Lessons from the Corporate America Kickstarter

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!

Looking Good

Ok, I admit it. Appearances just aren't my thing.

Ok, I admit it. Appearances just aren’t my thing.

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.

Being Seen

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

People liked the game when they got to play it. Just look at these characters!

People liked the game when they got to play it. Just look at these characters!

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!

Leave a comment


  1. Sparky

     /  January 24, 2013

    I don’t fault you for getting real with us, homeslice. While some of the criticisms may have come off as harsh, I does sort of help highlight issues of knowing who your audience is, which you discussed in this post, as well. Regardless, I’m obviously really glad this was successful in the end!

  2. Teale, these words of wisdom ring true to me. As I prepare my Kickstarter I’ve already encountered some of the problems you blogged about so I think I’ll take your advice very seriously. Recruiting online has yielded poor results in my pre-launch efforts. At your suggestion, I took to the streets this weekend and am starting to get some great responses from people who I think might back my project when it goes live. And the advice about splitting the video was spot on. I hope mine is short enough now.

    Could you take a look at my project “preview” in the link below? Any other suggestions you have would be very welcome.

    PREVIEW: The Do You Love It? Game (Alpha)

    Thank you Teale!

    • Hi Michael,

      Always happy to help! I took a look at your Kickstarter and will offer some suggestions below. Before I get into that, though, remember that I am no expert, and really anything can happen with Kickstarters, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

      The first thing that stands out to me is that I’ve never seen another Kickstarter looking for early adopters. My suspicion is that most people on Kickstarter are looking for finished products, so I’m not sure how many responses you’ll get. I do know that digital games are often incomplete when they go up on Kickstarter, and people like to get in on the making of games, but I still feel like it might be better to recruit early adopters from friends, coworkers, etc. If you can’t find any friends that want to take part, the size of your target audience might not be big enough :\

      I also think the video is still probably too long, with too much down time. I would recommend cutting down on some of the background information and try to speak a little faster. The yawn in particular stood out as being slow and a little confusing. I would recommend trying to film in a more stimulating environment (even just having some fun references in the background could be good) and breaking the message into bite sized chunks with camera angle changes so you don’t have to deliver your whole message in one cut. Cutting to or superimposing images over the video of you could also break things up and help explain your points to viewers.

      Similarly, a few images on the main page could also spice it up and make the project more appealing and exciting.

      Oh yes, and move the video where you describe how to play the game into the How to Play the Game section.

      I hope these suggestions help out! If you have any other specific questions, feel free to post and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  3. Excellent suggestions Teale! I will redo the video. A friend just suggested I try http://www.powtoon.com/.

    You found a potential flaw in that I’m looking for early adopters, so that might make me rethink using Kickstarter. I thought maybe people might go for it because it’s only $1 and I’m only looking for 10. But you have raised a good point that I will think hard about.

    Thanks for your suggestion about going to friends and family. See I’ve actually been trying to avoid my own connections because I believe their willingness to participate is influenced by us knowing each other. I can’t scale a business like that. So I wanted to reach the target customer to ensure I had nailed my marketing.

    Let me see if I can convince you this is a good idea–and then you can tell me I’m totally wrong 😉 Do you remember in your blog talking about how you got a lot of support right when you launched your Kickstarter? And then you entered a trough period? I assumed a lot of your initial support came from friends and family, am I right? I thought I should challenge myself to reach my target customers and have the financing of the project derive from the merits of the concept. And if that failed, half-way through my funding drive I would call in support from friends and family. I mean my goal was only 10 people so I thought pretty sure I could get 10 family members to pitch in a dollar (um, I hope so anyway).

    Thanks so much for your help. You’ve made a tangible difference…there is no way I’m launching this week. It must be better.

    • Hello again Michael!

      So, I want to again emphasize that I’m no expert, and in particular that I haven’t ever made a game with a specific goal like “help couples get to know each other better”, but here are my thoughts.

      I totally sympathize with you being weary of getting too much support from family and friends. Honestly, I wish I had received more support from people I don’t know for Corporate America (though I am of course extremely grateful that the generous support of friends and family allowed me to make the game). That said, here are two thoughts:

      First, don’t be afraid of getting support from friends and family. We all have to start somewhere.

      Second, you talk above about finding customers, but based on what I’ve seen of your project, you’re not looking for customers right now because you don’t really have a product to sell. You’re looking for early adopters who will help you create an awesome product. And you don’t really need money from early adopters, you need time and commitment. For many people, those things are more valuable than money.

      Kickstarter has caught on in a big way for both digital and non-digital games, and the biggest difference I’ve seen between the two industries is that non-digital game are almost always complete by the time they go up on KS, while digital game creators are looking for funding to help them make their games. I’ve only put a non-digital game up on KS, so I tend to think you want a finished product by the time you launch, but that could be my own bias. In either case, I have never seen a project recruiting testers through KS, only recruiting customers. I’m not saying it won’t work, but I don’t really know.

      One of the biggest question marks in my mind is whether or not people who do sign up for your KS know that they’re not just paying $1, they’re going to be spending time and energy trying various versions of your program and giving you feedback. I’d be nervous that you won’t get the highest quality testers that way, but again, who knows.

      Oh yes, and one more thing! Remember that KS will not advertise for you. I’m sure that more than 10 people will see the page through KS alone, but your target audience is relatively small (people in relationships who aren’t totally happy with their relationships but still want to work to make things better). You’re going to have to advertise to get people to the KS page, and at that point, why use KS at all, since you’re not really raising money through it? Why not just have your own webpage where you can take email addresses and not take the symbolic $1 from early adopters?

      Hope that helps! Good luck on the project!

  4. Again, great words of wisdom, so thank you again Teale.

    You’re really making me reevaluate my approach here. You’re right, maybe KS is not the best place for me to focus my energy right now. They’re not going to help get the word out, and I’m not looking to raise money. I guess I’d just be taking a gamble that posting on KS would get me some exposure to an audience I assumed is more the early adopter type. I’m thinking that’s a bad or at least risky assumption.

    Teale, since I took your original advice of getting out there and meeting people in the physical world I’ve been having greater success. I’m thinking now that I continue this marketing effort until I am confident I know the formula of X effort in marketing yields Y level of interest. Then maybe I’ll use KS as a way to consummate an actual transaction and KS as a way to lend some additional legitimacy to this as a project.

    As a side note, KS did just approve my project on Friday. They had some of the feedback you had about clarifying my reasons for using KS.

    But KS’s biggest piece of feedback was to include screen mockups. That was a really good thing it forced me to do because I then came up with another version of my video on how to play the game. And I got it down 2 minutes by just reading off a script, not the awful monologue approach.

    How To Play the Do You Love It? Game (2 min)

    Oh one last thing, if you are looking for some pre-Valentine’s Day fun, I’m hosting a meetup at Dolores Park (in San Francisco) on 2/10/2013 from 2 PM to 4 PM. I hired a model to help with the street-recruiting and she thinks we’ll have a good turn-out of couples who are potential early adopters. At the meetup, we’ll play the game physically. Would love if you can make it because of your interest in game design.

    Either way, thank you SO MUCH, Teale, for all this great advice.

  5. Hi Michael,

    I’m glad to hear you’re taking a slightly different approach! I watched the new how to play video, and it seemed a lot smoother to me. The visuals also added a fun new aspect, and gave me something to pay attention to during down time in the narration.

    I agree that visuals make a big difference. Most successful Kickstarters look pretty! This is one area that I will try to improve on next time around myself.

    I don’t think I will be able to make your meetup, but I hope it turns out well! I think Dolores Park is a great location to meet people in your target audience. Good luck!

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