing information;

- Export backer details and track what you’ve sent to whom;

- See individual and total pledge amounts, including what’s been pledged for shipping, which can be sorted by country and by reward tier;


Some potentially hot news is that Kickstarter have just finished beta testing an add-ons service. I spoke to a couple of commercial pledge manager providers and they were relatively dismissive of this as a service (perhaps understandably) but if this does what it claims to, then it’s potentially a big uplift in the in-built service you get from KS as a creator. This would potentially make it far easier for you to offer a more customised service to backers, and allow backing options without having to define every variable as part of the reward levels.


So what’s my verdict? I think if you fit most of the following criteria then you’re probably just fine with Kickstarter:

- You have no more than two versions of your game (eg a standard version and a deluxe version);

- You don’t have a range of expansions or other optional extras;

- You are not aiming to sell related merchandise like t-shirts, posters and artwork;

- You’re not expecting more than a few hundred backers;

- There’s nothing unusual about your shipping arrangements (eg multiple waves);

- It is your first game, and/or you’re not holding ‘stock’ of another game;


For most people embarking on their first or even second KS campaign, much of the above is probably true. And equally, the bigger and more complex your project, the more likely you are to benefit from external help. And with a bigger campaign (and if you’re thinking thousands rather than hundreds of backers) then the cost of that service will be a much smaller proportion of your overall budget, and hence better value.


Of course, the more attractive and varied the services are that are provided by external pledge managers, the more pressure it puts on Kickstarter to keep upping their game, which has got to be good for everyone. GameFound have recently expanded their services to become a direct competitor to Kickstarter, so that will definitely be one to watch.


Next time – what happens if you do the shipping and fulfilment yourself (and it’s not all bad news)…

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This is the next in a small collection of blogs drawing on my recent Kickstarter experience (my last game, Ukiyo, ran and funded during November 2020). In this one, I’ll focus on what data you can get from Kickstarter, and what you can learn from it. And this isn’t based on any fancy datamining or harvesting APIs or anything, it’s just what’s directly visible on your creator dashboard throughout and after the campaign. I’ll focus on four areas – your funding profile, where your backers are from, how they found you and lurkers vs backers.


First the funding profile – in other words, how many backers did you get on each day. This is really helpful during the campaign and can also drive you mad. The traditional ‘shape’ for a Kickstarter campaign is a steep start (the first 2-3 days), a flat middle, and a steep finish (last 48 hours), and those three ‘sections’ of time will often each account for about a third of your funding. Knowing this is helpful, because it allows you to manage your own expectations when the inevitable ‘flattening happens, because that’s completely normal. And it’s that middle part where the onus is on you to keep the campaign alive with new content, social media activity, stretch goals and more. Oddly, my game Ukiyo didn’t follow the traditional path at all, it was more or less a straight line throughout:



I think this was for a number of reasons. There wasn’t a massive following prior to launch, just enough to get it going; it was a very low-priced game (just £7) which meant it was an easy sell for casual browsers and an easy one to recommend to friends. Also, I ran a series of puzzles throughout the campaign to try and keep momentum going, and finally, I was lucky enough to have a handful of very enthusiastic backers in France and Germany who helped it build its own momentum on gaming forums on those countries.

So where were all these people from? Ukiyo attracted 416 backers from no less than 35 different countries, and the KS dashboard helps you see where they are from. These were the ‘top 10’ countries:

So roughly 40% from the USA, 25% UK, 20% from Europe and 15% from the rest of the world. I gather this isn’t unusual for a tabletop game, but it underlines how important it is to take a global approach in how you plan your campaign. Have you considered doing foreign-language versions for your game, or at least a translation of the rulebook? The KS stats helped me to realise that there was a good level of interest in getting French and German translations done (which I did for the rulebook and print&play versions), but that there may not be enough interest to justify translations beyond that.


Another consideration with your geographical distribution is whether you are actually able to service all of this countries. It’s wonderful that a very small business or designer (I’m regular-sized, but my business is very small) can reach so many countries, but it’s worth checking that you can actually fulfil rewards to those countries. For example, many fulfilment companies won’t ship to Russia or Brazil, because of the frequent problems with customs authorities there. But the UK’s national carrier will (Royal Mail), as will the US Postal Service. So there’s no point in actively marketing to a country that you can’t send games to – but with a bit of research and imagination, you may be able to open up a community that you’d never thought of before.

The same applies to reviews – if you know you’re going to get interest in Germany or Spain, why not get some reviewers in those countries to do an own-language review of your game?



So how did all these lovely backers find you? Kickstarter is slightly less helpful here, and will claim a lot of referrals that have originated elsewhere, but there are still some clues that can help you steer your campaign (see image above). Basically, if people have browsed to your project from within Kickstarter, it will look like that’s where they started – even if your own marketing has pushed them to KS in the first place. You’ll see that only two backers came to the project from my own website (this one), but that 13 backers found it through Kickstarter’s internal search – in other words they knew they were looking for Ukiyo when they arrived. Also interesting is the ‘email: last chance to back reminder’. When you view a KS project, you can ask to be reminded 48 hours before it ends, and as a project creator you can se how many people have asked for this, and how many of those have actually backed (or ‘conversions’). And how many, therefore, are lurkers.

This hovered around 5% for most of the campaign and is a tantalising statistic, as it leads you to believe that hundreds of backers are just waiting to leap on board the moment they get the reminder. Of course, it doesn’t work like that – in my case the conversion rate crept up from 5% to 16% over the course of the last 3 days, and from other creators I understand that that is fairly typical. So you can probably expect 10% of your lurkers to convert in the last couple of days, which helps you to set realistic expectations for yourself, as well as helping to position your last stretch goals. Of course, every lurker is still a potential backer, and although you’ll never know how many of those you have actively converted in the end, it’s good to know how many people are going to be checking back over your campaign when that ‘last 48 hours’ alert sounds.


Next time – why you might not need an external pledge manager after all (and when you might)…

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