Why Cancel a Kickstarter?

As everyone reading this is probably aware, we canceled the PaleoVet campaign on Kickstarter recently. It had gone nine days and raised a little over $9,000. Our announcement sparked several comments. Some were very supportive and understood why we made this decision. Others were a bit more skeptical. I think we were all a bit disappointed. So, I’m going to explain a bit about the Kickstarter environment. Why this was the best decision for our business, and ultimately why this is going to be the best for backers as well.

Before I dive into the explanations, I want to reassure everyone that we will be back. We will launch another Kickstarter and PaleoVet will happen.

Setting the Kickstarter Funding Goal

We’ve had several people ask about why our Kickstarter goal was set at what it was. Wondering if maybe we could have reduced that to allow us to fund faster. For PaleoVet, we set our funding goal at $12,000. This is the minimum amount of money we need to get 1000 copies of PaleoVet manufactured. As well as cover freight costs and all of the fees related to running a Kickstarter.

Here are some approximate cost breakdowns for that:

  • Printing ﹘ $6000
  • Freight ﹘ $4500*
  • Kickstarter Fees ﹘ $650
  • Credit Card Processing ﹘ $400
  • Other assorted taxes and fees ﹘ $450

This was the cheapest we could go to be able to manufacture the game. You’ll notice the * next to freight. If you have been paying attention to the world you know that it’s a little crazy out there. We based our estimate on pre-covid rates with a little padding. Keeping in mind that freight costs could soar and we might have to cover that out of our profits.

Some of our preliminary budget calculations.

Now, while those numbers explain the funding goal, that does not account for what we already spent out of pocket:

  • Art
  • Graphic Design
  • Prototype Printing
  • Advertising
  • Reviewers

We have invested about $6,000 of our own money (mostly profits from Churrascaria) into preparing PaleoVet and the Kickstarter campaign.

From the start, we felt that it was very important to set a realistic and transparent funding goal. We wanted that goal as low as possible without putting ourselves in financial danger if freight or manufacturing costs skyrocket.

I think we have all seen campaigns where the funding goal was suspiciously low. In those cases, I have to assume one of two possibilities:

  1. The creator didn’t budget properly.
  2. The creator intends to invest some of their own money.

To me, neither of these are fair to backers. We want to be open, transparent, and realistic, even if it means we meet our funding goal a little slower. 

All that said, we have to realize that any Kickstarter campaign actually has a couple of “goal” levels. There’s the base goal ($12,000 for us) that we need to fund production. The break-even point that allows us to recoup our sunk costs. Then there is the point where we actually start to make a profit on the game.

For PaleoVet, we wouldn’t have recouped our expenses from the campaign until we reached about $18,000. Since we are printing at least 1000 copies we need to sell through about half that to hit that break-even point. The first 300 from Kickstarter, and then the rest through our website and at conventions. Still, it’s a whole lot nicer to hit that point during the Kickstarter campaign if we can. We could have set our goal higher, aimed for that $18,000 from the start, but that just raises the bar for funding, and regardless of if we fund our not we have already invested that first $6,000. It’s better to get the game funded and hope to make our money back than to set a bar we can’t reach and never get our money back.

The numbers made sense, the campaign could be done with a $12,000 goal and be profitable once we sold through the whole first print run. But of course, first, we had to actually fund.

Funding Fast

Kickstarter is a strange market. Though its roots exist in helping indie artists bring their projects to life, it has definitely developed into something else over the last decade. Kickstarter is still the best way we’ve found to make our games happen, but doing so requires an understanding of how Kickstarter actually works these days.

Kickstarter creators work for months before launching projects to build a following of potential backers. They create Facebook groups, demo games at conventions, run ads, post on forums, reach out to reviewers, and do anything else they can to get attention. All of this is done to ensure they have a large enough community to fund fast ﹘ as in day one.

That bears repeating.

The first goal of running a Kickstarter campaign is to fund on the first day.

That probably sounds ridiculous. It kind of is. After all, the average campaign is scheduled to last 30 days, so why is day one so important?

Well, the answer lies in backer psychology. The strange reality of Kickstarter is that most people won’t back a project unless it is already funded. Kickstarter relies on a momentum that is started at launch, kept up by funding, and then extended through the use of things like stretch goals and marketing to keep backers interested.

Naturally, there are exceptions. But the general rule of thumb is that if a campaign doesn’t fund early, there is a very good chance it won’t fund at all. All of those people waiting for it to fund before backing will just keep on waiting, and the campaign will just limp along until either failing or if you are lucky it will inch across the funded line.

The community you bring with you is the fuel that gets your momentum going. Not funding early is a very clear sign that you have not done enough to effectively build that community. With PaleoVet, we had an amazing first day, and then every day that followed saw the number of backers plummet, and eventually saw people canceling pledges, grinding our momentum to a halt.

But the Kickstarter Campaign Could Have Still Funded

Some people have pointed out that the campaign still had a chance of funding. We still had 20 or so days to go and only needed another $3000 dollars when we canceled. We were still getting a few backers and $200 or so dollars each day. So yes, in theory, the campaign could have been funded by the time we reached the end. 

But we were also seeing the number of cancelations increasing, and the number of backers each day was dropping. There was a very real chance that within a few more days our momentum would have gone from a stall to a reversal, with more cancelations happening than new backings. In which case the campaign would have just gone into freefall. The Kicktraq chart below shows the backer trend, though their data doesn’t show cancelations unless you had no new backers on that day. On the last day of the campaign for instance we had 3 new backers and 2 cancelations.

Data courtesy of Kicktraq.com

As we mentioned before, this wasn’t a certainty, but “waiting to see” has its own costs associated with it: running ads, keeping up with updates, etc. Overall, we decided this time was better spent assessing our mistakes and further improving the game and campaign for a relaunch.

Mistakes Were Made

When we launched the campaign for PaleoVet we had about 300 followers on the Coming Soon page, and about 350 newsletter subscriptions. We also knew we had a fair number of followers across various social media channels. Based on player enthusiasm at playtests, we made the cardinal sin of sales and dramatically overestimated how many of those followers would back on day one. We needed around 250, we got only 100 on day one. This was not as much as we wanted, but it was still very exciting. We were nearly halfway there. But on day two we only got 14 backers, and it quickly dropped from there.

Now while the size of our pre-launch community was the biggest problem, we also made some mistakes in our scheduling. Due to the pandemic, and our own focus on the campaign, we weren’t keeping an I on the bigger picture of the industry. So we managed to schedule our launch right between two of the biggest board game conventions in the United States: Gen Con and Origins. We also launched at the end of the month, but before payday. This meant that at least some of our backers simply didn’t have the funds to back us at launch, or at least wouldn’t feel financially comfortable doing so.

All of these issues are very much our own fault. And we have spent the time since we decided to cancel going over all of the data, talking to colleagues, and working out ways to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes twice.

The Dinosaurs will rise again

We are starting our community-building process from scratch. This time we are not going to launch until we have a very large and excited community to help ensure we fund within those all-important first few days. We will be running ads, we have started a design diary on BoardGameGeek, spending more time in Facebook groups, and generally doing more engagement with the community.

We are also creating a print and play of the game so people can try the game and spread the word. As well as looking for additional reviewers to try the game out.

We are also working to improve the game by adding features like a solo game mode and ironing out some of the remaining details. For example, we had not completed the design of the premium player boards. Before the campaign relaunches, details like that will be sorted and ready for backers to evaluate. Not only do we want to improve our community building before the relaunch, but we also want to make sure the game is as good as it can be, at the lowest price we can charge.

We want PaleoVet to be a success. And we plan on putting in the work necessary to make sure that happens.

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