Niche - a community-based Kickstarter campaign
On the 28th April we launched our Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise $15,000 for our game, Niche - a genetic survival game. By the campaign’s end, 2,838 backers had supported us with a total of $72,375 (which is 482% of our funding goal). All the PR and marketing was handled by our indie developer team of four people. Our team decided to go for a funding goal we were sure we could reach and extend the game’s content through stretch goals. Neither money nor marketing was the main goal of this campaign. What we wanted, above all, was to strengthen bonds with our community through an exciting adventure. In this article we will talk about our community-based approach to crowdfunding.
Part 1 - Before launch
“You must have a community before launching your Kickstarter!”
For us, this sentence was utterly true. We could never have reached the same level of funding without our small, but dedicated fan-base. Over the past year we visited various events (such as GDC, Gamescom and Game Connection) and posted frequently on social media (mostly Facebook and Twitter) in order to connect with people that are interested in our game idea. We entered the Kickstarter with a small, but loyal following:
~ 650 people in our tester group (Facebook)
~ 600 likes on our Facebook page
~ 700 Twitter Followers
~ 400 Newsletter sign-ups
Niche had already passed Steam Greenlight a few weeks before our campaign launched. There had never been so much positive energy in our tester group before. Reaching a shared goal together was a great feeling that we wanted to replicate with our Kickstarter campaign. Thanks to the Greenlight we had already produced most of the PR material for our campaign, most notably the trailer for Niche. However, there was a downside to launching the Kickstarter campaign after having our game Greenlit: If we would have launched Greenlight in parallel with our Kickstarter, all the yes-voters would have been potential backers. We tried reaching-out to the Greenlight yes-voters again when the campaign launched, but our Kickstarter announcement was only seen by a handful of people.
With most of our PR material in place, the rewards turned out to be the most time-consuming aspect of the pre-launch phase. We went through many iterations, restructuring the rewards, asking for feedback, restructured them again. Each of the reward tiers was named after an animal, starting with the Frugal Frog tier of $1up to $5000 for the Benevolent Blue Whale tier. Our stretch goals and community goals were designed to follow a specific concept. We let potential backers know that their actions would influence the evolution of the animal species in the game.
During the process of restructuring rewards we came up with a new reward concept that we haven’t seen before. We named our new approach “Shared Reward Tiers.” The concept is simple: we offered a reward tier with a limited quantity. If all these rewards were taken, we would implement a new feature in the game that all backers would benefit from. These rewards were very popular amongst our backers.
We decided against Early Bird and Kickstarter exclusive rewards in order avoid splitting our community into winners and losers, based on the great advice from Stonemaier Game’s book A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide (EDS Publications Ltd. (2015). Stonemaier’s insights also convinced us to add a $1 reward tier because it lets people join the update loop to build up trust in our efforts. Many of our $1 backers later increased their pledge to a higher tier. There are many Kickstarter experienced developers out there who are happy to help. KeokeN Interactive was a huge help for us, Thanks guys!
Last year, we founded Playful Oasis - a collective of indie game developers who are working on nature and biology related games. The collective currently consists of 24 indie teams from all over the world. Five members had run a Kickstarter campaign prior to our launch and promised to give us a shout-out, which turned out the be a great push for the first few days. Two other members (Slug Disco and Axon Interactive) were running their campaign’s at the same time as ours. This was beneficial for all three teams. We spent many hours strategizing together and did a lot of cross-promotion.
Youtubers and streamers have become important allies for game developers. They are in direct contact with potential buyers/backers and can significantly increase a campaign’s reach. We prepared a special challenge for them. If a Youtuber/streamer managed to beat the challenge, they’d receive a bunch of Early Access keys for our Niche as a giveaway for their viewers. We made a list of content creators who’d potentially be interested in our game. They were selected mostly by browsing Youtube for “let’s play” videos of games that had similar themes to Niche. We sent out a total of 50 emails and challenged each Youtuber/streamer via a short pitch text. 10 answered our call and promised to create a video during the campaign.
There are so many small things to pay attention to, such as adding a “We are on Kickstarter” button on your website, changing your Facebook and Twitter infos to mention your campaign, telling all your friends about it, sending out announcement newsletters, etc. This list goes on forever.
