At the end of every year, I do a look ahead to the future and see how I can help creators make a big splash in crowdfunding. Here’s what I think you should prioritize in 2020 when it comes to marketing.
1. Explore Under-Represented Narratives
In 2019, I was routinely asked if I was supporting the such-and-such game campaign and the unfortunate answer was generally no. In fact, I probably supported a tenth of the number of campaigns in 2019 that I was all-in on in 2018. That is not purely due to the growth in the number of campaigns or fatigue or personal tastes. I just wasn’t inspired by the majority of stories being sold to me.
Theme and art are truly the gateways to your crowdfunding campaign. That is not a new phenomenon. The problem in 2019 is that things got to be same-y. There are numerous examples of this if we look at themes broadly. A friend recently shared a VICE article discussing how strategy games have held on to Western Civilization’s colonial definition of “progress.” This arguably racist and ethnocentric model has grown to be both a problematic narrative culturally, but also a tired and uninspired look at the genre and its predominant mechanisms. Purely as a pragmatic approach, you should be looking in 2020 to sell theme and art that looks at the world (even an imagined one) from a fresh perspective.
Let’s take the often-remarked saturation of zombie themes in tabletop games as one example. I don’t feel this way, but many do, so it is worth discussing. I don’t know of many tabletop games which explore the perspective of the zombies themselves, or of alternative histories such as neolithic zombies, or of popular culture IPs like Pinocchio the Zombie (think about it from a Frankenstein reanimation perspective). Zombies in the examples above are just one opportunity for new perspectives.
A few crowdfunded game titles come to mind in this regard. Spirit Island by Greater Than Games is hailed for its interesting use of anti-colonial themes. Scythe by Stonemaier Games is the often celebrated alternate history game combining industrial farming and sci-fi mechs. Ascensum by Sprama Game Labs is a campaign launching in 2020 where you are the Lovecraftian cultists and are working together to bring about the end of the world. You can accomplish the same flipping and reimagining of common tropes and perspectives within sci-fi, or pirates, or even historical games. Get creative with thematic hooks to drive traffic to your game concept organically. It will be the number one thing you accomplish to market your campaign in 2020.
2. Train Your Audience
One thing Tabletop Backer Party has pioneered in social media is this idea of tailored daily content and weekly shows. I can tell you now that the group has grown and thrived under this structured content plan. As a seasoned member of the group, you always know to expect Mail Mondays, or Tabletop Tuesdays, or an episode of Tatiana Art on Tuesday nights. As a new member of the group, you have an easier entry point to engage with the community. This is not an accident. It is vastly more important to building a community where members expect to see content on a schedule and then you deliver on those expectations or go beyond them. Today, board game groups run by publishers are not doing enough to solicit routine engagement in their communities, and structured daily content can help. I hope this idea will further cement itself into publisher marketing strategies in 2020.
Here is a really great example from someone I admire, but could also improve in this regard. Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games does a weekly livecast every Wednesday morning from his publisher page and other regular weekly offerings via his blog and YouTube. Where this quality scheduled content hasn’t yet translated into his business routine is in his various Facebook Groups dedicated to each of his company’s games, such as the Wingspan Board Game group. I imagine even having not read this we might have seen more weekly tailored content surrounding those communities in 2020, but it is worth mentioning that even the best of social media publishers have not yet made this a priority. Look for creators doing planned fun things in their various communities to keep backers involved and interested.
3. Personal Interactions
In 2019 I asked people how many events they attended marketing their game. I asked how many emails they acquired, how many Facebook likes their posts regularly accumulated, how many people were in their special Facebook Group, how many Retweets.
In 2020, I am shifting that question to, “With how many people have you had a direct positive connection today for your game?”
Social media in large sectors have started to become more private and direct. Whether you look at Facebook Messenger user growth with brands, Direct Messages being used as marketing strategies on Kickstarter, Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Tik Tok Live, etc., people care about access. They want direct access and the immediate special connection that only direct access can provide. They want a memorable moment akin to the experiences they have at the gaming table joking with friends. How you do that can range widely, although spamming your game website URL to your Facebook friends list is not at all what I intend for you to get from this tip. Here is one great example from a friend.
Marshall Britt of Leder Games and Yanaguana Games has filmed a public Monday Mug Mentions for about a year now every week on his personal Facebook page. He doesn’t actively publicize it, but it is publicly available to his non-friend followers for viewing and engaging. In most of these videos, Marshall just talks about the things in the games industry he wants to discuss, sometimes while playing Crokinole. He regularly repeats what people are commenting on in the video and responds to those comments, making the viewers’ personal experiences special and engaging. When Leder Games or Yanaguana Games has official announcements, those just happen to be the organic content he wants to discuss, further marketing those brands in a special and personal way that isn’t really repeatable in a mass email.
Another great example is the I’d Back That Kickstarter series by Gloryhoundd. In this show, Gloryhoundd, Dr. Gloryhogg, and Greg Dickson show off the latest Kickstarter game campaigns and discuss whether they are backing it. Many times you can catch them comparing the cost of a game to the relative cost in Chipotle burritos.
