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Funding Your First Game

Daniel Zayas wrote this. I hate how long this is, and it isn’t long. It’s also not the only thing you should read. Read some books. Go wild! Just take this for what it is mostly as a brief primer on what I believe you should do.

Test your game. Play your game as many times as possible with as many strangers as possible. Be open to suggestions. Always ask people what they think should happen if there is a rules clarification. Your game will improve. Always try to collect an email.

When your game is finalized, pay someone who makes a living being an artist for art. Don’t skimp on this. Kickstarter is a visual medium. You will not do as well as you should if you skimp on professional art. Don’t be cheap. Support artists. Just pay for the damn art. Okay good, I think you got it.

Get a quote from at least three manufacturers. Make sure each of them understands the complexities of your game. If you have different versions of your game, don’t. That’s for future complicated projects. Get this one right first. Understand paper stocks. Understand wood. Understand boxes. Understand plastic. Metal. Whatever is in your game. Ask the manufacturer what you should be worried about and what you are not asking them. They should have more nuanced advice for you. If the communication is bad, the production will be bad. Run away.

Understand the pricing of your game. Understand shipping terms like ExWorks and Freight on Board and Delivery Duties Unpaid. Understand the estimated weights and dimensions per unit. Understand how many units the manufacturer plans to box into a case. Understand which ports are closest to the manufacturer.

Continue to play the game with as many people as possible. Digitize it on Tabletop Simulator if you have to. Make sure the game is always being played as often as possible with as many new people as possible. Continue to ask for emails.

Make three prototypes. The Game Crafter is pretty good for this, but Print and Play and countless others exist. Ask your manufacturers wh quoted the game who they recommend. Connect with Board Game Reviewers & Media on Facebook. Hire content creators, especially on Tabletop Backer Party. 😉 Pay them money if they accept it. Buy them coffee if they don’t. Treat them well and help them. It is worth it. You can have one content creator forward your game onto the next with prior notice of this arrangement. That is normal. Be normal, you weirdo. And be nice to media, for Christ’s sake.

Go into as many board game Facebook groups as you can find and talk privately with the admins about how best to market your game in their community. DON’T JUST POST ABOUT YOUR GAME IN THE GROUP. That’s dumb. You’re not dumb. You’re a polite and creative individual with a heck of game they want to hear about. Or maybe they don’t. If they don’t like you, run away. There are many communities.

Talk to pledge managers (such as BackerKit) freight forwarders, and fulfillment centers. With your understanding of your product weight and dims, get estimates for the minimum print run going to each destination you plan to ship to. Plan for all of them to go to the US. Then plan for all of them to go to the UK. Then plan for all of them to go to Australia. These are your three primary markets. Also, people in Canada are people. These are just estimates and ideas, but you will use these later to plan shipping estimates. Get advice from freight forwarders. Get advice from fulfillment centers. Get advice from pledge managers. Keep asking dumb questions. There are no dumb questions. If they are bad at communication, run away. There are plenty of services out there.

Build your campaign. Pay for a good and short video to use as the main video. The more entertaining strangers say your video is, the more likely you picked the correct length. Backers like to see half of the video as world-building and half as gameplay explanation. Just make your damn video. Be your charming and creative self.

The first thing someone should see in the campaign is the image that will make them buy immediately. If you don’t do this, then you are bad and you should feel bad. You’re not bad but definitely do this, please.

Nobody reads. Nobody reads. Nobody reads. Are you still reading? Yeah, ‘cuz my words are bad-ass. But under the context of purchasing things without regard to whether they need it, nobody reads. They just look at the shiny thing and click the back button. Use that to make people buy your game. Make your shit visually entertaining.

The next section should visually teach them how to play. Yay, shiny! But how do I use it?! This should be achieved in 5-10 steps, with each step showcasing components as you teach them the game. You are not teaching them the full game, just explaining the holy trinity: Who am I? Why is this fun? How do I win? Generally, you will link them to a how-to-play video and a rulebook and the tabletop simulator version here.

The next section would normally be all the pledge levels. If you have kept this simple and made one pledge level, this is more of a list of components. Make the components as big as they need to be for people to see them easily. Fuck scale. Make sure they understand each component.

The next section is usually the stretch goals. I hate stretch goals so I am not going to teach you about them. But know they exist and if you want to use them, just don’t cuz they suck and are fake.

The next section is explaining that you are not the only fan of your game. Here are a bunch of people who say this game is rad. You should have quotes from people by now, both official media and otherwise.

The next section is shipping. You have estimates now. Use those and explain the actual cost of shipping. DON’T SUBSIDIZE SHIPPING. You charge every penny of shipping and don’t feel bad about it. There are people who think that is wrong. I don’t care. This is my post. Whether you charge in the campaign or via a pledge manager is up to you. There is no right answer, just don’t shortchange yourself.

