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August 15, 2020
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Kickstarter Swag, Pain or Gain?

by Howard Tsao on 06/14/12 01:24:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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In January, before Kickstarter exploded into the stratosphere, I wrote a post about the lessons we learned from our two successful campaigns.  It’s amazing how within weeks after the post, the Double Fine phenomenon happened, and the way to think about funding for indie devs changed almost overnight.  While the presentation projects on Kickstarter become more sophisticated, I’m glad to still find the lessons from the earlier post holding true for people looking to start a Kickstarter campaign.  

Having now gone through the entire fulfillment process for Guns of Icarus Online, where we were insane enough to offer a wide variety of digital and physical gifts, I can now reflect on our lessons learned and write another post that would hopefully offer some help for teams looking for fulfillment related information.  

Before I get into the details of specific gifts and the ordering and fulfillment process, let me first go over the rationale behind offering physical gifts at all.  Offering physical gifts is definitely more time consuming and labor intensive, probably by far.  But we feel that it has some benefits.  

1) Backer Collectors. We wanted to create some memorabilia that are more tangible and permanent, things that backers can proudly collect.  We thought that the connection with backers would be stronger if we actually delivered quality physical gifts.  With interesting physical gifts, others who see them may be more interested in the project.  

2) Learning Curve.  We wanted to go through the process and learn, so we could one day offer the items to people who pre-order and beyond.  Since the Kickstarter campaign, we did create a store on our website ( and continue to offer the gift items.  Kickstarter was a great opportunity for us to go through this learning curve.  In fact, there really isn’t a better way given that Kickstarter has a really supportive and patient community, and with us receiving funds before we fulfill the orders, we have a bit of room to make mistakes, go through different vendors, and deliver better quality.  

3) We like to dream.  Getting physical gifts is living out our own fantasies.  It’s just fun to do.  So we did it because we wanted to see what we could do and have fun with it.  

Fulfilling the orders ended up costing me 4 weekends to package and ship and about 9% of the total pledge money, so it is labor and time intensive, and a few packages got returned, so there was definitely more time spent supporting backers.  

Packing Kickstarter Gifts

Whether to offer physical gifts or not is definitely a personal choice, but it should also be a conscious choice.  If you decide to offer physical gifts, you should really think the process through and make sure you price things right, find quality vendors, and have time to fulfill the orders.  So for offering physical gifts, either plan it out, or avoid it as much as possible.

We offered a total of 15 backer tiers.  

  • <$25: the four tiers are all digital with a combination of beta access, soundtrack, exclusive costume, and friend 2-pack.  
  • $25-$75:  Each of the 5 tiers between $25 and $75 is a combination of one physical gift and various digital items.  
  • $100-$200:  Between $100 and $200, we offer 3 tiers with bundles of physical gfits.  
  • >$300:  We started to offer involvement and participation such as working with us to design a ship part or player costume.  

Interestingly, of all the people who pledged, only 22% of the backers wanted physical gifts.  I would love to compare notes with other teams to see if this breakdown is common, but in our case, most people just want the game (game only and the 2 friend packs).  Adding physical gifts is not likely going to be a determining factor of a campaign’s success.  It is complementary to collectors, and ultimately the game matters most, which is the way it should be I suppose.  

Here is a breakdown of gifts we offered for Guns of Icarus Online:  
Digital:  soundtrack, exclusive costume for Kickstarter backers, digital art book, and a making of, how-to video.  We also offered two friend packs (a 2-pack and a 4-pack) as well as a few design-with-us pledges at higher tiers.  

Kickstarter backer exclusive costume

Costume for Kickstarter backers

Soundtrack and costumes are items that we were going to make anyway, so we didn’t have to spend extra time.  The art book took longer, we had to get the format and resolution right and find the right vendor, so one person spent 20-25 hours getting it ready.  The making of video took one person another 10-15 hours to film and edit.  Altogether, getting these things ready took us a few days.  

