Think you know what makes a successful Kickstarter campaign? Get the inside story from five teams who met their goals.
Running a Kickstarter campaign is easy, right? All you have to do is make a quick video, toss in a few bullet points, make up some pricing tiers, and wait for the money train to reach the station. Not exactly. Executing a successful campaign is a full-time responsibility that demands constant input from the author(s). If you have ever considered launching one of your own, or are just curious about the process, consider these insights from five teams who have weathered the Kickstarter storm. On deck for the discussion are:
Clairvoire, developer on the oceanic adventure game Sealark
Eric Shumaker, developer on the post-cyberpocalyptic action RPG Barkley 2
Jamin Smith, developer on the third-person, space combat game Strike Suit Zero
Jordan Hemenway and Kyle Holdwick, developers on the parkour-inspired racer Distance
Jordan and Justin Coombs, developers on the tactical, deep-space strategy game Star Command
Before launching your Kickstarter campaigns, what were your expectations regarding the amount of effort involved?
Coombs: For our first campaign, none. Kickstarter was still kind of gaining its traction. It was still primarily for things like indie films and albums. Justin was living in New York and ran into Michael Tseng, the creator of Turf Geography Club for mobile. He had just run his Kickstarter and made over $15,000, which sounded amazing at the time.
That little counter on the top right of the [Kickstarter] page is the first thing you check when you wake up, and the last thing you check before going to bed.We said, "Hey, let's give this a shot," and we were inspired by a lot of his ideas for rewards. But we did not fully appreciate what fulfilling each of those entailed. So, in other words, we really underestimated the commitment that comes with it.
Hemenway: We had an interesting perspective going in because we live in the Seattle area, which is the king of Kickstarter for games. There are just so many teams out there, such as Shadowrun Returns and Planetary Annihilation, so we had all these guys around here who had done [campaigns] before, and they were willing to give us feedback and ideas before we went in. We talked with a lot of people who said it was going to be a full-time job, but I don't think we were 100 percent prepared for what we would be doing.
Smith: We'd actually been told (warned?) by others in the industry the amount of work that was involved, so we went into the campaign under no illusions of how hard it would be. It's not just the workload, though; it consumes your life for its duration. That little counter on the top right of the page is the first thing you check when you wake up, and the last thing you check before going to bed. Once the campaign is finished and the timer is stuck on zero, there's a strange sense of emptiness. But yes, it is hard work.
What are some examples of typical day-to-day activities involved in running a campaign?
Shumaker: I spent a lot of time every day answering emails in the Kickstarter and personal Tales of Games inbox. A lot of emails accumulated at night while I slept, so I generally spent a few hours in the morning (or whenever I woke up) catching up on them. I spent the rest of the day monitoring the Kickstarter, responding to emails, making posts on Twitter, talking to people about the game, and, if we got the time, working on it a little. Don't expect to work on your game too much though, because Kickstarter really does take most of your time.
Hemenway: One thing that was kind of a mistake for us was constantly looking at our stats on Kicktraq, [a site that continually monitors the progress of Kickstarter campaigns]. That is an easy way to drive your morale down. I think a lot of people do it just because it's interesting; I mean, we're all programmers, so we're interested in data anyway, and of course all of the backers are sending us these pages constantly, reminding us where we stand and asking if we're going to make it. I think it was a big waste of time checking it every day. [Kicktraq] is a cool website, I'll admit, but just for our sake we probably shouldn't have checked it as much.
What steps did you take to help ensure your campaign remained in the public's eye?
Smith: It's all about updates, and making sure you still have relevant and interesting content to share 15, 20, 25 days into the campaign. To lean on an old cliche: it's a marathon, not a sprint. Just over halfway through our campaign, for example, we were able to announce an Oculus Rift version of our game, which really put the spotlight back on us.
Clairvoire: Honestly? Diddly-squat! I just kept updating the Kickstarter as it went along, and occasionally posted on Tumblr about it, but those aren't anything out of the ordinary. One of my friends kept me abreast of when it got featured places, which was amazing to watch happen. I didn't go out of my way to ask for coverage though; it just feels rude, I guess. Luckily, my friends didn't ask me. They just went and did it. And other people picked it up, and it kind of snowballed I suppose.
What do you wish you had done differently?
Holdwick: One of the things we weren't prepared for was the updates, especially in the beginning. It would have been nice if we had prepared a lot of them a week earlier, just so that we could get them out sooner. Once we had the Kickstarter page finished, we launched it and said, "Okay, now what do we need to do?" I'd say we could have done better. We really could have been a little more prepared with the updates.
Another thing I wish we had done was had a dedicated team of people helping us right from the get-go with comments and content. Even if it is just close friends and family, having people who are willing to help can go a really long way. For us, we found some help when people starting coming to us and asking if we needed any assistance, but that was towards the end. If we had prepared that group earlier, it would have been very helpful and ultimately could have changed the amount of money we raised. I would definitely recommend having a group of people to help you out.
Clairvoire: One of the backer rewards (a limited-run physical copy of the game and soundtrack) was kind of a problem after the fact. I'm just one guy, so I have to prepare all those myself by hand, which can become pretty daunting when the number starts climbing into the hundreds. I went to the USPS office to ask them about shipping that many, and they said they'd kick me out if I showed up with that many packages. I didn't factor in shipping, but I was able to cap the reward off, so it didn't cause too many problems since I caught it early.
kickstarter sounds good for established developers (like Obsidian) who can make a game for the fans without compromising on the aspects hardcore gamers want and big publishers stay away from... so it's basically a chance to give that developer you have faith in the chance of realizing his vision which you're sure you'll like. just think about some great games that were missing features and content just because the publisher rushed the game (KOTOR 2 comes to mind)
@tachsniper Constantinople is the real historical name of that place since the Byzantine Empire era
I sadly have had no money of my own to spare for Kickstarter projects lately, but I'm incredibly excited about each of these games. Particularly the sequel to Barkley, Shut Up And Jam!: Gaiden.
