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The Awesome Box Story for Epic PvP

Alternate Title: The Best Terrible Stretch Goal Decision We’ve Ever Made

 

Background: Fun to 11 launched a Kickstarter for it’s game Epic PvP: Fantasy in early 2015. A few weeks before launching, Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) got on board (they are handling the retail version). AEG brought a lot of eyeballs and our goal was to convert them to backers.

We had already planned a series of stretch goals that we felt could lead to real excitement if they were hit (creating an “exploding tier”). We felt this strategy could bring in fence sitters early, and we could use that momentum later. The problem was, we didn’t change our stretch goal numbers when AEG got involved. We thought about it, but it felt cheaty to us. Plus, we’re getting sick of fake stretch goals to be honest.

The campaign started very fast (thanks AEG!) and we blew through our stretch goals way too fast. We made some new ones on-the-fly. They were mostly simple things like stickers and random pairing tokens. We did add a few new decks that we felt confident in our ability to develop before we had to go to print. One of the things we added in the middle was a Kickstarter exclusive box. When we added it we were thinking we would do custom art for it like we have done in the past. But as the campaign went on, we started throwing ideas around…

Note 1: Letting Jay and Jordan (two great graphic designers) brainstorm can get expensive

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“We Promise our Cool Ideas Won’t be Expensive This Time Luke…”

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We bought a few high end ($35 MSRP) card carrying boxes from other publishers and ripped into them. Our eyes kept getting wider with what we could do. We started looking at just how cool of a box we could get into an efficient shipping size (Regional A USPS box). Jay did a card prototype and we fell in love with it. At this point, we had done exactly zero costing. I looked at the box and I knew if we did it, it would massively increase our cost of goods – almost double probably. So we had a “lets get real” conversation.

Our mission statement says nothing about making money. It’s about making the best products we can with people we want to work with. We’re not against money – it’s what gives us fuel to make more products – but it’s not our goal.

Note 2: It’s good to have a mission statement as it makes hard decisions easier

There was no going back, this was going to happen. Based on the other boxes we looked at, the box we ended up with (and this is no joke or exaggeration) would normally be priced with an MSRP of at least $34.99 and probably more like $39.99 if it was sold by itself – EMPTY. And we were giving it away as a mid-campaign stretch goal for a game that early backers got for as little as $36!

Note 3: Success = Hitting Your Goal not Making Maximum Money.

Did it cost us way too much money in any logical sense to do this? Sure. Did we loose money on the campaign because of it? Not at all – we still did fine. Will we make any more boxes like this? We might get more boxes of a similar design to sell empty to MtG and other CCG players – it would work great for Commander and Cube MtG in particular.

Were there surprise down-sides? Yup.

We had some logistics issues catch us off guard. When you make such a premium looking box, some backers will see any blemish as a “damaged product.” Normally, when a product is damaged in shipping, it’s the shipper’s responsibility, but that doesn’t work in the real world like it should so we had to eat the cost to send replacements to people who requested them. We had to replace some boxes that had very minor scuffs (as well as some truly mangled ones) – and then ship these large items out to backers, some of them overseas (ouch!). And while this was our highest-grossing Kickstarter to date at ~$160K – it wasn’t one of those Kickstarters that had enough money sloshing around to hire outside folks to handle stuff like that, so handling those replacements fell on us (and by “us” I mean “Jordan”…sorry Jordan).

The big question: Would we do it again on an upcoming Epic PvP Kickstarter or some other Fun to 11 product? No idea. We have more ideas than time, and this box took a lot of time to get right and it introduced complexity post-shipment as well. But we know for sure that we will always be looking at ways to do more than is expected when we can for our Kickstarter backers as they provide us the fuel to make the products we want. That and our mission statement pushes us to make products we are very proud of.

Footnote: Fun to 11’s ability to do things like free $40 boxes is unusual because of who we are (people with day jobs and working spouses who don’t need to take a salary from Fun to 11 to make ends meet). If our goal was to grow Fun to 11 into a powerhouse game company (a fine goal for sure!), we probably would not have gone as overboard on that box as we did. Instead, we would have invested that money in some other way. Maybe some day, we’ll have different plans for Fun to 11, but for now it really is more fun for us to do what we do for love not money.

