We had an AMAZINGLY successful kickstarter campaign. It seemed like a real miracle that the game got funded, and I have my extremely generous backers to thank for that. I often get asked advice on other kickstarter projects, so I decided to post my lessons learned. Kickstarter is still the Wild West. There are no rules – no formulas to success, so what may work for one project, may not work for others. Feel free to take these worth a grain of salt and try something new. You may learn something even more helpful!
Momentum is VERY important – You need to have a strong start. People need to believe you have a chance to succeed. Try to come up with a press plan to get as many mentions as you can on launch day. Also, if you have any generous friends and family, I’d make sure they pledge as early as possible. Kickstarter is weird because I think people are more likely to back a project that is going to succeed for sure than one that is struggling.
Do an early bird tier – The best way to create early momentum is an early bird tier. When people visit the project and there is an early bird tier, it creates some immediacy. You need to back now, or the special deal is over! This gives you some good momentum at the beginning of your project. Once your early bird tier fills up, then your project will already seem legit and have momentum. Then, people will continue to jump on the bandwagon. I think the most effective early bird tier is discounted copies of your games. Discounted bonus content that people may or may not be interested in don’t seem as exciting. Don’t worry that people who might be willing to pay more won’t because of early bird backing. If someone is willing to pay more, and you aren’t going to make your budget, then they will up their pledges, so you’ll get the money anyway! We had a ton of people up their pledges freeing spots in the early bird tiers, and then more people would swoop in and take them.
Devote the ENTIRE month to the kickstarter – Interface with the community, do daily updates, and push, push push the press! Everyone says that doing a kickstarter is a full time job when running it. They are correct. It’s that and then some. If you don’t make connections with your community, they might not be as eager to come through to help you if you need it. Persistence is extremely helpful to the press. Some of our late campaign coverage came because after sending many e-mails to different reporters at a site, I finally found one who liked our game.
How can you make your story stand out? – I suspect the press gets a ton of emails about kickstarters that need support. You have to figure out how you can give them a story. What makes your game special? What is special about your development story? This was HUGE for us on Neverending Nightmares. I think the project wouldn’t have reached its goal if I hadn’t really pushed the personal angle of why I turned to kickstarter and what this game means to me.
Plan far, far ahead – Running a kickstarter is a lot of work. A LOT of work. Start planning early. Show it to as many people as you possibly can and get their feedback. Take it seriously! It’s easy to gloss over criticism, but what if backers think the same way as the person who expressed their concerns?
All or nothing funding is GREAT! – Without all or nothing funding, we probably would have only made $50k instead of EXCEEDING our budget. All or nothing funding works well in several ways.
- It demonstrates to backers that they need your money. When I see flexible funding goals on indiegogo, that is a HUGE turn off. I like to back projects that need my help. If the game is going to be made without my help, I don’t feel like it’s worth backing. I can always buy the game when (if?) it comes out with no risk.
- It demonstrates that you understand how to budget to reach your goal. To successfully complete a game, this is extremely important. If you will just take whatever money you can get, it may not be enough to deliver on the product you are promising.
- It allows backers to be heroes. One of the great things about being a backer is you can pat yourself on the back and say that you helped someone make a really cool project succeed. If the game is going to be made regardless, then it isn’t really exciting.
Be yourself – Kickstarter is not a marketing platform. It is a TOOL to connect you to an amazing community of people who want to see interesting ideas succeed. They love to help underdogs! People who don’t even care about the game backed Neverending Nightmares just because they liked me and what I was trying to do! A lot of people upped their pledges because they felt like I was the hardest working project creator on kickstarter. It may seem strange, but that is what the kickstarter community is all about! Kickstarter backers want to make creators’ dreams come true. If you can’t connect with your backers on a personal level, then you are missing out on expanding your reach further than you could on game design alone.
Have a demo – I think this is really important – even if your demo isn’t amazing. Having a demo was extremely helpful for a lot of reasons.
- It sets us apart from the other ones that are pitching a pure project. It’s difficult to know what you are backing into without a demo (unless it’s an established IP or a remake). You can have all the concept art you want, but none of those can show someone how your game will play.
- It shows that you know enough about game development to execute on a demo. Game development is hard! There are plenty of amazing ideas for games, but if you don’t have the skills to create that game you imagined, then your project can’t be successful.
- Youtube videos! We got a lot of exposure through youtube playthroughs of our game especially from PewDiePie , Makeplier, and IndieStatik. Without those, it would have been near impossible to reach our fundning.
Make sure YOU know what your game is – Unless you are a rock star game developer with a large fan base, you can’t pitch a nebulous idea for a game. You need to have a good idea of what you are going to deliver. I don’t think choosing the genre is enough. You have to really dig deep and figure out what makes your title so special. Otherwise, how can you get people excited about it?
Make sure BACKERS know what your game is – Maybe retro remakes are so successful because they instantly inform backers what they will get. I know with Mighty No. 9 I’m getting Mega Man. Sometimes it’s hard to say what the creator is intending other games because the devs are trying something new and don’t have a demo or gameplay videos. Even if you have a demo be sure to include comparisons to other games in your product description up at the top. “It’s like X and Y, but with Z” can be really helpful to give people an idea of what you are making.
Even with a demo, we still weren’t completely communicating what Neverending Nightmares would be. Some people who played the demo asked if that’s what is the final game would be like. I explained we would have hiding from enemies and more interactivity, but that is a shortcoming of our prototype because it didn’t paint the whole picture. Concrete examples are always good, so saying we are going to have enemy encounters like Amnesia was helpful in getting the message across.
You have a community that wants you to succeed. Use it! – This is the only reason Neverending Nightmares succeeded. We were far from our goal at the end, but our community was so passionate about the project that they wouldn’t let us fail. Try to motivate your community to spread the word. You have to give them a reason to. Tell them why the game is important to you. Explain to your backers why the game should be important to them!
Don’t ask for too much money – You have to be careful if you are asking for more money than the perceived budget for your game by kickstarter backers. I’ve been making games for 10 years, so I have a pretty good idea of budgets for games. Kickstarter backers without development experience often compare your budget to other kickstarters, which can be problematic. Some games run a kickstarter when they are at the end of development and just need a boost. Other games need funding for the entire development budget.
Because of the differing stages of development, it is tough for backers to get a good sense of the real cost of making a game. In addition, developers may be in different financial situations. A team of students can work cheaper than more experienced devs with familial obligations and mortgages. Because of this, you have to be careful to scope your game in line with their expectations.
2D games seem like they demand a lower budget than 3D (especially pixel art games). While creating 2D art can be easier, the gameplay logic may be where the bulk of your funds will go to – not creating the actual assets. It is difficult to explain to backers that, so really give some thought to how your game’s budget will be perceived. The main reason we went with Free the Games Fund was because we knew that people would be instantly turned off by a budget of over $200k for a 2D game. We just barely made our target, so I think this was definitely a good choice.
Get creative – As I said before, there are no rules to running a successful kickstarter. Try to do something crazy and interesting to get your project to stand out!