Ever since Kings of Israel successfully funded on Kickstarter last year, every so often I receive an e-mail from someone asking for advice on how to promote a Biblically themed game on Kickstarter. Normally they are asking me to take a look at their early Kickstarter page and ask on ways to improve on it, sometimes they just have an idea and want to run it by me. I am always more than happy to help, but the question has come up enough that I thought I should create a little guide that anyone could use in the future.
The best way to show a person how to do something right is to use examples, so I decided to find the campaigns that did succeed in funding a Biblically themed game on Kickstarter and then analyze what they did right. Searching through Kickstarter for Biblically themed games that funded did not bring up many examples, in fact I only found four instances as of summer 2014. All of these successes were either card or board games, although I did see there were also a couple of video games that were Biblically influenced that succeeded. I ignored those video games because they missed the theme qualification, but many of the reasons these card/board games succeeded were the same reasons the video games made it.
Let’s start with the fourth highest funding raised for a Biblical themed game:
4. Testament Card Game
$1,126 pledged of $1,000 goal
Off the bat, I am a little skeptical on the funds raised for this game since the number of pledges times the value of each pledge does not get close to reaching $1126. One technique used to push a Kickstarter campaign over the top is to have the runner of the campaign make a large pledge close to the end so that they reach their funding goal. Looking at the Kicktraq history for the campaign, it looks like the funding had a very large jump the second-to-last day of the campaign. I would wager that either the campaign runner made that large funding jump happen, or someone just wanted to make the campaign succeed and donated much more than their reward.
Anyway, there are a few things this campaign did right that helped them fund:
1. Low Funding Level
It is easy to hit your goal if your goal is only $1,000. If a person is making a Biblically themed game, they need to be realistic and be aware that they most likely will have to pay for a decent portion of the cost to produce the game. Now I am not saying a person should make a $30,000 game with a goal of $1,000, because that person would likely be stuck with 1,500 copies of their board game in their garage for the rest of their life. If they even still own that garage after the campaign is over.
What I am suggesting is that the campaign runner should expect to pay, say, half or more of the expense to produce their game. This produces a realistic goal and it also shows the backers that the campaign runner is invested in this product too. A project is more likely to be taken seriously if the project creator is invested heavily in it.
2. Finished, or Nearly Finished, Product
There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, it gives the backers a good idea on what the final product will look like. Second, it is important to have a nearly finished product to show the potential backers that the producer has put a lot of their own time, and money, into the product. This is the being invested idea again.
The entire game does not need to be finished and printed though, in fact I would discourage it. Here is why:
The game should be complete from a design standpoint, but it does not need to be manufactured or even have all the artwork completed. There should be a rulebook available to read and enough artwork to give the viewer an idea how it will look, but that should be all they need. Don’t put more money into a product than needed, there will be many other ways the money can be spent to promote the game instead.
2) A deterrent to some backers
“Why should I give money to this game if it is already complete? Why do you need my money?”
3. Backs Other Projects
This is an easy step to do but many people do not do it. Prior to running a Kickstarter campaign, that person or company needs to show that they are involved with the Kickstarter community and are not just looking for a hand out. How do they do that? Back other campaigns! Back campaigns or products that they like and try to do it long before they run their own campaign.
3. Kingdom of Solomon
$10,020 pledged of $5,000 goal
This campaign had a decent amount of things going for it, in fact it was the first successful funding of a Biblically themed game that I can find. It did the first two things that the Testament campaign did right: The funding goal was below the cost to produce the game and the game was mostly complete. Besides those items, it also had these things helping it out:
1. Game Designer with Good History
The designer of this game was Philip duBarry, who had another game design that was printed prior to the “Kingdom of Solomon” campaign. That game was called, “Revolution!”, and it is currently resting within the top 1000 games found on boardgamegeek.com. That’s not too shabby since it is hard to get a game within the top 1000 of boardgamegeek. That high ranking showed potential backers that the designer was able to create a fun game.
Showing backers that a game listed on Kickstarter is potentially fun is very important, but extremely important when a Biblical theme is involved. Biblically themed games are almost universally terrible, and that has created a stigma that Biblically themed games are unfun. A welled earned stigma, but a stigma none-the-less. The goal of anyone trying to promote a Biblical game on Kickstarter is to first show that it is a fun game. And what if the designer does not have a top 1000 board game under their belt? How do you show the game is fun? We will get to that later.
