How to Create the Perfect Board Game Kickstarter Campaign Page

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When it comes to Kickstarting your board game, there is no shortage of complicated tasks which you will need to complete. You – or someone you outsource to – must be able to design a game, bring it into physical form, build an audience, and make sure there’s a market for it in the first place. However, one task, in particular, seems to get more attention than the rest: creating the perfect board game Kickstarter campaign page.

 

I’m going somewhere with this, hear me out.

 

Let’s get two things out of the way first. First, a Kickstarter campaign page is not something you should ever rush. You should create a draft as early as you can and start outlining even your roughest thoughts. Nobody can see your draft unless you share it. Waiting until a week or two before the campaign to start creating your page is asking for a disaster.

Second, trends will always change. No guide can ever detail exactly what the optimal Kickstarter campaign page looks like because people’s expectations are fluid and best practices change. The campaign pages that got funded in 2015 don’t necessarily look like the ones that will fund in 2018. No matter when you’re reading this, whether it be 2018 or 2038, you need to look at ten pages that funded. Ideally, you want to look at the pages of highly funded games for campaigns whose games resemble your specific niche – sci-fi, worker placement, etc.

While trends are always changing, there are a few basic concepts that do not. Here are the four I’ve observed:

  1. All Kickstarter campaign pages must be fundamentally built to appeal to your target market. The page is about them, their desires, and how you can meet them.
  2. The campaign page must communicate all critical information clearly.
  3. Everything on the campaign page must be either tested, confirmed, or realistic. Never over-promise!
  4. It’s always ideal to get your audience’s feedback before you launch.

Kickstarter campaign pages tend to follow a basic structure. Every one of the items I’m about to list is in most, if not all, Kickstarter campaigns. They may or may not be in this order:

  • An explanation of the game as a product
  • How to play the game
  • A list of what’s in the box
  • A list of rewards
  • A list of what’s left to do
  • Game reviews
  • Demos – print-and-play, Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia
  • Budget
  • Shipping Costs
  • Timeline
  • Stretch Goals
  • More information – such as your website and social media links

That brings me to the Kickstarter campaign video. The video must not be an essential part of the page since most people won’t watch it. The video only enhances your page, and must do so in a way that people find familiar and approachable. From my observations, videos are more subject to changing trends than the Kickstarter campaign pages themselves. Pay attention to those same ten games whose pages you checked out earlier. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What information are they sharing in the video?
  • How long is the video?
  • Who is featured in the video?
  • What is the production quality?

Play it safe when it comes to creating Kickstarter videos. You want to show some personality in them, but you want to make sure you’re keeping the four questions above in mind. Successful campaigns tend to have a better idea of what information to share, how long to make the video, which of their staff to include in the video, and how nice the video should look. When in doubt, mimic the successful companies you see on Kickstarter. That may even include renting high-quality video equipment or asking a video crew to help you.

So how does all this relate to a real, live, non-theoretical Kickstarter campaign? That’s a good question and one that I’ll answer by an in-depth look at Trogdor!! The Board Game. By the time you read this post, it’s probably going to make a million bucks. It’s a good example, and frankly, it’s fun to talk about Strong Bad (of Homestar Runner fame). Again, when you do this for your own game, you need to pick games that look like your own. This isn’t traditionally “board game-y” but that casts their business decisions in stark relief for us here, and that makes for good analysis.

 

The page follows this basic structure, which is tried and true: stretch goals, description, list of components, how to play, rewards, stretch goals again, add-ons, reviews, backstory, social media, shipping rates, and a thank you section. Pretty straightforward, but I’d like to point out something critical: despite being a well-established (and awesome) intellectual property, they talked primarily about the game – not Homestar Runner.

Here are three quick observations that tell me they’re not just cynically cashing in here:

  1. It includes a lot of custom meeples, which are prominently advertised. Board gamers, based on a number of polls I’ve done on Facebook groups, Board Game Geek, and Twitter, are really into that. If you go run a poll on favorite components, custom meeples is likely to be in the top three.
  2. They have several reviews and testimonals. Some of them are from folks like Pendelton Ward and Alex Hirsch, creators of Adventure Time and Gravity Falls respectively. Others are from reviewers you’d traditionally associate with board games: Unfiltered Gamer and Pawn’s Perspective.
  3. They’ve got animated GIFs showing off pieces and gameplay. This trend has sprung up in the last couple of years. It’s worth paying attention to.

