Tell us a bit about yourself and Saltlands.
Hi there! We are Greg, Andrew and Greg from Antler Games, a board game developer and publisher from Hungary. Saltlands was our first game, a post-apocalyptic survival adventure board game, set in a unique desert world.
Are there any pros and cons when launching a kickstarter game from Hungary?
Interesting question. Unfortunately Kickstarter does not allow creators from Hungary to start campaigns – you need to be a resident or have a company in a different country in order to launch a campaign. There are several talented and successful board game designers and publishers in Hungary (just take Mindclash Games as an example, with titles such as Anachrony) and we all needed to find a way around this limitation.
We personally have founded a company in the Netherlands. One of our team members’ family lives in Amsterdam, so this wasn’t as hard as you would imagine. Other creators go ahead and open companies in the USA – for us, staying based in the EU seemed to be a more sensible choice.
What did you do to build up a following before you launched?
We were lucky to have a nice game in the first place that was attractive to people. The post-apocalyptic desert theme was spot on in this regard. Building an audience had two components: going local and reaching out to foreign press. We did lots of playtesting in Budapest, Hungary and also tried to get some buzz in the local media. It had a welcome reception since when a few young guys start up such a strange project, this has some news value.
Reaching out to foreign press was certainly a challenge – an unknown publisher trying to get its first game prototype reviewed. We just relied on big numbers and sent emails to about 50-60 blogs & websites. Fortunately, we have received some positive responses and managed to get about 5-6 reviews in total before and during the Kickstarter campaign.
Of course, we also pushed Twitter, Instagram and BGG to some extent before launching. We had about 300 mailing list subscribers at the moment of launch.
If there was one thing you wish you knew before you launched, what would it be?
In retrospect, there are maybe a few minor things, but fortunately these didn’t catch us completely unprepared… mostly.
- As soon as you launch, have a good quality, playtested rulebook available. Backers will actually read it and ask questions. It doesn’t have to be 100% final, it can even be a Google Document, but it has to be comprehensible and tested.
- Prepare in advance for scenarios when not all of your stretch goals will unlock, when all of them are unlocked and you will need more. Also prepare and budget for add-on options in advance if you plan to release them during the campaign.
- Expect some backers always being a bit negative and asking the same thing over and over again. We knew this would happen, but it was still an intense task to handle this.
- Your game is not perfect and some (minor) aspects may need to be changed due to backers’ requests. For example, we added co-op and full competitive game modes and various difficulty levels based on feedback received throughout the campaign.
- Prepare for cancelling backers and a huge stress especially if this is your first campaign. I can safely admit that this has been the most stressful month in my life so far.
- Have I already mentioned having a blind-playtested rulebook?
When did you launch and why did you choose that exact moment?
We launched on the 26th of April, 2016 – midweek launches are better according to some creators. On weekends, people are indeed occupied with other stuff than backing KS campaigns. We were already behind schedule (as we mostly are :D) so we just launched as soon as possible.
Did you expect getting so many backers?
Yes, we did, especially that we had quite a high funding goal (€38000 due to the plastic minis featured in the game). Developing the game and setting up business involved a lot of costs and took about 6 months of unpaid work for us. Our stretch goals were posted on Kickstarter up to €100,000 and we even had plans over that level of funding. Where we finally ended up (€83000) was a nice middle scenario and we were happy with the results.
It was a solid base for distributor sales, too.
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?
The mid-campaign drop went out of control for us. Lots of cancellations. The main issue was that many great triple-A games launched on Kickstarter in May – such as This War of Mine, Outlive and Dark Souls. They literally sucked backers away, since even serial backers can only afford so many games per month. This is understandable, although it always hurts to see cancellations due to the heavy competition. But that’s how Kickstarter works, expect this in advance.
We actually saw people discussing on Reddit whether they should back Saltlands or This War of Mine – and from that point of view, we felt honored to have our first game mentioned on the same page as an AAA game by a top developer.
