Kickstarting the Easy Way: Heart of the Kickstarter
Updated: Jan 21
An enormous amount of digital ink has been split on how to set up and run a Kickstarter and a great deal of it is very useful and should be read by people who are about to attempt a Kickstarter. However, relatively little has been written about the emotional roller coaster that Kickstarting entails. I suspect this is because this is seen as an area that little practical advice can be given about but I'm not so certain. Ultimately, the practical elements of a Kickstarter are possible to foresee with sufficient attention to detail but the emotions and the mistakes they may encourage you to make are more likely to blindside people. The other possible reason less has been written on this subject is a perception that emotionally people are more varied and unique than they are practically. I would suggest that in actuality there is hugely more variation in the practicalities of Kickstarter campaigns which can vary just in the boardgame section from a £10 card deck independent to a £100 established company big box game.
There are roughly 4 categories of emotion waiting for you during a Kickstarter, happy excited (or panicked, your standard state for most of the campaign), happy relaxed (when you actually back), pure panic and self-doubt. I want to talk about those last two to reassure people both that they are normal and to warn against the poor decisions they can lead to.
Preview: It is vital that you share your Kickstarter preview page as widely and repeatedly as you can possibly manage without spamming. This is for two reasons, firstly to get useful, constructive advice about things you can change before you launch, and secondly to raise awareness of your campaign. However, doing so opens you to stranger's comments when you are at your most vulnerable. Once you've launched and have some backers who have paid you their hard earned money for what you've made they will form a sort of emotional shield against criticism, but at this point it is hard to get out of your head the possibility that literally no-body wants to buy your baby. The advice you will get will vary from the useful and practical through the useful and impractical to the useless and impractical. Knowing the difference is difficult but you will suffer self-doubt over every choice you have made thus far and panic over trying to fix things, this is normal, remain calm. There are no hard and fast rules about which advice to follow and which to ignore, although repetition is a good sign that you should listen, there are two general suggestions that will come up and that emotions can play a dangerous part in your decision to follow.
Spend More Money: Someone at some point will essentially suggest you spend more money; commission more illustrations, spend more money; get advertising, spend more money; stick in miniatures, spend more money. Spend more money is always good advice to get a Kickstarter campaign that backs, just not one that backs in profit, and good advice if all campaigns are created equal, but they're not. You have a budget, a projected goal, projected profit, potential goal and potential profit none of which your well meaning advisers are aware of. It can be very easy at this stage to spend more money than your campaign could ever raise. Spending money while emotional in a business deal is never a great idea, whatever advice you get, don't spend cash on your campaign after posting your preview you didn't intend to spend before posting it.
Slip Your Release Date: Every Kickstarter preview advice thread I've ever seen eventually contained the suggesting that the campaign drop its release date back. Extra time is always good advice, you're setting your own deadline anyway and more time is free. There's always something that needs doing, and that's the problem, there will literally always be a reason to drop the date back and if you never launch you're highly unlikely to back. That aside there are three good reasons not to drop your release date; one, you've put up some advertising, posted some statements and mentioned a likely date to people at conventions and online (please tell me you've done the rounds at conventions). People tend not to give un-launched first time Kickstarter campaigns many chances and you don't want to give the impression that you're one of the day dreamers who never launches and lose your hard work. Two, hopefully you've put months of work into this campaign at this point, so is there any very good reason to think that a few more weeks will make a significant difference, aside from because the nagging voices of self-doubt and fear of failure tell you it might? Three, you can change and update anything apart from backed pledges once you've launched. Clearly the first 24 hours of a Kickstarter are its most important, but minor problems can be ironed out once you're rolling without too much negative effect. The best reason to avoid putting back your launch date is that you set it while being your calmer, smarter, better self but your thinking of moving it in the heat of panic. Trust your better self.
The First Hours: To avoid panic in the first few hours try to have friends and colleagues poised to back as soon as you hit the launch button. Putting aside the emotional pain of a failing campaign there are still pitfalls when things are going well. Specifically, if you have limited availability pledges taking the form of increased price deluxe packages it can be easy to panic about potential lost revenue when they run out. You may find yourself tempted to come up with more and add them on, don't, for three reasons. One, your new ideas will be increasingly bad, you took your best shot designing the campaign and they were intended to run out, thank your good fortune and let it go. Two, you cannot sustain an entire campaign on limited quantity offers so best let it end with good ideas that run out than bad ideas that fail to sell. Three, most importantly, high price ticket items can give a sense of inflated success which can be dangerous if they are later adjusted downwards or even cancelled by backers in the late stages of a campaign.
