“How do I create a crowd before I launch on Kickstarter?” That is a very common question to see when board game creators want to put their game up on Kickstarter.
After interviewing several board game creators about their Kickstarter tactics over the last 1,5 years I wanted to put some of the answers together in one page. The quotes are listed in a more or less chronological order. This is both small and big creators and some of them have had major hits after doing their interview but they all had to face the same problem. This is what they did:
WHAT DID YOU DO TO BUILD UP A CROWD BEFORE YOU LAUNCHED?
I focused on “owned media” and tried to build a community on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Board Game Geek. Being active on so many communities is not easy, but so important because people gather in so many different places. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here and hope to be more involved on Reddit and the BGG Designer forum. Attending trade shows is also key. GenCon 14 was key for me because I got to meet and gain insight from Eric Lang, Mike Eliott and Bruno Faidutti. I also met a very gracious man named Jamey Stegmaier who taught me how to play his game “Viticulture.” Little did I know that this chance encounter would lead to correspondence with him via email. He tirelessly answered my questions, and even playtested Feudum at Geekway in St. Louis. His Crowdfunding book filled with insights on the community building process was priceless.
Mark Swanson, creator of FEUDUM
We are active participants in many Facebook Forums, in particular the UK KS Forum where I met your good self. We have had many individual conversations about the game and gaming with people at the UK Games Expo and on social media.
Kevin Young, creator of Legends untold
Besides the basics, like being active on BGG and having some presence on social media etc. I put 99.9% of my efforts into my local community. Derby has a pretty huge board gaming scene, as does my hometown of Nottingham. I spent time at many of the retail stores and board game cafes (we have 3 such cafes between the 2 cities) and invested time into playing games with the local gaming groups. I put LOTS of time into this. Many local stores and cafes liked the game and the chance to support a local designer and were cool enough to start putting the game in front of customers. Winning the support of the local gaming community was a huge thing for me. I think I can account for around 20% of backers through my community.
Chris Shepperson, the creator of Package
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.
Kim Brebach, the creator of Unfair
EVERYTHING. As the first campaign attempt went so badly (comparatively), it shook us quite a bit, so we kinda went a bit bezerk. We joined pretty much every facebook group we could find to get advice and guidance on the project and the campaign, we sent letters to every game store and 6th form college in the country pitching the game as a retail asset and educational tool, built a tabletopia version of the game so that everyone could have a go, distributed print and plays, trialled the game with schools, sent prototypes to reviewers both sides of the atlantic, redesigned the entire campaign page…sleep didn’t happen too much…
Peter Blenkharn, the creator of STATECRAFT
I can’t stress the next thing I am about to say more, I am gonna use bold, underline, and flashing lights. AUTHENTIC ENGAGEMENT. What I mean by this is that MONTHS before I wanted to launch my Kickstarter, I engaged in every board game related area of the internet I could find and then I didn’t self promote. I got in there and read the threads and participated with no agenda, just got to know the members and became a member myself. A real member, not someone dropping ads and updates on people about my upcoming Kickstarter. No one likes to be sold.
James Hudson, the creator of BARNYARD ROUNDUP
The first thing I did was reading Jamey Stegmaier´s blog
As we are based in Norway we can´t attend the big conventions around the world so we had to base our marketing on social media and creating a mailing list. We joined all the relevant groups and forums we could find and took part in the ongoing discussions there before we talked about our project. We did this 7-8 months before we launched and worked hard every day.
We also started an instagram account where we posted images of every game we played. On that account we also posted lots of images from the development of Kill the King so our followers could see how the game evolved.
When we were looking for playtesters of our game we simultaneously collected peoples email so we grew our mailing list. When we launched, our list had just passed 300 subscribers.
A month or two before my first Kickstarter: Lift Off – Get me off this Planet I realized that I had absolutely no following anywhere. I kicked it into high gear and started building awareness on Facebook, Twitter, and G+. It wasn’t much, but it was a start and it grew through the Kickstarter campaign. After the campaign, I decided that I never wanted to be in that situation again, so I’ve continued to focus and build my audience with Kickstarter campaigns, Kickstarter support videos, Conventions, and Edo’s Game Reviews.
Eduardo Baraf, from Pencil first games.
Mostly in-person stuff, as well as posts on my blog and various forums like the Reddit tabletop design subreddits. In general, though, I found it kind of difficult to build a following before launching, because I’ve always believed that for really good advertising you need a solid and immediate call-to-action. If you want to get someone excited about your project, “back this on Kickstarter” works a lot better than “sign up for my newsletter and get in on the Kickstarter at some indeterminate point in the future.” So I did a lot of convention appearances and local game events, where I had something immediate to show to people. Though I also kept forgetting to get people on my email list when I went to conventions, so I’m not sure how much that actually helped.
