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Thoughts on Kickstarter #2 – What I look for in the KS page part 1

This is my second post in the Kickstarter series. Last time I spoke about my approach to offering reasonable shipping as a project creator. This time I want to talk about the Kickstarter page from a project backer’s perspective. In particular, I want to focus on three elements that are important to me, so I will be discussing these in the next three posts. The three topics I am planning to cover are:

  • Project image/photo (this post)
  • Contents of the project page
  • Communications from the project owner

Let’s get started with the first one!

First topic: Excellent Project Image or Photograph

When Kickstarter was still small (the early 2010s) I found most of the project I backed from the Kickstarter page. There were other sources as well such as BGG forums and social media, but Kickstarter itself was fairly new and it wasn’t widely known. Also, there wasn’t a lot of projects so it was easier to comb through.

Nowadays, I find most of the project through other means such as ads, social media posts, and newsletters. That being said, I do still browse on the Kickstarter page often and so does many other backers that I’ve spoken to. In my most recent Kickstarter campaigns, I still get roughly 20% of my backers from Kickstarter project pages. That number can make or break the project. However, when there are more than 200 other projects happening at the same time, it gets difficult to find the project that you are really interested in. This is the same problem as when you are looking for a book to read at a bookstore, or browsing for a new game to play at a game store. The project’s face, or the project’s main image, is the best way to grab potential backer’s attention!

These are the face of your project. Make them look spectacular!

To me, the project image is like a movie poster: there is no set style. Every movie poster is unique and it is designed to emphasize the strongest part of the movie. This principle applies to the project image as well. There is no set formula for the right project image, but it should portray the theme or the gameplay as best as possible. The project creator can make it as pretty as they want, however, just like the movie poster, there is information that should always be there. I think the two pertinent details are:

  • Game box and the game logo
  • Beautifully rendered art or components, or professionally taken photograph of the components

I instantly skip through the project if I don’t see one or the other. There are a few other things I often see which I don’t care too much for. But these are to each their own:

  • US/EU/Australia friendly project badge (unless its free shipping!)
  • Player count/time/age icons
  • Funded in X hours badge/banner

This information doesn’t matter much to me. I typically don’t look for a project with cheap shipping or for a game that plays with a particular number of people. My usual thought process is to find a game that looks interesting, then figure out if it’s worth it or whether it fits my gaming group. So this information can come after I click on the image, in the body of the project page. Again, this is just my opinion.

What are some of the things you expect from the project image? Tell me in the comments below!

Learning from the mistakes of Construction Fever – part 3

In the previous two posts, I mainly focused on the theme and the in-game experience. In this post, I want to talk about the sort of “first experience” of the game, the game title. I want to look back at how I came up with the name and why it didn’t work out in the end. I also want to briefly talk about the importance of a good logo and a catchy game title.

The name of the game

City building game is one of my favorite game genres. I grew up playing SimCity on SNES, SimCity 2000 on a Mac, SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4 on a PC. Now I enjoy playing Cities Skylines. I like board games with the city building theme as well. While they have a completely different gameplay, weight, and play style, I enjoy playing games with city building theme like Small City, Quadropolis, Suburbia, and Ginkgopolis.

When I thought about the theme for this game, I immediately thought about making it a city building theme and coming up with a game title that matches it. Since the mechanic had a tycoon-ish aspect, I thought about -Tycoon (a la Roller Coaster Tycoon) and -Fever (a la Transport Fever). Each player was bidding on a project, so I thought about Construction, and therefore it was named Construction Fever.

To go straight to the bottom, the name wasn’t very popular from the beginning. Some people said the name isn’t catchy, some said its too long and wordy, and some said it is uninteresting. The logo didn’t help either, making the title hard to read at distance. I got some praise that the box art looked pretty, but I also got feedback saying that the overall appeal looked like a poster found in a city hall. Lastly, I later learned that good rule-of-thumb for a branding item is to keep it within two words and 4 syllables max.

So I decided that I need to come up with a new title, but this is easier said than done. Since I wasn’t confident that I can come up with a good title by myself, I took a poll of an interesting game title at Strategicon, a local gaming con in Los Angeles back in February. The question I asked was, “Without knowing what the game is about, which of these sounds most interesting to you?” The answers I got back were as follows.

It was a close tie between the three. I sort of expected Hostile Takeover to be popular since it is the title that you can easily imagine the contention. Cyberpunk CEO was also popular since, again, it is easy to imagine the game theme. I was a bit surprised that Bad Branding did so well. This was my personal favorite because it matches the “reputation” aspect of the game mechanics a lot, and, I thought it was pretty different. I haven’t made the final decision yet, but I am leaning towards Bad Branding.

Which one would you choose? Tell me in the comments below!

Thoughts on Kickstarter #1: Shipping

In this blog series, I want to reflect on our previous Kickstarter campaigns and share thoughts on why/how we did certain things in our campaigns. In my first post, I want to cover shipping since it is one of the question that I get asked the most.

Before I begin, I want to point out that there are many wonderful blogs that talks about Kickstarter advice such as Stonemaier’s blog and James Mathe’s site. I want to pay a lot of respect to them as many things I talk about here are based on their advice. You should definitely check their pages out if you haven’t already.

Shipping is a tricky topic. No one ever likes paying for shipping, and now-a-days with services like Amazon, it is normal for consumer to assume free or very cheap shipping. However, for product like ours the package will be bulky and heavy, and we won’t be shipping in masses to get discounts from carries. Thus the only way to look cheap is to include some or all of the shipping cost into the pledge amount.

