Lessons from a failed Kickstarter #4: Cancelling the project
So why on earth would you cancel, rather than letting a struggling campaign run its course? Surely you should keep going as long as possible, as you never know when a hugely influential backer or bit of publicity might suddenly come out of nowhere, right? Well the reasoning goes that if your campaign is going to fail, then your time is better spent on rebuilding a new campaign and making improvements for version 2 rather than flogging a dead horse. It's up to you whether you subscribe to that logic or not - I do, but not without doubts.
If you're using Kicktraq you'll have a pretty good idea of your chances as you go along. Kicktraq is a service that looks at your campaign's progress, and compares it with data from thousands of other projects to give you a forward projection of where you're going to end up. The data is a bit skewed in the early days (as you tend to get a surge of backers when the project is first launched), but becomes really useful from about day 9 onwards. Here's one of mine from a few days before cancellation:
For me, this was a really important reality check - Kicktraq data doesn't lie, and there's something impersonal about it that you can't ignore. This isn't one of your friends making an intervention, it's just cold, hard data. So after 10% backing on day 1, then 5% on day 2, things really stagnated and it was very hard to generate any new momentum after that. And if you like your data, have a look at the Kicktraq page here, which shows clearly how a promising start soon stagnated: http://www.kicktraq.com/projects/169068487/take-the-kingdom/...
There's also something about self-awareness and self-preservation in cancelling. If you're demonstrably going to fail, don't be the last to realise. Plus, it's really demoralising when it goes downhill, and it can be a huge relief to pull the plug, even if it means the end of your dream (for now, at least). Obviously I don't know yet whether that's one step back to take two steps forwards, but time will tell.
At that point, it's really important not to hit the panic button and make matters worse. In posting #2 in this series I'd talked about all the emails you get offering services and trying desperately to stop you from facing reality. Paying a fortune for advertising, employing crowdboosting services, offering new reward levels or add-ons that you can't afford, can all add up to a hollow succcess, if it gets you over the line but you end up wildly out of pocket. Certainly try different things, but don't break the bank. I stopped myself from doing this and I'm glad I did, although I was very unsure at the time.
Of course, advertising itself may well make that critical difference, but don't assume it's a silver bullet. Chad Krizan, BoardGameGeek's advertising guru, knows all on this, and can advise on whether it would be the right thing for you. He also did an excellent guest post on Jamey Stegmaier's blog series (https://stonemaiergames.com/everything-crowdfunders-need-to-...). Jamey's a big fan, James Mathe is less convinced. Key point is 'Advertising won't save a failing campaign' - it'll just make a successful one better. You can also get much cheaper ad packages on places like boardgamequest.com, or pretty much any game site - drop them an email to find out rates. In general, ad rates are proportionate to the audience. A full package on BGG could set you back $1100, but you'll be hitting over 3m views a day and get in some targeted newsletters for that. You can get to smaller audiences on smaller sites for as little as $30, so again, know your budget.
It's entirely possible that the act of cancelling in itself has a positive impact on your chances next time round. Cancelling brings a certain amount of clarity for you as the designer. Your genuine backers may feel resolved to tell the world about the project, or you may have a large number of lurkers who didn't pledge but were waiting to. You'll never really know on that last point. But don't spam your backers with constant requests for sharing, retweeting etc - thats just annoying and they've already helped you a huge amount by backing.
And of course, the big fat elephant in the room at this point is...is your game good enough? If you've got as far as running a campaign, you have hopefully got your game as good as you can, but you have to ask yourself again. You may get some actual feedback from backers on this, but probably not enough for it to be a reliable indicator of what the world thinks.
So, key points: - Use Kicktraq to assess your progress; - Listen to the encouragement, and the doubters, but make your own mind up; - Try advertising and other services by all means, but don't trash your budget in your desperation; - If you have to cancel, it's not the end of the world!