The science of crowd funding….no, the black magic that goes behind running a successful campaign is something that still eludes us here at Dream Harvest.
You see, we spent 4 months planning and preparing for our campaign and more than a year slowly building up our community around our game, studio and team and yet 3 weeks in we have only managed to raise just over £5000 towards our £30,000 to pay for our art team.
We actually knew that the campaign would be a failure within the first 48 hours of launching, we made a string of mistakes that lead us to this point and I hope that the following post will act as a guide to those that decide to run their own campaign in the future.
Before I go into the details about what we did right and wrong let me give you a bit of back story about our game.
Failure is a B2P (Buy to Play) online competitive Cyberpunk real time strategy game for PC / Mac / Linux / SteamOS set in a digital metaverse where you don't control your units.
You place buildings that spawn different unit types all completely Ai controlled and whom have different sets of behaviors that designate how they react to a given situation.
You also use special powers to influence their behaviors and abilities.
Before going into a match you must build a “Deck” of these buildings. units and special powers from a wide selection and in level you can upgrade the buildings and units giving them new abilities and increasing the power of existing ones.
It's a complex blend between RTS, CCG, Tower Defense and God Games and describing the gameplay so that people completely grasp it has been incredibly hard to do, in fact, this might have been one of the issues we had with our text heavy campaign, but we’ll talk more about that in a second.
So what did we do in the run up to our campaign and why has it fallen short?
Well the first thing we did is talk to as many people as we could who had previously run both successful and unsuccessful campaigns. We tried to get as much insight into why they believed their campaigns went the way they did and took note of pitfalls such as not having a big enough community, holding back tiers until later in the campaign and being as vocal as possible with your backers.
I spent a considerable amount of time pushing numbers around on spreadsheets.
I tried to work out what the minimum we would need to raise in order to get the game to early access.
I played around with different ideas for rewards and how getting a certain number of backers per tier would affect the numbers.
We spent 4 months creating art assets, planning updates, putting together the page and writing and rewriting all the content.
We made sure to use quotes from our peers in the industry; people like Ray Mazza, ex-creative director at Maxis who’s been giving us some amazing player feedback over the past few months and Tanya at Kitfox (you should check out their game, Moons Hunters btw, its just come out on Steam).
We worked hard to get some great deals from suppliers so we could offer some really nice physical rewards and we priced our rewards at a level that we felt was right for a narrative driven online rts.
But as we found out, none of this mattered, as the one thing that really caused our Kickstarter to fail was the lack of people that actually visited the page.
Failing to Crowdfund
You see, we made some mistakes and we had some issues.
Firstly, we launched on a weekend, a Saturday to be precise. Launching a campaign on a weekend is never a good idea as many people are nursing their hangovers or are in front of their TV’s rather than sitting in front of their computers. There was a reason for this though, we were being featured on the Indie Dev Supershow:
We thought that the extra eyes on the game being played by a well known streamer would convert to backers, but our day one backer total was a measly 17 people (4 of which was our own team).
On day 2, Sunday, we managed another 17 backers bringing our total to £1231 - but over £500 of this was our own team backing the project.
At this point we knew something was wrong, why were the backer numbers so low - we thought it might have something to do with the way we were presenting the information on the page, maybe we weren't showing the cool gifs and images soon enough and people weren't scrolling through. Also only 8% of the people viewing our main Kickstarter video would watch it to the end (Though this has stayed consistent throughout the campaign). People were leaving the page really fast after accessing it as seen in the numbers below:
So in an attempt to alter things I jumped back into the awful. Slow and buggy mess that is the Kickstarter editor to try and rearrange things around only to find that I couldn't save any of my changes.
I was getting a character limit error, an error that we hadn't seen before and what was strange is that I wasn't adding anything to the page, only rearranging elements and yet no matter what I tried I couldn't save my changes.
In a panic I email Kickstarter asking if there was a way for them to fix the issue or remove the character limit.
They got back to me 8 hours later with an answer that neither answered my question nor helped in any way except for giving me a link to a faq page about the character limit. I sent another email explaining again, in detail, what our issue was and that I hadn't added anything to the page and someone completely different emailed me back with the same cut and paste answer.
For 48 hours I emailed back and forth trying to find a solution to the issue. Each time the team at Kickstarter failed to give me a solution or answer my queries in a personal way.
Needless to say, when the support feedback emails came through I was quite frank with them.
I also forgot to mention that we asked Kickstarter to review our page before we went live in which they also seemed to cut and paste their feedback from a generic page from their campaign handbook - if they had taken a proper look at the page they might have seen that we were near the character limit (something that you as a creator have no idea about until you reach and can’t save).
Eventually I found a solution - delete all the content from our campaign and painstakingly re-import every image, video and paragraph of text.
NOTE: Text looses it’s formatting if copied and pasted from another source such as a google or a word document and requires reformatting after import.
By this point we were on day 5 of the campaign and things were not looking good. The number of backers was very quickly declining and we needed to try something to start bringing the numbers back up and fast.
At the end of week one I decided to create a walkthough video where I played against myself, talking through the basics of the gameplay. This seemed to help some people grasp the basic concept, as shown in the day 10 backers above. But it also wasn't great for showing what we had planned for the game; as I wasted the first half of the video in the mockup menu’s explaining the deck building - something that’s going to be drastically different in the final game.
Here’s the video so you can see for yourselves the issues with the way I presented the information:
Sven and I decided that we should try some paid advertisement via Twitter, Facebook, Google adwords and create a super short trailer (15 seconds) that we could use with Youtube Ads. This unfortunately took us 3 days to get ready due to Sven’s other work commitments.
Here's the 15 second ad video:
We spent around £400 - £500 initially, running carefully targeted campaigns which drove a small amount of traffic to the page and saw our conversion rate go up but it wasn't until day 11 that it actually started to trend upwards again followed by a big drop as we ran out of money. Our Google Adwords campaign was costing us over $10 a click!
I also made use of Kickbooster - a platform that gives users a unique link where they earn 10% of every referred pledge. Although we saw about 833 clicks of the links we saw a 0% conversion rate.
The best results came from Facebook where we’d also posted links to the campaign on 15 - 20 gaming and indie dev groups (This was done on day one and then again later in the week and again in week 2 and 3). I made sure to follow up any comments that people made.
Even though the comments were all positive in the most part, the issue of people not understanding the gameplay still came up again and again…..and the name of the game also seemed to be an issue, something that quite a few people mentioned on our Reddit posts:
So as you can see, running a Kickstarter campaign for a game called Failure doesn't exactly exude confidence, even if the game does look super cool and relatively polished in it’s early state.
Here’s a breakdown of where our backers came from:
We made sure to setup Google Analytics but forgot to turn on the E-Commerce section so our data for sales and conversions only starts from half way through the campaign. But here’s our conversion rates based on where the backers came from:
And here are our stats from the different social networks we were active on, but ignore the transactions as they don't take into account the first two weeks of the campaign:
It all seems to come down to numbers. If we look at our overall conversion rate based on the total number of page visits we’re looking at around 1.45% which isn't actually all that bad, the issue really was t