 

 

Even the top of the page alone suggests that it’s hitting some board gamer “yes” buttons. Sure, they emphasized Trogdor’s name the most prominently because Trogdor is awesome. But they also emphasized custom meeples and tiles, both of which are popular components. The project photo is staged in such a way that it shows off its table presence and hints at a larger game. The name is bright red and clearly draws the eye. A lot of thought has been put into this first impression!

The video makes this even more clear. Yes, it’s definitely a video made in the Homestar Runner brand, which makes their adherence to Kickstarter expectations even more remarkable. Remember: these are folks who have an audience and will get funded no matter what, but are choosing to push the product instead of the brand because they know it works.

The video is 2:39, a little on the long side. It starts in a goofy way, but that’s because of the brand. Then it shows off the components – a lot. Later they show gameplay and start describing how the game works. Their history allows them to focus on more than just the product, but they choose still to focus on the product.

Don’t take my interpretation purely at face value, though. You need to check other campaigns and analyze them to see how they operate. Pay attention to trends and see what you can make yourself. Start early, get feedback, be clear, follow the basic structure. If you do all this, you’ll be well on your way to making the perfect Kickstarter campaign page.

 

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Law & Tax Before Kickstarting My Board Game

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Few things are more confusing than taxes and laws. As if they weren’t complicated enough to begin with, they also differ dramatically by country, region, and city. I’m fortunate enough to say that when I made War Co., nothing completely broadsided me during the development process when in came to tax and law. There were, however, some nasty surprises and memorable tax bills that I’d rather have been prepared for. Instead of leaving you to Google and experiment on your own, I’ll share a few experiences I’ve had.

 

I wish I had a cool justice sword like her.

 

Let’s get something straight first: I’m not a lawyer. This is informal advice based on my own experiences and observations. I’m about to list five things I wish I knew about ahead of time. I want to save you a lot of time digging for the right questions to ask and help you avoid some surprises along the way.

 

1. You need to open a business and treat it like a separate entity from yourself.

This sounds like common sense when I say it this way. A lot of board game developers don’t treat their projects like businesses, though, and that’s a dangerous thing to do. Even simple board game Kickstarter campaigns involve handling thousands of dollars and potentially much, much more. Because of this, it’s absolutely imperative that you open a business and treat it like a separate entity from yourself.

It’s not as hard as it sounds. For me, in Chattanooga, TN, USA, all I had to do was fill out a form and send it to Hamilton county and then to the city of Chattanooga with small checks attached to each form. It’s pretty similar in different states and municipalities in the U.S.: download a form online, print it out, fill it out, remit a check, send it in, wait a few days.

You’ll be given a few options on which type of business to open. There are two types that stand out in my mind as the most likely to apply to you as a reader, so I encourage you to direct most of your further research to them. They are the sole proprietorship and the LLC. If you’re going it alone and you’re not sure how serious you are about being in business, go with a sole proprietorship. If you are definitely committed or you’re going into business with more than one person, spring for the LLC. It may cost more and come with more paperwork, but it provides legal protection of your financial assets in a way that sole proprietorships do not.

Last but not least, open a separate bank account for your business. Connect it to Quick Books and keep track of how you’re spending your money. If you keep clean books on a day to day basis, tax time won’t be so bad.

 

2. You need to know who’s taxing you.

Speaking of taxes, they’re unavoidable. In the U.S., you’re likely to be taxed at a federal, state, and local level on your business. You are also very likely to have to deal with sales tax for in-state purchases of your game and customs/import fees if you bring in inventory from other countries.

There’s not a whole lot else I can say here because tax laws are so dependent upon where you live. Now that you know the five kinds of taxes you’ll deal with, though, you’ll have a much better time productively Googling the rates you’ll have to pay and the forms you’ll have to file monthly/quarterly/annually.

 

3. You need to know how to protect your intellectual property.

If you make a game, you’re making intellectual property. You can’t protect mechanics, but you can definitely protect your brand name, lore, art, and other assets. Broadly speaking, there are three ways to protect your intellectual property: copyrights, trademarks, and patents. This government site does a good job explaining the difference between the three. Long story short, you’ll definitely need a copyright, you might need trademarks, and you probably won’t need patents.

 

4. You need to know how to write a contract.

Despite having some of the most needlessly obtuse phrases in the English language, I’ve come to love contracts. Sincerely, heretofore, the undersigned in the jurisdiction of…

The purposes of a contract are to document the following information:

  • Who is involved in a transaction
  • What is expected to be done by each party involved
  • How much it costs and when payments are sent
  • Quality and time expectations
  • What happens if someone doesn’t fill their end of the bargain

A contract tells everybody what they need to know about a project before they start it and provides legal documentation that can be used to enforce it. It’s beautiful.

