April 8, 2016 Paul van der Meer

Kickstarting Gang Up!

Half of all Kickstarter projects fail. And with one failed and one successful Kickstarter campaign under our belt, Robin Keijzer and I fit that statistic perfectly. Here’s how that happened.

The beginning

Early in 2014 I came to Robin with the idea of making a card game based on betrayal. I was thinking about politics, or perhaps something in a medieval royal court. But we quickly realized that the playing field had to be even for all players for the betrayal-mechanic to work best. We ended up with gangsters as that would have a broad appeal and interested us as well.

We started researching the theme and watched the obvious choices like The Godfather trilogy, Scarface, Goodfellas, Boardwalk Empire, but also The Sting and the Castle of Cagliostro. We wanted a light hearted theme and chose the glamorized 20-30’s era.

 

Prototyping

The nice thing about a card game is how easy it is to prototype. We quickly made a huge number of cards by scribbling on paper and cutting them out. With every playtest we added or removed cards and rules until we had a game that was fun. As we started to see the overall shape of the game Robin started sketching and illustrating a couple of cards.

It became pretty obvious that we would need outside funding for this project, since Robin would have to illustrate non-stop for at least two months, but we would also have to cover printing costs. We figured we needed 8,500 euros to cover costs.

The state of the game prior to our campaign.

The state of Gang Up! prior to our campaign.

Kickstarting the Kickstarter

But first we had to make a plan for the campaign. We realised we needed a great introduction movie, since that’s the first impression people get. We spent weeks on it. It consisted of two parts: the style and explanation. The style came across in a fast and funny animation, the explanation was done in live-action. We needed to show who we were, what the game was about and why we needed the money. Without these ingredients the pitch would be too vague.

We ended up with a list of 15 rewards, looking back that was too much. We specifically had too many high-end rewards. This made sense for a more expensive base-product, but for a card game these were just too expensive. We also added stretch goals to motivate people to increase their pledge even if the overall goal was reached.

And on September 25, 2014 we began. We bought some banners on websites, tweeted and facebooked, posted on relevant boards and mailed everyone we knew. Kickstarter even put us in “the spotlight” which helped the exposure. Still, progression was slow.

And after the nail biting 30-day campaign we came up short by about 1,456 euro. It was a bummer and I was down in the dumps for a day or two. It’s tricky to say why we failed exactly. Was it the time of year? Were the pledges not appealing? Did we not do enough marketing? Was the game simply not interesting enough?

Re-launch

But almost right away we decided to give it another go. We believed in the game. And also, a campaign on Kickstarter is free and we already had all the material. We decided to tweak the campaign, instead of a complete overhaul, so we could re-launch on January 7th. If we’d scale down the game a bit and move some features to stretch goals we could ask 6,500 euro (2000 less than before). We would limit the amount of pledges but would have more on the lower end. But there was another big advantage.

We had a large group of backers that we could ask again. And almost half responded immediately at the start of the new campaign. And this made a huge difference. Because this time instead of slowly crawling to the end goal we were halfway after just one day! And this is the best publicity you can get, because a project over-performing draws attention and generates trusts. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team.

We ended up receiving more than twice as much as we originally asked for. It was an amazing experience and we were truly humbled by the support. But also slightly unnerved since now we had eight months to actually make the game and ship it worldwide.

happytime

The animation we posted when we reached our target: the happy dance.

Hitting production

Luckily we researched shipping costs and made a good estimate of how much shipping would cost, even if we didn’t know beforehand where the backers would come from. It was very important to keep the weight of the package down, but the height was even more important. If the game box would get higher than 2,5 centimetre it would no longer fit through a standard mailslot and would be stamped in a considerably higher price range. Of course a wider box could solve that, but that would require a more expensive box in production.

Luckily all the cards fit. But with over 120 cards we were pushing it. We also promised an additional card for returning backers. A nice gesture, but it turned out to be very impractical since the printer wrapped the whole deck of cards and the box in cellophane. So we had to print the additional card separately and manually add it to every package of the returning backers.

Most of the production time was filled by Robin illustrating the cards. I modelled for most of the poses, and no they won’t be shown online. In the meantime we kept playtesting the game and finalised the manual. A lot of time was spent in keeping in touch with backers. By publishing updates and by responding to personal messages. Also administration was time-consuming. Many late hour was spent looking at spreadsheets.

We had experience in making artwork for print, but not for card games. Because of this we decided to work with a printer specialised in card games that was nearby so we could actually meet and sign off on the test-prints. Printing in China would have been cheaper, but hard to check and shipping costs to Europe would be higher and take longer. In this case, with a relatively limited edition this made the most sense to us.

testprint

A test-sheet delivered by CartaMundi.

Packaging for over 450 backers took several days and filled Robin’s living room. In the end we managed to send out the packages a month before the deadline so that 99% of the backers received their game on time. Then there were several packages that got lost, had an outdated address, ended up with the wrong backer and so on. Even with careful handling; worldwide shipping is not foolproof. So expect some troubleshooting afterwards. Also make sure you clearly communicate to backers where responsibilities lie. This way you avoid spending additional shipping costs when backers mail back later about not receiving anything.

inklicker

Ink licker

Totally worth it

All and all it was a great experience, but not without its stressful moments and long hours. And it’s definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme. Looking back it wasn’t something that could make us quit our day jobs, but it did give me and Robin a wonderful portfolio piece and a flying start in the card game industry. And seeing people having so much fun with the game is just awesome. It’s something we’re very proud of.

 

Stay tuned for our top 10 Kickstarter tips!

Our Kickstarter page

Check out Robin’s site for more information about Gang Up!

Official Gang Up! Website

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About the Author

Paul van der Meer Freelance game designer, always expects the Spanish inquisition.