Kickstarter: What To Do With Additional Content?

Often the appeal of a Kickstarter project is enhanced by content additional to that offered as rewards to backers helping the project achieve its funding target. This content may take the form of a stretch goal higher than the amount necessary to fund the project; if the stretch goal is reached, backers receive the stretch goal reward, as well as the funding reward.

The tabletop game Between Two Cities (B2C) provides a current example: its Kickstarter is just past the mid point, and is approaching a stretch goal. A previous post described its start, and the early achievement of its $20,000 funding target. If and when it has raised $150,000, B2C will include cards to enable solo play.

A Kickstarter project creator may offer additional content in one or more of several different forms, namely:

  • Stretch goal
  • Add-on
  • Variant
  • Expansion
  • Sibling.

This yields the acronym SAVES. The first S is for Stretch goal, defined by Kickstarter as follows.

A stretch goal is a funding target set by the project creator beyond the original Kickstarter goal. Stretch goals as a term and a practice emerged from the Kickstarter community as a way for creators to “stretch” beyond the initial, official goal of the Kickstarter project and raise more money (and often make cooler stuff!).

The A in SAVES is for Add-on. Add-ons are similar to stretch goals in that each involves more money for creators, and additional rewards for backers. Add-ons differ from stretch goals in that they are finer-grained. An add-on is an additional reward with a specific price. For each add-on, each backer decides whether to pay the extra and get the extra.

The solitaire version of B2C could have been offered as an add-on, rather than as a stretch goal, at a price of, say, $8. The additional content would be sent to backers who paid the extra $8, and only to those backers. In contrast, the solo stretch goal will be sent to all backers, at no extra charge, if and when the target is reached. Stonemaier Games, publisher of B2C and creator of the project, is very sparing and selective about add-ons. Co-founder Jamey Stegmaier is very open and clear about this (and about many other aspects of running Kickstarter projects).

V is for Variant: an alternate form of a game that may involve new or modified rules or pieces. Of the five types of additional content, this may be the most boardgame-specific. The definition is quoted from, and links to, the glossary at

Variants turn B2C from a game for 3-7 players into a game for 1-7 players. The solo variant, as noted above, requires extra components and is included in the project as a stretch goal. There is also a 2-player variant, which was “in the box” as part of the $29 reward from the start of the Kickstarter.

The variants described above are “official,” in that they are defined by the project creator. B2C, has unofficial variants as well as the just-described official variants. An unofficial, or used-defined, variant is an instance of crowdsourcing, just as a Kickstarter campaign is an instance of crowdfunding.

E is for Expansion: additional equipment for a game, usually sold separately. Even though the B2C Kickstarter is still in progress, and rewards are not due to ship for another 8 months, there is discussion about expansions. An expansion might include components and rules introducing a new type of building, such as a port, to add the existing types such as houses and factories.

Finally, the second S in SAVES is for Sibling. B2C may turn out to be the first member of a family of games, including siblings such as Between Two Planets. The Kickstarter project page refers to this possibility, using the term horizontal expansion rather than sibling. I use sibling because it is consistent with BoardGameGeek, which describes games related in this way as a family. There may in the future be a B2 family, similar to the Tiny Epic family; the TE family currently consists of three sibling games (TE Kingdoms, TE Defenders, TE Galaxies, each funded using Kickstarter).

The genetic material shared by the B2 silblings would be the novel mechanism introduced in B2C. The number of cities (or planets) is equal to the number of players, but not in such as way that each player develops one specific city. Rather, each neighboring pair of players cooperates to build a city between them. Hence, if you play B2C, you will cooperate with the player on your left to build one city, and with the player on your right to build a separate city. As you do so, you will be competing to win the game against these two neighbors and against every other player in the game: such is the genius of the mechanism.

SAVES, then, identifies 5 forms in which a KS project creator may offer additional content. There are many relationships between these forms. Some of these take the form of decisions for project creators. For example, should already-developed additional content be offered as a stretch goal, as an add-on, or saved for a later expansion?

I intend to use SAVES as a framework for further discussion of Kickstarter. Any specific questions, answers, or other remarks might well help set direction for this; so your comments would be particularly welcome.

