Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Analysis of an Analysis: Q3 and Q4 2015 Card Game Kickstarter Report

I love statistics.

I love the analysis of statistics even more.

In my “real job,” I do a lot of both. Combine this with Kickstarter, and board games, and I am all in.

I see Kickstarter statistical analysis pop up on a regular basis, and they’re usually linked by successful publishers whose success is due, in large part, to being a destination for Kickstarter hopefuls. I’ve done some of this myself. And the newest analytical work is by kindred spirit, Travis from Bear Creek Games.

I loved reading through his analysis of successful Kickstarter card games from the second half of 2015. 

Here is is:

It’s really fun to look at data points and answer important questions like, “How much money should I ask for?”, “How much should my game cost?”, “How long should my campaign run?” , etc. and so on.

Numbers and graphs carry more weight, and they can make you feel better about your decisions when you’re researching how to run your campaign. Unfortunately, this new statistical analysis, like most, is not the way to model your campaign.

There is a reason Mark Twain popularized the saying "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Don’t misunderstand me, there is a lot of value to be found here, and I think there are good takeaways to be found by anyone interested in running a Kickstarter, but let me explain why you would be wrong to take this analysis at face value.

First, the already small sample size of 117 projects is skewed significantly by two large projects, which raised significantly more than all the other card game projects in the sample. The analysis failed to provide a complete list of ALL the games included, but when looking at the top 10 for each quarter, it’s clear that One Night Ultimate Vampire and Wizard School were outliers  by a large margin.

One Night Ultimate Vampire comes from a highly successful, proven game entity and brand. The “One Night Ultimate” series from Bezier Games is beloved by gamers across the world, and has a rabid following. But Wizard School, was a first time game creator! So, how did they raise so much more than every other card game? A: Hank Green

Don’t know who Hank Green is? Google him. He brings a huge and loyal fanbase with him.
These two projects are good examples of why statistical analysis of Kickstarter projects aren’t worth as much as you might think. Numbers cannot capture the real reasons projects succeed or fail - following size, following loyalty, art quality, marketing dollars spent, and demo time invested are some examples.

You can mechanically check off all the boxes, have the best price point, the perfect campaign length, launch at the right time, have the ideal reward tier balance, etc, but if you don’t have a successful game property already proven in the marketplace, or a gigantic fan base you’ll never come close to the success of Bezier Games or DFTBA Games.

I argue that in order to have a more meaningful statistical analysis, these two projects should not have been included in Travis' sample at all. In fact, to be meaningful, you would need a much more specific sample that takes fanbase size, fanbase loyalty, name recognition, and other more important points into account. The kinds of data points required are not easily extracted, if they can be extracted at all.

Let’s look at some of the “Key Takeaways” in Travis’ report and see if they pass muster.

Page 6: “When establishing your funding goal, weight your goal against this analysis. If the average game raises around $13K and you want an obtainable goal, try to get your costs down to the point where you can come in below this amount.”

Kudos to Travis for eliminating the outliers to come up with his $13k “goal”, but as a Kickstarter creator you should NEVER do this. Let me repeat… 


Your funding goal should never be weighted against someone else’s analysis! It should always be based on the amount of money you need to manufacture, fulfill and distribute your game PLUS 20% for fees and unexpected costs. No exceptions. If you have $10k of savings in the bank that you are willing to invest into your project, you can reduce your goal by $10k. No savings? Make sure your goal provides enough to ensure you don’t end up broke, bankrupt or worse. Any advice to the contrary is BAD advice that you should ignore. It is much better to have a failed Kickstarter campaign over a bankruptcy, or an unfulfilled project that ruins your chances of ever funding on Kickstarter.

Page 7: “If you are working with a manufacturer that requires a minimum order quantity, take this [median number of backers] into account. This is also helpful when creating pledge levels for a limited number of backers (i.e. early bird).”

