On the 7th of May 2019, we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our game, Unbound: Worlds Apart. We aimed to raise $25,000 in 30 days. By the end of the campaign, over 1000 backers had supported us and raised $41000.
We are a team of just two developers who started working on the game in early 2017. In July 2018 we decided to create a Kickstarter campaign for Unbound for several reasons:
See if there is interest in our game
Increase awareness about our game
Increase our community
And, of course, raise funds for the game’s development.
Part 1 - Analysis - 10 months before launch
Our initial plan was to launch the campaign in October 2018. Because we didn’t have any experience with Kickstarter, the first thing we did was research.
First, we analyzed different Kickstarter campaigns of games within our genre (puzzle platformers), no older than 2 years, and made by unknown small indie teams just like us.
We got in touch with a number of developers that held Kickstarter campaigns and asked them to share their “behind the scenes” experience with their campaigns, all their do’s and don'ts.
What we learned:
Launch: Plan the date carefully when you launch your campaign. You really don’t want to launch the Kickstarter campaign during a major gaming event like E3 or Gamescom, when all the gaming-related press will focus on these events, leaving no room for a new indie Kickstarter campaign. During the Steam Sale or summer/winter holiday, when everyone is on vacation is also a bad time to ask people to support you. Also, October-November is the moment when all the big companies launch their AAA titles, stealing the spotlight. You should skip these months as well.
Community: You need to have a community beforehand. To get your game out there, you need people to know about you, your game and the progress of your game’s development. The bigger the community, the bigger your chance to be funded. The role of the community is crucial in creating initial hype to boost the campaign, and giving it a real chance to get funded. The majority of successful campaigns that we checked had over 1000 followers on Twitter and Facebook each at the launch. These followers need to be organic and engaged! Having 10.000 followers, but only 10 reactions per post is not a good sign.
Budgeting: You need to do your homework on the budget you’re looking for from your Kickstarter campaign. Our research showed that 2D puzzle platformers usually don’t get more than $20.000 - $50.000. We calculated the absolute minimum budget we needed to finish our game. For all the additional stuff we wished to have in the game, we created stretch goals. It's important not to reveal all the stretch goals at launch. After you reach one you show another one and so on. That way you can make the people more excited about what's next.
Tracking tools: Using tools like Kicktraq and BiggerCake is very helpful (they also have Chrome plugins to quickly check Kickstarter pages). It gives you the possibility to check the progress of your campaign almost in real-time, giving you a chance to make quick decisions to adapt your marketing strategy on the go. You can check how each update or marketing move you make impacts the campaign almost instantly, so it will help you plan the next step better. You’ll see the number of pledges and comments each day. For example, we noticed that during weekends or holidays there were fewer pledges than on a working day, so no major updates were made before such.
Mid-campaign marketing: Marketing during your campaign is important. Using the tools mentioned above, you can observe that campaigns have a bigger boost at launch and at the end, with way less activity happening during the middle. You need to come up with ideas that will have a big impact on your backers’ engagement with the campaign and that bring more people to the page.
Press: The media will not write too much about your Kickstarter unless there is a big hype around your game. They will also ignore you if there is a major gaming event going on.
Trailer: Games with professional trailers have greater chances of success.
Demo: Games with a polished demo have greater chances to get funded, especially when you’re an unknown studio/developer and it’s your first major game.
Steam Page: Have a great looking Steam Page to gather wishlists and followers.
Advertising: It works well if you have the budget and know how to do it. Since we are not in such a situation, we didn’t study and care too much about it.
As you can see, this data analysis takes lots of time but it’s really, really important that you do your homework and prepare thoroughly before taking this major step and launch the campaign.
We kept our eyes on lots of Kickstarter campaigns and various articles before we decided to launch our campaign. If you don’t feel ready to launch yours, don’t. In our opinion, it’s better to have a postponed but successful campaign than a rushed and failed one.
Based on our analysis we decided to postpone our campaign twice. First time we planned to launch the campaign in October 2018, but we delayed the launch for February 2019. We finally launched it in May 2019. We had plenty of reasons to delay the campaign and we accumulated quite a lot of frustration about these delays, but looking back, we are really happy that we did so.
