Like many of you, I was stunned when the biggest Kickstarter of all-time hit in the last few days. Brandon Sanderson’s Surprise! I wrote 4 novels in secret.
If you are not aware of it, check it out in the link above.
What’s The Difference?
Awareness vs Surprise
Board Games: In the board game world, we are used to a build-up of hype and excitement as we hear what is coming up next or being previewed on our favorite YouTube channels. This is not only in board games but also in the marketing world in general. If people don’t know about your product or idea, then they will never buy what you are selling. Awareness is the key factor before anyone can ever make a decision on whether or not to make a purchase.
Brandon Sanderson: He used the element of surprise. Now, this is generally not a good thing in marketing. However, if you can make a big splash, it will do wonders for the awareness factor. People are surprised and curious. Stories are shared, blog articles are written, people talk to their friends about this crazy thing that happened. It can build a lot of momentum by providing that sense of awe and curiosity. That’s what happened. It did so well in fact, the New York Times and numerous news outlets have been covering the story. Kickstarter made it one of their “Projects They Love.” Now, not one of these elements is going to drive the biggest Kickstarter of All-Time to the top but if you combine these elements of awareness with the momentum and size of the Kickstarter, it will make a big difference.
Malcolm Gladwell calls it a “tipping point.” When something reaches a certain peak or point of popularity, it will compound and feed itself. It will grow on its own. Many would say now, it has gone viral.
Known Product vs Unknown Product
Board Games: When you back something on Kickstarter, it is preached time and time again to make sure people know what they are getting. We showcase the miniatures, the tokens, free demos of the game. In fact, you ask a lot of people, and they say it is mandatory that they experience the game first before they buy it. You have to have a version of the game on Tabletopia, Sovranti, Tabletop Simulator or at least some sort of print and play version. This all works in order to help people understand the product so that they can better trust that the experience is worth the money. It also helps to show that the creator is trustworthy as you are seeing actual components completed for a game and not just some idea or a fleeting moment.
Brandon Sanderson: He is literally doing the opposite of what is preached by many; you are getting 4 novels where you don’t know the title or the story. Who has ever gone to a bookstore and not looked at the cover or read the synopsis on the book? There might be a few but it is something very different than the normal expected behavior. However, why do people subscribe to mystery boxes? Why do people buy Magic: The Gathering Booster packs? There is a certain hit of dopamine when you are opening the mystery. Even getting a gift for Christmas that you don’t know about falls in that same category. Now, in general this has fallen out of vogue but in many cases, it still works for some companies and people. The next section will tell you why.
Also, note that he will be reading the first chapter of each novel over the course of the Kickstarter. So, he will be leaking some information for those who sincerely have to know what they are getting. However, it is not directly in front of you so those who want to keep it a mystery, can.
Why can Brandon Sanderson do this? It is pretty simple actually, trust. He has been around for years writing books, publishing something nearly every year he has been an author. He has interacted with the community, he has traveled to conventions far and wide, he has developed a strong and loyal following. This has all been accumulating for years now. I would even say over 2 decades. You don’t get to a Kickstarter this size on your first time out.
Looking at other large Kickstarters in the board game circle, none of the large Kickstarters were done by unknown people. They all proved themselves before the big fundraising campaigns. That is the power of trust. It’s why people become brand loyal to dishwasher soap or sour cream. They like the quality, and it is consistent. It has proven itself time and time again.
So, just because Brandon Sanderson’s product is unknown doesn’t mean he is unknown. Brandon Sanderson has written a lot of books and is very open where he is in the development timeline of those books. The man is a writing machine who churns out quality books year after year. Whether you like his work or not, the man is prolific with a good quality of storytelling. He has quality and is consistent.
What Can We Learn?
At the end of the day, I would not recommend anyone to go out and try and copy what Brandon Sanderson has done; however, there are some things we can learn here. For me, the take-away is consistently creating quality content and delivering on your promises. That is the kind of board game company I want to run. Then maybe one day, I will create a mystery board game and people will back the game because they trust me. That is the dream and the ideal I am going to strive for.
Until next time…
Sam “King of the Hilltop”