Kickstarter is a great place for lots of different game genres. However there are some genres that have struggled to fund on Kickstarter. For example biblical or religious themed games in general rarely fund. However a guy named Josh Patton did manage to fund such a game.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Animo.
Animo started when my best friend Josh Wegner created some cards to replace the multitudes of Pokémon cards that were coming home from school with his son who was imitating their attacks and sleeping with his favorite cards under his pillow. It began as a Christmas present for his family and pretty soon the neighbor kids were knocking at the door asking for packs of cards (originally called PocketPets). His wife, Theresa, (the 3 of us are now business partners) put a post-up on Facebook to see if anyone in her Mom’s group would be interested in these cards and ended up taking pre-orders of hundreds of packs. They knew at that time that they had something that they needed to develop into a finished product. I was brought in as “the gaming guy” to help add another layer of value to these cards and make them into 2 games. A 1 vs 1 trading card style game & a fun family game that up to 5 can play around the table together. After a year of development and extensive play testing we were ready to start thinking about launching on Kickstarter.
What did you do to build up a following before you launched Animo?
Everything we’ve read and researched on Kickstarter explained that the build up and the steps you take prior to launching your Kickstarter campaign are crucial to your success. We very early on created a website and started building a following through family, friends, and PocketPets customers. We directed people to the website and built an email capture popup, giving visitors a chance to input their email address to be notified when the Kickstarter launched. An Animo Cards Facebook account was created and we started leaking out videos and posts with the art from the various characters that were being created. We posted pictures from our Animo retreat, a two-day work trip where we concentrated on Kickstarter strategies, balancing the games, and praying for the campaign and company. I attended a few Cons (UnPub and Pax Unplugged) to show off the game, playtest, generate interest, and network with other gamers, creators, and vendors in the tabletop industry. Probably the most effective action we took prior to launching Kickstarter was create a Day 1 event on Facebook and invited our Facebook contacts and those from our email list to “attend” if they were planning on backing the campaign on the 1stday of the campaign. This was crucial to us getting off to a strong start, especially since over half our backers had never backed a Kickstarter before.
When did you launch and why did you choose that exact moment?
Our original plan was to be able to deliver the game by Easter and market it as a great Easter basket gift. Ha! All our prototypes were all digitally printed and shipped to our doorstep within 10 days of placing an order. Once we started talking with offset printers, and learned of their standard turnaround time, we realized Easter was not realistic but figured we keep the February start date. We originally planned on launching on Groundhogs day (Feb 2) but heard from many different sources that we should avoid a Friday launch date so we moved it back to Feb 1 at 11 AM. I suggest that first time creators actually launch 15 minutes earlier than the planned time to make sure they have everything right. We had to make some quick changes and ended up officially launching at 11:10. Those were probably the most tense 10 minutes of the campaign!
Where you skeptical of doing a biblical themed game? They rarely do well on KS.
We were aware of the stats going in (~95% of religious games fail) and had a few moments of doubt when researching other similar themed Kickstarter games. Ultimately, we felt we were led to create and share this game with kids and families. We truly believed that if this was something that God wanted to us to accomplish then he’d guide us with wisdom and the gifts/tools he’s given us to make it happen.
Did you receive any feedback on the religious theme in the game?
We received lots of feedback that we had an uphill battle trying to make this type of game. Many people in the gaming community were originally turned off when learning that the game had a TCG/CCG style of play (strike one). Then when they heard that it had a religious theme, with actual Bible verses that embodied the virtues/sins of the Animo characters on the cards, we were warned of the upwards of 95% religious themed game failures on Kickstarter (strike two). Basically, we were told that this was a train wreck waiting to happen. I played baseball in college and often found myself in a 0 – 2 count. The key when you find yourself in these situations is to make adjustments to battle back to a point where you can have success. That’s exactly what we did. We adjusted our model to be a living/expandable card game where people could acquire ALL the cards for the game and avoid relying on purchasing expensive randomized booster packs with rare cards to round out their collection. The 72-card starter deck is balanced and play tested to be split into two providing the instant ability to play both games. If you purchase both the starter deck and the 2 expansion decks (Hopeful Hearts & More than Conquerors) you’ll have the full set and be able to mix and match to make countless customized decks to try out providing lots of replay-ability. We felt strongly about keeping the religious theme and wanted it to be enjoyed by kids both from a fun and spiritual perspective. That was the whole reason we started down this road to begin with. To us it’s not about making money on a product but to produce something that would spiritually encourage and teach kids and parents alike.
What is the main challenge in doing a religious themed game?
You immediately turn off a large segment of the gaming market. Too many other prior religious games simply slap something Bible related on an existing roll and move game and don’t take the time to create something with original mechanics or components. Concentrating on your niche market, for us Christian gamers, homeschool mom’s/kids, and church groups, is the key to success. Recently, over the past 3 or so years, there have been a number of Christian game companies that have pumped out good original titles that have started to change the way people look at religious games. We look forward to developing relationships with those companies to come up with strategies to overcome the misconception that religious games can’t be well thought out and fun with modern gaming mechanics.
