Nearly two years ago, I augmented my regular Kickstart This! column with a guide for prospective campaign creators called “How To Get More Coin For Your Game.” Since then, there has been an explosion in games funded via crowdfunding platforms. There have been highs and lows, ups and downs, and despite a recent decline in donations, it is apparent that crowdfunding is here to stay as an alternative way of independent financing.
Yet whenever I browse those vying for my coins, gold rings, or rupees, I am often disheartened by how many of these projects appear to have been cobbled together in a Katamari-like rush, with strips of duct tape covering over the cracks. Finding projects I feel passionately enough about to fund has gone from an exciting trek of discovery to an aimless slog through a myriad of garbage bags and run-down half-way houses. Wander too far and you will get lost among people trying to fund their own lifestyles rather than a game project to be enjoyed by the masses.
Kickstarter, by the nature of its funding model, manages to dissuade those attempting to fund the purchase of a new PS4 or an upgrade to their YouTube Channel, which are found on other platforms such as Indiegogo. Both of these examples were lazily set up, with the Indiegogo placeholder descriptions left in place rather than writing their own. The world is saturated with gaming channels on YouTube and Twitch, bedroom podcasts, and one-man gaming blogs, so if you do need money to fund these endeavours, it is going to be a hard sell, even more so if you are asking for someone to simply buy you a PC, turning a crowdfunding platform into a crowded begging centre.
Yet, at their core, all of these people want to celebrate games, and the more games that are funded through crowdfunding, the more independent voices there are to counter the stale sequelitis being spewed by EA, Ubisoft, Activision and their ilk, the better.
So, armed with a stern brow and steadfast determination, I have revisited my original guide to bash it into a slightly different shape, remoulding it with some blunt advice for anyone looking to run a successful campaign. Follow this, and your project will stand a better chance of reaching its funding goal.
I cannot stress how important a title is. It sells your project. A great title will immediately inform potential backers of the storyline, genre, main character, or all three. For example, This Is The Police and Universim both offer an immediate insight into what types of games they are. There are many exceptions to this rule. Some go for weird and wonderful titles that delight and intrigue or draw us in through mystery. The Long Dark, That Dragon, Cancer, and Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake are very different titles but have a hook that entices potential donors to read more.
There has been a growing trend towards using the title as a generic description, such as The 100% Realistic FPS Game, I Will Create A Version Of Your Game In Addition To My Game, and The Start Of A New Genre Of Games. The sheer lack of thought and generic malaise immediately turns people off. Sell your project by giving it a name people want to roll around their tongue because it sounds cool and almost poetic, like Hyper Light Drifter, The Banner Saga, or The Flame in The Flood.
The description can be a fine balancing act between comparison and originality. Potential backers want games similar that are similar to what they have played before, but they also want something new and fresh. The description likewise should offer two key bits of information: what games is it like, and at the same time, what makes it different from those games? Here is the description of Bedlam by Skyshine Games.
“A post-apocalyptic roguelike RPG featuring our unique blitz battle system – Inspired by great games like The Banner Saga, FTL and XCOM.”
This is a great description that includes genre, setting, gameplay, what makes it unique, and comparisons to other games. Even better, two of the other games are also projects that found success on Kickstarter, brilliantly targeting the audience. However, that does not mean you should compare your game to another successful Kickstarter project unless it is relevant. It is better to be original than stand in the shadow of another game. You can also use humour, but only if you are funny (if you have to ask, you’re probably not). Try writing the campaign in the voice of a character to offer a deeper connection to the potential players.
A third key piece of information that so many campaigns leave out is what platform the game will be available for. I prefer console gaming to PC gaming, but the vast majority of projects on Kickstarter are aimed at Windows, Mac, or even Linux. As a result, many developers assume that donors all have Steam accounts, without actually informing their audience of what formats the game is being geared towards. I have seen numerous campaigns where the format has not been revealed until someone has used the “Ask A Question” feature. Think of how many people glanced over a project and moved on because they didn’t know if it played on their system of choice.