I also spent a lot of time talking to people in the various game Kickstarter and game publisher Facebook groups that I’d found, and that seemed to help as well. I tried to follow the advice I read online about getting into conversations on Board Game Geek and other forums, but I’ve never really been super good at that sort of thing, so that was kind of sporadic.
Adam Watts, the creator of NO HONOR AMONG THIEVES
I’m a firm believer in the power of interacting with the gaming community. That means I’m available to talk about my games, but I’m also on BGG, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to talk about other games too. Meanwhile, I have my own hub at stonemaiergames.com, where I mostly write and converse about Kickstarter. All of that engagement has added up to more and more people following me and Stonemaier Games, and many of them have joined our e-newsletter list, which is my primary way of letting our followers know important stuff.
Jamey Stegmaier, the creator of SCYTHE
Even though most of the Kickstarter lessons out there don’t recommend Facebook as a promotional tool, we invested heavily on it and it did pay off. And to tell you the truth we were shocked that people were not recommending it, and still are not using Facebook to promote their games. It’s the cheapest, most effective way to reach your audience. It’s only a matter of creating a good promotional image, targeting the right audience and formulating the right message that will resonate with the gamers. Fortunately, we had past experience with social media advertising and we managed to use that knowledge on building a following of Cavern Tavern.
We started to promote the game around December 2015, five months before the campaign, and mail subscriptions were our main goal. We had a promoted post on our Facebook page, almost every single day during the five months before the launch. When the campaign launched we just intensified this promotions on Facebook. Thanks to this, Cavern Tavern ended up with 2.000 backers. And it’s worth mentioning that besides Facebook, we didn’t have any paid advertisement anywhere else. Not on BGG, not on KickTraq, nowhere… So Facebook is the best marketing tool that a creator can ask for. But, for our next project, we’ll definitely widen our paid advertisements, especially on BGG.
Final Frontier Games, the creators of Cavern Tavern
We did our best to learn from the gaming community. We built a Facebook presence from scratch and began s twitter account. We also slowly introduced ourselves in to the world of board games. Before we launched we did not (and still don’t) have a HUGE following on any social media site. But it is growing quite rapidly. I (Manny) have some following from self-publishing comics and running Kickstarters for graphic novels but we were not sure if that would translate to people following our game. In the end we kind of crossed our fingers and jumped in the deep end of the pool.
Nate and Manny, the creators of DICE THRONE
I personally worked on the marketing aspect of the launch. It took me almost 3 months of full time work get where we got.
Here is a list of things we ran prior to launch:
– Created a landing page with email gathering.
– Brought a lot of people to that landing page by running giveaways.
– Built buzz and hype inside the video game 2 months prior to launch
– Organized a lot of community engagement by having people vote for their prefered title.
Vince Vergonjeanne, from Lucky duck games.
Building up an audience is critical for success when crowd funding. Kickstarter is not going to do any marketing for you. We started by building up a mailing list and then sending demo copies to friends and fellow gamers around the country. They collected names at games conventions, game stores and tabletop groups throughout the country.
We created a newsletter for the game and several of us frequented the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
Daniel George, the creator of DRAGON BREW
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.
Antler Games, the creator of SALT LANDS
I’ve always kept an open line of communication with past supporters of my games who love to play test new titles, and the word of mouth has really helped to build up a following. I prefer to design and develop games over marketing, and so I’ve been testing a free marketing strategy that simply involves connecting with people who are passionate about what I create and helping them out with anything I can along the way. I really appreciate having a continual honest conversation with other like minded gamers.
Jordan Draper, the creator of IMPORT/EXPORT
We spent a fair amount of time building the launch on both social media and in person. It was important for us to know the general time we were planning to launch about 6-8 months in advance, so we could discuss plans with gamers at conventions. Regarding digitally on social media, it was all about engaging with gamers and not constantly saying WE ARE LAUNCHING SOON! No one wants to be bombarded with the same message over and over. Instead, we make sure to inform gamers of our plans, but allow them to access the information if they want it. Some folks just want to say hi on Twitter and not play the game, and we are completely cool with that. Ultimately, we want to not only be a name in the gaming space, but a participant in the conversations happening.
Lay waste games, the creator of DRAGOON
I regularly updated a blog about the game, released YouTube videos, maintained an active presence on Facebook and Twitter and regularly updated a work in progress thread on Board Game Geek.
