Why the Highways & Byways Kickstarter Campaign Crashed & Burned

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After a year of documenting the Highways & Byways development process through the Dev Diary, this is not the post I wanted to write. I would have much preferred to write a post about how Highways & Byways funded on day 1. Yet today I must write a post on why I canceled the Highways & Byways campaign after two weeks at less than one-third funded.

When I created this blog, I created it to help see creators through the entire game development process. That means the highs and the lows. I will not sweep failure under the rug. That wouldn’t do you any good. It wouldn’t do me any good. Let’s dissect this Kickstarter campaign failure in detail so we can all walk away smarter.

Let’s get something straight first: I make no excuses. I failed. There are reasons for that. It was preventable. I will do better next time.



Why Highways & Byways Failed on Kickstarter


The Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign failure is the result of poor product-market fit. That basically means that Highways & Byways, intrinsically as a game itself, does not match up well with the desires of the greater Kickstarter board gaming community. I’ve done a lot of hemming and hawing over this, asking “is this really the reason? What other factors could be at play?” There are some smaller factors that contributed to the Kickstarter failure, but this is the big one and I will present my arguments for that a few paragraphs from now. Long story short is that I made Highways & Byways without once asking “what do people want?” I simply pursued a passion project.

A successful Kickstarter campaign, or broadly speaking, a successful product launch hinges upon two big things: product-market fit and audience. If you have a beautiful, perfect product that’s hand-made for a very specific audience, but you have nobody’s attention – you will fail. It’s one of those “tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it” situations. Likewise, if you have a healthy audience, such as the one I’ve grown online, but a product that nobody asked for, you’ll have a few buyers, but ultimately people will ignore you and move on with their day. People are too busy to care about things that only “sort of” interest them.



Imagine the relationship between product-market fit and audience size as a seesaw. The product-market fit is the base of the seesaw and the audience size is the length of the seesaw. If you have a good product-market fit and a small audience, you can put a rock on one end, drop a bowling ball on the other, and the rock will fly (but not very far). It might go high enough to launch. This is how War Co. worked for me. The game ignited strong passion in people, but my marketing techniques were sloppy and disorganized.

On the flip side, if you have a poor product-market fit and a sizable audience, as I did with Highways & Byways, you get the seesaw on the right. Put a rock on one end, drop a bowling ball on the other, and the rock won’t go very far either. I had an efficient marketing system with a big mailing list, a lot of Twitter followers, and even a little love on the Board Game Geek page. Yet the game itself was only appealing to a very specific group of people, most of whom didn’t hang out on Kickstarter.

Perhaps in 2012, Highways & Byways could have worked. I think it could have even worked in 2016 when I started seriously making board games. Yet at this current moment, Kickstarter has become a buffet. If you put food on the buffet line, it has to be one of the most attractive things out there or else it won’t get eaten. Then you have to take all your soup back home from the work potluck…not that this happened to me.

I’m being a bit silly here, but stop and think about what’s gotten big on Kickstarter lately. It’s a lot of light games near or under $20 USD in price. It’s a lot of heavy games with miniatures. There isn’t very much in between. Highways & Byways falls very much in between, targeted family gamers (who use Kickstarter less) for $49 USD (which isn’t a great price point right now) with no standout components. I never once took Kickstarter data before making this game and its stagnation on Kickstarter shows.


Why I Believe Product-Market Fit is the Root Problem


The reason I believe product-market fit is the root problem is mostly because of the process of elimination. I looked at the elements that led up to the Kickstarter based on my own personal “game development process map” from creation to Kickstarter. I’m going to go through them in reverse chronological order so you can see how I arrived at this grim diagnosis.

Was it the Kickstarter campaign itself? I don’t think so. The campaign itself has a conversion rate of 3%, an average pledge rate that matches with the core reward, lots of comments relative to the funds raised, and a staggering 51% completion rate on the video. I’ve received nothing but compliments on the way the page was laid out. I initiated the launch sequence with no problems.

