Not All Audiences are Created Equal

There seems to be a bad assumption among many Kickstarter creators. The assumption feels very intuitive, but it's missing a piece. It's about your audience.

You see, a lot of people recommend that you keep a mailing list, and for good reason. Also for good reason, they suggest that you "bring your audience with you" when you run a Kickstarter campaign. In other words, the Kickstarter is not what generates the audience, it's what the audience you already have has been waiting for. Both of these are great bits of advice.

Of course, it's also reasonable to assume not everybody in your mailing list will back your game. Let's say about 20% might back it. That's a fair ballpark estimate. Now let's consider two other important facts:

  1. Most kickstarters need 200 to 300 backers to fund.
  2. These days, whether you get 30% of your funding in the first 48 hours of the campaign is a good predictor of whether you'll fund in a 30-day campaign.

This is where your list becomes important: your mailing list is what's going to generate a good portion of your Day 1 backers. If we put everything together, it seems natural to assume you need at least 300 people in your mailing list before you can even consider starting your campaign.

Let's say you have 300 people in your mailing list, and you get 20% of them as backers. That's 60 people. Let's also say you need 200 people to fund. If you need 30% of that in the first 48 hours, that's 60 people. So, cool, right? Day 1, your 300 will convert enough folks to ensure you fund, right? Any less and you won't convert enough folks to fund.

Like I said, it's a very intuitive bad assumption. But it very definitely is a bad assumption. This is real life, not a 5th grade math quiz.


If it's true that you need 300 people in your mailing list, that you just can't consider running your campaign until that point, then how the heck did my first Kickstarter campaign successfully fund on Day 2 of the campaign, when my mailing list had about 50 people at the time?

Was it a fluke? I don't think so. If I had just barely hit 100%, then sure, maybe. But funding on Day 2 and reaching nearly 200% by the end? I mean, the pitch video looks like butt, I only had 1 preview, and overall the campaign page was pretty amateur.

So, if it wasn't a fluke, then what gives?! I'm just some guy; nobody is screaming "OMG it's an authentic Paul Becker game I MUST BACK IT!" Well, other than my mom, but I think she's biased.

Luck is still a factor, for sure, although there are certain things I did during the campaign that I think pushed luck in my favor. But another not-insignificant part comes from what I mentioned before about bringing your audience with you.

When thinking about "bringing their audience," most people will ask the question, "how big is my audience?" That's an easy question to answer. As we did above, you see how big your list is, make some calculations, and you get an estimated number of Day 1 backers. But the question most people forget to ask their audience is, "why are you here[1]?" And the truth is, any given person could be on the mailing list for any number of reasons:

  • They played a demo of your game and they love it!
  • They haven't played, but they like the idea of your game.
  • They enjoyed other games you designed/published.
  • They are interested in following the progress of your game.
  • They want to know about future game-related events.
  • They like you as a person.
  • They felt obligated to sign up.
  • By signing up they were entering for a chance to win free stuff.

This list is far from exhaustive. But read it through again, and this time ask yourself, "how likely is it that this person will back your game?"

If they played it and they loved it, then that's almost a guaranteed backer. If they signed up because that's just what you do after playtesting a game (what's one more email anyway?), the answer is "eh, probably not." But if they signed up to win free stuff? Ouch. You're more likely to get struck by lightning than to get those guys as backers.


Suddenly, my 50 folks can look very different from another person's 300.

I can confidently say that at least 80% of my 50 had played SysHack before signing up for the mailing list. Lest this sounds like bragging, I should mention I also had plenty of people decline to sign up after playing specifically because the game just wasn't for them. That's fine. In fact, it's better than if they had signed up, generating a false positive for potential backers.

But let's compare that to somebody whose goal is to "build their list": Enter for a chance to win! All you need to do is sign up before whatever arbitrary date! At the end of that promotional period, let's say they got 150 new subscribers. That's 3 times the number of people I had in my list! But does that translate to 3 times the number of backers? Heck no! It's entirely possible that I got more backers from my 50 than they would get through their 150.

But you might say, rightly, that my way is SOOOO SLOOOOW! I am already starting to think about my second Kickstarter, yet I still have not even surpassed 100 people in my mailing list. But every single person there now has either played one of my games, seen it being played, or backed SysHack and opted to join the mailing list.

To be fair, 300 people is a fine number regardless. 10% of 300 is twice as many people as 30% of 50. But I am not a fan of talking in absolutes nor of treating people as if they're nothing more than a number; people are individuals, and absolutes tend to claim truths where there are only guidelines. Stuff like, "If you don't hire professionals to do your Kickstarter video, you won't fund." Ugh. Not true. Absolutes can make running a successful Kickstarter feel insurmountable. It's hard work as it is; people don't need maxims like that making it seem even harder (and more expensive).

So listen when I say it's not an absolute that you need 300 people in your list before you can start. You can start with much, much less, if you have a reasonable game and you are careful to only pick up emails from folks that are actually interested. I guarantee, you'll be happier with 1 person that loves your game than with 10 people who don't care.

If you take good care of your list, and are patient with it, you will find your odds of success improve greatly. Your 300 will definitely be better than the 300 that the other guy got from their giveaway contests.

  1. Do not literally ask your audience why they're there! It's more about thinking about them as individuals with their own contexts, not numbers to fill out a math equation. ↩︎