Today I’m back at it, discussing the Shadow Throne Kickstarter in detail. Previously I discussed the core Kickstarter and the aspects on the edge, and today I’ll begin to discuss how I reached out beyond Kickstarter. Because I used so many strategies to do this, I’m going to break up the list into two posts. Today I’ll start with reviews/previews, interviews and podcasts, and game nights at local game stores.
Ultimately, you need to do a LOT of outreach. One thing you’ll see repeatedly today and in my next post is that effectiveness is hard to measure and can be discouraging when you can measure it, but you have to keep trying. You need to get word out, and that means taking every opportunity you have to reach out to potential backers. Even if a form of outreach doesn’t yield immediate positive results, it will legitimize your project and help establish name recognition.
Previews are your friend for three reasons. First, they greatly legitimize your game, proving that others have played and enjoyed it. Second, many reviewers are very good at explaining games, and therefore create engaging how-to-play videos. Finally, some reviewers have large followings, so a preview is a good way to reach out to potential new followers.
For Shadow Throne, I had six previews done. Four I planned in advance and two just sort of fell into my lap during the campaign. I’ll briefly go over each one below.
Jon Gets Games – Jon is a buddy of mine and recently started a review channel. I asked him to help me with a how to play video, which he expanded into a mini-review. Jon is just getting into the review business, but his persistence and smile are irresistible, so I highly recommend you check him out if you haven’t already.
Bower’s Game Corner – Forrest Bower is a big fan of Corporate America and one of the most active reviewers around these days, so I asked him to preview Shadow Throne for the Kickstarter. While Corporate America is probably more his style, his enthusiasm is undeniable and infectious.
Today in Board Games – I wanted at least one written review of the game, so I contacted the good people at Today in Board Games. They are very supportive of indie games and were happy to help out with a preview.
The Dice Tower – The Dice Tower is probably the biggest review network for board games, and this was the one preview in particular I was hoping would reach a lot of potential backers. It was also the most spendy preview I had done at $350 or so (most previews just required a prototype and shipping). Since then, Dice Tower previews have gone up even more. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the flood of backers I hoped for.
I think the main problem was having Dan King, the Game Boy Geek, preview the game. Don’t get me wrong–I’m actually a huge fan of Dan and think he’s a great reviewer. I just don’t think Shadow Throne is his style game, so he was missing some of his usual energy and enthusiasm in the preview. I think the game would have been a better fit for Ryan Metzler. Funny enough, Ryan did the preview for Corporate America, which was way more Dan’s style. One of these days I’ll make the right match…
Connect More – I first connected with David Minken through the comments on a Stonemaier Games blog post. David had learned of Corporate America (from Game Boy Geek’s review!), enjoyed the game, and reached out to me when he saw my comment. I wasn’t sure what to expect from David, but he really blew me away! He printed the PnP himself, then produced a video almost an hour long not only going over how to play the game, but delving into some of the strategic details.
The One TAR – Tiffany Ralph is a Bay Area local I met at a protospiel event in Santa Clara earlier this year. With a unique, fast paced, very personal style, Tiffany’s channel has become really popular over the last year or so, and it was awesome that she had time to squeeze in a preview of Shadow Throne at the last minute. She also ended up making a PnP version of the game, but I really wish I’d had a proper prototype to give her.
Before moving on from previews, I want to talk about their costs and benefits a little. Many reviewers have started charging for Kickstarter previews, often hundreds of dollars. You can’t blame them… it takes a long time and a lot of work to learn a new game, play it a few times, decide how you’re going to present your thoughts, then produce a video or write a review. And many Kickstarter games are mediocre at best.
When you’re planning your Kickstarter, keep in mind you’ll want to spend money on promotion, and previews are a great way of doing that. But different types of previews are helpful in different ways. Reviewers with small audiences can help legitimize your game and teach it to potential backers, but you can’t expect many new backers directly from them. And even if they don’t charge, you’re still going to need to pay to have a prototype made and shipped to them. (Have you looked at how much it will cost at The Game Crafter yet? Do that now.)
But if you’re going to dish out money for a preview, make sure it’s worth it. The reviewer needs to have a sizable audience, and more important, the reviewer and their audience need to be a good match for your game.
And don’t forget to contact reviewers far in advance of your Kickstarter, at least three months. It takes time to produce and ship a prototype, get the game to the table, and produce a review.
Going into the campaign, I had plans for only one interview, and no podcasts. However, once the Kickstarter went live, people started hearing about it and expressed interest in talking to me, which I was thrilled to do. One of the reasons these opportunities came about is that I was active on Kickstarter, thanking each backer individually (potentially starting up conversations) and replying to questions anyone had. Here’s the low down on the internet shows I appeared on:
Today in Board Games – Part of the paid package I got through Today in Board Games involved an interview. I’m usually more inclined to text than voice, but I decided to mix things up and had a fun discussion with Roger Hicks, the founder of Today in Board Games. We not only talked about Shadow Throne but also my involvement in the online board game community. Though the interview went up pretty late, I had a great time recording it.
Board Games and Beer Podcast – Shortly after Shadow Throne went live, Morgan Hillsman, a backer, contacted me about the podcast she recently started cohosting. She ended up being a great supporter and a ton of fun to talk to in an interview that covered a variety of topics and was a blast to do.
Indie Talks – Another podcast opportunity that came out of left field was from Ben Gerber over at Troll in the Corner on his podcast Indie Talks. This interview was also a ton of fun (noticing a theme?) partially because I got a chance to talk shop with Ben, who’s a fellow designer.
Something From Nothing – Something From Nothing is actually a Google Hangout Show with four game designers and a different guest or two each week. T.C. Petty III (maybe you’ve heard of him?) and I occasionally interact with each other on twitter, and he was kind enough to invite me on the show. Given that I wasn’t the only guest, and there were four regulars anyway, this show wasn’t nearly as focused on Shadow Throne. Plus I got made fun of for using the phrase “orthogonal goals”. But it was still fun!
In general, podcasts are much lower investment than getting a preview done, because it just takes time, not a whole prototype. They’re also quite fun. That said, I got pretty lucky that these podcasts fell into my lap. I’d recommend setting up some interviews in advance… remember, most podcasters (and bloggers) are looking for material, and if you have a story to share, they’ll want to hear it!
Friendly Local Game Stores
You should get involved with your local game stores. Even when you’re not running a Kickstarter, go to local game nights. Introduce yourself to the owners. You’ll meet cool people, and you’ll also establish a mutually beneficial relationship–local game stores like supporting local designers and you can help bring in more people. As our hobby gets bigger and bigger, local game stores remain the backbone.
All that said, I wouldn’t expect a huge influx of backers from local game store visits. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have the strongest presence at game nights, since I’m a bit shy and have difficulty recruiting players. But ultimately, there just isn’t enough support at local game stores to fuel most Kickstarters. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit them, though–reach out to your local game community. You never know the friends you’ll make!
For Shadow Throne, I visited four local game stores. I have good relationships with all of them, and visiting only helped with that. If you’re ever in the Bay Area, I highly recommend you take a tour of these fine establishments!
It’s Your Move, Oakland
End Game, Oakland
Games of Berkeley, Berkeley
Gamescape, San Francisco
More to Come
I’m only half way through my outreach here… if there’s a moral to this post, it’s that you really need to engage with people as much as you can. You can make a good game with a small group, but it’s really difficult to fund a game with a small group, so you need to get out and let people know about your game any way you can.
Next time, I’ll discuss the other ways in which I reached out to potential backers!