Rucksack's Post Mortem

Rucksack's Post Mortem

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Introduction

After a hard, but rewarding, three-week run on Kickstarter, we unfortunately had to cancel Rucksack's campaign. Rucksack itself has had very good reception, but the campaign lacked the momentum to push us to our funding goal.

We believe most of the difficulty stemmed from simply not having a large enough audience, which is common for small first-time creators like ourselves. There were, however, a few specific issues that surfaced during the campaign as well.

What I'd like to do in this post is highlight some of the things we did right, as well as the things we did wrong, and the lessons we learned.

Things We Did Right

The Intro Video

To start things off on a fun note, I really like how our intro video turned out! It gave a quick idea of how the game is played, and really set the stage for what type of humor and creativity Rucksack is designed for. We got a lot of positive feedback, with quite a few people either publicly or privately telling us how much they loved it.

I know the video is probably a small thing in terms of our overall Kickstarter performance, but it still makes me laugh every time I watch it!

The Add Some Flavor Contest

The biggest win for Rucksack’s campaign was the Add Some Flavor Contest. In each update, I would highlight 3 of Rucksack’s Item cards that could use a little help with their flavor text and open it up for backers to give us any ideas they had. Then we'd choose our top 4 and put them to an open vote on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Here's why I think that was a great idea:

  1. We got to know our backers a little more (some of them can be really funny!).
  2. It gave backers the opportunity to be a part of the game.
  3. It took cards with relatively bland text and made them laugh-out-loud funny!
  4. We actually gained at least two backers specifically so they could enter the contest!

It really was a great part of the campaign that everyone - especially us - seemed to enjoy so much. It will definitely be coming back when we relaunch.

Things We Did Wrong

Not Enough Reviewers

We had originally planned for six reviewers. Unfortunately, for reasons outside of our control, those six reviewers turned into three, which just isn’t enough to establish good credibility or to reach a large enough audience.

I’ve since been told that this sort of thing is fairly normal. Sometimes games get lost in the mail. Sometimes reviewers just aren’t able to meet the deadline they gave you (they do have lives outside of board gaming, after all!). Although it’s completely understandable that these things happen, having only six reviewers left us no “wiggle room” in case anything went wrong.

For our relaunch, we’ll still have those three reviewers, obviously, but we’re already making plans to have several more.

Order Quantity

We planned our funding goal around ordering 1000 games. Having 1000 games would definitely save money in the long run by getting us bulk discounts, but at the detriment of our funding goal being too high. I’m going to chalk this up to what is, in hindsight, a classic rookie mistake.

For our relaunch, we’ll be seeking funding for 500 games, rather than 1000. Although this won’t reduce the goal by a full 50%, it will still be a fairly significant decrease.

Shipping Costs

Shipping was another major hurdle for this campaign. Apart from Rucksack being heavier than it’s small box would suggest, we also had to work with volatility in shipping costs due to COVID. Our fulfillment partner also informed us that shipping costs were fluctuating anywhere from 40-60% higher than normal.

We tried to account for that uncertainty, and even let the backers know that we were locking in our shipping prices for them and willing to take a hit if they increased anymore. In the end though, I don’t think that really mattered much. All in all, $12 shipping on a relatively small game was just too high.

We have some promising leads on what we can do to reduce shipping as much as possible, but further research is still needed. Thankfully, freight prices have since started to stabilize. They’re still quite high, but lower volatility indicates that a return to normalcy is likely coming soon.

Things I’m Still Not Sure About

Print & Play within 24 Hours

One thing that I think was unique about our campaign was that we sent every backer a promo PnP version of the game within 24 hours of their pledge. The idea was to give people who were unfamiliar with Rucksack a chance to try it out. They could get 50% of the game, print it out, and play it with friends/family.

On one hand, we hoped that $1 backers would play and enjoy it enough to pledge for the full game. We know that happened for at least one backer who played Rucksack with her son and husband. They ended up having so much fun that her daughter and sister put down their phones and decided to join in! That was enough to convince her the game was worth it.

On the other hand, giving a PnP version to someone who pledged for the full game definitely opens up the possibility that they don't like the game and cancel their pledge. We did have two backers cancel. We don’t know the reasons why, but it’s at least possible that this was it.

I don't want you to misunderstand me, though. I’m still glad that we chose to do this. It helped us connect a little more to backers, and it gave them a chance to try out the game before they made a commitment. To me, that’s a win-win whether they increase their pledge or cancel it. However, strictly looking at it through the lens of our Kickstarter campaign, I’m not sure if it helped or hurt us.

Things Out of Our Control

Site Outages on Launch Day

In an unfortunate turn of events, Kickstarter had several major site outages the day we launched, totaling somewhere between 2-4 hours of downtime during the busiest times of the day. As you might imagine, that made us pretty anxious!