Be sure to throw a shout-out to retailers here and give them a way to reach out to you. I am not going to teach you here how to sell to retailers. Just know that if you do not price your product correctly, you will not be able to offer them their expected margins.

The next section is the team. Wait, you did this by yourself? Fuck off. You have an artist, you have a game designer, you have a list of repeat playtesters who should be recognized. You have possibly brought in some freelancers to help with marketing and communication and logistics.

The next section is Risks and Stuff. Talk about all the work you did by following the advice you read here and thank me personally because I wrote this for you and I enjoy the attention.

Anything outside of the sections I listed above, just be really cautious. Nobody reads, and better yet, nobody scrolls. They don’t care about all the extra stuff. You want to quickly get backers the information they need to make an educated purchase decision. That’s it.

When you launch, just send an email telling people who played your game that they can buy it. Tell the communities you are a part of that they can buy it. Talk about all the famous media people who loved your game. As you fund or not, always be respectful and positive, especially when communicating to backers and the gaming community at large. If you don’t fund you can try again later. It’s all good. No money is wasted if it means another person got a chance to hear about or try your game. Just try your best and then if you fail, try again.

3 Ways to Charge Shipping in a Crowdfunding Campaign

There is generally some confusion in how to charge backers shipping, and which one will best serve a specific campaign. I will propose three solutions that are most commonly used.

1. “Free” Shipping

Free Shipping as advertised in a campaign is anything but. However, backers enjoy seeing this not just for the perceived savings, but that they will be charged once, they see the final price, and their lives are made simple in the transaction, the goal of many campaigns.

This shipping method is arguably the riskiest and most difficult to get right due to a number of reasons. Firstly, you are gambling with your production timeline as shipping rates do adjust over time. What is true about your shipping estimate today may not be true tomorrow. Secondly, you are sacrificing a percentage of the shipping costs to the platform, arguably not making the most profit per backer you could be by using other shipping charge methods. Thirdly, you are technically subsidizing shipping costs into your MSRP this way, usually unevenly. This means that even though shipping goods to the Philippines is sometimes more costly than to the US, for example, customers are paying the same cost.

I say all this because I do want to highlight at least one company that has made it work, at least partially so.

Good Games USA has prided itself on establishing direct connections to fulfillment partners in the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. For the Guild Master campaign, this allowed them to more easily bake the shipping cost into the cost of a pledge. Thinking about the margins they would otherwise lose in traditional distribution (50-60%), plus the marketing allure of “free” shipping, I imagine this is a net positive for their debut of new products via crowdfunding.

2. Separate Shipping in the Campaign

Another common way to charge shipping is via the crowdfunding site’s native tools. You can build a shipping chart per pledge level that, at least on Kickstarter, will be a secondary dropdown shown to backers when they click on a given pledge.

Early in the days of crowdfunding, this was accepted as the default way to charge shipping and people used it without a lot of thought into alternative methods. Since then, thought leadership has progressed the conversation to cite this as the worst method of the three options listed here. While you maintain the benefit of charging once for each backer within the campaign, you still have to deal with sales and logistics problems around the method.

As mentioned in the method above, you will play a timeline game if you charge for shipping within the campaign. Shipping rates adjust periodically each year and you will potentially lose a lot of money as the rates adjust. Secondly, a lot of backers today will feel tricked by a pricepoint advertised when a different price is shown to them after shipping is automatically added to the pledge right as they are backing. Lastly, you are still being charged the percentage by the platform, increasing your shipping costs or eating into your profits per backer.

There are companies today who make this method work. I think this option is best used by small-box games, where a $15-20 pledge and the additional $5-10 in shipping still feels like an inexpensive buy overall.

3. Off-Platform Secondary Charge

In recent years, the focus for most publishers has shifted away from barely funding a project to thriving in a crowdfunding environment.

Today, numerous pledge management services exist, such as BackerKit, PledgeManager, CrowdOx, and Gamefound, to name a few. These services allow for robust custom order forms for backers beyond what native platforms offer, so backers can more easily buy add-ons and secondary products post-campaign. Pledge management services also allow backers to pay as they are able within a much longer timeframe for the items they want.

While a publisher’s products are being finalized and manufactured, they can continue to make sales of that product. Depending on the platform you use, you might actually save costs per sale on the shipping amount charged to backers, compared to crowdfunding platform native percentages.

Whichever option you choose, just make sure to do as much research as possible when it comes to internal shipping costs. It is one of the more difficult things to properly plan in a crowdfunding campaign.