To actually answer the question, promoting the game in foreign forums (or at least joining the discussion), unlocking stretch goals and introducing add-ons helped a bit on the way. But in retrospect, I felt that I could basically cut a week out from the middle of the campaign. But still, you need to give time for potential backers to think your offer through, to find the campaign on forums etc. and very short campaigns are not good for this, especially for an unknown first-time developer.
How often do you send out updates and what do they include?
During the campaign, we sent out about 20 updates. Sounds like a lot, but we had a lot of stuff going on, a lot of information to share and also it helped us keeping backers’ attention. From then on, we’ve been sending one out every month or so.
They include of course all kinds of stuff (feel free to take a look here), our rule of thumb was to avoid spamming and only send out updates when there was something relevant to share with backers.
Whats your tactic regarding stretch goals?
We really aimed (and so far, succeeded) at creating a product that is suitable for retail sales – it’s hard to include very special stretch goals if you want to keep costs down and keep the game suitable for mass production.
So we minimized KS-exclusive stretch goals (just a few extra cards), budgeted for all stretch goals in advance and managed to include more stuff as quantities increase and manufacturing gets economical.
Our rule of thumb was not to include anything that increases costs more beyond what we’d gain by increasing economy of scale. Some backers said our stretch goals were ‘boring’ but that was because many other creators offer a stripped-down version of the game by default and include essential components in stretch goals. We opted for not doing that.
What is the most important element of a Kickstarter page?
I think the most important elements are the video and the first few paragraphs that sum up the key features of the game. I’m not a fan of looooong Kickstarter pages that boast endlessly about the product. It turned out that there are mainly three types of backers. Some just watch the video and skim through the rest of the page, others are mostly interested in the text parts and the most careful ones read the rulebook, watch the playthrough video etc. so they go as deep as possible.
We tried to be as clear and concise as possible on our Kickstarter page.
You had very few backers on your last day. Why do you think that happened?
No, we had a lot of backers during the last 48 hours – Kicktraq is lying because of the time zones. It was a wild ride, an unusually large amount of people pouring in, even compared to other campaigns.
I think it’s because many formerly cancelled or indecisive backers changed their mind (or spotted this ‘underrated gem’ :D) during the last hours. It certainly did a lot of good for the campaign but if you look at the funding graph on Kicktraq, you can almost feel the heart attack we had during that time period.
I remember staying awake all night during the last hours and Greg watching Apocalypse Now. A great movie choice but I slept through it, then published the ‘We made it!’ KS update. 🙂
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
Great question. I read a lot of Jamey Stegmaier’s, James Mathe’s etc. blog posts. They did a huge job here, contributing to the board game designers’ and publishers’ community. These people are role models for me in a sense that they ‘made it’, built up nice publishing companies with great games. But we’re putting the emphasis on finding our own voice and in my opinion that’s the most important part of our marketing: being ourselves and making the best out of our abilities.
Each publisher is a bit different: some rely on retail-proof games, some more on Kickstarter blockbusters. Some publish one mega-game a year, others roll out several smaller games in a steady fashion. Some put an emphasis on complex mechanics, others on beautiful art or breathtaking miniatures etc. But each has their own special selling point, and advantage thanks to which they can make some outstanding and successful games.
We personally try to create games that have nice art, well-tested mechanics and also convey good retail values (i.e. good value for price, not too many components, some extra twist in packaging that stands out on store shelves). On the other hand we’re unable to not be indie at the same time instead of doing the ‘oh my God such a huge project with so many components’ way. Fortunately, people like this concept so far. 🙂
Anything else you want to add?
Our upcoming game called Critters Below will launch on Kickstarter in March. Imagine lovely animals hiding in a bunker, trying to survive the humans’ apocalypse outside. Total darkness with only limited food left, a partnership game with some hidden information and fun items to use.
Check out their kickstarter for Critters Below at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/antler-games/critters-below