Kickstarter vs. Backerkit
Welcome to Unscripted – a lighthearted and unrehearsed Q&A series with Rose Gauntlet Entertainment founders and tabletop game designers Isaac Vega and Lindsey Rode. Perfect with a side of tea or coffee.
In this edition of Unscripted, we discuss our experiences of working with Kickstarter and Backerkit to launch our most recent projects, and the differences between the two crowdfunding platforms.
What is your history with crowdfunding?
Lindsey: I was first introduced to crowdfunding about seven years ago when I worked with Wyrd Games. Since then I’ve launched four of my own crowdfunding projects, helped with over 10 others, and raised over a million dollars total for different companies through the crowdfunding process. I feel like I've gotten to know the process well and I've gotten to see how it's transformed and changed over time because it has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years.
Isaac: I didn’t have much crowdfunding experience myself prior to running this company. I don't know if it's lucky, but at least through Plaid Hat Games and Asmodee, they pretty much went direct-to-market with all of their products. So, it wasn't until we started Rose Gauntlet Entertainment that I had my first experience with crowdfunding.
What led you to choose Kickstarter for Keystone North America, your first project under Rose Gauntlet Entertainment?
Lindsey: Well, there were fewer crowdfunding options when we did Keystone, but I would've gone with Kickstarter anyway because it's where I had the most experience. Their team had reached out, was incredibly helpful, and it just seemed like a great platform to get started with. We were a small startup company and honestly, for small startups like ours, crowdfunding truly is the best option and often the most cost-effective one. It allowed us to reach our customer base directly and helped with our lack of a network. I would still say that if you're trying to start something new, crowdfunding is a fantastic choice and something that's very vital for new creators.
Isaac: Yeah, I agree completely. We chose Kickstarter because Lindsay had the most experience with Kickstarter. It was the thing that we felt most comfortable moving into. And then number two, all the things that Lindsay said, it was a perfect opportunity to be able to utilize the funds early enough in the process to be able to produce the actual product. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to.
Why did you make the switch to BackerKit for Wild Gardens, your second project with Rose Gauntlet Entertainment?
Lindsey: So, we had heard from some of our industry contacts and friends that BackerKit was coming out with a new crowdfunding platform. And when they did, we found that many of the companies that we liked working with and respected had decided to commit to doing at least one project through that process which led to us to seeking out BackerKit at Gen Con and talking with them. We were impressed with their team. They were very knowledgeable, and their program had a lot of benefits that we didn't necessarily have through Kickstarter. Things like data collection, more control over our project, and experimentation with the programming of new features – things we had never seen before. As a new company, we hadn’t really established any sort of long track record with any one platform, so we thought it was a great time to just try something new.
Isaac: Yeah, exactly. And we also, after we had those positive meetings with the BackerKit team, we shopped around the idea of moving over to their platform to some of our industry friends who had experience working on all three different platforms (Gamefound, Kickstarter, and BackerKit), and they highly suggested utilizing BackerKit. The feedback was they were the easiest to work with and gave them the least number of headaches overall.
So, how would you compare your experiences with Kickstarter and BackerKit?
Lindsey: This is such an interesting question because they turn out to be incredibly different types of platforms. So, to some extent, even though they're both crowdfunding, it feels a little bit like comparing apples to oranges.
I would say from a user perspective on our end, BackerKit won that contest. BackerKit is incredibly easy to use, their programming is great, and our marketing team had access to more data than we've ever had before. That really helped with the project, along with many customizations that were nice to have to make our project look fantastic.
One of the things that we missed from Kickstarter was just the buzz of activity, I would say. Kickstarter has a massive community of highly energized backers, and they're super fun, very engaged, and very community oriented. There are projects going live all the time on Kickstarter, and I think we did miss a little bit of that community, and a little bit of that high level of activity from Kickstarter.
What advice would you give to other game publishers choosing a platform for crowdfunding?
Lindsey: My advice, if you're small and you don't have anything established, try out both and see how you feel. I don't think there’s any sort of risk in spreading yourself out that way. I could easily see us switching back or staying where we are, and I don't think our community would suffer for it. If you have an established community, that's probably a bigger decision.