.gif image in this blog was swiped from the awesome folks at Geekdad. They made it for their review of Epic PvP: Fantasy, which you can find here.

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Exploding Kittens – Realistic Financials

I felt the “Nobody is Getting Rich From Exploding Kittens” by Ben Kuchera article needs a full detailed response.

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I don’t want to get into the “does the amount of money they make qualify them as ‘rich’” – that’s a personal definition. Personally, I want these Exploding Kitten guys to get rich as hell from this. The fact that they can make money this way is a great sign for the future of creativity.

I’m also not going to get into “are these guys abusing Kickstarter?” (because that’s a stupid question).

I do however want to get into the math at work here, because frankly either they are getting terrible advice or they are getting ripped off by somebody.

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Math is my favorite

First some bonafides. I have done (directly or with partners) more than 10 kick starters. None were the size of Exploding Kittens, but I get how they work. I’ve also been involved in the tabletop game biz for 20 years, focused mostly on cards. I’ve managed CCG brands that have printed tens of millions of cards a year, and was working at WotC when we were printing 1 Billion Pokemon cards a month, and was the game designer for Bakugan which also printed hundreds of millions of cards. I have seen production and logistics at just about every level when it comes to games – specifically card games. When I made a Facebook comment about how I thought the numbers in the article were wrong, the first response I got was “I agree with Luke” and it was from the guy who was the global Brand Manager for Magic the Gathering for years. Most would agree that this is a topic I can speak on with some authority.

Enough of that, on to some math…

I’m going to make some assumptions here.

  1. I have quotes in hand for products I’ve worked on where high quality playing cards cost less than $.01 a card. At quantities well below what they are printing. So I’m pegging the cost of a 56 card deck at $.50.
  2. I am putting the box and rule sheet at $.60 – even with a magnetic closure. This size box is fairly standard as it hold 2 decks of cards.
  3. The article has $3 for shipping, that’s what I’ll use (although that seems high, more on that later).
  4. The backers are being charged extra for international shipping, so I’m going to assume that they did their math right on extra fees and it is a wash.
  5. IMPORTANT: I am NOT calculating any add-ons (which, by the nature of shipping, are actually more profitable). I’m ONLY using Base game and NSFW game backing numbers. So my total KS income number is only $7.4M, not the almost $8.8M they raised. I’ll adjust back up at the end.
  6. I’m using $1.50 as a fulfillment amount. Shipping 200K packages gives you a lot of pull with fulfillment organizations.
  7. I put in $100K of freight – This is a spitball number. I think AdMagic prints in the US though, so if most of their backers are in the US, this could be high.
  8. I’m assuming zero overage (extra copies printed for retail sale). I know this is unrealistic, but I don’t know their plan after launch. Also, the article was about the Kickstarter, not afterwards (that overage would be an asset anyway).
  9. I’m assuming 3% overage for customer service.
  10. I have no idea about this mysterious extra gift. I don’t know if $3 is a good price for it or not. So I’m leaving it off to start and I’ll adjust at the end.
  11. I’m adding in an addition $50K of misc expenses to cover warehousing and other stuff.

Using those assumptions… (and rounding expenses up a bit and revenue down a bit to be conservative)

Topline Revenue – $7.4M
Revenue after KS fees (est. 9%) – $6.75M
Printing – $350K
Frieght – $100K
Shipping – $655K
Fulfilment – $330K
Misc – $50K

Pre-tax revenue $5.26M

Now, what is missing from this number?

The biggest question mark/missing data point is that I only gave them credit for $7.4M in top-line Kickstarter sales. They actually had 18% more than that. Part of that extra was add-ons (extra money!) and part of that was what they charged for shipping outside of the US. I have no idea how much is for each. I”m going to assume an even split, so $5.74M

They have that mysterious “extra thing” and I have no idea how to account for it. The article says it’ll cost 3$-4$ and it ships with every package. It doesn’t look like it will effect shipping based on the image on the site. Let’s assume it cost $3.50 and each backer gets one and it doesn’t effect shipping cost. So -$770K gets us to ~ $5M.

