How large of a mailing list do I need before launching my Kickstarter?

Detailed analysis of converting a mailing list into Kickstarter backers for a tabletop game

A year ago I did a breakdown of my mailing list of roughly 1,000 emails I collected of people interested in my board game, Fantastic Factories. If you’re interested in how I got those emails, feel free to check out my article about building an audience. Towards the end of my breakdown I asked the question.

How much is an email worth?

Let’s find out!

Not all emails are created equal

Below is a chart of how well the emails I collected converted into Kickstarter backers. I simply compared the emails in my mailing list to my backer list and filtered out any sources with fewer than 10 emails.

Conversion rate of emails to backer

Just so it’s clear, PAX South 2017, PAX West 2017, and Launchrock (signups via the website) are the only sources with more than 100 emails. All other sources ranged between 10 to 35 emails. Sample size is small for the majority of sources so it’s challenging to draw any sweeping conclusions.

So what are the differences between these sources and are there any patterns? Here’s a table showing the numbers:

Does the age of the email matter?

Intuition says that the longer ago you showed someone your game, the less relevant your game is to that person. However, the data I collected doesn’t seem to show any strong correlation between the age of the email and conversion.

Does how the player interacted with your game matter?

Short answer is yes. There were basically 3 primary scenarios in which someone ended up signing up for the mailing list. From the highest converting to the lowest, players either play tested the game, played the full game, or played the 10 minute demo.

I believe that players who play tested Fantastic Factories felt invested and involved with the project. They’ve followed along the journey of the game and were excited to see it on Kickstarter. As a result, these players were the most likely to back the project. Whereas with a short 10 minute demo, players got to get a feel for the game but didn’t get the full experience.

Demoing at PAX South 2017

From this data, you might conclude that play testing or playing full games is the most effective way to get backers. However, time is one of the most valuable resources you have. Fantastic Factories takes 1 hour to play but takes only 10 minutes to demo. If the conversion for demos are about 20% and 30% for full games, you still convert 4x the absolute number of backers given the same time investment (6 demos x 20% / 1 full game x 30%)! In fact, if you take a look, you’ll notice that PAX South 2017 and PAX West 2017 were conventions where we did demos and were also the only events that netted over 200 emails. Also keep in mind that demos are only effective if you have enough traffic to your table to keep it full.

Even if demos are less effective at converting compared to full play throughs, you still gain 4x the number of backers given the same time investment.

Contests, pre-marketing ads, etc

Some Kickstarter campaigns will build up their mailing list via contests (like Gleam) or Facebook ads. For Fantastic Factories, almost all my emails were collected as a direct result of an in person interaction with the game. I imagine that emails collected through contests or ads would convert significantly worse.

The dollar value of an email

When it’s all said and done, 204 out of 938 of the emails I collected became backers. Pledges from these emails totaled $6,296, making it an average of $6.71 per email.

It’s important to note that these numbers were NOT pulled from referrer tracking. I simply compared backer emails to emails in my mailing list. Pulling numbers from my custom referrer tracking tells a slightly different story, showing 117 backers and a total of $4,343 in pledges. These pledges came directly from the emails I sent out to the campaign. There’s a discrepancy of 87 backers who came from other sources that had overlap with my mailing list. For example, Twitter followers, Facebook posts, backers who clicked “Notify Me” on the Kickstarter preview page, or even backers who clicked “Remind me 48 hours before the campaign ends”.

So exactly how big of a mailing list do you need?

This is the hardest question to answer. The typical indie board game Kickstarter campaign will need around 300 backers to fund. You’ll notice that I only obtained 204 from my mailing list — not enough to fund. But as most people know, Kickstarter can provide a significant audience for your campaign, and those eyes can convert into backers.

I’ve heard of campaigns raising $90k with no mailing list at all. I’ve also heard of campaigns with 10k emails on their list failing to fund. When you consider that my mailing list only contributed 204 of 4,345 backers (~5%) it feels like a small drop in the bucket and possibly not worth the countless hours of work.

However, I really believe that Kickstarter is very momentum-based, and having an engaged audience that you can mobilize into backing you on day one is absolutely critical. The key takeaway is that I believe that a mailing list is the most effective way of communicating to people interested in your game and converting them into day 1 backers. Every backer you get within the first hour of your campaign has the potential to bring in 2 more backers in the second hour. This has a compounding effect.

Kickstarter is very momentum-based, and having an engaged audience that you can mobilize into backing you on day one is absolutely critical.

Hopefully seeing these concrete numbers from my Fantastic Factories campaign will help you get a sense of how important a mailing list is and what to expect from it. Just keep in mind that marketing is only one piece in the puzzle. Getting eyes on your campaign page won’t matter if the game you’re selling doesn’t look good!

Feel free to check out the Fantastic Factories Kickstarter campaign page (ended June 2018) or pre-order the game.