2. Game Producer with Games Under Their Belt
This campaign was done by Minion Games. At the time this was just their second Kickstarter campaign, and it ended up being their first successful campaign, but this was not their first game. Looking at their BoardGameGeek page, Minion had about ten games under their belt prior to this campaign. While the list of games produced is not too prominent, as in nothing very highly ranked, it did show that Minion games was more than capable of producing the game after the campaign was over. This entry can only be accomplished by having a production history, which most people will not have. That makes it all the more important for new designers to show potential backers that they are heavily invested financially and time-wise in the game.
3. Biblical Theme Teaches Something
The theme in Kingdom of Solomon is pretty good, and in particular it teaches some basic geography of the regions in Israel. This appeals to some backers since the game can double as a teaching tool for game nights at church and so on.
4. Not Preachy
Preachiness is almost always a guaranteed no-go for the non-Christian/Jewish gamers. In fact, it is frequently a big turn off for Christian/Jewish gamers too! Having Biblical quotes in a game is fine, if it is thematic. If John 3:16 is splashed over the top of the board for no apparent reason, that is not thematic. In fact, it is lazy. I would suggest never doing something like that.
5. Old Testament Only
This is not a deal-breaker by any means, but a Biblical game that is solely Old Testament will sell to Jewish gamers, a New Testament version will not. If a designer has a perfect game taking place in the New Testament era, then great! Go for it! But if a designer has a game taking place in the Old Testament, and adding New Testament items or quoting the New Testament does not really add anything to the game, I would suggest to leave it out.
2. Promised Land: 1250-587 BC
£14,640 pledged of £10,000 goal
“Promised Land: 1250-587 BC” had quite a few things going for it. Here is what it did right based on previous points:
1. Low Funding Level – This is getting closer to the actual game cost than the last two games, but the funds raised at the goal would still be less than what it would cost to produce the game.
2. Nearly Finished Product – The game design was completed and a good chunk of the artwork was done.
3. Game Designer with Good History – The Ragnar Brothers have been around for decades in the gaming industry, with almost ten games under their belt by the time this Kickstarter campaign ran. Not only that, they have designed some great games in particular “History of the World” which is in the top 500 on BoardGameGeek. This would help reassure backers that this game would likely be fun.
4. Game Producer with Games Under Their Belt – The Ragnar Brothers also distribute their own games, so they would likely complete production quickly and with a high quality product.
5. Biblical Theme Teaches Something – The theme is strong with this one with quite a bit to learn about Israel geography and the people and events of the Old Testament.
6. Not Preachy – No preaching to be seen.
7. Old Testament – All Old Testament to appeal to Jewish gamers.
Besides these items, there are two more things I believe helped the game stand out:
1. High Quality Artwork
“Kingdom of Solomon” was close in its artwork but it felt a little generic, a little too default Biblical art if-you-will. Promised Land has a little of that going on too, but I think the artwork shown is enough of a step up that I think it is worth mentioning. Artwork is one of the few things the backer will get to view in a campaign, so whatever artwork is shown needs to be as well done as possible. Too many Biblical game designers think the content will stand on its own, it will very likely not even come close. Especially if “content” just means having Biblical quotes on their game.
2. Good Stretch Goals
Most Kickstarter campaigns need to give the backers something they would not get if they just waited until the game came out to retail. Stretch goals seem to be the easiest way to do accomplish this, and it has worked time and time again for Kickstarter campaigns. Promised Land promised new or improved components, which is an easy way to improve the product without taking too much more time and money to accomplish.
1. Kings of Israel
$32,248 pledged of $9,500 goal
First it should be noted that this is my game, so you should take everything I write here on out with quite a few grains of salt. That being said, I think the Kings of Israel campaign did a lot of things right. Here is what it did right based on previous points:
1. Low Funding Level – The funding level I set for Kings of Israel was probably around the same amount I spent on the game PRIOR TO the start of the Kickstarter campaign. It was not nearly enough to pay for the production of the game but it would have been enough for me to be able to match the funds needed to get it made.
2. Nearly Finished Product – Everything was done for the game except for a small percentage of the artwork.
3. Backs Other Projects – I had been active in the Kickstarter community and backed multiple projects prior to the start of the Kings of Israel campaign.
