The Board Games Renaissance
Kickstarter games have gotten tons of press over the last few years thanks to high-profile success stories like Exploding Kittens, Kingdom Death, and Zombicide. This rise in the popularity of board games on Kickstarter has been paralleled by the meteoric growth of board gaming as a hobby - Target stores, for example, have reported double-digit growth in the board gaming sector, and USAToday recently labeled 2017 as the year of the board game "renaissance".
Board games, it seems, have become big business. But with a rise in popularity comes a rise in competition, and sure enough, there are currently over 155 board games live on Kickstarter right now.
The fact of the matter is that even in the lucrative Games category, only around half of projects get funded. Of the half that don't get funded, over 17,000 projects have gotten only 20% or less of the way to their goal before sputtering out. And that doesn't count games that have canceled their campaigns before coming to a close.
So what can you do to help your game stand out in a crowded market? Follow the following Kickstarter campaign tips, for a start. These tips and best practices helped guide our first game, Firelight: The Questing Card Game, to a 223% success on Kickstarter. It is our hope that other aspiring game devs will be able to use these strategies to fund their games, as well. After all, more variety in board games means more fun for us all!
Research and Strategy
It is important to begin developing your marketing strategy even as you are still creating your game. I know, I know, "marketing" is a dirty word for many game developers.
But the fact of the matter is that marketing is often stigmatized because it is misunderstood. You don't have to gather tons of data on your customers or track their habits obsessively - That stuff is strictly the realm of big businesses. Instead, just talk about your game. That's right - Any time you talk about your game, that's marketing!
With the definition of marketing clarified, the question then becomes how can you talk about your game to the right people?
As you create your game, think about the following:
- What type of person might enjoy this game? How old are they? What is their gender? Do they have families? Roommates? Jobs, or college courses?
- Where does this type of person spend their time, both online and offline?
- Have any games similar to mine been Kickstarted? Did they reach their goals? How many people backed those projects?
Thinking about those key points as we developed our game gave us all the insight we needed to create a Kickstarter success. For example, Firelight was in part inspired by listening to episodes of D&D podcasts like The Adventure Zone. We knew that these podcasts had robust fan communities filled with artwork and lore; people such as this would likely enjoy our game, too. So we made artwork and lore a key pillar of the game, and highlighted it at every turn.
It’s really important that you find your niche because, as well-intentioned as backers are, most will never even know your project exists. In a post-campaign survey, we polled our backers on their knowledge of similar, successful campaigns. Even though our backers largely identified as fans of these types of games, over 90% indicated that they had never heard of any of the games we inquired after.
In other words, even successful Kickstarter games are largely niche. The key is finding your niche, and mobilizing them to order your game.
Now that you are building your game with a specific audience in mind, it's time to start figuring out how to reach that audience. Most experts agree that you should begin marketing your Kickstarter campaign at least 3 months in advance of your expected launch date. Remember, 3 months is seen as the minimum time; we did it in just a little over that, but ideally you can have 6 months or more to prepare an audience.
Even if you take a year to build your audience, you won't see results unless you utilize the right strategies to reach them. During our Kickstarter build-up, we saw campaigns with hundreds of followers fail. We heard other campaign creators say you don't want to launch unless you have at least 1,000 mailing list subscribers, and swallowed hard looking at our "meager" list of a few hundred. The fact of the matter is there is no "right" way to market, and there is no number you need to hit before you launch.
That said, these strategies worked wonders for us:
- Look at similar games on Kickstarter. Go to BuzzSumo.com and sign up for a free trial. Then, plug in the URL of each of the similar Kickstarter campaigns. BuzzSumo will show you a list of all external sites that have linked to the campaigns, giving you specific websites and journalists to send your press releases to.
- Go to MOZ.com and sign up for a free trial. MOZ is a great SEO resource that will help you find popular web search terms related to your game. For example, "card-based rpg" and "role-playing game" are popular search terms that relate to Firelight. Collect terms related to everything from your game, to games in general, to Kickstarter, to game dev. These will form the foundation of your marketing strategy.
- Conduct inbound marketing. "Inbound marketing" is a fancy way of saying "marketing that brings customers to you". This is opposed to traditional marketing like billboards and commercials, where you are invading the customer's space to deliver your message. The goal of inbound marketing is to help, educate, and promote conversation. This blog? Inbound marketing. Start your own blog and your own social media channels, and use these spaces to discuss anything from your game, to tips for others, to general industry chatter.
- Optimize your content. Use the popular search terms from MOZ to come up with new blog content to write about, and place those terms prominently in your blog. This blog is based on the term "Kickstarter Campaign Tips" - Hopefully it gets us lots of relevant views! Similarly, use hashtags to make sure your social content reaches the right audience. A quick Google search for "popular [social platform] hashtags" can find you a few platforms with which to optimize your hashtags. We used...
- Crowdfire. This great little site is free to use, and covers Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You can schedule posts ahead of time here, and even enter "competitors" that are similar to your account. Then, Crowdfire will recommend accounts to follow and conversations to join that are relevant to your interests. They offer a free "lite" service that met all of our needs nicely.
- Get out there and meet people! The folks you meet at conventions, meetups, or parties will become your most vocal supporters.
Kickstarter Campaign Tips
Now that you have developed your pre-campaign marketing strategy, it's time to optimize the Kickstarter campaign itself. Your blog might reach a few hundred or even a few thousand fans, but Kickstarter is an established website that wields far more power than your blog probably ever will. Use that to your advantage by placing high-traffic search terms from MOZ in your campaign.
Let's take a look at the Firelight campaign, and a few of the places we were able to slot in terms.
A few high-traffic terms we were able to squeeze in were:
- "Card game"
- "Tabletop RPG"
- "Role-playing game"
Note that all of these terms are directly relevant to our game, and don't seem out of place in the context of our Kickstarter.
It's important to put high-traffic, descriptive terms like these in your Kickstarter because people will search for Kickstarter projects in two different ways: Some will use Google, and others will search directly from within Kickstarter itself. Over half of our total orders originated from people searching through one of these two channels (searches from within Kickstarter were the highest source of revenue for us, but Google was important, too).
With these strategies in place, your Kickstarter campaign should have a much higher chance of success. But remember, even a successful campaign is not necessarily guaranteed to make the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the most publicized campaigns pull in. Don't expect to reach more than your goal, and set a realistic target that will allow you to fund production, shipping, and artwork in full!
If you found these tips helpful, or if you have any strategies of your own, share them below!