Project Takes Off, Kickstarter Crashes

The project in question is the board game Between Two Cities. (Here are links to B2C at Kickstarter, Kicktraq, BoardGameGeek, Stonemaier Games, Changing Way).

B2C launched on Feb 25, on schedule, with:

  • A funding goal of $20,000. I expected that the goal would be in that range, and that it would be met within the first day.
  • The game for $29. That includes all stretch goals, and shipping to anywhere in the USA (such as Maryland, where I live). I expected something in that price range.
  • A special edition at $39. I wasn’t surprised to see a “special” funding level. I was surprised not to see a bigger difference between the standard and special rewards. I expected that if there was a special edition I’d be unable to resist it. But, looking at what each reward level includes, I found the special edition very easy to resist. At the time of writing, those of us in the resistance are in the minority, with special edition backers ($39 each) outnumbering us standard edition backers ($29 each) by about 3 to 1.
  • A closing date of Mar 16. I expected a longer campaign, since most tabletop game projects at KS seem to run for 28 or 30 days. But a shorter campaign makes sense: the most intense funding days for Kickstarter (KS) projects are often the first few and the last few.
  • Stretch goals to be announced in an update the day after KS launch. I was initially surprised that stretch goals weren’t specified at the start of the campaign. Then I reflected that if I were running the KS (and was as KS-smart as Jamey Stegmaier, who actually is running the KS), I would have done the same thing. Having some news at the start of day 2 helps preserve the early momentum. And I might want to see how funding is going before I map specific stretch goals on to specific funding (or other support) targets.

As soon as I found out that B2C’s KS had started, I clicked over there. I saw that hundreds of backers had beaten me there, and that the project was closing in on its $20,000 goal. A few minutes later, I was clicking to confirm my $29 backing. By that time, the B2C project had funded.

I tried to check back on the B2C KS a little later, but Kickstarter was down. There was some joking that the downtime might have been caused by widespread enthusiasm for B2C; but if any specific project sent KS down, it must have been the Pebble Time Smartwatch (which I’m not backing).

Jamey Stegmaier, creator of the B2C KS, was understandably pleased by the takeoff of the campaign, and displeased by the crash of the platform.

We got a nice onrush of previous and new Stonemaier backers, and the project reached its $20,000 funding goal in 38 minutes. The next 42 minutes went well too, with the funding level eclipsing $30,000.

Then Kickstarter crashed… I swear it wasn’t us…

I’m writing this post after Kickstarter has been down for 75 minutes (and counting). I have to say, it hasn’t been easy. Momentum is everything on crowdfunding. In the last 75 minutes, I’m sure that plenty of people have clicked on links to Between Two Cities … That may be the one and only time they click that link. That sucks.

I suspect, and hope, that B2C didn’t lose many backers while KS was down. Jamey did such a good job building awareness and demand before the KS even started that people who clicked during the downtime will be reminded of the project, and most will click again.

There may be projects that suffered horribly from this KS crash. The most obvious are those that also launched just before the crash, but did not have a launching pad as impressive as the one that Jamey had built for B2C. But what about projects that were in their last day, or last hours? Ouch, with spikes on. (I hope that there were no such projects, but…)

If B2C follows the usual KS project pattern, its daily funding level will slow down, remain comparatively slow for the next couple of weeks, then accelerate sharply in the last couple of days of the campaign. You could help Between Two Cities buck the trend by backing it now

About To Kickstart: Between Two Cities

Starting tomorrow, and continuing for about a month, many hundreds of people, most of them strangers to each other, will jointly fund a new product. If that sounds surprising to you, welcome to the world of crowdfunding. If you’re already familiar with crowdfunding, you’ll probably have recognized the reference to Kickstarter, and will be wondering which specific product I have in mind, and why this particular Kickstarter project is so interesting.

This particular Kickstarter (KS) will fund the production of a board game called Between Two Cities. I can’t link to the Kickstarter project yet, since it won’t start until tomorrow (February 25). I can, however, link to the game’s page at BoardGameGeek, and to its page at Stonemaier Games.