They might also have signed up with one of those backer-kit type organizations without properly negotiating – some of those take a % of the amount you raised on KS as their fee. I hope they didn’t do that! They should do a custom solution – it’ll pay for itself and more with late add-ons and avoided fees.

I didn’t put in money for folks they hire to take care of stuff related to the campaign. I think it’s a great idea for them to do so, but I have no visibility into that. This would include experts in games and game production, but also lawyers and accountants.

I also didn’t put any money into this calculation based on any investment they make in the future of the Exploding Kittens/game business.

So with those caveats, how confident am I in this $5M pre-tax number? I’m very confident that it is no more than +/- 10%. That’s if I ran the business (or anyone else who has had similar experience). Now they might have made some choices that are not financial (which is totally fine), like maybe they are determined to use one US printer out of patriotism. That will effect their bottom line a lot – although even doubling the printing cost would only drop them to $5M pre-tax.

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Some Suggestions and other bits…

  1. At printing quantities this high, they should consider printing at more than one location. Print their European product in Europe, their Australian/Japanese/etc… product in China, and their US product in the US. Unit costs do go down when you print a lot, but they don’t go down much once you get to 30-50,000 units. This would save them a bunch on freight and shipping, and would make for easier and faster local fulfillment – a real win/win. This could even turn some of those “extra shipping fees” that they charged into profit.
  2. They should bid out their fulfillment and shipping. UPS for instance lowers shipping rates based on how many packages you ship. If you are shipping 100K packages in the US from their base in Memphis, you might see tremendous savings on both fulfillment fees and shipping. And if you look above, those are actually your largest expenses.
  3. When the article says “we’re printing almost a million decks of cards” I’m going to assume they are counting each NSFW product they print as 2 decks. If that is not the case and you are overprinting by 500K sellable units, they should stop now and talk to someone about inventory management. Right away. No reason in the world to have more than 25K units in a warehouse at any time. If they are printing that many because they are pre-sold to retailers already, then good on them!

The main mistake of the previous article, and the big lesson here is that Exploding Kittens is one of those rare and wonderful campaigns that has gotten so big that it has left the realm of Kickstarter best practices for production and logistics and entered the large publishing world. If they operate appropriately, they should be able to deliver a tremendous product experience to their fans and make a crap-ton of money. If they just follow what has been done before than I don’t think they will have fully embraced just how different and wonderful Exploding Kittens really is.

If you have experience with this volume of production, I’d love your opinion on my numbers. I’m happy to adjust to get them more accurate.

Airport Kickstarter-ing

So a BHAG is supposed to be hard, that’s the idea. And let me tell you, 12 Kickstarters in 12 months is certainly hitting the goal of being Hard.

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The last few weeks I’ve spent prepping the Castle Dice Expansion Kickstarter, shipping the Meeple Decks (early! Bam!), and trying to figure out what is going on after the Castle Dice expansion.

If that was all I had to do, it would all be possible to plan it all out and get on a hard schedule. But life has a way of throwing curves…

Shipping

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Shipping the Meeple Decks with Shopstarter has been a learning curve, and honestly, the software is missing some key features. But slow and steady wins the race when it comes to shipping, so I just try to get our 20-30 packages a day while I keep making progress in other areas. A few of the add-ons are slowing a few packages out, and only about 80% of the backers have filled out their surveys, but I’m still way ahead of schedule on these. One of the benefits of being good at production (thanks Jordan!) is that it gives you some breathing room when it comes to shipping. I even had time to send out a set of “test” packages to make sure my shipping choices were going to work before I worked on the bulk of the packages.

Castle Dice Expansion

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Been working hard with Jay on getting this expansion ready to launch on Kickstarter. Castle Dice is really dear to me so even more than normal, I’m worried about the campaign before it even launches. Being an expansion is going to make it challenging. I’m hoping to get a lot more people to try the base game through the campaign as it’ll help fund the expansion. Fun to 11 doesn’t have great retail penetration, so hopefully all the good reviews I’m putting gin the campaign will really help expose the game to more players.

