Coming back from an unsuccessful Kickstarter: Reflex Arena case study
We are Turbo Pixel, the Australian developers behind Reflex Arena, the competitive arena FPS that combines modern tech with the speed, precision, and freedom of a 90s shooter. For those that have sunk countless hours into the Quake or Unreal series, Reflex is a fresh return to the old school shooter feel.
Back in 2014, we launched on Kickstarter - and colossally failed!
For us, it was just the beginning and not the end. We successfully continued development, opened up to a beta community with Early Access, and just launched our full release on Steam. Here are some of the commonly asked questions we get asked from fellow ‘potential Kickstartees’, or others considering crowdfunding.
Was it hard to prepare for the Kickstarter?
Kickstarter campaigns are a huge amount of work, and we definitely underestimated how much time and effort it required, which were hours often taken away from development time.
These are just a few of the things required (at a bare minimum) if you do try Kickstarter:
Getting the project to a presentable state showing a wide range of content and features. Having a demo or beta available helps HUGELY with engagement and validation.
The videos and editing - these are important!
The pre-outreach to get people to prepare for it to start, so backers can hit the ground running on day one.
The need to have updates for an entire month's worth pre-prepared as much as possible.
Making sure someone can be available 24/7 to respond to all the comments and questions coming in across all social media avenues, as well as the Kickstarter page.
In short, yes, it’s VERY hard to prepare well for a Kickstarter. Make sure you give yourself a LOT of time in advance to prepare for a Kickstarter launch, if you go down that route.
What did you wish you knew before trying Kickstarter?
We wish we had known that people really get sold on the final polish and look of a product. More backers would have been convinced if we could show more clearly what our graphics and gameplay moments could look like. It is also important to sell yourself - not just the game! Your backers want to buy into your dreams and story, and we should have been more open with our small team, ‘underdog backstory’. People need to connect personally with the developers, and we didn’t have enough of that throughout our campaign.
So what happened when you launched the ‘doomed’ Kickstarter? What was the response like?
We enjoyed a great initial response, with lots of excitement and buzz with news coverage. Unfortunately, this quickly dropped off though as more and more people were wanting a playable demo to actually get their hands on the game. Our player type (competitive) really needed a better demo experience to believe in the dream. This is when we started to realise that Kickstarter was more like a ‘Kickfinisher’, and wasn’t a good fit for us.
What did you do once the team accepted the Kickstarter wasn’t working?
It was tough. We gathered ourselves together, and found a way ahead to channel all our effort into applying for Greenlight on Steam, to be able to go on Steam Early Access. This approach of opening up to a beta community who were willing to buy an Early Access ‘pass’ instead of just backing a Kickstarter was a much better model for us. We were able to continue development, and launched a stable, releasable Steam Early Access build as soon as possible.
While it had been a disappointment, we came out of Kickstarter highly motivated to get an actual playable demo in everyone's hands ASAP. Development speed actually increased again, as we didn’t have to constantly drip feed the Kickstarter campaign with content to keep momentum - our efforts could once again be focussed on the actual game.
Were you able to use any of your contacts, backer community or any benefits from the failed Kickstarter?
The main advantage was we had huge in-principle interest in our product, and our game was Greenlit in the space of a week or two. Our failed Kickstarter backers were all notified in an update as we made the transition to Steam, and they all immediately purchased copies on Steam Early Access - a really great way to use their engagement so our connection did not go to waste.
What is your advice for others considering using Kickstarter?
Please create a video with high production value, essentially showing a finished product - or a vertical slice of what the finished experience will feel like.
Treat it as a ‘Kickfinisher’ not a Kickstarter. We don’t see it as a great platform for folks in pre-production or early production, unless they have a large and engaged audience already .
Many people are now burnt by failed Kickstarter projects that looked promising. Don’t disappear on your community, no matter what keep them in the loop and communicate.
What would you like to say to other devs with a failed Kickstarter?
Assess why you failed, improve, and look for other avenues to deliver your product. Just because a Kickstarter fails, doesn’t mean a product is a failure. You might be like us, and Kickstarter just might not be the right fit for your needs and your game.
Thank you for reading!
Reflex Arena has gone through an exciting journey, running a successful Early Access period for just over 2 years with with constant updates and community involvement. We are so proud of our full release, and our Very Positive rating on Steam.
Failing Kickstarter wasn’t the end for us, but we planned for a way ahead no matter what. Successful or not, your Kickstarter will need a huge amount of preparation, and no matter the outcome - you’ll need a plan to get to release. By being focused, Early Access sales gave us the operating income needed to build the game our community sought.
Our Steam page, Discord channel and forums show and share all our history. With over 700 user made levels, 100 user made UI addons, a highly active Discord server with over 500 concurrent users, and highly active forums with over 30k posts across nearly 3k topics, Reflex Arena has truly been strengthened by our players.
Have questions about Kickstarter, our Early Access experience, or anything we have touched on above? Let us know in the comments, or keep in touch on Twitter. We are always happy to help fellow devs.