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Kickstarter myths, legends and assumptions

To many Kickstarter feels like a mysterious place, one small game can make a million while bigger budget projects struggle to get funded, but generally it’s not that mysterious. When you remove the background noise of kooks, weirdoes and outliers, small projects with low investment fund reasonably, large projects with a lot of investment fund big. The more time you spend studying and designing Kickstarters the more you can draw the outliers in, but that’s about the truth of it. Whether you fund small or fund big is not necessarily the same as making significant profit. They are just choices that are relevant to your personal size and aims. However, the massive spread of project ranges has led to some people ascribing to some rather mystical ideas to help them explain their perceived inexplicable differences in results. I’d like to take this blog to address some of them.

Thou shalt always launch on a Tuesday.

I’ve looked around on blogs and other sources and I can’t really find where the idea that Tuesday is the high holiday of Kickstarter originated from. Both of the James’ (Stegmaier and Mathe) at various points in their respective blogs have expressed confusion about it becoming the most important day to launch on. Interestingly if you look at some earlier statistical analysis of KS results Saturday and Tuesday were both seen as the best days to launch on and the explanation was given that Saturday was the day when people had time off to sit and back things on their computer and Tuesday was simply the secondary spike that was inevitable on the day furthest from the true spike. My personal suspicion is that people who like to appear unusually knowledgeable decided that saying “Saturday is the best day because people have time off” didn’t make them look unusually knowledgeable so they said “Tuesday is the best day, because of strange and counter intuitive things that I know and you don’t”.

Whatever the source of the idea it came about that a small amount of research meant that creators were told that the best day to launch was a Tuesday. So, creators who did at least a small amount of research launched on a Tuesday, having a free choice otherwise, and creators who did no research launched on some other day and hey presto, Tuesday became the day on which the highest percentage of projects funded and the snowball was an avalanche. Now most projects launch on a Tuesday and most backers check Kickstarter on a Tuesday, because the thing about self-fulfilling prophecies is that they do get fulfilled, right?

Well, not entirely. If you are a small project then whatever following you have and whatever advertising you do, it will be a drop in the ocean of how many people willing to back see your project at the top of the Kickstarter ‘Newest’ search page. On a Tuesday the amount of time that you’re up there is tiny, because everyone is launching on a Tuesday. I’ve seen projects on a Tuesday get their moment in the spotlight down to minutes, and I’ve almost missed projects I was interested in because they launched on a Tuesday and were off the top page of the search before I even got a chance to look. The further you go from Tuesday the fewer backers per minute look at the page, but the more minutes you get on that page. The monster projects don’t care, they will always launch on a Tuesday because they’re bringing their own crowd, but if you’re not one of those projects your time in that spotlight really matters.

The issue with the Tuesday statistic is that its coloured by its own existence. There is a very significant drop in successful backing, more significant than the drop in backers, from Tuesday to any other day. This has been explained by a range of fairly mysterious stories about backer psychology, but it could easily be explained by the statement about researched projects VS unresearched ones. The important point is that the drop off in backers from Tuesday to Wednesday is much less than the drop off in well-presented intelligently put together Kickstarters. Which means that on every day other than Tuesday you get longer being looked at with less competition, and that though the number of people looking drops, it drops slower than the level of competition and slower than the rise in time at the top of the search engines. Long story short, consider a day other than Tuesday if you've got a smaller project with less investment.

Thou shalt cancel

Obviously, not as a given, but there is an idea that you should cancel if you don’t fund in X hours, how long that X is depends on the person you talk to. Personally, I see this as a pretty pernicious thing to say to people who are in some degree or another mentally spinning out of control, as anyone in the middle of a struggling Kickstarter almost certainly is. To state it plainly, as many projects fund post the first 48 hours as fund during it, not having funded early is not the same as failure.

The logic for this one is that it looks more professional to cancel rather than fail to fund. That might have been certainly true in the early days of Kickstarter, but it really isn’t 100% true anymore. Firstly, it’s really only relatively Kickstarter literate backers who will ever know if you failed or cancelled your project anyway, and there is at least a 50% chance that they will see cancelling as an attempt to deceive as opposed to an act of professionalism. Perceptions are really a matter of chance, just as much as people might see cancelling as professional, they might see it as quitting rather than fighting for something you believe in and worst of all, it could lead to you being seen as a worse kind of unprofessional due to setting an under budget.

As a quick explanation, some projects in a desperate attempt to get a funded in X hours banner up set a goal they couldn’t possibly print the game on, they then find they’re going to make that goal at a point where they couldn’t possibly hit their real goal and are left with a choice between funding at a level where they can’t print or cancelling despite funding. They tend to cancel. The thing about failing is, its honest, if I see a failure on your record, I know you didn’t try to game the system or deceive your backers, you were at worst naïve. If you cancel there’s a chance you’re basically a con-man. You can learn not to be naïve.

In my personal opinion there are two reasons to cancel a project:

1) You legitimately launched accidentally, or discovered that part of your budget was faulty. This is the reason that the cancel option exists, someone launches a project, finds out that the shipping will bankrupt them, so they can cancel and save everyone some pain.