I won’t tell you exactly how to write a contract since that varies on where you live, what you’re doing, how many people are involved, and how much money is involved. I also won’t tell you that a contract will prevent problems from coming up. Problems will still arise, but the contract gives you a better way to have a conversation about them and protection if you have to take your problems to the legal system. Ultimately, contracts and their enforcement depend upon the goodwill of all parties involved since taking them to courts is an expensive affair. Yet the benefits of clear communication make it worthwhile all the same.

 

5. You need to know how to reduce the potential for legal troubles.

If you find yourself in legal trouble, I can’t help you. That’s lawyer territory and you need to find yourself a real pro. As they say, though, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you want to stay out of trouble, here are a few simple guidelines you can follow:

  • Get a business license.
  • Open a separate bank account for your business. Never mix personal and business expenses.
  • Keep clean accounting books weekly.
  • Pay your taxes when they’re due. All of them.
  • Protect your intellectual property using copyrights and, if sensible, trademarks.
  • Write good contracts and honor them.
  • Don’t do business with anyone who comes across as seedy.
  • Read the previous bullet point again and really let it sink in.
  • If you open a sole proprietorship and start making serious money, transfer all your business assets and expenses to an LLC and operate as that LLC.

 


 

Tax and law tend to get glossed over in our industry because they’re not fun to talk about. It’s so critical that you develop an understanding of the basics, though, if only to protect your ability to make more games in the future 🙂

Do you have any advice to pass onto new game devs? Let me know in the comments below!

Kickstarter Math: How to Deliver Your Board Game On-Time and Within Your Budget

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In 2012, as many as 84% Kickstarter projects were fulfilled late. While I suspect that figure has dropped since then, it’s still a running joke that Kickstarter projects always fulfill late. Behind the scenes, a lot of projects also tend to run well over-budget, too. So what’s happening and how can we prevent you from suffering the same fate?

 

 

Let’s get some basic facts out of the way first. Even if you’re just making a simple board game for the first time, you have to treat any Kickstarter campaign like a business. That’s because it is a business. Kickstarter is a way to generate revenue through multiple customers on a shopping site. Kickstarter says that it’s “not a store,” but that’s not the way tax professionals or the U.S. government see it.

Any and all Kickstarter board game projects require you to act as a project manager. You must manage the time, cost, and scope of the project. For board games, that means you have to account for…

  • The time spent designing and developing the game, gathering art, building an audience, campaigning, fulfilling, and shipping the game.
  • The cost of doing everything above, which is almost always in the thousands of dollars if not tens of thousands of dollars.
  • The scope of the game – number of units, number of components, number of countries to ship to, and so on.

What I’ve just described above is every part of the Iron Triangle of Project Management. Basically, you pick two of these to focus on and the other gets the boot. Want a big game made cheaply? Take your time. Want a big game made quickly? Open your wallet. Want a game made quickly and cheaply? Make it small.

 

Image result for the iron triangle project management

 

The importance of the Iron Triangle isn’t its thoroughness or even its absolute truth. Its sole purpose is to keep you from being delusional. You can’t do everything. A lot of creators get into trouble by giving Kickstarter backers their most optimistic timelines which they are unlikely to meet in even the best of circumstances.

When in doubt, give Kickstarter backers the most conservative timelines possible. You can end a campaign in December and deliver in April. If you tell people “I’ll have it done by March,” they’ll be disappointed. If you tell people “I’ll have it done by June,” they’ll be pleasantly surprised. For better or worse, the timeline you initially put out there into the world will serve as an anchor for people’s expectations. It’s not fair, but it’s reality and you have to face it.

For your use, I’ve included a generic, optimistic, customizable timeline which you can use for your own projects. This is what I consider to be the absolute bare minimum amount of time you need to complete a game as a project. In fact, it leaves no room for holidays or missteps, and does not provide adequate time for art demands beyond those which you’d need for a small box game. It also assumes you already have some level of visibility online and perhaps an established brand. If you don’t have either, take a few months to get your name out there before you jump into this schedule. Needless to say, some assembly is required 🙂

 