I was ready to hit “Launch” on Friday when one of the partners in Fun to 11 (Kai) pretty much told me that was a stupid idea – launching a campaign on Friday is apparently bad. So I decided to hold off until Monday. Of course, Monday I was planning on being in Kansas City starting a drive from there back to central PA with my step mom. Launching a Kickstarter from the road is not something that I think most would recommend. But I’ve got 12 of these things to get done, and delays are not tolerable. So, the plan was “Fly to Kansas on Sunday, launch on Monday.” Then weather happened, and I ended up getting stuck in the Chicago airport overnight. This was my bed last night…

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(If my grammar is bad on this post, I blame this)

Right now I’m still in Chicago waiting to get on a plane to Kansas City. I’ll probably launch the Castle Dice campaign from the airport in Kansas City. That will be a new one for me for sure! I’ll monitor the campaign from the road and see what I can do to build momentum.

The Next Campaign

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I had another product lined up, but the developer has fallen off the planet as far as I can tell. Pretty frustrating actually as we had already started getting artwork done. If I don’t hear from him this week, I’ll have to move up one of my other ideas, which honestly aren’t’ that flushed out yet (no printer quotes, etc…). So the next few weeks look to be quite busy for me. I also have a wedding to go to in Seattle, which should be a nice break and give me time to get some work done on the long flights. Plus, the guy getting married might be working with me on one of my BHAG campaigns… (always hustling 🙂 )

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Luke –

…Oh look, my next flight was just cancelled… maybe I’ll be launching from Chicago after all…

3rd Party Backer Solutions

I was planning on doing a blog on videos this week, but as with many things this year, something else jumped in front of the queue – picking a backer interaction solution.

Kickstarter is an amazing platform. It is clearly one of the business revolutions of our time. That said, it is not Microsoft or Apple. It is an odd bird.

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For a tech company it is not in the same league revenue-wise with companies that have 1/100th the social or business impact. There is a loooong blog entry I can do there, but I’ll summarize that KS is not the type of company that many think it is and it’s not minting an army of millionaires and spewing cash all over the place. The venture capital backers that put $10M in to KS in 2009 would have likely made a better return if they invested their money in the Dow Jones Index at this point.

This is all my nice way of saying “don’t be surprised if KS doesn’t do everything perfectly for your venture.” And one area they are sadly lacking in is creator support AFTER funding. The model now is that you send a survey through KS asking for needed info to get rewards to backers and that is it. The survey is lacking in features and you can only send it once. Just recently KS made it so backers can update their address responses after the survey is filled out (people move). This is a nice feature, but it’s one creators have been waiting for – for a long time.

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In the vacuum of proper support, some creators have created custom software that allows them to better communicate with their backers when campaigns end. And since smaller companies don’t have the resources to custom build software, 3rd party solutions have popped up to help small and mid-sized companies. These solution-companies offer a variety of services, but to creators the most important are these;

1)    Get out of the Kickstarter survey system. Instead of having backers fill out information on the KS survey, the only bit of info you need is their email address. Then, you can send the backers a custom survey through the 3rd party solution.

2)    Ability to handle changes. Once the backer is in the system, they can change their reward selection at any time. This is particularly helpful with add-ons offered during the campaign.

3)    Make shipping easier. Many of these programs can output directly to thermal shipping label printers and some connect to on-line postage offerings like stamps.com. Some can print out “pick and pack” slips as well which is super helpful for complicated campaigns with lots of options. Some even have custom outputs for popular 3rd party fulfillment houses (fulfillment houses actually DO your shipping for you, at a cost of around $2 a package + shipping cost)

4)    Up-Sell. This is probably the most important feature. It allows your backers to RAISE their pledge level and add to their order. The things you upsell can be from your campaign or from previous campaigns (or really anything). Big campaigns can end up with 15-30% of their total revenue coming from these up-sells – they are a BIG deal for lots of people.

5)    Backer Management. Most of these services offer much better management tools than KS. This includes immediately after your campaign and at other points during your fulfillment timeline. In addition, they offer good ways to let your backers connect with your company through mailing lists and other methods so you can keep in touch with backers who hopefully will become life-long customers.

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These 3rd party solutions cost money to use, but you hope to make it up in saved time and most importantly with up-sells. There are four different “moments” when you could be charged with a fee.