Physical:  Poster, t-shirt, log book, art book, and usb

Poster - 11x17  Log Book - 6x4x1, leather bound
Poster       Log Book
T-shirt - American Apparel                   Art Book 8x11, Soft cover bound, 88 pages.T-shirt        Art Book

USB - 4GB, laser etched logo, key chain

We shipped a total of 347 physical gift items.  Of all the gifts that we ordered and shipped, the poster and the USB are the best gifts for a number of reasons.  Firstly, they are light weight and, in the case of the USB, small.  The shipping of these items are also very standard and simple, with small shipping tubes and padded envelopes.  Shipping costs for posters and USBs were the least, and international shipping for both items were under $10.  The USB and the poster are also cost effective to order.  We ordered the 4GB USBs from US Digital Media.  They offered bullet shape with a great steampunk color tone, and they laser etch the logo into the USB.  The issue with this implementation is quality.  After trying a few vendors and seeing proofs, they had the best quality product, so I would recommend giving them a try.  Posters we ordered from Jakprints, and the color turned out really well and pricing affordable.  Another vendor I recommend.  

USB Stick

The important thing to remember when ordering is to get a proof, and negotiate and demand the proof for free.  We’ve come across shops that offer great advertisement and sample images online, and only to deliver us really crappy proofs.  Demanding a proof before placing the order is a must.  

Art book was the most expensive to compile, print, and ship.  After benchmarking a few vendors, we decided on Lulu.  We had heard about Lulu from a friend, so we knew that the quality and color should good, but it was more on the expensive side, especially when printing in small quantities.  We ended up deciding to go with it because, in the absence of proof (this is the one instance where we couldn’t get a proof), we didn’t want to risk it and bet against quality.  The art book was also the most expensive to ship internationally, with costs ranging from $11-14 depending on the country.  

Inside pages of art book
Art Book Pages

With the log book, it was a labor of love.  There is no other way to look at it.  Sometimes, it isn’t going to be just dollars and sense.  We wanted to create sketches for our fans, so we spent quite a bit of time crafting each sketch, and we drew a total of 88 sketches.  This obviously took a lot of time, and there was really no other reason other than we loved doing it, as both a way of expression and something individual and unique for the fans. We did get a little extra mileage out of the sketches by scanning them all and posting them up on our Facebook page, providing some bonus social media content for our fans to discuss and enjoy.

Log book sketchsketchsketch

For t-shirts, we went with a local indie shop called Squeezebox Studios.  They don’t have a sophisticated interface, but the ordering process is straightforward - just send them an email, and they ship.  T-shirts, though, was the most costly for us as percentage of the amount backers pledged.  The main reason was that we offered it at a lower pledge of $25, which includes the game as well.  I’ve seen other teams offer t-shirts at higher pledge values, and that is probably wise.  We felt that it wouldn’t be fair to price t-shirts too much higher than what people would normally pay, as it isn’t the most original gift item we could offer, but in hindsight, we probably should have priced it slightly higher.  

A word on packaging.  For some inexplicable reason, I started the packing and labeling process with a sharpie in my hand writing labels.  Don’t be like me, with a sharpie in your hand.  Use printing labels.  It dawned on me about 2 hours in the first night.  My hand was sore and falling off, and I decided enough was enough, time to bring out those labels.  When you export the backer survey data into .csv, the addresses are usually broken up into different cells, so the quicker way for me was to actually go to the backer reports in browser and copy the addresses there.  

Shipping wise, the most efficient and affordable were the bundles - shipping multiple items together.  This sounds basic and obvious now, but it wasn’t when we were planning.  I would recommend finding creative ways to group things together and offer them at a higher pledge tier.  
Kickstarter fulfillment is really one step to delivering on the promise to backers and fans.  It’s an obligation and also a chance to interact with fans in a meaningful way.  We took the mindset that this was customer service, so we aimed to be as flexible as we could be.  Now that we sent everything off to the backers, time to focus on finishing the game!  

beta testing screenshot
A screenshot from the last round of playtesting with Kickstarter backers

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ping us at:

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