Designing Kickstarter Rewards

Eric asks how he should set up Kickstarter rewards to encourage early investment in his solo MMO project. I want to point out three examples with a few key points that seem to draw backers (and I like):

All of these Kickstarts received more than 1000% funding, and I would like to highlight a few things.

  1. You need to be selling something worth getting; crap with generous rewards means large quantities of crap.
  2. A low initial target. This ensure that you will get the money. It convinces people to buy in because they are not committing to a “maybe.” It lets you get that huge percentage that looks like you’re winning all over the place, then quickly start on stretch goals, which makes it look like you’re building momentum and getting wins all the time. People like to go where the action is and to be on the winning team.
  3. Several stretch goals, with the first ones easy to reach then in increasingly large dollar increments. Collect those early wins.
  4. A concrete reward for all backers of level $X with each stretch goal. If you want to encourage people to go sell your game for you, let them get more stuff when they bring you more backers. It does not need to be a big boost for everyone, but every time you add a new reward to the $X level, it looks like a better deal and it reaches someone else’s marginal price point. In Eric’s case, he is giving away digital rewards, so his marginal cost approaches zero.
  5. Include add-ons. Let people give you more money. This gives you more money; increases the average pledge, which primes future backers; helps you reach more of those stretch goals and early wins, all the earlier points; and lets existing backers give you more money, since they are already invested. In Eric’s case, this will let him try out the game’s cash shop before launch and see what people will pay for (sight unseen).

And, in Eric’s particular case, I would be selling naming rights (subject to review) of most NPCs, towns, epic artifacts, whatever. That costs the designer almost nothing, is a casual reward that does not affect balance, and is a permanent reward for a customer who will probably be willing to pay for a long while. Eric also seems to like quirky things, so cosmetic or minor abilities make great stretch goal rewards: you can summon a critter on a 15-minute cooldown; you can turn into a cow (or back) on a 24-hour cooldown!

Any new content with a stretch goal is an addition to the game and therefore a cumulative benefit for everyone. Combine that with the cosmetics and quirks, say each stretch goal is a piece of game content and a small bonus for each backer at the $X level or higher. You could also tie the bonuses to the content. $Y is the “funded” amount; $Y*1.2 puts this crafting skill in the game, and every $X backer gets a starter kit of crafting materials for it; $Y*1.5 puts this extra monster in the game, and every $X backer gets a cosmetic costume to look like that monster; $Y*2 puts this new city in the game, and every $X backer gets a skill to teleport there on a 20-hour cooldown; $Y*3.5 puts this new dungeon in the game, and every $X backer gets a title related to it.

But that’s just me, and I’ve never run a successful Kickstarter campaign.

: Zubon

I paid for the miniatures. I guess I need to learn how to paint those things now.

6 thoughts on “Designing Kickstarter Rewards”

  1. My number one item that I like to see, is my name in the credits for the game. This should be around the $15 level – any higher and it becomes too much.

  2. The three examples used, aren’t they all established brands with large fanbases? Doesn’t that kind of trump the rest?

    1. I’d say none of the three are, although they draw upon them. Ogre was not popular enough to stay in print. Evil Baby Orphanage is a new thing stemming from Nerdfighters, but it is not as if there were a Nerdfighters merchandise brand; I cannot speak to the other game from EBO’s creaters. Maybe Bones has a fanbase I don’t know; they seem to have benefited from working with Pathfinder, which does have that fanbase.

      1. Yeah I’d disagree with you there. Everyone knows Steve Jackson and the other two are darlings of the resurgence of game models. Plus these are examples that make tangible goods.

        All three have Wikipedia entries that have existed for several years and have survived notability qualifications. I know it sounds like a bummer, but that seems like a minimum threshold to me for this sort of approach (by approach I mean success-via-rewards). The tangible goods & rewards are kind of a big deal too.

        Can you find any gaming-related examples that weren’t so well established? Relative unknowns? One that didn’t have a profitable business prior to Kickstarter?

        1. The main issue is accountability and trust. In a Kickstarter, you’re giving someone money up front in return for a promise that such and such will occur.

          The question in a potential patron’s mind is, “What’s in it for me?” Tangible goods help, so they can at least roughly equate the price they’re paying for the cost of the resource and shipping, etc. An established company also gives an ‘insurance’ factor. If something goes wrong, what’s going to happen to the money and what is the company likely to do to rectify the situation?

          If the answer trends towards, ‘disappear and vanish without a trace,’ good luck to the Kickstarter.

          In the third case, Reaper is pretty big in the miniatures world. They’re not likely to go anywhere and if unlikely catastrophe occurs, they’re quite likely to make it right somehow because it’s their company’s rep on the line.

        2. I am happy to accept that the other two are popular even though I have never heard of them. And really, for this purpose, the size of your fanbase is not so important as their capacity to be mobilized and monetized. I do think “Everyone knows Steve Jackson” is an obvious exaggeration; they are big in the hobby, but most people could not tell you what company makes Dungeons and Dragons, and SJ Games is an also-ran apart from Munchkin. (See also: “Everyone knows Turbine” or the number of even gamer friends I have who do not know what Guild Wars 2 is.) As I said, Ogre was not profitable enough to stay in publication.

          Mostly, I want to say on this point that, while we need more data to run a regression, the r^2 on existing popularity is likely smaller than you are suggesting. Castle Story more than doubled Defense Grid 2. Bones got more than 30* Evil Baby Orphanage. Shadowrun Returns tripled Shadowrun Online. We have a LOT of variance to be explained here, and I am thinking that, however large your existing community is, how you monetize it will have a large effect on how much money you receive.

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