As many of you readers know, last week we made the decision to cancel the Kickstarter for New Bedford. Episode 76 of The State of Games spends several minutes discussing the reasons behind this. The brief explanation is that while there was still a chance for it to fund, the backer numbers and total pledge level were not what we expected, and not what we thought the game deserved. The bare bones version that the funding goal enabled would have been awesome, and I’d still be proud to have made it. But because Chris and I take so much pride in our work, we wanted to make sure we gave people the absolute best version of New Bedford possible. Simply meeting the funding goal would not have accomplished that. Any time you produce something you have a lot of pride in, you want to see it through to the end. The plan is for New Bedford to return next year an be wildly successful. Because I can guarantee you that Chris and I are the two people most excited for all of the extras we want to add in.
Now, to make this happen, it’s important to engage in some self-reflection to figure out what went wrong and what we could have been done better. We asked for feedback on the project and received some from backers, non-backers, and fence-sitters. This taught us some valuable lessons I’d like to share.
First, this is a tough time of year for Kickstarter projects. It’s not an exhaustive look, but Paul Owen pointed out on the Dice Tower News that the number of successful projects always seems to drop this time of year. There are two major factors people cited. For one, it’s the run-up to the holiday season, so people are saving their money for gifts. A lower price point seems to be helpful for that, though. For another, a lot of new games from Essen are releasing this time of year, so there is a lot of competition from games people can play immediately. All that competition makes it hard to even get noticed, as people are so intent on trying out the new games.
Lesson: Timing makes a big difference. Unforeseen events can force you to change your schedule, so give yourself a buffer.
Second, people were waiting for more art. By my own observation over the past year or so, the boardgame arena on Kickstarter has been moving more toward more complete-looking projects. Lots of games show up with almost final-looking art. Even though Dice Hate Me Games has a track record of producing phenominal art, there is no guarantee that people visiting the project page were familiar with DHMG’s previous work. Most people only saw my own prototype art. Even though it was marked as prototype, a lot of people commented that they were disappointed in it. (Hey, if people confuse my prototype art for bad DHMG art, that’s still a compliment, right?) For people skimming the page, I think getting the impression of the final game is very important, and it energizes people to share it.
Lesson: Having a good sample of final art is crucial to attracting backers. The art is often the first impression your game makes, so make it count.
Sharing was another area we could have done more in. Though I traveled to several events this year to promote New Bedford, it’s really hard to reach enough people. New Bedford is a pretty quick game, but even spending an entire day showing the game off, I may only have reached a dozen people, not all of whom are likely to back it. But I discovered something. Somebody borrowed an extra copy at BGG.Con and showed it off. Chris eventually broke his copy out. And after I returned, I met an enthusiastic local backer, Ed, who took a copy of New Bedford around to some other local game shops. Several recent games (the entire Tiny Epic series from Gamelyn for example) sent out a dozen or so review copies to random players across the country who agree to write a review on BoardGameGeek. Stonemaier has the Ambassador program, Stronghold just started Knights. The way to reach new people is to get your current supporters excited about showing it off. It’s crowdsourcing the publicity in addition to crowdsourcing the funding.
Lesson: Help backers share the excitement directly. Sending out more prototype copies before relaunch might be a good way to do this. It’s not cheap—about $50 to assemble and ship a copy of New Bedford—but it’s definitely something I’ll consider next time.
One factor I’m not sure of is the theme. There were a few vocal detractors of the game’s use of whaling as a theme. There are undoubtedly people who read the word “whaling” and immediately rejected the game, and there are others who were concerned about a negative reaction by their family or game group. I always try to sincerely explain why we think it’s a worthwhile historic subject to make a game from. But as I just mentioned, it’s hard to reach everyone. My impression is that it’s simply not an issue for the vast majority of people, and not that there is a large but quiet group who is politely ignoring it.
Lesson? No matter what the subject, theme, or mechanic, some people are going to dislike your game. That’s ok. It doesn’t have to be everything for everyone. What’s important is how you react to them.
There are there are minor details we could have tweaked in the New Bedford campaign that we’ll want to examine before a relaunch. Kickstarter fatigue may also be playing a role in the funding. I personally expect a number of game deliveries the next few weeks. A lot of people are starting to cite Kickstarter fatigue. This has been a strong year on Kickstarter, and even the first few months of next year are already looking full. It will be very interesting to keep an eye on how they do to see if this is a big factor.
And finally, it’s important to let it be OK that you didn’t fund. Some things are out of your control, so it’s only a failure if you learn nothing from it. Running a Kickstarter campaign is a lot of stress. (heck, it’s a lot of stress even if you’re not running it). And games will continue to fund regardless of these challenges, though it’s not a competition. I happily backed Red Raven Games’ Artifacts Inc. which successfully funded over the same period , but with a smaller goal and price point. Kickstarter is starting to look more like running a professional business as far as boardgames are concerned. It’s a sign that the industry is maturing, but it also makes it hard for people who are still making the transition from hobby to vocation. I’m looking forward to returning to New Bedford with a fresh start next year, and producing a game that exceeds expectations.
Lesson: It’s important to have a publisher who believes in you and your game and will stand by it, even when things don’t go as expected.