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How To Promote Your RPG Kickstarter

I've run over a dozen Kickstarters, some big, some small, over a period of several years, and along the way I learned a few things about the process. I thought I'd share what I'd found out so far about the promotional side of running a Kickstarter campaign. There are companies which are absolute masters of the Kickstarter campaign - Monte Cook Games springs to mind; I do OK, but I'm still learning this stuff even now.

If it goes well, Kickstarter is the single best platform to sell your work online. It mitigates risk, it makes more money than anywhere else, and it's a combined marketing and sales platform. This introduction to promoting your Kickstarter is aimed at people running their first Kickstarter, who don't already have a following. But there might be tips that even old hands can use.

Quick Summary
  • Name your Kickstarter well
  • Start promoting your campaign before launch (I like a month)
  • Start working on a mailing list and/or the Kickstarter Coming Soon page
  • Create a press kit -- some of your best images, page spreads, etc. and a press release; make it really easy for people to report on your project
  • Reach out to TTRPG news outlets before launch and try to have something nice they can share (exclusive previews work wonders!)
  • Consider Facebook ads if you can afford it or a promotional service if you can't
  • During the campaign itself promote, promote, promote, and when you feel you've promoted enough, promote some more
Before Launch
Kickstarter has a "Coming Soon" page for every not-yet-launched project. You need to have that up early -- a month or so before, if you can, and work on getting as many followers as possible waiting for launch. We had about 2,000 for Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters. Note that only about 10%-20% of those will typically back the campaign (we had 18% on Mythological Figures, and I've heard of people getting higher than 20%), but it's good to have a starting core there.

This is what the Coming Soon page looks like:

coming_soon.jpg


You don't have to use the Coming Soon page. You can set up your own landing page, collect email addresses, etc. That gives you more control over the communications - a lot of people filter out emails from Kickstarter, and may not see the notifications. And you can show a lot more information and previews on your own page. But the Coming Soon page is a nice, easy way to do it with minimal effort on your part.

Important note -- Kickstarter only allows you to run one campaign at a time. I found out (the hard way!) that they consider a 'pre-launch page' to be an active campaign. While a pre-launch page is a great way to generate interest in your project before launch, they won't let you launch any other campaigns while you have an active pre-launch page. If you have a long promotional period before your campaign and you anticipate running other Kickstarter campaigns during that period, you will have to use a different service.

I personally recommend you do this yourself rather that using Kickstarter's pre-launch page. You can tailor the experience, present any information you need, and you end up with a useful mailing list of targeted people who have specifically asked you to email them about your project. Plus your marketing won't prevent you running other projects.

If you want to set up a mailing list of your own, I've found Mailchimp to be useful. It costs a bit if you have more than a couple of thousand contacts, but it collects the email addresses on a nice landing page, gives you reports on how many people opened emails and how many clicked on links, and so on. There are other similar services, but Mailchimp is the one I've experience with.

Mailing lists or launch notifications are hugely helpful!

If you have run one or more previous Kickstarter campaigns, Backerkit, which is a commonly used pledge manager, has a "Launch" service which costs $99. It imports all your old Kickstarters, and then you can email everybody who has ever backed you all at once. I found that worth the cost. You send out a pre-launch email to get followers, then an email on launch, a reminder partway through the campaign, and then one near the end. It has good tracking, so you can see how well it does. This service relies on you having people to email, so you need to have at least one previous campaign in the bag.

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 11.47.15 AM.png


Of course, you can do all that yourself. Just go to every campaign you have run, and manually email the backers from each. You don't get the nifty stats, and it takes a little longer, but you don't have to spend the $99. If you have a bunch of campaigns and thousands of previous backers, I think it's worth it.

Getting The Word Out
This is the hard bit, especially if you can't afford ads and don't have an existing following. If it's any consolation, it gets easier as you do more Kickstarter campaigns, as your previous backers will often become fans.

You need to be getting the word out every way you can. Social media, contact RPG news sites (in advance, with cool previews they can share, not last minute emails when you have a week left in your campaign just asking them to help 'boost the signal' -- it's probably too late then), reach out to podcasters. If you can afford it, maybe a Facebook ad (see below). Try to get that follower count up as high as you can before launch.

