Your Board Game Kickstarter: Why & How to Spread the Word Early

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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.

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2 Reasons to Promote Your Board Game Kickstarter Early

  1. You need to know if people want your game.
  2. 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.

Pre-Market Validation

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:

Real Enthusiasm
  • 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
Vanity Metrics
  • 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:

  1. Choose & Use a Board Game Marketing Strategy that Works
  2. Rise Above the Noise of the Internet & Get Noticed
  3. Generate Traffic for Your Board Game Website
  4. Build a Mailing List and Send Newsletters as a Board Game Dev
  5. Build up a Facebook Page as a Board Game Dev
  6. Get Big on Twitter as a Board Game Dev & Revisited in 2018
  7. 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.)

Final Thoughts

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 🙂





How to Master Time (So You Can Make Games)

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Game development is a marathon. It’s a long, difficult endeavor that eliminates the unprepared by sapping their endurance a quarter-mile at a time. It takes at least a year, at the bare minimum, to take a board game idea and turn into a ready-to-sell product. Anything less than that is next to impossible, and 18-24 months is a lot more realistic.

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Staying organized and managing your time well are critical to self-publishing a game. There are a lot of things to do, a lot of things to track, and a lot of time that needs to be spent. You need to keep your digital and physical files organized, you need to keep a to-do list, you need to keep a project timeline, and you need to make and stick to a calendar. If you do not stay organized, you’ll be pulled in too many different directions and you won’t get hardly anything done.

Let’s start from the top down. I’ll talk about big time-frames and how you can organize your time and your efforts in the long-term and we’ll slowly work our way down to from years to minutes.

Wall Clock

Years

Accept that it takes at least a year to make a game, and often 18-24 months. It almost always takes more than one game to make a good amount of money. By self-publishing, you’re starting a business and that most businesses need 3-5 years to make a decent amount of money.

Years are too big of a time frame to meaningfully organize your activities around, but it’s important to accept the long arc of what you’re getting into. Lots of people make games. Most people quit. You don’t have to be one of them. I feel like the main differences between the quitters and the winners are expectations, passion, and willingness to improve.

Months

Game development as a process falls into several stages, most of which take months. They include…

Early Production

Game design and development. This is the process by which game ideas are crafted into working products. This usually takes at least 6 months. Making the game work isn’t necessarily the hard part. The hard parts are play testing it, getting artwork, and getting the whole product ready for the market.

Artwork. You get someone to do the art for your game. Unless you’re really talented, you shouldn’t do art for your own game. The amount of time this takes is dependent upon your artist’s schedule and the complexity of your game, but even a simple board game could take around 4 months.

Production. You’ll need to print some sample copies of your game to make sure all your ideas translate well to a physical product. This could take a month or more. It could take much, much longer if you wind up having to make changes.

Rubik's Cube Taken Apart
It takes a long time for games to come together. Photo taken by Hangsna and posted to Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (Source).

Reviews. Before you can launch a Kickstarter, you’ll need reviews for people to take you seriously. Reviewers tend to drag their feet, so you should account for two months between sending them a copy and them writing a review. You also need to account for the time it takes to produce sample copies. Budget 3 months for this.

Kickstarter. While most Kickstarters are around a month in length, the preparation before and the clean-up afterward take another month together. You should plan to spend about 2 months on Kickstarter. This is assuming, of course, that you succeed. About half of Kickstarters in the board game market don’t. If you fail, you’ll need to relaunch and that involves more time. Also, if you want to succeed in the first place, you’ll need to have a community built up from several months prior as well.

Late Production

Manufacturing. It takes about a month to print board games. Then it takes about three months to ship them by sea. Yes, you read that right. You can air ship them, but it’s really expensive and I can’t recommend that you do that in good faith. Plan for 4 months to manufacture assuming everything goes well. Manufacturing delays in addition to that 4 month time frame are very common.

Fulfillment. Whether you ship your games yourself or with the help of third parties, it’s going to take a bare minimum of two weeks to get everything in the mail. Plus you’ll be intermittently solving problems related to fulfillment in the months to come.

Sales. This can go on for as long as your game has a community! Here is the thing, though: this never really ends.

Marketing. Even if you had a game perfectly ready to go, you’d still need to build a community through wise marketing and promotion practices for at least six months, but realistically closer to a year to make even a modest amount of money on Kickstarter.

How do you keep track of all of this? One such way is to create a Gantt chart, shown below. Each different stage can be imagined as a row. The columns represent time. This helps you get a feel for how your game’s creation process will work. If you get ahead or fall behind, you can tweak the bars to be shorter or longer and move everything else that comes along with it. I made this chart in Excel, but there are better programs for it.

Weeks

Every week, it’s a good idea to set goals. Sure, you can have broader goals of “be a good game dev” and “make this game a real thing.” In fact, those are really important to have! But with weekly goals, your focus should be making them specific and achievable. Line up your weekly goals with your broader goals.