Reasons for the delays:
Our community was way too small to sustain a successful campaign. We had 600 followers on Twitter and 600 followers on Facebook.
We didn’t have a “vertical slice” type of demo.
October is a pretty bad month to launch a Kickstarter.
Our Steam page was really bad looking.
We didn’t have a Discord server.
We didn’t have a trailer ready.
What we did to correct those drawbacks:
Posted twice a week on Twitter during Saturday using #screenshotsaturday and on Wednesday using #indiedevhour with content relevant to our game. This is important to get more traction to your tweets, and to engage with people that are really interested in your game.
Posted once a week on Facebook on Saturday and shared it on various Indie Game Developers groups. Show people that you are serious about your game and it is not a fling that will pass soon. Be committed and be proud of your project. People need to know that you are the first one to believe in your game.
Created a Discord server and asked people to join. From time to time our social media posts had a call to join our Discord Server. Those who want to know you better will join. Once you have a Discord server, engage with your followers, don’t just disappear and expect that people will stay and wait for updates. Casual chats on your Discord channel will do your community a lot more good than strictly pinpointed updates about your game.
Created awareness about our intention to launch a Kickstarter campaign for Unbound. This way people started to get more interest in the game and get mentally prepared for the Kickstarter launch.
Decided on what content we should pick from our game to build a solid 20-30 mins demo.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an active Discord server for a Kickstarter campaign. It’s the place where you can stay in touch with your community. And people from Discord are really involved in your game.
Part 2 - Trailer - 3 months before launch
In February, the demo hadn’t been as polished as we wanted it to be. We still had some problems with the game performance and we were a bit behind with the game assets. Our community was growing but we still hadn’t reached our targets. Our Facebook page was hitting our target of 1000 likes but our Twitter was falling behind with only 800 followers.
By the end of February, the demo was finally in good shape and we started working on the trailer, gifs, and images for the campaign. For a small team, creating a good professional trailer takes a huge amount of time.
We also decided to team up with an indie PR team called GameIfYouAre for a few reasons:
To help us sending emails to the press and influencers.
To proofread our campaign since we are not native English speakers.
For consultancy for the campaign.
We wanted to do community management ourselves. People wanted to talk to us rather than to someone hired for it. It creates a stronger bond with your players on a personal level. Moreover, some active members will want to be involved in this process and they will be willing to help you out in your time of need. I want to thank all our “Wizards” from our Discord server :D, you rock!
Picking the right day for the campaign
Together with the PR guys, we decided to launch the Kickstarter on May 7th because:
Both the Orthodox and the Catholic Easters were over.
May 1st is The Labor Day for many Europeans and they get a mini-vacation, so the focus on those few days would be out of the office.
May 7th was good also because it was on a Tuesday, the middle of the week, the best time to get people to think about something other than work ;)
As we mentioned in the first section of this article, it is not a good idea to catch too many holidays during the campaign. We think that May was great, not only because all the religious holidays had ended, but we also managed to avoid the summer holidays and any major gaming events like E3.
The trailer and the page draft
We spent one month creating our trailers:
A short 1 minute and 15 seconds long trailer on YouTube which contained just a small cutscene at the beginning introducing the viewer into the story of the game and gameplay footage. Our advice is to make your trailer short and alert, leave the viewer yearning for more. Nowadays people have neither the time nor the patience to watch a boring and long trailer. It’s important to mention that the final seconds of the trailer contained important info about the Kickstarter launch date.
A longer version which is on the Kickstarter page itself, where on top of the basic 1 minute and 15 seconds we added extra footage with us pitching the game. Based on our research we knew that Kickstarter videos where creators pitch the game themselves tend to be more successful.
By the end of March, we had all the gifs and the first draft of the page ready.
To me, if the Kickstarter video is bad or really amateurishly made it’s really hard to convince that the project deserves to be backed. I wanted to see what other people think about this topic and we did a small poll over Discord:
Based on just a few answers, we can see that for other people the video is not as important as it is for me, and this told us that we had to do all the parts right in order to attract more people in.