For our part, here are EN World's contact details. Egg Embry does a weekly crowdfunding roundup of Kickstarters ending soon, and those often end up on our podcast.

If you can, over time you should try to build up a list of press contacts who you can email. For Mythological Figures I reached out to about 40 outlets. The following responded and featured the Kickstarter in some way, and so might make for a good 'starting list' of folks to contact.

outlets.jpg

One important thing to realise is that - with few exceptions - any single article or podcast isn't going to turn your campaign around; you should never pin your hopes on one article. It's about the total coverage; a 'critical mass'. You want to be mentioned in lots of different places. Every one of them is important. Articles, podcasts, ads, etc. And it's a LOT of work doing all that publicity constantly for 30 days.

...you should never pin your hopes on one [marketing] article. It's about the total coverage; a 'critical mass'.

That said, there are some bigger outlets which can cause a solid bump on their own. Geek & Sundry used to be good for that (they don't cover Kickstarters at present). A massive percentage of my own is from EN World, but obviously I don't just post one article there about my stuff, I cover it at length for weeks, so it's not a direct comparison.

Be prepared for outlets to say they don't cover Kickstarters, or to contact them when the product hits retail, or even to not reply at all (under 50% replied to me). This isn't unusual, so don't let it discourage you. Remember, they get a LOT of emails from people with Kickstarters. But here's what's important --

You have to go to them.

You can't launch a Kickstarter, mention it to your Facebook friends or on Twitter, and hope Forbes picks it up. You need to reach out to websites, podcasts, and the like. Promoting your Kickstarter is a job, and remember that whatever segment of the RPG community you tend to hang out (on Twitter, on a particular forum, on Facebook) is only one small part of the overall community, especially if you're popular or particularly active in that segment. You want to reach out as broadly as you can.

I'm in a strange position where I"m at both ends of that process. I run Kickstarters and need to reach out to various outlets, but I'm also one of those outlets because I run an RPG news site. I get TONS of emails about Kickstarters every day (in fact, as I type this, one literally just arrived at midnight my time telling me about a Kickstarter launching tomorrow....) An outlet needs (a) notice (b) something interesting to share which isn't just your marketing blurb. Offer to do interviews, appear on podcasts, share material, and so on.

Promotional Services
There are dozens of companies that offer promotional services to help you get the word out about your Kickstarter -- if you've run a Kickstarter before, you've been bombarded with messages from these companies. You will get spammed with dozens of messages like this:

Screen Shot 2020-09-17 at 9.54.52 AM.png


This particular company, which is called "Social.Media", sent the above message to one of my projects which had already funded. I was impressed that they had apparently noticed that project could use some help to increase exposure and visibility, but that they hadn't noticed that it had already finished and funded. You can't buy attention to detail like that!

Most promotional services work on a commission basis, but each is different. I'll take a look at one of the largest, Backerkit, and the costs and expected returns.

Most of these services will use referral tags in ads and links, so that you can see which pledges can be attributed to them. Note that Kickstarter's tracking is far from perfect, and there are numerous ways that referral tag can get dropped during the process.

First, the cost: Backerkit requires that you use their pledge manager (which takes 3% of your total funding), and also takes a commission of 15% of any pledge they create for you. Additionally, of course, you reimburse them the ad spend.

Backerkit costs: 15% of attributable pledges, plus 3% of total funding, plus the actual Facebook ad spend

One thing to watch out for with Backerkit -- and in a Zoom call with one of their representatives, this was confirmed multiple times -- you pay that 15% even on failed pledges. Typically, just under 5% of pledges on Kickstarter fail after the campaign ends -- a failed pledge means that Kickstarter cannot collect the funds from the backer for whatever reason (expired credit cards, for example), and the pledge is dropped after a few attempts to collect payment. However, if they generated it, Backerkit still charges you 15% on that pledge, even though it has dropped. I literally asked "So somebody could pledge a ridiculous $1M, the pledge would (obviously) fail when Kickstarter tried to collect payment, but I'd be on the hook to you for $150K?" They confirmed that this was the case. I don't imagine that this has ever actually happened.

