Tell us a bit about yourself and your two last games.
I’m the Director of Good Games Publishing, a new Australian game publisher. We use Kickstarter to make deluxe thematic interactive games. I have a background in web development project management mainly in the not for profit sector and advocacy work. And an archaeology degree 🙂
Our first game Monstrous, designed by me, is a Greek mythology themed tactical dexterity game which hit Kickstarter in mid 2015 and funded successfully with 1240 backers, solid for a first time effort on Kickstarter for a somewhat niche game.
Our second game Unfair, designed by Joel Finch, is an interactive theme park tableau building game. Like Monstrous it features deluxe and evocative art and quality graphic design. It funded with 5236 backers and ended up fully stretched. Basically it exceeded even my wildest predictions of success. We are very excited.
Good Games also has a chain of 25 game stores in Australia and one in the USA, along with a major distribution company here. So we distribute our own games here. We are partnering with CMON in all other English and French territories, and negotiating with other localizing publishers for other language versions of our games now.
What did you do to build up a following before you launched your two campaigns?
3 key things.
1. As much demoing at conventions in Australia as we could, and with Unfair at Gencon, a major investment in time and money for any publisher, specially for an Australian one.
2. Stayed active in online boardgame design and development communities. I asked questions, contributed my knowledge and got to know various wise heads.
3. Asked lots of appropriate questions online about our in development games and included game component images wherever appropriate so that people would take us seriously. That got our games out there, engagement high, subscriber numbers up and some valuable pre launch buzz.
We had about 200 Monstrous subscribers when we launched Monstrous, 90% of them Australian. And over 400 Unfair subscribers when we launched Unfair, a big slab of them were American because of Gencon.
What is your best marketing tip?
For the indy publisher going via Kickstarter the first few times the community is key, ie game development forums, BGG and other online communities. And it really helps to make your games look and sound as good as anything out there – that investment instanty gets results when you start teasing the game. If you are doing your own art or graphic design you really need to listen to outside opinions on whether it works or not and be prepared to pay professionals.
The other unusual thing we do is to have our manufacturer print 50 copies of our game for reviews and previews and prizes. It is expensive but both times resulted in great reviews and high confidence from backers as they saw photos and videos of the games. Not everyone can afford to do this but we count it as a cost of Kickstarter, essentially part of the marketing budget recoupable through Kickstarter. The payoff magnifies the more deluxe your game is. So it has absolutely worked for us and opened up many doors.
What was the main thing you learned from the Monstrous campaign?
2 things actually:
1. The importance of carefully planned and timed stretch goals. Ones that excite current and future backers by adding value without risking the project budget or delivery. We only had 2 large stretch goals for Monstrous and that really stopped us building a continued narrative of momentum and increased appeal.
2. I thought the rules were 90% finished with Monstrous when we launched, but that last 10% took too long to perfect after the campaign. A classic newb mistake & lesson learned.
How did you use that knowledge on the Unfair campaign?
With Unfair we planned out a reasonable number of stretch goals designed to add to the value propostion of the game. Essentially we offered an additional 50% content (2 bonus completed theme decks from the 4 we started with), and 12 playable sneak peak cards from future expansions, plus a few luxurious component upgrades. These were all designed so that we still had a viable manufacturing cost, and thus margin to distribution sale price at various print run sizes in case we needed second or more print runs. You have to plan across the whole production, distribution and sales pipeline when planning your Kickstarter project.
If there was one thing you wish you knew before you launched Unfair, what would it be?
How much feedback we would get about the game after we gave away free PnP versions of Unfair. Combined with our much larger than anticipated backer numbers it resulted in more communications and tweaks and changes which all had to be checked. All up that was simply more work than anticipated. But don’t get me wrong it is part of why we go to Kickstarter – to get more eyes on the game prior to printing. So it was incredibly valuable.
Did you plan for Unfair being such a big hit or did it come as a surpise?
I felt very strongly that Unfair had a high chance of success on Kickstarter as soon as I saw the prototype. When I played it that basically doubled. Joel Finch worked on the game for 5 years and it really shows.
So we planned for it to be as big as it could be. We have a philosophy that you need to be ready for big things to happen so you can jump on when they do. But Kickstarter is an ecosystem and a project’s success depends at least partially on what else is happening in it. So of course we went into the campaign with nervousness that it might somehow fail to fund, yet high hopes it would fund, medium hopes it would go into stretch goals and anything beyond that would just be gravy so we couldn’t really consider it.
5 days in I ran the some of my own numbers based on Kicktraq data (you can’t believe their standard algorithm prediction – you need to look at your daily backer numbers outside of the first and last pairs of days and do your own projections) and predicted that even with some trailing off that we would get well over 3000 backers. My team scoffed at me. LOL. And I re-ran those every few days and we maintained an average of 106 backers a day across the 26 middle days. So my projections kept getting bigger much to my team’s amusement. We had a surge of backers beyond our expectations in the last week and more backers in the last 2 days than the first 2, cracking 5000 backers, even though we ran out of stretch goals! I think that is a hallmark effect of a fully stretched project, all the 48 hour remind me later backers return to the project, see it maxed out and the backing conversion spikes becuase of it.
