From Countdown to Launch: My Battle Plan for Kickstarter

Photo of the final prototype in Taiwan.

Photo of the final prototype in Taiwan.

I’ve been meaning to post this — along with several other blog posts, actually — for quite some time now; especially since I’ve seen a number of inquiries develop online regarding business development.

So whether it’s launching a Kickstarter campaign for a product (or film even), or starting a brand new business; I think these are all great pointers to help you get started—

  1. Product initialization: You pick the product you want to sell. Done. Next question.

    (Just kidding)

    But in all seriousness, before you decide to settle on whatever it is you are going to make, you need to make sure that there is an active market for what you want to sell, that the product works, and that the product will actually look good. In the case of developing a game, I knew there was an active market on Kickstarter — and there has been a steady rise of successful Board Game campaigns since 2012.

    For Aspiring Gamemakers: Not sure where to start? Think of some of your favorite games that you enjoy playing! Use the fun from those games to inspire you to come up with something different. Maybe there’s a game that you’ve grown tired of playing because of inherent limitations of said game? Break those limitations… or something! Try to do something different. Use a theme from something that resonates with you. A time period. A pop culture reference. Anything - it’s your game!

  2. Marketing: Once you have the product figured out, it’s time to do the basic marketing to build your audience that you’ll need to leverage once you decide to launch your product.

    The goal of marketing should be two-fold:

    1. To build your own fan base/community;

    2. To create consistent engagement with your potential customers;

    To do this, you need to figure out how to target the right people. When I first started marketing “Crypto Cartel” (originally called “Cartel: A Card Game”), I had a decent idea of who my customer was because I was my own customer. I love board games and everything else that can be attributed to board gamers: they love pop culture, to include comic books, TV shows and films. This is how I started my approach for targeting on Facebook and Instagram.

    Targeting Methodology on Social Media: (Everything I’m about to say applies to Instagram as well) If you’ve never used FB ads before, you’ll be relieved to hear that it’s actually pretty to easy to use — plus the automation is getting better as the days go by. In order to do this, you have to create a fan page for your product or brand first. In hindsight, I recommend doing it for a brand because you can use the brand to sell various products, whereas a product fan page will basically pigeon-hole you. (Facebook also does not like drastic fan page changes, but I don’t blame them. If become a fan of “Fitness Gurus R Us,” I would be pretty angry if they changed their name to “Couch Potato Life.” Those are conflicting affiliations and I would be subject to marketing that I didn’t request from the beginning. I bring this up because once you make a decision on a fan page, it becomes a real pain to change it; especially if you’re looking to pivot with your product.)

    Once you’ve created the fan page, you can start to generate ads to build up your audience. Here are some things you should consider:

    1. Giveaways: over the course of the first 12 months of my Facebook Fan Page, I had giveaways and I successfully did it on a limited budget. For the first year — mind you, this is just social media audience building — I spent no more than $300 to garner 600+ fans; which is actually a pretty good return. This not only included the money spent to promote the ad, but the money spent to pay for a gift. I went the cost-efficient route and played to the gaming audience: I gave away expansion packs for “Cards Against Humanity,” and people loved them! I would do giveaways on Tuesdays, and in order to win the expansion pack you had to tag a friend in the comment section of announcement. The person tagging a friend would be entered into a drawing, and if the referred friend “Liked”/subscribed to the fan page, they too would be entered into the drawing — and some of these people really got into it. Talk about a great return!

    2. Content: You do not want your content to be strictly giveaways because after a while people would just be under the assumption that you’re giving stuff away and they really wouldn’t care about anything else. You want to throw in authentic content about your product. In the case of “Crypto Cartel,” I showed Behind-The-Scenes (BTS) photos of the game as went along for the year. This was great because it showed people I was serious about it. I also posted trivia that I found on Wikipedia related to “cartels” and I had scheduled in a manner that the posts were publishing around the clock without me having to be on FB. So I summarize a content plan with this: always present content to generate those “Likes.” So long as people are liking or commenting on your page, that’s all that matters.

