Tackling the causality dilemma
You know the dilemma of which was first, the chicken or the egg? We had a bit of a similar dilemma with art and promotion. And if the first one is easy to answer if one bends the context a little — eggs were obviously first as the dinosaurs had them — we were dealing with the second one in practice, so we needed a solution that we could actually execute, not just some smart-ass theoretical answer.
The dilemma presented itself right at the beginning of the Crowdfunding Boot Camp I told you about in my previous post. We learned that one of the most important things to do before you go to Kickstarter is build a community of people who want your product. You can’t just go to Kickstarter and expect people will magically appear, fall in love with your project and back it — if there ever was such a time, it’s long gone. Of course a certain percent of backers, usually between 30–50 %, comes organically through Kickstarter, but the rest, you need to bring in yourself.
Which means, if we wanted, say, 300 backers to reach our funding goal, we would have to find 210 of those backers ourselves. How projects usually do it is they set up a mailing list and collect email addresses through different channels — live events, forums, social networks, advertising and so on. This way, they can measure the size of the community, and getting an email shows a certain amount of commitment that is larger than just a like or a post view or something similar. From their experience, 2–10 % of the people from the mailing list actually become backers, which means in our case, we would need between 2100 and 10 500 people on the mailing list. And I don’t know the exact number of what’s the ratio of people that you tell about your project to the people that subscribe to the mailing list, but I imagine it could easily be 10 or more. So we would have to tell hundred thousands of people about our game. Well, we better not waste any time!
But there was a catch. When we started attending the boot camp, we didn’t have any art for the cards and the box ready. We only had a prototype of the game which we put together from some husky and landscape photos taken from the internet. It was mostly intended for testing the gameplay, so it wasn’t particularly visually appealing, and it was never meant to be shown to anybody. So the dilemma was, do we show the prototype anyway, and start with promoting it, or do we wait until we have some art.
Both approaches had their pros and cons. If we started the promotion with just the prototype, we would risk that people wouldn’t like it. And you only have one chance to make a first impression, which meant we could potentially drive away people that would be interested in the final product. But on the other hand, preparing materials and promoting a project was a large part of the Boot Camp, so doing it then made sense as we would put the things we learned in practice right away, when the theoretical knowledge was still fresh. It would also give us a chance to compare experience with other projects and learn from each other.
And waiting until we have the art would mean that we have something attractive to show and work with, so the chance that people like it would be better. But we would fall behind the other projects from the group, and we would not get us much as we could from the co-working sessions as we would only be observing.
We decided for a bit of a compromise. First, we asked ourselves what were the crucial art elements — an absolute minimum that we needed for visual presentation of the idea. We decided that they were:
- A logo.
- The colour scheme or at least the base colour for the whole game. Since the theme is winter, we decided for a light blue.
- A motive that could be drawn quickly, and would convey the theme. We decided we wanted a frost pattern in the chosen light blue colour. We would use the pattern on the back of the cards, and in a few places on the materials, so that everyone looking at them would immediately connect it with winter.
- One illustration of a husky. It is a game about husky racing and huskies are the main stars.
We worked on the logo ourselves, but we knew we needed help with the other elements. We were already searching for an illustrator, and we maybe rushed it a bit to get the elements as soon as possible.
Once we had them, we started combining them with the material we already had, namely the photos of the prototype. The idea was to work with what we have and prepare as much as we can, and do it in a way that it can be upgraded with the new art as we get it. We took individual approach with different segments.
The first thing we did was a landing page. This is a web page that contains (very limited) information about the project, along with a form through which people can subscribe to the mailing list. It is kind of a core of all of the promotional activities. It was quite a feat on its own, as we had very limited experience with web page design, and I think it took us nearly two weeks to have it operational. The wintery feel of the page was conveyed by the blue and frost pattern, and we included some photos of the game components and a 2-player game setup. We wrote at the beginning that we are showing photos of the prototype, so that people would know what to expect, and included a husky illustration as a preview of the art we are working on.
We paid a lot of attention to the structure of the page and the information we included in each part, so we designed it in a way that the layout would stay more or less the same even when we got more art, and we would mostly just replace the photos and changed small bits of text. This allowed us to easily upgrade the page as the project progressed.