That aside, let's look at some numbers. Backerkit shared some graphs of successful Kickstarters they'd helped raise funds. Obviously, they only shared success stories, but those they shared were very impressive. Here's one they shared in their initial pitch: Menagerie of Magic, which closed at £250K.

menagerie of magic.png



How much did it cost?
Now, this looks like it had quite a big ad spend. I asked the Backerkit rep what proportion of the total funding Backerkit was responsible for. He was reluctant to answer, but eventually said "about half". He wouldn't share any other numbers, like the amount of ad spend, etc. But we can do some maths on this, and I've spoken to numerous friends who have used their services. Remember the costs are:
  • 3% of your total amount raised for the pledge manager (mandatory)
  • 15% of the total of any pledges generated by Backerkit's Facebook ads
  • Reimbursement of the amount Backerkit spends on ad
The total amount paid to Backerkit, for the above campaign was certainly well in excess of $50K. In fact, if Backerkit did generate half of the funds raised, we're more likely at $80K+. Note -- you don't have to come up with that in advance; you pay Backerkit out of your collected funds after the Kickstarter campaign ends. They're pretty good at making sure you can't actually lose money.

Here's another graph they shared. A similar picture, though not as dramatic.

Exalted Vales.png



Of course, they didn't share any examples of campaigns which didn't go so well, so be sure to bear that in mind when looking at these. These two examples are presumably two of their best results.

Other companies have different terms. They might have a minimum time period of 3 months (not necessary for a Kickstarter, whatever they tell you), a minimum ad spend, or higher percentages. Feel free to let me know, and I'll note them here. For example, I've been told that Green Inbox requires a 3 month ad campaign with a minimum of $2.5K per month, and higher fees.

I've spoken to other friends who used their services, and it does look like the above graphs are exceptional examples. I think a reasonable average expectation from Backerkit is that you'll get about a 15-20% boost.

Facebook Ads
Now, that's the numbers. Let's take a quick look at what the promotional services actually do.

Backerkit and other promotional services buy Facebook ads for you. If you use Facebook you've probably seen them in operation -- ads from pages for Kickstarters seemingly unconnected to the original creator, such as Cardboard Revolution, Crowdfunding for Gamers, or Tabletop Playoffs. Those are the accounts used by promotional services like Backerkit. Facebook is, without a doubt, the best paid ad platform you can use. Here's one that Backerkit is currently running for Phil Reed's latest campaign using its Cardboard Revoution account (they have a whole bunch of accounts they switch out):

Screen Shot 2020-09-14 at 2.19.26 PM.png


The most attractive aspect of using a promotional service like Backerkit is that you are paying them a percentage after the Kickstarter camapign. You don't need an ad budget in advance.

Now, could you do this yourself? Sure! They don't do anything you can't do, and if you can afford to pay for the ads yourself, you save that 15%; the odds are they'll likely be a bit more experienced at it than you though. Facebook's ads manager is designed to be easy to use, but I find the interface unintuitive. There is a level of expertise needed, and that's what a promotional service can do. They can spend the time creating ads, tweaking them, swapping them out, ensuring that a certain return on ad investment is being met (well, they can't guarantee that, but then neither can you). Here's an example report on Kickstarter of one of five of the ads I ran for Mythological Figures (this was the best performing of the five, and the largest pledge total):

Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 11.50.40 AM.png


If you're comfortable making Facebook ads (and it might be worth trying it out -- you don't have to actually publish the ad, just play around with the interface and create a few ads) it might be worth considering doing it yourself. 15% is a lot of money. There's a few things to keep in mind:
  • Keep an eye on the Kickstarter referral tracker and compare it every day to the amount you have spent on each ad. Switch out any underperforming ad campaigns. I had a spreadsheet I updated every day, with a rotation of five different ads.
  • Get your targeting right. That's the hardest part. You can target your ads based on location, age, and interests; so you might go for people aged 25-40 in the US with an interest in Dungeons & Dragons and Kickstarter. There's no real good data out there on who to target, so it's a bit trial-and-error. Try different audiences and see which ones work.
  • You will get people being pretty obnoxious in the comments of your ad(s). I mean, seriously. It's social media. Just be prepared for it.
  • I personally found short video ads worked best (don't bother with speech, but a few pretty images and captions), but your mileage may well vary. If you can't make a short video yourself, there are online tools which can make video slideshows and stuff from your images or artwork.
  • Expected returns on Facebook ads -- I aim for about 2:1. If a campaign drops below about 1.5 I drop the ad. Some promotional services say they can do 3:1 or 4:1, which sounds very ambitious to me, but I can't verify that one way or the other. Your margins on your pledge fulfillment will determine what a workable return is for you.
  • It's not cheap. You have to spend money to make money. As you saw from the figures above, it can cost thousands to run a good campaign. But - at least in theory - as long as you are getting back more than you put in, it's worth doing. And remember, something like Backerkit pays for the ads and you reimburse them after the Kickstarter ends, so if you don't have an ad budget consider that route.
  • I have to reiterate that last point -- it's not cheap. You will have to spend a lot to start seeing the returns, but if you do it right, the returns will be more than you spent. For Mythological Figures, I had a Facebook ad budget of several thousand running five different rotating ads.

Making A Facebook Ad
This is the ad that worked best for us. Note, I had to learn to use Adobe After Effects to do this, but it only took about a day. You can buy premade templates for After Effects which contain a folder of placeholder images which you can simply replace with your own, which is how I did this. It sounds intimidating, but it's not as scary as it sounds.


(Note this is the longer version -- I used a shorter version on Facebook, as people don't tend to sit through a full 20-second ad).

In the past I've also used an online tool called Animoto. That has a big library of music, you upload your images, add captions, and it makes a video slideshow for you. It's very easy to use. I made this Judge Dredd ad using it.

Of course, you don't have to make video ads. That's just what worked for me. But most Facebook ads are single static images, and they can work great. Just make sure you give them a good caption!

Twitter Ads
I tried Twitter ads for this campaign. The results were terrible. I strongly recommend avoiding these. Facebook ads are where it's at for social media - better targeting, better results. (Note, I'm specifically talking about paid Twitter ads here -- if you have any kind of Twitter following, obviously you need to be tweeting about your project.

The Trough
One thing to expect, if you haven't run a Kickstarter campaign before -- every Kickstarter follows a similar 'U'-shaped pattern.

You get a big exciting rush of backers at launch. Then you get a long, slow period in the middle, followed by a rush at the end. That middle period can be tough to deal with, and you need to keep promoting solidly during that time. It's important to understand it happens to everybody; it's not just you.

Screen Shot 2020-09-13 at 11.37.25 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-09-13 at 11.38.04 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-09-13 at 11.39.06 PM.png


The above examples show the U-shapes all the way! Expect it, and the middle couple of weeks won't be so tough to deal with. The first time it happened to me, it was... let's say 'emotional'. In the WOIN Kickstarter (the third one) I actually lost money on my 7th day into the camapign. Now I'm used to it.

Make sure to turn off notifications of individual pledges and cancelled pledges. That's not an easy thing to deal with, especially when you get a little spurt of cancellations. You don't want that ruining your day. Don't fret about cancelled pledges; it's perfectly normal. Peoples' financial situations change, or they find they'll be playing a different RPG for the foreseeable future, or they just saw another Kickstarter more to their liking, or unexpected expenses happen.

Stretch Goals
Be careful. It's tempting, as your backers encourage you to add more and more stretch goals, and the excitement is getting to you. But many campaigns have run aground, their creators still fulfilling the same Kickstarter two years later, because they've promised more and more via stretch goals. I actually go the other way now; we don't do stretch goals (though we do free pre-prepared stretch 'rewards'). Anything I offer in a Kickstarter I can fulfill immediately, so I'm able to move quickly on to my next project. Stretch goals are great, they can increase excitement, and result in larger pledge totals -- but be careful!

Track It
You can track your Kickstarter's progress on various services which will also attempt to predict your overall funding goal (though they are wildly high at the start, and only get accurate in the last third or so of the campaign). These all show daily pledges, and other stats.
Don't get carried away by early predictions -- these (Kicktraq in particular) don't account for the U-shape, and so assume your initial launch stats will continue. They won't, and the initial predictions are usually exorbitantly high, sometimes by as much as a factor of ten. Don't get excited -- they start to come down fast! Ignore the predictions, but the other data can be useful.

