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Why Do Kickstarter Projects Spike At The End?

An interesting dynamic of many Kickstarter campaigns is that they have a huge influx of backers at the end. (We did for Relic Expedition.) Plenty of projects struggle through a long slow campaign, unsure if they will reach their goal, and then the final days can lift the project to exceed its goal by another 50%. (The recent successful funding of the Grow Kickstarter campaign is a perfect example.) Why does this happen? Can it be avoided?


Pledges by day for Grow

Why Does This Happen?

The 48-hour “Remind Me” email is definitely a big factor in spikes at the end. Anyone who sees the project during the campaign can click that button, and then Kickstarter will email them when there are 48 hours to go. (I’ve written about that here.) But why do people click that button? Why don’t they back the project right then? I think there are three reasons:

  1. It’s easier to click “Remind Me” than to go through the process to back.
  2. Backing a project that hasn’t funded yet has too much uncertainty.
  3. The campaign page seems interesting but is not yet compelling.

Let’s look at each of these.

(1) It’s easier to click “Remind Me” then to go through the multiple-step process to back. It’s not too hard to back a Kickstarter project, especially if you have done it before. (Backing your first project can be difficult, creating a Kickstarter account and linking it to Amazon. But clicking “Remind Me” is hard for a new user, also.) But if there’s absolutely no reason to back a project now instead of later, then some people who are interested in backing it will opt for the slightlier easier approach.

I know I’ve done it: I have fully intended to back a project and just clicked the Remind Me link because I was pressed for time. There was one project in particular that had so many meaningless updates that I actually unbacked it and clicked “Remind Me”; it was actually better for me to back at the end than in the middle. (Don’t make your project like that!)

(2) Backing a project that hasn’t funded yet gives potential backers too much uncertainty. This one stumped me for the longest time. I believe people weren’t backing Relic Expedition because the project hadn’t yet reached its goal, but how was it going to reach its goal unless people backed it? (Once we hit our goal with four days left, we did see a big spike — even before the 48-hour email.) I couldn’t figure out why people would wait until a project reached its goal to back it (that seemed backwards?!?!), and I found it very frustrating. There was no risk for them, after all: if the project didn’t reach its goal, they weren’t out anything!

I now believe I understand the two reasons why people are more willing to back a project once it has reached its goal:

  • Confirmation: It can be really hard to tell if a project is worth backing, especially with board game projects. Will the game really be fun? Will the component quality really be there? Can this person really deliver what they say they can deliver? Imagine you read a campaign page and believe the creator can deliver and you want to back it … but no one else has decided to do so. Hmmm … perhaps you are misjudging the campaign?

    It would be easy to dismiss this as herd mentality, but I don’t think that’s fair to backers. It’s more like a backer can ask a bunch of strangers for an unbiased opinion. If 500 other people have decided to back the project, that’s 500 people who thought it worth backing. That provides some comfort and confirmation that could persuade someone on the fence. It’s not a perfect measure (500 people could all be wrong, after all!), but I think it helps a lot.

  • Certainty: If you pledge $25 for a campaign that hasn’t funded, there’s no risk. (Yay! No risk!) You won’t spend the money unless the project funds, and if it does fund you’ll get the game. But there is still a lot of uncertainty, and that’s just as important. (Boo! Uncertainty!) Have you spent the money? Maybe? If you pledge, you can’t really pledge or spend that $25 elsewhere. Or if you back it you might forget that you backed the project (thinking it wouldn’t really fund anyways) and then decide to spend your money elsewhere. It’s just not worth the uncertainty for a lot of people. Once a project has reached its goal, it’s much more straightforward and certain: you pledge, you give the money, and you get a game.

(3) The campaign page is interesting but not yet compelling. My campaign for Relic Expedition struggled until the end, and I think this is the big reason. I launched without any third-party reviews or even a game play video. (I thought my introductory video explained the game play well enough, but I quickly realized that it did not.) As the campaign progressed, I worked hard to make the page more compelling.

When the campaign is nearing its end, there is definitely a sense of urgency. In the middle of the campaign, people looking at it are making a Yes/No/Maybe decision. At the end, though, Maybe is no longer an option: it’s just a Yes/No decision. I think a big part of the end spike happens because Maybe is no longer an option. (Some who said Maybe will say Yes at the end, and you’ll see their pledges. Some will say No, and you won’t even know they existed.) The more compelling the page is at the beginning, the more people will initially say Yes instead of Maybe.

