A Crowdfunder's Strategy: A Late Look at Jamey's Book

Who? Jamey Stegmaier, co-founder and president of Stonemaier Games, and author of A Crowdfunder’s Strategy: Build a Better Business By Building Community. Games from Stonemaier include Viticulture and Scythe.

What? This is a look at, rather than a review of, Jamey’s book. I haven’t read the physical book cover to cover, although I am familiar with the material, having read it (usually in fuller form) on the Stonemaier website.

When? I’m writing this in early November 2016. Jamey’s book was published in September 2015. So is this really a late look? I think that it is, partly because 14 months is a long time on the web, where crowdfunding happens.

The book is written for creators of reward-based crowdfunding projects, such as the project that Jamey created for Scythe on Kickstarter. In return for funding the project, backers received rewards, mainly in the form of the game itself. They did not receive equity in Stonemaier Games; had they done so, we’d be talking about equity-based crowdfunding.

The primary explicit message of the book is “that you will significantly increase your odds of crowdfunding success if you focus on building community, empathizing with supporters, and developing trust-based relationships.” You might already have guessed that from the book’s subtitle (“Build a Better Business By Building Community”).

A secondary, less explicit, but still vital message of the book is that: in crowdfunding, details matter; and there are a lot of details to consider, and decisions to make, before, during, and after a crowdfunding project.

Jamey discusses many of the decisions and details involved in crowdfunding. He does so using his experience as the creator of multiple Kickstarter campaigns for tabletop games. I think that he generalizes well from his own experience: he is keen to share the lessons he learned, while being careful not to over-generalize. I find him to be an engaging writer, but you can judge that for yourself using the online sample chapter.

Do I recommend A Crowdfunder’s Strategy? Yes! Am I going to address some specific qualms you might have about giving Jamey and his book your time, attention, and (possibly) money? Yes! Am I going to carry on in Q&A (question and answer) format? Yes!

Do I recommend it for projects other than tabletop games? Yes. The book was intended from the start for “all types of entrepreneurs who are intrigued by the idea of crowdfunding”. The book as published is true to this intention.

Do I recommend it for platforms other than Kickstarter? Yes. It’s about crowdfunding and community, rather than about the specific platform Jamey and Stonemaier used. It does include a paragraph on each of multiple platforms, but that’s the sort of content that can rapidly become out of date, and hence may be better accessed on the web than in a book.

Do I recommend it, given that Jamey has blogged much of the same content? Yes. The book is not a hasty paste of words from the web. The content was largely rewritten, and then organized and edited to make a coherent book. I should add that I recommend both the book and the blog: they are complements, rather than substitutes.

Do I recommend it, given that it was published over a year ago? Yes. The main lessons on crowdfunding and community are still valid. For example, Jamey explains mistakes he made, so that his readers don’t have to: those mistakes are still easy to make, and well worth avoiding.

Do I recommend it, even for people who may never create a crowdfunding project? For some specific groups of people, yes. You may be researching a school or college project. You may be a fan of Stonemaier Games interested in the background to the games themselves. You may be interested in how the tabletop game business is changing; it has certainly changed a lot over the last few years, with many of the changes related to crowdfunding.

Having recommended the book, I’ll close by pointing out one of the ways in which a blog may be better than a book: it may allow discussion of its own content. So feel free to leave a comment here. Thank you!

Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target

The Kickstarter campaign for Swamped was, I’m delighted to write, very successful. Now, that sentence, and the post title, will raise questions for some readers. If you’re not among those readers, you can just skip down to the paragraph with the chart.

Questions arising from this post’s title and opening sentence may well include:

  • What’s Kickstarter? Well, Kickstarter describes itself as “a new way to fund creative projects”.
  • What’s Swamped? It’s a card game (and hence a creative project) funded using Kickstarter. The players are adventurers, traveling through the swamp in a shared boat, seeking to achieve certain goals. Some of these goals, such as avoiding the hungry croc, are shared. Other goals differ between adventurers, and are private.
  • What does Tabletop mean here? It denotes a type of game that’s not a video game: this could mean a card game, like Swamped, or a board game, or…
  • What do you mean when you describe the Kickstarter as “very successful”? Well, …

The chart shows that the Kickstarter for Swamped was successful, especially over its last few days. It:

  • Raised well over twice its funding goal.
  • Attracted more than 1,000 backers: each of these backers pledged money in order to receive a specific reward; most of them pledged $12 plus shipping for one copy of the game.
  • Saw an upturn in funding over the last few days of the campaign. If you looked at the chart carefully, you might have noticed that the last 3 days of the campaign saw a pledge total of over $5,000, and of more than 25% of the total for the whole campaign.