Frank West, the creator of THE CITY OF KINGS
The best method I’ve found for building an audience if you’re brand new is to create a Facebook group and mailing list sign-up form. Then start giving away free stuff to people who sign-up for either. This gives you direct contact information for interested customers for a low cost of a few games mailed out (don’t even have to be your own games).
James Mathe from Minion Games.
So Gloomhaven was my second project. I had built up a following with my first project, Forge War, which raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter in 2014. That project’s success I would largely attribute to a glowing review from Richard Ham of Rahdo Runs Through. Basically, my following was seeded with his following and grew from there due to the quality of my games.
Isaac Childres, the creator of Gloomhaven
Do lots of demos. Be involved in social media, especially on Twitter. Engage with the community. Share you development process with other people. Share artwork as it is being completed. Write a blog. Get influencers to talk about the game by sending out preview/review copies with nearly finished artwork.
Keith Matejka, the creator of ROLL PLAYER
CoolMiniOrNot started out in 2001 as a fun, hobby site where miniature gamers could put pictures of their painted miniatures online for people to vote on. The community grew over the years, and in 2010 we decided to take things a little more seriously with an online store selling our own line of miniatures. I saw a market gap where miniature games at the time were quite expensive and time consuming affairs, as I got older I needed a gaming experience that would be fast and fun, and at the end have everything go back in the box for another day. So we published our first miniature board game in 2011 with those goals in mind, even though our distributors at the time thought we were crazy (Super Dungeon Explore). That did very well through the normal channels, but when we were prepping for the launch of Zombicide, I decided to put it on a little crowdfunding site called Kickstarter instead. I’d been following their progress since 2009, and although there were some internal concerns that using Kickstarter would make us look weak, I was convinced a successful campaign would do just the opposite, by generating valuable buzz and social proof.
Chern Ann Ng, the CEO of CMON
There isn’t just one thing that I did to build a following, so I will try to hit on a lot of my pre-launch prep. First, I shared a lot of the artwork for the game early on. The art (by Nolan Nasser) is so good that I was sure the more eyes I got on it, the more interest I would draw into the campaign.
I also spread the word by creating the board game geek page early and posting pictures and forum posts for the game and the campaign. I tried to have many active updates relating to the campaign so people were aware that it was going to be great and that it was coming soon.
Another way I built a following beforehand was to run a giveaway with Everything Board Games. I always make sure one of the criteria is to check out the campaign preview page so that it drives a lot of traffic to the campaign page before launch.
Another important thing I have done, that so many people do not realize is so important, is that I just actively participate in the board game community. I am involved in a lot of facebook advice groups and I write my blogs on kickstarter and publishing. I have done a lot to just be a contributing member of the board game community and have shown that I am not just here to market my games. A lot of people try to market their games to people without every contributing or making any personal connections. I have forged a lot of friendships and relationships in this community and have a lot of people willing to support me because I will do the same for them.
Lastly, I have already run 4 successful campaigns that have done well and delivered a quality product on time. So I have built a reasonably sized following through those as well
Dan Letzring, the creator of GROVES
Well first off, I had a small crowd from my first Kickstarter, Brass Empire, before I launched Maximum Apocalypse which helped. I feel that the real way I built up a lot of my crowd though was through hitting the pavement and attending a bunch of cons (well over 10 conventions over the past 2 years) leading up to the Kickstarter Launch. I always had a newsletter signup sheet in my booth/demo area to collect email addresses.
Michael Gnade, the creator of MAXIMUM APOCALYPSE
Being our first campaign, we certainly wanted to do everything right. But as it turned out, if it was considered to be the right thing to do by KS standards, we ended up not doing it. No marketing and a cold launch, then we went on and told people not to buy it, and even went so far as to recommend other games that may be a better choice. So, yeah, we did pretty much everything differently.
We were really lucky to have a very successful first campaign with Endangered Orphans. This was the majority of the backer support we brought in. Of course, Jesse and Anthony do live streams on Instagram all the time, so they have quite a few followers already. Ultimately, though, we are just trying to do our best to make our backers happy, and hopefully they’ll think enough of us to want to do it again.
Certifiable-studios, the creators of Who goes there.
The most important thing is to produce good games in the first place. We’re fortunate that Super Motherload, Steampunk Rally, and Santorini have been received well by the community. We strengthen this good will with customer service and community engagement. Arranging key reviewers was also crucial – Man Vs. Meeple and Heavy Cardboard were instrumental in getting the word out.
Did you do anything different when you were building an audience for your campaign for Santorini?
