The town of Arthursburg is one in need of saving, and thanks to the efforts of a handful of determined youngsters, you now have that chance to step into their shoes, grab your lucky marbles, and take on the bad guys around your neighborhood. Yet The Guardians: Explore may never have been at all due to the failure of its first Kickstarter and lingering doubts from the game’s creator as a result. This light adventure game, which combines card drafting, deckbuilding, and killing foul monsters, had an enthusiastic but tepid unveiling. What follows is a retrospective from designer Jonathon Ruland about what went wrong, and how his second attempt went much more successfully.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on The Game Crafter. It has been reposted with the author’s permission with only minor edits.
Spring Break had just begun in the cozy town of Arthursburg. For Reiko and her friends, this meant the chance to carry on the tradition they’d held since childhood: constructing the blanket forts they’d use to pillow-battle amongst themselves …
The First Attempt To Save Arthursburg
The Guardians is a game about teenagers battling against monsters that have invaded their home town. However, they would never have seen the light of day without the success of a Kickstarter Campaign. This story has been told before, about how a new designer has the ability to fail or succeed on crowdfunding sites. This, however, is my story about about how I initially came up short but came back to exceed expectations!
After Gen Con 2013 I was inspired to design a game incorporating strong game mechanics and a theme with high appeal. I immediately drew up a prototype and began playtesting. Over the next few months I continued to test and tweak it. To attend Gen Con 2014, I would need a solid prototype for the First Exposure Playtest Hall, so I reached out to freelance artists and began funding art creation. Working with The Game Crafter for manufacturing, I was able to have a game with line artwork for each component. This early version of The Guardians: Explore had some bugs, but it was received positively at the convention. I was super excited about where the title would go and started preparing for a Kickstarter campaign.
In November, I felt it would be a great time to kick off the Kickstarter campaign. I launched it with a marketing video, a how to play video, and images of the cards with line artwork. Backers started trickling in – a lot at first, but then it began to die down quickly. I ran Facebook campaigns and demoed at stores every weekend. I reached out to reviewers, but most had no time for the game. I wasn’t getting the spike in backers I needed which would create a wave you can ride to the finish. I considered taking a small business loan and pushing it over the edge myself. By then I realized that this would not succeed…
A Kickstarter Postmortem
So, what went wrong? Why didn’t this work? It came down to these areas:
- Exposure: The number of people who had heard about the game before its Kickstarter launch was quite small, mostly limited to friends I knew and those I had met at Gen Con. There needs to be a large following on social media with hundreds of people having played the game – with positive results.
Reviews: The game reviews need to be done before the campaign launches. This allows both the reviewer and the designer to coordinate launch dates. It’s also imperative to get reviews from people with large audiences and credibility. Some you may need to pay for and should be considered when preparing your budget.
- Layout: The Kickstarter campaign page should be attractive and clean. Images work well for this, and they can also show the backer exactly what they will be getting at the end of the campaign. With this you also need only a few backer rewards. If you have rewards for every level it just busies up the page and distracts people from the main objective. I would suggest a $1 level for people to follow the campaign, a level for a copy of the game, a higher level for a special perk, and then a really high level for people that are referred to as ‘angels’ or ‘whales’ to support your game. Don’t worry about having a tier for shops; from my experience you can work with the stores offsite and provide them with PayPal invoices instead.
- Holidays: Don’t launch a crowdfunding campaign during the time of the year that most people are busy with family and spending funds on gifts.
- Moving: Avoid scheduling a Kickstarter when you have other events in your life that will need your attention. In my case, moving apartments.
- Artwork: Having unfinished artwork makes the game come off as in the prototype stage and may be a reason people don’t back the game.
With all these issues, I was left with a choice: give up or try again. There are arguments for both sides. I invested a lot of time and resources into the game, and if it’s a bad investment I should just stop. It’s also drained my soul by running this business on the side and working full time at a fast paced studio. Honestly, “give up” was probably the smarter choice at this point. Except for this –
When the loser and the winner both have failed, the winner gets back up and does it again.
Rallying The Town
A brand new year came in 2015, and I made a plan to fix all the problems I had in 2014. I made a schedule to attend a Gen Con, DragonCon, BGGCon, Austin Board Game Bash, and GameholeCon. At each of these events I met hundreds of people who tried out Guardians. I gathered feedback from them, directed them to the BGG page to rate the game, and even gave away beta copies of the game. Some of these people I even became great friends with and had them demo the game at stores in their area. This is how I tackled the exposure problem.
I also began reaching out to game reviewers in June for a September campaign launch. Once the reviews started rolling in, I got super excited about everything people were saying! As I began preparing the campaign page I already had seven links to reviews from all over the country. I also had quotes from various editors who tested the game. After meeting All Us Geeks at The Game Crafter event at Gen Con, it began to snowball into success after success. There are wonderful people in this community and they are here to help you! The second campaign was very successful, as the results below show.
This information should be helpful when developing games and preparing them for crowdfunding. The Guardians: Explore is expected to be in stores in September of 2016, and that is just the beginning! Then there’s the convention circuit to sell the game, hold tournaments for promotional material, and expansion packs!
What do we do now?” Daniel asked. Kirin turned and sifted through the junk in the attic, then hefted an old axe as she turned back to the group. “The same thing we do every Spring Break. We go to war.
The Guardians creator Jonathon Ruland was gracious enough to supply this Kickstarter reflections article. He can be found most readily via Twitter.
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Photo Credits: The Guardians image and campaign snapshots by Reihon Games.