Lessons from a failed Kickstarter #5: 12 verdicts
I'm re-posting this blog from a couple of years ago, from a series I published on BoardGameGeek's Game Design forum - partly because I just realised I never published it on this site, but also as a trailer for an upcoming series of blogs about failure (and why it matters). Read it and weep...
I'd intended for the fifth and last posting in this series to be a bit of a summary; kind of "right, if I only need to know about 12 things when I'm doing my KS, what should they be?" So please read the following out loud, in the style of Baz Luhrmann doing 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI).
Game Designers of the class of 2020:
1. Be clear what your game is, and what it is not. If your game is a 15-minute family filler, own that and embrace it. If it's a sprawling, 27-hour-to-play epic, embrace that too. Don't apologise for your game genre and don't pretend to bee Gloomhaven, it will only make you look like Overturn.
2. Read everything that James Mathe and Jamey Stegmaier have said. By all means disagree with some of it, but you must, must read it, and read it again. It's time well spent, and these good people have spent hundreds of hours condensing down their enormous experience. They know of what they speak.
3. Spend money on art and graphic design, both for your game and for the campaign page. I backed Terrors of London without even reading the gameplay section, because the art nearly made me cry it's so good. Make people cry with your art. Support an up and coming artist. They win, you win. A good illustrator can reach inside your head and turn your half-formed ideas into beautiful, atmospheric art, and show it to the world. That alone is worth a few hundred dollars of your money.
4. Get reviews. Real ones. If they express reservations, please link them anyway. Pay for a KS preview if you must, if it helps people understand how to play your game. Know that the only purpose of any review or preview content is to help people make an informed decision. Do not dupe people - some people will love your game, some will hate it. Some people buy any old rubbish. Many more won't care. Your job is not to browbeat people into sharing your view, it's to make sure no-one misses out through lack of awareness.
5. Make a video. Show yourself in it, either in person, or show your personality through another medium. Kickstarter backers are backing a part of you, so let them see what they're backing. Cringe, wince, but keep the camera rolling. If people don't buy into you, that's their choice, but don't have them buy into something that you're not. If you're not a natural TV presenter, then just talk, or script an animation. But you've got this far - you created something and you have something to say, just find the right way to say it.
6. Make your game available. Publish the rulebook, make print & play files available if that's possible, make it available to play online (through Tabletopia or Steam) if that's possible. You want people to spend their hard-earned money on your creation - help them to understand what they'd be investing in.
7. Talk to your backers. Listen to your backers. Respond to every one of your backers, if you can - these are all real people who have volunteered to spend real money on the thing you're proposing to create. Don't be defensive. You want people to ask questions - they might just spot something you haven't. Sometimes people will have radical ideas as to how you can improve - listen, don't judge, and don't react immediately. Striking the right balance between following your convictions and the noise of the (sometimes well-informed) crowd can be hard. If you manage to strike this balance, please DM me and tell me how.
8. Plan for the future. By which I mean, think about what you'll do if your campaign fails, or if it wildly overfunds. Have stretch goals and extras ready to go, just in case. Write half of your campaign updates ahead of time, that show new and interesting aspects of your game. Make up the other half as you go, listening to what your community is saying at the time.
9. Make sure the world knows about your game beforehand - get out there in persona and online and show your game to real people. Wonderful games have failed with a whimper because no-one knew they were there. Terrible games have funded many times over because thousands of deluded fans were waiting with a dream, a credit card and a Facebook account. Sometimes charlatans and morons make a fortune through marketing a terrible product. Sometimes half-baked ideas get lucky. Sometimes highly skilled marketers generate huge success while making it look like they didn't know what they were doing. Sometimes, hard-working, talented designers get the success they have deserved for so long. You never quite know. Don't judge your game against theirs, you will go mad - but maybe there's something you can learn from their campaign?
10. Spend as much as you can afford to make your campaign as professional and as clear as it can be, but don't break the bank.
Spend time meticulously understanding your budget, your logistics network, your shipping costs. Make sure you know how you're going to fulfil to that gaming group in South Korea or Iceland that suddenly wants eight copies of your game. Subsidise shipping as far as you're able but again, don't break the bank. Be honest about your costs on both sides - is it a fair price to your backers, and is it a fair cost to you?
11. Whatever happens, keep it all in perspective. It's a board game. It might be your dream, your labour of love, your life's work, and you should give it 100%, but it's a game. Don't remortgage your house, alienate your family, disenfranchise your friends, ruin someone's day or damage the other aspects of your life in your zeal to make this happen. Take people with you, but recognise that this might not be the biggest thing in their life right now. Most people want you to succeed. Help them to help you.
12. Go for it. Although every post in this series has contained the word "failed", let me be clear - this has been an exhilarating, terrifying, challenging, surprising ride, and (I hope) this is just the beginning. I've learnt a huge amount, and I still consider myself an absolute novice. Go on this journey. You'll love it. It'll scare the crap out of you, but you'll love it. And remember that just by being on this very forum, you're part of a community of millions of people who share your passion. You're not alone. However much snark, sarcasm, perceived wisdom and cynicism you may encounter, it's a great time to be a gamer, and a game designer.
I wish you every success - good luck!