Back before launching the Kickstarter for No Honor Among Thieves, I posted a list of Kickstarter lessons that I had distilled from all the advice given to me before I ran my crowdfunding campaign. Now it’s been a few months since the campaign successfully funded, and I’m almost through the preproduction stage of actually manufacturing and publishing this game. It’s past time I sat down and wrote the companion article I promised back then, talking about what I learned while doing the campaign that I wasn’t expecting or didn’t know about going in, hopefully to help other people avoid my mistakes in the future.
Let’s break this down by sections, shall we?
A Brief Overview of the Campaign
I launched the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter on Tuesday, August 30, 2016, with a funding goal of $28,000. I picked Tuesday because according to what I’d read that’s a good day for launching a campaign. I ended on a Tuesday for the same reason, on September 27th. The goal was set at $28,000 because that was the absolute minimum I felt I needed to make the game to the quality that I wanted, according to all the quotes I’d gotten for manufacturing, shipping, and illustration. The first few days, as expected, went really well, and then things tapered off for a while, also as expected–most crowdfunding campaigns follow a sort of reverse bell curve, doing well at the start and end, with a slump in the middle. I had a significant boost midway through the campaign, when I attended the Boston Festival of Indie Games as part of the Indie Tabletop Showcase. After the Showcase I also added a couple new higher-value pledge levels and opened up more of the pledges that got backers’ faces on cards, because I felt that it needed a boost at that point. Throughout the campaign I also had reviews, interviews, blog posts, designer diaries, and Reddit AmA threads going, as well as advertising on a number of different sites. I didn’t quite manage to achieve the ideal of having something going on every single day of the campaign, but I came damn close.
There was a while after the boost from Boston FIG had ended where I was afraid that the campaign might not actually fund, which wasn’t a good feeling to have. It turned out to be an unfounded fear, however, as the campaign went absolutely crazy on the final few days, ending at $46,325, approximately 165% of the funding goal.
You can see the campaign’s day-by-day statistics on the Kicktraq page, which if you don’t know is a fantastic site that automatically consolidates a lot of data about campaigns on Kickstarter. It’s a great source for research and analytics.
One thing that really helped out later in the campaign was some cross-promotion from another Kickstarter campaign that was ongoing at the same time, for a game called Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove by Certifiable Studios. One of my backers, who was also one of their backers, posted a link to my campaign in their very active comments section, and the guys at Certifiable Studios decided that they really wanted to get their hands on No Honor Among Thieves. So they made my campaign reaching its funding goal a requirement for one of their stretch goals. Now, I had gone into the campaign not planning on doing any cross-promotion with other Kickstarters, because I’d seen a lot of that done in campaigns I’d followed previously–a slew of “here’s another campaign that we think you might be interested in!” notes at the end of a campaign update, that sort of thing–and it had always kind of annoyed me. But what the Condyle guys did for me was amazing, and really contributed to me getting as much as I did from the campaign during those final days. Due to them promoting my game to their audience, without asking and just because they liked the game I was working on, I was able to hit my funding goal a day before Kickstarter sent out the 48-hour reminder to all the people who’d clicked the “Remind Me” button, which meant that everyone who came back to look at the campaign at that time saw a successful, fully-funded campaign starting to blow through stretch goals. Success breeds success on Kickstarter, and people are more likely to pledge to a campaign that is already funded than one which has yet to reach its goal, no matter how close it might be to said goal. The whole experience has changed my view on cross-promotion on Kickstarter, to be honest. I’m still against badgering people for link exchanges and whatnot, though I’ve been told that doing that sort of thing actually works and it can be done relatively tastefully, but highlighting someone else’s campaign because you think your audience might be interested in it is another thing entirely. For example, I was on Kickstarter the other day and saw a campaign for a tabletop roleplaying game called Dusk City Outlaws that I think the audience of No Honor Among Thieves would enjoy, since it’s concerned with a lot of the same themes and inspirations. I’m planning on mentioning that campaign in my monthly production update later in February. Pass along the good vibes that the Condyle people sent my way.
Advertising and Paid Marketing
At the time that I was planning and running the crowdfunding campaign for No Honor Among Thieves, I worked at a branding agency as a web development and digital marketing specialist. Using what I’d learned at work on a project of my own was great fun, though I may have gotten a little carried away with it. Over the course of the campaign I took out banner ads on multiple sites, ran a Google AdWords campaign, and ran ads on Facebook.