Part 3 - Building The Hype! - 1 month before our launch
Releasing the trailer
We decided to reveal our Kickstarter trailer on the 2nd of April, one month before the Kickstarter launch. This way, we let people know that we would be doing a Kickstarter on the 7th of May. All our Twitter and Facebook posts also mentioned our launch date.
People are very busy, so chances are that your community members are also busy people and will not remember specific details or dates about your game, so they need to be reminded constantly about them. Don’t be shy to mention the launch date all over your social media, look at this as helping them help you...
Announcing the Kickstarter on Twitter finally got some traction that we had always wanted. We kindly asked people to retweet our posts.
The first round of emails were also sent to the press and influencers and all our social media was up to date with our trailer launch.
The response was very positive, we had good media coverage of the upcoming Kickstarter campaign. More people started joining our Discord channel.
It’s important to mention that we uploaded the trailer separately on all social platforms. If you share the Youtube video on Facebook or Twitter it’s not going to get much visibility due to the “social media war”.
Releasing the demo on Discord
We decided to release the Kickstarter demo to our Discord community 2 weeks before the launch campaign. This was a crucial moment to build the hype. We posted on all our social media pages that people can join our Discord channel if they want to try the demo before it will be made publicly available. This brought a significant number of new members to our channel.
Besides that, our players kindly pointed out some major bugs that we have missed in our QA rounds, and it helped us deliver a better and more stable demo to the public, so here goes another thank you to our community!
The demo was also sent to the press and influencers to have a look at it with an embargo to write about it until the 7th of May.
In order to download the demo, people had to subscribe to our email list. That way we could also notify them about the campaign. Not having done it earlier was a huge mistake and we underestimated and neglected the newsletter for a long time. We should have done that right away when we started developing the game.
There is another strategy when you release the demo near the end of the campaign but I’m against it mainly because:
We are not in 2012 anymore and people might not trust you unless you show them something playable. So you can lose potential backers every day.
It can take a couple of days for an influencer to record a video with the game. Releasing the demo at the end of the campaign is risky because the influencers will not upload the videos in time.
You can also send the demo only to the press and influencers but I think that’s not fair towards your community.
The week before the launch
In the final week, we prepared a few updates just to have them ready for the campaign. We fixed some bugs that the community found in the demo. We proofread the page once again and shared it with some developers that had some experience with Kickstarter.
We kept the hype going over Discord and posted daily on Twitter and Facebook.
We finished preparing the Steam Page and put the Steam image on Kickstarter page. People get comfier when they see that your game is going to be released for Steam and you already have the page already in place. And Kickstarter will help you gathering wishlists on Steam.
We also included “Back us on Kickstarter” button in the main menu of the game.
Before the launch our social media looked like this:
~300 members on Discord
~200 newsletter subscriptions
~1200 Facebook likes
~1200 Twitter followers
~4700 Steam Wishlists
Part 4 - The Campaign
In the first hour, the third round of emails were sent to the press and influencers to let them know that our campaign was live. Of course, journalists knew about the game from previous rounds of emails and didn’t spend too much time analyzing the game.
We were super happy that articles about our Kickstarter had started to pop up with a call to action to support our campaign. It’s important to mention that one single website will not do wonders for the campaign. So we tried to be on every website we could.
Not many backers will come from directly from the websites, but I think it’s really important to build the hype.
Impact over campaign: average
During the campaign, some journalists wanted to do interviews or podcasts where we talked more about the game and the campaign. We also wentto a well-known TV show from our country to present our game. We were lucky that during our campaign a Comic-Con was held in Bucharest and we managed to have a small booth at the event.
To be honest, the impact of the Comic-Con and the TV show was not as big as we expected mainly because the audience is super broad. But it didn’t hurt that more people acknowledged our game. Moreover, local Youtubers found out about it and made videos about Unbound on their channels.
Impact over campaign: low - average
The demo featured on itch.io and GameJolt
We made the demo public through Steam, itch.io and Gamejolt. We asked the guys from itch.io and Gamejolt if they could feature our demo. The game was featured on itch.io in the first week of the campaign and featured again on Gamejolt in the last week of the campaign. Even if we didn’t see a high boost of backers while the game was featured, the game gained huge visibility because people streamed it or they did YouTube videos. And, of course, that indirectly helped the campaign.