Validate game idea by market 23 weeks before campaign
Develop basic lore 23 weeks before campaign
Game specs 23 weeks before campaign
Contract 22 weeks before campaign
Set up website 21 weeks before campaign
Set up mailing list 21 weeks before campaign
First draft of the game 19 weeks before campaign
Manufacturing RFQs 18 weeks before campaign
Fulfillment RFQs 18 weeks before campaign
Start and maintain WIP thread on BGG 18 weeks before campaign
Work on brand 18 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – early, private 18 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game with at least one person not designing it 17 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – online, general 16 weeks before campaign
Preliminary artwork 15 weeks before campaign
Screen artwork with audience 15 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – online, guided 12 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – blind, online 11 weeks before campaign
Play-test the game – blind, offline 11 weeks before campaign
Create physical prototype (with or without art) 11 weeks before campaign
Test physical prototype 9 weeks before campaign
Sign-off on game / Art must be done 9 weeks before campaign
Print review copies 9 weeks before campaign
Facebook group outreach 9 weeks before campaign
Board Game Geek outreach 9 weeks before campaign
Reddit outreach 9 weeks before campaign
Send review copies 7 weeks before campaign
Podcast outreach 7 weeks before campaign
Blogger outreach 7 weeks before campaign
Streamer outreach 4 weeks before campaign
Press outreach 2 weeks before campaign
Manufacturing preparation (complete) 1 week before campaign
Fulfillment preparation (complete) 1 week before campaign
Kickstarter campaign Campaign
Pre-order / sales system TBD
Ongoing distribution TBD

 

Once you have a basic timetable established, it’s time to create a budget. Broadly speaking, you’ll need three budgets: game creation budget, Kickstarter campaign budget, and an ongoing distribution budget. We’re going to focus on the first two.

Creating a game creation budget is relatively simple. Write down all the costs that come with developing a game, such as art, marketing, samples, and taxes. This could be anywhere from a couple thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. This doesn’t include the cost to print the game, just the cost to get the game ready to print and ready to Kickstart. Be clear-eyed and rational when you’re making the budget. You don’t want to be overly optimistic and then find yourself having to throw in more money than you planned at the last minute.

Once you have completed that, it’s time to make the Kickstarter campaign budget. This is tricky because you have to account for multiple different scenarios. Ideally, you want to imagine the outcome of your campaign at every thousand dollar increment up to $100,000 and then five thousand dollar increments up to $1,000,000 or more. You shouldn’t expect to make that much money, but you should be ready to make that much money.

You’ll need to create an Excel spreadsheet with multiple columns, most of which will have formulas. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll assume you have a good understanding of Excel because the math alone is pretty grisly.

You’ll first need 12 columns like this:

  1. Funding Level = The amount of funding your Kickstarter receives.
  2. # of Full Backers = Column 1 / (core reward price + shipping)
  3. Qty Ordered = The number of games you had to buy to fill Kickstarter orders (the greater of the minimum order quantity OR the number of backers).
  4. Landed Price (No Stretch Goals) = The cost to make games without stretch goals.
  5. Stretch Goals Per-Unit = The additional cost to make games with stretch goals at a given funding level, per-unit.
  6. Landed Price (Total) = Column 4 + (Column 5 * Column 3)
  7. Margin = Percentage of Kickstarter rewards not spent on shipping, Kickstarter fees, or transaction fees. Be conservative with this estimate.
  8. Gross Income = (Column 7 * Column 1) – Column 6
  9. Tax = Tax Rate in your area * Column 8
  10. Net Income = Column 8 – Column 9
  11. Creation Cost = Cost to create the game to where it’s Kickstarter ready.
  12. Net Change in Cash = Column 10 – Column 12

Once you get these basic formulas right, you can estimate how much your game will cost to Kickstart at just about any level. All you need to adjust are the Stretch Goals, Qty Ordered, and – if things go really well – Tax because you’ll wind up paying a higher Tax Rate because you got into a higher bracket.

Don’t let the immense amount of detail fool you, though. You can still get in trouble with this math. If you are overly optimistic about your margin (consider international backers) or you don’t get the tax rate right, you could end up shelling out money you don’t expect to. This also assumes your core reward is the one that will have the lowest margin. If that’s not true, you may need to adjust your estimates.

Again, some assembly is required with a Kickstarter budget. I’m assuming, for the purposes of this guide, that you understand business math and how to use Excel. My intention is to provide you with a flexible framework to estimate the outcome of several different scenarios playing out on Kickstarter.

 


 

There is a lot that goes into delivering Kickstarter campaigns on-time and within budget constraints. There are no substitutes for careful project management and financial analysis.

Do you have any questions or comments about fulfilling a campaign on-time and within budget constraints? Let me know in the comments below 🙂