Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

Gamifying Kickstarter: Bears vs Babies Case Study



This post was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen after Octalysis community member, Ivan Lee, notified Yu-kai about the story.

An over-performing Kickstarter campaign

What is Bears vs Babies? It’s a game. It was created by the same people who made Exploding Kittens: Elan Lee (XBox, ARGs) and Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal). The game takes a few minutes to learn, it’s kid-friendly, and each round takes about 20 minutes to play.

Elan and Matthew absolutely crushed their goal of raising $10,000 (they’ve raised over $2.3 million from over 61,000 backers).

This is usually the moment when Kickstarter owners add new stuff to their campaigns, sometimes pulling the focus away from what backers cared about at the beginning–funding the campaign of a capable team to get a product or service.

But Elan and Matthew decided to do something different.

They sent an email to all backers after quickly surpassing their goal by 10,000%.

The subject line read: STOP GIVING US YOUR MONEY. (More on this later.)

In this article, I’ll break down this successfully backed campaign (still with 9 days to go!) from the time they sent an email asking people to stop giving them money. (Spoiler: people kept giving them money.)

As always, we’ll look at this case study from the Octalysis perspective with a baseline understanding of the 8 Core Drives of human motivation.

They decided to raise a crowd

Bears vs Babies is a card game where you build handsome, incredible monsters who go to war with horrible, awful babies.

This tagline by itself could probably create a community, but Elan and Matthew wanted to build a community before the game was released.

They already had the attention of Kickstarter backers, so they spurred them to action.

What is interesting is not anything they did in designing, playtesting, or initially marketing their campaign (although that was all great, too), but rather in what they decided to do after they overfunded the campaign.

Epic Meaning, for a card game?

What is Bears vs Babies’ epic meaning? Raising a crowd. Aka building a community. For excited backers, this is something to get behind. That’s what Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling is all about.

Notice what the goal is not.

The goal is not to make more money for Elan or Matthew, it’s rather to help build the community behind the game. And build the community a long time before the game comes out. Inherent in this promise is, as a player, that I’ll have many people to play the game with when it is released. (I wish Diplomacy, my favorite board game, had more avid followers.)


Activating Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness

Elan and Matthew asked backers to help them raise a crowd. They used a visual to explain exactly what they wanted backers to do. Essentially, it boils down to doing fun and creative and crazy things and posting them to social media with the #bearsvsbabies hashtag. You guessed it, they invoked Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness.

Backers get to work together to do creative things (collaborating), and then share their victories with each other and the world on social media platforms.

By doing these mini-challenges, the backers can work together to unlock the next Round of goodies.


Here’s what backers had to do. Notice how backers can choose from any of the following:


Achievements, many to choose from

BearsvsBabies is giving their backers the ability to accomplish something with a tangible reward at the back end. At the core, this is playing on Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment.

Did I mention there are a lot of achievements to unlock? Here’s more to choose from:


Creativity and Core Drive 3

You probably noticed Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is targeted in this gamified “Raising a Crowd” challenge. The so-called Golden Corner is working wonders at mobilizing excited backers.

As a backer, If I want to help raise the crowd, I can do it in a few different ways. First, I have the choice of which challenge to work on (and I’ll probably need help from other backers–some of the challenges are hard). And second, I’ll need to use some creativity and problem solving to get the challenge done.

By the way, I still haven’t shown all the possible challenges. Here’s the last batch of achievements to unlock:


You can see Elan and Matthew and their team have been playful and fun with their presentation.

A little curiosity to boot

Elan and Matthew threw in some Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity with their Round 1, 2, and 3 unlocks (the last one being a complete surprise!).

This is a classic Mystery Box technique, straight out of Mario Bros.

At a micro level, there is also a LOT of curiosity and unpredictability built into the HOW of the creative sharing on social. As a backer, I get to imagine how I might approach doing one of the challenges, and I get to see how others ACTUALLY do it. I for one would love to see a drone carrying a Ptero baby.

How I found out about Bears vs Babies

————– Forwarded message ———-

From: Ivan Lee

Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Subject: Fwd: Project Update #2: Bears vs Babies – A Card Game by Elan Lee

To: Yu-kai Chou


I backed this Kickstarter, and they apparently have too much money. So instead they’re asking their backers to run a social media campaign. But it’s gamified! And one of the more clever gamification concepts I’ve seen, too. Thought you might be interested.


Yu-kai sent the above email to me. I checked out the Kickstarter. Then I checked the Bears vs Babies twitter profile. I saw a funny pic of a bearded baby and their stretch goals.


Damn! I noticed they also had 1,800 followers on Twitter. I went back to the Kickstarter page, rechecked their numbers. They’ve raised over $2-million, from 60,000 backers. Then I thought: Oh! They’re on their way to 75,000 backers through all these crazy achievements!

This is the cycle I went through. The social proof and the credibility pulled me in.

So we see the other benefit of this “Raising a Crowd” phase of Elan and Matthew’s campaign–they actually DO raise a crowd.

And they’ve gotten my attention.

You can learn more about the Kickstarter here.

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5 responses to “Gamifying Kickstarter: Bears vs Babies Case Study”

  1. One of the odder games with a Pythonesque twist. Should draw in a huge customer base, as Lani suggested, by appealing in so-creative style to the CD’s. The website I assume will mirror the game, that’s a huge draw. And the personal investment and perversion to appeal to the Nasty side is designed simply & powerfully.

  2. I love this case study so much! It gives great examples of how many Core Drives can be used to build a raving community and gain excitement. My brain is exploding with ideas on how I can use this info in my own social campaigns. So fun. I love gamification. Thank you!!

    • Thanks AggieinTokyo! (Btw did you to to Texas A&M?…I lived in Houston for awhile, some friends went there.)

      Agreed! Probably backing this myself! (Also makes me want to make some tabletop games I’ve been procrastinating on.)

      • Erik Mechelen, yes I did! I am from San Antonio. Currently living in Tokyo (hence the name in the un-updated blog lol). I will be returning state side in January.

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