Impact over campaign: average
Keymailer & Influencers
Keymailer is a powerful tool where you can send Steam keys to streamers and YouTubers. It doesn’t work without Steam, so the game must be on Steam. Although it costs 300$ for one month, it definitely worth the money. The best part is that you can filter and select YouTubers and streamers that play games within your genre. I asked my buddy Aurel Ioan to help me with the tool as it can take some time.
We sent over 2000 keys during the campaign and the average coverage was 5 -10%. Some big YouTubers with over 500k subscribers made a video for the game. We didn’t rely 100% on Keymailer, we also contacted Youtubers and streamers via email. We manually, sent over 300 emails and we had a response rate of 5%.
Impact over campaign: high
Facebook & Twitter
Social media was our ally before and during the campaign. However, we didn’t want to be too spammy so we posted like 3 or 4 times a week. We decided to post only relevant information regarding the game or the campaign. At the beginning of the campaign, in our case, more backers came from Facebook than Twitter. I guess that happened because all our friends are on Facebook. During the middle and end of the campaign, we saw that more backers came from Twitter.
Regarding Facebook, I have to tell that during the campaign we also shared our trailers on some indie groups like “Indie Game Developers” and even though the post went to 500 likes or more, I didn’t see any single pledge coming from there.
Impact over campaign: high
Reddit & Imgur
Some guerilla marketing doesn’t hurt since it can be highly effective. During the campaign we did 5 or 6 Reddit posts on channels relevant to our game, like /r/indiegaming, /r/pcgaming, /r/hollowknight, /r/gaming and /r/nintendoswitch. Of course, we asked the moderators first. After getting their permission, instead of telling people about the Kickstarter in the post, we invited them to play the demo. If they liked it, they’d eventually back us. All our posts went to the Hot Section and they were on top in that section for more than 12 hours. We also created 3 posts on Imgur having the mandatory “gaming” tag. All posts reached the front page, mainly because we used high-quality gifs and a good story to present the game. Also sharing your posts with the community will help with the initial boost
Impact over campaign: very high
Updates & Cross-Promotion
We made 18 Kickstarter updates throughout the campaign. They are super important to engage with your community because you announce new things and make the people excited with your plans, milestones, stretch goals, art contests or cross-promotions. A campaign without updates looks like a dead one and people can cancel their pledges if they don’t see updates from the creators.
In updates, we used cross-promotion which is a really great way to bring more people in. We talked with other Kickstarter creators that had ongoing campaigns and asked them if they wanted to write about our campaign in one of their updates. In exchange, we wrote about their campaigns too. Cross-promotion is really powerful because you show your game to Kickstarter users that had already backed a project and they are not afraid to do it again :). It works better if both games are within the same genre.
Impact over campaign: very high
Same like updates, streaming helps engage a lot with the community. Unfortunately, we did only two streams at the end of the campaign - mainly because we were too shy and not that good in front of a camera :)
However, when we streamed more people increased their pledges and convinced their friends to back our project. So I think it’s a really really good way to promote the Kickstarter campaign.
We streamed on Twitch, Facebook, Steam, and Youtube at the same time using restream.io.
Impact over campaign: high
Part 5 - Conclusion
Creating a Kickstarter campaign for a video game is a tough job and requires a lot of planning beforehand. If there is something to take away from this, it would be: build a community and have a high-quality demo.
In the end, 42% of our backers came directly from Kickstarter and 58% came from external websites.
Project followers rate was 12% during the campaign and it increased to 19% at the end.
After the launch our social media grow looked like this:
300 --------> 500 members on Discord
200 -------> 600 newsletter subscriptions
1200 ------> 1320 Facebook likes
1200 ------> 1700 Twitter followers
4700 -------> 8600 Steam Wishlists
My only regret is that we hadn’t used the newsletter sooner. We could have collected lots of emails at various gaming events and online during the 1 year of preparation and remind people that were interested in the game about the Kickstarter.
Hope that these insights and strategies can help you with your Kickstarter campaign. Good luck!