I hope this article has been useful. It's just a summation of my own experiences with running Kickstarters, and I'm sure other creators will have other advice they can offer. I'm currently running an experiment with multiple short 1-2 week 'quickstarters' to see how that affect that U shape, and whether multiple small campaigns is better or worse than occasional big ones. That experiment is running as we speak!
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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Mythic Nation

Owner of Mythic Nation
Publisher
This was the best and most up to date info on the current state of promoting your Kickstarter. Great job and thank you! One question - you said poor results on Twitter, but have you heard anything about Reddit? The DnD groups are huge on Reddit but I hardly see any ads.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
This was the best and most up to date info on the current state of promoting your Kickstarter. Great job and thank you! One question - you said poor results on Twitter, but have you heard anything about Reddit? The DnD groups are huge on Reddit but I hardly see any ads.
I wasn’t aware that Reddit sold ads. If they do, I’ve never tried it.
 


LegendaryGames

Explorer
Publisher
In addition to the specific things to do in promoting a Kickstarter, I've been following Morrus' model of short, focused "Quickstarters" and after some prep and moving some things around schedule-wise, we've just launched one as well (link for anyone who wants to check it out).

I think sometimes we out-think ourselves in terms of the scope and scale of what is or should be a Kickstarter project, like it needs to have a certain magnitude to be worthy of crowdfunding. There's some truth to that, and especially so if you're dropping big money into advertising. That said, I think Morrus' success with this method has shown that there's also room for smaller and more focused projects that can be quickly set up and quickly fulfilled, allowing you to move on to the next thing. The idea of "Kickstarter fatigue" might have more to do with the often long, drawn-out ramp-up and prolonged fulfillment cycle where people are waiting for months (or sometimes years) to get a project done.

I'll be interested to see how a Quickstarter plays out for an independent company like Legendary Games vs. ENWorld Publishing that has a visibility boost due to its connection with the boards and site here. So far (less than an hour in), the early returns are certainly promising, but it is providing me with food for thought in how we structure and sequence future crowdfunding projects and which projects that we might have done another way we might do as a Quickstarter instead.

Thanks to Russ for leading the way and we'll see how it goes! Imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery!
 


LegendaryGames

Explorer
Publisher
Having just finished a 24-hour campaign, I can say that shorter projects can work well. I will definitely do that again.
Wow, 24 hours, how did that go? I didn't know you could do them that short, though I never saw a lower limit. I guess I just kind of assumed.

Another point in favor of the idea that a KICKSTARTER!!! doesn't have to be this giant all-caps month-plus mega-grind to be a useful sales and marketing tool.
 

philreed

Adventurer
Supporter
Wow, 24 hours, how did that go? I didn't know you could do them that short, though I never saw a lower limit. I guess I just kind of assumed.

Another point in favor of the idea that a KICKSTARTER!!! doesn't have to be this giant all-caps month-plus mega-grind to be a useful sales and marketing tool.
Went better than I expected. I will run another 24-hour campaign.

 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member


amethal

Adventurer
I wish more people would read this article. I'm following two KS projects at the moment (didn't buy in, thankfully); one is two years past their promise date, and two months since there was a update that had any meaningful info. The other is three months late, and the last update was a month ago, indicating a imminent release.
Last November was the 10th anniversary of the due date of the second Kickstarter I ever backed. The last update was in 2014. I'm starting to lose faith in the project :)

Having said that, the last item I was waiting for from the Kaiden kickstarter (due date October 2013) did finally arrive in 2019, so you never know!
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
It's funny to mention 2013, because that's the year of my business degree, and one of my final projects was a power point on creative financing using kickstarter as an example.
 

LegendaryGames

Explorer
Publisher
Thanks! And yeah, totally try a shorter campaign. I suspect you'll be happy with the results.
We're currently at 22 hours after launch and over $6,000. I'd have been content if this particular project had reached that number at the end of the campaign, so to get there in less than a day I'm excited. We'll see what the growth pattern is for the remainder of the campaign.

Morrus, I'll be interested to see how a one-week Quickstarter goes for you.

 

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