Tuesday, May 10, 2011

3 Ways To Get My Money On Kickstarter

On the off chance that you're unfamiliar with it, Kickstarter is a service that lets you post an idea for a product and get backers for it. The exact form this takes varies, but most commonly it's something like an expanded pre-order. Some people might just throw a few bucks to support the idea, others might pay enough to get the finished product, others might pay more, often for some sort of deluxe version . If the kickstarter makes its goal, everyone pays and everyone gets their prize (eventually).

Kickstarter's stability and functionality as a platform has started making it a popular choice for game designers with an idea but looking for the seed money to cover production costs (There are non-game kickstarters too, but my focus tends to be on games). Kickstarter's gaining more awareness these days, at least in part because of the runaway success of the Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple kickstarter from Daniel Solis. While his level of success is a definite anomaly, it's the sort of thing that inspires hope and interest.

For the curious, purple Pawn has started keeping a list of games on Kickstarter, and this is a great resource. I definitely would not have found these all on my own. For kickstarters like Do or Amaranthine or whatever Greg Stolze's working on this week, I've depended on word of mouth to hear about them, so a central reference is super useful. Lots of interesting projects out there, but also enough with clear enough problems to make me wince. So with that in mind, if you're thinking about doing a Kickstarter and you want my money, here are a few things to consider.

1. Your Goal Must Make Sense
Anyone who’s been following Fred Hicks’ blog probably has picked up a good sense of how much it costs to produce some of these games. It’s not necessarily comprehensive - Evil Hat has never looked at a big box, for example - but it sets enough of a baseline to suggest that some of the numbers people are looking for might seem a little high.

Obviously, you can’t just assume that any high number is unreasonable, but it’s a fair red flag to suggest you look closer. When someone suggests that they need twenty five thousand dollars to complete their game, I admit I’d like to know a bit more about their strategy and why that makes sense. In the absence of such information, I’m inclined to think that either they’re just digging for gold or that they haven’t really done the math. In either of those situations, that perception is far more off-putting than the cost.

2. I Must Feel Appreciated
This is another big part of setting your price, but it's much simpler. A high price makes me feel like my contribution isn't going to help unless you really make it clear to me that you will appreciate it. A big number is daunting, and no one likes to get in on the ground floor of something they think can't possibly succeed, but they'll do it if they have a reason to believe. That reason needs to be you and your product, so you need to convey exactly how much you value each contribution.

One element of this that can plague even small projects is the velvet rope. If you don't have low-price options for contributors (PDFs are great for this) then it's easy for me to feel that you're greedy or don't want my money unless I'm willing to shell out. Even if I am inclined to make a bigger contribution, I'm still going to judge how you treat the small ones. If you're doing nothing for anyone who gives you less than $50, then honestly, to hell with you.

3. You Must Let Me Know What Your Project Is
Compare these two cases

First, we have Startup Fever. It had an ambitious $10,111 goal which it’s already blown past. It’s got photos, examples and a comprehensive website. These are the things I need to look at it and understand what this project is going to look like, to such an extent that the dollar figure seems worthwhile. Now, it’s worth noting that Startup Fever got featured in TechCrunch, and that kind of coverage can really drive funding, but that’s not the whole story. If they did not have a comprehensive writeup (and an even more comprehensive website) there would have been nothing for TechCrunch to write about. It’s a great illustration that no matter how good your idea is, people aren’t going to talk about it unless you give them something to point to and talk about.

On the other hand, look at Epic Conquest. This one breaks my heart. The financial goal is reasonable, $1500, and it’s clear that the creator is intensely enthusiastic about his idea. but there is virtually nothing about the game except enthusiasm at the site. The author is “concerned about other designers stealing my idea until it is copyrighted” and I fear that’s shooting him in the foot. It’s clear he has ambitious goals (Ambitious enough that $1500 seems lowball) but he gives people no reason to buy into his idea.

The bottom line is people are willing to back ideas that excite them, but you need to be willing to share enough to let that happen. I hate to sound cynical, but if you're worried that your idea can be stolen without a lot of hard work, then you're operating under the impression that you can deliver on your idea without a lot of hard work. There's a flaw somewhere in there which is going to resolve itself at a time and a place not of your choosing.

So there it is. Three simple tricks. Have your goal make sense, make me feel my contribution is appreciated, and let me know what I'm backing. Seems like common sense, I know, but if you spend some time looking around Kickstarter, you'll quickly see that it's not.


  1. So, the one downside to Kickstarter is that it's pretty much America Only, so interesting British projects like, say, this one, can't take advantage of the same infrastructure. This is a shame.

    -Rob D.

  2. I was under the impression that under current copyright law, once it was created it was copyrighted to you. As in, this blog post - upon creation - was your property, while this comment would be mine.

    Maybe he means he wants to patent the gameplay mechanics?

  3. I'm not in a position to speak authoritatively about IP, but yes, I believe the concern about copyright may be technically incorrect as well as misplaced.

    -Rob D.

  4. The extra sad thing about Epic Conquest is that he clearly hasn't done the research- like, for example, not understanding how copyright/patent laws intersect with gaming. (Admittedly, that's a big thing in and of itself, but if it's what you're planning on hiding behind, it's worth finding out at least the basics.) Plus the paranoid approach means you're closed off from help from people who knows these things, which in my experience, is hugely important.

    I also have an ingrained resistance to elevator pitches like "it's like D&D, but with the good parts of Magic, and simple to play as Life!" which implies to me it won't be as good as any of those games.

  5. It also helps that Do has a superband lineup of indie game design backing it.

    I think there's a lot of stuff you can do for the small contributors. I've kicked around doing a supers setting on Kickstarter and my partner and I discussed letting folks name a super hero for 5 bucks. Think of donors in three tiers -

    *The small change "You get a credit in the book and some minor benny"
    *The medium dollar "You get a PDF early, a copy of the book, plus all the small donor stuff"
    *The big dollar "We come to your house, cook you dinner, deliver the game and get a tattoo of your name" stuff

  6. Thanks for the friendly words :-)

  7. Excellent article, and I agree 100% with each of your items.

  8. Thanks for the writeup, Rob. I'm especially interested and taking notes since I am considering using Kickstarter for a new project I am working on.


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