The Raw Emotional Reality of a Kickstarter Launch

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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.

 


 

Launching a board game on Kickstarter is an extremely nerve-wracking experience. So much so that a working title for this post was “Kickstarter Launches are Decadent and Depraved” – I was going to write it in gonzo style. However, I think it’s better to write openly and directly about what is one of the scariest thing creators can encounter: Kickstarter launches.

 

 

When you launch a campaign on Kickstarter, the specter of failure hangs over the whole thing from the beginning. It is very possible to fail, especially when you’re new. It is very possible to fail, especially if your game doesn’t fit into the small box game or heavy-with-minis molds. It is very possible to fail no matter how big your audience is. Things happen and you, being an intelligent, thoughtful person, know that when your finger is hovering over the button. You know that when you’re trying to sleep the night before (or the month before). It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.

Immediately after your launch, you’ll need to do a bunch of things in rapid succession. I talked about that last week. What I didn’t mention is that you’ll be exhausted, afraid, frightened, excited, and ecstatic all at once while doing 20 different things in rapid succession. Odds are, you’ll get a ton of attention. (If you don’t, that’s a pretty big warning sign.) This is an exhilarating, terrifying rush.

All of this so far makes Kickstarter launches sound like hell. That’s not far from the truth, but that’s not quite right. Kickstarter is a lot of fun. Even if you don’t meet your goal, it’s fairly likely that with a good marketing system, you’ll surge to 10% or 20% early on. It’s a massive ego boost to raise hundreds or thousands so quickly. You get to feel like a rockstar, and that’s an amazing feeling.

From my observations, the most successful Kickstarters tend to raise around half their funds on the first day. There’s a lot of variance, but this is a fairly reliable heuristic. It’s easy to get caught up in the exciting emotionalism of the launch day. The reality is that the most important lessons for you to learn will come between day 2 and day 7. That’s when you know if your conversion rate is low or high. That’s when you know if your pitch is good or bad. That’s when you know if your game idea has been validated by the market or rejected wholesale.

What does all this mean for the game dev? It means you wait. You wait and wait and wait. There are limits to the number of subreddits you can post to, late press releases to send, Facebook groups to post to, and so on. You’ll have to respond to messages throughout the day, but there is a new question for you to answer: “watch the campaign or do something else?” Neither is the wrong answer as long as you check in every hour or so.* You have to do what’s healthy for you.

*All bets are off if you are tracking for a $100,000+ campaign. At that point, you need to either watch it off and on all day or find someone to help you.

 

 

That’s the key word: healthy. You will have to get your work done for sure, but there will be limits to how much you can push. What comes next is a very personal question: “do I want to watch it every moment or let it passively continue with some consistent upkeep?” After I launched the Highways & Byways campaign, initiated the launch sequence, and posted to some Facebook groups and parts of BGG, I got up to mow the grass. I checked my phone every few minutes and the campaign was chugging along nicely without my constant vigilance. It was a relief, but to many others, it would be a nightmare to be away from the campaign for so long.

Kickstarter launches are pleasure and pain rolled into one. They come with a massive amount of life experiences crammed into a very short period of time. It can be a lot of fun! It’s also okay if you find it miserable, frustrating, frightening, disappointing, discouraging, infuriating, or depressing. We all react differently to this level of visibility and many among us are big-time dreamers working on passion projects, myself included. No emotional response is wrong. No emotional response is bad unless it causes you to harm yourself or others.

To all my creative souls out there, all the dreamers and doers, this is what I say to you in the heat of a big, scary moment like a Kickstarter launch:

  • I hope you make it. I really do.
  • It’s okay if you don’t.
  • It’s okay to feel bad on your big day.
  • It’s definitely okay to feel good on your big day.
  • Win or lose, you’re one step closer to success.
  • If you win, that is amazing! But don’t get complacent.
  • If you lose, you can always pivot.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

 

What To Do Immediately After Your Kickstarter Launches – A Checklist

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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 the aviation business, pilots go through a series of tasks at the beginning of every flight. It’s called the preflight checklist and it all happens before the plane ever leaves the tarmac. The idea is to ensure safety and make sure that nothing is accidentally left undone. Other industries could definitely benefit from the checklist mentality, and I consider crowdfunded board games to be among them.