This naturally led us to ask the question, "Did these outages hurt our campaign?". My brother was fairly certain they did, while I wasn't so sure. I figured that most people coming to our page would likely try again later, so no real harm would be done.

Luckily, I've been collecting Kickstarter data since last January for my Kickstats blog series, so we had everything we needed to answer that question.

After comparing Mondays from June through August, it was clear that my hunch was correct. Even though Kickstarter was down for several hours on our launch day, there was no noticeable impact to site-wide pledges.

 

You may be wondering why I even mention this if I've already shown that it didn't have a significant impact. Well, other creators may come across these same issues in the future, and I want to reassure them there's no need to worry.

Conclusion

The important lesson here is that sometimes failure happens. You need to learn from it and keep moving toward your goal. Our goal is to bring this great game to the people we know will love it, and we’re not giving up yet!

It's disappointing that we didn't fund this time around, but we've enjoyed this process and learned so much from it that we don't really even want to call it a failure.

7 comments

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David Miller

David Miller

The Kickstarter outage was a huge factor, imo. That first day is so critical and sets much of the tone of the rest of the campaign.

The video? It starts too abruptly for me, I would have liked a sentence setting the stage: “Let’s play Rucksack and you know I’ll win!” or something like that. It’s a cute video and shows how it plays, but I’m not sure what “I” would have liked better.

Unfortunately, shipping has become very high for small games. That said, I felt that $32 for one game, in the U.S., is too high for the physical goods I’m getting. I don’t know if others felt this, but flat-rate shipping didn’t make sense to me. Why am I, in N.H., paying the same as someone is Australia?

If it’s under a pound it’s $5.70 for cross-US postage. Over a pound gets in to flat-rate US Priority shipping, still less that $12 if I can make it fit in a small box. I think non-US people know they’ll get hit by shipping. So why not “build” shipping in to the US pledge and lower international? For example, $25 for a U.S. game, then add $10 to international for $35. Unfortunately, I think we’ll get to a point where shipping will simply be too much for international folks for small games. We’re struggling trying to get good numbers for LunaSyr.

Also, and this is a pet peeve, so be patient with me. Why use a pledge manager if you know what shipping is? Ugh, I hate having to pay twice for one game and that’s how it feels to me. Plus I don’t want to work hard to get your game and I don’t want to feel nickel and dimed with pledge manager stuff. One click, one charge, and done! lol – steps of soap box =p

Okay, some random two cents …

Real product pics would have been nice. As would be at least one reviewer or third-party video.

And I think your goal of 1000 is good. You should be able to have a stock to sell from after the Kickstarter. We plowed our KS money into buying inventory for online sales.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but that’s only my very small and narrow perspective.

I did enjoy your online polling and that was incredibly clever.

I can’t wait for your relaunch! =)

David

David

Hi David,

You make really good points about using a pledge manager. I’ve definitely been torn on it the entire time, since I can see the merits of both sides. We ultimately decided to use a pledge manager for two reasons. The first was that it allowed us to remove shipping from the Kickstarter equation, which gave us a lower funding goal. The second was that many creators and backers find that it’s a convenient way to order more copies after the campaign ends, or for interested backers to back for $1 and have more time get the full game. But I still see what you’re saying about feeling like you’re paying twice for the same game, and that it’s just added complication. Now I have a few more months to be torn over whether or not to nix the pledge manager for our relaunch, lol!

You mention several other issues that we plan to address in our relaunch as well, I just didn’t want this post to go on and on for too long :). So many things that seem so obvious to me now…

As always, I really appreciate your feedback!

David Miller

David Miller

I think you did a great post mortem and took a great objective look at your project. I see what you mean about removing the postage and most KSs do that now.

The concern I’ve had with dollar pledges converting is that you don’t know how many will, which affects your final quantity (assuming you order right after the project).

David

David

You raise a good point with the dollar pledges converting. Although, I suppose as long as you’re able to accommodate the possibility of all of them converting, you should be ok.

Brett

Brett

Thanks for this post mortem! It’s so valuable for us other game developers to read such a clear and insightful breakdown of successes and failures.

I agree that the flavor contests really got people involved and having fun! I voted on many, and contributed to at least a few.

David

David

Thanks for your feedback, Brett! As David Miller mentioned, there were plenty of other things we need to change before our relaunch, but I think these were, by far, the biggest issues. Once we fix these problems, I’m much more confident that we’ll succeed.

And I’m still upset your megaphone flavor text didn’t win, even though that was the first one that I, personally, won!

Brett Juilly

Brett Juilly

The People have spoken! Congrats on your win!

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