4. Why Buy Now?
One of the biggest hurdles you will face in a 2020 tabletop game campaign is that people assume your game will eventually be sold in physical game shops or online for cheaper than they would otherwise back it. This is largely due to the largest and most popular games eventually making it to those sales channels for cheaper than they sold on the original crowdfunding campaign. Unfortunately, selling in traditional retail channels could not be further from the truth for most people crowdfunding today. But perception is the reality online, so your only choice is to make your campaign a must-attend extravaganza. I don’t have the answer to how you make a spectacle of your specific crowdfunding campaign, but I hope you have fun with the idea that you must create one.
One piece of advice I can offer here is that the answer in 2020 is probably not related to how you present stretch goals.
Some of the most interesting uses of stretch goals in recent memory began as 48-hour exclusives. In an effort to fund more quickly, creators offered a component or benefit exclusively to backers who supported them within 48 hours of the campaign launch. In 2018 and 2019, creators did a lot of experiments with how stretch goals were presented, from branching choices voted on by backers, to embarrassing social tasks recorded for backer entertainment. Flash funding goals were a strategy where creators advertised that all games would be improved in some big way if the funding goal was reached within a certain period of time, usually 24 or 48 hours. Most recently, the Car Wars Sixth Edition campaign set up pre-funding goals, where future backers would unlock content and upgrades by doing social tasks before the campaign launched.
Now, it is no secret that I dislike stretch goals. I think they are mostly made up when considering the newest creators, and detrimental to the manufacturing and fulfillment process for experienced ones. Most newer creators are not funding dramatically enough to warrant significantly larger print runs. So the units stay relatively as planned +/- 500-1000 units, and no “scale of economy” exists to justify stretch goals. Larger creators are negatively impacted by timelines and even manufacturing capabilities when they overshoot their ambitions for a grandiose game experience via stretch goals and consistently miss their desired fulfillment dates.
Monolith recently posted about their reworking of stretch goals in future campaigns to discount the game via monetary credit in the pledge manager instead of expanding the game content. Their reasoning was that crowdfunding campaigns are so delicately balanced that traditional upgrade and expansion stretch goals actually damage the company and their ability to deliver the final product. Retail typically expects a 50 percent discount or more if you use a distributor. So from the publisher’s perspective, Monolith would not be as damaged financially to offer a 5 percent or 10 percent discount direct to backers as an incentive, especially on a monumentally successful crowdfunding campaign. This would also not hurt their timeline for delivering the games to backers.
The problem with the Monolith strategy (in my opinion) is that crowdfunding has always been a social event. Being at the launch party always been as important as the product being purchased. It’s why book signings exist, and why red carpet events exist, and why Red Bull is handing out free cans at Gen Con. Spectacle sells, and a 5 percent discount is not inspiring to most backers. The people who were always going to buy the product are there, but no new blood will be injected due to a 5 percent discount as the primary benefit. I’ve never made a purchase decision, on Kickstarter or otherwise, on that basis.
That’s a long way to say don’t focus on stretch goals as your primary marketing footprint in 2020. Here’s a different strategy that I think will pay off.
5. Video Video Video
This is something that I will probably repeat until forever, not just a 2020 marketing guide. You need to have your product regularly shown to people in video format. That isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s mandatory. You need preview content, commercial videos, playthroughs, interviews, and other creative content surrounding your game. And in crowdfunding campaigns, guess what? You the creator are also part of the product. So it is important to tell stories that inspire people to support you and your game in 2020 via livestreams or prerecorded content, hopefully featuring you the creators of the project. Here is an example late into 2019 from Unsettled. While they didn’t get a lot of preview media prepared in time for the launch, this video is currently being celebrated in board game communities as one of the best examples of a great Kickstarter video in 2019.
“But I am not photogenic! I’m awkward and I can’t words good!” I want to point you to the amazing marketing and social media team at Big Potato Games. Specifically, their Tik Tok channel and their loveable potato stuffed mascot. You can learn a lot from watching these videos even if you don’t currently use the platform, notably the future forms of short-form storytelling being used by gaming brands. Your potential for video marketing in 2020 is only limited by your imagination, not your personal appearance or on-screen acumen. If you do use the Tik Tok platform, follow me (no apologies for the dancing)!
6. Have Fun!
Whichever way you decide to market your crowdfunding campaign in 2020, know that you have supportive communities and resources available to you. I regularly recommend Board Game Spotlight, Board Game Exposure, Board Game Design Lab, Misfits of Tabletop, Solo Board Gamers, Board Game Reviewers and Media, and Tabletop Backer Party as the best communities run by the kindest people currently available to crowdfunding creators. Additionally, if you are not already consuming and supporting the Tabletop Backer Party Shows: Backstage with Bebo, Tatiana Art, The Breakdown, and Theme First, or educating yourself through the Stonemaier Games Kickstarter Blog, the Board Game Design Lab Podcast, and the late great James Mathe blog, I encourage you to dive into all of that great content.
Reach out to gaming communities and figure out what they are excited about. Make friends and connect to people and your 2020 crowdfunding campaign is more likely to be a success. Most importantly, have fun. See you all in 2020.