The Raw Emotional Reality of a Kickstarter Launch

Posted on Posted 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.

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.

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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.

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4 thoughts on “The Raw Emotional Reality of a Kickstarter Launch

  1. All the best to you, Brandon. That is pretty good that you got it to launch in a year from first design. I have spent over four years on my game, and I expect it to launch in September 2018 or February 2019. I have tried a few times before to get it going but encounter certain obstacles each time. I have been reading your articles and find them very informative. Keep at it.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement!

      If it helps, I find it helpful to launch games at a fairly rapid pace because it makes it easier to recover from failure, if that happens. The ability to experiment and pivot is critical to long-term success 🙂

      Good luck on your game!

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