Was it the audience size? I doubt it. I had, at the start of this campaign, over 500 emails for Highways & Byways alone, 137 for War Co., and – get this – nearly 1,200 for this blog. On top of that, I have tons of Twitter and Instagram followers across multiple accounts. Even after giving Facebook relatively little attention, the blog and Byways Facebook pages have over or nearly 400 likes each – most of whom are unique individuals.

Was it lack of outreach in terms of streams, blogs, podcasts, etc.? You can always do more outreach, but I wound up working with the super cool people behind Board Game Design Lab and We’re Not Wizards. They have fairly large audiences and are only two of dozens of people I’ve worked within the last three months. I don’t think this was the problem.

Was it a result of bad reviews or poor gameplay? No, they were about as positive as War Co. In fact, they were arguably better. Those who played Highways & Byways showed real desire and passion to play it again. I wouldn’t have gone further if they didn’t.

Was it the artwork? I doubt it. I have received lots of praise for it from reviewers and gamers alike. Ads containing the artwork performed well on Facebook. I would have sent them back to James Masino to be reworked if they did.

Was it the basic concept? Yes. I never asked anybody what they wanted to see. I never used market data to validate this game. I’ve never found an adequate game to make a comparison to. I’ve not seen another campaign like it succeed. I just wasn’t there mentally when I started this game. It was another passion project, much like War Co. I handled the operations much better this time, but the core concept didn’t work.


What Led to Poor Product-Market Fit?


I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. Highways & Byways was a passion project. War Co. was, too, but it was also a sci-fi game with tons of lore and crunchy calculations. Kickstarter really likes sci-fi, lore-heavy games, and crunchy calculations. That was my saving grace despite a marketing plan that was dodgy at best. Highways & Byways is a better game than War Co., but it’s not a better product. It was purely based on my interests, which the board gaming community as a whole does not happen to share.


You can follow your passions and make money. But you can’t blindly follow your passions and make money.


Decide right now whether you’re in it for creativity, money, or both. If you’re in it for creativity, don’t worry about the larger trends. If you’re in it for money, become a sellout, make a fantasy worker placement / area control game for $19. If you’re in it for both, figure out where your interests and the market’s interests line up. That’s where you want to be. That’s where I’m moving.

My sellout comment above is a joke, but it hints at some truth. Kickstarter is a big, beautiful data set. You can rip 100 board game campaigns off there and get a pretty good idea at which price points, mechanics, themes, and art styles make money. Use that data! I didn’t use that data because I was pursuing a passion project.

With all this spelled out, there is one more major problem: I worked alone. If I didn’t work alone, there is a very good chance someone would have stopped me. Even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t have taken as long as it did. I may have even had some games in the backlog for after Highways & Byways, which would have also softened the fall.

All of this – poor product-market fit caused by the blind pursuit of passion, a lack of data, and refusal to delegate – is what I believe broke Byways. I think this is far more important than posting on the perfect, magical Facebook groups, getting upvotes on Reddit, or having WIP thread on Board Game Geek. Those things are valuable and I will look into them more in the future, but they’re not the roots.



What am I Going to Do?


By the evening of Day 1, Highways & Byways was funding slower than War Co. It had a higher funding goal and better marketing operations. I knew something was off immediately, so in my spare moments, I started devising a plan B. Thankfully, I have a beautiful place to crash land. I have an incredibly polite and intelligent Discord server of over 1,100 game developers. I have a blog that, ironically, is more popular right now than it was when I started the campaign. I have an online platform. I make plenty of money. I’ve got a lot of friends and family. The world is not in ruins.

I’ve assembled a group of close associates. We are going to start coordinating our efforts, dividing up tasks, and being really open and honest with each other. Being alone was a major factor in my failure, and this is going to help.