    STRATEGY RECOMMENDATION: The best way to approach marketing is to give yourself at least 12 months (no more than 18 months) to build up your fan base — and this needs to be a hard date. With exception to life changing events (birth of a child, death of a family member, unemployment, etc.) UNDER NO OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO CHANGE THIS DATE. COMMIT TO IT!

  3. Community Building/Community Support: Whether it’s launching a Kickstarter campaign or starting a business, you need a community to support your efforts. This is what largely helped me exceed my goal on Kickstarter. I can identify my support into three key groups.

    1. Family & Close Friends: My engagement before the launch is what was ultimately driving this support. My family and close friends were a huge part of that since day one. Anytime I needed playtesters, they were among the very first if not always the playtesters. The more I playtested with them, the more supportive they became because they knew I was serious.

    2. West Point Grads/Military Veterans: For those of you not familiar, I am a 2008 Graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. I’m very proud of this fact, as are other West Point Grads. When I reached out to other Old Grads about my product, the interaction was great. Everyone was impressed with the efforts I made to develop “Crypto Cartel,” which them proud to connect with me through my product. I lump in military veterans as well into this point because the relationships I developed during my brief career in the military had proven to be very fruitful. They all wanted me to succeed, which was great. Of all three of these groups, this group made up of more than 100 of the 266 backers that ultimately backed my game — that’s almost 40%. If you plan on launching a product, think about a community that’s outside your close circle of family and friends — a group that you’ve spent a lot of time with. I would recommend engaging this group, as they could be the 40% that helps you launch your business.

    3. Board Game Fans: Of course, board game fans would back my game — but I still had to work for them. There were various Board Game Groups on Facebook that were very crucial to assisting me with launching my game — and some of them were local to my area! They key thing to keep in mind is that you not only want to engage these groups on Social Media, but you also want to see these people as often as possible. Try to create long lasting relationships because if you expect to be in the market for a lengthy period of time, it’s probably out of your best interest to befriend as many of the local community members as possible. You want to be supportive of their efforts, just like you want them to reciprocate your support.

  4. Prototyping & Product Refinement: You ever heard of the old adage “Rough Draft equals Final Copy.” If you ever do that with product development, you might as well take all the money you were going to use on launching the business (make sure the money is in cash form) and then set it on fire. Throughout the life of “Crypto Cartel,” the game changed four different times — five times if you include the addition of the 30 minute quick game. You need to work on your game over and over again: you need to play it as often as possible with as many different people as possible. I organized multiple playtest events for my game and I even went to GameX over Memorial Day weekend in 2018 to actually engage the marketplace with my game. AND ALWAYS SEEK HONEST ANSWERS: DON’T SETTLE FOR WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR, BUT WITH WHAT YOU NEED TO HEAR. If people don’t like the game, make sure you understand why. ONE MORE THING: YOU NEED TO ASK THE PLAYTESTERS THIS QUESTION - “HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK A GAME LIKE THIS WOULD GO FOR?” I made sure to ask this, and make sure you differentiate this question with gamers and non-gamers. I got completely different price ranges from both groups (— and in case you’re wondering, the gamers suggested a higher price point that the non-gamers.)

  5. More Marketing: If you’re someone who knows anything about the film industry, you’d know that production companies spend a boat load on marketing. I’m trying to find the exact estimates, but I remember hearing from podcasts like Scriptnotes that the entire film budget to make the film itself compared to the marketing budget is anywhere from 2:1 to 1:1. Marketing can make or break film just like marketing can make or break a product. If no one knows you exist, no one is going to buy what you’re selling. To ensure the success of my Kickstarter campaign, I not only reached out to do several podcast interviews — that I posted on my Facebook fan page for credibility; but I also spent a substantial amount of money making a quality Kickstarter video while also paying some other influencers on Facebook to help get my name out. To give you a ballpark estimate, the visual marketing and social media marketing that I paid actually came out to just shy of $3000. That was close to half my budget overall. I need to throw out a disclaimer having said all of this: MONEY DOES NOT GUARANTEE SUCCESS. You can spend all the money in the world to help promote your content, but that does not necessarily mean your product will succeed in the marketplace. At the end of the day the product still has to sell itself, something that can sometimes be completely independent of all of these factors.