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How to fail at Kickstarter

For as lucrative as Kickstarter can be, some developers just haven't found success on the crowd-funding platform, and a number of these teams recently spoke out to help others learn from their past mistakes.

Tom Curtis, Blogger

September 19, 2012

7 Min Read

Like any platform, Kickstarter's seen its fair share of successes and failures. The crowd funding service might be best known for its instant hits like Double Fine Adventure or Wasteland 2, but it's important to remember that many developers don't achieve such success. In fact, lots of developers who put their games on Kickstarter don't receive funding at all. Reports from earlier this year suggest more than half of all Kickstarter campaigns fail to reach their funding goals. So where are these developers going wrong? Is there anything teams can do to prevent their campaigns from falling short? We recently spoke to a number of developers who didn't reach their target funding goals on Kickstarter, and as it turns out, they all pointed to a few common, yet preventable mistakes that they believe held their campaigns back. Now, these developers explain why they failed, and offer some advice to keep you from repeating their past mistakes.

1. Too much tell, not enough show

If you're as renowned as Tim Schafer, it'll probably be easy for you to earn Kickstarter money with a simple video and a brief game proposal, but the rest of you will have to show a bit more of your work to win over those precious Kickstarter backers. Joe Modzeleski, one of the minds behind the proposed sequel to Bad Dudes (concept art below), found that out the hard way, as he launched his Kickstarter far too early, and didn't have enough to show off to his potential fans. As a result, the game fell far short of its $80,000 goal. "We jumped the gun," Modzeleski said. "We were way too excited about our project and launched far before we were really prepared to prove our passion and dedication to the game." When the Bad Dudes 2 campaign began, Modzeleski's team could only showcase a few pieces of concept art, and since the team didn't have the notoriety of a studio like Double Fine, it just wasn't enough to win over potential backers. "We should've held off for a while, done a little communicating with fans ahead of time, and prepared more to show. People needed convincing, and if we had developed gameplay to show off and more art and assets from the game, we think it could've made a huge difference." baddudes2.jpg

2. Video troubles

But a slick gameplay reel alone won't be enough for many backers, especially if they're not already familiar with you or your game. Most of them will judge your project based on your initial Kickstarter video, so you need to make sure that it can convince them of two things: That your game is exciting, and that you're capable of making it a reality. Developers like Digitilus and MonkeyPaw Games (the studios behind Skyjacker and Class of Heroes, respectively) put together some very simple Kickstarter videos, showing off clips of gameplay without any context on what their games were about or where the projects were headed. Both teams admit that if their videos were a bit more fleshed out, their Kickstarters might have proved more fruitful. "If I could go back, I would create a better video with our team, mixed in with gameplay capture. Our previous team video was so bad that we decided to leave only gameplay," Digitilus' Eugene Zhukov says. "Being an unknown series, [our video] should have had more explanation," adds MonkeyPaw Games' John Greiner. "You need to put a lot of time and effort into your video. It obviously helps if you're a well-known person in the industry, but I think a clever video will help give the audience a better introduction for you and your project." When it comes to making a strong video, both developers found that pitching your team can be just as important as pitching your game.

3. Poor press management

If you really want your campaign to succeed, you'll need publicity, and that means you'll likely want to seek coverage in the press. A few positive articles can really draw attention to your game, yet many developers either wait too long, or don't do enough to earn coverage in major video game outlets and publications. Simon Strange, the lead developer behind the giant monster fighting game Kaiju Combat (concept art below), said poor press management ended up becoming one of the biggest missteps of his unsuccessful Kickstarter. He didn't reach out to the press until after his campaign began, and by the time writers were publishing articles about his game, he had missed out on two full weeks of potential publicity. "In our second two weeks we had about 15,000 views on our Kickstarter page, [compared to 1,000 views in the first two weeks]," Strange said. "If we had taken the time to get our press lined up in advance, we could have had 16 times the views in the first weeks -- which would have made an incredible difference." Zojoi founder Dave Marsh, who recently ran a Kickstarter to bring the Sherlock Holmes FMV mystery series to mobile devices, said that he and his team were so busy working on their project that they hardly contacted the press, and based on the feedback he's received, it really limited the campaign's potential. "Many people e-mailed me later saying that they didn’t find out about any of this until it was too late. You need to work extremely hard to get the word out, even if your campaign is chosen as a staff pick or if you're recognized in games industry," he said. "Looking back, we should have spent more time networking with our fans, other game players and the press... And I now believe that having a dedicated staff to promote and maintain all the moving parts in a campaign is a must." kaiju.jpg

4. Starting off slow

And you'll want to build awareness for your game as early as possible, since you can't afford to let your campaign languish out of the gate. As Strange pointed out above, his campaign got off to a slow start, and he says those sluggish first two weeks made latecomers even more hesitant to support his project. "By the time we started getting views [the campaign was halfway over], and we had raised only about 10 percent of our goal... Folks love a winner, so I think getting all your 'in the bag' money up front really does help drive additional donations." To secure that initial funding, Strange suggests that developers refrain from launching a campaign until the press is interested and ready to cover their game. If you launch too early, you're just going to miss out on valuable press time. Even if your campaign is ready to go, don't hit the launch button until you're sure you'll get the attention you need.

If your Kickstarter fails, the fight isn't over

Of course, even if you heed this advice, there's still a chance your Kickstarter won't reach its goal. Unfortunately, some Kickstarters will fail, but that doesn't mean it's the end of the line. The developers in this interview didn't reach their goals the first time around, but many of them are looking for new ways to learn from their mistakes and bring their projects to life. Some developers, like Strange, are looking to jump right back in and give Kickstarter another try. He says that his first campaign helped get his name out there, and with enough prior marketing, he believes that many backers will jump on the chance to fund his game if given another chance. Others, like Digitilus, have found that their unsuccessful Kickstarter opened the door for some new, alternative funding opportunities. "Believe me, there is a life after Kickstarter," Zhukov explained. "For instance, we've started to accumulate pledges on our own site. In addition, Kickstarter gave us the attention of investors, who came to us after our campaign was over. So don't give up under any circumstances... Remember: You can fail the battle, but win the war."

About the Author(s)

Tom Curtis


Tom Curtis is Associate Content Manager for Gamasutra and the UBM TechWeb Game Network. Prior to joining Gamasutra full-time, he served as the site's editorial intern while earning a degree in Media Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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