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.
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|
|Pre-order / sales system||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:
- Funding Level = The amount of funding your Kickstarter receives.
- # of Full Backers = Column 1 / (core reward price + shipping)
- 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).
- Landed Price (No Stretch Goals) = The cost to make games without stretch goals.
- Stretch Goals Per-Unit = The additional cost to make games with stretch goals at a given funding level, per-unit.
- Landed Price (Total) = Column 4 + (Column 5 * Column 3)
- Margin = Percentage of Kickstarter rewards not spent on shipping, Kickstarter fees, or transaction fees. Be conservative with this estimate.
- Gross Income = (Column 7 * Column 1) – Column 6
- Tax = Tax Rate in your area * Column 8
- Net Income = Column 8 – Column 9
- Creation Cost = Cost to create the game to where it’s Kickstarter ready.
- 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 🙂