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:
- We got to know our backers a little more (some of them can be really funny!).
- It gave backers the opportunity to be a part of the game.
- It took cards with relatively bland text and made them laugh-out-loud funny!
- 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.
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 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!
So Kickstarter, you come to me with a broken page, on this the day of my project’s launch... pic.twitter.com/SLmv1gtogO— David - Rucksack Brother #2 (@ddaviddx2) July 27, 2020
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.
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.
Gotta get leaner, meaner!— Grumpy Spider Games (@Grumpy_Spider) August 19, 2020
What are your favorite workout tunes? pic.twitter.com/PqepmvY8y3