Why you should never get the core rewards of your crowdfunding campaign behind a Stretch Goal

Imagine going to a fine dining restaurant — the waiter hands you the menu, and suggests three courses: a Blue Cheese, Pear and Walnut Salad for starter, Roast Chicken Stuffed with Olives, Rosemary and Fennel as the main dish, and Molten Chocolate Cakes served with Crème Anglais and raspberry puree for dessert. Including wine and coffee, your menu costs exactly $50.

Then the waiter leans down, and whispers:

“Sir, I’ll have to inform you that if we don’t get at least 100 guests tonight, the price will still be $50, but you won’t be able to get the dessert.”

Would you still stay and hope other 99 people show up, or would you get out and go somewhere else?

You’ll get this thing, maybe

One of the least discussed crowdfunding errors is locking core rewards behind a Stretch Goal that creators assume will undoubtedly be met.

What happens is that some Tiers, usually the most expensive ones (hence those that you really want people to back) contain at least one item that the creator isn’t 100% sure will be produced even if the campaign funds regularly. It sounds silly, especially if we substitute “crowdfunding campaign” with “restaurant” and “rewards you paid for” with “courses,” but it happens more often than not. Let’s look at a couple of notable examples.


Ultimum is an American tabletop RPG which was funded on its second campaign back in March 2015. Out of about 70 projects I backed on Kickstarter, this one is one of the few that has not delivered yet, and hasn’t seen an update in more than six months. While this one looked risky even back then, what I want to discuss today is not why this project is several years late, but the mistake that made them pull the first campaign.

You can see the first campaign here.

The scope of the funding was already tricky (the book, accessories, an app, miniatures, etc.) — on top of that, all Tiers from $250 to $1500, five in total, promised to give backers what they paid extra for only if the relative Stretch Goals would be unlocked. You can certainly understand people’s response to that: they didn’t exactly back in mass.

In the example above, if the Stretch Goal is not met, you get exactly nothing for that extra $50.

The second campaign got rid of this problem, reduced the funding scope to 1/6, and funded for $13,648 — a decent amount, but still unrealistic for what was promised. That, however, is another story.

City of Mists

City of Mist, another tabletop RPG, is a fantastic product. Somewhere in between American Gods and Fables, City of Mist is elegant in both presentation and mechanics. As a backer of the first campaign, I couldn’t be happier of the material I received. One small complaint backers put forward after the first Kickstarter, is that the book of the game is a bit too unwieldy to be passed around at the table. Amít Mosher, head of Son of Oak Studio and creator of the game, decided for that and other reasons to run a second campaign in 2018. The campaign had three main goals:

  • Fund a version of the core book split into Player Guide and MC Toolkit (easier to handle and with more commercial potential)
  • Fund the printing of one PDF Stretch Goal of the first campaign, Nights of Payne Town
  • Fund the printing of a second PDF Stretch Goal of the first campaign, Shadows & Showdowns
I go over this campaign also in video on WritingBold Academy’s YouTube Channel

Now, this campaign is peculiar for several reasons (for example Nights of Payne Town and Shadows & Showdowns were not delivered in full to backers of the first campaign before the second one started), but we’ll focus only on the main mistake: locking key rewards behind a Stretch Goal.

Long story short, the second version of the campaign (now mostly deleted) saw backers pledge for one or more Relics (a Relic was one of the four books listed above), but the ONLY ONE available from the beginning was Nights of Payne Town. Backers were asked to trust that the Stretch Goal making the Relic they wanted available would actually unlock before the end of the campaign, something that was hard to take for granted, especially given how spaced Stretch Goals were between them. It was a “maybe you’ll get what we’re selling you, and if not feel free to pick something else.”

While the campaign could have proceeded to moderate success, Amít listened to feedback, pulled the campaign when the predicament became self-evident and re-launched a few weeks later, with all the needed corrections. You can see how well it did with just a few small changes HERE.

The first rewards already landed on my inbox and I couldn’t be happier to be a backer.

The takeaway

Make sure you grant your backers that what they’re pledging for will happen, no matter what. It might involve higher risk, but it’s a risk worth taking every single time.

Already thinking about launching a game on Kickstarter or Indiegogo? We cover Stretch Goals and more Game Crowdfunding topics in Game Crowdfunding From Start to Funded.

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