The banner ads were, with few exceptions, not really worth the money. I tried running ads on a number of different gaming review and news sites, most of which brought the campaign less than fifty views each. Considering the total views that the Kickstarter page had over the course of the entire campaign was 29,564, fifty views is…not a lot. Especially when it looks like most of those views didn’t actually lead to anyone backing the project, though admittedly that sort of thing is a bit difficult to track (if someone finds your campaign through an ad and then comes back later to back it, the analytics will generally give credit for that pledge to however they found it the second time, which is probably going to mean crediting Kickstarter or Google rather than the actual source). Like I said, however, there were some exceptions. Here’s the breakdown:
|Source||Number of Backers||Number of Dollars|
Note that the BoardGameGeek numbers might also include some that were from forum threads on BoardGameGeek. I had a mix up in my Google Analytics that I only corrected halfway through the campaign, so some wires may have gotten crossed there. Same with Kicktraq: I unfortunately didn’t get my analytics issue corrected in time to be able to know if those 8 backers came from the ads I ran on Kicktraq, or from seeing the campaign in their Top Ten list, or what.
From the numbers that I have on hand, though, it looks like BoardGameGeek was the best investment, hands down. Looking at the number of sessions that came from each source, my banner ads on BGG brought 3,861 views to the Kickstarter page, which was about 13% of all views over the course of the campaign. There’s no way to tell how many of those pledged immediately and how many hit the “Remind Me” button and came back to pledge later, so I’m still going to count that advertising buy as a clear success even though according to the numbers I have it brought to the campaign only about as much money as I spent on it (I bought a bunch of ads during the month and a home-page takeover on the final day of the campaign, for reference). I’m definitely going to work with them again.
The listing for Project Wonderful in the table is a little misleading, since it implies that PW is all one source. Project Wonderful is an advertising network shared by a number of different sites, with a bidding system that works well to get you really cheap ad space on a lot of the sites they work with. Running a marketing campaign on Project Wonderful can be a little hit or miss, and honestly I don’t think I’d recommend it if you aren’t willing to put the time in and really do the research with each of their sites that you’re thinking of putting ads on. I personally put ads on Giant in the Playground‘s forums, 1d4chan.org, and a bunch of webcomics that I like to read. My ads on Giant in the Playground alerted some old friends of mine on the forums that I hadn’t talked to in a year or so that the Kickstarter was going on, which led to a bunch of guys I used to play play-by-post wargames with backing the project. Of the others, I got two backers from 1d4chan, which cost me practically nothing to put ads on, and got no backers from anywhere else I placed ads with Project Wonderful. Like I said, hit or miss. The real takeaway from this is to remember to let your old friends know about what you’re up to, especially if they’ve played forum games that you made and therefore already know that they like your work.
Kicktraq was also up there, but I think that most of those came from No Honor Among Thieves being in their Top Ten for a lot of the campaign. Their advertising program is new, and experimental, and I was happy to be a part of it, but I’m not certain if I’d do it again. For a big project, maybe, but not if you’re on a limited budget.
Nowhere else that I placed banner ads brought in significant views or backers. Out of the lot of them, I think I’d be most willing to work with The Dice Tower again, because I only put ads on there when I was most of the way through the campaign, and they still brought in over 200 views. I think a full month of that would have done some good.
Overall, I have to say that as much fun as they are to design, relying on banner ads is not a winning strategy. If you’re running a big campaign with a bit of a marketing budget, ads on BoardGameGeek are your best option.
I don’t know if I set it up wrong or if Google AdWords is just not a good choice for Kickstarter marketing, but whatever the reason, I really did not do well with this platform, to the point where I stopped using it entirely partway through the campaign because it was just draining money without providing any return. I am planning on trying again next time, because from how much I’ve read about their system it really seems like it should work for me. I would advise against trying to use AdWords yourself unless you’re willing to put the time in to learn how to really use it.
Buying ads on Facebook worked out really, really well, once I figured out how to do them right. At first I just sponsored posts from my company Facebook page, which brought in about 70 views total. About halfway through the month I wised up and used Facebook Ad Manager to make a much better ad, which brought in 1,269 views over the remainder of the campaign. You have to make sure you target them right, and build ads that people will actually want to click on, but I think I can safely say that placing ads on Facebook was a good choice.
