Last time on “Lessons…”
So, before I get into the heart of the topic of today’s post (stuff I didn’t do so well with the Corporate America Kickstarter), I wanted to talk a bit about my last post. When I wrote the post, I was intending to be funny. Looking back on the post, I think it was more petty than anything. It made me sound very ungrateful for the success I did achieve with Corporate America. Of course other Kickstarters have been more successful, but that doesn’t mean I have to make fun of them in childish ways.
I’m not going to dwell on this. I’m just going to say I think I ended up more mean than funny, and that I’ll try to make my posts a little more positive moving forward. Especially for the first post after a prolonged absence, there were a lot of alternative topics that would have been better.
Before I move on, though, I wanted to mention that, while most of my criticisms were superficial (and intended to be so), probably my biggest regret about the last post is that I did include a legitimate and serious criticism of Kingdom Death: Monster amongst the garbage. Objectifying women like that game does to make money is morally questionable at best. It is an embarrassment to the game community and damages gamers’ ideas about human relationships and the female body. It also drives women away from games. While I would never suggest that people should not be able to make doesn’t-count-as-porn games like that (especially in a climate where censorship of games is a real concern), I will ridicule them relentlessly. I encourage you to do so as well. Is that really what we want games to look like?
How to Fail
Alright, and with that, let’s get onto the main event! Today I want to take a step back and get a little humble up in here. Today, I want to talk about why the Corporate America Kickstarter just barely made it across the finish line.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Corporate America made it! In fact, the printer is working on it as I type this! And while the Kickstarter campaign ended up being a real nail biter, I don’t believe that’s especially uncommon for Kickstarters. Still, there’s much to learn from what I could have done better, so let’s get to it!
I’ve talked before about how appearances aren’t my thing. It’s not that I can’t appreciate appearances or even create things that look nice… it’s just that my passion is in the ideas! The systems behind the art! The way a game plays out, and how it makes the players think and feel! I don’t particularly care about the medium that those intangible things come in, as long as the medium does its job.
The problem? Lots of other people do care about appearances. Well, that’s the biggest problem. It’s also really difficult to communicate all of that intangible wishy washy stuff I like so much.
For the Corporate America Kickstarter, this lack of concern for appearances bit me in two ways. First, the game just doesn’t look as good as a lot of other games. It doesn’t look awful, but it doesn’t look professional either. There were known problems with the graphic design and art (like having different style business cards that have no functional differences), and some art that I was totally unsatisfied with (like the board). Those should have been fixed before making the game public. And I should have spent the time and money to make the prototype look nicer, especially the board and the Washington Monument token.
It wasn’t just the game, though. I think that for a lot of people, MY appearance, especially in the video, was a turn off. It’s one thing to look a little grungy, but at the same time you have to show that you’re serious about what you’re doing. I’m not sure if I pulled that off.
Thankfully, enough people were able to overlook appearances and see the game for what it truly is, a unique and dynamic experience. In the future, I will not be relying so much on people to take the time and energy to discover the quality of my work.
A Video is Worth Like a Million Words
Everyone knows that for a Kickstarter project, a video can make or break a campaign. There are all sorts of different styles of videos, but there are a couple things I wish I’d done differently.
First, I wish I’d requested help from a film making friend instead of trying to do so much of the filming and editing myself. I didn’t do an awful job or anything, but since more and more big companies are getting on the Kickstarter train, the standards for videos has gone up quite a bit. That isn’t a hard and fast rule (check out this Kickstarter, featuring a video much more my style), but since I have friends that would have loved to help me and would have done a much better job than I did, there was no reason to not get help.
Second, my video ended up being a little incoherent. I really wanted to portray some of that immaterial experience my game provides (and downplay some of the components that weren’t terribly impressive looking, especially in prototype form), so I came up with an ambitious script about fake characters playing the game. The problem? It was too long. The other problem? Putting details about how the game worked in the intro video was a mistake. It was too much information to try to convey in too short a time.
So I ended up cutting it significantly to make it shorter and more to the point (and work with the sometimes questionable video I captured). This resulted in a quasi-half instructional video that was way too fast and chaotic to really learn anything from. I think this really turned some people off. It made them think that the game was much more random than it actually is.
I knew that putting in a fake run of the game in the Kickstarter video was a little unconventional. I’m not usually afraid to be unconventional, but this was a case where following the standard practice would have been a better move. For the Kickstarter movie, keep it simple, and get into details in optional follow-up videos.
So, you think your game is cool enough to go viral just on its own? I sure did (and it’s not the first time). That’s not a safe attitude, though. Very little goes viral. And the stuff that does go viral probably didn’t go viral without a lot of help from whoever made it.
That means you need to know how to reach your audience, which won’t be easy and won’t be cheap. It will likely involve advertising. It might involve more elaborate and zany ways of getting noticed (like a board game geek contest). And it will definitely involve engaging with your audience, which will take some research.
For board games, this means creating a presence on board game geek. Despite trying to do this for months before the campaign began, I still knew little about how the site really works (it’s truly a monster), and had to do some scrambling as the campaign went on to make sure I was engaging this community, including creating a last minute ad campaign.
Another little (big) mistake I made in my ad campaigns was not including referral information in my ads. This would just be used to tell me where a potential customer came from. It might not seem like a big deal, but it would have been very helpful to know which of my ads (I had them on facebook, google, and board game geek) were pulling their weight and which were not paying for themselves.
One more thing I’ll mention here is the whole hip Daily Show 20s to 30s crowd that is the real target audience of the game. I still believe this demographic is out there, and frankly under served when it comes to relevant, engaging games, but there’s a little problem: this group is so under served, I have no idea how to reach them!
Moral: have a plan going in about how you’ll engage people outside of your immediate social circles. I didn’t, and naively thought I wouldn’t have to. When the initial wave of support passed, I was left dumbfounded for a few days before I regained my senses and started coming up with a marketing strategy on the fly. I would have been in much better shape if I’d had a plan going in.
Yet Another Digital Divide
Ok, just one more thing. Internet advertising kind of sucks. It’s true I don’t have great numbers because I didn’t use referral codes effectively, but whenever I went out to show the game at game stores, I almost always got positive feedback and often made sales (and even better, friends and supporters!). When it came to online ads, forum posts, tweetes, blogging, etc, getting anyone to even pay attention was a struggle. Digital communication just pales in comparison to face to face communication, especially when it comes to something physical like board games.
What should I have done differently? Gone out to talk and play with more people! I really should have gone to local conventions to try to meet as many people as I could and show off the game in a very public and friendly space. I will definitely be doing more of this in the future, but my current record of zero to date is quite pathetic.
Oh yeah, and I really need to work on my salesman skills a bit. I’m quite bad at it. If I’m able to grow my company and get more help, marketing will be one of the first things I hire someone to help me with, but in the mean time, I need to step up myself.
All’s Well that Ends Well
So I made some mistakes on the way. What do you expect? This last year has seen me do a LOT of new stuff I have no training in without any consistent mentors to guide me. I’ve had to think on my feet, I’ve had to stay optimistic in the face of bad luck and wrong decisions, and I’ve had to take opportunities as they’ve presented themselves. Somehow, Corporate America overcame its first big challenge, so now it’s time to move on and hope I do better next time around!