Stonemaier Games is the publisher of Between Two Cities, and one of the reasons for my interest in this particular Kickstarter. Jamey Stegmaier (the maier in Stonemaier) knows how to Kickstart boardgames, and is more than generous in providing KS lessons. One of those lessons is that you need to start your KS project months before its start date on

I am confident that Between Two Cities is ready to Kickstart. That confidence rests on three main pillars. First, there is the firm pillar provided by the track record of Stonemaier Games. Second is my encounter with one of the designers of Between Two Cities. Third, and most important, there is the game itself: a print and play (P&P) version is available.

I’ll follow up with further posts after the Kickstarter for Between Two Cities launches. I should post this now, to make sure that I post before the project launches…

Aetna's Incompetence: or, Does Health Insurance Pay?

Back in June 2014, I submitted a claim to Aetna for services from health care providers. The providers in question are among the increasing number who bill their patients for services, then have their patients submit receipts to their health insurance provider.(This is in the USA, by the way. You can tell that it doesn’t involve a single-payer system.)

The expectation is that the insurers reimburse the insured. At least, that was my expectation. I think that it is also Aetna’s expectation and intention. But, seven months and many phone calls and electronic messages later, I have yet to receive the bulk of the reimbursement. I did receive one check, but that was for less than 10% of the amount due.

I think that this is due to incompetence on the part of Aetna. The many employees I talked with on the phone seemed sincere in their wish to help me. They also seemed to be having difficulty getting the relevant information from their information systems. That’s why I suspect that it is organizational, rather than individual, incompetence.

Could it be an attempt by Aetna to avoid paying? I don’t think so. Aetna has not argued that it is not liable to pay for the particular services for which I sent the receipts. I think that Hanlon’s razor is applicable here: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Aetna claim that a check was sent to a previous address, even though a new and accurate address was on file. I believe that. I requested a stop of that check, and the issue and sending of a new check. Aetna said yes.

We now seem to be in a cycle.

  • I ask Aetna where the check is, since I should have received it by now.
  • Aetna tells me that the previous check wasn’t stopped, and that a new check wasn’t cut.
  • Aetna tells me that the previous check will be stopped, and that a new check will be cut.
  • Time passes.
  • Back to start of cycle.

I decided to try to find a senior Aetna executive whose part of the organization deals with paying claims. I think that person is Meg McCarthy, Exec VP, Operations & Technology. I tried to find her email address. I did not succeed, although I did find out about many awards and media appearances, and that her annual compensation exceeds $4M (that’s four million US dollars).

Any ideas on how to get Aetna to actually cut and send the check? I’m getting so desperate, I may resort to writing a letter on paper and sending it to Ms McCarthy, in the hope that she or someone who can actually get something done in Aetna sees it. Thank you for reading, anyway.

The Kickstarter Ecosystem

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform: an internet service that enables the funding of projects by bringing together the creators of those projects with backers, who provide the money to fund the projects. The typical successful project has many backers (hence the term crowdfunding), each of whom receives a reward. (This note on the Kickstarter Ecosystem is also available as a single-sheet PDF, which includes three figures and one table.)

One particularly successful project, the COOLEST cooler, attracted over 60,000 backers and over $13M (yes, that’s thirteen million dollars, US). Over $50,000 of those backers chose as their reward one cooler delivered within the USA, at a cost of $200 ($185, plus $15 shipping). Shipping made the cost higher for the over 7,000 backers who had a cooler delivered to a country other than the USA. Other backers chose more modest rewards, such as a COOLEST party cup and blended drink book for $25. The most expensive reward cost $2,000, and included a visit from the project creator.

The COOLEST example illustrates two essential and specific flows between creators and backers. First, payment flows from backers to creators. Currently, Kickstarter directs backers to an Amazon online payment service. It will soon migrate to the Stripe service.

The second process, fulfillment, includes the packing, transport, and delivery of rewards to backers. Kickstarter leaves the fulfillment decision to project creators.

KickstarterEcoSysKickstarter, then, is not only a web site: it is also an ecosystem, including online services, logistics providers, and other creatures. The figure illustrates this ecosystem. (In the PDF, it is Figure 3, and the relationship between Kickstarter and specific social media is illustrated in Table 1.)

