You’ve read it all before. “Kickstarters are hard work!” “The campaign is an emotional rollercoster!” “You meet so many amazing people!” I am here to tell you that is all true, but I want to shine a light on the more unspoken part of Kickstarters, especially for video games.
Most are unsuccessful. Everyone knows this, but those that don’t succeeded usually don’t do a write up. So here I am to help you make fewer of the bigger mistakes and shed some light on some of the less discussed facts. And I hope to add a few different perspectives for indies like me, the true garage indies. Working on a passion project with a shoestring budget and a prayer.
Before you go further I want throw one tip at you from the get go. Every game, every Kickstarter, every person, is different. It’s hard to feel out what you can get from someone else’s experiences but there’s three things to remember when reading this:
- This is a one man project with a near zero budget.
- The game is complex and an odd pitch.
- This campaign was unsuccessful. I’ll throw out my thoughts, but they may be bad ideas! Take them with a grain of salt and consider your own project, as you should from every postmortem.
OK, with all that out of the way, onward!
What Went Right
The Four Realms achieved around 17% of it’s intended goal. It doesn’t take much to see that the Kickstarter campaign was a bit of a disaster. That being said I didn’t do everything wrong, here’s what I did right.
1: I’m Not a Terrible Person
A little spoken fact of Kickstarters (and start-ups in general) is that you’re not going to do it without friends and family. Many have spouses that support them, parents that invest in them, or some other very beneficial situation. You’ll often read that you should get 20% of your goal in the first 24-48 hours, what you don’t read is that a lot of that is friends and families. It is humbling to see the support and great to share your project with people you love and trust.
This was both surprising and unsurprising to me. I knew that this was part of it, yet that couldn’t prepare me for the support. It’s great to find that, yeah, you are crazy enough to make a game, but there are people that believe in you. People often talk about luck in game development, and if you ask me, this is it, someone taking a chance and saying “Yes, this is cool and I will support you.”
2: Worked Hard & Learned
I sent out hundreds of emails and tried to get any and everyone I could to look at the game. Yes, you will be faced with stone silence. Yes, my pitches were not good. But I got better, I learned from what people picked up on, and I improved my approach. If you work hard enough, you will get some attention. I was lucky enough to get some brave writers and youtubers to take a look at Four Realms and say what they think.
New Run Animations
What Went Wrong
Wait, that’s it? Yes, it was a spectacularly unsuccessful Kickstarter. So much so that it’s hard to point out what was the biggest mistake. So, I’m listing things in order what I hope you, the reader, will remember from this post.
1: The Game
I like to pretend this isn’t the biggest issue, it’s easy to hide behind the many other mistakes I made on the campaign. But whether it is the biggest issue or not, I do believe it is the first thing to look at. Even if it is a passion project, if you are going to Kickstarter, you are asking other people to look at the game. This is what you are selling. I’m not going into depth on what works and doesn’t for the game. That would be the a postmortem on the game and I ain’t done with it yet!
I do think there is a lot to learn about what works in the market and what doesn’t. And I’ve learned a lot and will use that in the future, but here are two things to keep in mind.
Writers and public want finished games. With as many games out there, why not? I ran with Four Realms as an Alpha Early release. I had a friend who said this was a bad idea, they were right! Be done or close to done. Many writers and youtubers don’t even look at Kickstarters or Alpha games. It may not be the most significant issue, but it does make a difference.
The bigger issue is presentation. Gamers want great game play, but their going to look at the art first, if you don’t get past that barrier, you are in for a world of trouble. Again, this is a super flooded market, getting looked at is really hard! And this means everything visual. I was missing strong “concept” art pieces and the in game HUD was ugly. People will be forgiving, but only to a point.
I had zero marketing experience coming into this campaign. I think it shows, but hey, I can’t afford someone else. I saw ads for cheap marketing, but I suspected that coming in with little experience and a small budget, leveraging external resources would be more of a waste of money. I can say I have more respect for marketers now. Phew!
So, if your like me and have one person no people skills what do you do? Get out there and make noise. Make more noise. Keep trying things until it works. Do your best to run demo builds and earlier releases as if they were your Kickstarter. I wish I had more suggestions, but this skill set is still one in progress for me.
I did learn and get a little better, but it can be tough working this out on your own. I think for an indie this is the biggest thing to get from any postmortem. Yes, it’s a flooded market, but it’s not a dead market. The solution to that is to get better at marketing. Why is your game different? I struggle with this for Four Realms. Many people saw a platforming game and immediately dismissed it, but for everyone who played they found it a very unique game. As yet, I don’t know how to quantify that difference in a good blerb. But I’m working on it.