Can It Be Avoided?

I don’t think “avoiding the spike at the end” is the goal. The influx of backers at the end is great; that’s more people getting involved in your project and getting to play your game. But I think the goal is to get more backers to join the project earlier, which would make a good influx at the end look less like a spike. I do think this can be done. If you look at the Stonemaier Games campaign for their Treasure Chest, you’ll see they gained more pledges in the first few days than in the last few days: to me, that seems ideal.

Treasure Chest

Pledges by day for Treasure Chest

Looking at the three reasons for the spike, these are a few things I think project creators should strive to do:

  1. Make the project as compelling as possible day one. 
    1. Get third-party reviews before you launch. (I wrote a post about that a few weeks ago: view post.)
    2. Ask lots of people for feedback. Don’t wait until the campaign is perfect before you show it to anyone. We made our preview public the day we created it (read more), and we’ve been sharing the link and getting feedback on it for over two months. (The League of Gamemakers ran a great article about this: view article.)
  2. Set your goal as low as you possibly can to make it easier to reach. I really believe the best way to raise a lot of money on Kickstarter is to ask for only a little. Be careful not to ask for less than you need, but be sure not to ask for more than you need.
  3. Give people some small reason to back your project earlier rather than later. And I don’t mean early birds. Here’s something new I’m trying with the Lanterns campaign … time-based stretch goals.

Timed-Based Stretch Goals

One solution to getting backers to back early instead of late is the so-called “early bird” pledge levels. The first 100 backers get a lower price, for example. These have always made me feel uneasy. If the project is not compelling enough to back as it is, it seems wrong to create an artificial scarcity to bully people into backing early. I don’t want our backers competing with each other for lower prices.

Instead, we’re trying something new: time-based stretch goals. If we reach our funding level within the first week of the campaign, we will unlock these stretch goals immediately. Building a strong community of backers working together to reach our funding goal to improve the game for everyone feels good. It feels much more appealing to me than a cut-throat environment where people back a project early for fear of losing a good deal, where people feel sad for missing out.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Are there other reasons the spike happens? Are the ones I’ve listed not really the issue? Is the end spike not even a bad thing? Do time-based stretch goals seem like a good or a bad idea? Do you prefer early birds? Let me know!


This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. This is exactly why I am so glad I backed Relic Expedition. You guys are awesome, reflective, intelligent, etc etc. And why I’m sure this project will be a huge success, and that I will definitely back it. I am so lucky that you were early in my Kickstarter career, because now I am somewhat nervous backing someone’s first project (the campaign page has to be very impressive, and I have to be very sure about the game). I definitely agree with your confirmation theory. I can have a hard time assessing games and figuring out if they will be any good or not (yours was easy, because I loved the theme, and love the tile exploration game style), so seeing a lot of other people backing the project can make the decision easier to make.

    I’m so happy that you are not going the early bird route (sometimes I will not back a project since there are no more early birds left, and I don’t like the idea of people paying different prices just because of when they found the project), but time-based stretch goals scare me also, ha ha. Because, well, I want the stretch goals to happen ;-) It will be interesting to see how it works out though, and hopefully we get all the stretch goals you offer =)

    1. I’m glad you backed Relic Expedition, too! Thanks for all the kind words and for taking the time to share your thoughts on early birds and time-based stretch goals.

  2. Love this topic! Grow was (is) an interesting case. Also, Asking for Trobils created a very interesting problem for itself in one stretch goal. It hit funding, then slumped, and 2 stretch goals down the line were plastic ships. 150 ppl sat in the $1 category waiting to see if the ships came in. Ironically, if all jumped in, the ships would have hit.

    As we got closer and passed the first stretch goal, I started shouting, as did others, “let’s get to ships!” And creator Chris Strain pointed out to me that it was having an adverse effect – now, if the game DIDN’T have ships, and wasn’t going to make it, it was less of a game. It was baffling. So we let go of the heavy push – and it hit. 

    Can’t wait to follow the progress on Lanterns!