 

 

For my own use, I’ve created something that I call the launch sequence. The launch sequence is a list of things that have to happen in order immediately after the Kickstarter campaign launches. It’s a long list of items, some of which are specific to the Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign, but most of which are not.

For your use today, I’m going to share a generic launch sequence checklist that you can use so you know what to do in the hours immediately after your Kickstarter launches.

 

First 10 minutes:

  • Hit the launch button.
  • Copy the URL.
  • Set up a redirect link on your website. For example, I use http://bywaysgame.com/kickstarter/ to always go to either a landing page or the campaign.
  • Tweet the campaign link with a call to action.
  • Pin the campaign tweet.
  • Make a Facebook post with the campaign link with a call to action. (Bonus points if you use your personal page as well).
  • Pin the campaign post.
  • Post on any other social networks you use.
  • Ask a few friends to retweet/share your social media posts. This increases visibility quick, which can help you break through social media noise.
  • Update your social media bio links.

 

Next 20 minutes:

  • Send an email to your mailing list with the campaign link and a clear call to action.
  • Update the home page of your website with the campaign link and a clear call to action.
  • Text your family.
  • Text your friends.
  • Post the FAQ – which you have hopefully pre-written.

 

Next 30 minutes:

  • Send any last-minute press releases.
  • Monitor and respond to comments and questions.
  • Update any old Kickstarter campaigns.
  • Get your game on this Board Game Geek geeklist.

 

Hours after launch:

  • Post to relevant Facebook groups.
  • Post to relevant parts of Board Game Geek.
  • Post to relevant subreddits on Reddit.

 

This is a generic launch sequence. When you create your own, you’ll invariably add items to this. You might even take some away. For example, my own launch sequence involves immediately posting the Kickstarter campaign link on my Discord server to over 1,100 other game developers. I’ll also be doing text message alerts to people who opted in during the Byways campaign build-up, sending an email to blog readers, and posting a story on the gigantic @WarMachinesCo Instagram account.

You’ll definitely need to prepare well in advance too, since many of these items come with requirements, such as being listed on Board Game Geek or building a mailing list.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

 

6 Ways to Cope with Kickstarter Anxiety as a Board Game Dev

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Dev Diary

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.

 


 

The Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign is just ten days away. This project looms large in my life and though I’m normally rational, detached, and analytical, I’m struggling to remain objective. This is really common for Kickstarter creators and I imagine this anxiety is still felt by big-time creators. It’s okay, if unpleasant, to be anxious. You just have to recognize it so it doesn’t own you.

 

 

Kickstarter, in particular, can bring out a form of online stage fright. It’s important to recognize this for what it is – when you start a campaign, you’re putting yourself out there for people to respond to. I believe a lot of creators – especially new ones – haven’t built up the emotional intelligence to fully understand how hard this can be. Most of the folks who go to Kickstarter are passionate, creative people who are really close to their projects. These same people can find themselves sleepless at two in the morning, snapping at loved ones, or generally too tired to think AND not connect this back to the emotions that come with a Kickstarter campaign (fear of failure, fear of rejection, and so on).

It gets better with time, though. This pre-launch has been a lot smoother than the one I had with War Co. That’s why I’d like to share six ways to cope with Kickstarter anxiety that I’ve learned over the last 2 1/2 years.

 

1. Know you are not alone.

Most creators get nervous. If you’re not nervous about your upcoming Kickstarter campaign, you’re one of a privileged few. (Want to run mine?)

For the rest of us mortals, anxiety is a deeply ingrained part of the human experience. It’s the impulse that kept our ancestors safe by telling them to run when predators approached. That same impulse is inside us even today, and it’s too dumb to tell the difference between being chased by a lion and mean comments on the internet. For all its flaws, embrace anxiety – it served a very useful purpose in its prime and it’s still useful even today.

 

2. Embrace the imperfect launch.

Even experienced creators make errors. Making mistakes is part of the creative process. You will never be able to perfect your product, before or after you launch your campaign. For that reason, you need to accept that you if you are going to put something out there, something about it will be wrong.