3: July-August is a Dead Zone
Finding numbers and figuring out how to do this is tough when coming from zero experience. For many of my mistakes, I knew the tips and suggestions, I just suffered in execution. This one caught me off guard. It could be rectified with further research, but learning where to look and what to look for is a new sub skill to every new endeavor.
The Kickstarter ran from mid July to mid August. As it turns out, this time of year is basically a dead zone for the game market in the United States. It’s equivalent to November and December. This is the time of year everyone goes on summer vacation. I’m not saying you will be unsuccessful during this time, there are fewer Kickstarters running at this time. I’m not saying this is the biggest issue for the Four Realms Kickstarter. I just want people to be aware of this fact.
I found out more about this just before I started the campaign, doh! So why not stop? If you can, I would recommend rescheduling, but for a garage indie like me, this was my chance to run, so I ran with it. Now or never, I took the chance.
I wish more devs shared their advertising experience and budget. I had zero, but I suspect it plays a big part. From what I’ve been able to find, bigger projects spend equal to 10-20% of what their KS goal is on advertising. If the ads and the game are good, they will get an equal ROI on what they spent, but that spent money helps build momentum.
As a side note I had set aside some money for marketing and advertising. I learned quickly I did not enough to have an impact, but if I had adapted earlier I could have used that money to hire a concept artist for one or two pieces which would have upped the visual appeal of the project. This was a missed course correction, but again, at least I’m learning!
5: Failed to Build a Following
Most postmortems will say that the biggest thing is to build a following first. I did know this going in and knew I’d be small. But knowing this and actually tracking your following accurately are two separate things. I’m still working out the kinks on this, but I can say any numbers you hear about email subscribers or Twitter followers are guesses at best. The value of anyone on any of these mediums are questionable. Perhaps tracking direct comments may yield more accurate numbers?
6: Ran Kickstarter and Greenlight at the Same Time
Some peoples suggest this. For this campaign, I saw almost no crossover. Will it work for you? I don’t know. But I won’t do it in the future, and it’s not because of workloads. The fact of the matter is marketing is about delivering a message. As someone with little marketing skills, delivering one message clearly is hard enough, delivering two seems like I’m stretching my capabilities.
Everyone knows the trailer is important. But how do you make a good one? Clearly, I don’t know yet. Four Reams is a tough game to sell.
Part of making a good trailer is knowing what sells on your game and how to say it, that’s called marketing. I think my lack of skill in this general area played a part in the less that stellar trailer performance.
At a glance it looks like a typical platformer. Looking at the viewing numbers I would guess this is most peoples impression. They saw just enough to go “Oh … another platformer.” I’ll have to improve on that in the future.
I wanted to throw out some random thoughts that I had after the campaign. I don’t have the numbers to back these ideas up. And these thoughts are aimed more squarely at you garage indies.
I did do a demo at the start of the Kickstarter. I think it did hurt the Kickstarter slightly. (Make sure your engine can do analytics before you commit to it!) But I don’t think that means you shouldn’t do one.
Instead I would suggest doing public builds and demos very early in the project lifetime. This will give you both the opportunity to practice your marketing, serves as a great way to build a following, and (most importantly) improves the game.
2: No Physical Goods?
I did zero physical goods. That’s what everyone says to do right? Don’t over burden yourself with the work? But I wonder what one or two really good physical rewards priced effectively would do for a project. Let’s be honest, a digital game is great, but far from a stunning piece of memorabilia to show you backed a game. People want to support cool projects, but they also want something they can put on the shelf to show that support. I doubt this is a large factor, but I think done correctly, it could have an impact.
I did it! A Kickstarter!
But it was unsuccessful and more than a little painful.
Would I do it again?
The sad fact is it’s near impossible to get early funding to make a game. Kickstarter may not be what I want it to be, but is an option that anyone can try. The reality, especially for a garage devs, is that to really fight in that market you will have to be nearly done anyway.
I didn’t start this project to get rich, I started it to make a great game. The Kickstarter was just an attempt to get more funds and cover costs I can’t cover on my own. If you are considering Kickstarter, don’t look at it as funding your whole project. Instead I would urge any interested devs to look at it as an opportunity for growth. With the right approach you can still improve your game, even if you can’t fund every bell and whistle.
Time: July 14- August 14
Prep Time: May-July
Actual Costs (not including man hours): $360
- Video Editing Software: $80
- Greenlight Fee: $100
- Trailer Music: $150
- Voice Over: $30
- Advertising: $0