Hi, my name is Jonas Manke!
I’m a solo developer from Germany and I ran a Kickstarter campaign for my game as a solo indie dev Omno last year that ended up getting over 300% funded with a pledge total of over $100,000 USD.
Since the campaign I’ve gotten a lot of questions from lots of people, mostly other indie devs, asking me how the crowdfunding campaign went so well. So, in the end, I decided to write up this post-mortem with info, stats and things that went well or didn’t work out for the campaign for anyone out there thinking about crowdfunding for their own projects. Hopefully, people find some helpful content.
So first of all just a short introduction to the game, then I’ll get into the meat of it with “the Omno Kickstarter campaign top 10 FAQ” below :D
About Omno and me
Omno is a single-player adventure, the vibe I’m aiming for is in some respects similar to Journey or Abzu but with more of a focus on puzzles and movement mechanics, as well as some other unique twists. You can watch a trailer of the game here.
I’ve been working on Omno for over 2 years (the last 8 months of which I’ve been working full time on the project), and the plan is for the game to launch next year. Before Omno I worked as a freelance character animator for 10 years on many movies and games (most recently on the ‘State of Decay’ series) so I already knew how to work on my own, but I did not have former experience working as an indie, or working on my own games. Apart from the soundtrack I do everything on Omno myself, and am also the father of 3 kids so I have quite a busy schedule :)
Top 10 questions about my Kickstarter campaign answered
1: How did you prepare for the Kickstarter?
If you look into GDC talks and blog posts of Kickstarter campaigns that went well one takeaway that many post-mortems features is the advice to prepare WELL for your campaign and I couldn’t agree more with that.
During the Kickstarter it’s incredibly busy, so I would suggest preparing as many assets as you can beforehand (why not have that “20% funded gif” for Twitter prepared ahead of time?).
I had less than a month of really intense Kickstarter preparation before the campaign had to kick off. I mostly focused on getting a nice Kickstarter page ready, made a new trailer, prepared press pitches, set up a Steam page, updated my website and thought long and hard about rewards, stretch goals etc.
In hindsight, there were also a couple of things I probably should have done in the preparation phase but didn’t end up getting around to until the campaign was already live. For example, I finished a demo for the game during the campaign and not before, which probably cost me a good amount of dollars (more on that below).
Aside from working on assets, doing community development to build a small loyal following before the Omno campaign really made a difference, with a newsletter (~1000 subscribers before the campaign started) and Twitter (~2500 followers before the campaign started). Having people ready to support me on day one gave me a boost which really helped build a bit of hype that, in turn, got more people to trust the project and become backers themselves.
Before the campaign, I was quite active on dev groups in general (I wish I still had that much time these days) so many people knew Omno before.
Most importantly I was very successful on Imgur and Reddit (more on that below), there is an element of luck to this but preparing by having “mature” accounts by naturally interacting on the platform is key. I did build up good accounts for both platforms only during the Kickstarter and could have probably got a stronger boost if I had done that before.
2: How much work was running the Kickstarter campaign?
A LOT! That is also something I had heard before but I can not stress enough how much work it is if you want to make the most out of a campaign. I did not sleep a lot.
I often get asked if you can still work on a game in the time the Kickstarter is live and as a small team with answering messages, preparing gifs, joining streams, writing backer updates etc. I would say running the Kickstarter is a full-time job that is very exciting but also exhausting. Throughout the entire campaign, there was not a single day (except for my son’s birthday) where I did work less than 14 hours. Mostly it was much more than that.
Personally I would say the campaign kept me busy 1 full month beforehand, 1 month during the campaign and a couple of weeks after to still answer questions etc. That being said I also had some extra help from a small indie communications agency called Future Friends Games, who helped me through the campaign with advice and ideas, some drafting, and by handling the press side of things. If you’re well prepared and do your homework I wouldn’t say hiring an agency is 100% necessary (though is very helpful if you can stretch to it). But if you’re a solo dev or small team I definitely think having someone outside of the team whose opinion you trust that you can bounce ideas off really helps.
3: How much money do you ACTUALLY make? (Taxes, fees, etc.)
Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most common questions I get asked, and a pretty important one too :) So here’s the rundown:
For Omno, the campaign made roughly 100,000 dollars. There are quite a lot of people who backed without sufficient funds and a few people claiming refunds for no reason. All in all, those things meant a loss of about 9000 Euros. So although it says 100k on the page, the real total is a bit less than that. Then from this real total, there are quite a few costs to be deducted: Kickstarter takes a 5% cut, payment methods (credit card companies, PayPal, etc.) take another 3–5% (many folks don’t know/forget about this one!), I had to pay Future Friends for their support, and the composer for his work on the trailer song and demo music. Also, Epic Games asks for their royalties (5%). After all this, you also have to pay taxes too, which are quite high in Germany!