One of the advantages of crowdfunding for the project creator is that backers have incentives to recruit further backers. If a project does not achieve its funding goal, backers do not get their rewards (and neither do they make their payments). Some projects are structured so that this incentive persists even after the funding goal has been met. Creators may specify stretch goals: specific funding targets above the initial goal, with rewards improving as each stretch goal is met. This is an economic incentive for backers to recruit. There may also be a social incentive: backers may feel that their friends would like to know about the opportunity to fund the project, and to receive a reward for doing so.

Backers and creators often use social media to tell prospective backers about projects. Facebook and Twitter fit here, since they are so widely used. Other social media have a narrower focus, and are important within specific niches of the Kickstarter ecosystem.

Tabletop games provide an example of a niche, and of the categorization of Kickstarter projects. A creator may place a project in one of a number (currently fifteen) of broad categories, some of which have subcategories. For example, the Games category has two subcategories: Tabletop and Video.

Tabletop games include board games and card games. Such games are the focus of BoardGameGeek. If the purpose of a project is to fund a new board game, the project’s creator is likely to be active on BoardGameGeek, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Kickstarter itself.

Finally, the exhibit shows that there are other Kickstarter complements, besides those already discussed. One example is Kicktraq, which takes data from Kickstarter projects and generates charts and other material of interest to creators and to others who use or watch Kickstarter.

I welcome comments, especially suggestions for improvement on this version of this note on Kickstarter. I am thinking of expanding on other Kickstarter complements. I stopped writing here because the PDF/Word version just fits on to one (double-sided) sheet of paper, but that’s a rather arbitrary limit.

Monument Valley Fever

ScreenshotI can’t remember where I found out about Monument Valley (“adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness”) but I do know that it has been played a lot in our house since I bought it a week or so ago. Yesterday evening I couldn’t play, or read the ebook I wanted to, because each kid had claimed one of our two iPads.

The image is a screenshot from the second “chapter” of MV. The game encourages screenshots. I presume that’s so that people will take and share them; it seems to have worked on me.

Princess Ida, in white, needs to step on to the button in the center near the top. Some of the path (the darker part) can be turned using the handle. But that part of the path seems to have risen far above Ida as a result of the last button she stepped on to. What’s a Princess to do in order to get to the next lovely set of puzzles?

The base game consists of ten (X) chapters. My favorite is The Box (XIII), which I can’t describe without spoiling. Then Forgotten Shores adds eight (viii) appendices. That’s eighteen (X + viii) levels, each with its own look and theme. While I love MV, I understand that some people prefer longer, tougher games. I don’t understand the people who trashed Forgotten Shores because it cost money ($2).

As you journey through the levels you see and inhabit different environments, find new ways of changing those environments, encounter black crows and have the princess in white interact with them in various ways. You may well feel, as I did, that the game-makers want to you overcome the challenges, without making too many of them too easy for you, and that the main reward is entering and experiencing the next environment.

Congratulations on Monument Valley to ustwogames, who recently posted some interesting numbers about the game: sales of over $5M; development costs, substantial but far lower; and so on. Michelle Starr at CNET contrasted Monument Valley’s pricing with the freemium model: I for one am glad that I never saw ads in Monument Valley.

Thanksgiving (Is) For Games

I am deeply thankful for games, and for the people with whom I have played them over the years. I am particularly thankful for board games. Clarifications: I am not criticizing video games, or the people who play them; some of the board games I like best are actually card games; perhaps tabletop games is a better term than board games; I am not thankful for every tabletop game ever, and do acknowledge than many of them stink; neither am I thankful for every single person with whom I’ve played a tabletop game…

Is this board games’ golden age? Owen Duffy’s article in yesterday’s Guardian argues that it is. I agree, and hope that an even better (platinum?) age will follow. It is certainly a good time for board/tabletop games: “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually.”

So why is this a good time for board/tabletop games? There are at least two explanations. I think of them as the compliments explanation and the complements explanation.

“Games are simply getting better” is the compliments explanation. That quote from the article compliments designers and publishers of games on making better games available.

Another quote illustrates the complements explanation. “The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.” The digital and physical versions are complements, rather than substitutes. To be more specific, and perhaps more surprising: the existence of the digital version increases, rather than decreases, purchases of the tabletop version, even if the tabletop version costs ten times more than the digital version.

