Behind the Scenes of the War Co. Kickstarter: Guest Post for The Players’ Aid
My name is Brandon Rollins. I made War Co. Expandable Card Game, which is currently on Kickstarter. The Players’ Aid has covered this game before in a review, a mini-review, and a three-part interview (Part I, Part II & Part III). They’ve invited me back for a guest post and I’m only too happy to return to the very same website that helped me get the ball rolling on the review process.
The War Co. Kickstarter funded in a week. Specifically, 6 days, 22 hours, and 5 minutes. (Not that I was counting!) I had about five minutes to realize my dream had come true before I had to run off to a meeting in another building at work. I’ve been laying the groundwork for this campaign for over a year, reworking and reworking and reworking the gameplay, the business model, and my marketing approach until I finally found a confident voice to take to Kickstarter. There have been many obstacles along the way, including an impressively underfunded Kickstarter campaign I ran in February.
In this guest post, there’s a few things I want to accomplish. I want creators to see how you can go from an idea to a Kickstarter campaign. Know that you’re not alone in the difficulty. Pursuing your dream is hard. There’s no shortcuts. I want creators to see what I did right and wrong. Perhaps I can save you a modicum of pain and frustration by saying the right thing to you at the right time.
I want to give gamers an inside, personal look at the passion and struggle that defines the industry that puts things on cardboard in your living room. Lastly, I want my backers, fans, and those on the fence to see that I’m using Kickstarter to learn and to ultimately make not just a good game, but a good product.
The most important thing you can do to promote a good game is to play it with a lot of people. That’s also the most important thing you can do to create a good game. An Earth-shattering revelation to no one, sure, but so often overlooked and understated. What’s not so obvious is that there’s more ways to play a game beyond just pulling people together in a room, posting your PNP on Board Game Geek, and going to cons.
One of the biggest sources of my funding and promotional support has been through Twitch streams. I partner up with Twitch streamers and stream a game of War Co. on their channel through the Steam game Tabletop Simulator. In many ways, this sounds like it shouldn’t work. Tabletop Simulator has a clumsy (but charming) interface, War Co. is a text-heavy game, and it doesn’t have the bang-and-snap appeal of watching someone play Call of Duty. Yet we treated it like a radio show and the audience got really involved. People who were playing backed, and many viewers backed and bought Tabletop Simulator to play with the streamers when I wasn’t around!
Reviews are also crucial. I can hardly express this enough. One day I went through Kickstarter and looked at about 20 that were obviously going to fail and I noticed only one had reviews from members of the board game community. Another one or two had testimonials attributed to someone’s first name only with no link to a website. Games are expensive and Kickstarters are risky for the backers. Respect that. Get several people to look over your work and do write ups. This is one of the best things I’ve done.
Many people attribute my campaign’s success so far to the size of my Instagram and Twitter following – about 20,000 and 6,000 respectively. While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a large pulpit, follow counts are utterly meaningless. That said, social media is a crucial tool for promotion, provided you actually talk to people and have meaningful conversations. It’s so easy to get involved. It’s so easy to make a day, to give a compliment, or to give someone a signal boost on their passion project. Social media helped nudge my campaign along, but it did so primarily on the power of one-on-one interactions.
Kickstarter, for the backers, is not just about getting a product, but rather investing in a person. This is triply true for a one-person operation like my own. The most important thing an indie company can do, arguably even more so than perfecting the pitch that brings people in the door, is maintain and grow trust. Trust grows with interaction, familiarity, openness, and the ability to listen. One thing I’m very proud of is my commitment to keep providing meaningful updates to the Kickstarter campaign on a regular basis, especially when they incorporate backer feedback.
I have been very diligent about working with backer feedback to make a better game. Though I feel that I’m running a good campaign, there are many areas for improvement which I will enumerate shortly. Backers are passionate. They put their money on me, trusting that I’ll handle it right. That’s something I have to respect. Many people said “James Masino made amazing art, but your graphic design is not great.” So I did some A/B testing to create better graphic design for the cards and spent a few days implementing the changes. Feedback I’ve received so far on both the reworked design and the way I handled the feedback have been very positive. To creators, the takeaway is this: turn your weaknesses into strengths by soliciting backer feedback and bringing your work up to their standards.
Things I Would Change
The Kickstarter process is strange. Though I’ve done a lot right, there’s still so much I could have done even better. Kickstarter is a de facto leader in board game funding for both one-person companies like my own and bigger six and seven figure productions. When held to the harsh, objective light of those with more money, time, experience, and resources, you are forced to take inventory of your weaknesses and look for ways to improve.
The initial graphic design of my cards was kind of weak. Even still, at the time this article is published, I probably will not have had time to swap out all the pictures with the updated graphic design. Like it or not, Kickstarter hopefuls, people judge your work on how it looks. It has to look amazing for optimal results.
Shipping is a massive problem. It’s expensive and it threatens to choke out small creators. When I created this campaign, I put a hefty $30 surcharge on international shipping for the $60 / six decks of cards reward. I was basing the shipping surcharge off a quote from a particular fulfillment company who doesn’t specialize in board games. Of my campaign’s backers, less than one-fifth are based outside of the USA. Kickstarter creators: get your game shipping costs down to $20 or less. Or, if at all possible, $15.
I don’t have a full War Co. run-through video. A lot of people depend on videos like Rahdo or Undead Viking to teach them new games. Even if you are pushed into a situation of making one yourself, that is preferable to having no play-through video.
I am also realizing that the distance between my stretch goals makes it somewhat difficult to compel people to pledge beyond the initial goal of $10,000, which has already been reached. When creating a campaign, create a product to where you can make at least minor improvements every couple thousand dollars or so. The way I developed War Co. precluded almost everything but component upgrades and extra art – all of which is not something that can be done in small increments.
Last, don’t forget about self-care. Eat. Exercise. Sleep well. Take care of yourself. The first week of the campaign, I slept about five hours a night, worked 19 hour days, and ate maybe 1600 calories per day. Is this because I’m a hard-working, dedicated guy? Maybe, but I’d chalk it up mostly to anxiety. If you’re a Kickstarter hopeful, don’t let anxiety overrun you. The benefit of working into the wee hours of the morning is minimal and it’s ultimately a form of self-sabotage.
Seen from a holistic standpoint, I’m very happy with the way this campaign has gone so far and I’m optimistic about the coming weeks as well. It’s been extremely difficult, but also very satisfying. I owe a massive debt of gratitude to over 100 people who have helped make this game a reality. If you’re wanting to do the same thing: it’s doable, it’s hard, and it’s worth it. If you’re a board gamer reading this by chance, think about what goes into those boxes next time you open one. I think it’ll make your experience a little sweeter.
Like this article? Consider backing my Kickstarter campaign! There’s still a couple of weeks to go. Every single dollar helps, but there’s some really sweet rewards higher up – particularly at $60 where you get all six decks of cards in the game.
Thanks for reading!
Brandon Rollins, Creator of War Co. Expandable Card Game
We congratulate Brandon on his success and wish him the best of luck for the remainder of his campaign and into the future. We have enjoyed our interactions with Brandon over the past several months including his zany serial tweets about the
oppressive inclusive and over reaching arm gentle, helping hands of War Co.[This post has been edited and only slightly modified by the War Co. Department of Proper Communication about War Co.]. Consider visiting the War Co. Expandable Card Game Kickstarter Campaign page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1357102631/war-co-expandable-card-game-0