Launch Exactly When Ready
I listen to the Board Game Design Lab podcast, but I’m pretty behind. I was recently listening to an episode about a game that I’d at one point tried to sign up for the playtesting of. I won’t mention its name, I apparently didn’t make it through the stringent playtesting selection criteria, but I did qualify to be signed up for a mailing list that I didn’t request to be put on. All of which meant I wouldn’t ever pick the game up, but that it stuck in my head. The reason that I bring it up is that this game has been knocking around in development and production as far as I can tell now for over three years, and it has had a mailing list in the tens of thousands all that time, along with a landing page that has confidently stated “coming to Kickstarter soon” for at least six months. Separately, just as I was finishing fulfilment on my first Kickstarter about two years ago I was contacted by a Creator with a game that was, in my opinion, 100% ready to launch, because they were ‘unsure about how to begin their social media journey’. They still haven’t launched game.
Now, I totally agree that you shouldn’t launch your Kickstarter until its ready. However, I also believe that you should launch it when its ready. While there are lots of Kickstarters that fail when they launch, there are none that succeed when they don’t. You can hope to have a six figure Kickstarter after a year of development, but after four years, you really kind of need to have one.
I also appreciate the desire to make your game and your campaign as good as it can possibly be. However, there has to come a point where you accept that your game and your campaign are as good as you can possibly make them. No game will ever be perfect and the same goes for a Kickstarter campaign. More to the point, I’ve seen many games ruined by being added to and bloated over years of ‘development’ to the point where a statement on Kickstarter that a game has been in development for x many years is starting to feel like a marker for failure rather than an indication of commitment. But how do you tell if you’re faffing around with things that don’t matter to put off your launch date or if you’re really not ready?
There are, in general terms, only three things that really matter to get right for a Kickstarter, one a budget that will properly cover fulfilment of the game, two a game worth supplying and three a Kickstarter page that clearly communicates the existence of the first two to your backers. Every other thing is to some degree or another not strictly necessary for one reason or another, they’re nice to have and you pick them up while you’re working on the other three, but once you have those other three things in place you should be aware that you’re putting your launch day off, and losing momentum, for things that probably don’t matter.
We all like to be creative and put things out into the world, but none of that matters if you run out of money doing it. Your budget consists of three primary elements that you need to have locked down before launch:
1) A quote from a reliable manufacturer for the game and all stretch goals at a reasonable minimum order quantity.
2) Quotes for shipping from the manufacturer to yourself or any fulfilment centres including any import or local taxes.
3) Quotes for shipping from yourself or fulfilment centres based on a copy of the game as close as is humanly possible to the final product, including any stretch goal elements.
Hopefully the point of the whole thing. Knowing when a game is finished enough from your own perspective is one of the hardest things in the whole process of design, and there isn’t an easy answer. Present it to strangers and get it playtested. If it seems perfect on the first playtest by a total stranger, assume your playtesting method is flawed. If you get it to the point where no part of it breaks down, general responses are good or better and it does at least one really cool unique thing in an interesting way, changes after that are most likely for ego. Its probably as good as you’re likely to be able to make it. Which might be different from great and is certainly different from perfect.
There are a massive number of things that can go on a page that help but aren’t strictly needed, from a flashy rendered project video down to a celebrity reviewer endorsement. What you need is to make sure that backers both understand your game and believe in your ability to deliver it. For this you need:
1) An easy to understand and preferably quick to absorb explanation of the game. This can be video, bullet points, images or all manner of methods. It’s a huge help to have some way that backers can look at the game directly (PnP, TTS or at least a rulebook) and a third party back up of your claims (generally a review). So long as they quickly and clearly understand what your game is, why it stands out and why they want it that’s what matters.
2) The elements of an intelligently put together budget, which is a sensible goal, reasonable pledge levels, realistic shipping charges and achievable completion dates. You can put in a paragraph explaining that you know what you’re doing, but showing is better than saying in this instance.
Other things might be needed depending on the size of your campaign or the levels you want to reach, but if you don’t have a clear and definite understanding of what level you’re at or want to be at, then you’re not at that level, and you don’t really need them. Don’t put off your campaign for things you want rather than need.
Isn’t time on my side?
You might well say, why not take forever to put my campaign together? If it takes me five years that’s my business and I’ve got nothing to lose, right? Not entirely.
Momentum is important. For yourself as well as your potential backers. If you’re picking up a mailing list, those names are going to decline in usefulness with every day that you don’t launch. People stop collecting hobby games, or pick one up that fills the niche you were going to occupy in their collection. People forget you and your game. Also, don’t underestimate your own momentum running down, projects that lose creator momentum can end up becoming hobbies in their own rights, which is fine if that’s what you want them for, but isn’t fine if you want to launch and fund them.
Returns diminish. Spending time improving a project is a good thing, spending time not improving a project is spending time making it worse. The more time you spend on a project the more likely you are to cross from one to the other. Everyone has a different process and different peak times on this sort of thing and learning your own process is something that you’ll get from practice, but every project has a peak time, and its going to be a rare situation where the peak time for a one-person project is five years.
Your time has a value, your hopes do not. This is something that small entrepreneurs tend to forget, but as a Kickstarter creator that’s what you are, and its something you need to remember. Every improvement that you make to your project you’re hoping will result in come back, but they are only hopes. Gaining mailing list addresses might feel like progress, but they’re only hopes of progress. Every hour of work you spend on your project should be considered a real cost. Launch and fund a 20k project in a year, that’s a pretty good pay back for the hourly rate. Manage the same project in five years, or ten and you could have gotten the same result pushing broom. The longer you take the more pressure you’re putting on your project to be a big success in order for it to be a success.
Some of this might sound harsh, but not failing is not the same as success. Figure out what ready looks like, get there, then launch. If you’re failing to achieve that, question what you’re trying to do. Have you got a project that’s been hanging around for years now, either from yourself or that you’ve been following? Have you had one that you really wished would launch and you’ve stopped looking forward to now, or that you used to follow and then you saw go by without noticing it?