Our first game, Salem 1692, raised $103,000 on Kickstarter in 2015. Our second game, Tortuga 1667, raised $403,000 on Kickstarter in 2017. Our third game, Deadwood 1876, raised $587,000 on Kickstarter in 2018. Our most recent game, Bristol 1350, raised $913,000 on Kickstarter in 2020.
Many creative people looking to also launch a game or product on Kickstarter have asked us over and over again, “what’s your secret?” and “how did you do it?”
The short answer: we have no idea.
The long answer: we have some guesses. Here are a few things we think have contributed to the success of our Kickstarter campaigns, and hopefully our fellow creators can pull a few ideas from our list.
Your product being amazing or not contributes to 95% of whether or not your campaign will be successful. We can not stress this enough. If your game/book/design/whatever is just average, unoriginal, not beautiful, not as near to perfect as you can make it, then all the marketing in the world won’t matter. If you get one million eyes on an average product, it probably won’t get funded. If you get one thousand eyes on an absolutely amazing product, it probably will get funded. Make your product unique, figure out what need or niche it is filling, and figure out what makes it stand out above the hundreds of other projects on Kickstarter. If you have 1 hour a day to spend on your Kickstarter campaign/idea, spend 55 minutes of that hour focusing on your product. The vast majority of our backers come from internal Kickstarter traffic. This means that they didn’t find our project from advertising or from press releases or even from word of mouth- they were on Kickstarter searching for cool things and they found our page and backed it. Most of your traffic will be an audience already on Kickstarter looking for cool things to back. Make a cool thing, and the people will be there waiting to help you!
99% of the time, the people looking at your Kickstarter page have never seen, used, or played with your product. Therefore, they are relying solely on what you show them in your videos and photos. Use these things to pull the backers into your world. Set the tone with the right script, lighting, and overall feel to help them grasp what is awesome about your product. Videos don’t need to be expensive. I shot all of our videos on my phone and edited them in iMovie or Adobe Premiere. I wrote out the scripts and paid voice actors on Fiverr.com $5 to read the script and set the tone. My videos focused heavily on the gameplay itself, bringing people into the world of the game. My wife and I also made an appearance at the end to put a face to the project and instill some confidence in our backers. For the photography, don’t be afraid to shell out $100-$300 or so to get a semi-professional photographer to get some awesome product shots. It’s well worth the investment.
A lot of Kickstarter projects just show 3D renderings of things, which is fine, but also gives the backers the impression that the game isn’t really build-able and may not ever even exist in a tangible form. We ordered actually prototype cards from places like makeplayingcards.com, got playing mats from inkedgaming.com, and 3D printed pieces using 3dhubs.com so that we could show people what the game would actually look like. There are many companies out there that can make you 1 of anything. These won’t necessarily be the companies that mass produce your product. It may cost you $50-$100, but again, it’s worth the investment. Many times the factory that you plan on using for mass production can also make you a sample of the actual product (though it may cost you several hundred dollars, but we believe it is worth it). Do whatever you can to get a great-looking prototype as close to what the real thing will look like. It will do wonders in building your backers’ confidence. They’re taking a risk on you by giving you money for something that doesn’t exist. A prototype takes a lot of that fear away.
Put a face behind your campaign. Let people into the process and let them feel like they are insiders. Tell people how your product came to be. Show people a picture of yourself as the creator. Tell people your story as a company. Tell people exactly where the money will go. Show people some pictures of the early creation process. People aren’t just buying your product – they can buy products without a story all day long on the shelves of Walmart. People on Kickstarter are buying your story, not your product. Guide the backers through the page and logically explain how the game came to be and who is behind it. This also goes a long way in getting other websites to talk about your product. These websites aren’t just going to promote your product – they want to tell an interesting story about it. Figure out your story, and include it on the campaign page.
Your backers are the ones giving your project life. They are taking a risk in buying something that doesn’t exist yet, and therefore taking a big gamble on you. They will be much happier to help you if you treat them with respect. This means that you should respond to their messages quickly, that you should respond to each and every comment in a timely and polite manner, and that you should create a campaign page that is clear to understand. You should also listen to their feedback regarding your project with very open ears. You know your product best (so don’t change things unless it will actually improve the product), but honestly consider every proposed change your backers present to you. Bringing them into the process will turn your backers into your advocates and they will be much more likely to spread the news about your product.
The first day of a Kickstarter campaign is its most important. If you can get backers and funding immediately and even hit your goal in the first day or two, your campaign will get the momentum it needs to be a success. Kickstarter is also much more likely to keep your product at the top of its search pages and in the “popular projects” category if it gets off to a fast start. And remember, most of our backers came from internal Kickstarter traffic, so it is crucial to stay on the good side of the Kickstarter ranking algorithm. We had a huge Day 1 to-do list prepared well before launch day. Some of the things on this Day 1 blitz list:
Since you want a lot of eyes on your project right at the beginning and right at the end of your project, we’d recommend that you launch before lunchtime on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and then end in the early afternoon on a Thursday. Also make sure that you aren’t launching on a major holiday when people will be out on vacation and away from their computers. It also doesn’t hurt to launch and end right after a payday (after the 1st or 15th) so people have the funds to back you. Also be aware of what other projects are currently on Kickstarter. If there’s a project that is very similar to yours, consider waiting until it ends (or consider making your project more unique!) so that people won’t have to choose between one or the other.
In each project we spent about 1% of the total money we raised towards marketing and ads. These ads certainly got some new eyes on the project, but in the end they weren’t game-changing. Again alluding to point number 1, if you have an awesome project then your backers will naturally share it and spread it, and news outlets and relevant websites will talk about it. If you are going to use ads, we’d recommend that you find a relevant website where your potential buyers will be (in our case, boardgamegeek.com) and see how much they’ll charge you to run some display ads on their site. Most of them already have packages in place, so just contact them from their website and they’ll tell you the costs you’ll pay for impressions. We also have run a few ads on Facebook (We've also worked with companies called Backerkit and Green Inbox to run Facebook ads for us), Twitter, and pinterest. Another good thing you can do is write your own press release telling the story of your product and why it’s cool. Then email relevant websites (their contact info or form is usually linked at the bottom of their site) with the press release and some pictures of the product. If your story is compelling, they may post it to their website.
Just like a good board game, your success will also require a little bit of luck. Maybe a key influencer will see and like your product and post an article about it. Maybe you’ll launch your project on just the right day and not overlap with a huge knock-it-out-of-the-park project. Maybe the person at Kickstarter choosing the staff “favorites” that day will happen to really bond with your project. At the end of the day, a lot is in your hands (see points 1 through 8, especially point 1), but a lot is also not in your hands.
Feel free to comment below if you have a question or another idea that you think leads to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
We also did an interview recently that has answers to a few other specifics. You can see that here: https://tompetgames.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/travis-hancock-the-creator-of-tortuga-1667/