Kickstarter: Little Things Not To Do
Updated: Jan 21
A Kickstarter is made up of a hundred little things. Some take two seconds to do, are totally free, and will positively affect your results, I’ll be writing about those in the next blog. Others, despite being accepted wisdom in some cases, can have at best double-edged effects and at worse are expensive for little or no appreciable change, those I’m writing about here. At core there are two things that will attract the majority of funding and backers to a project, the content of the game or product in question and the content of the Kickstarter page itself. Very little other than those two things will shift a project from failure to success or back nor from one category of success to another, focus on them and everything else will be window dressing.
Do Not Panic
This is probably obvious and easier said than done and I have previously posted a blog about the psychological pressures of running a Kickstarter but I think it’s worth taking a second to re-iterate. Running a Kickstarter is, even at its best, a psychological roller coaster. On a good solid campaign, the experience will move from one of borderline euphoria in the first few days to one where every cancellation, however minor, will feel like a dagger to the heart. As if that weren’t bad enough, there are now so many big projects that fund in the first 48 hours and advice blogs that suggest cancellation if you don’t fund in the first week, that if you haven’t backed in the first five minutes you’re going into mental meltdown.
In that vein, much of the following refers to decisions that might be taken in the middle of a campaign, decisions when you’re under that mental pressure. As a creator you will have spent weeks or months putting together both your campaign and your Kickstarter page and very little will shift its success after launch one way or another, there are exceptions, but by and large the arc of your project will have been set before you launch and your plans should have been pre-priced and set out. However, there is a lot of money that can still be spent post launch, and a lot of pressure to spend it.
The best rule to remember is that if your project is doing acceptably (by which I mean, if picking up at least 1-2% each day until the end of the campaign will see you fund) then try not to poke it around too much, and that if it’s certainly failing not a lot at the point that its running will save it. Trust to the decisions that you made while not on tilt from the emotional pressure of the campaign, trust the you who wasn’t tapping refresh on Kickstarter every ten minutes and living or dying by cancellations and new pledges. That version of you knows better than this version.
Bumping A Project
By which I’m referring to the practice of a creator bumping their own campaign, either by secondary accounts or friends and family. The reasons for so doing generally fall into:
Shoving a bit of money in on the first hours in order to provide opening momentum.
Shoving a lot of money in on the first hours to claim a ‘backed in x hours’ badge.
Shoving in some money to overcome a lull in the campaign.
Topping off a campaign that might fail otherwise.
A few of these have specific good reasons not to do them, but the biggest reason I can think of is that it tricks people into thinking your product is more expensive than it actually is. When I open a Kickstarter campaign the first thing I see, other than the banner image and the video, is how many people have backed and how much they have raised. Generally, subconsciously I roughly divide one into the other, sometimes when waiting for a video to load I do it less subconsciously. If it’s a case of option 1 or 2 above and the backers are in single figures while the amount raised is in three or four figures, I don’t need to even do it subconsciously because it’s obvious. Sometimes that division results in a number that I’m not willing to pay for any tabletop game and since its apparently the standard pledge level for the game I might as well back out and walk away right then, so I do. Specifically, though, I think that these ideas have their own flaws and question marks:
Generally this is something that I suspect makes creators feel better rather than has a significant effect on the momentum of a project. It’s horrible watching the zero backers figure, but you really should have a least a small handful of people ready to save you from that purgatory before launch. Having competitive friends can be a real boon if they intend to attach bragging rights to the ‘backer number 1’ label. In the end, if you haven’t managed to get at least one person to sign up to be there on launch day through the months of conventioneering and promotion before launch that’s a worrying enough sign about your product that you should probably re-consider launching. The best thing to do when you launch is probably take a walk or something for an hour. If a stranger hasn’t backed you in the first hour or two, your project is in more trouble than a little bit of momentum on day one will really cure anyway.
While it’s true that projects which raise a massive amount of money in the first 24 hours go on to be very successful it should be obvious that this is a case where correlation is not causation. If a project raises a massive amount in the first few hours because its selling something everyone wants it will go on to raise a massive amount overall. That does not mean that backing fast with your own money means you will be in the same position and go on to raise a massive amount. Also, backers are not stupid, they can see this happening, don’t do it.
This is a tricky one and it has again, I suspect, to do with creator perception and ideas about momentum. If you’re running a campaign you will be sitting there, refreshing the page over and over, at some point in the campaign. If you’ve gotten up and found a clutch of cancellations overnight, you’ll be even more likely to do it, picking at that scab is hard to avoid. You might feel like the rot has set in and you need to stop it by swinging a backing into your own project. There are a few things to consider here. First of all, there is only one person sitting there watching every change on the dashboard of your project, and that’s you. Now, those cancellations can look like an angry red baboon’s bottom, but they are almost certainly an anomaly. Your backers backed you because they believe in your project, and if there’s a safe chance of it backing, they will by and large stick with you. Some will have their finances change, some will have backed as a bookmark, but most are not going to cancel until it becomes manifestly obvious that failure is certain. Another thing to remember is that backers tend to have more forgiving thresholds on the probability of a project backing than creators, in truth reality has more forgiving thresholds on backing than most creators. A moderate campaign should look at picking up 2% a day without too much difficulty after its first two or three days. As such a project ten days into a 30 day campaign on 60% has a decent borderline chance of backing, better than that and you should back, worse and you still might. But the rot of cancelling backers really won’t set in until you’re well under that line, while many creators will cancel when they’re well above it. Chance being what it is though some natural cancellations will form clusters. When that happens, and it will happen to the best campaigns remember a few things, firstly, you’re the only one who saw it happen. Secondly, it’s not a pattern and it won’t be until at least 24 hours have passed. Give it a while, step back, make some social media posts about the campaign and you’ll probably find something better to spend that money on.
