Before we get into the full blown reflection over what happened with the Kickstarter for Gothic Doctor, we want to go through two things. First, we want to make clear that this reflection – the post-mortem, as we’re affectionately calling it – isn’t going to be a pity party. It’s as objective a look as we can take at the whole process so that we can help others – and ourselves – be more successful with Kickstarters in the future. We hope that anyone who reads this and is planning on doing a Kickstarter or other crowd-funding endeavor will take a look at what we did and learn from it.
Second, we wanted to give a quick overview of the major lessons we learned from this process before we break down some of those lessons in more detail below. This is the SparkNotes version, if you will:
Plan everything out ahead of time. This includes updates, stretch goals, new levels…everything that you can plan, do plan.
Complete everything you can possibly complete – even if that means having to look to funding sources before you get to Kickstarter. Get art done, get marketing in place…everything that you can possibly complete.
Market aggressively off Kickstarter. Make sure the game is in reviewers’ hands and that a review is done before you launch so you can put reviews for the game on the Kickstarter when you launch.
Have a playtest video or two on your Kickstarter the moment you launch. Don’t wait until the second week to put that up.
Make sure your Kickstarter’s content has a consistent visual feel.
People won’t want to go off the Kickstarter to get information – and you don’t want them to leave the Kickstarter, where they’ll fund your project – so put it on the Kickstarter page.
What went well
We went through draft after draft after draft of the game until we finally had exactly what we wanted in the game – and were avoiding what we didn’t want. From our first games in late December on notecards with handwritten treatments and patient names to the set we had printed up, we restlessly playtested, tweaked, and tried different rules.
A great artist
Jeff’s work is amazing, and his rates are completely reasonable. If you can’t do the art yourself, you need to find someone reliable, affordable, and open to feedback. As great as Jeff’s work always is from the start, there were a few changes that we wanted made, and he was happy to make them. There was never a clash of egos, and that’s all important. If you’re not going to do the art yourself, you need someone who’ll follow your vision – but who’ll still have an opinion. Jeff was the perfect balance of all of those things.
What didn’t go well
When we had Jeff do the art
We should have had all of the artwork done before the Kickstarter, even though part of what we needed Kickstarter for was to pay Jeff for the artwork. (That’s what we’ll be doing as the first phase of what we’ve affectionately dubbed ‘Plan B’.) While, perhaps, every piece of art isn’t necessary we should have had more done – and we should have definitely had the box art completed and ready to go on day one of the Kickstarter. That should have been our Kickstarter photo.
Because the art can take a while to get done (Doug backed one project where they took about a year to get the art completed) – and because it’s such an integral part of almost any game – not having that done could seem like a major red flag to potential backers.
If you can’t afford the art on your own, tap family and friends and give them the chance to be your first backers. In our Kickstarter, two pledge levels allowed backers to be in the game art, and almost exclusively, it was friends and family who backed at these two levels. So ask them ahead of time. Not only will you save the 8% to 10% that Kickstarter and Amazon will take, you’ll have a bunch of the work done ahead of time.
Friends and family are going to want to back your project, so give them a chance to do that early – and do something nice for them in return.
When we’ve backed games on Kickstarter, it’s been either because a close friend put us on to something or because we stumbled upon them – and that’s just not how people generally find things on Kickstarter. Once the campaign started, we sent some copies ut to reviewers – and some of them were gracious enough to review them very quickly, but if we had set that up ahead of time, we would have been in a lot better shape – and would have been able to get the word about the game out more.
Also, we should have issued a press release at least at the start of the Kickstarter so that gaming blogs, news services, and so forth might carry a story about the game.
In addition, we needed to be taking the game to cons with us to generate buzz about it and get more people interested – and that didn’t happen at all. Bottom line about marketing: Kickstarter isn’t your marketing.
Planning the whole Kickstarter out
When we launched, we had a vague idea of our first stretch goal, some concrete ideas about our videos and new levels to release later, and nothing written for any of our updates.
We should have not just planned everything out – but had as much of it done as we possibly could. We should have known when, exactly, we’d be releasing new levels. We should have had all of our videos filmed – even if we didn’t release them all on the first day (but we’ll get to that later). Heck, we could have had our updates written up ahead of time.
Because what we didn’t know was just how chaotic things get when the Kickstarter launches – especially when you’re scrambling to try to promote the game and generate more interest. The more you plan up front, we can only assume, the smoother things will go later.
The Kickstarter Itself
Under this umbrella, there’s nothing that we think we did unequivocally well, so, at best, these headers are mixed bags. Others, well, they just aren’t mixed.
Pricing of the game
The magic number on Kickstarter seems to be $25, and anyone thinking about a game would be wise to shoot for that price point – but only if it’s reasonable.
To produce and ship our game to backers, it was going to be approximately $15 per copy. That means that for every $25 copy sold, we’d have $10 to cover our other expenses for each. To put what that means for the overhead in perspective, for the very reasonable $200 in contract fees, we would have to sell 20 copies of the game – which meant adding $500 to the base cost of our Kickstarter.
And, the contract fees were the lowest overhead, fixed cost that we had. Because of that, the price point on our Kickstarter had to be $18,000. And amount struck a lot of people – including friends – as “greedy” or “too ambitious”.
So, one possibility would have been setting our price point on the game higher, which would have dramatically reduced our funding goal. On the flip side, though, we just aren’t sure if that would have outweighed the draw of keeping our price point for the game at $25. To be honest, we don’t know right now if that was something we did well or didn’t do well.
What we offered in addition to the game
In a game that’s concerned quite a bit with accuracy, we were hesitant to offer too many levels that brought backers into the game – but we did come up with two ideas: allowing backers to be one of the doctors on the Action card art and allowing them to be the doctor on Treatment cards. The price point on the Action card seems to have been good – those were snapped up in the first few hours of the Kickstarter – but the pricing on the Treatment card art seems to have been too high as those didn’t all sell.