Continue reading “Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target”

Kickstarter: Congratulations and Commentary

The Kickstarter for the tabletop game Between Two Cities (B2C) finished yesterday. It was a tremendous success: it raised $221,265, more than 10 times its $20,000 goal; it attracted 5,287 backers.

Congratulations to the designers, the publisher, and the community of backers. The post will focus on the publisher, Stonemaier Games, and in particular on the work of Jamey Stegmaier, the creator and curator of the Kickstarter project (but I certainly don’t intend to slight the game itself, which I consider excellent, or its designers).

As B2C was about to Kickstart I, along with many other people, was confident that B2C would fund quickly, and go on to achieve a multiple of its funding goal. It did indeed make an impressive start, despite Kickstarter going down for some of its first day. Each of the links in this paragraph goes to a previous post here. A third post describes stretch goals and other forms in which Kickstarter creators can offer additional content, using B2C as an example to describe the SAVES (stretch goals, add-ons, variants, expansions, and siblings) framework.

The thing that struck me most forcibly about the B2C Kickstarter was Jamey’s use of updates. He made 9 of them over the 20-day course of the project, then a tenth just after it finished. Every update had some compelling content, and started a distinct conversation with and among backers. That’s impressive, given that it means an update every 2 or 3 days.

Two updates in particular stand out for me, even though neither of them delivered big news.

  • #2 was about seating positions (e.g., Jamey sits between Ben and Matthew), and in particular about a potential deck of cards, each providing a rule for seating. I personally am not interested in this, but it is clear from the extensive and enthusiastic discussion that many backers are.
  • #8 was about the sides of the game box. That’s a comparatively small issue for most games, but Jamey’s partner Alan Stone pointed out that it was worth improving the design of the B2C box sides. Artist Beth Sobel came up with an improvement, and Jamey included some of her sketches in the update. This update showed concern for detail and improvement, and showed that Alan and Beth each share this concern with Jamey.

Although I am very impressed with B2C and its Kickstarter, there are a couple of ways in which it was a little disappointing. Each relates to the stretch goals set in update #1. First, the stretch goals themselves, with the notable exception of the 1-player Automa deck, weren’t very exciting. Most were variations in tile art.

The design of B2C seems to just beg for variants and expansions. I mean this in a good way. I certainly don’t think that the base game is incomplete. So another variant or small expansion among the stretch goals would have made things a lot more interesting to me.

B2CbackingSecond, strange though it may be to say, I was surprised that B2C didn’t raise even more. The original stretch goals went up to $250,000, and I think that project creators tend to set goals they consider achievable, if ambitious. Early on, that was the number I had in mind. With about a week to go, I thought that the project would come in a little under that. (Had there been a competition to estimate the final amount, my entry would have been $244,444).

I expected the last few days to show an sharp rise in backing. They certainly showed a rise, but didn’t come close to matching the initial funding frenzy. The first day alone saw over $69,000 raised: the last three days together didn’t match that. It may simply be that the preparation and launch were so good that some people who are usually “wait and see” backers backed B2C right away.

Given an adjustment in stretch goals during the Kickstarter, the $221,265 raised was just under the highest stretch goal: the seating deck, at $225,000. I was wondering what would happen about that deck. It ended up in the box, with all the other stretch goals.

I would have seriously considered making the seating deck an add-on. I know that there are backers who are very enthusiastic about it, and that some of them contributed their own ideas for seating rules. I also know that there is at least one backer who isn’t interested in the deck (but who understands that others are). Those distinct tiers of interest, and the fact that the seating deck doesn’t affect the game once it starts, seemed to make the deck a candidate for an add-on. But…

Stonemaier knows best. That’s my conclusion on the matter of the seating deck. It’s also a pretty good topic sentence for the last paragraph of this post about the extremely well-run Kickstarter for Between Two Cities.

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 BoardGameGeek.com.

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 KS.com.

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…

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.


KSlogoOne of the problems with restarting posting is that there are so many things I intend to post about. Kickstarter is more appropriate than most for the restarting phase. KS is “a funding platform for creative projects.”

I have backed a few projects on KS, most of them in the Tabletop Gaming category (i.e. boardgames or cardgames, videogames go in the category next door). One of my first was Eight-Minute Empire: Legends. As its KS project page shows, it met its funding goal of $10,000, and so was produced. It also met several stretch goals, attracting over $40,000 in funding. So I feel a little foolish that one of my reasons for funding was to make sure this worthy project got produced. Another reason was to get an early copy. Yet another was to get extra boards, and so I went up to the funding level at which they were included.

TanStatesMore recently, I backed Tangram States, in the Illustration category. I’ve always been fascinated by maps, and this one seems particularly cool.

Kickstarter is an example of crowdfunding (links to Wikipedia and to Forbes). Comments on KS, or on crowdfunding in general, are welcome…