This is the one that I have the most sympathy for. I’ve not had to do it yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out by any means. You’re 99% backed with a few hours to go, it’s only £50 from the finish line, a friendly relative has offered to help if you need it, I am not going to pretend that I wouldn’t hand them the money to save the project. In the end there are a lot of backers at that point who would be disappointed if the campaign failed, you’re not trying to shift perceptions or achieve some other sort of nebulous perception effect that might never take place, and if your profit on your goal is more than 10% of £50 (it really should be by the way) you’d have to have iron in the soul and rocks in the head not to do it. Hopefully you’ll never be that down to the wire, but it has happened, and it has happened to games that have gone on to do very nicely afterwards. The thing to remember is that when you calculated your goal and your timeline you tried to figure out what you could raise in the time available and you planned accordingly, not overfunding is not a failure. For that matter, if you’ve budgeted for contingencies, this would be one of them. So long as you didn’t undershoot your goal hoping to overfund, but if you did that then shame on you anyway. Funding 100% is a huge achievement and a massive win, it’s something that thousands of projects each month don’t manage, if you get there that should be enough.
As a general rule priming the pump of a Kickstarter with your own money is a false hope though, try to avoid it.
Length Of Project
This is another tricky one for small marginal Kickstarters. There is a rule of thumb that projects should get shorter the more successful ones you have, 35 days for project one, 25-30 for the second, down to 18-24 for the real pro. Putting up a 60 day project is, so the conventional wisdom would have it, the mark of a chump, but there are a few points there that I don’t think necessarily follow.
First of all, returning to the issue of the sub-conscious calculation. Most Kickstarters run for 30 days, and most Kickstarters past day two make 1-3% a day. For many backers, once you’re off the top page of the Kickstarter newest list, you’re not necessarily on your first day. As such a marginal project that launches with 28 days which picks up 40% in its first 12 hours should be in a fantastic position, but to a backer who didn’t see it launch, it suddenly looks like its possibly floundering. If you’re going to hit 60% in those 12 hours then its fine, but if not you’re going to throw off the calculations that many backers don’t even know they’re making when they judge your project from the menu page. Remember, there are only three things backers see on the Kickstarter menu that they know aren’t just your opinion and an attempt to sell to them, your funds raised, percentage made and time left and if you throw off any calculation that they will make based on them you do so at your peril.
On the subject of over 35-day Kickstarters, it is now accepted wisdom that this is the choice of a creator who doesn’t know any better. This is not surprising, since it is counter intuitive that fewer days should be better. The reasons for this logic though are generally strong and go something along the lines that Kickstarters rely on a sense of urgency for their campaigns, that the first and last three days are the most important anyway and that undermining the first three days with a 60 day badge of Kickstarter incompetence is not worth the extra 30 days of mid campaign slumpery. Let me say that I have nothing like the nerve to step outside the 30 day window, because I’m the sort of person that very much calculates the relative success of campaigns based on their time remaining, plus there is no way I could handle the pressure of a Kickstarter for a full 60 days without killing somebody. However, there are some reasons to consider the longer campaign. For one, if you’re honestly bringing your own crowd to Kickstarter, they won’t necessarily know or care about the 40+ day judgement; two, once you hit day 32 of a 60 day campaign, you’re in exactly the same position as everyone else as far as any backers know; three, if you’re paying for traditional advertising it increases in cost as the time you’re paying for it increases, but if you’re going non-traditional means, extra time can mean a build-up in momentum.
As for the idea of reducing timelines on repeated projects its based on two things. The logic is that your backers have passion for your project, passion runs dry over time so you want to get them shouting about your project loudly for a short time rather than running dry and even wandering off over a long time. The second thing is that its endorsed by big Kickstarter creators and bloggers that you should reduce your time on following projects. I’ve heard it suggested that Kickstarter creators should wear a ‘WWJD’ braclet, but think of it as ‘What would Jamey do?’ in reference to Jamey Stegmaier, leader of Stonemaier games, thanks to Jamey’s stellar success on Kickstarter and his clear, concise and highly useful blogs. What I’d suggest is, that thought is really only useful if you’re also wearing a ‘DYDWJPD’ braclet, for ‘Did you do what Jamey previously did?’. Because reducing your time on your second project only really makes sense if your first project went as well as the project of the creator or blogger who is suggesting you reduce the time of your next one. For the record in the case of Jamey that’s 942 backers and $65,980 of a $25,000 goal. So, I’d suggest that if your last project didn’t hit a 200% overfund and around a thousand backers, don’t reduce the time for your next project. If your first project funded in the last two days, don’t knock off two days for your next project, if it funded in the last week, don’t knock off a week. Don’t knock off the time until you know you can do without it.
Also, while momentum is great, there are a thousand things that can cause bumps to a Kickstarter. I’ve got bumps in projects that I don’t understand that could be down to paydays in regions I’d not thought of or recommendations from sites that picked me up without my even knowing about them. Choosing to cut down time is choosing to cut down on all the things that you don’t understand.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
To conclude, the important point here is that this is all small stuff, make an effort to get it right and don’t waste energy doing things that are unlikely to help you fund, but also don’t believe there is a definitive right answer on these subjects and don’t hold off your project to get them right. I’ve heard and seen many creators who spent all their time and effort on everything apart from making their product or page better. Get your product and page right and then launch, if you have time to get all the little stuff right then do so, but no one ever raised money on a project they didn’t launch. This is all stuff that you get right in between getting the stuff that matters right.