But beyond that, we didn’t offer much that backers wanted. Some backers did want card art – not surprising given how awesome Jeff’s art is – but beyond that, not much else seemed appealing to our backers.
What most games do – and what we definitely should have done – is have a stronger plan in place for cards that people could add in for an additional fee. We did have Kickstarter-exclusive cards, but there weren’t more cards for people to get beyond that – and there should have been.
People want to buy expansions for games – and you should be thinking about giving backers what they want. We’re rarely interested in adding a bunch of stuff to Kickstarter games that we’ve never even played – but, as a whole, the Kickstarter community is. Like a few other things that we did wrong, this falls into the category of thinking about what we wanted, not what most people would want. We should have done more digging through successfully-funded Kickstarters to see what they offered and then offered those things.
In terms of adding levels as the Kickstarter went along, people in the know have told us that’s a good idea – and we believe them. You just need to be sure that you’re going to be putting out things that people really want – and that you have enough interest in the Kickstarter when you start to keep people coming back for more.
Content on the Kickstarter
As we discussed earlier in the Planning header, we didn’t necessarily have everything ready to roll from day one, and we should have. Along those lines, launching a Kickstarter without a gameplay video on it was, simply put, idiotic. If you don’t have one of those and you’re planning on launching, don’t. Wait until it’s ready. We got numerous emails asking us where to find the gamplay video – so people want to see that video.
Along the same lines, while we were frantically trying to fill in the gaps that we realized were in our project, the coherence of the Kickstarter page started to slip. So, having everything organized ahead of time would have prevented that sort of running around. But even more than that, having a design plan for all graphic updates would go a long way. What font will you be using? What color scheme? What backgrounds? This way, even if you need to add elements that you hadn’t predicted, you’ll be able to have a plan for what you’ll be posting should look like.
On top of that, our Kickstarter should have had quotes from reviews of the game. (Part of that would have involved getting reviews ahead of time.) But it’s critical for backers to be able to see that people who aren’t your friends have played the game and did like it.
And, our stretch goals should have been on the Kickstarter from day one, too. Even if you’re far away from your funding goal, it’s a good idea to give people something to think about if the funding really takes off.
Finally, we left quite a bit off of the Kickstarter page that was easily available on our website, including a free copy of a PnP version of our game and the details about what exactly each copy of the game included (number of cards, size of box, and so forth). While those items were no secret, leaving them off the Kickstarter made our backers work to find them – and we should have made it as easy as possible for potential backers to find that information.
And that’s especially important because if backers are on your Kickstarter page, they’re where they need to be to back your project. You want them to stay there until they’ve pledged.
Things that surprised us
Maybe you know all this stuff already – but we sure didn’t. And in the interest of giving you as much advice as we can, here goes.
1. People can withdraw their funding – and they probably will. And you’ll get an email about it. If you’re far away from funding, it’ll feel like getting punched in the stomach. We never tried asking any of those people why they dropped – and we don’t plan on doing it now – so if you get that urge, resist it. (We talked to guys who ran a successful Kickstarter and they said that they lost about two backers a day, too. Granted, two is a very small sample size.)
2. Kickstarter has a review process. We legitimately didn’t know this. Not sure how we didn’t know this – but we were planning on launching on a specific date, had told all of our friends, had a countdown on our website…everything. And then when we hit submit, Kickstarter informed us and said that they’d get back to us when it was reviewed.
3. Not everyone will do what they tell you they’ll do, even if they’ve been ridiculously nice to you so far. That’s literally all we’re going to say about that.
4. People will REALLY want your project to fund. We got many emails from a few VERY enthusiastic backers looking to see what they could do to help, especially as things starting not looking so good in the second week. There’s no real advice here – other than the obvious: respond to them, thank them, and be nice. We did all those things – because you’d have to be a real prick to be obnoxious with anyone who’s trying to help you.
5. A shocking number of your emails will go unanswered, even from businesses. Again, no details here – though the next point may have something to do with that…
6. Spam folders are aggressive – but people are apologetic. We’re again not going into details here, but a few people who didn’t get back to us for a long time did eventually reach out to us and say, “Whoa. I hate my spam filter. Can we still talk?” That takes character – and you should get back to them.
7. There are vultures out there. Again, no names, but if anyone reaches out to you claiming to be part of a secret society offering something that sounds sketchy, especially if they’re name dropping big names in the gaming industry who can vouch for them – and then refuse to give you the contact information to talk to those people – be very skeptical.
And the most important thing that surprised us: People on the internet are generally amazing. Most of the user-generated feedback I see from people I don’t know comes in the form of YouTube comments, and that’s like the Wild West – but with nerdrage. If that’s all you think the internet is capable of, you wouldn’t believe the kindnesses that people have given to us.
People. Were. Great. We met people whom we just wouldn’t have met without Kickstarter, and they made it all worthwhile.
So, for those of you who haven’t heard us say it – and for those of you who have – thank you all so very much for your support in whatever form it took. We hope that this extended post mortem helps you, even in some small way in the future.
We know it will help us. We’re planning on relaunching once we can get all of the right pieces in place – especially the art, so we’ll keep you updated when the time’s right for that. Because even though we called this a post-mortem, for a game with Frankenstein, spectres, and The Mummy, “death” doesn’t have to be a final step.
Until next time, happy doctoring!
– Doug & John
P.S. If you backed us on Kickstarter, make sure that you’ve used the link we sent you with our update on Saturday to get your free print-and-play copy of Worst Day Ever. It’s black and white, so for about $3.25, you can print it out at your local Staples! Or, you can just wait for the Kickstarter for that one…