That’s no excuse to do sloppy work. You need to make a great game. You need to play-test it a lot – alone, with friends, with family, with blind play-testers, and with game designers. You need to build an audience on the foundation of meaningful relationships. You need to reach out to reviewers. You need to know exactly how you’re going to print and ship the game.

Too many creators will do everything right, following all these steps above, only to get caught in the trap of “it’s not ready yet.” Don’t fall into that trap. To progress in this industry, you need to do great work but not sit on your ideas any longer than necessary.

 

3. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from starting.

If you fail on Kickstarter, the consequences are minimal. It’s embarrassing, but it doesn’t hurt your or your backers financially. By all means, shoot for a million dollars, but don’t sweat it if you fail to fund. You can relaunch. You can come back from failure. Sometimes Kickstarter failure can bring you positive attention in the form of new fans, especially if you’re a newcomer. In fact, this scenario is fairly common: a lot of people “fail up” on Kickstarter, learning lessons from the failed campaign and making it happen on the relaunch.

 

4. Plan for success.

It’s important to have a Plan B for failure, but obsessing over contingency plans is a dangerous game. One of the best ways to alleviate anxiety is to look at the good things that could happen instead of just the bad things. For example, I’ve got a spreadsheet that shows how Highways & Byways will play out financially at every funding level from its goal to $100,000 in $1,000 increments, then up to a million in larger increments. I don’t expect to make a million, or even $100,000, but being ready to scale if it happens makes me feel better and might do the same for you.

 

5. Channel your anxiety into productivity. 

Anxiety more or less hijacks your body and makes you ready to take action – the proverbial fight or flight. That boost of adrenaline can be channeled into productivity. Perhaps you’re anxious for a good reason. Maybe you don’t have enough email addresses or Facebook fans to confidently launch. Maybe you need to write press releases or make a list of local game stores to contact. No matter what you need to do, you can benefit from well-placed nervous energy.

 

6. Figure out what you’re afraid of and see if it’s something you can fix.

Remember how I said anxiety can be useful a few minutes ago? Sometimes we intuitively know that something is amiss, but we’re not able to put it into words yet. I’ll use a couple of Highways & Byways related examples to explain.

Around late October, I had begun to get a surge of anxiety over the Highways & Byways campaign. It came out of nowhere and confounded me because everything was going so well. The game was basically done, designers at Protospiel Atlanta generally liked it, and I had clear feedback for improvement. Yet I had this gnawing anxiety even still. Eventually, after talking with a friend of mine, I realized that I’d spent all my time pushing the blog and the Discord server and almost none of my time pushing Highways & Byways itself. I took a step back, re-calibrated my plan, and started marketing the game itself more. Had I not had this incredibly uncomfortable rush of anxiety, I wouldn’t have done this, and Highways & Byways would be a nonstarter Kickstarter.

On Valentine’s Day of this year, I found myself deeply uncomfortable again. After a couple of days, I realized that I wasn’t pulling in enough people – even with some active Highways & Byways outreach online, I was still focusing way too much on the blog and Discord server. That’s when I decided to run five consecutive weekly giveaway contests on Facebook, reach out to over 20 streamers, purchase Facebook ads, and compile a list of over 170 local gaming stores in the US to email. Will this work? Only time will tell, but the takeaway was clear as day: build an audience for Highways & Byways and not just the Brandon the Game Dev brand.

These may be very personal and specific examples, but I feel like you can apply them to your life as well. You don’t even have to be a Kickstarter creator. Sometimes that horrible sinking feeling is actually a voice trying to save you from making mistakes.

 

Does Kickstarter scare you? If so, how do you cope? Do you have any stories of how you’ve overcome your fear and launched? Share below in the comments, I’d love to read your insights 🙂

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • 10 days to the campaign!
  • Last week, I gave away a copy of Forbidden Island. This week, it’s a copy of Codenames. If you want it, you’ve got a little over 24 hours after this post goes up to get it on the Highways & Byways Facebook page.
  • You can view the Kickstarter campaign page here.