Fee #1 – Set-Up: Most are free, but at least one charges a set-up fee to even start.

Fee #2 – % of Money Raised on KS: Some charge 1% for money you already raised on KS. This is basically a fee to use a better tool.

Fee #3 – % of Money Raised after the KS: This is money from add-on and up-sells that you get when you send your survey. In addition to the fee from the 3rd party, there is a fee for credit card handling. Most use a charge solution called Stripe which charges 2.9% + $.30 per charge. As Amazon – the default payment solution through KS – charges about 4%, this seems very reasonable. It’ll be a bit more expensive on smaller charges (less than $25), and bit less on larger ones (more than $25), but it’s close.

Fee #4 – Web Sales: Some solutions go a step further and create a web-store for you along with blog widgets and other tools that allow you to take orders completely outside of the KS system. This is good for folks who missed backing both prior to shipping KS and after. This charge is usually equal to the % money raised after KS fee above.

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For my BHAG, I was going to use the standard KS system for my first project as a baseline. After some thought, I realized that I’ve already done that several times, so I decided it was time to try out a 3rd party solution. I had sort of decided on BackerKit – it has the widest name recognition in the circles I run with and it seems to do what I need. But right before I was about to hit “go” they announced that they were raising their “Fee #3 and #4” to 5%. That is as much as KS charges, and while I see the logic of them charging what KS charges as we’ve all built those fees into our businesses as “acceptable”, it just felt high to me. While BackerKit does offer value which they should charge for, I don’t see that value equal to what Kickstarter brings to the table, so why should I pay as much?

So I went looking at options. What became quickly apparent is BackerKit is not the right choice for me. For every fee type, they are the highest or tied for the highest. If fact, they are the ONLY one I found with a set-up fee ($300). And just as importantly, nothing they offered was unique as far as I can tell.

Backer kit charges $300 set-up, 1% of KS money, and 5% of after KS money.

There are new options entering the fray all the time. I looked seriously at 5 systems. I explored their set-up tools, starting campaigns with each, and examined features. One was too limited as it didn’t replace the KS survey. BackerKit got the boot for being too expensive. The other Three I looked at were Celery, ShopStarter, and Fundafull. I had to pick one to use of course, but after looking them over, I can say that all three are excellent choices. They all use Stripe for payments. They all essentially replace the KS survey. They all allow for add-ons and up-sells as well as handling new backers/customers after the KS ends. None charge an up-front fee, and the fees they did charge were all in the same ballpark.

Let’s look at the fee differences…

ShopStarter: No fee on KS raised money, 2.1% on money from add-ons/upsells/other

Celery: No fee on KS raised money, 2% on money from add-ons/upsells/other

Fundafull: 1% on KS raised money, 1% on money from add-ons/upsells/other

Some individual notes. This isn’t meant to include everything, as there are a lot of features in these software packages, these are just some things that stuck out for me.

Shopstarter. Easy to set-up everything. I like how they are set-up to print on a Dyno 450 thermal label printer. This printer is sort of a standard in the business and it doesn’t use ink! It doesn’t print large enough labels for USPS (stamps.com), but for the smaller stuff from my first two campaigns, it would be helpful.

Celery: Big benefit here is that it can take PayPal. That’s kinda huge. They also have widgets that you can add to blogs to sell product. If I was hosting my WordPress blog with another service, this would have been enough for me to choose it I think (you can’t add widgets on wordpress when you host with them – security issues).

Fundafull: This one is different. On one hand the on-line tools are not as slick. They also have a $250 minimum, so if your campaign isn’t $25K, they might not be the right choice (they are willing to work with you on this as they are new and are looking for traction – so it’s worth asking). However, for folks that run multiple campaigns, there is a feature here that I think is super killer. You can do your data entry with excel (or any .csv file). You’ll need to be just a little tech savvy, but there just isn’t a comparison – it is sooooo much easier to enter data this way than any of the other on-line methods. Fundafull feels like “a hard working guy making a great functional tool” while the other ones feel like they are led by brand manager types (this is not a smack down against Brand Manager types – I was one for years).

One feature that ALL of these products shared was surprisingly excellent customer service. They were all quick to get back to me and helpful with questions.