If someone loves your project enough to watch your video, then you are halfway there. Launching a project without a video to watch is not recommended, as it immediately sets alarm bells ringing. A good video adds an extra layer of trust between the campaign creators and those funding it. Trust is very important in crowdfunding these days, when even industry veterans are failing to make good on successful campaigns. The way to do this is to make a video that offers an identity for both the game and the developers. You do not have to physically appear on camera, but your presence should be very much apparent, even if it is solely game footage being used in the video. If you are going to rely on 100% game footage, make sure it is as good as it can be, and illustrates the best of the game.
In this day and age, making a high quality video is quick and easy. If you are filming live action, many phones and webcams film in HD quality, but if you have access to a DSLR or even a proper film camera, utilise it. Use a tripod and make sure there is a lot of light; videos filmed in bedrooms often look dark and obscured, which is not a very professional image to broadcast to the world.
As many filmmakers will tell you, sound is actually the key. Record in a quiet room with a decent microphone; speak clearly and with confidence. Sell your project with the passion that has driven you to make it. If you don’t, you could end up with speech that echoes or is unintelligible, like Andrew Thatcher in his video for Bad Ass Babes.
Obviously, if you have any game concepts, alpha builds, or demos, then put these in the video too. If you have no music, try and find some to use for free; there is plenty out there that you can use via a Creative Commons License. If you have a composer on board, have them write a piece of music specifically for the trailer. Try and make it fit the genre of the game, making it exciting. And remember: humour can be helpful!
One of my favourite Kickstarter videos was for a project called Knite and the Ghost Lights. Full disclosure: I backed this project. My decision to do so was based almost completely on the video, which shows how the developers actually made the characters using claymation techniques.”. Over this is a voice-over by game producer Jon Williams, whose silky words explain the concept, story, and plans for the game.
5. Section Headers
Many campaigns will simply use bolded text for their headers, which is more than adequate, but to really make your campaign stand out, why not use images or even animated GIFs? Whatever you choose, make sure they are linked to the central theme or imagery of the game. This Is The Police used police tape, while Orion Trail was underscored by some great pixelated GIFs featuring space monsters from the game.
I love animated GIF headers, especially for any project relating to film, games, or technology. Some may argue that these don’t matter, but I would say that these small details add a sense of polish and refinement to a project, and people are more likely to spend their money if the developers have taken the time to make every aspect of the campaign outstanding.
Many campaigns have high reward tiers that are limited to a small number, but a growing trend in the last year has been to offer early bird prices on the lower reward tiers, especially those that offer the game. People love a bargain, so if you can offer the game at a discount of say $5 to 500 people, make an early bird reward and watch the donations roll in. I would advise against doing this for every single tier, as it may become overly confusing.
One reward type that irks me a little is usually found in the upper echelons of the donation tree, such as the meet and greet, the day at the developers. The VIP party attendance. There are two reasons they really annoy me. The first is that donors are often left to stump up for travel and accommodation, which is tied to my second reason. They are massively overpriced. If someone pays to be included in the ultimate or penultimate reward tier, then that’s a lot of money already, and depending on where they are, they may end up paying twice.
I’m not suggesting that these rewards be tossed out, nor am I suggesting a developer in London pay for a return flight from Australia just for someone to hang out. Rather, I would suggest that they be reworked. A visit to a developer’s office is exciting, but given how long a game takes to bring to life, they could offer more of these visits at a lower price, because it is essentially something they can do for free. Yes, the person will still have to fork out for travel, but they won’t have spent the equivalent on the project if it’s a lower price. That means the developer can make more available and more people might choose that reward.
Launching a campaign is like giving birth; once you have pushed that painful ball of creativity out of your metaphorical womb into the world , your work has only just began. Many projects choose to deliver updates in a number of ways; some use emails, others use a mix of media such as pictures and video, and some offer very little. Do not be the last. If you are launching a 30-day campaign, make sure you have an hour of every day following the launch to post updates, answer questions, and engage with donors.
