For indie developers, Kickstarter is an unparalleled fundraising platform, bypassing the need for traditional venture capitalists or big-label publishers. But even so, 56% of all projects fail, and many more which reach their goal fall short of achieving their full potential...
Figure 1: Don't be this guy.
Great Projects Still Fail
It's not enough to have the perfect game. No matter how stunning your visuals or how compelling your gameplay, if you don't nail down the Kickstarter fundamentals and sell your passion and vision, you won't engage potential backers.
Figure 2. Just give me the all-digital soundtrack and hang your veiled promises of unlimited wealth.
Not All Best Practices are Created Equal
Everyone knows the basics: have a video; give regular updates; set a small goal; and keep your campaign short. But, what sets apart the most successful, 200%- to 400%-funded campaigns from the ones which just squeak by, or, more likely, die in obscurity?
Figure 3. ...nor do they dump wheelbarrows of cash into an awkwardly constructed fail-pit.
1) Develop Your Community FIRST
As indie developers, who are less likely to have widespread name or brand recognition (and may have difficulty obtaining press coverage at all), it's crucial to have an established, motivated community base before your campaign. Once you launch, you have 30 days to gain or maintain momentum, but you have to start off strong in order to inspire confidence in future backers (shorter campaigns tend to be more successful).
Figure 4. Somehow I was hoping there'd be more of us.
Construct 2's own Super Ubi Land earned 20% of its $5,000 goal on day one, from 17% of its eventual total backers. By day five Ubi reached 55% of its goal, virtually assuring success: 99% of projects which reach 60% funding ultimately succeed. While your fellow Scirra members can't be taken for granted, being a respected, engaged community member is a great way to build a following.
Many successful projects use independent web pages and social media to generate interest during the development cycle leading up to the campaign itself. These communities become your most ardent ambassadors and can exponentially expand your reach.
2) Respect Others' Communities
You need to gain exposure to succeed, but there are only a few things which will earn you deeper scorn than blundering into a Gamespot forum and cross-posting commercial spam. Forum regulars are going to hate you, your fans, and your product when 30 people with zero to four posts and account creation dates of yesterday show up and start shouting fanboy admiration.
Figure 5. ... everyone else will be less hospitable.
Be respectful. There's a legitimate place for promoting your project, but it takes the right approach, and you want to productively add to the communities you reach, not violate what they feel to be their orderly sanctuary with commercialism.
Start a Developer's Blog
Start your blog well in advance of your KS campaign on your own site (remember, KS is one of the LAST steps in your indie development process), and provide periodic, substantive updates about the game on the forums with links back to your site. Share pictures of the game in progress, the models your artists are using, progress on the storyline, etc. The key is to provide meaningful content all along, until announcing your upcoming KS campaign is just a natural extension of your work.
Train Your Fans to be Ambassadors
If your fans want to post comments, think carefully about giving them some basic guidance. First, if they aren't established members of the community, they probably shouldn't post at all, or only sparingly. Second, for those who do, they should remember that less is more, they should post only in the most appropriate areas of the forum (like your Dev Blog!), and only post useful and insightful commentary on the game and project, with links to additional content.
3) Prepare for the Blindside
It might not happen to you, but if it does, it could cost you thousands of dollars and turn success into failure.
One thing project creators don't plan for: highly motivated and panicky people searching for evidence that your project misrepresents the smallest claim or doesn't live up to their expectations. (See the following section for three of the biggest pitfalls.)
Once offended, without even attempting to contact you, they will begin spamming your comments, your discussion board and the whole of the interwebs with the gospel of your anti-consumerist betrayal.
Figure 7. THERE WILL BE NO SURVIVORS.
How do You React?
Will the rest of your backers sense even the slightest lack of confidence, control, authority, organization, sincerity, or even-temperedness in your response? You're the captain of your ship, and as you go, so goes the campaign. Don't panic! You can make things right by thinking carefully about the nature of the complaints and addressing the true fears and concerns behind them in a firm but gentle manner.
Figure 6. Everything ends badly on the internet.
Treat Your Backers with Respect
Begin putting together an update immediately, and address the issue(s) directly. If they feel that you have misrepresented your need for funding, be explicit about your budget, where your money is coming from, and exactly how it will be used. Never lie, always give more information than you think you need to, and respond to every individual backer who contacts you, thanking them for their support and passion for the project.
4) The Unholy Trinity: DRM, DLC, and Exclusive Content
Nothing will derail your campaign and trigger a blindside (per above) faster than hints of Digital Rights Management (DRM), Downloadable Content (DLC) add-ons, or expanded game content available only to certain tiers of backers. When people partner with you to create your game, they want good faith, trust in them that matches the trust they've given you, and they want ownership.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)
While most game makers understand that PC gamers (the majority of KS backers) don't want DRM blocking their freedom to use their software when, where, and how they want, many backers detest even Steamworks' initial authentication, and for these backers , nothing other than a standalone download which is theirs for all time can be considered truly DRM-free. As creator, you can choose your content delivery system, but you must be perfectly clear what that is and how or if you attempt to manage your players' use of the software.
Figure 8. ...and so, Calrissian, we've interlinked the continuous server authentication back to Coruscant with the station's emergency self-destruct. You know, for security.
Downloadable Content (DLC)
Backers will also be alert for any signs that you've placed your profit-motive ahead of your passion to deliver the best, most complete game you can. While most fans might be delighted six months after publication to see that you've released an add-on campaign or expansion pack, if you release DLC at the same time as the game or shortly thereafter, they're going to assess that you cut off part of the core game so you could sell it for an extra $20, thereby delivering an incomplete game and underhandedly increasing the product's ultimate cost.
Be extremely careful what you offer as exclusive content to backers. Typically, anything which constitutes or affects gameplay is off-limits. While offering the soundtrack, a place in the credits, physical souvenirs, beta test access, etc. in different reward tiers are all quite common and reasonable, never create "more-" and "less-complete" versions of your game. When it comes to the game itself, all of your backers want to know they are getting the best, most complete experience you can give them.
5) Plan Your Reward Structure
Well-balanced reward tiers cover your expenses and incentivize large pledges, while giving your backers the feeling they got more than their money's worth. Handling your expenses can be tricky: you need to ensure that you aren't offering more in rewards than your backers are pledging, which means carefully calculating production, labor, postage, and even tax implications like VAT, where applicable.
Your greatest efficiency will be in all-digital rewards, but physical goods can be a powerful way for some backers to personally connect with your project. The one reward you absolutely cannot do without is a discounted copy of the final product, closely followed by the game's soundtrack (assuming the music is an integral part of the experience).
Figure 9. Well there went the art budget.
Price your reward tiers so that backers with a range of budgets can all meaningfully participate. Just having a reward tier below $20 can increase your chance of success by over 50%! But at each step, make sure that the reward feels generous relative to the pledge. Ensuring each tier is valuable on its own, distribute the rewards so that there's always a reason to stretch one's pledge just a little more.
Avoid "dead zones" wherein a lesser tier is stacked with goodies and the next higher tier is uninspiring. Even if you succeed, you'll have lost any number of pledges and upgrades which might have helped you make an even better game, and it could well be the difference between being funded or not.
Make sure to carefully talk out your reward structure with keen friends, family, and potential backers: while you'll have some room to add tiers during your campaign, you can't change one once someone's pledged on it.
Developing your community, respecting the communities you reach out to, reacting to unexpected conflict with poise and grace, avoiding the DRM/DLC/Exclusive-Content pitfalls, and carefully planning your reward structure will put you well ahead of the average campaign, and on the road to making your project a reality.
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