Welcome to the final installment of Shadow Throne Kickstarter here on the Nothing Sacred Games blog! In case you missed the earlier posts, I first covered the core Kickstarter, then discussed the periphery, and started going over outreach last time. Today I’m going to finish covering outreach, talking about advertising, online communities, and miscellaneous strategies I used.
One of the biggest challenges for me when it comes to advertising is looking beyond conversions, or the number of people who see the ad and then go on to pledge. These numbers are often depressingly low. But more importantly, advertising does more than find new backers; it helps establish your brand and legitimize your game in people’s minds. (Even though it shouldn’t legitimize a game as much as a review, it probably does.)
All that said, I didn’t do a lot of advertising for Shadow Throne for a couple of reasons. First, advertising is expensive, and there are other, cheaper ways of spreading the word. Second, advertising for Kickstarters is tricky. Even though Kickstarter has really blown up over the past couple of years (and if you’re reading this you’re probably very comfortable with the platform), many people still don’t understand it and will hesitate to back a project. For that reason, it doesn’t make sense to advertise Kickstarters in many places.
Still, I did advertise in two places. First is Today in Board Games, where I got a package that included ads, an interview, social media shout outs, and the like. I didn’t see a huge conversion rate here, but the ads were cheap. Also, they didn’t have great graphic design (I made them myself when Slim was on vacation). And remember, conversion isn’t everything.
Second is KickTraq. If you don’t know about KickTraq, it’s an awesome resource. They also have relatively cheap advertising to an audience attuned to Kickstarter. Shadow Throne actually received a lot of backers from KickTraq, enough to have a positive return on investment. But given that many people use the site to find cool new Kickstarter projects, it may not have been the ads that attracted people. That said, from everything I’ve heard, KickTraq is the best venue for advertising Kickstarter projects.
A notable exception from my list is Board Game Geek. It’s the standard place to advertise board game Kickstarter projects, and many publishers also pay to host popular contests. I advertised Corporate America on BGG when it was on Kickstarter. So why didn’t I do it this time? Basically, ads on BGG are very expensive, $500 for a month last time I checked. It’s great for branding, but getting a good return on investment when you spend that much is a real challenge. Because I’m trying to keep my costs down, I decided to skip BGG this time, and probably will for my next Kickstarters as well.
One reason I hesitate to spend on advertising is the many alternatives to reach potential backers that cost no money and little time. One of those ways is reaching out to online communities.
Now, “little time” here is actually pretty misleading. Reaching out to online communities means being a part of those communities, which takes months of contributions and interaction. Don’t just post about your project and wait for the backers to roll in… that’s called spamming. Spamming some communities will result in getting ignored, while in others you will suffer a nasty backlash. Either way, you’re not going to get much support.
Facebook. Facebook is probably my biggest source of support. I know that many have complained about recent changes to facebook–if you post something to your company or game page, not all of the people who like your page will see the update, unless you pay facebook. Even so, I have a big network on facebook of people who genuinely support me, and facebook was one of the biggest sources of pledges for both Corporate America and Shadow Throne.
Twitter. I’m not terribly active on twitter, but I try my best. There is an extremely large and active community of game designers, reviewers, local shops, big publishers, and gamers themselves there. Twitter gives you a chance to be on the level with anyone, which is awesome.
Twitter has been an ok source of pledges for both of my campaigns, but I have seen other people have incredible success with it. Take my friend Eduardo Baraf. Shortly after we met in May, as he prepared for his successful Kickstarter for Lift Off!, he asked how I reached podcasters, reviewers, and the like. When my general answer, “the internet”, wasn’t good enough, I told him I met people over twitter. 2300 followers later, Ed’s mastery of social media no doubt had a big impact on his wild success.
Reddit. Reddit is a very large and active online community with a wide array of subreddits that cover all sorts of different topics, including board games, game design, and crowdfunded projects. Redditors who peruse these subreddits are ready to back exciting looking projects, but be warned: the community is very resistant to what they perceive as spam. If you plan on posting to Reddit, create an account far in advance, try to be active leading up to your campaign, and follow their rules for self promotion. And it doesn’t hurt to have a friend or two upvote your post quickly so it doesn’t immediately get buried by malicious downvotes.