Even after the project has been successfully funded, updates are an important part of selling your game beyond those who have donated money. This is your base, so use it to spread the word and get people talking. Consider the negative publicity that has been directed at Peter Molyneux over the development (or lack thereof) of Godus. Not only had many of the rewards not been delivered on time, but one backer who was meant to receive personal updates has largely been ignored.
As I was one of the backers of Knite and the Ghost Lights, I have been privy to the project’s updates. Even when there were setbacks, the developers at Mobot Studios made backers aware. They even started working on a smaller game they could release while development continues on the main game.
8. Social Media
So how else can you engage with potential customers and fans? Social media, a term many people bat around when all they mean is Facebook or Twitter. These two are definitely the biggest platforms, and a lot of work should be done to these profiles before launching the campaign. Create profile photos and headings with your game’s brand and identity, to give it a better sense of character beyond Kickstarter.
With Twitter, try and garner a lot of followers before launching. There are a number of people who manage Twitter accounts that revolve around the crowdfunding industry, and many offer retweets (RTs). There is another industry that promises you followers and RTs if you pay them. It is up to you whether you employ these services, but personally, I abhor them. My followers have been hard won through interaction and engagement, and as a result they are more likely to RT and favourite posts. However, according to an in-depth analysis by The Atlantic, Twitter works best as an engagement platform. It does not drive traffic to your website or a Kickstarter campaign, at least not directly. This is where Facebook proves to be better, so try and spread the campaign on through status updates galore.
Beyond these platforms, try and spread your project message far and wide. Join crowdfunding groups on Google Plus, or start a Hangout. Post artwork on Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr. Post any video updates on YouTube and Vimeo. Start conversations or host an AMA on Reddit. Update your LinkedIn profile and let those in the industry know that you are launching a project. Just get the word out however you can!
Gaming journalists, whether they work for big companies or run independent blogs, are hungry for new stories and new games. Developers can get ahead of the game by sending out a press release at least a month beforehand, inviting people for interviews and to try demos.
Personally, I’m not a fan of press releases, and as a blogger/journalist I’m more likely to respond if someone has written to me and asked me to do a feature or interview. It’s the personal touch, and I doubt I am the only journalistwho feels individual emails are far more engaging than a blanket release. If approaching journalists (as many offer their email addresses on articles they write), try and identify with them. Have they reviewed a game similar to yours? Or do they cover crowdfunded games often?
10. Do Not Give Up
This is perhaps more for my benefit than yours. Let me explain: I write a weekly Kickstart This! article highlighting three or four Kickstarter projects that I think are awesome. They are then passed to our lovely editors, John Scalzo and Nicole Kline, who take the rushed jumble of sentences that I have scribbled down and forge them into something comprehensible with their mastery of grammar and punctuation. Depending on how busy we all are, this can sometimes take a week, during which time at least one of the Kickstarter projects will have been cancelled. It is mildly frustrating, and all I have invested is half an hour of my writing time. Imagine if you have invested a huge chunk of change. You would be more than a bit miffed that the game developer hasn’t stayed the course.
There are many statistics that claim that a Kickstarter campaign is made in the first week, and that every week after sees diminishing returns. I imagine this is by and large the reason that many projects are cancelled by the developers after 10 days or so. Should they ever come to re-launch a campaign, is it more likely that those who donated the first time, only to have been spurned, will do so again? Let me put it another way: if a project continues to the bitter end and fails, only to rise from the ashes further down the line, will those who initially backed the project also return, lifted by the sheer determination of the developers? I would like to think so, because at the end of the day, people love an underdog.
Finally, Remember to Pre-Launch Your Campaign
Kickstarter has a great feature that allows you to send your campaign to people as a preview before it has launched, allowing you to get creative feedback. Send it to as many people as you can, and make sure everything works, every reward is correct, and that there are no spelling errors or grammatical hiccups.
And then launch your project on the waiting world, and watch as the donations pour in.
It has been a pleasure to revisit my Kickstart This! guide, and I hope many of you find the information and examples helpful in shaping your campaign. Good luck with any future creative endeavours, and if you want your game campaign featured in our weekly Kickstart This! feature, drop me an email (andrew AT warpzoned DOT com).