Considering all of this, I really, really have to stress that you should have someone experienced to help you out with the financial stuff. Crowdfunding tax laws are not fun — at least not in Germany. You not only pay taxes for your ‘income’ but also pay sales taxes for the rewards (between 0–30 % depending on where the backer lives). And figuring all that out took a few days of extra work and extra payment for the tax accountant.
And since you cannot work much for the 2–3 months around the campaign, you have to consider your expenses for that time.
At the end of the day, that means I still got almost two-thirds of the entire cake. One thing to keep in mind is that I did everything else on the campaign myself which of course saved money but again — was a lot of work.
You might read this and think “Maybe it’s not worth it then”, but it is. A successful campaign brings you much more than money.
4: What else did you get from the Kickstarter apart from money?
Money is cool of course but as some of you might know one of the biggest benefits of Kickstarter these days is the community you can build with it in a relatively short amount of time and the attention of potential partners.
So here, in no particular order, other things I gained during the Kickstarter campaign apart from money.
- 4000 new Twitter followers
- 1000 new Facebook fans
- 3400 backers I can reach via Kickstarter updates/newsletters
- At least 2 almost heart attacks (campaign start and end)
- 1600 discord members
- ~4000 newsletter subs within 2 weeks (demo!)
- 10 Interview experience points
- YouTube coverage by many lets players (total of 2.5 million views after the campaign)
- Imgur ~18.000 points, 500.000 views
- 50 press articles
- 20k Karma on Reddit, over 2 million views
- Nice new friends (devs and backers, you are great!)
- Roughly 15 publisher offers
- A good handful of investor offers
- Attention from other big players of the industry
- 8 million refreshes on the Kickstarter page to see if the numbers went up
5. Did you have a demo?
Yes and no!
I did make a demo for the game but didn’t have it ready at the start of the campaign. Partly because it wasn’t ready and partly because I thought I would maybe take some magic away by releasing a playable demo, which I worried might result in fewer backers. To be honest, I was blown away by the success of the campaign’s launch, so I was very hesitant of releasing the demo — I know how disappointing games can feel after watching the trailer and worried the demo might not keep up with the ‘promise’. It seems I was wrong in many ways!
Half way through the campaign I was finally happy enough with the demo and released it -
which not only resulted in some extra backer money but most importantly in a good amount of YouTuber's playing the game and generating new backers — a big audience I wouldn’t otherwise have reached.
For me, this was a real game-changer. Seeing so many people play and enjoy it literally changed my life. It was SO EMOTIONAL and made me cry more than once. As a developer, this is everything you can hope for.
Here’s a little playlist of some lets plays. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gr7jwZjKiY&list=PLMaAfRficwn61eUaV-Zn38AYoZrhXcwgI
Unfortunately, the demo came a bit too late, so whilst it was covered by some massive YouTuber's like Jacksepticeye (22 million + subs), they only published their lets plays after the campaign, which might have brought in a bunch of new backers had it landed during the campaign.
6. Do you have to show your face in a Kickstarter video?
Another question that sometimes comes up is if I think it was essential that my real human face was visible in the Kickstarter campaign video (~1:45 min).
I have only done one Kickstarter, so much of what I have to share is anecdotal, but in my case, I think it wouldn’t have been essential as the reaction to the game itself was so strong. I chose to tell my story as I had a feeling that it would be relatable for a lot of other small devs and inspiring indies — a solo dev who worked on the game mostly in his free time, while also being a father of 3 kids.
I missed an opportunity for the first demo build versions but was able to update it before the campaign ended: I added a hotkey at the end of the demo to allow players/streamers to just watch that Kickstarter trailer including the personal part within the demo. Most streamer/lets players actually hit that button at the end of their play session and showed the Kickstarter video/trailer (+ me talking) to their audience, which I think had quite some impact on the campaign and created a nice connection. I always felt that people became so much nicer when they realize you’re just a real person trying to make a nice game.
Of course, I can’t put my finger on if and how much that personal touch helped get people excited for the project but judging by the hundreds of conversations I had online around the Kickstarter I feel it had a positive impact.
7. Where and how did you promote your campaign?
That’s the big question really, so I thought I’d go into some detail here to show which channels I think helped me the most and which didn’t and also how I used all of them. So in no particular order, this is how it went for Omno.
The classic. You can reach people very directly and I think it’s not necessary to go into more detail on why newsletters are great for marketing. Maybe it’s worth mentioning that I asked people to sign up to the newsletter so they would receive the link to the demo. That had several advantages: I was not only able to grow my subs list, but that way I could avoid posting the download link directly to the web which prevented me of too much scammers, etc.. Also, through the auto-responded mail that included the link, I had the chance to send the player a personal note, some instructions on how to use the demo, a note about the status, etc..