All three of these would be fine choices. I’m going to start with ShopStarter as it seemed the easiest to set-up. If I had just a bit more time or was a bit more tech savvy, I would have picked Fundafull. If my blog was hosted somewhere else, it would have been Celery. Depending on how the year goes, I may try a few different ones out later to compare them in actual use.

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Update on Existing Projects

Meeple Playing Cards: Way ahead of schedule production wise – should give me time to ship comfortably. At the printer now.

How to Human: We tested out two different card stocks, made our choice, and then ordered our print run. Again, ahead of schedule!

Miskatonic School for Girls – The Holiday Break Expansion: Campaign is waiting for approval from KS. Hope to have it live this week – even though most of Fun to 11 will be at PAX!

Castle Dice – More Castles! Expansion: All the “people art” is complete, now we’re working on the “castle bits” art.

Zombie Princess – Drawings in process. The designer of this game is external and he leads a very important/hectic life outside of game design, so this one is limited in how fast we can move. A really fun game though that I’m excited to be part of sharing with the world.

 

 

 

 

 

The Least Interesting, but Maybe the Most Important Post of the Year.

How did I spend last week? What great work did I do to keep the wheels churning on my creative-output-enhancing BHAG? I did taxes.

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To be clear, I didn’t DO the taxes, I use an accountant for that. What I did was untangle a more-complicated-than-it-should-be year of financial data so that what I turn over will be checked and double checked. If you think taxes take a long time, try getting audited.

In 2013 I did consulting for toy and computer game companies through Geek Dynasty (never simple when it comes to taxes). I also was a majority owner of Fun to 11 where we continued to do Kickstarter released games and sell those games through distribution and at trade shows.

My record keeping is very good, but due to a few missing statements, getting it all organized was a huge PITA. I also utilize cash based accounting which caused me confusion with regard to credit card expenses (“do they go in the year where I charged, or the year where I paid the credit card bill”).

Anyway, the long and short of the week was that I spent basically 1 day on Kickstarter related stuff, and 4+ days on taxes. I have one more tax day left, then probably a couple of meetings with the accountant before it will all be done.

When you engage in Kickstarter, there are many product related issues that can cause delays; customs, slow artists, printer issues, etc… But there are many – MANY – non-product related issues. Some of these are personal (“my kids soccer team is going to the state championships!”), and some are like taxes.

It is important to leave room for those non-product-related delays. They will happen. Some like taxes you’ll think “I should have known that was coming up” but others like the soccer example are pure life randomness. Also, understand that if you have a team working on your project, any one member of the team can cause delays with non-product-related issues. The larger the team, the MORE of a risk this is. With a large team, your risk of having folks quit mid-project is also much higher as some members of the team will not have the same sense of loyalty to the project/backers as the creator. Even if a team member is “loyal,” he/she might have an opportunity present itself that is so good that turning it down would be downright irresponsible for them and/or their family (“good” in this example might even be external to your team member, like a spouse who takes a job in another state).

Being late on a KS tends to snowball. Once you have to start dealing with angry backers, your lose even more control over the situation. Time spent stamping out fires grows, and your once loyal team members get itchy to move on. What should have been a 1 month delay turns into a 4 month delay.

This leads to the most relevant advice I can give this week, and perhaps the most important of the year…

Pad. Your. Schedule.

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Project Updates

Meeple Deck: Several rounds of back and forth with the printer. All moving ahead well.

How to Human: We hit the stretch goal for adding Level Up! AFTER the campaign closed (we let PayPal donations count towards the goal). Jordan has started turning the graphics into a PDF file, which I expect we’ll be delivering in 2-3 weeks. I still need to get the rules document done and edited which always takes longer than you think it should.

For the main deliverable we had an issue come up where our contact at the POD printer went on a long vacation, but our schedule can handle it.

Upcoming Project Prep Work: Fun to 11 has three KS campaigns planned for 2014. The first one up requires a good bit of pre-work with a printer. Basically, we’re doing a kind of printing we’ve never done before, so it’s taking more back and forth on quotes than I would consider standard. If all goes well, we should be up by the middle-end of March. I’m looking forward to this campaign as it’s a test of a very interesting theory IMO.