For smaller games with small and rigid boxes, you can save significantly by utilizing padded envelopes. For example, in Arkham Ritual campaign, we offered free/$1/$2 shipping by doing both of the above. For US, we self-fulfilled and shipped via USPS first class package. For ROTW, we used Send From China, so the costs are directly from a factory in China. Lets break the shipping cost down into details. (*Note that the cost estimate is from 2017)

We included $3.45 for shipping into the pledge cost. Although we were estimating to lose $0.21 per shipment to the US, we calculated that we can recoup most of it by saving some on per shipment to ROTW. Here is what ended up happening.

Also, 6-pack pledge helped out a lot. Since $3.45 was calculated into the original cost, 6-pack meant that I had over $20 to spend for the shipping. Although some international destination did cost a lot in shipping the 6-pack, $20 was close to double what I needed to ship within the US. The end cost was slightly higher than estimate, partly due to reshipment. Although there was roughly 1% reshipment due to shipping damage or shipping errors, it was still a lot cheaper than working with a fulfillment partners.

They key takeaway from this was that I was only able to self fulfill close to 1000 US orders because the game was small and can be shipping in a bubble wrap envelope. If it was bigger game that needs to be shipped in a box, there was no way I could have self fulfilled. Similarly, shipping by Send From China would have been a lot more expensive and difficult to manage had the game been bigger.

The most important point I want to emphasize in this post is that shipping board games is expensive. $10-20 in shipping is sometime unavoidable. However, we creators do our best to make it as reasonable as possible for the backers.

What’s your thoughts on shipping, and how do you feel about creators offering reasonable shipping?

Learning from the mistakes of Construction Fever – part 2

In the last post, I wrote about developing a theme for the game by giving the game a reason. In this post, I want to talk about another feedback I received, which is how to keep players engaged with the game. Some of the players who demoed the game during the Kickstarter campaign told me that the game was really fun for the first few rounds, but they got bored towards the end.

Keeping the players engaged

When I asked more in-depth questions to those players who gave me this feedback, I learned that they enjoyed the game and that they thought the game mechanics were unique. The first few rounds were fun, but they thought the game felt a bit repetitive, and that it was difficult for them to see the paths to victory. The second part was particularly interesting that, although the game is a pretty straight forward bidding game, some players need short objectives they can achieve during the game.

This was another interesting observation for me. Until now I thought in-game objectives to be merely a bonus point to achieve, but I realized that they act well as a guide to the overall goal of the game. It also gives players a feel of achievement which amplifies their enjoyment and as well as motivation to keep on playing the game.

So what I did was I created a personal mission for each CEO. Each player chooses or is randomly dealt a CEO at the beginning of the game. By completing the personal mission, that player will receive a nominal amount of victory points.

Draft image of another CEO
His personal goal is Maximizing Profit
He will earn bonus reputation if he gains 7 or more credits in a single round.

Additionally, I created a special one-time ability for each corporation. Each player chooses or is randomly dealt a corporation at the beginning of the game, much like CEO. I crafted the background story so that it wasn’t awkward that the CEO and the corporation were swapping every game. The goal here was to create a slight deviation to the game’s rhythm (tempo) without affecting the game’s tension too much. Making the ability too power can easily break the game.

Game’s background story

The result was pretty favorable. While I am still working on the fine tuning of abilities strength, but testplayers responded that the rounds felt much more fluid and dynamic. Again, another lessons learned!

What are some of your favorite games with variable player powers?

Learning from the mistakes of Construction Fever – Part 1

Last year we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our fifth game, Construction Fever. Long story short, the project didn’t gather fund so we had to cancel the project midway through. It was difficult for us to realize that the project failed, but we got a lot of feedback and learned a lot of lessons. In the next few posts, I’d like to share the things we learned, and what we’ve been working on.

Giving the game a reason

One of the many feedback I received was that the game mechanically works and is fun, but players didn’t know what they were doing. After a bit of deeper discussions with playtesters and fellow game designers, I figured out that what was missing from the game was a reason to play: who you are, and why you are doing what you are doing. In other words, players are looking for a way to engage with the world that the game builds.

This was an interesting observation for me since I tend to focus on the game mechanics and not care too much about the theme. It didn’t occur to me that I needed to develop the game world more and give characteristics to game objects. So, going back to the drawing board, I spent a few months with my designer to discuss various theme options for the game. We thought about complete re-theme, but instead, we settled on further developing what we had instead.

In this game, players are CEO of mega-corporations. So the first thing I did was to develop corporate identities to give players a sense of what kind of companies there are. The world was set in the future, and these corporations were multi-trillion dollar companies.

Sketch of one of the company “beem”
Beem, teleportation-based shopping, is loved for its never-ending sales and omnipresent delivery. They can even teleport living things – or could, if the technology wasn’t so illegal. But with a little more power and political sway…

Next was to add characteristics to the CEO. What kind of person he/she is, what does he/she looks like, etc. My goal was simple. I wanted players to be a character in the game’s world, and have a sense of actually being part of the game. It was pretty fun to come up with personalities and histories for these CEOs.

Sketch of one of the CEO’s portrait

I haven’t asked for feedback at large, but from the limited amount of playtesting, I did I hear that players felt more engaged with the game. Interestingly from blind playtesters who played the game a while back, they thought the game was more enjoyable although none of the game mechanics were changed for their play. So this was a really interesting observation for me. Lessons learned!

What are some aspects of the game that you don’t care too much but many others do?