How running a Kickstarter campaign made me realise that it’s not all about Kickstarter

It took running a Kickstarter campaign for me to realise that Kickstarter isn't the be-all and end-all, and that there are other ways of gauging market reaction to your game prior to release.

Almost four months ago, sick of my uninspiring nine to five, I left my job so that I could pursue my childhood dream of becoming a video game designer. With no relevant experience, or even any substantial technical or artistic skills, I knew I needed to build a portfolio if I was going to be taken seriously by prospective employers. Keen to showcase narrative design skills, I began working on The Last Time, a nonlinear point-and-click adventure, as a one-man indie studio.       

A month or so went by, and I began to wonder whether my portfolio piece could become something more. What if I were to try selling the game after I finished development? Could it be commercially successful? I was curious to see what The Last Time could become if I put enough time and effort into it. On the other hand, I was scared of putting everything into developing the game, only to reach the end and find that nobody was interested in playing it.

‘I know!’ I thought to myself, brimming with naïve enthusiasm, ‘I’ll run a Kickstarter campaign’! And off I trotted to make some art assets for my project page. It made perfect sense, right? Gauge the market by seeing how many people would be willing to pledge some money towards the campaign, while potentially getting some financial support to help development.    

Two months on, and I’m in the middle of the campaign. It’s going pretty well; with 152 backers so far at the time of writing, The Last Time is 66% of the way towards its goal of £4000, with 13 days to go. I’m very happy about this, of course. But, will running a Kickstarter campaign answer my original question, and tell me whether or not the game will be a commercial success?

Of course not. I see that now. Could I have seen it so clearly without the benefit of hindsight? Perhaps I should have. But there are things I’ve learned since launching my Kickstarter which I hadn’t taken into account before, and which I’ll share with you now in case you’re entertaining the same notions that I held not so long ago.  

The main thing that I’ve realised is that, unless you’re Double Fine or the creator of Shenmue and you have an existing fan base to work with, your campaign is targeted almost exclusively at people who already enjoy backing things on Kickstarter. Thousands of people will register an account to support a game or company that they already know and love; not so for indie games from unknown developers like myself. Apart from my friends and family members who backed the campaign, the vast majority of my backers have already backed, on average, dozens of other projects. So, while I’ve been grateful for the amount of support I’ve received from serial backers, I’ve realised that the campaign is not the litmus test for the wider gaming market that I thought it would be. This seems obvious in retrospect, and I’m more than a little embarrassed that I didn’t realise it earlier.

Meanwhile, the public release of the demo and the submission of the game to Steam Greenlight have had a much bigger impact than the Kickstarter campaign. My intention was for the demo and Greenlight to help drive traffic to the Kickstarter page, and I didn’t initially pay much attention to them as important ventures in their own right, obsessed as I was with reaching my funding goal. Sixteen days later, and the demo has been played by over 10,000 people and remarkably well received, and the game has already been Greenlit thanks to over a thousand people giving it a ‘yes’ vote. Now, I’m not so myopic as to assume that either of these things proves that the game is commercially viable. But they have allowed me to get the game in front of thousands of people, and to see their reactions through ratings, comments and YouTube videos; what started off as an afterthought to the Kickstarter has since grown in importance for me.

So there you have it. Kickstarter isn’t a crystal ball that helps you predict future sales, and there are other things you could be doing anyway to get your game out there. You probably knew that already; if so, you’re a smarter person than I was two months ago, and you’re bound to have more stuff to teach me. Maybe I’ve said something in this article that you disagree with? Leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook if you’ve got any advice to share! 

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