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?
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:
- It’s easier to click “Remind Me” than to go through the process to back.
- Backing a project that hasn’t funded yet has too much uncertainty.
- 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.
Looking at the three reasons for the spike, these are a few things I think project creators should strive to do:
- Make the project as compelling as possible day one.
- Get third-party reviews before you launch. (I wrote a post about that a few weeks ago: view post.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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!