Isaac: I think honestly, we have the unique bonus that we are somewhat known names, having worked at other companies within the industry and having prior known projects. So, switching over to a platform like BackerKit that is still in the process of attracting a wide audience could be harder if you’re not already at least somewhat established as a company. Kickstarter currently has a much larger audience, so you'll probably be able to build your own audience faster there and get more people willing to try things out.
BackerKit on the other hand, certainly does have its own dedicated user base, but it’s smaller. So, if you're trying to make a big splash early on, Kickstarter is probably the better choice for you. However, if you want to have better ease of use, a bit more control with formatting, and more access to enhanced support, BackerKit really is a better choice, especially if you're kind of just learning the entire process.
Lindsey: Yea, you definitely get a bit more support from BackerKit. You can always reach out to Kickstarter support, and they'll do their best to get back to you, but one of the drawbacks of so many projects launching on Kickstarter is that their attention is spread thin amongst all those projects. So, when BackerKit will often reach out and talk to you and will be there to assist, with Kickstarter you have to be a bit more proactive in getting in touch with them, as they’re supporting such a large quantity of projects.
Isaac: For sure. And another thing to note here is that BackerKit is technically still in Beta. So, it may be a bit harder for now to get your project approved to go live on their platform. They are doing a little bit more filtration on their end for now. But Kickstarter also has certain specifications that you must meet to put something up on their platform. There's a check and balance on both ends.
Bonus Question: How do you see Rose Gauntlet Entertainment's relationship with crowdfunding moving forward, and how do you feel about that?
Lindsey: Ooh, this might be one where Isaac and I disagree. I Look forward to when we don't have to crowdfund anymore. I think crowdfunding is an amazing tool for new creators right now. We use it because we need to use it. But it also has big drawbacks. For instance, if say the shipping prices change, you can charge shipping later, but it's still a difficult conversation to let your backers know that it's now $2 to $5 more on shipping than they were expecting. That's a conversation that you don't have to have if you're going to direct-to-market. Same thing with changes to product dimensions, creative changes, etc. – with the nature of crowdfunding and how early backers are involved, things can change with the project, especially through production, and that can create difficult conversations or a misalignment of expectations with backers. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, but you realize towards the end of development, that some isn’t going to work and may need to be cut or changed in a way that backers weren’t expecting.
Those are tough choices that every creator needs to make, and you do it very publicly with crowdfunding vs. a direct-to-market approach. So, I would say I look forward to when we don't need to crowdfund because I won't have to worry so much about disappointing our backers or giving them the wrong information a year from when they're actually going to receive their products.
Isaac: Yeah, I mean, for me, I'm certainly open to that future. Having been someone who throughout most of his career has primarily only had products that release directly a year or six to nine months after I'm done working on it, the only thing I feel like I missed about crowdfunding is the ability to gauge how the audience feels about your product before you put it into production. And I think that's really interesting.
A lot of designers whose projects don’t use crowdfunding don’t get access to that level of audience feedback in time to adjust. You're also able to talk about your project in a far more raw and interesting way because you're so close to it still. It's kind of like the buzz is still inside you as a designer, rather than having died down a bit because the game is already in production and you’re on to the next thing. In the past, sometimes when I'm talking about a project that was just announced, I may already be halfway through a different project, and it feels like I missed out on the height of when I was like really in it.
So that's something that I find interesting with crowdfunding that I think for me, as far as the future for us, I think it's going to depend on the project. Something that we are taking more of a chance on that is maybe a little bit more ambitious, it might be nice to leave the door open for crowdfunding and the early audience feedback that comes with it, but my god, would it be nice to be at the point where we can comfortably say, “We don't need crowdfunding.”
We can just produce whatever we want to produce. We're not at that point now, we're probably not going to be at that point for a few more years. But it will be fantastic when we get to that point where we are choosing crowdfunding rather than being forced to leverage it. For now, I’m still excited to use crowdfunding because of that immediate and early feedback – it opens up our projects to push the envelope further and take greater risks.
Lindsey: I love that. I mean, yeah, if we could use crowdfunding in the future, not because we needed to survive but because we have a crazy idea and we just need to see if anyone even wants it, I think that is such a cool use for a bigger, more established company to approach crowdfunding.