A lot of creators don´t want to launch during the summer. You seem to launch your campaigns in the middle of the year. Monstrous in June and Unfair in August. Whats your strategy behind that.
With Unfair we launched in mid August right after Gen Con because:
1. It was the earliest we could be ready and we were aiming for December delivery. We considered launching just before Gen Con but thought that would limit our capacity to manage both the project and our first international convention showing. I worked 20 hours a day at Gen Con. It was the right call.
2. We had some great buzz from Gen Con demoing and media and reviews that we wanted to follow up on before it went cold.
3. The great Kickstarter launch time metagame. Understand what all the pros in your meta will do and don’t do exactly the same thing, but do what you predict will win in that changing environment.
You see a lot of Kickstarter creators trying to reverse engineer what is best to do based on various success metrics measured from the past few year’s data. A certain wisdom then gets shared about that tends to cluster the most pro projects into certain launch times, eg the beginning of September after US summer holidays end and the Gen Con hangover starts to clear. So then you get these launch gluts of great projects all competing for the same browser backers who can only back so many good things. They all suffer for it, their lower success trajectories then dampenes enthusiasm from that proportion of backers who only like to back winners or stretchers even though backing things makes them winners LOL.
Globally there are ALWAYS people online looking to find the cool next game. No matter what conventions are on or what the season. At any given time there are a certain number of those people, and a certain number of quality projects active on Kickstarter or ready to be so. I’d rather launch a quality project when there were only 20,000 prospective backers to try to win over and 5 quality projects launching that week, than when there are 50,000 potential backers and 25 quality projects launching. If you do well in that quiet time you get more backers than you would have launching later, and when more browser backers return to the ecosystem, there you are, already singing the stretch goal song, a sure thing that can only get better.
We also have a large Australian audience, with 700 Aussie Unfair backers sitting here in boring mid year winter looking for some Kickstarter fun. And because we offer very competitive international shipping we figure we do very well outside the US and Australia too. That proved to be true in both campaigns.
So it can seem risky, but with all these things working together to give us early momentum we had some confidence it would be at least OK.
Having said all that, we wont always launch in the middle of the year because we aim to be able to run 3 or 4 projects a year.
The beginning and the end of the campaign are when most of the backers pledge. Whats your main tactic to handle the mid-campaign drop?
Mid campaign backers contain proportionally more BGG and KS ecosystem browser backers. So its all about being well positioned to capture them and staying alive on various lists like the Kicktraq top 10 list and the BGG hotness list.
We advertise with good looking ads (mediocre looking ads are burnt money) on BGG and Kicktraq and do the BGG competition in week 3 to get onto the hotness list. We mix the ads up in the mid campaign to connect with different sensibilities and get a feel for which work best. And use those ones in the final week push.
We upload new images and keep BGG discussions going to engage that crowd.
We start with 3 or 4 reviews at launch and then release new reviews every 3 days or so throughout the campaign to draw in their audience and have something new to legitimately promote.
We build a narrative in our updates so that any later or browser backers who take a deeper look get a snap shot of where we are at.
We want to fund in the first week so we can sing the stretch goals value add song from then on. Monstrous funded in 1 week but didnt have enough drip fed stretch goals to sing that song of success and ever increasing value adds. Unfair funded in 1 day and the stretch goals got knocked over every few days. The tempo was good and I really felt the difference in momentum due to the ever increasing value proposition that we were able to pitch to later backers. I don’t buy that stretch goals encourage your backers to promote you to any significant degree. But it gives us something to legitimately promote and it really helped to silence the naysayers too.
How often do you send out updates and what do they include?
We tend to make updates when there is real news. People get flooded with updates so it seems they appreciate updates with substance. We start with a good summary headline so you can skim the Kickstarter updates tab to get a sense of the campaign’s progress at a glance and easily find what you are looking for. The updates start with how awesome our backers are, new stretch goals we have achieved and next ones we announce. We also delve deeper into some aspects of the game for those that care enough. We always include quality images so that even with a 5 second skim you get a positive impression.
Our post campaign updates contain a production progress table and images of components for those that care. This builds the excitement and we get some great feedback about these.
What is the most important element of a Kickstarter page?
Engagement. You have 3 – 5 seconds to make them look more, so quickly and convincingly convey the core experience of the game and build confidence in its viability. Some KS users rely on the video for this so it has to get right to the game experience. But most users rely on a quick and then maybe deeper skim through the KS page. This is key. Quick first then deeper.
It starts with a well composed project thumbnail that works at many scales and pops out from all the others. Make sure the name is legible and the play button doesn’t obscure key stuff. It has to accurately convey the experience – if there is a disconnect between the thumb and the main page content people with feel tricked and you lose them.
