Publisher Perspective

Design & Publishing Discussion from Designer / Publisher Byron Collins, owner of Collins Epic Wargames, LLC.
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Anatomy of a successful Kickstarter relaunch

My latest kickstarter project is winding down to its final 12 hours. I'm very pleased with the support from 248+ backers and all the positive comments. It's great to achieve funding for a project you've worked very hard on, plus several stretch goals to enhance the game even further with items that didn't make the cut into the basic game. This kickstarter was a relaunch of one I failed miserably at earlier in 2013. For other kickstarter project owners who have failed to garner enough pledges for their game to be successfully funded, I hope you'll appreciate this breakdown of what really (I think) helped us with attempt #2. There are also some general kickstarter prep tips here as well, so I hope you'll find this blog entry useful. All of it is written from the perspective of my particular project, so the examples are from my project. Note that I left the "failed" project up on Kickstarter (let it fail) in order to serve as an example of why it failed. I'll draw upon that here.

Let's start with my first attempt to kickstart Spearpoint 1943: Eastern Front. The goal here was $16,000 and the project raised about $10,000 and failed. Take a look at the (inactive) project here. What is your first impression? Did you watch even 2 minutes of the video? Probably not.

The original project failed, and when it did, I asked for feedback on what I could do better to improve the offering for a relaunch. Check out this update and the 9 comments that were posted.

In summary, Backers of the failed campaign said this is what could be improved upon:
- Provide a better gameplay video
- Offer more exclusives
- Offer a better deal
- Offer more reasonable international shipping
- Plan for backers to have involvement to influence the game
- Offer a free try-before-you-buy example
- More limited options / pledge levels
- Dump the extras (posters, etc.) that don't enhance the game itself

The original failed, despite spending hundreds on banner advertising, a contest (here), ads on other sites, and in-person demonstrations at conventions including Origins. It was a real bummer- and i lost a lot of time and a lot of money (many would say the time lost is a greater loss and I'd agree).

Here are some things I personally knew needed improvement before a relaunch:
-The project video spoke to existing customers, existing players of the series, and didn't really tell people what the game was all about and why it was worth supporting.
-The project video didn't touch on gameplay at all. It pointed you to a PDF to click on and read about how gameplay works. Boring.
-The project video spoke about stretch goals, but that's 'cart before the horse.'
-The project video included a bunch of useless information, taking focus away from the game itself.
-The project video used still images at the beginning and a not-so-great free song, although from a Russian composer...
-There was no gameplay video until June 19th-- well into the project. The gameplay video was filmed at a noisy convention using components from an earlier game in the system (read: haphazardly and unplanned).
-Limited Support Levels were added after project launch, causing people to switch pledges to those levels and causing confusion.

Can you tell I don't mind being self-critical?

But what was done right? Over $10,000 WAS pledged for the game. So I knew it wasn't all bad, just perhaps presented horribly. Here are some things I think the original project did okay (read: okay, but not great):
-Project video was only 5 minutes (shorter is best).
-I was a bit more 'cleaned up' in the old project video (that's a joke).
-Reward levels were pretty clear- we had few if any questions.
-The goal was set correctly for the production that would have occurred (more on that later).
-The word was out pretty well through advertising, news sites, and in-person promos at conventions, as well as to our existing customer base through e-mail and facebook.

When the project was nearing failure, I still didn't give up hope. I turned up the heat on my efforts, though they'd be in vain. On a particular road trip driving for my real job up to New Jersey from Virginia, I braved hands-free-cellphone zones to call over 100 retail stores and many past customers to try and build up some more interest. Well for the most part the calls to retail stores were nice, and it was good to talk to owners, but they didn't translate into pledges for the kickstarter. Retailers tend to rarely do that- put money up front into a project that still has to go through production hurdles and may show up many many months after the sale. Many also can't stand kickstarter and see the whole crowd-funding thing as a threat.

