Kickstarter has become the bread and butter for small independent game publishers. With upwards of 250 tabletop games at any given moment, the community is thriving. Themes and mechanics can vary from traditional to the bizarre and that is exactly what backers want. With so many games to choose from, campaigns need to make a great first impression or they risk being overlooked entirely. There are dozens of articles on best practices, tips, and tricks, but we wanted to know exactly what gets the attention of real backers. So, we asked them.
We reached out to regular game backer @mitchschroeder to talk about what he looks for when deciding the next game he is going to back.
Mitch, your twitter feed is amazing. You post about so many great games that you are backing and interested in.
Mitch: Yeah I got started doing that a couple years ago, but I guess it was 18 months ago I got really into it when I thought I might want to actually design a game. I started tweeting and trying to get into the community and get in touch with people who are doing sort of the same stuff. Didn't take me long to realize that I had zero interest in actually designing, but I found the community, especially on Twitter to be so interesting and just really engaging.
The Twitter community is amazing. When when you're looking around at Kickstarter do you just go to the main site or do you use any other tools to check out what's going on?
Mitch: It depends if I know the publisher or the designer. If they're completely new to me I usually go to board game geek and see what they're doing and what other people are saying about them. I'll check out their Instagram, Twitter feed, Facebook, any of that sort of stuff.
"If I start on the Kickstarter video and it's five or eight minutes long, I don't even watch it."
If it's somebody that I know or a pretty big publisher I'll just look at the main page. I might watch a quick review, if like Unead Viking did a review and it's pretty quick. I might quickly watch a game play video as well. Often those take like 90 minutes and I'm not going to spend 90 minutes watching the whole thing. But you get a pretty good idea of how the game's going to play in a few minutes.
So it sounds like short videos are better than the 90 minute full play throughs for most games.
"His communication was spot on. I sent him a few messages and he always got back to me within 48 hours. Answered all my questions. He was great."
Mitch: Absolutely. I look at so many Kickstarters, and usually I'm doing it when I'm on the bus or doing something else at the time. I don't want to spend 90 minutes or even 30 minutes looking at a campaign. I want to watch the video and look through the components and what the game is about. I should be able to do that in a few minutes. If I start on the Kickstarter video and it's five or eight minutes long, I don't even watch it.
Do you feel like that is just because you're so used to Kickstarter, or do you think a lot of people have the same mindset?
Mitch: I think it's pretty common. Pretty common advice is to keep your videos under two minutes. So I don't think I'm the only one.
You said earlier that you decided pretty early on that designing wasn't really for you. What made you come to that conclusion?
Mitch: I love playing games. It's my favorite hobby in the world. And as soon as I started designing it started to become a job. I tend to pour myself into things pretty wholeheartedly. When I was designing it was all about designing and it was becoming work, and it wasn't fun anymore. I decided that it wasn't worth doing that to gaming. I'd rather keep it a hobby than get too serious.
"I want to watch the video and look through the components and what the game is about."
Talk with me a little bit about Kickstarter. One of the things that attracted me to your Twitter feed was that you post so many things that you're interested in from Kickstarter. What attracts people to one Kickstarter project versus another?
Mitch: Oh man that's a tough question. After I decided I didn't want to design anymore, I just I fell in love with Kickstarter. I loved the platform. I love what people are bringing. There's a lot of creativity. And you see a lot of things that you maybe won't see at bigger publishers or at the game store. Whether its just new art styles or themes that you may not find normally. There are some really awesome weird themes coming out of Kickstarter. And I love that. I love people bringing new ideas to the table.
What’s the weirdest theme that you've come across recently?
Mitch: This one is not particularly weird, but I thought it was adorable. There's a game I backed a couple months ago called Cul-de-sac Conquest. It's this card game about people living in a cul-de-sac in Florida and just getting on each other's nerves. They're just a bunch of neighbors hating on each other, driving each other crazy. It's funny. It's not what I would typically play. I'm normally drawn toward fantasy, scifi, that sort of stuff. I love miniatures, but there's just something about that theme that I found hilarious so I backed it.
"I love to see a rule book or gameplay walkthrough, but the components are going to be the most important thing."
From games that you've backed, what are some of the best experiences that you've had?
Mitch: The most amazing thing I've seen on Kickstarter was actually from the very first game I backed. It was a game called Albion's Legacy. It took them a while to put it out because they had some manufacturing problems. They sent it out and it wasn't quite up to par, it wasn't what the backers were expecting and it wasn't what they were expecting.
Instead of just calling that a day and moving on to the next project they actually did a complete reprint with a new manufacturer. [They] upgraded all the components and re-sent the game out to every single backer for free. So I actually have two copies of that game. The first edition one and edition two.
"There's just something about that theme that I found hilarious so I backed it."
Jason: Wow. I'm sure that first edition will probably be worth something at some point.
Mitch: They've got a lot of publicity lately. Like right now, they're running the Terminator game on Kickstarter. It's Lynnvandor and they're doing some good things.
It's hard to imagining that some of these big properties like Terminator on Kickstarter. What kind of a bad experiences have you had and what caused it to be a bad experience? You don't have to name a specific designer.
Mitch: For every good Kickstarter there's a bad one. It doesn't even mean that it's a small designer or small publisher that's doing it. There are some big publishers that screw up. I'm waiting on a couple of really big games from a big publisher that is so far past the due date it's absurd, and their communication is scarce. Some of the other things that I've seen happen are just complete false advertising on Kickstarter. A while ago there was a Kickstarter for some pieces to go along with the game Munchkin. It was a treasure chest that was supposed to come with gear and whatnot that you would find throughout the munchkin dungeon. When it finally arrived it was about the size of a thimble. It was so small. In the pictures and all of the advertising it looked like it was going to be this awesome chest. It cost like 40 or 50 dollars but when it came it was this tiny tiny little thing.
You mentioned the communication from publishers. Does the amount of communication you receive in a campaign make any difference to the experience?
Mitch: Yes. The people who really care about what they're doing or are passionate about what they're doing are often going to make a higher quality product. They're usually the ones who are really communicating and trying to get feedback and stay in touch with the community. A really amazing [experience] that happened was with Gloomhaven. Isaac [Childres] was amazing. His communication was spot on. I sent him a few messages and he always got back to me within 48 hours. Answered all my questions. He was great.
"I'm waiting on a couple of really big games from a big publisher that is so far past the due date it's absurd, and their communication is scarce."
When you're looking around at projects, what is the most important thing you check on the Kickstarter page before you decide to back a project or not?
Mitch: There are a few things I look for. The most important comes down to the components. They give me a lot of information about the game. It's going to tell me about the theme and it's going to show me what the artwork looks like. You get a sense of how the game is going to play based on what the game is built from. I love to see a rule book or gameplay walkthrough, but the components are going to be the most important thing.
Mitch had some great things to say about what he looks for when choosing projects to back on Kickstarter. Backers want to know they will get great communication about the project and they want beautiful components. Is there something you think is more important than what we talked about here? Let us know in the comments, Facebook, or Twitter feed. We want to know exactly what you think before you back a project.