(this is an older article that I forgot to publish. tl;dr : Kickstarter was not successful, here are some tips what to look for if you want to run your own campaign)

 

Alright, I’m a bit late to the game, but it is tradition that after a Kickstarter, successful or not, one does  write a Post Mortem, so here is mine.

Unfortunately my own campaign falls into the “or not” category, so take what I write with a grain of salt.

Some stats:

Goal: £20.000 / Reached: £15.803 (79%)

# of backers: 600 / Average per backer: 26

Duration of the campaign: 30 days

Number of updates before end: 14 / Comments: ~1100

So, as you can see, I wasn’t that far away from actually hitting the target, and the campaign picked up quite a lot of steam towards the end, but it just wasn’t enough.

So, what went wrong?

It’s hard to tell really. The project went off to a good start and made it to nearly 20% of the target in the first 2 days, and people even went for the 3 highest tiers straight away.

A few things that were not optimal, e.g. the animations in the trailer video could have been better, I didn’t have much of the actual gameplay to show, and I didn’t manage to generate enough buzz outside of the adventure scene.

For the gameplay, I decided against releasing a demo straight from the beginning. While I think that a good demo can help a campaign getting funded, I think a mediocre one hurts more than it helps. And the one I would have released would have lacked in two main areas: Sound and animation. The main reason for doing the Kickstarter campaign was to secure funding for the areas that I lack the skills to do it myself, and these two areas are the major parts. And I felt that without sound, and even more so properly animated characters, a demo wouldn’t have convinced many people to back the game.

However, as other recent campaigns have shown, a demo doesn’t seem to have that much of an influence. Examples of games that failed although they had very good demos are Waldemar the Warlock and The Breakout. Last Life on the other hand was a roaring success without having a demo. In the end, I think even a good demo wouldn’t have had much of an impact in either direction.

Another point that proved to be very difficult was to get press coverage. Even adventure magazines aren’t that hot on giving coverage to Kickstarter campaigns any more, and much less so general gaming websites, especially bigger ones. I managed to get some coverage on RockPaperShotgun and Destructoid, but the rest of the bigger pages like Kotaku, IGN and so on ignored my press releases and emails. Indie game mags and horror blogs were more welcoming.

One huge disappointment was one of the largest Lovecraft websites who I was in contact with for nearly half a year already before the campaign. They interviewed me very early on in the campaign and promised to publish this interview in the second week of the campaign. That never happened, and although there was quite a lot of communication before, all of the sudden they just went radio silent and stopped responding to emails. I’m not 100% sure why, but shortly after they launched their own Kickstarter campaign, so my best guess is that they didn’t want to give publicity to other Lovecraft projects on Kickstarter in favour of their own. I can’t tell for sure of course, but I think that interview might have pushed the campaign over the line – alas, I will never know!

Anyway, it’s over now, so not much sense in being sour over things past.

I’m currently trying to secure other sources of funding, but should I decide to do a Kickstarter campaign again I will do a couple of things differently.

So, here is my advise for similar projects (i.e. smaller games, niche market, small team):

1. No physical rewards

When I started to finalise the campaign I didn’t have any physical rewards (DVD version, posters, T-Shirts etc) in it. I have analysed a lot (a hell lot) of other projects before launching my own, and one thing became evident quite soon was: Only a minority of backers actually want a physical version of a game, especially for smaller projects. I shared a preview of the KS page with quite a few people and asked for feedback, and one thing that many people told me was that at least a DVD version was extremely important.

For small teams and projects however these physical rewards can become a real problem: They eat money out of your budget, and you have no way of calculating up front how much that will be, because obviously you can tell how many backers will go for physical rewards.

A simplified example: Lets say your goal is $10.000, and you have 2 tiers, one purely digital for $10, and one with a DVD for $20. The DVD costs you $5 to produce and ship.