In terms of campaign length we decided to go with a 33 day Kickstarter. We were advised by multiple sources that a game studio’s first crowdfunding campaign benefits from a longer campaign duration, because the news of your game needs time to spread. We didn’t believe it at first, but it was definitely the right thing to do. A few more days would probably have benefited us even more.
Part 2: Kickstarter Launch
We launched our Kickstarter campaign on a Thursday evening (UTC + 1) which is midday in the USA. In order to celebrate the launch, we organized a modest party in Zurich, which could be accessed worldwide via a livestream. There were only a few people watching, but it still felt like an important event that we wanted to share with our most dedicated community members.
As mentioned earlier, we didn’t use any Early Bird rewards so we had to come up with another way of motivating people to back the project right away instead of later. We did this by using a timed community goal. If 100 people backed the project within the first 24 hours, a new feature would be added for all the future players to enjoy.
Our second community goal also helped to spread the word early on.
These first few days of the campaign were clearly dominated by friends and community members who backed the game. We made sure to clearly communicate the incentives for backing Niche right away: reaching 30% of the funding goal in the first week is important proof to potential backers that the game has a chance to get funded.
Part 3: The not-so dry middle
The time between the first few and the last few days of a crowdfunding campaign are often called “the dry middle.” This wasn’t really the case for us. A lot of things happened during these three weeks. To maintain momentum we constantly challenged our community with new goals to unlock additional features for Niche. Taking a look at the above graph in hindsight, adding 3-5 additional days to the campaign duration may have been a good idea.
On the 4th day of the campaign we were close to reaching our funding goal, but the day started slow and we needed to do something about it. A few days prior, our friends from Slug Disco had managed to raise several hundred dollars thanks to a post on imgur. We decided to copy their approach, which was a strategy that worked out better than we had expected. In just one day our imgur post received over 100k views and resulted in a lot of new backers. Thanks to this post, we reached our funding goal after just three days!
We were totally unprepared for this early success. Our intention had been to start planning the stretch goals a week after the Kickstarter launch. After a stressful night shift the first stretch goal was in place. One could think that we learned from our mistakes, but we didn’t. We kept on underestimating the speed of our campaign and had to create new stretch goals every few days. If we ever run a Kickstarter again, at least three stretch goals will be prepared in advance.
Being funded early gave us the opportunity to relax and go ahead and try whatever we felt might be a good idea. The visualization below shows all the major events that happened during the middle of our campaign:
We hadn’t contacted the press before the campaign launched. This was more of a time question than an actual plan. We believed that Youtubers and streamers would be easier to get in touch with, so we focused on them. After we had reached our funding goal we put together a press release, did some research on editors who we subsequently contacted. This resulted in an article by PC Gamer and another by Rock, Paper, Shotgun. We also uploaded a press release on gamespress. Our friends from Slug Disco saw a lot of small review sites pick up their gamespress post using this method. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case for us.
The Youtuber/streamer challenge was in full bloom. The news had spread and many small content creators picked-up the demo via our website. Around 70 video reviews were created during the Kickstarter campaign with a total count of over 250,000 views. This constant flow of content for the game kept people engaged and showed a positive impact on backer numbers.
Visiting video game conferences and festivals is a great way to build-up a community. We continued to showcase Niche during our Kickstarter campaign. Some of our team members exhibited Niche at the Nordic Game Festival and we also attended multiple local game events within Switzerland and nearby. This was a nice change of pace and we even met some of our backers in person and found a few new ones along the way.
A particularly interesting experiment we tried was the “Whale Search.” Long story short: we asked our community to help us find a backer for our $5000 reward tier. If they managed to this challenge a new feature would be added to the game. We opened up a Google Doc to communicate with our playtesters and backers as we had done previously to brainstorm gene ideas for a community stretch goal. Aside from a short incident with a troll, we are very satisfied with our communication experience via Google Docs. Five hours after the search had started we had already found our whale.
As mentioned, we had a hard time reaching the people that had earlier shown interest in our game on Steam Greenlight. We decided to set up our Steam page and community hub in order to ensure that they were alerted to our Kickstarter campaign. We invited every user that left a positive comment on the Greenlight page and had soon built-up a solid following on Steam. We didn’t see much impact for the Kickstarter, though.