Then give a short summary and professional box shot (its nearly ready!) with key game stats.
Then get right to showing them why they should care about anything more. Who are they in the game, what do they do and how do they do it? What is special about it? How is it FUN?
We worked hard for month on the structure and flow of our page so that we showed off up close components as we explained the game play. The modular theme packs first (oh all the flexible things!), then a board setup sample (looks easy and oh so pretty!) and then pairs of attractions, super attractions, upgrades, staff members, blueprints, events and city events. All designed so it looked great on both desktop and mobile. This made for a longer than average page so we used a consistent principle that with every swipe you should be able to see a heading + short text + pretty image. So you know what you are looking at and have a little text context and you swipe (all good), swipe (wow), swipe (it all looks great!), swipe (oh geez I’m in!). That was the aim. People have been very complimentary about it so we think it worked.
Kate who worked on most of the component graphics, also developed a 3D-esque graphic style that made the cards look like you might be fanning them in hand, or a theme park tableau might be angled slightly into the distance as if you were sitting at the table. It was all designed to be immersive, like you were already sitting down to your first game (so close!).
After that we do the usual things like what’s in the box, reviews, shipping sections etc.
But that order is key for boardgames. Engage first and all the rest follows.
Do you regret setting December as your delivery date on the Unfair campaign?
Not really, we went in hoping for a certain level of success and went far beyond that leading to a little slippage that the vast majority of backers seem cool with. Even apart from the few extra changes and tweaks we made post project, the sheer size of our print run (for Kickstarter and retail copies) alone caused a few weeks extra delay. It’s regrettable but it was all well intentioned and we are confident people will be delighted with the quality of the game and thats all they will think about from then on.
Do you regret something else you did on your last campaign?
Because we didn’t reveal all stretch goals up front, we got a little early pushback on the core pledge price from some people outside of Kickstarter. The type of people who reduce a game’s value to the number of bits of cardboard it has no matter how big the art budget is. Fair enough, I asked for the feedback. Luckily we funded in a day and started adding chunks of content fast so the value proposition improved dramatically and it never really seemed an issue. But I was a little blindsided by that. Next time I will communicate the impending new free content in stretch goals right up front.
With the current expectation for Kickstarter exclusives we had to consistently talk about how the backers were adding value to the game they otherwise would have to pay for via expansions, and repeat that often. We offered +50% core content & 12 playable temporary exlusives that would likely appear in future expansions. There seemed to be an expectation from a small but vocal minority of backers that all or at least some stretch goals MUST be fully exclusive as payoff for ALL backers backing.
That is not a given. If you want the free extra content and temporarily exclusive playable cards then back the game. Or don’t help make that happen and just get whatever version we get to in retail. Cool either way.
I think the vast majority of backers actually don’t expect such things. But there are subset of backers who look for hot projects with exclusives they can feel they have an advantage getting, or sell the exlusives on ebay when it hits retail. Some projects really work well like that and succeed in retail beyond Kickstarter. That is all fine because we creators trained that subset of backers to think that way as Kickstarter evolved, but those backers make the mistake of assuming everyone thinks just like them all the time. Some such backers put forward polite and considered arguments for exclusives while others were more aggressive and entitled. However many of our active backers would leap to our defense in comments and quote or point to our carefully crafted arguments for our strategy for kickstarter & retail success. That was awesome to see, and very effective at disarming that perspective. It pretty much evaporated within a week.
We proved that you can be successful walking your line your way. But we could have made that clearer up front, although we did try. Now we hope it pays dividends in retail so we can say… SEE!
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
Boardgames are in a state of growth, disruption and opportunity. I respect people like Jamey Stegmaier and the guys at CMON who have carved their own space in the industry. I love the way Jamey opens up his projects for analysis, even if that is painful, for the good of the community. And there are plenty of active folks in online forums who go out of their way to lift everyone’s game. Kudos to you all.
Anything else you want to add?
Find a good team to work with during your Kickstarter because collaboration really amplifies your impact. We used the Kickstarter collaboration tools to work very closely with the designer Joel and his graphic designer partner Kate Finch. That team made us all stronger and very attentive to the thousands of comments we had. It also allowed us to engage with backers in many voices, the publisher voice, the designer voice and the usability voice. We got great feedback from backers about that.
With Kickstarter, there is no one right way, but many. Choose the way that will work best to achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to do some things a little differently, but listen to those who have tried before you and consider carefully before you strategize, plan and press launch.
Monstrous comes out in US retail during December so look out for it. Its a very fun thematic tactical dexterity game. Even if you don’t love dexterity games this is thinky enough that you might enjoy it.
And thanks for the interview. It was therapeutic.
P.S. I did warn you to set me word limits 😛
To get more info of Monstrous and Unfair. Click here!
Just to be clear, Kim is the publisher and the creator in the Kickstarter sense but Joel Finch is the very talented designer of Unfair.