I am not sure we needed a statistical analysis for this, or how the median number of backers has anything to do with manufacturing minimums. But when figuring out how much money you need to raise make sure written quotes with manufacturing minimums are part of the equation.

Page 11 & 12: “Specifically, 41% of card games funded between both quarters had a duration of 30 days exactly.” AND “Where one would expect the longer campaigns to average the highest # of backers and funding received, the 4-5 week campaigns actually averaged the highest in both categories.”

This one is tricky. There is a pretty clear indication that the majority of successful campaigns were between 28 and 34 days. This is the timeframe I have mostly settled into, and I don’t disagree with it. But this is because I don’t see a lot of upside in a longer campaign for the size of my brand. Most money comes at the start and end of a campaign, with the middle being a trickle. However, if no one knows who you are, a longer campaign may not a bad idea, because you might need all the trickle you can get.  Just make sure you have a marketing plan in place for what you will be doing to attract backers during that long, unproductive stretch. I think a 30 day recommendation is absolutely fine, but the downside to not picking an ideal campaign length is negligible. Most serial successful Kickstarter project creators fall into the 20 to 30 day timeframe because they don’t need the extra trickle in the middle, it causes more pain and delay than it’s worth. Experienced creators also know they need more than 2 weeks to ensure they can catch the majority of their fans. This is why the most money is raised by projects with and average 30 day timeframe. Not BECAUSE of the timeframe, but because these projects tend to be have the most experienced creators. 

Page 15: “The numbers show that just because you price low (less than $15) doesn’t mean that you’ll attract more backers and just because you price high ($30+) doesn’t mean that you’ll raise more funds.”

Value has nothing to do with the price, and everything to do with perception and brand.

True: a $10 game with poor art, poor design by an unknown entity will not attract throngs of backers. If it was priced in the $20 to $24 “sweet spot “ per this analysis, it would STILL not attract backers, in fact, it would attract less.  You can only determine the best price by comparing identical products, which is impossible to do since no two games are identical. And if they were, 99.99% of people would choose the less expensive one. You cannot set your price based on any analysis of Kickstarter projects. Pricing is a process, and your best price is not just dictated by the components in the box, but by your brand and perceived value. Spend your time determining what that is.

Page 17: “Allow your backers the ability to buy the base game cheaper so that you don’t lose the interest of those with less to spend, but still provide them the alternative to buy added content at around a 50% premium.”

Ding. Ding. Ding!

Travis gets this one exactly correct. In board gaming you will find more people who want all the extras than those who just want the base game. Take advantage of this fact. You need to have a base game for those who don’t want the extra stuff, but give fans the opportunity to support you with more money by offering cool upgraded components or extra stuff. I have seen time and time again with my projects, that the premium, unnecessary items drive the pledge average up significantly. (Playmats, promo cards, upgraded components, deluxe editions, etc)

Page 19: “While some campaigns have unique incentives to a $1 pledge level (toasting the backers, access to PnP, etc.), do not expect your total number of backers to increase due just to the fact you created this cheapest level to pledge at.”

I had so much hope after page 17, but the report returns back to incorrect assumptions here. Looking at the average number of backers by whether they have a $1 pledge level or not, tells us absolutely nothing. This is a good representation of why so many of these reports are not worth your attention. You can’t look at one data point in something as complex as Kickstarter success and say, “more people pledged to projects without a $1 pledge level”, and conclude that you should not have a $1 pledge level. The benefit of the $1 pledge is this: it shows you care about on-the-fence backers, it’s an invitation to them to follow your campaign. You will convert $1 backers into full backers if you send updates that catch their attention. A $1 pledge level cannot hurt, but it sure can help.

Page 23: “There is a misconception in the game design community that Kickstarter is becoming more of a platform for veteran crowdfunders. The data above shows this to be untrue with an actual increase in first time and first time game project creators from Q3 to Q4 2015.”

This data only shows the % of successful first time creators for card games over two quarters, nothing more. 

