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  • Writer's pictureIan

Kickstarter reflections #3: pledge manager or not?

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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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