If there was one thing you wish you knew before you launched, what would it be?
How to properly use Facebook advertising! We naively spent money to boost Facebook posts instead of setting up advertisements. These boosted posts received a ton of views/likes and shares but it didn’t seem to translate into backers. Next time I’d set up a customized URL for each post/ad to be able to track the effectiveness based on the targets. When checking out the profiles of some of the people who liked the boosted posts we discovered that most were not in the target market that we focused on, and many of them had very suspect accounts set up, don’t get me started on my conspiracy theories… After the campaign ended we ended up setting up a free session with a Marketing Expert from Facebook who walked us through how to set up adds and gave us some tips and tricks to be advertise more effectively. I’d suggest other creators take this step a few months prior to launch date.
What is your best marketing tip during a campaign?
Have multiple people be part of your campaign to be able to quickly address questions/concerns. Running a Kickstarter campaign is an absolutely draining experience. We took shifts based on our schedules to be able to respond to questions/comments quickly and thank each of our backers personally. We received some feedback that this made a difference and that we were “truly setting (our) project apart from other Kickstarter projects”.
With so many games coming out on Kickstarter on a monthly basis its much harder to rely solely on the Kickstarter tabletop community to drive your campaign. Find the niche outside of the board game community that fits your game and engage them. For us it was the church and homeschool crowds. We counted on our homeschool family friends to share the project and provide reviews to their homeschool co-op network. We are very active in a large church with 14 campuses around Metro Detroit. We were able to work with the kids ministry pastor to provide a Glimmer promo card to each Sunday school kid who attended church over a two week period during the campaign (1200+ kids). Glimmer’s verse, “Do to others what you would have them do to you”, acted as an additional fun way to encourage kids to learn the churches K-5 verse of the month. This provided great local exposure and allowed us to pick up a number of additional backers.
How do you structure your days during the campaign?
Dad duties in the morning before kids go off to school, then sending out personal messages to friends and connections, interacting with people on Facebook/Messenger and posting in relevant Facebook Groups. Before the campaign I created a spreadsheet with the rules for self-promotion of 70 different Facebook groups that were relevant to our target market so I could quickly reference how, and how often, I could post within each group. I’d then go to my day job as an equipment financing sales person, checking for urgent messages or requests only a couple times a day. I’d get home and eat dinner as a family, play a game with the kids, and help put them to bed before jumping back on the computer to respond to messages, continue to interact with people through Twitter and Facebook, and try to set up podcast interviews or work with influencers to share our project. A big thank you to my wife Sara for putting up with me during the campaign. I would not have been able to do the things if it wasn’t for her. Also, not mentioned much here is the tireless work Josh and Theresa Wegner put in creating the art/graphic design for the posts, designing the Kickstarter page, updated it regularly with new stretch goals, helping send out personal thank-you messages to each backer, and too many other things to mention here.
What’s the best Kickstarter advice you ever received?
Like most first-time creators, we soaked up the knowledge passed on through the blogs of Jamey Stegmaier/James Mathe and advice/feedback available through the Table Top Game Kickstarter Advice FB group. What a blessing to have all this amazing information publicly available. During the depression that comes during the mid-campaign slump, I reached out to James Hudson from Druid City Games (now part of Skybound Entertainment) to get his advice about how to reach more backers. He took the time to look into our campaign and advised me to reach out to people who have influence through social media (mommy bloggers, podcasts, and big names in the board game industry) and consider paying them to feature Animo on Instagram and their blogs. Great advice that we took, but what I appreciated the most was that he backed it up by pledging for Animo himself and then posting about it on the Dice Tower Facebook group. Within a few hours we doubled the amount of pledges we received that week. I hadn’t realized it at the time but he, as an industry influencer himself, was “practicing what he preached”.
What do you think is the most important element of a Kickstarter?
Showing the crowd that you’ve done your research and are capable of following through with your promise of delivering the product to their doorstep. If this is not accomplished within the first 5 seconds of looking at your video or page people will move on.
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
My role models are all the people in the industry that take the time to share their experiences and give back to the community through advice, content, blogs, reviews/previews, Facebook groups, podcasts, etc. So almost everyone in the industry! My goal is to be able to provide value my own way, by helping other Christian designers/publishers overcome the common obstacles we face from public perception, Kickstarter, and distribution. More to come on that down the road…
Anything else you want to add?
The upgraded magnetic box for the starter deck and thicker card stock has really provided quality finishes to Animo, the samples look and feel great! We are so excited to get this game shipped out. The timeline was moved back a few months (silly first-time creators!). We’ve received a production completion date from LongPack of July 20th so we are expecting to be able to fulfill all our orders by the end of Summer. Late pledges for Animo are still open for a limited time –
Where can people reach you?
email address: email@example.com