Dear readers of this post, it may be time for parting words. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope that you do so safely and happily. If you are “tabletop game compatible”–and I believe that most humans are–I hope that games play a positive part in your holiday season, and in the rest of your life.

If you are interested in the impact of technology on our lives, please bear with me for another paragraph or two. It seems strange that tabletop gaming and smartphone usage are on the rise at the same time. Who wants games with components of cardboard and wood, costing dozens of dollars, when there are so many mobile games available for a few bucks, or at no immediate financial cost? One answer is that such gamers are rare, and becoming rarer.

Despite our affection for them, the market for board games tumbled 9 percent in 2010 and the road ahead is straight downhill… With apps, every boardgame can be brought to the screen, be carried in your pocket…. online game centers… knit people together.

The quote, from Michael Saylor’s book The Mobile Wave (2012), presents an argument that games on mobile platforms will substitute for games (sometimes the same games) on the tabletop. The book presents an argument that connected mobile devices will substitute for pretty much every existing way we do pretty much any thing. I suspect that data from the few years provide tend to support the general mobile wave thesis.

But the games for which I am thankful seem to be buoyant, their cardboard boxes floating on the mobile wave rather than being swept away by it. I think that tabletop games will remain on top the the wave, although sales figures may bob up and down.

Here are some of the questions on my mind. I’d love to see responses, and further questions.

  • Will the current “golden age” of board/tabletop games continue, or even turn into a more precious age?
  • Are digital versions of tabletop games complements to, rather than substitutes for, the tabletop game itself?
  • In what other arenas are digital versions complements to, rather than substitutes for, “the real thing”?

Have a great Thanksgiving, or Thursday, or weekend, or whatever it is for you,

ps edited for clarity on Dec 3, 2014

Business Book Recommendations

Some rather hardy MBA students recently asked me for book recommendations, on top of the book I’d just recommended to them, which in turn was on top of the books and other materials I’d assigned for the course. This post provides those recommendations, and shares them with you, even if you are not one of the students who made the request. (It also provides an Amazon affiliate link to each of the books, but I’ll be pleased if you just consider some of these books, and there are lots of other ways to obtain them.) The book I recommended is:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. I recommend it for reasons including the following. It’s about an important and interesting topic: how people influence each other. It is founded in research (including Cialdini’s own research), but it is approachable and applicable. It is well-structured, with each of the six central chapters focusing on a different “weapon of influence” (e.g., Liking, Authority). Each of these chapters includes a section on self-defense, that is, on resisting assaults using this particular weapon. So the book is for, not just influencers, but also potential influencees.

Two of the books I did assign for the course belong here. Each is similar to Influence in that it is approachable, applicable, founded in research, and relevant to “behavior in organizations”*.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Dan Pink is not an academic researcher, but he does make sure that he understands research relevant to his topic. In this, my favorite of his books, his topic is motivation, especially intrinsic motivation. Driven blends clear explanations of research with strong examples from practice, and suggests ways in which readers can better harness their motivations.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman is one of the most influential social scientists of the last hundred years. He is a psychologist best known for his work, with Amos Tversky, on judgment and decision making. He won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. Why did research in psychology earn the economics prize? Because it showed how human judgment and decision making depart from rationality, and it did so convincingly, extensively, and influentially. This book makes Kahneman’s thinking about human thinking very accessible. While it might be more academic than Influence or (especially) Drive, it is also more personal: it is dedicated to Tversky’s memory.

I wrote something similar to this post for Business Week about eight years ago. BW asked a bunch of business school profs for book recommendations: mine are still online. The first recommendation from 2006 certainly belongs here.

Co-Opetition by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff. I wrote in BW that:

This is my favorite book on business strategy. The combination of competition and cooperation has become if anything more important in the decade or so since Co-Opetition was first published. It delivers solid content while avoiding heavy writing.

The only change I’d make to is to note that it’s now almost two decades since Co-Opetition was published, and it continues to wear extremely well. In fact, looking back to BW, but without looking back into all the books, I would still make most of those previous recommendations (although if you want a view from two veterans of The Economist magazine on how the world is changing, you might go with their recently-published The Fourth Revolution, rather than A Future Perfect).