Next thing I’m going to do is cut back all the crap. I’m going to stop running so many social media accounts. I’m going to eliminate processes that aren’t effective. Moreover, I’m going to stop doing what I’m not great at. I’m good at a lot of the game development process, but it’s time to delegate some things – such as game design and play-testing – to others who have more intrinsic talent than I do. I’m still going to make games, I’m just going to make sure my contributions really count next time.

This last one is huge. I am never going to create a product without validating the market first. Never, never, never, never, never, never, never again. I’m going to find out what people like, compare that to what I like, and make something that makes us all very happy. This is the first filter in my new game development process and I will use it aggressively.

As for Highways & Byways itself: I may do a small print run. I’m still investigating that.



Writing this post was like performing an exorcism. I’d prefer to not have to have written it, but here we are. I’ve learned a ton. I’m not going to quit. I have a plan for the future and more optimism than I had even a few weeks ago in the run-up to this campaign.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes. Helping you is what this blog is all about 🙂

How to Generate Traffic for Your Board Game Website

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Last week, I talked about why it’s so hard to get noticed online, covering some steps you can take to more effectively draw attention. Following the steps in that article will definitely help you get started, but there is a lot more to marketing than drawing attention. You need to make people interested in what you have to say and what you have to offer. The best proxy I know for measuring people’s interest online is what we’ll be talking about today: web traffic.


AIDA Model


According to the Attention-Interest-Desire-Action model which I discussed in A Crash Course in Board Game Marketing & Promotion, I consider web traffic to be interest. In fact, when somebody visits your website, landing page, or Kickstarter campaign, that means something compelled them enough to click on a link or type in the address. Page views alone indicate interest because your leads – your potential customers – are actually engaging with something you’ve made. Even if your sales pitch falls flat and fails to stoke desire or encourage action, you’ve still got their interest.

Encouraging people to click on your website or Kickstarter campaign takes some effort, and I’ll get to specific recommendations farther down in this article. We have a little housekeeping to do first, though. Before we get started with specific tips on how to generate traffic, there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet.


Before Generating Web Traffic


Figure out your audience. Absolute perfection in the marketplace is impossible to find. You can only make products and services that are perfect for a particular group of people. Your resources are limited and you need to spend them reaching out to a highly targeted specific group of people who care about what you have to say. Before you push traffic to your website – or for that matter, build it – know who you’re working for.


Create a professional website. Before you even consider pushing your website online (or for that matter, your Kickstarter campaign or a landing page), it needs to look great. Giving you a crash course in web design / Kickstarter setup is outside of the scope of this article, but I do have some quick tips for you if you’ve never made a website before.

  • Go to Bluehost. Purchase web hosting with a .com domain.
  • Install WordPress using one of their guides. (I use WordPress for this site – very user-friendly.)
  • Use a WordPress theme you like and tweak the configuration until you’re satisfied.
  • If all else fails, hire a professional or ask a tech-savvy friend for help.
  • For landing pages: I still recommend setting up a full site with the above tips.
  • For Kickstarter campaigns: refer to popular Kickstarter campaigns and mimic their layouts.


Come up with a marketing strategy. Before you make serious effort to generate web traffic, make sure everything else in your marketing strategy is in good shape. I talk about doing that in How to Choose & Use a Board Game Marketing Strategy that Works. Web traffic should not be your end goal – generating it is simply a mean to an end.


Learn how to break through the noise online. The best website in the world isn’t going to matter if you can’t get anyone to look at it. Review my article How to Rise Above the Noise of the Internet & Get Noticed to learn more about getting established online. These two articles don’t share much overlap in content past this point.


6 Ways to Generate Web Traffic


I’m told this is what web traffic looks like.