The Doldrums: Your campaign will flatten off in the middle to a couple of percent a day. It is disheartening to the point of depressing but it will happen and it is fine. By this point its pretty much too late to change anything, you should pick up a few percent a day with a bump in the last days or hours. If that's definitely not enough you are in trouble but spending is unlikely to dig you out. If it is enough then try to relax and enjoy the ride.
Cancellations: You will have cancellations, they will hurt. We had 16% cancellations during our campaign, other blogs suggest an average on a successful campaign of 3-5% but either way they are an inevitable part of Kickstarter. They don't map to update posts, reminders, comments or anything else you did or could do so don't blame yourself. New backers will generally out weigh cancellations and if they don't its more usually a sign of a campaign that's going to fail anyway rather than a cause of failure. So long as you're updating regularly and responding to backer comments there is nothing you can do about these and you need to accept them as a part of life.
Incidentally, something to be prepared for is the handful of unintentional drop outs that occur post campaign. Some backers will have filled out their details incorrectly, when it comes time for Kickstarter to charge them it will fail to do so. Kickstarter will automatically mail such backers to correct their details, some will, some won't. The number should be small, we had roughly 20 when the initial attempt was made with around 5 failing to correct their details. Although the number is limited the fact that it happens post campaign can create a feeling that its another problem when you thought everything was dealt with. Conceivably if you're on a razor thin margin this could put you on a project which backed but which you don't get your goal amount of money for. I'm not aware of this ever having actually happened so its a possibility probably best not to think about. The final total without these backers will not be published by Kickstarter and won't stop your project from backing but it will slightly drop your total. Its not really something you can do anything about just something to bear in mind. On the upside we had personal mails from backers who apologised before updating their details or even who failed to do so but still wanted to back and made payment via other avenues, which was both touching and encouraging, so every cloud.
I Noticed Your Kickstarter: and I'm from a marketing company/am a marketing genius/advertising company/design company/artist/translator. I was going to back your project but can't afford to/aren't sure/don't want to/will back it as a sign of good will until you don't sign up to my service/will back it after you sign up to my service. I have tons of experience getting projects like yours to back and will get yours to back as well for only £X.
You will get mails like these, a lot, and especially during the doldrums they will look very tempting. Doubly so if you haven't backed yet or are looking like you won't back. Now, I've not used them and haven't spoken to anyone who has, so who knows maybe there is a Nigerian prince somewhere desperate to give away money but here are a few things to consider. Firstly, you're active on social media and Kickstarter, have you heard of these people, seen their work, heard of their website or newsletter? If you have good, if not, that should ring suspicions. Secondly, your most important period is the first 24 hours and you previewed, advertised and had a social media run up so where were those companies then? If they're offering services 48+ hours into your campaign its too late to help but just the right time to catch you when you're panicking. Maybe take a note for next time but not this one. Generally, avoid these mails in the middle of a campaign, store them up and research them properly for next time. To the artists, graphic designers, translators and such, we were at conventions, on facebook and running a website showing every step of development for the best part of a year. Why would you possibly think that in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign is the right time to contact us about changing things?
In short, a Kickstarter campaign is a swirling confusion of panic and doubt, you will be best served by remaining calm and relying on the choices of your better pre-Kickstarter self. Hopefully by understanding that what is happening is usual and shared it will be a little easier.
We are part of an industry and hobby populated by people not always the most eloquent or comfortable when it comes to issues of discussing emotions or mental health. In fact the reason I care about tabletop gaming is that I firmly believe that it allows those who struggle to interact due to anxiety or social confusion a framework to connect to total strangers, or sometimes, touchingly, a framework to connect to those close to them. To anybody reading this remember that you are not alone, we are a community first and foremost. There are people who have been through what you are going through, fail or succeed, willing to talk to you about it. Finally, your game is special to you and its possible failure can be alarming and distressing but try to maintain perspective. Please remember, its just a Kickstarter campaign, if it fails you can relaunch or seek other sources to get published. Nothing ever matters as much as it seems to when you're in the middle of it, and Kickstarter campaigns least of all.