Final Push – Bailiff, break out the Right Guard

Final 28 hours of the Meeple Playing Card KS campaign. How does it look? 83% there, and I’m 90% towards a coronary.

Stress

There is sort of a general assumption with a Kickstarter project – you get a 1/3rd your backers in the first few days. 1/3rd in the slow middle, and `1/3rd in the final push. I can’t rely on this for the Meeple deck for two reasons.

1)    Total number of backers is low at about 205. The final push 1/3rd assumption is based in a lot of ways on getting your current backers to get real “viral” and that requires a certain density of backers to create compelling social noise. 200-ish could too few for that.

2)    Because this is a re-launched campaign, it got an artificially fast start. I got most of the backers from the first launch to jump on very early in this campaign. Expecting an end with the same vigor is probably misplaced hope.

Most of the stats on Kickstarter programs say that if you get to 50% of the target, you almost always make it. This campaign might buck that trend, which in a lot of ways makes it more interesting to me. It brings up some interesting questions. The two I’ve been dealing with today are “Straw-Man money” and “what WON’T I do to make my campaign hit it’s goal?”

What I’m Not Willing to Do

When your campaign is close, it’s easy to get tempted to do things that you find annoying when other people do them. Because I knew marketing would suffer by trying to do 12 campaigns in a year, I really feel this pressure today. One of the things that normally bugs me is when other campaigns ask me to do a “cross-pitch.” In almost all of those offers, it’s someone I don’t know with a very small campaign asking for help from a very successful campaign. Often those small campaigns are for really inferior products.

I’ve been asked probably 100 times for a cross-promotion on previous campaigns, and I’ve done it exactly twice. In those two cases, I felt like the project I was asked to cross-promote was both really good (something I would/did back), and appropriate for the folks who likely backed whatever I was doing at the time. And both times, the person who asked didn’t do it with a form letter that was obviously spammed to every other project in the category.

Today I was tempted to be that guy and send out 50 form emails to anyone who has ever done a playing card release. I decided not to go that route (I just couldn’t be ‘that guy’). But I did cross promote to two previous groups that I had personally sold too: The backers of the Miskatonic School for Girls, and Castle Dice games. I owed both of those groups an update on expansions anyway and I felt like since it was me again, it wasn’t too spammy.

I also requested a shout out from one very well known playing card creator/group called Uusi. I not only backed their awesome Pagan cards when they came out, but after sharing it on Facebook, so did one of my sisters. Their campaign was a real motivator for us, and as our styles couldn’t be more different, I felt like they wouldn’t look at us as any sort of competitor. I have no idea if they’ve shared the link, but I didn’t feel bad asking.

Straw-Man Money?

The tougher question that comes up now though regards “Straw-Man” money. KS has a policy that you can’t contribute to your own campaign. But it is a very common practice for folks to do this through a friend or relative. Some folks put this Straw-Man money into their campaigns at the beginning in hopes of getting a big boost that feeds on itself, and later they take the money out. Check out this graph:

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 12.25.51 PM

This project had a $10K goal. And amazingly, on day 1 a single person dropped $10K into the campaign… odd that… Then after the campaign had reached a level of success that allowed it, and just 8 days before the end, that backer left and took the $10K with him/her. That at least LOOKS a lot like Straw-Man money.

The other main use of Straw-Man money is to get a campaign to “just fund.” This is very common in certain areas of KS – just look at how many 100% funded kids books there are on KS. This is a pretty logical thing to do because not everyone running a KS campaign needs every single dollar to make their project a reality. Some people use KS just as a way to get some pre-sales on a project they are going to release anyway. Some folks use KS as a way to raise “all the money they can’t afford to put in themselves” as well.

For the Meeple Deck, I have an Underfund Goal (a goal amount that won’t totally cover all of my expenses). I didn’t do that as a marketing trick, but because I fully expect to sell a lot of these decks at gaming conventions and I’m fortunate to be in a situation where I can invest a couple thousand dollars in inventory. So, should I put in a  few hundred more dollars to make it fund? eek…

In 27 hours, I may come face-to-face with the Straw-Man decision to get the project funded. Right now, I’m torn. I’ve got a lot on my plate and having one less thing to produce this year wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. This year isn’t about going 12-for-12 on my Kickstarters – it’s about trying hard. But over the course of trying hard on this one, I think I’m falling in love with the idea somewhat irrationatly. I really really like these cards.

