Jonathan Thwaites and the No Escape Campaign
While Jonathan has been developing games as a hobby for as long as he can remember, prior to becoming a professional board game designer, he went to university to become a youth counselor. He then worked for over a decade as a District Health & Safety Manager and National POS tech for a major food service company. When he originally took the leap and went full time into the boardgame industry, he worked first for a small publisher called High Roller Games.
In 2017 he partnered up with a local entrepreneur and they started OOMM Games.
Jonathan has many games published, both from his own company and through his
previous employer, and even more at various stages of development. Today he
juggles his time between his family, running the company, designing new games,
mentoring new designers, and teaching a free Board Game Design Course.
JF: No Escape was originally launched on Kickstarter in April 2018. It went on to be rereleased on Kickstarter in August of 2018. What was changed to the campaign page itself that you felt contributed to the game’s success the second time around?
JT: We re-organized how and where the reviews were situated, paying special attention to what they would be near (i.e., if reviews near the top would be beside the pledge levels, would they support the pledge price). • Simplified the information and removed a lot of extra text.
• Added several additional gifs showing gameplay examples.
• Reorganized where the graphics were in relation to heading to ensure each graphic “fit” the feel the heading better.
• Added in an expansion that had been planned as a future Kickstarter.
• Re-worded several sections to make them easier to read and understand.
JF: During the initial release in April, you were highlighted as a Kickstarter “Project We Love.” Did you find that helpful in getting exposure for the game?
JT: No. we found between the first and second Kickstarter we had just as many backers that came from Kickstarter in some way (discovery, search, friends posts, etc.).
JF: Haha well take that Kickstarter! The second time around you had nearly 100 new backers. Where did these backers come from?
JT: Facebook ads and a giveaway promotion. We spent the entire time between Kickstarters doing a $5/day ad spend to keep testing and refining our ads and grow a larger audience for our next relaunch.
JF: Return on marketing dollars was a sticking point during the first campaign, and marketing is one of those things you can burn money on. From a marketing perspective, what did you do differently during the second release? Also, what avenue for marketing did you find gave you the most return on investment?
JT: The 2 areas that had the highest return was Facebook ads and a giveaway promotion. Between the first and second Kickstarter we took a course on new methods for marketing in Facebook which relies on agile and adaptive marketing techniques, and these proved hugely helpful.
JF: The funding goal was reduced during the second campaign. How did you manage to get the game costs down?
JT: We spent more time talking to manufacturers and requesting samples. We were able to settle on a manufacturer that had good quality but at a significantly cheaper manufacturing price.
Because of the better marketing techniques we were using, we were able to calculate needing less in marketing to accomplish the same thing.
We gambled and set the goal to half of our actual manufacturing and transport costs with the aim of making up the difference either during, or shortly after the Kickstarter.
JF: You are active in the community, and I remember seeing the box art being changed over time for No Escape from the advice of community members. Was there any advice you received from the community that helped you make the campaign for No Escape better?
JT: Yes. After the first Kickstarter I asked those in the community to provide an honest and brutal review of the kickstarter page, focusing on what they didn’t like. While I received some comments and suggestions that were not very helpful, the majority of the feedback was very helpful in helping to redesign the Kickstarter for the second attempt. All the feedback was copied into the new layout as it was being setup so it could be referenced throughout the setup process.
JF: The Kickstarter sales for No Escape were relatively small compared to the post-Kickstarter units that were sold. You also have large presell numbers for the second printing. How did you go about ensuring No Escape had a longer tail once the Kickstarter finished up?
JT: This took a lot of time and effort. At first we had trouble selling the game outside of conventions. But when somebody bought at a convention we asked them what appealed to them about No Escape. We would then use the info to find new marketing keywords and adjust the copy (text) used on the ads. The process took about 9 months of adjustments and slow sales until we found things that worked. Our biggest realization was that in person people could see all the pieces and how they worked together, which is harder in ads and in pictures, so we made a video of the game for our ads. Within a short time after starting to use video ads our sales significantly increased.
JF: If you could go back to that first campaign, what would you tell yourself to do differently?
JT: Advertising is the key, and testing long before hand. Test ads to a basic landing page and refine the ads over and over again until people are clicking on them regularly. Then refine the landing page over and over again until people are signing up for you newsletter regularly. Only then will you know what actually grabs peoples attention. At that point make you Kickstarter page with what you have learned from your ad and landing page tests. And you can all this for less than $200 in ad spend if you use the right methods.
JF: Was there anything during the campaign development that you sunk a lot of time in, but felt it didn’t help the campaign the way you thought it would?
JT: Oh yes. Several things.
We tried to get a lot of reviews for No Escape. As we were making all the prototypes ourselves this meant a LOT of prototypes we had to make. If we had instead focused on 2 or 3 review/previewers we would have been able to focus the rest of our time better.
From tracking links we could see that most people didn’t even go look at the full reviews we had done, instead only reading the short summaries we posted on our Kickstarter.
We talked about other games we were developing during the first Kickstarter. Not only did this take away from the focus of our Kickstarter, but the games ended up being shelved at a later point due to circumstances we couldn’t foresee.
In between campaigns we became worried that the art was not good enough. We ended up commissioning new artwork in the end we could not even use as the artist that was hired decided to cut out when the art was 95% complete.
We launched one of the campaigns during a convention we were attending, but ended up with only 2 additional backers due to our presence at the convention.
JF: What advice would you give someone who just released their game on Kickstarter, didn’t have success the first time and are looking for something to change the second time around?
JT: Ask the community for honest and harsh feedback on your campaign page.
Spend more time building your audience.
Only advertise to people who back Kickstarters as most kickstarter campaigns only have 1-3% of their final backer numbers being new to Kickstarter. This means 97%-99% of your backers will have previously backed something on Kickstarter.
Set your goal to fund your campaign day 1, and you will have the highest chance of actually succeeding. This will change your entire outlook on how you approach the campaign. This does not mean you will actually succeed day 1, but will make you analyze your decisions a lot closer as to if they will bring you closer to your goal.
Figure out the number of backers you need to fund, then calculate from this the number of followers on email, campaign followers, social media etc. that you need prior to launch. Keep in mind that on average only 10% of your followers will back you.
As a general rule, if you have 2 pledge levels, 60% of you followers will pledge at the higher level (as long as it has enough value) and 40% at the lower level.
Use the following equation to figure out how many followers you need before you launch:
- (([pledge level low] X 40) + ([pledge level high] X 60)) / 100 = Average pledge amount.
- Funding Goal / Average pledge amount = Number of backers to fund.
- Number of backers to fund X 10 = number of followers needed prior to launch.
These are the methods we used to fund our latest Kickstarter “Stars of Akarios”.
JF: Thank you so much for your time Jonathan. If people would like to pick up a copy of No Escape or find out more about you and OOMM Games, where can they go?
JT: Check us out on our website at https://oommgames.com/ where you can check out our line of games, or facebook at https://www.facebook.com/oommgames to get the latest news. We also have No Escape up on Tabletopia at https://tabletopia.com/games/no-escape.
JF: Jonathan was also kind enough to share his Youtube Board Game Design Workshop series. I encourage everyone to take a look at it because it has some valuable insight!
Part 1: Making an Idea into a Prototype
Part 2: Game Design on a Budget
Part 3: Talking to Artists and Making a Pro Prototype
Part 4: Self-Publishing or Working with a Publisher