Lessons Learned from the New Bedford Relaunch

What a wild ride. Thanks to over 2000 backers, New Bedford‘s second campaign earned over $100, 000, making it the third most successful Dice Hate Me Games Kickstarter, behind Compounded and its expansion. Admittedly, the campaign was a bit of a Nantucket sleigh ride, where we grabbed on at the beginning and just tried to hold on for the rest of the campaign. There were a few course corrections mid-campaign, but in the end, I’m really proud of the product we will be able to bring to the backers.

I sat down earlier this week to talk to Isaac and Stephanie on the On Board Games Crowdfunding Edition, and we talked about what it was like to relaunch and what made the campaign different. That episode should be available this weekend, here. But I wanted to spend some more time going through the details of what we learned from this second time around. In no particular order:

  • Nobody knows nothing about nothing. After the first attempt, we didn’t know what to expect. We still thought there was a lot of support and that the changes would help it to fund. We were taken by surprised when we woke up to discover it had funded in less than 24 hours.
  • Don’t rely on one silver bullet to make your project successful. Because we made so many small changes, that also means that we don’t know exactly what made it work and what didn’t. But it’s important that whether it’s your first time or your 10th time, you can’t count on any single thing to get people on board. Don’t overlook any avenue that can encourage backers to support you.
  • Simplify Shipping. Last time, there were three pledge levels, depending on shipping, but Kickstarter added the ability to calculate shipping separately since the first campaign. This means we could set the base price to the retail cost (actually a little better). Hitting that $29 price point is big, and even with $9 US shipping, it’s less than the first campaign’s price.
  • No really, Simplify shipping. Shipping a single copy internationally is very expensive. But shipping costs on the New Bedford campaign were fixed no matter how many copies you pledged for. This means domestic shipping, too. There were still several comments asking to reduce the international shipping, but there was also a lot of interest in international group buys. This will be a bit of an experiment, so we’ll see how it works. I’m curious to see how many backers ordered multiple copies.
  • Art is what people see. People want to see what they get. And the art for the relaunch is so striking. The artist, Nolan Nasser, really did a great job making it stand apart from your typical bland euro, while still capturing that feel. With the art in place, we got a much bigger reaction from the community.
  • Feedback is Engagement. When we posted an early version of the cover art, some comments made us go back and reconsider the cover. We made some changes based on feedback and got an explosion of support for the updated art, sitting on top of the BGG image hotlist for a week. And we continued to listen to backers art as we go through the campaign. Many said the town board was too bland, and we added more detail to make it really outstanding. Like any feedback, you have to choose what to use, but by showing backers we were listening, they were more invested in continuing to support the project.
  • People Love Custom. This wasn’t something I didn’t know before, but the level of enthusiasm for the custom resource tokens was more than expected. Sadly, it means that the mnemonic of disks=$1 and cubes =$2 is lost, but that’s a small price to pay for awesome pieces. However, this goes both ways, because there’s also a lot of enthusiasm behind custom whaleeples (whale shaped wooden tokens instead of the cardboard bits). This was something we encountered on the first campaign, and it just doesn’t work with the design. But I don’t think anybody is dropping their pledge or refusing to back over it, either.
  • Player Count Counts. For one thing, people will ask how your game scales. Lots of people play primarily with 2, and it was important that those people knew that the two player game wasn’t a hack or tacked on; it was part of the design from the start. For another, between the first and second campaigns, I really took note of how important player count is to a Kickstarter campaign. I read about a poll that showed that something like 50% of players cite the inclusion of a 5th player or solo game as the most important factor in picking a game. Not every game can support that, but it’s worth considering. I’ll share more about how the fifth player and solo games came about in a segment of Notes from New Bedford.
  • You don’t create buzz. At least, not directly. Before the first launch, we were hitting a bunch of podcasts to spread the word, and I was doing several interviews on other designers’ blogs. I was worried we had used up all of that energy or good will, since we couldn’t do it all again. But it didn’t seem hurt the second campaign any more than it helped the first campaign. This is a bit of a surprise, since I frequently hear other designers doing the same thing on multiple podcasts ahead of a launch. I don’t know exactly what this all means, but I suspect the lesson is that a media blitz needs time to develop into a buzz. From small ripples, mighty waves grow.
  • Prepare for more than your Expectations. We had updates ready for all the listed stretch goals to 2x funding. By the time we realized we were going to hit the last stretch goal during GenCon, we were already in the middle of preparing (which was a lot more work for GTG than I realized), and it was too late. We appeared to go silent after hitting the last listed stretch goal, but there just wasn’t time at GenCon to plan for new goals. I’m sure we probably lost a few backers who were expecting updates, and we might have lost a little momentum, so it’s important to have that stuff in place, just in case.
  • Make component quality clear. DHMG always goes straight to the thick cardboard and premium component quality. Never any “upgraded card stock” stretch goals. That wasn’t clear on the page, and a lot of comments were asking for increases in quality. So if you’re already at premium component quality, make it clear.
  • People Don’t Read Updates. Even people who are enthusiastic about your project like to “Set it and Forget It” after backing. We added Nantucket as an add-on around 60k, but even many friends didn’t realize it until we mentioned it. So if it’s not automatically included in stretch goals or pledge levels from the beginning, people might miss it. We ended up talking about it in three separate updates, and there were still people who discovered they missed it after the campaign ended. Fortunately, it looks like those backers will be able to get copies, too.
  • Know when Enough is Enough. Our last stretch goal was at $80k. There were a few ideas that we could have added, but we had already made the game everything we wanted it to be. A big part of the DHMG philosophy is that you increase value by making the best game possible, not by just filling a box with stuff.

This campaign was bigger than I had expected, but was what we thought New Bedford deserved after the first campaign. I don’t think you can ever do everything perfectly, but our experience relaunching helped us get a lot right. So here’s a big THANK YOU to all of the backers, the GTG team, everyone who stopped by at GenCon, and really everyone who helped make this one of the most successful Dice Hate Me Games projects. This literally could not have happened without all of your help. My final piece of advice comes by way of Mark Twain:

“So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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