How to run a humble Kickstarter campaign

There are lots of lessons out there for running a big, blockbuster Kickstarter campaign. The advice is excellent, in my opinion.

However, when I was planning my campaign for Otters (which is now over, but you can get information about acquiring the game here), I wasn’t going for a blockbuster. I was going for humble.

What does humble mean?

Humble, in this case, means that I wasn’t looking for a ton of money (just $1,000). I didn’t plan for a ton of stretch goals. I didn’t want to promise something overly shiny. Just a fun little game for a reasonable price.

Most importantly, I didn’t want the Kickstarter campaign to take over my life!

Humble step 1: Low funding goal

A humble campaign only works if you don’t need a lot of money in order to deliver your project. In the case of Otters, I was using a print-on-demand company (DriveThruCards), which meant that I could theoretically just print a few decks and call it a day.

Some cases where this approach can work:

  • Print on demand games (DriveThruCards, The Game Crafter, etc.)
  • Digital-only projects (RPGs, art projects, comic projects, music downloads, etc.)
  • Capped rewards (handmade items where you’re only making, say, 50 of them)

Some cases where this approach probably doesn’t work:

  • Manufacturing projects (gadgets)
  • Games with lots of components (minis, dice, etc.)
  • Projects with big fixed costs (art commissions, recording studio time, crafting of molds for plastics)

Basically, if your project gets dramatically cheaper per backer to fulfill the more backers you have, it’s probably not a great fit for a humble campaign.

Humble step 2: Pay for graphic design

Wait, didn’t I say this campaign was humble? Doesn’t that mean I can’t afford to pay anyone?

Well, I can’t afford to pay a lot of people, but I can spend money where it counts: Graphic design.

Otters Card Back High Res

Your humble campaign still needs to look good. Backers need to have confidence that you’re a professional and that you know what you’re doing.

If you’re already a skilled graphic designer, great! If not, hire one. You at least need a logo, and you can use that to craft a consistent look and feel to your campaign.

In my case, I hired Dane Ault. I highly recommend him – he does freelance work! Give the man a call.

tumblr_static_danelogo

Humble step 3: Creative Commons art

Like I said, I can’t afford to hire a lot of people. This includes illustrators. Good art costs money, especially if you need a lot of art (such as in a game with lots of cards, each of which needs its own illustration).

This is the type of thing that Creative Commons was invented for. You can use Google Image Search – Advanced Search to find images that are available for reuse, even for commercial purposes. You’ll still need to make sure you give credit to the creators of those images in most cases (sometimes you’ll find true public domain images), but that’s a fantastic deal.

cc.logo.large

In my case, I was actually planning to pay illustrators to create custom illustrations if my campaign raised enough money, but by that point my backers were in love with the Creative Commons photographs of otters – so I just added a bunch more of them.

Otter illustrations by Maria Keller and Dane Ault; photograph by Paul Stevenson
Otter illustrations by Maria Keller and Dane Ault; photograph by Paul Stevenson

I’ll note that it’s not just illustration and photography that can be released under Creative Commons: You can find music, too, and even some other media.

Humble step 4: Getting the word out

This was the main step where I wanted to be humble. I’ve read so many stories of how Kickstarter campaigns will dominate the lives of their creators. You won’t sleep, you won’t eat right, your friends and family won’t see you, etc.

That’s not for me.

Now, this meant that I wouldn’t be able to maximize my campaign, and I had to be okay with that. Fortunately, I was indeed okay with that. I wanted to get Otters out there in the hands of families, and I wanted to make a little profit doing so, but I wasn’t planning to launch a gaming empire from this campaign.

My outreach mainly consisted of reviewers. I reached out to about a dozen game reviewers (you can find lots of them here, thanks to James Mathe) about five weeks before I launched the campaign to ask them if they would like a review copy of Otters. They all said yes. I sent them games, along with a letter containing details of the Kickstarter campaign, and they did their reviews.

I had several reviews that were already done before the campaign launched, which is hugely important for credibility (backers want to see third party opinions of your game). I also had several more that came out during the campaign.

There were blog reviews, video reviews, and podcast reviews. I only approached reviewers who were interested in covering Kickstarter games and who didn’t charge for their reviews (beyond the cost of sending them a game, of course). I tried to target folks who reviewed children’s games, since that’s what I was making.

Beyond reviewers, I kept my blog going and I talked about the game on my Twitter and Facebook pages (but not too much).

A special note on reddit: I only put up one post about Otters on reddit, and that was on the next-to-last day of the campaign. The /r/Boardgames subreddit can be very particular about spam. Reddit is a powerful force for traffic, but you have to be involved in the community and not just use it as an advertising platform. I’m pleased to say that my post about Otters got over 100 net upvotes, which is huge for me.

Humble step 5: Keeping the campaign in check

Now, I don’t mean that I actively tried to keep people from backing me in an effort to stay well away from $100K. I mean that I didn’t want the campaign to get swept up in too many stretch goals and add-ons.

With stretch goals, I had two. The first one, as I mentioned above, would let me pay for illustrations on the cards. As it turns out, the backers didn’t even want that.

The second stretch goal would let me have a rule sheet with the game instead of three cards with the rules on them. Amazingly enough, the backers seem to prefer the rule cards (though some do want the rule sheet).

I did have a stretch goal in mind in case the campaign hit the $15,000 level that would let me use a more traditional game manufacturer for a bigger print run with a custom printed box, but we never got close to that, and I’m okay with that.

