Designing for Kickstarter: Kickstarting the Easy Way
Updated: Jul 20
Running a Kickstarter is a very specific skill and its hard to learn without doing, if you’re putting a game onto Kickstarter its entirely possible that you don’t have that skill, hopefully though you do have the skill of designing games. Plenty of designers have a single idea which is their passion and their baby and that’s great, but this blog won’t be of much help to them. However, if you have a range of prototypes that you’re considering and you’re flexible on your game’s content and nature this might be helpful since its suggesting how you can design to increase your chances of Kickstarter success.
Why You Should Redesign
Increase your chances of Kickstarter success
If you’re a game designer rather than an artist or a miniatures sculptor then the main thing your skill can effect are the mechanics and game content of your game. Using that to widen your games appeal, make it clearer on a first notice and attract backers will increase your chances of success.
Making you a more marketable designer
If you’re looking to be a professional games designer then at some point it might be nice if a publisher offers you a job. If you’ve learnt to design to pressures other than whatever you want you’ll have some of the tools to design and develop for them should it ever happen.
Making you a better designer with a better game
Designing to a set of strictures will make you a better designer and usually make your game better. This isn’t always true but generally, especially as a first time designer ideas can be a little baggy if allowed to run to their own whims, having a scaffold of rules to rub up against and build around will often make such games better. They don’t have to be these rules but some rules that you didn’t necessarily set yourself can be a good idea.
How You Should Re-design
The wider your player count the better, but not so wide that people believe you’re a liar or an idiot. So, for that first part if you have a range of prototypes aim to develop the one with the widest player count. However, it is worth remembering that a 2-player count is probably more valuable that 6 so 2-4 is preferable to 3-6, for example. Essentially anyone who can play with four or five players will sometimes want to play with two but some people who play two players will never play with five. Single player count is an increasingly popular choice, particularly on Kickstarter, but single player fans know what they’re looking for so be ready to answer questions if your game uses AI or other methods to allow single players. Unless you’re designing a party game there is a law of diminishing returns as player counts grow, six is probably the top to aim for, especially if extra player counts result in additional components. Clearly there are certain designs that cannot have their player count bought up or down, but fewer than you might think, even auction games can be effectively adjusted for two players. Either way try to avoid offering player number extensions as paid add-ons, stretch goals are more acceptable but it should really be standard if offered.
As for people not thinking you’re an idiot, make sure your player count is realistic for the game you’re presenting. Short of something like a multi-player solitaire such as a roll and write claims of player counts over twenty will probably attack your own credibility even if you’re presenting a party game or social deduction. Eurogames that offer player counts above seven will actually put off some backers as suggesting a designer who hasn’t sufficiently play tested their game at all levels or a game that lacks real depth.
As a rule of thumb then, aim for as close as possible to a 1-5 player count for most games and 3-12 for party games. Justify claims for one or two player counts on games that might otherwise not suggest them and clearly explain how a game supports any outlandishly extended player counts.
The components your game contains can sit on a slightly odd tipping point where a medium level of components is generally a bad idea. Personally, I try to have the least components possible to get the game working, when I realized that a 24-card marketplace worked better than a 30-card one in Moonflight I was overjoyed. If you’re not planning to put in unique or must have components then stripping back to the minimum without effecting the play experience is to be aimed for because every element you pull out lowers your unit price and so your final goal and raises your chance of Kickstarter success. If a deck can be a few cards less or a mechanic can be operated without tokens design your way to the lower component version.
That said, if your game has sufficient components to necessarily push it over a £30 unit price you’re probably sitting on the tipping point and you might want to consider extra high grade components. Generally, it seems like up to the £30 (Or $40) level people are looking for a game with cards and counters and game play or interesting mechanics. Once you tip over that level people are more and more likely to be looking for what weight of goodies they get in the box so ironically past that point you might want to look to what components can be included to answer that question. As a rule of thumb, zero miniatures is a good choice, ten or more miniatures is a good choice, four or five miniatures and you won’t impress the higher bracket backers and you’ll alienate the lower bracket ones. Clearly there are exceptions and if you can get those minis in without breaking the price bracket then brilliant but be aware that just a few minis is probably worse for your chances of backing than none at all.
So generally, if you’re not jamming a £40 box full of juicy components, look to edit out or re-design peripheral rules that add in additional decks of cards or punch board sheets, lower your unit price and raise your odds of backing.
Theme, specific, but not too much
Theme is an oddly tricky fish, much like genre mechanics (more on that in a second). Theme can attract audiences and some themes will have people backing without really looking at your project but at the same time themes can put people off. Your game has to have a theme, because even pure abstract is its own theme with its own fans and detractors but be careful how you choose it and how strongly you present it.
Horror is a very popular theme, but extremely divisive since some players simply will not go near horror themes for a range of reasons so try to be clear within the genre what you’re offering, body horror or gore can be vastly different from psychological horror. SSO has a sci-fi horror theme partly because 2001: A Space Odyssey is a horror film, but players understand and accept different things from 2001 as opposed to Aliens.
So, find a theme and if possible section it down enough that fans of that theme will respect that you understand it rather than that you’re just skinning it over your design. On the other hand don’t focus too exclusively such as to put off people not interested in your specific theme. If you can avoid themes that will actively put some people off, the ideal theme is one that some people love and nobody hates. Good luck with finding it.
Similar to themes mechanics have their own audiences, worker placement, deck builders or area control all have players who will be attracted by those phrases.
Firstly, don’t be afraid of explaining your game in terms of existing games and mechanics. Many designers want to present their game as being totally unique, this is not generally a great idea, people like to understand roughly what they’re getting into and will be happy and reassured by a set mechanic holding their hands. On the other hand very few ideas are totally unique any more in any field and claiming that they are will generally make people assume you’re not sure what you’re talking about.
Secondly, if you are going to design in a particular mechanic understand that mechanic in depth, understand what its fans like and what they want to see. When I decided to design Moonflight I knew what a deckbuilder audience wanted to see but I still went through looking into the field. I was delighted to find that culling mechanics (which Moonflight is built on) is a hugely popular mechanic.
Thirdly, setting your game into a genre mechanic has a very effective game design advantage since it saves you cognitive load. Related to that it saves you ‘advertising load’ on Kickstarter. That is to say, when explaining the rules of Moonflight I have saved myself cognitive load on my target audience by saying that the first half of the game is a traditional deck builder because a lot of people know what that means but when I mention it in my Kickstarter campaign those same people will be on board with my explanation. The most necessary and draining part of most Kickstarter pages is explaining how your game works, you just want to talk about its greatest hits but if your backers don’t know how they get there they will be put off, by explaining the first part of that journey with reference to established mechanics you can skip a lot of boring stuff on your Kickstarter page and get to the good bit.
The problem is, of course, making just another blah blah. So figure out how you deviate from your genre mechanic and why it’s an improvement then present it clearly and with passion. In short, try to find a real deviation from an existing popular genre mechanic, and don’t be afraid of placing yourself in a certain ‘Pigeon Hole’. The fact is that people find categories comforting and re-assuring, especially when they’re putting up money for a game they can’t see or test before purchase.