If you’re making a board game that you plan to launch on Kickstarter, you’ll find no shortage of advice on the internet. There are articles on how to build an audience, how to create the perfect campaign page, and lists of people to reach out to. These are all tremendous resources, but they don’t really answer the question of “why spread the word early?” When you start with the question “why start early”, it adds a new layer of context.
2 Reasons to Promote Your Board Game Kickstarter Early
- You need to know if people want your game.
- You need to build a big enough audience to reach critical mass for funding.
Knowing if people want your game is critical. Sharing early will help you gauge your board game’s product-market fit, a fancy MBA term for how much people like your game as a product that they would buy, and not just as a game. Product-market fit takes into account your game’s mechanics and play experience, its art, its price, its components, and a whole host of different factors that gamers look for – consciously or unconsciously – before they buy.
It doesn’t matter who you are or how big your audience is if your product has poor product-market fit. You’ll either make less money than your true potential or you’ll straight up fail. It happened to me with a game called Highways & Byways, which I write about in detail here. It’s a sad story, but I recommend you read it because it was an incredibly formative experience for me.
Reason two to spread the word early is more obvious. You need a big enough audience to fund your game on Kickstarter. It’s become a cliche to say it, but it’s true: you bring people to Kickstarter, Kickstarter doesn’t bring them to you.
With the “why” behind us, let’s get to the how. Throughout the entire time you’re promoting your game, especially early on, I recommend you engage in a process called “pre-market validation.” You might also hear me call this product-market fit.
Using little bits and pieces from your development process, share with your audience and gauge their reaction. Things you can share include a basic pitch, the name of the game, art (sketches or final), components, price point…really, the list goes on. Anything that might make a difference in your game’s marketability, you can share.
You can share your work online. If your pitch, name, art, and so on gets much more positive attention than your average post on the same site, that’s a good sign. Positive attention could be comments, Facebook reactions, or anything else like that. Ideally, you want to see real enthusiasm – people saying things like “I can’t wait for this” or “this looks awesome!”
You can also share your work offline. The same basic principle applies, but instead of getting hard facts and figures like you’d get by tallying up retweets or Instagram likes, you need to read people’s body language and tone of voice. You’re still looking for enthusiasm.
You also want to do a different type of market validation. You need to make sure that people actually spend money on games like yours. Check Kickstarter and see if you can find a few campaigns like yours that have successfully funded within the last few months. Look out for failed campaigns with similar games, too. You don’t want to fall prey to survivor bias.
Pre-market validation makes sure you do the right thing. Smart audience-building techniques mean you do the thing right. If I had to pick one over the other, I’d take pre-market validation over audience building. No contest.
What does real enthusiasm look like?
I really cannot stress the importance of pre-market validation enough. If people don’t really, really care about your game, then you’re likely to have a tough time on Kickstarter. But like I said a moment ago, it’s not just about Instagram likes.
Here is how I tell real enthusiasm apart from vanity metrics:
- People asking detailed questions that indicate they’ve read the rules
- People following your Kickstarter prelaunch page without an incentive
- Email signups
- A high open and/or click rate on your emails
- Live-stream viewers
- Active Facebook groups or chat rooms where fans talk to one another
- Cheaper-than-normal social media ads
- Social media likes or followers
- Vague comments like “looks great”
- Impressions on ads, as opposed to clicks or signups
- Website page views
In general, if you have this nagging feeling that you’re “forcing” people to pay attention to your game, there’s a good chance that something isn’t right. People need to voluntarily and proactively seek out more information about your game.
Building an Audience
When it comes to building an audience, I’ve written an enormous amount of articles on that. Here are seven recent ones:
- Choose & Use a Board Game Marketing Strategy that Works
- Rise Above the Noise of the Internet & Get Noticed
- Generate Traffic for Your Board Game Website
- Build a Mailing List and Send Newsletters as a Board Game Dev
- Build up a Facebook Page as a Board Game Dev
- Get Big on Twitter as a Board Game Dev & Revisited in 2018
- Get Big on Instagram as a Board Game Dev
Even if you don’t click on one of those articles, we can cover the basics here. If you’re already validating your market, you’re in good shape. That means you can find successful games that are similar to yours. You can start by reaching out to their audiences on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Reaching out can involve targeted ads, commenting on people’s posts, or simply following people who follow people like you.
Creating a Gathering Place
Pretty early on, you’re going to want to build some sort of “gathering place” for your fans. That could be a chat server, a Facebook group, a mailing list, or something else like that. I recommend you start a mailing list for sure. It’s simple and nearly everyone you meet online has an email address.
Once you set up your gathering place, which we’ll assume is a mailing list for the following examples, you’ll need to give them an opt-in incentive. Why are people choosing to sign up? It could be to gain access to a print-and-play version of your game, early access to art, lore updates, or even giveaway prizes.
As you might expect, part of the magic of having a gathering place is that you can continue to validate the market while building your audience. You can share art on social media or in your mailer and see if the amount of likes or clicks exceeds, meets, or fails to meet your expectations. You can even take out Facebook ads and see how they perform. (If you’re not sure what to look for, I find “Relevance Score” to be a pretty good indicator of product-market fit for your audience.)
As time goes on, you’ll do two things. First, you’ll validate your game and make sure it has strong potential on Kickstarter. Second, you’ll cultivate a critical mass of fans that will help push your game to its funding goal as early on as possible.
Are you building an audience for your game? Do you have any good or bad experiences to share? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your stories 🙂