Don’t let a data point like this make you think you don’t have to put in the work. There is definitely more competition on Kickstarter, but not just from “veteran creators”. We are also seeing more Internet celebrities, with large followings discovering they can cash in with a Kickstarter game. 
But is this bad for first time, un-famous creators? I don’t think so, when the Oatmeal or Hank Green publishes a game through Kickstarter they bring their own crowd, a crowd that they earned, and a crowd that may see your game. They help more than they hurt. Your game will live or die based on the work you put in. It’s the way the world works, and it’s no different here.

Also not considered is the fact that Kickstarter is attracting more sophisticated creators with the money to do proper marketing. The barrier for entry is rising, but don’t let competition scare you, let it make you better.

My thanks and appreciation to Travis for the work he put in, I really enjoyed his analysis even if I don't agree with all his points.


Monday, January 5, 2015

My Top 10 Games of 2014

2014 has come and gone, and the year end lists are being done by everyone in the hobby with an Internet connection.

In this hobby, you either design games or you critique them, or in many cases, both.
Is there anyone out there who just plays them?

I have my bouts of sounding like a typical jaded gamer, and it's something I fight all the time. As with any art form, games are subject to mob think. Everyone loves X, so I love X too!
I know that boardgames are art, because people have passionate opinions about them. As passionate as opinions about movies or music.

I understand what I love, others will hate, and what I hate, others will love. But when it comes down to it, games are just a catalyst for me. It's the PEOPLE that matter. So this year I am listing my top 10 games, not based on the game, but based on the most FUN I had this year playing games. And the people I played with were more important than the games I played.

These are not games released in 2014, but the games that provided the most fun for me in 2014.

10. Ultimate Werewolf
We had an end of year party for the boardgame Meetup group I am a part of. We had the largest crowd ever, which was fantastic, because most of my favorite people were there.  Need a game that plays 20 people that spans a huge age range? This is it. We laughed so hard and everyone was involved. There were too many people involved to list them all, but this session was moderated by Ian Garner and included the Gaston County Boardgamers Club and my kids. Epic fun! Best moment was when our friend B-Ryan finally got to be the werewolf after multiple sessions of really wanting to be one, and was killed on the first turn!

9. Till Dawn
Here's a game that doesn't seem to have set the gaming world on fire, but one that I've had a ton of fun with. It's a simple push your luck game that has you taking on the role of a vampire who is trying to suck as much blood from human victims as you can. But you have to do it before the sun comes up or a vampire slayer puts a stake in your heart. Some cool little Richard Launius twists make it interesting, but you need fun people to make this game shine. This has become sort of a litmus test for me. If you can't have fun playing this, I will probably find you boring and not want to play games with you. My best session of the year was at Dice Tower Con were I played with the designers, my kids and a very fun group of people. Just one more turn...

8. Pounce!
A fine example of how the simplest game can result in maximum fun. This is a dexterity game that has players calling out two numbers and rolling two dice. If one of your numbers is rolled you may try to catch the mice on the table with your cat, but the mice players will be trying to pull their mice away by the tail before you do. Pull when the number was not rolled and you're out. A fast, furious and cathartic game. I had a ball playing with Chris Gaston, Tom Vasel and some new friends at BGG con, but in my game group, our friend Jesse always makes this game SO MUCH FUN due to his guttural reactions to the stress the game provides.

7. Cheaty Mages
I hate this game. I think it's a horrible design, where your best laid plans are instantly destroyed by a single card that changes the rules. So why is it on the list? Because when Chris Gaston and I played it at Stormcon I was having fun until a single play by Chris turned me instantly against it. That's when the fun really began. I let the rage run through me and Chris used it to rib me for the rest of the game. It turned into one of the most memorable games of the year and to this day Cheaty Mages is the poster boy for my most hated game. I love it when my friends rib me over my irrational reactions to games. It keeps me grounded, and is a reminder that the people I play with are more important that the game design. I need to learn to not take games so seriously. Strategy and competition are great, but more important to me is having fun and creating a social framework. This game helped me remember that.

