For over nine months, we at Warp Zoned have been doing our best to support crowdfunded game projects by promoting a small selection of them in our monthly Kickstart This! feature. We have trawled through a wide variety of game-related projects, including novels, films, and peripheral devices. While some ideas prove worthy with the public and receive the necessary donations, others have fallen short of their mark, unable to give shape and form to their ambitious plans. Although we celebrate the former, we feel there is more we could do to aid those who have been, or fear they will be, in the latter category. To that end, we thought it might be useful to potential Kickstarters, whether they be large companies or bedroom hobbyists, to provide some general pointers on the various aspects of a successful campaign, using examples from our past editions.
Kickstarter: An Overview
You have an idea, a dream born from the creative spirit waltzing inside your brain. Since you are reading Warp Zoned, let’s go ahead and assume it is game related. It does not have to be an actual video game, it could be a novel, a web-series, a companion app, an epic Tokyo-style arcade, or an entirely new console altogether. You want to make this dream of yours a reality. It’s your life’s mission… your sole purpose in the present moment!
Only you have no money.
Enter crowdfunding. In a nutshell, you ask people for money to fund your project, in exchange for “rewards.” There are various crowdfunding sites out there, and while Kickstarter is the most popular, it may not be right for you. Another site you may wish to consider is Indiegogo, which unlike Kickstarter pays out even if you do not meet your target (although you will pay a 9% fee on these donations, as opposed to 4% if you reach your specified goal, so I suggest aiming low). Rockethub is yet another option, and operates in a very similar way to Indiegogo.
In a perfect world, every project would receive their necessary budget. Spoiler alert – they don’t. Why are some great ideas passed over while some questionable projects thrive? Let’s have a look at some of the factors that make up a crowdfunding campaign.
If someone is going to give up their hard-earned cash to support your endeavour, it should inspire them, excite them, and do so immediately. In show business they call this instant attraction “the hook.” Before looking at the actual project page, which is where direct traffic will be sent, think about those casual donors who flick through Kickstarter, seeking something worthy of their spare change. If your browse the website just now, you will see rows and rows of game related projects. There are currently over 300, and all offer the same three key pieces of information to reel potential investors in. A title, a picture, and a summary paragraph roughly the size of a tweet.
Let’s start with the title. As with films, the title will normally be descriptive, expressing the story, themes or content of the game, such as Kahuna Surfer or Dungeon Wars. It could be something as simple as the name of the main character, as with Shovel Knight or Brave Bit. Maybe you want to try something something cool and mysterious, like Pray for Dark or A Small Favor. The flipside of that bitcoin is to make it unusual and quirky, like Super Bunny Insurrection or Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake. There is no right or wrong answer here, it is how you best think you can express what your game is (or isn’t) in a title. Personally I would avoid generic titles, such as Eternal Fate. Also, be wary of the marketplace; at the moment “zombie” games have been flogged to death, but then again, you might have a great title, like “Zombie Cauliflower,” which could catch someone’s eye.
Note: “Zombie Cauliflower” is not actually a game, just a random title I made up. Feel free to use it.
So you have your title, and now you need a thumbnail picture to accompany it and further underline not only the content and genre of the game, but also the mood. Let’s take
Distance for example. While the title suggests it may be a racer, the artwork defines it in our mind. A car racing on a road upside down, a futuristic city in the backdrop, a crack of blue energy. The game’s title in a clean sci-fi font reinforces what the picture immediately conveys; this is an exciting, futuristic racing game
Let’s look at unsuccessful example, Rack n Ruin, which featured in the August 2012 edition of Kickstart This! The initial image is the title merging into a half-destroyed planet, conjuring up thoughts of spacefaring or some sort of pool game involving planets as balls. It is in fact a top-down action-adventure game, with some incredible hand-drawn animation. It is a tragedy that Rack n Ruin only received half of the $30,000 goal set by creator Tyler Hunter. Was the choice of thumbnail entirely to blame? Of course not, but if you look down the Kickstarter page to “What is Rack n Ruin?” you will see a great image of the devilish main character Rack setting a gorgeously drawn planet alight with purple flames. That to me is the superior image and one that could have been used to promote the game; not only is it more aesthetically pleasing, but it also conveys a greater sense of what genre the game is in, and how it is played.
But what if you don’t have any artistic skills, and know as much about Photoshop as Scottish people know about sobriety? Top priority is to find someone that does, as you will need their help later on (in exchange for your eternal gratitude – see REWARDS below). Like films, games are very much a visual medium. In order to sell a project that only exists on paper to utter strangers (who may not even speak the same language as you), images offer a universal currency for ideas. It does not have to resemble the finished game, although if you have a strong idea about how the style and aesthetics of the game will appear, perhaps try and translate that into your artwork (or to your new BFF artist). One of the best examples of simple yet effective, almost infectious, artwork is Justin Baldwin’s Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake, which received nearly double the $15,000 in donations he was asking for. Not only does the project have eye-catching, colourful creature designs for the game itself, but Baldwin was able to adapt them into the Kickstarter page and reward merchandise.
Last but not least, we have the summary paragraph. While the title and thumbnail image may be enough to drive someone to the project page, the summary should persuade them to look. It could be a descriptive. For example, Refract Studios mention its previous racing hit Nitronic Rush in the summary for Distance. The summary for Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is given as “an environmental puzzle game, akin to nostalgic style puzzle games like The Legend of Zelda, for iOS and Desktop.” In four lines they have told us the genre, a game that it is like, and the platforms it is being developed for. A word of warning, do not liken your game to a popular, high selling game if the comparison will not hold up.
The summary could also come in the form of a question, enticing them in to find the answer. “Can one guinea pig survive when an army of bunny rabbits equipped with futuristic technology rain down upon him?” In the case of Super Bunny Insurrection, the answer was unfortunately no.
The Sales Pitch
Once someone has landed on your page, either through browsing, social networking (see NETWORKING below) or some stroke of fate, you have to sell your idea to them completely, and make them believe you need every nickel and dime of the big, bold goal on the right hand side of the screen. What tools can you utilise? As well as expanding on the words and art from the hook, you are now able to upload a video. In addition, many gaming projects include a link to a demo, so that players can see the potential first hand.
Before we delve into the nitty gritty, a cautious word on setting your goal. We are beginning to see a backlash against large scale projects set up by large companies that often ask for upwards of $500,000. The highest we have covered on Kickstart This! was Gas Powered Games’ Wildman. The studio was seeking $1.1 million, and to their credit managed to raise half that amount, just over $500,000, but ultimately chose to cancel the campaign. If you do believe that you require this level of funding, perhaps crowdfunding is not the way to go.