Having a trailer hit the top of the front page of Reddit translates to a staggering amount of views, there’s really not much that can compare to it. The day this happened there was a huge bump in the number of pledges that could only have come from this. Interestingly, while the number of pledges was very high the average pledge amount was very low, which makes sense since it would have felt like more of a gamble to people finding out about the game this way. While using some developer specific subreddits to show my work, my personal Reddit account was still super weak still, so I wasn’t even allowed to post myself in some bigger subreddits (the bigger the subreddit, the more strict the rules). I told this to a fellow dev (who happens to be super supportive) — she posted the trailer without asking me, sent me the link and said ‘You’re gonna have a long night. You’re welcome.’. It blew up. It was amazing. Seeing a post go viral on Reddit is a life experience. Fun fact (or not so fun at that time), some people claimed that this was all made up (which it was NOT), that my friend who posted that clip wasn’t real and that even I am not real and that this game couldn’t possibly be the work of a solo developer, and this might all be a huge marketing strategy of some big company, etc. Whilst very flattering in a lot of ways, it’s hard to prove that you are not hiding a team under your desk. So, be warned, if you plan to ‘use Reddit for marketing’, don’t do it. People will notice. Just be a part of the community. If you do want to share what you’re doing through Reddit, there’s plenty of subreddits focused specific aspects of game dev and things like that which are obviously more open to people sharing what they’re working on, and I got some great feedback through those channels — just be ready to actually engage in conversations, and make sure you always pay attention to the rules of each subreddit so you’re not posting stuff where you shouldn’t be.
This platform feels like the best-kept secret for promoting games right now. There’s a very large and active gaming community who for the most part are supportive of indies sharing their work. There is an element of luck involved, but getting to the front page with a quality post is relatively easy compared to most other platforms, and can generate hundreds of thousands of views.
Traditional gaming press can add a sense of credibility to a project and being able to add some quotes from well-known sources is handy.
While big channels including JackScepticEye (22m+ subscribers) played and enjoyed the demo, their videos landed mostly after the end of the campaign so it’s difficult to say what kind of impact they would have had. It’s probably safe to assume their audiences would mostly be younger so maybe they wouldn’t have the disposable income to drop on a Kickstarter but the extra views and seeing big channels in the search results should help in the long run!
As I mentioned, I had built a decent Twitter following before the start of the campaign, mostly by simply sharing my work and chatting with people about it! The strong initial reaction to the game on social media was a big part of the reason I was confident enough to go to Kickstarter in the first place.
Facebook is good for sharing things with people you know who aren’t really into games.
Posting in groups on Facebook that would be interested in the game was worth the time investment as it did result in a good amount of people discovering and backing the game. Especially dev communities! Nice people. Made some real friends that way.
The Discord group became a great base to talk to the backers and keep people engaged throughout the campaign. Having a place where we could all talk publicly really helped with keeping morale and motivation up!
Friends and Family
As I’ve said previously since the first 48 hours is critical to a crowdfunding campaign having people ready to back your project from the jump can really make a difference (and take a lot of stress out of the first couple of days). Asking friends and family to chip in can really help you get a bit of early momentum — just remember to ask nicely! Personally, I don’t like asking for help, so that was one of the biggest challenges for me.
8. How did you know how much money to ask for?
Long story short: I didn’t know at all!
To be honest I really struggled with picking a good Kickstarter goal. You don’t want to go too low to make your project look unrealistic and not too high as you might fail. Most backers don’t know how expensive game production is. After a lot of back and forth talking to other devs, people that know a lot about Kickstarter, Future Friends, and my wife, I settled for 35,000 USD as that seemed like a good middle ground between being a reachable goal and definitely worthwhile in terms of my time investment in the campaign.
Do I think I should have picked another goal? I don’t know to be honest, but I think overall aiming too low is probably better than going too high — you can always exceed a low target, but if you miss a high target you’ll end up with nothing (in terms of money, at least), as well as losing all the time and effort you put into running the campaign.
9. Are there any other tricks you had during the campaign?
Buy a lot of coffee!
More seriously, one of the things that helped Omno most I feel is that I tried to make all the assets work well in the first 10 seconds to immediately grab the attention of viewers. You can see this in the gifs but also the trailer that originally started with more slow atmospheric shots but got a last-minute addition of a 5-second “intro” bit where the main character flies through the skies to grab viewers attention. This was inspired by how most Hollywood trailers currently start with something eye-catching.
Also really think about taxes and other costs before you start your Kickstarter and define your funding goal! Often the funding number looks nice but the money that’s actually left can be very different.
For the campaign itself, I can highly recommend the free tool Kicktrag that shows you some extra stats like the number of daily pledges and prediction of the total funding goal. Very handy!
Lastly, and this one may sound a bit silly but think is the most important one, really prepare your friends and family for the Kickstarter. Personally I think emotional support during the campaign was super important and helpful. After all your dream project (and you personally) are on display for a whole month and to really make the best of it you have to put yourself out there as much as possible, and also push yourself all the time (after all, with every new tweet, every new article you have the potential to bring invaluable extra budget to finish the game). Besides, alongside all the nice feedback, of course, you get some mean comments, people cancelling their pledges, insults hurled at you etc., and having someone that knows you well that you can vent to a bit, and relax with when you find the time is mega important.