6. Operation F.A.U.S.T.

I know, it's pretty lame to include my own game here. But if I'm honest, I have to say an 8 player game of this I played at BGG con with a group of guys my age was pure hilarity.  They all "got it" and the backhanded trickery that went on created a plethora of huge belly laughs. Bluffing games are my favorite and I designed this game to include my favorite things about the genre. We also had a ton of fun during play testing with Kate (we miss you Katie), Nate and the GCBGC.  I can honestly say, that of all my games, this is the one I enjoy the most personally, because it drives social interaction over dry strategy.


5. Skull

Bluffing is my current favorite genre, and I played this so much this year that the components are wearing out. It's a go to filler for us and I love that my friends have taken to it so well. We lie to and rib each other with impunity. So many epic little Skull moments this year, especially with Mark, Mike, Nate, B-Ryan, Jesse, Ian, Andrew, Chris H, Chris G, and the Ross clan. This is a game that is always with me, and I need a new copy. I wish there was a deluxe version made of metal.

4. Shadows Over Camelot

After bluffing games, games with a traitor element are high on my list. Dead of Winter just missed this list at number 11, and I love BSG, but find it a bit long. I love the traitor mechanic because it drives social interaction, and that's what I love most about games: the social situations they can create. I only played Shadows Over Camelot once this year at a mountain gaming retreat. It was Mark Kale, Nate Bivins, Richard Bliss, Steve Avery and I, and this game was perfect. Steve ended up being the traitor and won the game, but the interaction the session drove was so much fun I nearly peed myself. Especially when Steve put on a traitor hood that covered his face after he was revealed.

3. Twilight Imperium 3
This is no secret to those who know me: I think Twilight Imperium is the best game ever made. It's huge, it's complex, it has flaws, and I love it all. Why? Because you get to live out every aspect of an alien civilization with unique abilities, and your friends play other unique alien civilizations. There is so much opportunity for social interaction and negotiation that it builds vivid memories, as if they really happened. This year is no exception. Dr. Zergl keep me from the win due to his petty grudges and Nate took the win in record time. Thanks to Nick for hosting a great session. It was fantastic and I was put in my place.

2. Cosmic Encounter

I love this game. My group loves this game. We constantly joke about how every race is overpowered.  I love space and as you know, I love social interaction, an no game does it better than this one. You have to get people on your side, alliances rise and fall, backstabbing is eminent. It's beautiful. This is another litmus test game for me, if you like this game, I'll play with you anytime! Fun people tend to love Cosmic Encounter and this year I got to play it for the first time with 8 players and all the expansions. It's was a chaotic mess and took a bit long, but I remember this game better than almost any other game I played all year.

1. TIE: Taiwan Snackbar / Sex Toy Poker
A simple, unknown, push-your-luck, card game that rates only 6.31 on BGG with just 69 raters? This game has an art style I hate and it's about competitive eating, but with the group that went to our mountain game weekend it was the most fun I had all year. Horrible Taiwanese accents, getting hosed and giving a hosing, saying dish names like "Pork Blood Rice Stick". Beautiful.  I don't remember who won, and it doesn't matter, because I do remember the laughter.

Don't pass it up if you have a group of fun folks to play this with.

Sex Toy Poker by Mr. Plug Games is only available on the Gamecrafter and is as unknown as it gets. It's a variant of Cockroach Poker with sex toys instead of insects. When I played it with Jason, Zev, Ron, Shane, and Steve I laughed so hard, I literally fell out of my chair and knocked myself unconscious when I hit my head on the concrete floor. This is a true story.

I LITERALLY went UNCONSCIOUS when I laughed too hard.

So that's my picks for best games of 2014. No Panamax, no Imperial Settlers, no Imperial Assault, no Arcadia Quest, no Alchemists. Nope. My most memorable moments were driven by the people I played with, the games just provided good foundations on which to build memories.

Thanks all, and I am looking forward to 2015!