Both Brass and Santorini already had fans, but while Santorini’s existing fanbase was much smaller, they were very eager to be engaged with; they helped with the rulebook, new god development, details of Greek mythology, and more. Richard Ham and Undead Viking were our reviewers for Santorini and they were both wonderful.
Roxley Games, the creator of BRASS and SANTORINI
1066 was my second Kickstarter after we successfully funded Gloom of Kilforth: A Fantasy Quest Game back in 2015. Most of the backers from the Gloom of Kilforth (GoK) Kickstarter loved the quality of that game and came back to support us again, but we also managed to gather another 500 or so people who were perhaps drawn in by the historical setting, the faster game play (1066 takes 30 minutes, Gloom of Kilforth takes 40-50 minutes per player), or the fact that 1066 was half the price of GoK!
Did you do anything different when you were building an audience for your previous campaign, Gloom of Kilforth?
I had no experience at all before embarking on the Gloom of Kilforth Kickstarter, so the whole campaign was very organic (read: improvised!) throughout. With 1066, we were slightly more prepared: we put out the feelers on social media and made sure we gave plenty of notice to backers, we gathered loads of feedback on the campaign page itself, we had the pre-existing audience from our last game, a lower funding goal, and the confidence of an existing product that we’re very proud of.
Tristan Hall, the creator of GLOOM OF KILFORTH
We spent a LONG time promoting Chaosmos before we launched it on Kickstarter. Joey and I went to trade shows and game conventions all over the place, including Gen Con, BGG Con, and our local convention Strategicon. We also playtested it a lot at those shows and asked people to join our newsletter.
I playtested The King’s Guild extensively all across Los Angeles, where there is a huge player base of board gamers. I took it to our local convention and several different meetup groups in LA, and got feedback from a lot of players. More importantly, showing it to so many people and talking about it helped build a following for our relaunch.
Matthew Austin, the creator of THE KINGS GUILD and CHAOSMOS
Basically I just focused all my efforts on building a Facebook page/Community. I started the page 4 months before launch and I ran a little contest on every post – every day. “Like for a chance to win you name immortalized in the game” That’s it. People love them, it’s fun, and it works!
Daniel Aronson, the creator of THE ISLAND OF EL DORADO
Consentacle is an unusual case in that the prototype was out in public three years before the Kickstarter campaign. I designed the game and created a nice-looking prototype with laser-cut plastic tokens after I was asked to participate in the No Quarter exhibition of games, an annual event in New York where local game designers are asked to create games to be shown in a gallery, played over the course of a weekend, etc. The idea for Consentacle had been kicking around in my head ever since I had a strong “it doesn’t have to be this way!” reaction to Tentacle Bento, the game that was infamously removed from Kickstarter due to its suggestion that players “capture” college girls via trick-taking.
I never imagined there would be a tremendous amount of interest in Consentacle, but it was an unusual enough idea for a game that it got some media coverage, and then people started asking me how they could get a copy. If it looks like a commercial card game and plays like a commercial card game, I guess it’s no surprise that people imagine they could buy it like a commercial card game! So I said “oh yeah, I’ll think about doing a Kickstarter, maybe we can mass-produce it.”
Three years later, after getting married, moving to a new home, starting a new job, and working on several other projects, I actually finished planning the Kickstarter campaign! In the meantime, people kept asking me, at least once a week, when they’d be able to buy a copy. I kept saying “soon, soon” in various ways, usually with a very inaccurate time estimate. I was asked to show the game at several different events, game festivals and cons, and it won the Impact Award at the 2015 Indiecade festival. So people kept hearing about it and kept asking me about it and I kept saying “soon, soon” and feeling very guilty! So that’s what I did to build a following.
Naomi Clark, the creator of CONSENTACLE
I playtested a lot and collected email addresses of playtesters. I submitted the game for the Hippodice game design competition (Clans of Caledonia was among the best 10 among 160+ game submissions). And I was quite active on BGG.
Juma Al Joujou, the creator of CLANS OF CALEDONIA
Once we were happy with the playtesting Alex put in this monumental effort and handmade nine prototypes to post out to reviewers. He was cutting up card for days and think it cost us $500 in materials and postage but the reviews were critical in establishing credibility.
At the same time, we put the Facebook page together for Red Genie Games and then posted the Brigade website at http://www.brigadegame.com and asked people for their email address to download the Print and Play, which didn’t nett much of a result.
During the development, we were continually asking for feedback and engaging the Facebook groups for board game publishers. Closer to launch we let all the Facebook Groups know The Brigade was coming.