If all your backers go for the digital tier you have 1.000 backers at $10, and you can keep all the money (except from KS fees etc that you have to pay in any case).

If all your backers go for the physical tier you only need 500, however you will lose $2.500 that you have to pay for the DVDs. And you have to design a cover, and find a manufacturer, and make sure the DVD works on all targeted platforms, you need to do package and ship 500 DVDs … doesn’t sound too appealing to me. Another huge issue is shipping costs: Kickstarter only allows you one flat fee for all countries outside your own, and, even worse, these shipping costs count towards your goal. So, either you go for high shipping costs and risk putting off potential backers, or you keep them low and risk having to pay on top of every parcel you send – both not very desirable.

There is a chance that some people would only back if there is a physical version of the game, but from what I have seen on many other projects most people go for the digital rewards anyway, I am pretty confident that you won’t lose many backers because of that.

So, my advice for small teams with low budgets would be: Get rid of all physical rewards, and if you really think you need them, make them available as addons or stretch goals after you have reached you actual goal (i.e. the money that you need to actually create the game).

2. Don’t rely on social media alone

I’ve invested a lot of time upfront building up a following on Twitter and Facebook, and when I launched the campaign I had around 700 followers on Twitter and 950 followers on the Facebook page. I never got in the hang of using Twitter much, but I was really confident that the FB followers would bring in a good chunk of backers. That, however, turned out to be a wrong assumption. According to my Kickstarter stats Facebook brought in a total of £700 of the £16k, and that includes people who came in via my own FB page and all other posts on Facebook, including my repeated posts on several Lovecraft pages and quite a lot of coverage on various gaming and horror FB pages.

I was assuming to get quite a high conversion rate from the people who liked the FB page and continued to like and comment all the updates I posted during the year before I launched the campaign, however  that didn’t quite work out. On the other hand I have seen similar campaigns succeeding that had just launched their FB pages together with the Kickstarter campaign and had barely any followers there.

3. If you can, use Kickstarter

Even if my own campaign was not successful, I would use Kickstarter again if I chose to give it a second try.

I usually tend to root for the underdog, however looking at other platforms, especially Indigogo, it has become obvious that they don’t work work games in this sector. There are a few ones that were successful of course, but the majority of  campaigns I’ve seen there lately have failed miserably although the games looked really good – seems like people have decided to stick with one platform, and that is Kickstarter (at least for now). Also, from what I’ve heard from people who ran campaigns on Indiegogo it’s riddled with bugs and very unpleasant to use.

4. If you can, run your campaign in US $

It seems that projects that run in $ rather than in £ do significantly better, especially as Kickstarter in the US allows for more ways of payment compared to Kickstarter UK.

5. Try to network as much as possible

Cross-promotions with similar projects can bring in quite a few backers, also don’t be shy to contact projects that are already finished if they are similar to yours – people are constantly updating their projects and most of them are happy to mention currently running campaigns in their backer updates – never forget to return the favour of course!

 

What next?

 

I’m still working on the game, and am currently porting it over to a new engine, Unity3d. The main change will be that I move from pure 2d to 2.5d with realtime 3d characters.

As far as financing goes, I’m in contact with a few interested publishers and will also not rule out another KS campaign.

More on that soon(ish)!

 

4 Responses so far.

  1. Concha says:

    I was hoping to hear from this project again. I am glad to know you are still working on it. Thank you for taking the time to write down all these tips. I am sure they will help someone who is about to start a KS campaign. (I will pass it on to some friends!)

  2. thomas says:

    Hi Concha,

    thanks! Yes, I won’t give up that easily :-) Hope I can show some new material soon!

  3. BSPapercraft says:

    I took part myself of a crowdfunding campaign (not kickstarter but a french crowdfunding platform named “ulule”) to fund a film/ documentary project (smaller than your Dagon project) with a friend.
    Your post was very interesting ! I hope you’ll find a publisher, Order of Dagon is promising ;-)

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