As for add-ons, I only have one: A custom cloth bag to carry the game in.

Otters Dice Bag

A minor side note here: All of the various dollar amounts are set (serendipitously) such that I can tell what add-ons each backers has picked based on the dollar amount. In some cases, a backer might round up a $24 pledge to $25, but I usually know that:

  • $12 is a one-deck US backer
  • $20 is a one-deck international backer
  • $21 is a two-deck US backer
  • $24 is a one-deck and one-bag US backer
  • $29 is a two-deck international backer
  • $30 is a three-deck US backer
  • $32 is a one-deck and one-bag international backer
  • And so on

I wouldn’t suggest killing yourself to set up your pledge levels to have this feature, but it sure helps me keep track of things.

Humility achieved

If you want to run a simple little Kickstarter campaign rather than a blockbuster, keep it humble. This might be because you have a simple project that you just want to put out in the world. Or it might be because you want to establish your reputation on Kickstarter with something you know you can fulfill before you go for the big project down the line.

Either way, humble is good.

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

20 thoughts on “How to run a humble Kickstarter campaign

  1. Awesome, awesome post, Michael. I really like the focus on reviewers and the tip about staggering the price levels for rewards so you can tell exactly what people ordered.

    Also, most importantly, I like how you showed that it’s possible to run a great Kickstarter campaign where you really care about the product and backers, but not completely lose your life while doing so. I’ll have to try that someday. 🙂

    1. Hey Jamey, I read this post after you referred to is on your blog.
      This question is to both you and Michael:
      What would you consider the ‘cut-off point’ between a humble, and epic campaign? Would 10K$ still be considered epic or humble?

      1. I’d call $10k epic, or at least “not humble.” Even $5k is beyond the humble mark in my opinion. I’d call $2k the upper end of humble for a board game campaign, but that’s totally subjective.

  2. Wonderful information 😀 I was reading through all of Jamey’s articles (which are fantastic by the way) but was looking for a way to scale them down. Otters is a campaign I looked at quite a bit for ideas, and then you posted this! Thank you guys so much for all your help with Kickstarter and for making awesome games

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Colin! I hope you’re able to run a successful smaller campaign of your own at some point, and I’m glad to hear that I could help you with those plans.

      Michael

  3. Hi Michael,

    Thanks so much for this post. From what I can tell, you were able to use the Kickstarter campaign and the site’s promotional activity to serve as a launch vehicle (in addition to your own blog and reviewers) for Otters. Then by using DriveThruCards, you minimized the need for upfront costs and lowered the funding goal, thereby making it as easy as possible for the campaign to become funded.

    For my own humble game, I’ve been trying to figure out whether to go with Kickstarter or just a quieter launch on DrivethruCards but your post really sheds some light on how combining both could work. It didn’t even occur to me to combine them both!

    Some questions if you don’t mind:

    -I know Otters is for sale through your site, but noticed it’s not listed on DriveThruCards. How come you chose not to list it for sale on their site?

    -Was Dane’s payment for the logo contingent on the campaign being funded? Or did you pay him for the logo upfront and then added in that cost to the funding goal?

    -Similarly, was the cost of printing/shipping review copies to be sent out also included in the funding goal?

    Thanks!
    Phong

    1. Phong,

      In my case, I could have just made Otters available on DruveThruCards and called it a day. But frankly, running the Kickstarter campaign definitely helped me to get the word out. It also let me get input from people who were interested in the game about their desires for it (photos rather than illustrations, for example) and it let me put the game in a box with a rule sheet (neither of which DriveThruCards offers).

      As to your specific questions:

      – I do plan to one day offer Otters via DriveThruCards directly, but not until my Kickstarter backers have their games in hand. Take care of your backers first! I’m only offering pre-orders on my site, which will only ship after Kickstarter backer rewards.

      – I paid for the game’s graphic design out of pocket up front. If Otters had just barely hit the $1,000 funding goal, I would have still been in the red, but I was okay with that.

      – Same answer for printing and shipping review copies – I paid out of pocket beforehand, and I would not have made those costs back if I had just barely hit the funding goal, and I was okay with that, too.

      I plan to write a detailed financial breakdown of Otters in the future after Kickstarter fulfillment is complete. The short answer is that I expect to make a small profit after all is said and done.

      Michael Iachini
      Clay Crucible Games

  4. Michael, thank you so much for this article.

    Extremely sensible and ever so helpful as I’m trying to balance a KS project preparation with family and work.

    Great advice.

    Separate thanks for the list of reviewers – I was compiling that manually and having it neatly summarized is a great time saver.

    Otters seems like a great game and I congratulate you on the successful campaign.

  5. A great article and very helpful for me as I am part way through my humble kickstarter campaign. The best thing I see about the smaller scale is the ability to be personable, however it does come at the cost of production on a smaller scale. Drivethrucards is a great option which I am also using.

    Thanks for making the effort to write this post!

  6. Great post Michael. I think keeping the campaign in check is a very important one. It’s so easy to get swept up in endless stretch goals – which can be good, or bad, depending on your perspective!

  7. What a great post! We’re considering doing a small KS campaign using The Game Crafter Reading through this and some of your other posts on the topic has really made me feel like it can be worth it! Some of us want the chance to see our game published and in the hands of people that can really enjoy it without having to devote 70 hours a week to it. You have done a great job of outlining which are the things that matter most and which ones you can be “humble” about.

    Thanks!

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