With all the above prerequisites in mind, this is where we can discuss six recommendations on building traffic for your website or Kickstarter campaign. I’ve used all the methods below myself and have found success with each, so I’m happy to share them 🙂


Reach out to influencers. This is absolutely the easiest and best way to get web traffic. It’s like drafting off another car to go faster for less effort. It’s not hard to get featured on blogs or podcasts or to get your game reviewed. Identify people who have large or loyal audiences and offer to help them out. Try to help them make content, whether that be through an interview, a review, a live-stream, or even just a well-written press release. This essentially lets you borrow the audiences of people who are already established, bypass the worst parts of the hype machine, and continue on with a permanently larger audience. All forms of influencer outreach can be good for websites, but I’d say reviews are particularly good for Kickstarter campaigns.


Optimize for search engines. By far, the most reliable and consistent traffic source for this blog is Google. A few months ago, I noticed my work was starting to pop up in Google. At the time I’m writing this – late February – it accounts for 30-40% of my traffic on any given week, which is a plurality. Whereas influencer outreach is inconsistent but very useful for me, search engine traffic is steady as a rock.

There are a number of things you can do to improve your website’s search engine ranking. These tasks are collectively known as search engine optimization (SEO). SEO can be ridiculously complex and it changes way too often for me to cover in its entirety on the blog. However, I have one really useful tip for you. If you’re using WordPress like I recommended earlier, you can install a plugin such as All in One SEO Pack that will handle the vast majority of your SEO.



From there, you’ll want to make sure you’re using compelling and clickable titles with good descriptions. If you’re doing a simple website, keep your page titles simple. If you’re doing a blog like me, experiment with different title types and see what works. For me, I’ve found the best results by starting posts with “How to” and using the words “board game” somewhere in the title. I also have good luck with titles that start with a number, such as 16 Mistakes I Made on My First Game & How You Can Avoid Them. We can get into a deep discussion of why some titles work and why some don’t, but the best thing you can do is simply experiment, observe, and use the data in front of you to make decisions.

To improve your search engine rank further, it helps to follow both the previous recommendation (influencers) and the following one (social media). Both have great abilities to generate links to your website from other places, which can improve your search engine ranking.


Use social media. Before I worked up the nerve to contact influencers and before I was ranked in Google, social media was the primary source of my web traffic. Please refer to Setting Up Social Media as a Board Game Dev: A Primer Course for more information.

Long story short, social media is a great way to bring in traffic directly since people can click on links you post – and they will, if your posts are compelling enough. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and similar websites are much faster ways to reach out to people than through search engines or influencers – making them really useful for Kickstarter campaigns.

Social media also helps break the ice between you and influencers. Over time, social media links also start to add up and improve your website’s ranking in Google.


Build a mailing list. Mailing lists are staples of online marketing – and for good reason! They have a tendency to generate a lot of clicks for a little work. The mailer for this blog takes about 20 minutes per week to write and it brings in around 7-8% of my traffic. Much like search engines, mailing lists are steady as clock. I’ll cover mailing lists in more detail in a later post, but for now, go ahead and set up a free account on MailChimp. It’s really easy to use.

For Kickstarter campaigns especially, mailing lists are tremendously useful. You can create a landing page for people to go to long before you ever launch your Kickstarter campaign. You can collect email addresses over a period of months and then send out a single email to everybody at once.


Talk to people directly. It seems crude and time-consuming, but it works like a charm and it will build your people skills. Social media provides a great venue to speak to people directly about your website or Kickstarter campaign. To be clear, though, I’m not talking about tweeting or Instagramming to the world at large – I’m talking about replies, comments, and direct messages. Building actual, real, concrete relationships with people goes a long way. When you’re starting with absolutely no traffic, either this or advertising is your best bet.


Advertise. I touched on this last week in How to Rise Above the Noise of the Internet & Get Noticed, but it bears repeating. A lot of grunt work can be eliminated by taking out some Facebook ads that link to your website. This works especially well if you pair your advertisements with a mailing list so you can get repeated traffic from it. I’ll conclude with something I suggested last week since it’s still highly relevant here.