So what we had at that point was basically a very rough version of a landing page, that conveyed that wintery theme, presented some information about the game, showed some art preview, told the people we will be going to Kickstarter, and invited them to join us. And it served its purpose well — we were already telling some of our close friends about what we are doing, and from that moment on, we had something to show them. And some of them even showed their support by subscribing, which we thought was really great of them!
Later, we did a complete redesign of the theme and colour scheme, so what you see on the www.snowboardgames.si now is very different from that first version, but we could use all of the initial layout elements along with most of the text, so I’d say the initial version was a good investment of time.
Next, we focused on the materials for the Kickstarter page. We were discussing it in the Boot Camp first, and Niko gave us a broad checklist of what can be included along with some guidelines. We then looked through a lot of Kickstarter pages for tabletop game projects and decided on which sections we wanted to include in our page. We found some examples that we liked and we compiled a list of photos we wanted to include.
We decided that we want to have a lot of information conveyed through images and infographics. As opposed to the landing page, which could be upgraded with new art easily, the infographics would have to be re-designed and exported and uploaded again, so we estimated that it would not save us much time if we prepared a draft, therefore we would only design the Kickstarter page when we have the final version of the art and possibly a prototype. We’re kind of tackling that at the moment, but it’s going slow due to a number of reasons.
We also created a profile for SnowBoardGames on Board Game Geek, a go-to place for everything board-game-related. We started participating in the community (the forums about game design are an amazing resource of knowledge), but we are still waiting with entering the game into the database. I think we’ll do it once we have a physical copy of the game with the finished art.
But we definitely had to do a Facebook page. We took similar approach than with the landing page — we started with what we had, and then posted new art when it was done. It has worked so far and I like that this method is also providing us with content for posts very naturally.
Next, we wanted to create an online version of the game. We were in the middle of a lockdown, and we needed it to expand our circle of playtesters. We really wanted to do this one with finished art, but we just didn’t have the luxury of waiting for it, so we prepared a version with the components we had. We’ve modified it a bit (or a lot) from the printed prototype, mostly to make the cards more streamlined and color-blind friendly. It has been great for testing and we’ve hosted a few online game nights and got really valuable feedback, but we’re not making it publically available yet. Maybe we’ll make another version once the art is finished, but it’s not just a simple upgrade, rather a massive re-design.
Complementing the start-with-what-you-have-and-upgrade-as-you-go approach with the materials, we are also adjusting the messages we are communicating. We are of course always including the part that we’re developing a board game that will be released through Kickstarter. But what is changing is that at the beginning, we were telling people that we have started working on art and asked a lot of questions about what direction we should go with colours and motives and so on. We emphasized the development process as that was the only thing we had. And we didn’t promote the project heavily at that time, it was mostly sporadic.
And with each new art piece, we could do new releases. We always put some consideration about what we wanted to communicate next, and what materials we need for that. For example, box cover and landscape cards are both very important elements, but we decided to do the cover first. Having an illustration of the cover then allowed us to create a box mockup, which was probably the most important thing and interested the most people and it was also the first time we tried some real advertising (albeit with a very very very small budget). I’m not really a fan of that, but I don’t think we’ll be able to reach enough people organically.
At the same time, we are still releasing preview art of the other components as we get them. We’re now working on the landscape cards and I we have prepared something special, so I’m really excited about that release. I can’t tell you much, but I can hint that we’ll be including some real landscapes.
We’re still missing a few components, and we’re working on combining the art elements onto the cards, so we’ll be able to focus on the gameplay and game mechanics soon. I think this will also be an important step. And then, the last step would be a prototype or a small series with the finished art. Then, we’ll be able to show people a real physical copy, and give them a chance to try it for themselves.
So, what should come first, the finished product or the time you tell the world about it? The chicken or the egg? We’ve kind of gone with the mix of the two and we’ve intertwined them so that they both change when one of them changes. So we have an egg-shell with wings and feathers and legs, if you want. And we haven’t tried other approaches, so I can’t say if what we are doing is optimal, but we’re pretty happy with how it’s working out.
To making the most with what you’ve got!