Board Game Geek. For most board games, this is where you can expect to get the most support from people you don’t know. That said, it’s a difficult nut to crack, and people on BGG can be as resistant, if not more so, than people on Reddit. After I failed to get much traction with Corporate America on BGG, I didn’t try very hard for Shadow Throne, which I think was a mistake.
For my next Kickstarter, I’ll be more active on BGG and seek help from others who know the website better than I do. To start, there’s the crowdfunding announcement thread, but I’m also going to make an active effort to get future games in front of more people by looking for appropriate geek lists and actively posting images throughout the campaign.
For Shadow Throne, I was fortunate enough to receive some recognition that ended up being free publicity. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to make something like this happen… other than create an interesting, beautiful project.
First off, Shadow Throne was chosen to be a Kickstarter staff pick. It turns out, this doesn’t mean what it used to… a lot of projects become staff picks these days, and I don’t think it means many more people see the project.
Second, Shadow Throne was picked by Kicktops as their top Kickstarter of the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, and it certainly wasn’t a windfall, but more people pledged from Kicktops than Reddit, which isn’t bad! Plus, it gave me something to share with my backers and friends.
You can reach out to people in all sorts of creative, nontraditional ways. Contests, giveaways, publicity stunts… these days, your imagination is the only limit. I didn’t use many unusual strategies for Shadow Throne, but I did use a couple.
Free Print and Play. If you’re worried about people stealing your game, or people not pledging because there is a free version available, keep a few facts in mind:
– 72 people backed the deluxe Shadow Throne PnP ($5) even though a free version was available.
– Most people will never actually print out the PnP. They will just download it to preview the game.
– A game is not just mechanics. A game is a full experience. Even if the PnP contains the full rules, the components will be inferior, and most people will prefer the complete experience.
– Even if someone only goes for the free PnP, they have to play with friends. That’s free advertising right there, and it’s likely the friends will be too lazy or picky to stick with the inferior PnP version of the game.
Offering a free print and play should be standard for board and card game Kickstarters, especially from lesser known designers and publishers, and I plan on doing so in the future. The benefits are real and the costs are mostly imagined. I will not release all of the art in the free PnP, as that makes it cheaper to print and gives actual backers a reward for their support, but releasing a free PnP makes a strong statement: my game is more than pretty art and a catchy theme, it’s a fully functional and fun game, and I can prove it.
Avatars. I’m not going to lie: I had dreams of Shadow Throne really taking off and becoming one of those ridiculously successful Kickstarters. Sadly, that didn’t happen. And when it became clear the project wasn’t going to be a wild success right out of the gates, I came to terms with the fact that I was going to have to do more outreach to push the project over its goal before the last minute.
I was a little disappointed to release avatars for backers to use, but it was definitely the right move. Avatars are easy to make, give your backers a simple way to show their support, and help make more people aware of your project. For Shadow Throne in particular, the art is excellent, so leveraging it in a new way is really a no-brainer. I’ll definitely be using avatars for my next project and will look for additional simple, creative ways to use artwork for outreach.
Thoughts on Etcetera. Before moving on, I want to discuss alternative forms of outreach more generally.
For games, one of the biggest challenges is to communicate what it’s like to play the game. Ideally, gameplay will be a game’s greatest strength. When planning outreach, try to think of ways to allow players to experience the game, not just the art and theme. This could be videos, a print and play, or puzzles that show off example game states. Get creative!
Perhaps more importantly, the most effective outreach strategy is word of mouth. Try to get people excited about your game and make it easy for them to share their excitement.
Wow, that was quite the overview! Who would have thought so much goes into a single Kickstarter?
I hope this four part series helps you plan your next project. I know it’s been very fun for me to look back… it’s amazing how much you forget as you make snap decisions in the heat of the moment during a campaign.
Did I miss any important aspects of a campaign, or any useful strategies for outreach? Please let me know in the comments!
Doing this was especially helpful for me because I’m hoping to do two Kickstarters next year, one for a new game and one for Shifting Shadows, the stretch goal that didn’t quite make it. I’m sincerely trying to make Nothing Sacred Games a sustainable career, which means releasing products more frequently. I hope you’ll help keep the dream alive!