Although the title of this post refers specifically to business books, I see that my BW piece concluded with recommendations for fiction, including some fantasy. I do still enjoy novels set in other worlds, such as:

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. If you follow the link, you’ll be able to look inside the book and read the first few pages. (See, these Amazon links can be useful to you.) If you enjoy those early pages, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest of the book. If you enjoy the book, chances are you’ll enjoy the second and third in the series.

That’s enough from me for now. Please feel free to leave your comments, whether they be remarks on the books recommended, recommendations of your own,… Thank you for reading this far, and thank you to the students who prompted this post.

* What I term here behavior in organizations is more often, but less logically, called organizational behavior (OB). It is related to organizational psychology and to a bunch of other more or less impressive-sounding terms.

To Sell Is Human: To Review Is…

tsih-paperbackDan Pink is a five-star author, but To Sell is Human is “only” a four-star book. Having started with that sentence, I should explain it. The best start to the explanation is a quote from the book itself. “Clarity depends on contrast… The most essential question you can ask is this: compared to what?

To Sell is Human (TSIH) is a four-star book compared to other books by the same author, and to other books about the same thing. Now, what is TSIH about? The answer, obvious from the title, is: selling. It is less obvious from the title that this is a book, not only about sales, but also about “non-sales selling”.

“Non-sales selling” is Dan’s term for “moving other people to part with resources—whether something tangible like cash or intangible like attention—so that we both get what we want.” A survey commissioned for the book showed about 40% of respondents’ work time devoted to non-sales selling. (I did a far smaller and less formal survey with a graduate school class, with a similar result.)

So non-sales selling is very similar to influence, and Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human shares its subject with Influence: Robert Cialdini’s classic account of the psychology of persuasion. Dan is explicit about his knowledge of, and respect for, the earlier book, especially in his chapter on clarity: Influence tops his list of favorite books on the subject. Dan’s judgment is sound: if I were to recommend one book on non-sales selling, it would be Influence (rather than TSIH).

The contrast with Influence may be more harsh than it is fair: TSIH does in some ways go beyond Influence, rather than attempting to go head-to-head with it. Most important, To Sell is Human is a book, not only about non-sales selling, but about sales selling and about change. Selling cars provides a salient example. In the past, the seller was much better informed that the buyer. That information asymmetry has been eroded over time, particularly by the internet. Dan argues that it is now better business, as well as better ethics, to sell based on empathy with the buyer than to attempt to exploit the (potentially well-informed) buyer.

However, sales selling and non-sales selling seem like strange bedfellows, or bookfellows: they don’t fit into the same book as naturally as they perhaps should. This is one of the reasons why To Sell Is Human isn’t in the same five-star class as Influence, and some of Dan’s other books. I could list a few other reasons, but none is major, and it’s time for a shift toward the positive.

TSIH is very much a Dan Pink book, with all the good things that implies. Dan explains convincingly why his subject is interesting and important. He makes each topic engaging with practical examples, draws on and clearly explains relevant research, and provides practical implications. It sounds easy, and Dan’s books make it look easy, but many similar (i.e. popular social science) books end up being superficial, stodgy, or both.

TSIH does not need to be pushed off a bookshelf by Influence and by Dan’s other books, however much this review might have so far put it up against those strong competitors. TSIH complements those other books as much as it competes with them. For example, Influence’s Epilogue warns of the threats lurking in an environment rich in content, when much of that content comprises attempts to influence us, and many of those attempts are deceptive or worse. TSIH is very much about the content-rich environment, but is more positive, and not just because this environment provides buyers with information previously reserved for sellers. The very volume of content provides opportunities for curation: to select from the abundant content, to share the selection, and thus to add value.

With TSIH, Dan also complements his best book: Drive. Drive is about motivation: what drives us. TSIH is about how we can move others. There can be few aspects of psychology as important, or as mutually complementary, as what drives us, and how we can move others.

One last complement is Dan’s website, since it complements his books well. One last compliment: To Sell Is Human is a very good book, and one that I might perceive to be even better were it not for the comparisons invited by a Dan Pink book about influence.