So, as you may be aware, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming space trading game Drifter a little over a week ago and it’s gone quite well indeed. As of the writing of this post, it’s nearly 70% of the way to its $50,000 goal, and while it’s not over yet, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will meet that goal by the end of the campaign. Even so, a few people have expressed some surprise about the campaign’s performance, and with only 45% of all campaigns succeeding and just 25% of video game campaigns meeting their goals, who would blame them? To be honest, I wasn’t even sure how well it was going to do! Pleasantly surprising performance aside, I must admit this is something I’ve been planning to do since late last year, and a lot of thought and preparation has gone into it which is why I’d like to share some of those thoughts here.
Kickstarter is no new thing, having been around now since 2008, and it’s been used to successfully fund thousands of different projects from movies, to iPhone tripod mounts, to video and board games. However in the video game world Kickstarter really only started to get noticed in a serious way after Tim Schafer launched Double Fine Adventure in February of this year which amazed everyone by raising over 3.3 million dollars. There have been a lot of stories written about the how’s and the why’s of the project’s success, with people wondering aloud whether or not it was the end of traditional publishing, simply a passing fad, or something completely different. While I don’t think traditional methods of funding are in any danger I do think using the power of the internet to fund projects that may not have been funded before is a bit of a game changer. That said, I realized early on that in order to succeed I’d need some things that almost all successful projects have in common: giving people something they want and credibility.
Give Them What They Want
The part of giving people something they want is kind of nebulous, but basically I mean providing something unique or interesting that wouldn’t otherwise have happened without Kickstarter. Again some good recent examples are Double Fine Adventure making a game in an under-served niche with a lot of demand, or the Pebble Watch making something amazing that didn’t really exist up until now.
Also having interesting backer rewards can go a long way to building excitement. Certainly a copy of whatever it is your backers are helping you make is a no-brainer but think beyond that to physical rewards like posters, shirts, 3D printed models and other exclusive items that wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter. People like cool stuff. Just remember to budget for the cost of producing and shipping your rewards before setting your goal otherwise you might not end up with as much money as you had hoped for in the end.
Credibility Goes a Long Way
What do I mean by credibility? I mean, basically, anything and everything that will answer the question that every potential backer is going to have on their mind (or should, anyway) when they look at your project: “Why should I trust this project with my hard-earned money?” Luckily there are a number of ways to answer this question that will help convince people to pitch in and make your dream a reality. The unfortunate downside is a lot of these answers are not easy ones and getting money through Kickstarter is not as simple as just throwing something up and waiting for the money to pour in.
There are quite a few good ways to answer this question to the satisfaction of your backers, and while you yourself may not be able to provide all of them, as long as you can capably address enough of them it will help immensely in gathering support for your endeavor. Here are a few that I’ve been able to identify and work with:
Have a proven track record – This is one of the big reasons Double Fine Adventure did as well as it did. Here you had a company who had a lot of experience in creating great games and two of the biggest names in graphical adventure games, Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert, providing something that a lot of people really wanted. Obviously not everyone is Tim Schafer, but having provable previous experience and success is invaluable. In my own case I had already shown with my previous game Red Nova that I was capable of releasing a good game. Also while I would recommend against leaning too heavily on someone else’s credibility, especially if they’re not going to be responsible for the final project, I’m sure that having Danny Baranowsky attached to the project has helped a lot.
Have something to show – A lot of projects seem to be in the concept stage, and while that’s fine if you’ve got other factors working in your favor, it can be a huge help if you have a prototype or something in progress so you can show people that they’re not just backing an idea, but something that exists and will eventually turn into the final product. It’s a common aphorism in the start-up world that ideas are all but worthless, and execution is the hard but invaluable part proving to investors your ideas have merit and it’s honestly no different with Kickstarter. I think this really helped with projects like The Glif and FTL, where they had prototypes they could show how they worked and get people excited that way. As well, in my own case, having 8 months of work already put into Drifter I was able to give people a more definitive idea of what they were putting their money into.
Have a good reason for why you need the money - Being able to give a good reason why you need financial assistance to complete your project can help as well. People like to feel that they’re helping make something possible that may not have been before without their help. If your campaign comes off as a blatant cash grab, people will see through it and you’ll have a tough or impossible time getting funding. Kickstarter may seem like free money, but it isn’t!
Have a clear plan and be reasonable – Outline what you’re going to do with the money if you get fully funded. Be cautious of asking for too much or too little, because some people will question whether or not you’re being realistic about your goals. I’ve seen a few projects ask for huge amounts of money in the wake of Double Fine’s windfall not realizing that they themselves had originally asked for a “mere” $400,000, which up until a few months ago, was an immense amount of money for a video game project on Kickstarter.
Get people excited before Kickstarter – Having people who are already excited about your project before you even touch or think about Kickstarter is probably a good idea. This should be happening regardless, but I figured I’d just point it out here because not having support when launching a project could doom it to failure. Having people who like what you’re doing and believe in you and your project are worth more than any financial support you could ever raise.
Put thought into your rewards – This is somewhat keeping in line with the concept of having something to show for your work, but what I mean is you should actually take some time to think about what rewards you’re offering. Try and make them unique and desirable. For example a lot of projects offer posters, but I felt I needed to go above and beyond which is why I sought out a professional illustrator (in this case Steve Courtney) to create something truly special. Also producing physical prototypes of the rewards, while potentially costly, can help because people like being able to see what they’re getting in return. And of course, if you can, try and have some rewards that involve your backers in the project somehow.
Be sincere – While I’m sure there have been projects that have been launched for all the wrong reasons, and may have yet succeeded, I feel strongly that because you’re basically asking people for money before any product exists it will most certainly help to be sincere about what you’re doing. People can smell BS from a mile away so you might as well not have any around to begin with.
That said, I think certain aspects mean a lot more than the others, and having a really strong showing in some of them can completely make up for not having anything meaningful elsewhere, but remember, chances are you are not Tim Schafer or Brian Fargo, and you probably aren’t making something completely groundbreaking or re-making a cherished property from years gone by, so work hard, be humble and give people a whole lot of reasons why you’re deserving of their hard-earned money.