Reviews, Interviews, and Other Marketing
My paid marketing efforts were effective overall, if more expensive than they really needed to be. It was the unpaid stuff that really worked out for me, though. The reviews, interviews, blog posts and social media stuff that I had going on during the campaign were really the driving force behind how well I did day-to-day, and according to my analytics and anecdotal evidence from backers this category of marketing brought in the most funding, by reaching out to people who might be interested in the project and confirming in their eyes that it was in good hands.
In total, the campaign got fifteen backers and $887 dollars directly from the sites of reviewers, interviewers, and bloggers that I had reached out to before the campaign launched. Once again, however, there is no way of telling how many people read a review or interview and then visited the Kickstarter page to back it later on. These sources also served to bolster the interest of anyone visiting the page from any other source, since I linked to a lot of them in the Reviews section of the page.
I also got 25 backers and $1,120 directly from Reddit, where I posted about the game multiple times on a handful of different subreddits and ran an AmA thread on the last day of the campaign. I really like Reddit–it’s a great place to both talk about games and get the word out about what you’re working on. You can’t come at the site too much from an advertising perspective, because the users on there can smell a marketing shill miles away, but if you treat them like you’re just sharing something you think they might be interested in, and are able to hold an actual conversation with people there, then the place can really work out for you. Don’t get dragged into silly arguments or flamewars and you’ll be fine.
I’d say that the biggest impact on my campaign as a whole were the reviews that I got. Especially helpful was the Father Geek review, which multiple backers told me was what convinced them to back the campaign. I personally really enjoyed the feature in the Polyhedron Collider podcast dedicated to No Honor Among Thieves–the guys at PC had a lot of fun with the game, and listening to them tell stories of heists past was really great. Other reviewers, like Jonathan H. Liu of GeekDad, noticed issues with the game that I was able to patch and playtest during the campaign, thus improving the final product.
The slate of reviews I got were, on the whole, incredibly positive, which was a great thing to see. When you’re making something, it can be hard to tell whether it’s actually any good or not, because you’re in the thick of it and you’re spending so much time hunting for problems rather than looking at what’s going well. Having that third-party validation was an amazing experience.
My only problem with reviews was that I think I had too few of them. I had planned for seven, but one of the reviewers I’d contacted and sent a game and who had said he’d do a review never posted one and never got back to me when I asked him about it, so I ended up with six. Which is a decent number! But I think I could have had more, from a greater variety of reviewers. For my next major project I’m planning on aiming for ten or more.
Doing Better Next Campaign
The campaign did well. Really, really well. But there’s always room for improvement.
Here’s a quick summary of what I think I could do better next time:
- First up: as I mentioned before, more reviews. In the run-up to launch I kept finding more people that I could have sent boxes to, and hopefully I’ll be able to work with them for my next game.
- Related to the first: have more demo boxes on hand during the campaign. Early on there were a couple people who contacted me asking if they could get a copy of the game during the campaign to review, and it would have been great to have been able to send them one.
- Spend advertising dollars on the places that worked. I’ve done the experimenting, and next time around I can use that data to not waste so much money.
- Australian-friendly shipping. There were a lot of people from down under paying the extra $10 for shipping, and I’m pretty sure that next time I can make it so they don’t have to.
- Get more podcasts and bloggers and interviews! I didn’t do many this time around. I was on one podcast, got mentioned in a couple newsposts, wrote a single guest blog post, did two interviews, and was discussed on another podcast. I feel like that’s not really all that much, for a campaign of 29 days. I did contact a lot of people, but most of them couldn’t fit me into their schedules at the time. Hopefully for my next project people will be more willing to talk with someone who’s already proven he can do this Kickstarter publishing thing.
- Related to the above, next time I’ll try not to send emails to media people just before Gen Con. Because of course everyone was too busy for my first-time indie Kickstarter, they had to report on all the stuff coming out of Gen Con.
- Also, I’d like to try to go to Gen Con with a demo of the game instead of complaining about how no one will talk to me because they’re all busy getting ready for Gen Con.
- Small one here that came up a surprising number of times: for a lot of people, the end of the month is payday, and I ended my campaign right before it. Next time, I want to end right after payday, so people actually have money on hand.
- And finally, next time I’d like to recruit at least one other person to help me run the campaign and get everything set up ahead of time, because my God was this a lot of work. Fun work, but also really, really exhausting.
Next time I’ll talk about the process of preproduction, and how much fun it is to be an art director.