  3. This is a fascinating post about the impact of human nature on pledging vs. pressing the “remind me” button–thanks for writing it, Randy. I’m intrigued by the time-based stretch goal plan, and I’m curious to see how it works out. I don’t think you’ll have a problem reaching your funding goal in the first week at all, but really the interesting data will be revealed if you DON’T reach the goal that week. In that case, what do you anticipate will happen? Will backers lose hope in reaching those goals at all? Will they question the connection between those goals and the cost of making the game, or perhaps that those goals weren’t included in every copy of the game from the start?

    Peter touches upon one of the fascinating aspects of stretch goals too–that they can actually have an adverse effect. I think this is particularly true for board game projects, as many gamers are completionists. We see a stretch goal with a cool component, and if that goal is really far away, we feel like we’re not getting the “complete” version (of something that doesn’t even exist yet!) That’s something I’m trying to address in my KS Experiment series. I think the latest idea I discussed–letting backers vote on the order of the next few stretch goals–might address this problem, as it gives creators a way to reveal stretch goals in small, attainable batches (with the nice side effect of increasing backer involvement). I’ll most likely test it out on my next campaign to see if it works.

    1. I don’t think you’ll have a problem reaching your funding goal in the first week at all …

      I think you’re right here. I didn’t know what to expect with my first campaign, but I probably wouldn’t do it again if I wasn’t relatively confident about it funding. (I’m naturally cautious about things, so this has all been such a huge but great stretch for me as a person!)

      … but really the interesting data will be revealed if you DON’T reach the goal that week.

      I’m really not sure what will happen if we don’t reach the goal the first week. Will a time-based stretch goal even encourage people to back early or will they still wait to see if we reach it? Everything will become a typical stretch goal again, except for the custom platform artwork which we won’t have time to do on the current schedule. Will people give up on the campaign and unback? I don’t know.

      This is why it’s good to get feedback early. I’ve had this idea to launch with a time-based stretch goal since the spring, and it’s great to have people discussing it.

      1. What a GREAT idea. Now that you’ve put it in context of what the time-based stretch goal actually is, that completely makes sense. So many kickstarters give an estimated delivery based on the original game, and then with all the stretch goals, it gets delayed immensely. If you have a time-based stretch goal so as to allow adequate time to get the stretch goal completed and still meet the deadline, that is supremely smart! =) Excellent…

  4. I tend to use the ‘remind me’ button when I learn about a project on my phone. Since I can’t learn much more about it there, or even watch the video, I use ‘remind me’ as a shortcut to check it out again on my desktop.

    Fixing that would require work on KickStarter’s part, unfortunately.

    1. @Jay, Good point about the phone. :-) Question: Would you say you ever click that and then remember on your own to go check it? Most of the time, sometimes, never?

  5. Come to think of it, my example of Asking for Trobils actually has some data on the Timed-Based goals as well. Christian did do “mini-stretch goals”. He didn’t call them by this term per se, but I think it was his goal to use them to propel funding early for certain plussed elements of the game. I think the first one missed, but the second hit. I’ll mention this blog post so he can discuss any insights gained from using those.

  6. Nice article. I think you’re right, as a creator you can’t do anything active about the last spike, nor should you.
    But I would actually like to see Kickstarter maybe broaden their toolkit for how a creator can modify their campaign. 

    Imagine if you could change the “notify me function”, so that you could activate this notify me thing yourself, e.g. when you’ve just funded. But they (Kickstarter) should of course leave you with only 1 activation, so you can’t spam people. 

    Maybe Kickstarter could offer the visitors a variety of notify me options, so people could choose themselves. 10 days before, upon reaching goal, upon X amount of goal, X amount of backers etc. 

    You could always argue that keeping it simple is the Kickstarter way. But I think in many instances that Kickstarter should offer some more flexible tools –> Different campaigns = different needs. 

    Best regards Emil

  7. I have had a couple of good comments on social media about how planning a budget factors in. If someone pledges on day 1 but doesn’t get charged until day 30, it’s harder to track that future purchase. It seems that some people are waiting until the end of a campaign to back so that they can make their pledge around the time that Kickstarter will charge them.

  8. You can count on a day 1 back from us. I hope to see the project funded by the end of the 1st week. I think Sarah and I might both back the project and we give a copy to our local FLGS lending library.

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