One thing you’ll realize soon after announcing and launching your Kickstarter campaign is that a lot of people in the world would like to help you.
Yes, many of these “people” are seemingly well-meaning spambots who jump on any post or page with #kickstarter in its content. But some are simply fans, hobbyists, or entrepreneurs much like yourself, and they’re genuinely looking to lend a hand with useful tips and other resources.
You’ll go through their messages, click their links, respond thankfully, and even try some of their suggestions for yourself. If this is your first campaign, you will absolutely learn something. If you’re at all like me and my tiny, independent game studio, Moebial, you will learn that you’ve done everything wrong.
When it comes to crowdfunding a game of any kind, there appears to be a damn near scientific formula for successfully reaching your goal. These guidelines, as we’ll call them, come from years of collective experience and endless postmortems. They’re borderline foolproof. A cottage industry has materialized around helping creators to follow these guidelines strategically and maximize their impact. One refrain among some of the most popular and successful Kickstarter campaigns isn’t just about reaching their goal, but that they did so in a matter of days, hours, or even minutes.
The uninitiated may understandably think that raising money in order to create a game (a very expensive thing to make) would be a necessary first step. Wouldn’t you wait to have the proper resources before going into full production? In actuality, your game could be years into its development by the time you launch your Kickstarter. This means you’ve already…
- Made a playable chunk of your game (the closer to finished the better)
- Built an excited online community that’s engaging with your project
- Began communicating with Kickstarter about your launch plans
- Established relationships with as many writers, streamers, and press outlets as possible
- Taken your hard work to conventions to let would-be fans know that your game exists, it is awesome, and they should back it on Kickstarter
But few can manage all of that preparation with limited time, money, and energy, especially on top of working endlessly on the game itself. Should the aspiring game developers who deviate from these guidelines not bother trying to run a campaign?
In June of 2018, I left behind a decade spent working as a music journalist, editor, and copywriter to try something new. During a nasty bout of unemployment a year earlier, I discovered I had a passion and ability for creating computer games. And when I started working full-time again in January of 2018, the passion didn’t subside.
I’d been making small games as a hobby on weekends and off-hours, and thought I could one day make something worth selling, if only I had enough time. When I reached a particular turning point for my writing career in June, I couldn’t see a sustainable future for myself by following that path any further. I needed to try something else, and I had a plan. As I now know, this plan of mine was “wrong.” I think I may have known this from the beginning, but the plan never struck me as impossible. It felt like my only viable option.
I would take a small-scale game idea I had been quietly tinkering with for over a year, called Aquamarine, and go into full-time development with my little bit of savings and support from my family. Working with an artist, animator, and composer, we’d produce a demo that would be announced and shown for the first time at New York game convention Play NYC. The convention would kick off my marketing for the game and its Kickstarter, while I continued developing the demo before the campaign launched in September.
The demo’s development went surprisingly smooth, and we had a strong showing at Play NYC. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with a good number of fans joining our mailing list and taking fliers for our Kickstarter. We also made a few press connections that would prove beneficial. The reaction online was even more incredible, with our game getting hundreds upon hundreds of likes, views, or upvotes when I’d share it on Reddit and Instagram. (Twitter was also positive, but never with those numbers.) People were asking if they could get involved and even a few publishers got in touch.
But my overall schedule proved to be even tighter than I first thought, and I had to push back our Kickstarter launch to the first week of October. I would have pushed it back even more, but I couldn’t financially afford to hold off any longer. It seemed obvious that getting our demo into the best shape it could be was important for our campaign, so I took as much time as I could and launched on October 3rd. I personally didn’t sleep for the two days leading up to our launch so I could properly finish the demo. It sucked, but it worked. Aquamarine’s demo isn’t well polished or even a full representation of the game we hope to make, but it does at least show players, with some detail, the direction we are headed.
As of writing this article, Aquamarine’s Kickstarter campaign has just over a week remaining, with 174 backers pledging $7,160 of our $25K goal. It’s all too tempting to look at our remaining time and think, “There’s just no way we can raise the $17,840 needed to successfully fund.” All 428 of our campaign followers (people who want to be notified when your Kickstarter is about to end) would each need to donate $42 for us to reach our funding goal. So by now, with 8 days left to go, my plan for this campaign appears to have failed. The classic crowdfunding guidelines are again reinforced.
So why haven’t I pulled the plug on Aquamarine? Why am I bothering to write this article before the campaign is over? Well, I guess it’s because I believe that even though I did this Kickstarter “wrong,” my game nonetheless has the potential to succeed. I know that what we’re creating appeals to a fair number of interested players who would love to help my team and I make it a reality. All we need to do is find them and tell them we exist.
I can’t say just how many emails I’ve personally written to get Aquamarine in front of the right people (somewhere in the hundreds), but I can tell you that the responses I’ve received these past months amount to around 20. This time of year is especially crowded with news and releases, to the point where one major journalist told me they simply “don’t have time” to cover a smaller project they find interesting. Exposure hasn’t been our only obstacle, but I do think it’s the biggest and most important one for an unknown studio working on a niche title for its first game. My team and I have done our utmost to create a game that’s distinctive and meaningful, and to share it with anyone who’s interested. Hard work isn’t always enough.
Running a Kickstarter campaign is a numbers game, of course, and the most successful players will likely have those numbers in place before they launch. That’s the “right” way to crowdfund your indie game. But for those of us trying to take on this outsized task in a different way, maybe a way that’s low on the time and money needed to obtain those numbers in the first place, don’t be discouraged or defeated if you fail. A good game with strong ideas will find its audience eventually, and they won’t care any less about helping it succeed than if they had backed a fully funded campaign. Maybe they’ll be even more excited when you take another chance and try again.
— Patric Fallon, Director & Lead Designer at Moebial Studios