July 1st rolled around (original project end date) I was admittedly down and stressed out over the failure. But that day I did pledge to myself to fix everything that went wrong, properly prepare, and relaunch when it was time. So now let's look at what actions I took as a result of feedback, how things were changed, and why these changes worked to make round 2 a success:

Action 1: In planning for relaunch, I set up a landing page to help spread the word about the kickstarter on Day 1. See it here.
Why this worked: In the first few days, our funding was through the roof. This helped propel the game into the top 100 on for those days, reaching as high as #3 in Tabletop Games. That's a good indicator that you're making some noise. The social media impact was made easier to achieve by the landing page. Note that the landing page and concept was not my own design- this was a template based on a Kickstarter for an invention, Soma Water, that the creators freely shared in this article.

Action 2: In planning for relaunch, I knew the project video had to be better. It had to have a better intro, reach out to new customers, not just existing ones, and better communicate why the project was worth supporting. To achieve this, I knew I needed some moving film, raw footage courtesy of one of our partners, Armor Plate Press. The footage replaced those still B&W images, I licensed a dramatic song through, and I edited a sequence together to create this quick movie--- and released it as a trailer. This also served as a replacement intro to the new project video. You can watch it here if you'd like:

Why this worked: If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a movie worth? A million? Isn't that trailer a better intro to get people into the theme of WWII Eastern Front action than a bunch of archive photos of busted tanks? Turns out it is. Much better. The trailer got people excited about the relaunch before it was time. It built anticipation much like a movie trailer.

Action 3: In planning for relaunch, I knew I had to better communicate the ease of gameplay, what the game was all about- else- only existing customers who knew the system would back the new game. I created a standalone gameplay video that was animated with Adobe After Effects (If you can't do that, just film a video and use good looking prototype components). It was very time-consuming to do this, but, one great positive is once it was done, it was invaluable to add to the relaunch. You can watch the final result here if you'd like:

Why this worked: How many people pledged because they had a clear picture of how the game plays? Could the gameplay video have been the difference between success and failure? Or $12k vs. $16k vs. $100k? Put time into THIS if nothing else.

Action 4: I grew a beard.
Why this worked:. Chuck Norris always had a beard. It worked for him. Just look at the epic split he could do because of it:

(It's my blog, I can go off on a tangent if I want)

Action 5: I removed the fluff. By that, I mean, the posters, the little things that added to cost but didn't really help convince people that the project was worth pledging for-- gone. One other thing I did was remove components from the game that I considered optional. A big deletion was a set of die-cut tracking counters. They're great, but, not everyone really needs them- esp. if in our case they have another game in the series. Similar counters are included in a previous title.
Why this worked: Removing them reduced production costs, lowered the game price, and reduced the project goal for relaunch significantly. They were made an "add-on" in the new project for those who wanted them. Since not produced for every game made, I can run them in a much lower quantity to support actual demand.

Action 6: Added more affordable and more limited reward levels. I added all of the new support levels with one thing in mind- Value for gamers- both in game cost and shipping cost. For my relaunch, I added a limited support level that was identical to the main level, but just $5 less. This is especially key for international backers. Don't get into too much trouble over international shipping costs (it IS expensive)... but don't expect to have too many backers from outside of your country if they're paying full shipping. It's a turnoff. At least cover some of it is my tip here. I covered half. Why? Because I'd rather have those customers pledging for the game than not- over some shipping costs. Without their pledges, I may not have a game to ship.
Why this worked: These limited levels all filled up early and rewarded early backers. It was a good deal, and backers saw it as such. I'm happy to offer a good deal for those who are supporting something I have yet to print. International shipping is a tough one. But, let's pretend you're from outside of the USA (and you may be). If you're looking on Kickstarter at two interesting games and you're on the fence... one of those games only adds a $15 fee for international shipping... the other... full price for shipping. Which one would you support?

