Unfortunately the Kickstarter campaign was not a success. I captured my thoughts and reflections below.
'Do you want to be a designer or a publisher? Because they are two entirely different things.' This was the question posed to me by a publisher at last year's Gencon. Although I thought I understood the question at the time, it really didn't hit home until the beginning of March this year, as I was staring at a net gain of 0 pledges on day 3 of my Kickstarter campaign...
Consider this a gift to you and a cathartic exercise for me. Hopefully you won't make the same mistakes as I did.
A bit of background, I've been messing around with games all my life, but I've been seriously designing for the last 3 years. I can't tell you when I decided to Kickstart 'Mech Force', but it has been my focus and goal for the last year to get it to launch.
By the end of last year, the game was complete, the final art had been finished, and loads of playtesting had been carried out. (including a trip to the US, and into the First Exposure Playtest Hall at Gencon) So I began to prepare for launch in March. (Roughly five months away at that point.)
I'm going to cover what I think I did wrong, and what I would do differently next time. And please note, what follows shouldn't be new information to most of you. I've read it multiple times on a number of different forums and blogs, including this one. However, it all seemed a little abstract until I started going through it myself...
1 - The game is way too big.
Certainly for a first timer. The amount of money I was asking for was far beyond any other kickstarter released on the same day (more on that later).
Mech Force has a lot of dice, which weighs a box down, and one of the main problems with making a weighty game, beyond the manufacturing cost, is the shipping cost.
I wasn't aware until very late in the day that there are 3 parts to shipping; The manufacturer to the ports, the ports to the fulfillment centres, and the fulfillment centres to the backers. (There were multiple fulfillment centres as I was planning to ship worldwide.) Those costs have to be rolled into the shipping cost or the unit pledge if I had a hope of at least coming out even. So having a weighty game, effectively pushes the cost up 3 times. Which, as I said, is a tall ask for a first timer.
I estimated that I could shift 500 units. Bearing in mind, that most manufacturers make a minimum order of 1500, so those 'extra' unit costs need to be soaked up in the unit pledge, again making the game more expensive.
2 - I didn't have a 'Community'
Developing a community around a game is hard. Honestly, to make an impact, I think you need to be face-to-face with people. They need to see the game in the flesh, and see the designer too to develop a relationship. That requires going to conventions and hobby stores etc.
Developing a community requires selling a product, and it feels far removed from designing. Being somewhat shy, this aspect has been difficult, I won't lie.
Another aspect of this is living in New Zealand. Our big cons get around 1000 people over 2 days, so building a community here is tricky.
3 - Incorrect Marketing
I spent money on Facebook ads, but I can't really say they helped. 350,000 hits do not equate to likes. Likes do not equate to page hits, and page hits do not equate to pledges.
Facebook groups, although useful in getting the word out regarding games, can get lost in the noise of all the other games. Plus, there are a lot more gamers out there who learn about new games in completely different ways to Facebook. (websites, blogs, podcasts, videos etc.)
I managed to get 2 previews for the KS page from respected review sites. One of them was released nearly a week before. The reviewer did mention that next time, it would be better to release the video at the start of the campaign so interested viewers had something to see, otherwise it would fade from memory quickly. However, without sorting out problem 2, (see above) I don't think it would have made a huge difference.
One video I had to write one off due to the quality. Although I didn't pay for that one, shipping, time and one of my prototypes was chewed up in the process.
It's not that the number of videos on the Kickstarter page give the campaign credence, it's the audiences that those review sites bring. Good ones (generally) cost money and they have a queue so I should have started the 'contact' process out a lot sooner.
Also, there were around 30 games released on the same day, and an 'event' game released the following day. That's a lot of games vying for attention. I should have possibly checked the release schedule and chosen a different date. However, this industry of ours isn't getting any smaller so every week brings new goodies.
4 - Trying to do everything by myself
If this process has taught me one thing, is that I cannot do everything. I have limitations and I may have to face the fact I am not a publisher. Indeed, in the last 5 months, although I've learned a lot, I haven't done any design work at all, and that's been one of my biggest concerns.
So coming back full circle; am I a designer, or am I a publisher? Probably the former.
Board games are an art form, and like all art, they're best shared. However, the process of sharing beyond workshops and gaming groups may be a task for someone else.
However, that doesn't mean I've given up on Mech Force. It's a great game. There may be other means of getting it to tables, and that's what I'm working on now. And I'm sure that will bring its own set of challenges...