Friday, 13 April 2018

What I learned from Kickstarter

What I learned from Kickstarter
By Tyson Bennett

As many of you know, Act of Treason went live on Kickstarter recently (early Feb) and did not perform as well as I had expected. It's unfortunate, but it gives me a chance to learn, develop and improve. There are a number of reasons for this and I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what happened here. Hopefully you can gain some insight from my thoughts and observations.

I've ordered this list, the biggest fumbles are at the top:

  1. 1,000 followers, but in the wrong places: I had 1,000 followers as my initial audience. This 1,000 was spread across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, the Act of Treason mailing list, etc. The conversion rates were quite low for most of these. I peg that to 1) a lack of engagement from me and a long span of time between their acquisition and when the Kickstarter launched. 2) announcements and posts can be very easy to miss on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, where a great deal of my followers resided. And 3) A follow doesn't necessarily mean "I am interested in your product and I want to buy". Sometimes it can just be a follow back, or a "I like what you posted". It's a weaker link to your product when compared to say an email subscribe. All these together culminated in a low hit rate and less pledges than expected. Email signups did perform the best, but it was also the method where I had the least followers. In hindsight, I would focus purely on the Act of Treason Mailing List as my method for gauging the level of expected pledges. I would also consider periodically sending out important updates to that mailing list to get a rough feel for engagement and opens. If only 1% of your audience opens your email, then that's a fairly good estimation of the number of engaged subscribers you have. You can work out from your Kickstarter budgeting how many engaged subscribers you need to have a successful campaign and there you go, roughly accurate forecasting. 
  2. Length of the campaign: My initial research suggested that many Kickstarter campaigners choose to babysit their project full time. This helps them to get the most out of it and gives them the time and resources to respond to all queries, tweak the marketing campaign, add more details & create art assets, and so on. Added to this, I had read that campaigns up to 14 days perform better than those of 30 or 60 days. This is believed to be due to the shorter length of time creating a "urgency", where people are more likely to act on it sooner, rather then plan to act on it later - but then forgetting about it. This is not my full time job, and so I decided on a 14 day campaign with me taking the time off of work to check on the campaign. In hindsight, if you're a small publisher, only one day off is needed - the day of the launch. You use launch day to blast out on all of your social media channels and inform friends and family. This gives your project a good head start. Afterwards, you can just monitor it a couple of hours each day. If you've done you're due diligence, then things should be ticking along nicely, and you shouldn't have to do any major course corrections. If you're a small or first time publisher, you'll likely have a much smaller, manageable audience - full time monitoring is unlikely to be required. In hindsight I would aim for 30 to 90 days, especially as a new publisher.
  3. Advertising was ineffective: I made the mistake of thinking that I could use advertising to bridge any gap between my funding and my Kickstarter goal. This can only work under rare circumstances. It is possible to pump marketing with cash in order to get conversions if, and only if, there is already a large following. In the case of no initial following then there's nothing to build off of. A lot of what drives pledge conversion is confidence - am I confident that what I'm going to buy is going to provide me with value? In the case of a Kickstarter Project that's thriving, a great deal of confidence is given to the visitor simply through the fact that there are so many others who have been willing to pledge. A visitor thinks "Wow, all of these people have seen value in this - there must be something here" (subconsciously probably). I think it's similar to walking down the street, looking for a restaurant. If you see an empty restaurant nestled in among a sea of bustling restaurants one might ask "Why are their no customers?" It could be the service is bad, the food is terrible, the food takes too long to arrive, or all of these things, or none of them. But it doesn't inspire confidence, and so you typically don't take the risk. After all, there surely is a reason right?.. Right? The mere fact that the restaurant has no clientele scares off any potential customers. It's a vicious cycle, and well known in restaurant owner circles. How to get over this "hump" is an art of itself, and a very important aspect of running a successful restaurant. It could be the best restaurant ever, but if there are no people willing to go there it hardly matters. People use popularity as a barometer for successIt's a form of efficiency and outsourcing in decision making. It would be a rather tiresome affair to go to each restaurant and try their meals. Outsourcing this kind of decision to popularity is something we humans do all the time - it makes for an easy, and typically somewhat adequate decision. Put simply, advertising may have gotten a few clicks, but those clicks were unlikely to turn into pledges because the Act of Treason Kickstarter page was "an empty restaurant". Advertising is going to be almost entirely ineffective unless you can get enough pledges so that the Kickstarter page inspires confidence to the passerby, so to speak. All in all, what this means is that you can use advertising to add fuel to the fire - but you can't use it to start the fire! Lesson learned!
  4. Timing: I launched my campaign on a Friday. Not ideal. Initially I thought that it wouldn't make a difference, but you get a period of about 24 to 48 hours to show up as "New to Kickstarter", as well as on other sites that have a "new to Kickstarter" embed on their webpage. This is prime traffic, and best of all it's free. Ultimately, the best time to launch is when Kickstarter and other affiliate sites are getting the most traffic. Jamie Stegmair has some good info on this. He suggests avoiding Monday's and Fridays' and to launch mid morning. I was planning my launch strategy on what worked best for me so that I could babysit the campaign - not what would drive the most traffic. In hindsight, I think it's best to have it set up solid from day one so that it doesn't need babysitting, and then squeeze every last drop out of the launch timing unless it's absolutely not possible to do that.
  5. More detail: People were still unsure about some aspects of the Act of Treason, such as the Court and Quest cards. There was plenty of details on the game, but a few blanks here and there for some of my more observant visitors. Thankfully, this is an easy fix. In the future I can include some more detail.  Simple additions such as showcasing some of the Court and Quest cards, as well as having a rules video and a play through video are great additions. These additions to the Kickstarter page are definitely planned for the next Kickstarter run.
  6. Comparison to The Resistance: This comparison was made in comment sections here and there and in some questions directed to me. It's a little annoying to have your creation compared to something else like this - and not just because I'm not a big fan of The Resistance. Don't get me wrong, it is fine game and I understand why people enjoy it. But Act of Treason isn't like The Resistance in my humble opinion - and I didn't design it to be like The Resistance. I totally get it, it's a popular game, and it's of the same genre. To the uninformed it's a completely natural first question to ask - "How are these two things different?" Act of Treason is much more of a hybrid of both Mafia and Battlestar Galactica, incidentally the two games I played most before starting my work on Act of Treason. I think doing a direct compare and contrast between Act of Treason will be beneficial as it will help people with the question of "How is this different to The Resistance", and help them to get up to speed really quickly on Act of Treason and why it is different. I will write a blog post going in depth on the specific differences between these two games as well as an analysis of the game theory of Avalon. This can then be included on my FAQ for the next Kickstarter. I may do a blog post about some in depth strategy on Avalon / Mafia, and why I can't really get into these games as much.
In summary, Kickstarter chewed me up and spit me out - I had no clue what to expect. It's one of those classic situations where you don't know what you don't know. Which is perhaps my one of my favorite sayings right now. That and: Sometimes you've got to look the fool so you can become the master. Both quotes are amazing and I think they really help to spell out that you have to be willing to try and fail if you want to succeed - everyone looks foolish when they start out at something new. That's just life. I'm just glad I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and give it another crack.

That about raps it up. I'll be putting up a Dominant Strategy article very soon as well as a Developers Diary, going over what I've been up to and my next steps.

Until next time,