4. Biblical Theme Teaches Something – When I designed the map to the game I heavily reference a book called, “The New Moody Atlas of the Bible”, to make sure the map was accurate and portrayed actual trade routes during the period of time the game took place. The list of the kings acts as a timeline to the game with appropriate type of events happening during the reign of each king. The event cards in the game are all tied in with Biblical verses and events. There is plenty that can be learned while playing the game.
6. Not Preachy – Biblical verses are used on all of the events, but they are all directly related to what is happening on card. No preachiness to scare off non-Christians/Jews, I believe.
7. Old Testament – The period takes place during the Old Testament and all the quotes are OT. Because of this I had someone approach me to release a Hebrew version of the game, which is going to happen. This in in addition to all of the other Jewish gamers who backed the game because it was OT.
8. High Quality Artwork – I think this one was huge for the project. I spent a good chunk of time looking for the right artists to work on Kings of Israel, and actually had to throw out some artwork that just did not match or accomplish what I needed. I focused on commissioning artwork that would appeal to modern sensibilities and I think that is what helped prevent people from instantly closing their Tab when they saw my Biblically themed Kickstarter campaign.
9. Good Stretch Goals – I had five or six stretch goals planned prior to the campaign and had to actually think up a couple more by the time the campaign was over. I used improved components like “Promised Land”, but also included exclusive cards and new ways to play the game. The more bonuses “Kings of Israel” had lined up, the more appealing it was for people to get on board.
Besides these items there were a few other ways that “Kings of Israel” was able to stand out:
This might have been the biggest reason of all for the success of my campaign. I did not have any other game designs under my belt to prove I could make a fun game so I tried to get multiple game reviewers to check out my game. These reviewers could not just be random people at game conventions or people who playtested my game, but known reviewers in the community that had credibility.
It was a little expensive but I paid to have Tom Vasel, maybe the Roger Ebert of board game reviews, do a preview of the game on Dice Tower. The day the review went live there was a noticeable spike in pledges, and I still have people find out about “Kings of Israel” through that preview. Additionally, I decided it would be good to have an atheist review my game as a neutral party, if-you-will, so I sent a copy to Richard of “Rahdo Runs Through…” game review fame. His review helped to show that my game was fun even to non-Christians/Jews. Finally, another three reviewers received my last few prototype copies.
Of all the items in this article, this is the one I will repeat the most to people asking for Kickstarter advice: Have people review your game. And make sure your game is good to begin with.
2. Long Build Up to Campaign
Long before the Kickstarter campaign began I posted details about my game on BoardGameGeek and documented the creation process. Additionally, I created a website and Facebook page for “Kings of Israel” and tried to update it frequently. The other games on this list might have done this item too in various ways, but it never hurts to do more of this build up.
3. Get the Game Everywhere
I did not have the networking developed like the prominent gaming companies, but I contacted everyone that I could about “Kings of Israel”. Any article, interview, podcast that I was offered, I took. I advertised where I could and ran a front page banner on BoardGameGeek on the last day of the campaign. If someone sees an image of a prophet running around on a website they might just ignore it the first time they see it, but if it is the second or third time then maybe they will click on that image. This step could be a money drain if done on a campaign that is not ready for it, so make sure as many of these other items have been accomplished as possible.
I think that is it! Most of these items work for anyone who is running a Kickstarter campaign, but a few items are even more emphasized for Biblically themed games. In the current Kickstarter market, a game with zombies on it is almost instantly funded. I don’t think we will ever see that with images of guys on camels. There is extra work and diligence that must be done to get that Biblical game funded. But I think a well done Bible-based game has one thing going for it that few other themes do:
Your Fanbase Will Be Die-Hards
In my one game sample size for the Biblical theme genre, I think you will be hard pressed to find a group of people that want you to succeed more. Once people saw the amount of effort that I spent trying to make “Kings of Israel” the best Biblical game I could, I had my own “Kings of Israel” street team. They were going around promoting it wherever they could, e-mailing me with suggestions and contacts, and just encouraging me as much as possible. It was really amazing, it really was.
Best of luck to everyone who is thinking of taking on the Kickstarter market and if you have any questions or need some help, feel free to contact me!