There are countless things going on during a Kickstarter campaign and it’s hard to keep track of them all. Services like Google Alert are helpful but they don’t pick up everything. We asked our playtesters and backers to let us know whenever they discovered a post about Niche and thus stumbled upon many small sources we hadn’t noticed, such as different science communities on Facebook who were talking about us.
Part 4: Last Days
We were unsure whether or not our project would get a big final push since we were already funded, but the fear was unfounded. Every person that hit the “Remind me” button on a Kickstarter page receives an email 48 hours before a campaign ends. This helpful reminder caused a flood of new pledges. We reached our last stretch goal about 10 hours before our campaign ended. Since we had already communicated this goal as the FINAL one we withheld announcing any further stretch goals.
We decided to do a Thunderclap to broadcast the last few hours of the campaign. To make the signup process a bit more entertaining we offered people three teams to choose from, each with its own Thunderclap message. People enjoyed the idea and started rooting for their team (Team Cute, Team Science and Team Gamer). Unfortunately, not enough people signed-up (we needed at least 100 per team) and therefore only two of the three messages were sent out at different times of the day. This happened mainly because we didn’t pre-schedule enough time to contact people. We still believe that doing a “Multi-Clap” is a good idea but we will go for less team options next time.
On the last day our friend Alice made a reddit post which generated quite some attention and attracted a few additional backers. In addition we created another Imgur post which managed to generate another round of views.
A few minutes before the Kickstarter campaign was over we cleaned up our campaign page and added links to our Steam page and website. Important: Kickstarter pages can not be edited after the campaign ends!
After finishing up our “Thank you” image and sending it to our backers it was time to rest.
Part 5: Post Kickstarter
We woke up the next day and found ourselves inundated with “I missed the Kickstarter!” messages. Paypal had already been a payment option during the campaign so we decided to open up a simple pre-order system on our website and link to it from our Kickstarter page by using a “Late backer” button. Our Kickstarter ended a week ago, but the pledges are still coming in at a constant level with 3-5 people pre-ordering Niche per day.
We are very happy with the Kickstarter campaign results. Not only did we receive far more money than we ever expected to further develop Niche, we enjoyed the shared adventure with our community, which brought us closer together with our supporters. The community has also grown in numbers.
650 ------------------> 1700 members in tester group
600 ------------------> 925 FB likes
700 ------------------> 1050 Twitter followers
400 ------------------> 700 Newsletter signups
0 ---------------------> 370 Readers of subreddit
0 ---------------------> 53 Followers on Tumblr
0 ---------------------> 750 Followers on Steam
36% of our backers came directly from Kickstarter.
64% of our backers came from external sites.
The average pledge amount of our backers was $25.
Additionally to the money on Kickstarter we received ~ $1500 via Paypal.
Most of our backers come from:
- USA 1,396 backers
- United Kingdom 280 backers
- Switzerland 203 backers (we are Swiss)
- Canada 170 backers
- Australia 152 backers
Main sources of backers:
- Kickstarter ~ $19,000
- Facebook $12,796
- Twitter $3,899
- Our website $3,001
- Google $1,602
There is one thing that feels strange to us now that the campaign is over. We always try to be as generous as possible, giving away keys freely without hesitation. This is no longer possible because we don’t want to decrease the value our backers invested into Niche. This new mindset is something we need to get accustomed to. It is strange to realize that after so many hours of unpaid work, we’ve now turned your hobby into a paid job.
Part 6: Things to improve
As mentioned earlier, some things didn’t work out. Here is a list of things that we’ll do better a second time around:
- Prepare images for the first few stretch/community goals before launch. Creating them during the campaign is very exhausting because you already have more than enough other things to do.
- Have new reward tiers ready to fill the gap when one of your limited tiers is reached.
- Launch your “last day” push a few days earlier. The reddit and imgur post generated traffic after our campaign was already over.
- Prepare a list with press contacts before launch and schedule a date to contact them during the campaign.
- Run Greenlight and Kickstarter campaigns at the same time to get a synergy effect. Your backers might up-vote your game and the up-voters may back it.
We hope this insight helps you plan your future Kickstarter campaign. We believe you can do it and we wish you all the best. :)