I have two more tricks up my sleeve that I’m going to try out before the end of the campaign and hopefully, they will eliminate the need for me to even make the call. I did make a promise to myself to be totally honest on this blog, so whatever happens, you’ll find the truth here.

Next Up: Fallout

Making History – Blank Paper to Funded Kickstarter in 44 hours

Last weekend, three of my good friends (Jordan, Rob, and Ali) and I took part in the “Global Game Jam.” A Game Jam is an event where the participants have a goal of creating a game in a limited amount of time. Most Game Jams come with a “prompt” – something that is supposed to be the core idea or inspiration for the game. You aren’t given the prompt until the clock starts, so you can’t cheat and design your game before you get there.

The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is one of the biggest with more than 20,000 jammers in 600+ locations all over the world. We went to the Harrisburg University site (I do some teaching there). While the vast majority of participants are there to make digital games, we wanted to make an analog game AND get it on Kickstarter before the end of the 48 hour event.

Why do this? Well, I think that digital designers need to see the value of analog design first hand. In the time it took the rest of the jammers to make partial rough mock-ups of ideas, we were going to take our product all the way to the consumer market through Kickstarter. I felt like leading by example for these kids – many of whom I’ve taught in class – would be good for them.

But mostly, we did it because it was going to be really hard and no one had ever done it before. It was our chance, to make Game Jam and Kickstarter history.

So we prepared as best we could – put together our game design kits, art kits, supplies, and Jordan created some blank graphic design templates for various types of products we might make (cards, books, etc…). I talked with the folks at Kickstarter to clear the way for a super fast campaign, which they were very kind to allow.

At the beginning of the GGJ, we got our prompt:

GGJ prompt

We each then had 10 minutes to come up with a game concept. We agreed that we would limit ourselves to a game that could be done with high quality print on demand. Our group went with Robs idea – a game where monsters were trying to pass as human. Then we were off to the races. With very little sleep, some BBQ, and a few moments of real creative brilliance, We beat even our own internal goal.

We went from a blank sheet to a LIVE Kickstarter campaign – complete with a funny animated video, art, etc… in less than 24 hours with a game we really like. This tweet from the GGJ organizers had us cheering out loud.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 11.00.25 AM

Our goal was just $500. We could keep the goal low as we were going to use Print on Demand. While the goal is low, so was the price to get the game – just $4. That meant we’d still need to get quite a few backers to fund, but we had also just committed probably the biggest error you can make in a KS campaign – we didn’t do any pre-marketing. Most Kickstarter campaigns don’t launch until the creators have worked hard to create a lot of excitement – ensuring that the launch of the campaign will be good. We had none of that due to the fact we didn’t know what we were even going to make 24 hours earlier.

So in addition to continuing to work on the game – we had to START marketing our newly launched campaign. We did what we could with social media to share our excitement for what we were doing and surprisingly, backers started to find us. 4 hours before the GGJ ended Rob got to tweet this (retweeted by the GGJ staff).

GGJ funded Tweets

Hard to fully express how awesome this felt. Literally a blank page to a funded Kickstarter in less than 48 hours. Are we going to make lots of money on this? Nope – If How to Human ever shows up at retail, it’ll probably have to cost at least DOUBLE what we’re charging. But we didn’t do this to make money, we did this because it was hard and we wanted a challenge. This might not make sense to everyone, but the 4 of us are gamers – people who expose themselves to challenges for fun – and we now get to file How to Human under the category “epic win.”

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Quick check on campaigns.

How to Human – Going well. 300% funded. Looking into seeing if we can do the first printing by a larger printer instead of a POD printer. If we reach those minimums, we can start adding physical stretch goals – but even if we can’t we have some unique stretch goal options available to us.

Meeple Deck – It’s in the stagnant period before the final push. I’m a little worried about this one. I hope we can get some momentum soon or it might end up just short. On the good side I just received an email from a wholesaler who is in interested in helping out.

Next Post: Final Push