2) You cannot handle the psychological pressure of running a Kickstarter. Which is fine, no judgement, but in that case, please don’t launch a second one.

Which means that if I see a project relaunching on a cancellation the kindest thing I think of them is that they were dangerously financially naïve on their first project. Which isn’t an image of professionalism.

Projects that cancel and re-launch often fund at a good level, and significantly higher than they were at when they cancelled, which is seen as an argument to cancel. Firstly, it’s a basic category mistake, that’s an argument to re-launch, not an argument to cancel. Projects that fail with a decent level of funding do just as well as those that cancel with a decent level of funding, and projects that cancel on a miserable level of funding do just as badly as those that fail with a miserable level. The only way that this is an argument to cancel is if it’s an argument to cancel when you think you’re going to fund. In which case it’s an argument to essentially lie to your backers and supporters, put them on the merry go round to see you come back again because you think you can scrabble up some extra over-funding which if you’ve budgeted well you don’t even really need. If it’s not obvious, even if it would lead to you gaining more funding, I don’t think you should do that. You could probably raise extra funds by robbing a granny on your way home too, but don’t do that either.

If you think you’re going to fail, or know it, then it’s fair to say that you could do with learning more before your next project. Like maybe, what percentage of people who hit the ‘remind me’ button will pledge on your campaign, even if its failing. Like, what sorts of facebook posts help to boost a project while its running. In the end, your project being live on Kickstarter is advertising, free advertising on a massively popular sight targeted exactly at your demographic. Presumably those who advocate cancelling think that advertising while failing isn’t part of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ and that people who saw you failing will remain put off when they see you succeeding, but I think that’s unlikely.

Thou shalt fund early

This one seems pretty sound, every project that ever funded in the first two hours got to a higher percentage of funding than one that funded in the last two hours. So, you want to fund early. The thing about this is that it’s either meaninglessly obvious or very dangerous.

Of course, you want to fund early, that’s like saying you want to fund to a high percentage, there’s not a counter argument to it. The issue is that there’s not much you can usefully do to make sure that you fund early that isn’t the same as the things you would do to fund generally.

There are, however, plenty of crappy things you can do to fund early, such as self-backing and false goals. Things that are intended to trick Backers and can lead to funding that isn’t sufficient to produce the game resulting in an obligation to produce without the funds to do so. These are the acts that lead to games never being fulfilled, backers being ripped off and Kickstarter getting a bad reputation. Do not do them, and do not listen to anyone who even implies that maybe you should.

Projects that fund big fund fast, it does not follow that projects that fund fast fund big.

Thou shalt have a mailing list of size X and advertising

You can do, I’m not saying they’re bad. But they’re not necessary for every project, they only become necessary depending on the size and nature of your project and its aims. Either way, they are both tools and they can be useful or useless depending on how well you know to use them. If you have no idea what you’re doing you’re as likely to waste time and money on them as use them to build a spectacular success.

There is no number of people on your mailing list that will make certain of success, none. Build a mailing list, it helps, but it is not the first thing you need, it’s the wind in your sails, but it’s totally useless without good sails. Anyone that quotes a specific number that you need in your mailing list is pretty much making that number up.

Advertising can help, it can also not help, but it always costs money. If you don’t know what you’re doing odds are it won’t help and will cost. You don’t necessarily need it, and if you’re not sure that you do need it, odds are that means you don’t. People who are big enough to actually need advertising tend to be big enough to have someone around who understands it and knows for certain that they need it. Other people think they need it because that’s what you do in these situations (and because the people selling advertising are, surprisingly enough, both good at advertising and have access to a lot of it).

I’ve seen projects succeed with neither and fail with both.

Thine project shall be of a mighteous size

Success is relative, and that’s not just me saying that because I have small to moderate Kickstarters rather than massive ones. If you have ten people working five years on a project that spends £10k up to launch and raises £100k is it really more successful than one that a single person launches after a year of work for free and raises £10k? There is a growing set of opinions that only see a big numbers success on Kickstarter as any success at all, and there are certain things you need to clock those big numbers, but they’re all expensive and they require specific and hard to source skills.

A small success is still a success, Kickstarter is not just for the big-name projects. In fact, the massive majority of Kickstarters that fund are small projects and, importantly, when they do fail, they cost far less. You don’t need to succeed big to succeed on Kickstarter, and in fact if you need to succeed big, you’re much more likely to fail.

Thou shalt do X

The thing is that Kickstarter and Kickstarter advice is not one size fits all. Pledge managers, fulfilment companies, mailing lists, advertising companies, minis, everything is necessary for one project but not for another. There is nothing, besides having a clear page, a good project and a strong budget, that everyone should do. If a piece of advice is given for your Kickstarter without an explanation of why it is true that makes sense to you, for your project, then it’s probably just a myth and you should question or even ignore it.

Have you heard any pieces of questionable Kickstarter advice? Is there something that you believe about Kickstarters but don’t really know why? Do you have a favourite myth?


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