I like keeping my weekly goals in Evernote. I set weekly goals every Saturday and I track certain metrics like web traffic, followers, newsletter subscribers, and sales that I think line up with my bigger goals. Here’s what my weekly goals look like right now.

Days

On a day-to-day basis, you want to make sure you have time to actually achieve what’s on your weekly goals. After all, it’s the weekly goals that link up to the monthly stages of board game development and the multi-year epic journey that is getting published. I suggest using Google Calendar to track your time in 30 minute blocks. You can move these blocks around as you like, but the idea is to actually set aside time every day to work on your goals.

Google Calendar

Hours

When it comes to setting up time for making a game, it’s not just about putting in long hours. Sure, you might have to put in long hours, but the reality is that you don’t have to put that much time in everyday to make it. You just have to put a good amount of time in most days for a few years.

Make your time count. Only spend time on what’s worthwhile. Try to schedule tasks when your mind and body are capable of doing them well. Always look for ways to improve your processes. If you can outsource work, do it. If you can automate work, do it. Work smart so that when you work hard, it’s worth the extra oomph!

Minutes

Focus is critical. Find out what distracts you. Is it social media? The constant buzzing of text messages? Are your kids interrupting you? Is it noisy neighbors? Figure out what triggers distraction in you. Seek to eliminate or reduce distraction wherever you can so you don’t get your precious little minutes stolen.

Mindful use of your time is key to success in game development and self-publishing. Set realistic expectations. Have an understanding of what it takes to get from point A to point B. Set clear goals. Keep a schedule. Block off time. Reduce distractions. Improve processes.

You do this and you’re one step away from Start and one more step toward Finish.

Time is Only Half of the Problem, Energy is the Other Half

I originally wrote this blog post in early 2017. The tips I’ve talked about here have helped me to survive a failed Kickstarter campaign, launch a successful one, and start a marketing agency.

I used this advice every day while I took care of an injured family member and even as the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world. To this day, I still use Google Calendar, although I’ve given up Evernote for a more visual Trello board.

I want it to be crystal clear that I practice what I preach, because I need you to understand that time management is half the battle. Energy management is the other half. I talk about that at length in this post. To save you a click, though, here are the basic principles:

  • Figure out when you’re most likely to be in a creative, analytical, and social mood.
  • Plan your day around when you typically experience these moods.
  • Always leave some flexibility in your workload so you can switch tasks if you get stuck.

If you can combine these energy management tips with time management skills, I earnestly believe that it will help you to achieve your goals.





How to Order a Print Run for Your Board Game Kickstarter

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If you find yourself reading this guide after you’ve funded a Kickstarter campaign, congratulations! After an enormous amount of work creating, testing, and promoting your board game, it’s time to send it off to the printers. How exciting!

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Even if you’re not at this stage, this guide will still be helpful. In fact, it might even be more helpful because there are there are three things you want to absolutely nail before you launch your Kickstarter:

Realistic timetables, cost estimates, and specifications are the foundation upon which everything else you do after funding a campaign is built. Campaigning isn’t easy, and neither is fulfillment.

Throughout your campaign, you want to be thinking about what you’re going to do immediately after the campaign. You’ll want to contact your desired printer before you launch the campaign. When you fund, let them know. Every time you hit a stretch goal level, it’s smart to send them a message about it. The point is: you want to keep them in the loop. If this sounds like a lot of email, consider this:

  • You send more email than they need: they mark as read and move on with life.
  • You send less email than they need: “um, we’re going to need four extra weeks to do this.”

It’s also a good idea to see if you can get a jump start and begin printing during the two week period in which you’re waiting for your funds to clear. Depending on your printer, you might gain a week or two on the front-end of your schedule, and that’s never a bad thing!

Naturally, you’ll want to let them know exactly how many games you need to print. You need to definitely print enough to fill your Kickstarter campaign plus 20 or 25%. You should do more than that if you plan on taking pre-orders or selling the rest. Be careful not to be unrealistic when you do this. This industry moves fast and your garage only has a finite amount of space.

Before you complete the order, double check your specs again before you finalize the transaction. You need to make sure you’ve accounted for any stretch goals that you promised during the campaign.

Another interesting thing to point out is that different companies have different payment methods. Some will accept payment through PayPal. Others will insist that you pay by wire transfer. If you’ve never done a wire transfer, this can be an intimidating concept. Your printer will provide you the information you need, and you can go to any place that has a Western Union to do it. Not sure where to look? Try your nearest full-service grocery store.

A Few Board Game Printers You Can Contact

By the time you’re ready to order a print run, you likely know which printer you want to print your game. However, if you’re not sure where to start, here are three companies you can try:

Final Thoughts

You’ll notice that this is a relatively short post of mine. That’s for a good reason. Once you get to this point, the most important factors are preparation you’ve already done and making sure T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. The printer will take care of manufacturing, and in a few weeks or months, it will be ready for you to fulfill – either on your own or through a third-party company.

In the mean-time? Pop open a bottle of champagne – you’ve hit a major milestone!