Then we ran a competition to win a $250 board game prize pack using the popular gleam.io Facebook Plugin to collect email addresses, likes and shares. We ended up with around 500 email addresses which only converted to 9 directly trackable sales, but it was a start.
Ben Hoban, the creator of THE BRIGADE
The best thing I did was demo it for over a year. Just going to conventions and showing it to people. I would ask those people to join the mailing list to be notified of the Kickstarter when it launches. I was very clear that I would use this list only to mail them one email. I would not spam them and would take their privacy very seriously. The craziest thing, however, was when I launched the Kickstarter we had about 100 pledges before I even sent out the email! (We launched at 5am on a Tuesday!)
Vas Obeyesekere, the creator of DIREWILD
I have been posting news about the game on my website and via my monthly newsletter, and I mailed special promo cards to my newsletter subscribers. I’ve also had several production-quality prototypes produced and distributed to reviewers to preview and promote as they choose. These production copies have been very useful for taking promotional pictures and video, which I have regularly shown on social media.
Dennis Hoyle, the creator of MARS OPEN: TABLETOP GOLF
I spent 2 years testing, developing, and showing the game at conventions, trade fairs, conferences, and street markets. I’d go to stranger’s homes (upon request) and teach the game. I’d be the weird person with a board game in a video game convention. I’d setup the game in coffee shops while working. And importantly, instead of running giveaways to build my email list, I obtained emails from legitimate individuals that I had talked to in person and whom were interested in the game.
Corey Wright, the creator of MOUNTAINEERS
We took a tremendous amount of time to prepare the 7th Continent first Kickstarter campaign and began to talk very early about the game. We made lots of demos at conventions in France and at Essen Fair.
We also sent prototypes to a lot of reviewers (Rahdo, Undead Viking, etc.) and communicate on forums like Tric Trac in France and Board Game Geek in the US in order to inform our potential publics of the characteristics and specifics of our game.
Serious Poulp, the creators of 7th CONTINENT
Thanks to our previous success with Cavern Tavern, we had the budget to spread our wings a little further in terms of marketing.
We followed the recipe from our previous campaign, added few things in the mix, and increased the budgeting on all fronts. We’ve done pretty much everything the same as last time but just bigger and better.
Facebook ads were the backbone of our marketing strategy. We started promoting and doing ads 4 months before the Kickstarter campaign. 4 to 6 months pre-campaign marketing is ideal for people to get to know the game, build a following and excitement.
We are again in that period with the preparations for our next Kickstarter campaign for Robin Hood and the Merry Men. The campaign will be launched late February, however the promotion of the game started around August. Since August, every single day we have a facebook ad running for the game. Thanks to that, we are managing to build an even bigger excitement that we previously achieved for our previous games. We’ll see the results in about 5-6 weeks 🙂
But the point is, it’s never too early to start promoting your project. You don’t need to have a complete game to do that. A box art is all it takes to cover you for a couple of months, and then as soon as new art and components come, you have more things to promote and build excitement.
Final Frontier Games, the creator of RISE TO NOBILITY
We started our campaign about 6 months before our KS start, winning newsletter subscribers among B-Sieged backers, play testers, and website visitors. By the time we started the campaign, we had 600 newsletter subscribers, which was a perfect platform to have a great start. We fed them with news about the development process, sharing sneak previews of artwork and other information. We funded in 5 hours, which is a proof that the pre-campaign worked very well.
Second Gate Games, the creator of MONSTER LANDS
We’d been showing Re-Chord at conventions like PAX, Boston FIG, ConnectiCon, and it won “Most Innovative Game” at CT FIG in 2017. We also have a small social media following that we’ve continued to grow over the course of Re-Chord’s development. Outside of those we of course spent marketing dollars to target our videos towards table top players on multiple social media outlets. We spent substantially less on marketing the relaunch than the first campaign, which is another lesson to creators with a struggling project.
Marshall Britt, the creator of Re-Chord
We did a handful of things.
One thing is to do playtests at local gaming stores and have a sign-up sheet where you collect names and emails.
Another thing is to send the game out to as many review channels as you possibly can. We did about ~12 and each of those has an audience that they speak to.
We also ran Facebook ads, specifically geared towards our Day 1 launch event and so we got a little buzz that way.
We developed relationships with people in the industry. There is a lot of incredible publishers and community members and we were very active in Facebook groups and on twitter, just engaging with people around stuff we were passionate about (and supporting other publisher’s games and endeavours. There is so many amazing games!)
Casey Hill, the creator of ARKON