Action 7: I spent a lot more time on the project video. The original filmed take was about 14 minutes, which was way too long. The Teaser Trailer above was added as the intro to get people into the theme. Right or wrong, this was over a minute long... but I liked it so I kept it. I edited the project video takes in Premier Pro for many hours before settling on an 8 minute video. I then posted a draft of it to several friends who helped me "cut" another full 2 minutes off. I went as far as editing out my trademark filler "ummm" and "ahh" wherever I could. The final vid was slightly less than 6 minutes. A quick statistic from the relaunch: Of the 1700+ plays of the video, only 17.6% of them were completed. I tried to focus the message quickly because I knew that was coming. People will not watch your full video. Get your message out early. Why to support it, who it's for, quick attributes, where to find out more, who has reviewed it, what it's about, what's included, what's unique, what crowdfunding it will get you, what's exclusive. I tried to answer those questions in the video as quickly as possible. Watch it again here if you'd like.
Why this worked: If you don't communicate well in the video, which may be all that a potential backer sees, you will fail to get their support. Even if you do communicate well and hit on all of those points, you still may not 'turn everyone on' to your game. It's not always 'their type of game'... and it may not meet their needs. So don't be discouraged by that. DO edit your video, record it in HD, and do the absolute best you can. It's more important than anything written on your project page.

Action 8: I didn't reveal all of the stretch goals up front- and focused on goals that would get backers involved somehow. The first two stretch goals for this project add additional cards to the game that BACKERS vote on.
Why this worked: Backers discussed and were excited about these stretch goals. Influencing the game in some way gets backers involved with the game- even if it's just to write some flavor text for a card, do SOMETHING that makes backers feel good about contributing to the game in a positive way. In a past kickstarter I ran, a stretch goal added 6 additional tiles to the game- all voted upon by backers. This was a huge hit. In that same kickstarter, certain Reward Levels included working the name of a backer into the game's fiction, which was really cool. They became a character in the game... How cool is that? Think of something creative to get backers involved with the game's design or story somehow.

Action 9:
On Dec 25th, my gift to gamers considering the game or otherwise was a free print and play demo. 2 pages. Print them out, play the tutorial video above, watch it, learn it, and play it. This demo included just a few cards from the actual game. You can see the update discussing this and linking to the demo here.
Why this worked: This shows people you have confidence in your game's rules system, confidence that people who will play the demo will like it, and that you want people to have a chance to try something out before they buy it. Ever go for a test drive at a car dealership? Same thing. Kick the tires, check out the game, take it for a spin. You'll love it, and hopefully back it. PNP demos work similar to convention demos. Demos sell games. Period.

Action 10: Media, social and otherwise, was a bigger part of the relaunch. We constantly asked our facebook fans, twitter followers, and others to share the project link or Kickstarter Share Page. We followed up well into the campaign with this update page (also from the Soma campaign) that asked backers and supporters to "like" some of the most popular articles about our game. Prior to launch, I reached out to many bloggers and news sites about coverage, and I was happy to plan that coverage with them, once the opportunity arose. For example, posted an awesome interview as a news story. Purple Pawn and BGG news posted news of the launch (as well as TGN, Consimworld, TheGamingGang, etc.). Media really helped us get the word out. All of these posts were absolutely free.
Why this worked: Free coverage is... FREE. I didn't spend hundreds on banner ads this time and guess what- I didn't need to! The free on-topic media coverage was huge for the relaunch, and it helped propel the project in front of potential backers in a timely way. The Update Page posted later- recapped the best articles and interviews- and asked backers to "like" them on Facebook- further increasing their reach. This is a lot of work (submitting news stories, e-mailing, etc.) but it's totally worth it.

Action 11: I listened to feedback and worked hard prior to relaunch to do a better job.
Why this worked: Had I not, I don't believe the relaunch would have been any better off than the original. This took a lot of time and effort, but the feedback I received was honest and helpful. Further, I received some great tips and editing help of the video and project page from fans through Facebook by sharing a draft token of the project. For the relaunch, this helped trim the fat and shape up the story page quite a bit. It was much better as a result.

If you've had a project fail, ask for feedback on why it failed. People aren't afraid to share- because they want to see it succeed in the future.

Cheers to your future success on Kickstarter or whatever crowdfunding site you intend to use!

Byron Collins is the owner of Collins Epic Wargames. Byron speaks from a small publisher perspective and has spoken at the GAMA Trade Show with tips on how to become a game publisher in the hobby games industry. Follow him on Twitter @CEWargames.
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