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How You Can Fail Doing a $1 Kickstarter

Some ideas that look really good on paper do not play out in the real world. Guaranteed success is not necessarily guaranteed. Or success. I do a case study so we can all potentially learn from my mistake.

Setting your Kickstarter goal for $1 seems like an obvious guaranteed win. At least it did to us. We were working on a game where the only thing we needed money for was to increase the number of platforms the game we were on. We are using Unity so Windows and OSX are free. Linux is also, but we do not have a machine to test on. We thought – “Let’s do a $1 Kickstarter with only stretch goals of more platforms.” While on the surface that may seem reasonable, there is a huge flaw – Who is going to back your project and why would they?

The one nice thing about what we are doing is we have the luxury of not having to worry about whether we have jobs or not when the Kickstarter is over. With that security, we were willing to experiment. We wanted the knowledge of why every Kickstarter project does not have a goal of $1. So we did it. And we found out.

Understanding Kickstarter and why, how and when it works is so much different for us after we posted the project than even the several hours before we did. Suddenly it was real. The time for theories was over. Mostly. While we do not know for sure all the motivations behind what is happening, some patterns form.

The Nature of Kickstarter

A large motivator for crowdfunding from the crowdfunder point of view is that they are helping make something happen that would not happen otherwise. By saying it is going to happen and setting the goal at $1, you take away a significant number of people. You also lose the urgency factor. If you are going to make the game no matter what, why not wait until it comes out to get it.

For stretch goals, think about this – We are saying the game will be out on Windows and OSX and asking people to back us towards a goal of it running on their platform. If you want to run it on Windows or OSX, your stretch goal has already been reached. If you back the project and we do not reach that stretch goal, you have just donated to a project that you cannot run. And what if my stretch goal platform is three down the list? Should I even donate before my stretch goal is up? I think this is a flaw in the way the system is set up. I think that stretch goals should be set up the same way as the main goal. I should be able to back a stretch goal and if it does not get reached, I am out. Maybe they can add this as a feature for Kickstarter 2.0.

To sum up, we removed a major motivator for people to back our project in that after the first backer, we have already met our goal. No suspense there. Now all we have is to convince people to back our game with the hope that their platform stretch goal will be met. Regardless of the money that comes in, we messed up. The people who are donating now are doing so because they love the game that much, not because we structured it well. Now we know better and so do you.

So why not pull our Kickstarter project down and try again? Simple - this game is so small and we are so far along, there is no time. If this was a bigger game, we would pull it down, wait six months and run it again properly. We have seen serveral projects do just that and be very successful. But we anticipate we will release the final version in about six months. Too late for a Kickstarter.

We expect that Kickstarter will hit our first stretch goal of Oculus Rift support. Then the quick/low cost goals that follow are OUYA/Android support and Linux. The higher cost options for us are iOS, PSN and XBoxLive. iOS is expensive for us only because we will need more hardware and testers.

Our goal is to raise money for the modest goals by selling people early access to the game. We are already set up on Steam Greenlight awaiting approval and are currently filling out the forms for Desura. For games that do not need the money to complete, I suggest you sell early access rather than the trying a $1 Kickstarter. Although it did seem like a good idea at the time.

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