The great thing about being an independent developer is that we get to make the games that we really want to make. The downside is that we might also have less money that we would ideally want to invest in the big projects that we’re passionate about. Like many other game developers, we looked towards Kickstarter at the beginning of this year to raise money for our new project Earthcore: Shattered Elements. Naturally, we wanted to raise money to fund the title’s development, but we also saw Kickstarter as a way to help create some buzz and involve gamers in the creative process as we went along.
Not having any prior experience with Kickstarter, we spent over a month preparing the campaign which in itself became incredibly time-intensive and had a significant impact on our production schedule. As with anything in life, things don’t always turn out as planned which is why we decided to pull the project from Kickstarter not long after launch. Still, we learnt some valuable lessons and here are our 5 key takeaways from the process that’ll hopefully be valuable for other developers.
1. Don’t start on Kickstarter
If you’re not Tim Schafer or Brian Fargo, you’ll have to do without the support of fans and a devoted community. Chances are that your idea will most likely sink in the ocean of other campaigns. That’s why, long before you launch on Kickstarter, you need to create a website, build a Facebook community, shout on Twitter, comment on forums and blogs (or even write one yourself) and start spreading the word about your project. Capture people’s interest and get them to buy into your vision. You’ll be able to count on their active support later on, and you’ll have a community of people to ask for advice.
2. Prepare your campaign - show the game in action!
It takes a LOT of time to prepare your campaign page, fill it with detailed descriptions of the product, team bios, and some custom-made graphics. Most importantly, you need a really impactful opening video, showing not only people talking about the game, but the actual gameplay itself. Gameplay is absolutely key. Start by showing it and continue showing it throughout the whole campaign even if you have to show everything you have at this point of development. CGI and nice artwork might help create a good overall impression but gamers/backers/investors really just want to see what they’ll be getting for their money.
3. Plan three steps ahead
Kickstarter campaigns don’t end at the launch. They need constant support and updates with new details about your game. That’s why you should prepare a proper plan for the whole campaign, even if it’ll only consist of talking points. We learnt the hard way that it’s better to prepare a lot of marketing assets before the launch because once the campaign is up and running, there’s often not enough time to make new ones.
4. Being on Kickstarter isn’t really news
Again, if you’re not Tim Schafer or Peter Molyneux, don’t assume that media will write about the fact you’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign. With the sheer number of games now launching on the platform, it’s just not news any more. You need to reach the media with something special that nobody else has, which can be anything from your company pedigree to a unique gameplay feature or the overall graphical design. Let them write about your ideas or show the game in action (playable demos for media are always useful) and if they like it, they’ll mention your Kickstarter anyway.
5. Don’t be discouraged by failure - it can be a new beginning
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all the money you wanted because money isn’t the main problem when you really believe in your game and stay determined to finish it against all odds. Not long into our own campaign we decided to cancel our Kickstarter project and go back to the drawing board with the feedback and new ideas we’d received from people who had supported us.
Thanks to our backers we’ve seen our dream project from a new perspective and because we were too close to the project there’s also a lot of new ideas that have been pointed out to us from people outside the company. This was largely thanks to user feedback and the fact that we sought external help from some very experienced boardgame designers whose expertise was key to us introducing several completely new game mechanics. One example of this is Card Crafting that will allow players to create 500,000 unique cards and use them in battle, something that no other collectible card game ever tried until now.
It’s now been a few months since our Kickstarter campaign and we’re still a couple of months before the game’s final release. We’ve used the time to take Earthcore CCG to a completely new level of quality both in terms of gameplay and graphics which has required expanding our team to over 40 people working in-house and freelance.
Right now we’re working on refining our Card Crafting and balancing the possibilities it gives to players which requires a very different approach from a game that has a very known quantity of a few hundred cards. We’ve also invested a lot more time and resources in developing the game world, its lore and the story that runs through all of the books of the single player campaign.
At the same time our graphic designers are working on perfecting the art style of Earthcore. We’ve decided to go for minimalistic and stylish backgrounds for the card battles in order to let the high quality artwork on the individual cards and the easy-to-read iconography of the skills on the cards speak for themselves. We’ve spent a huge amount of time on the card artwork, creating it in-house as well as outsourcing to very talented freelance artists with prior experience in painting for tabletop and digital card games. When one compares how Earthcore looked in February and how it looks now one can really see the difference and how much we managed to achieve, both in the small details as well as the quality of the art and animated visual effects.
In retrospect we certainly don’t regret going on Kickstarter. Maybe we didn’t get the money from it (we managed to find additional funding anyway) but the way that the campaign played was key in shaping how Earthcore: Shattered Elements card game now looks and plays. Thanks to that experience we’ll be able to offer players a vastly improved product with some really unique features and we look forward to sharing the game with the community in early 2015.
Finally, we intend to launch a beta testing campaign very soon, so send an email to: [email protected] if you want to take part!
To learn more about Earthcore: Shattered Elements visit www.earthcoregame.com