One method I’ve found particularly useful is to set up a giveaway contest on Facebook. Give away some game or some gift that will attract people who would like your game. Take out anywhere from twenty to a few hundred dollars to boost the post. I’ve gotten emails for as cheap as $0.50 each, once you consider the price of the giveaway prize plus shipping.



Convincing people to visit your site can seem daunting at first, but there are a lot of methods you can use that will help you get started. Advertising, direct outreach, and influencer outreach are great ways to start. Mailing lists, social media, search engine optimization, and advertising again can continue to bring you traffic on a regular basis.

As always, experiment with a lot of methods, gather data, and see what works for you. And if you have any questions for me, ask below 🙂

The Most Underrated Rule in Business: Have a Backup Plan

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.



In 1519, Hernán Cortés and his 600 man crew washed up on the shores of Mexico. He had colonization on his mind, and he wanted to take over the Yucatan Peninsula. He was outgunned and outmanned, so he did the sensible thing: he ordered his troops to burn the boats.



This story may or may not be true, but the myth persists. It’s often used as an allegory in business seminars about the importance of commitment to your strategy. After all, if you have no ability to turn back, your only two options are to fight for victory or die. The people who run these seminars say Cortés is a leadership genius.

That’s stupid.

Commitment and persistence are absolutely critical elements to succeeding in anything, especially trying to create a business. I could bring up dozens of stories of famous people who failed over and over again until they were finally successful. This is beyond cliche, though.

The most underrated rule in business is “have a backup plan in mind.” If you do something risky, there is a chance of failure. Don’t set your sights on one particular outcome, set your sights on a particular direction you want to go in. It’s so important to be flexible in the face of failure.

Pursuing your creative passions, building a business, or even generally just trying to be your best self requires a series of course corrections. If you have no backup plan in mind when you do something risky, you make it that much harder to get up when you fall. And you will fall. If you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you will fall at some point.



What brings this up? Running a Kickstarter campaign has put me in touch with a lot of others doing the same thing. I’ve met people who have quit their jobs to run campaigns. I’ve met people who have their heart set on one particular game. I’ve met people who have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into games instead of putting money into their retirement accounts.

For those of you who read my blog looking for a place to get started, I have some advice for you. This will help you to have a backup plan in case things don’t go how you want them to:

  • Never spend more money than you’re willing to lose.
  • Never get your heart set on one game. (I was guilty of this in 2016.)
  • Always have another design.
  • Keep your day job. (Jamey Stegmaier said it too.)


Let me tell you some things about my personal situation that might help you understand how I’m approaching the board game industry.

I work a full-time job. I will not quit that until board games make more cash than that job. That’s going to take some serious cash, because I work in IT and I have an MBA. I require the ability to pay bills, save aggressively for retirement, and keep a healthcare plan. This is just straight-up reality of living.

I don’t write this blog to promise you a million dollars or whatever. That’s just nonsense. I write this blog to capture the moment. I feel like a lot of people just need someone two years ahead of them in what they’re trying to do. That’s what I’m trying to with the board game industry. That’s why most of my tutorials are for really specific subjects too.

I have multiple designs in mind if Highways & Byways bombs on Kickstarter. On top of that, I’ve got a pretty extensive network behind the scenes through my Discord server. I can collaborate with others far, far more easily than I could at the start of the Highways & Byways development process.

The amount of money I spend on my retirement account outpaces the amount of money I spend on board games by a factor of 3 to 1. This will not change until Pangea Games starts making returns that exceed the returns I get from a Vanguard index fund.


Don’t fall for the cutesy crap online that tells you all you need is passion and commitment. You need to be smart about your approach to your projects, too. You need to have a Plan B.

I believe whole-heartedly that you can make a living making board games. I believe whole-heartedly that you can do creative things, have fun, and make a life out of it. I believe it’s a repeatable process, too. I believe you don’t have to be some incredibly rare sort of person. I believe that most people who try for long enough can make it work. It just takes a lot of time, a lot of dedication, and the ability to change as needed.



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