Good discussion going on here but semantically one thing needs to be made clear. This is not an investment of money. An investment provides the opportunity of increasing returns. This is a simple donation of money and at best some sort of no-guarantee-of-delivery all-sales-final purchase. If this is to last these companies need to start making good on their promises, there are some lofty goals being promised right now. Deliver and we're all good, and I believe as gamers, better off for it. But this system still needs to prove itself to me a little bit more.
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@blastmaster2k2 Though I will say, sooner or later - lots of money is going to be "donated/invested" into a project and nothing will come of it - and legal action will surely arise... making a change for Kickstarter.
@blastmaster2k2 That's not the point of the Kickstarter.
In effect it basically becomes a pre-order with no guarantee of ever getting the product offered and no recourse to get your money back if the product never materializes. So basically it's a gamble. If I'm going to gamble with my money then I'd rather buy some lottery tickets. At least that's honest.
It's a game of luck , your investment may flourish or maybe you will just lose money. Just like Stocks and Shares.
I've always been curious about KickStarter.. so many ideas I've had before.. maybe one day they'll come into being.
"they said they'd kick me out if I showed up with that many packages."
Please tell us that you fired back, "And that's why you're probably going to be shut down soon." USPS should be thrilled that someone still needs them. The only thing I get in my mail box are ads, bills (which I can check online), and notices from the office saying I have a package to pick up.
And the USPS employee was most likely joking. Those guys have a painfully grinding job and most of them joke around a lot with customers to help the time pass (for both them and the customer). No post office is going to kick anybody out for having too many packages to send.
As a banker in my former life, I can honestly state that most, if not all of the projects submitted to the Kickstarter entity would not have been financed via traditional type loans. Sourcing funds for what the individual(s) need to push their dream(s) to reality is a momentous undertaking. Most business plans for start-ups tend to contain a lot of fluff rather than hard, cold facts that will ensure a better rate of success. Kickstarter is a relatively new alternative funding source that does not, as far as I know, involve banks, venture capitalists, etc. Instead, it is a vehicle through which many small investors, like myself, make a leap-of-faith in the project that interests said investors on a much smaller investment level. However, as always, there is strength in numbers. I firmly believe the majority of projects deemed appropriate have been necessarily scrutinized by Kickstarter giving investors some sense of security. It is a given that the majority of projects funded might never see the light of day...therein lies the risk that so many of us are willing to take. I, for one, have believed in the Ouya console since its inception. Updates from Ouya to the backers are provided on a regular basis indicating real progress and concern for its investors. Ouya is keeping to its timetable and will most likely deliver a console like none other. The SDKs have been delivered and the console is still scheduled for retail beginning in late March 2013!! This, to me, is proof positive that the Ouya will come to fruition as promised. In the interim, I sincerely wish the best of success to all those who attempt to realize their dream with the support of the Kickstarter program and the investors who participate each and every day. Investment in new innovation is always a good thing!!
@ljspeece That was quiet enjoyable to read, I really liked your perspective on this, well done!
@ljspeece I really enjoy reading comments like this, from gamers that have a professional background and talking about how certain areas of the world work (eg banking). It's a shame that comments like these are too few. Also, aside from informative, this is well written and not negative, which is also rare and fantastic. If you ever start getting "into the whole blogging thing" in Gamespot. I'd definitely read them.
its not any different from what PBS does for public funding...
i always think of that when i see kickstarter
Kickstarter is just the online version of what most people do everyday to survive. They look for investors, try to win their trust, promise them rewards for investing in their project if it becomes a success. I wouldn't say Kickstarter is just "begging". Begging is more about doing nothing and waiting for people to drop some change into your little tin can. Kickstarter is more about showing people that you actually have the skills and the team to get things done, except you don't have the money to "kickstart" the project.
@jaifrecap Kickstarter is perhaps the only way the gaming industry can possibly get innovative and fresh gaming ideas so I wouldn't knock on it too much.
@jaifrecap they are pitching their ideas to possible investors and hoping people will invest. Similar to every single project made that requires some investment from an outside person.
@modernsocks It's not begging dumbass.
Its more risky to ask the public for money how ever if your successful..Things will be that much better for you..Dont need to be pushed into deadlines bye the big boys like microsoft an sony..Other people trying to buy your company out like ea..Obsidion can show what kind of game they can make with out some one breathing down there necks...Games that couldnt be funded because publishers didnt want to take a risk wing commander, being made..Games like dungeon keeper 3 under a different name being made..Cant wait for that game coming to steam in august..Also elite the space game being made..Its a lot of good games coming down the pike for the pc..Exclusively that wouldnt be touched because its not cod name..Im all for kickstarter.
Concerning the last question: What impact do larger, celebrity-driven projects, such as Obsidian's Project Eternity or Molyneux's Project GODUS, have on the ecosystem of Kickstarter.
I think we get the best of both worlds when an established developer joins Kickstarter, we get a game that never would have been created otherwise and made by people we know has done it before with good results. They would probably go to a publisher if they could get the money for their game instead of seeking crowdfunded money, which is more risky.