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Fundraising After Failure

Running out of cash you got from a crowdfunding campaign isn't the end of the world, or your project, but developers need to be smarter and nicer in order to climb that hill to finally deliver.

We’ve seen it for years in crowdfunded games spaces. “Wow, did you see that X raised $57,000 for Y?”

“Can you believe G raised $380,000 for H?”

“I can’t believe they released Z in this state after raising $218,000.”

“They ran away with $82,000.”

The latter is what we seem to hear the most, especially in the past few weeks. Three prominent undelivered Kickstarter campaigns (though the problem certainly persists beyond that particular site) have been the subject of scrutiny lately.

In the case of a game called Mansion Lord, the creators were able to pocket $30,000 (considerably less, actually, after cuts are taken) to complete the game. They’ve been radio silent for over a year.

The creators of Midora managed to raise over $73,000 to build an action/adventure game. As of this week, they’ve admitted it’s not enough to finish the game and even went so far as to admit they always knew it wouldn’t be enough but didn’t do anything about it.

The very sung story of Unsung Story rings familiar but boasts one of the more bombastic totals to go unfulfilled at over $660,000. A few weeks ago, they released a timeline (at least that’s a start) for their release, but curiously, it was full of features not initially discussed.

It’s almost unfair to single these campaigns out because it has happened so many times to other projects. I am not writing to rail against Kickstarter or crowdfunding in general. In fact, I’m very much on the side of developers releasing things when they’re ready. I’m a developer myself who has hit deadlines, missed deadlines, been straight up wrong about budget estimates, been miraculously close on budgets, etc.

I’m here to talk to developers who might have failed in the crowdfunding world and want to work their way up to deliver on the promise of projects many others believe in.

  1. Be Honest — it’s awesome to be honest at the outset. Try to be really good in this area. Work hard on your estimates because they do matter. Missing deadlines for creative work is understandable but certainly not ideal. Whatever you think your most conservative estimates are, I’d increase those by 10–20%. If you find out you were wrong about your estimates at any point in the development process, tell someone quickly. There’s almost no harm in saying “gee this is going to be tougher and more expensive than we expected.” There’s a large amount of harm in keeping that to yourself until it’s too late to do anything.
  2. Be Good — the worst thing you can do is knowing your public estimates are wrong and moving forward anyway. That’s unethical. That’s very, very unethical. Even if your goal is to raise a little and then privately raise the rest, you have to say that. You can’t just send out a blast and say “we always knew it would be more expensive than this but…..uh……MAGIC!??” This is especially true if you want to have relationships with private investors to keep your project going. Unethical investors exist, but believe me they’ll end up being a huge pain for you even if you are strange bedfellows.
  3. Be Smart — okay so you raised the money you needed and then spent it all. You need to tell your backers and the press. This is the time when you need to learn the difference between being guilty and feeling guilty. If you deceive your backers into giving you money and now wish they would give you more, you are guilty. If you worked hard and couldn’t deliver the product on time, you feel guilty. If you’re in the second camp, shove 90% of that guilt aside and say “it’s time to raise more money and go to work.” Just be smart.
  4. Be Private — once you’ve informed (at least) your backers and (maybe) the press about missing your marks and needing more money, go stealth and raise private funds. A lot of people were mad that Double Fine went out to raise private funds to finish Broken Age, but they were 100% right to do it. It was the way to get the cash to finish the game without burdening their fans. How to do this is an entirely different article, but suffice it to say if you have a successful crowdfunding story, you have that strength to take to angel investors who can complete that circuit for you.

Your game can have life after running out of your crowdfunded cash, but make sure you’re ready for that uphill climb to delivering your final product.

John Warren is the CEO & Lead Designer at Minicore Studios. He hit deadlines for iOS game Tumblewords, missed a lot of them for The Sun at Night, is currently behind on Murder at Mystery Manor, and ahead of schedule on Captain Wheelie & The Weenie Warriors. When he’s not making his own games, he’shelping other game companies run their businesses and raise private funds.
*originally published on Medium

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