Nimbatus - How a free demo got our game funded
On the 2nd of November 2017 we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our game Nimbatus - The Space Drone Constructor, which aimed to raise $20,000. By the campaign’s end, 3000 backers had supported us with a total of $74,478. All the PR and marketing was handled by our indie developer team of four people with a very low marketing budget. Our team decided to go for a funding goal we were sure we could reach and extend the game’s content through stretch goals. The main goal of the campaign was to raise awareness for the game and raise funds for the alpha version.
Part 1 - Before launch
“You must have a community before launching your Kickstarter!”
Is what we believed when we launched our first Kickstarter campaign in 2016. For this first campaign, we had built up a very dedicated group of people before the Kickstarter’s launch. Nimbatus also had a bit of a following before the campaign launched:
~ 300 likes on Facebook
~ 1300 followers on Twitter
~ 1000 newsletter subs
~ 3500 followers on Steam
However, there had been little interaction between players and us previous to the campaign's launch. This made us unsure whether or not the Nimbatus Kickstarter would reach its funding goal.
A few weeks prior to launch, we started to look for potential ways to promote Nimbatus during the Kickstarter. We found our answer in social news sites. Reddit, Imgur and 9gag all proved to be great places to talk about Nimbatus. More about this in Part 3 - During the campaign.
As with our previous campaign, the reward structure and trailer were the most time-consuming aspects of the page setup. We realised early that Nimbatus looks A LOT better in motion and therefore decided that we should show all features in action with animated GIFs.
In order to support the campaigns storytelling, “we built a ship, now we need a crew!”, we named all reward tiers after open positions on the ship.
We were especially interested how the “Navigator” tier would do. This $95 tier would give backers free digital copies of ALL games our company EVER creates.
We decided against Early Bird and Kickstarter exclusive rewards in order avoid splitting backers into “winners and losers”, based on the great advice from Stonemaier Game’s book A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide (EDS Publications Ltd. (2015). Their 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.
Two of our reward tiers featured games that are similar to Nimbatus. The keys for these games were provided by fellow developers. We think that this is really awesome and it helped the campaign a lot! A huge thanks to Avorion, Reassembly, Airships and Scrap Galaxy <3
Youtubers and streamers are important allies for game developers. They are in direct contact with potential buyers/backers and can significantly increase a campaign’s reach. 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 similar to Nimbatus. We sent out a total of 100 emails, each with a personalized intro sentence, no money involved. Additionally, we used Keymailer. Keymailer is a tool to contact Youtubers and streamers. At a cost of $150/month you can filter all available contacts by games they played and genres they enjoy. We personalized the message for each group. Messages automatically include an individual Steam key. With this tool, we contacted over 2000 Youtubers/Streamers who are interested in similar games.
How it turned out
- About 10 of the 100 Youtubers we contacted manually ended up creating a video/stream during the Kickstarter. Including some big ones with 1 million+ subscribers.
- Over 150 videos resulted from the Keymailer outreach. Absolutely worth the investment!
Another very helpful tool to find Youtubers/Streamers is Twitter. Before, but also during the campaign we sent out tweets, stating that we are looking for Youtubers/Streamers who want to feature Nimbatus. We also encouraged people to tag potentially interested content creators in the comments. This brought in a lot of interested people and resulted in a couple dozen videos. We also used Twitter to follow up when people where not responding via email, which proved to be very effective.
In terms of campaign length we decided to go with a 34 day Kickstarter. The main reason being that we thought it would take quite a while until the word of the campaign spread enough. In retrospective this was ok, but we think 30 days would have been enough too.
We were very unsure whether or not to release a demo of Nimbatus. Mainly because we were unsure if the game offered enough to convince players in this early state and we feared that our alpha access tier would potentially lose value because everyone could play already. Thankfully we decided to offer a demo in the end. More on this topic in Part 3 - During the campaign.
Since we are based in Switzerland, we were forced to use CHF as our campaign’s currency. And while the currency is automatically re-calculated into $ for American backers, it was displayed in CHF for all other international backers. Even though CHF and $ are almost 1:1 in value, we believed this to be a
hurdle. There is no way to tell for us how many backers were scared away because of this in the end.
Part 2: Kickstarter Launch
We launched our Kickstarter campaign on a Thursday evening (UTC + 1) which is midday in the US. In order to celebrate the launch, we did a short livestream on Facebook. We had previously opened an event page and invited all our Facebook friends to it. Only a few people were watching and we were a bit stressed out.
In order to help us spread the word we challenged our supporters with community goals. We promised that if all these goals were reached, each backer above $14 would receive an extra copy of Nimbatus. With most of the goals reached after the first week, we realized that we should have made the challenge a bit harder.
The first few days went better than expected. We announced the Kickstarter on Imgur, Reddit, 9gag, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, in some forums, via our Newsletter and on our Steam page. If you plan to release your game on Steam later on, we’d highly recommend that you set up your Steam page before the Kickstarter launches. Some people might not be interested in backing the game but will go ahead and wishlist it instead.
Part 3: During the campaign
We tried to keep the campaign’s momentum going. This worked our mostly thanks to the demo we had released.
In order to download the Nimbatus demo, people needed to head over to our website and enter their email address. Within a few minutes, they received an automated email, including a download link for the demo. We used Mailchimp for this process.
We also added a big pop up in the demo to inform players about the Kickstarter.
At first we were a bit reluctant to use this approach, it felt a bit sneaky. But after adding a line informing players they would be added to the newsletter and adding a huge unsubscribe button in the demo download mail, we felt that we could still sleep at night.
For our previous campaign we had also released a demo. But the approach was significantly different. For the Nimbatus Kickstarter, we used the demo as a marketing tool to inform people about the campaign. Our previous Kickstarters’ demo was mainly an asset you could download if you were already checking out the campaign’s page and wanted to try the game before backing.
We continued to frequently post on Imgur, Twitter, 9Gag and Facebook. Simultaneously, people streamed Nimbatus on Twitch and released videos on Youtube. This lead to a lot of demo downloads and therefore growth of our newsletter. A few hundred subs came in every day. Only about 10% of the people unsubscribed from the newsletter after downloading the demo.
Whenever we updated the demo or reached significant milestones in the campaign, such as being halfway to our goal, we sent out a newsletter. We also opened a Discord channel, which turned out a be a great way to stay in touch with our players.
We were quite surprised to see a decent opening and link click rate. Especially if you compare this to our “normal” newsletter, which includes mostly people we personally met at events. Our normal newsletter took over two years to build up and includes about 4000 subs. With the Nimbatus demo, we gathered 50’000 subs within just 4 weeks and without travelling to any conferences.
(please note that around 2500 people subscribed to the normal newsletter during the Kickstarter)
On the 7th day of the campaign we asked a friend if she would give us a shoutout on Reddit. She agreed and posted it in r/gaming. We will never forget what happened next. The post absolutely took off! In less than an hour, the post had reached the frontpage and continued to climb fast. It soon reached the top spot of all things on Reddit. Our team danced around in the office. Lots of people backed, a total of over $5000 came in from this post and we reached our funding goal 30 minutes after hitting the front page.
We couldn’t believe our luck. Then, people started to accuse us of using bots to upvote the post. Our post was reported multiple times until the moderators took the post down.
We were shocked and contacted them. They explained that they would need to investigate the post for bot abuse. A few hours later, they put the post back up and stated to have found nothing wrong with it and apologized for the inconvenience. Since the post had not received any upvotes in the past hours while it was taken down it very quickly dropped off the front page and the money flow stopped. While this is a misunderstanding we can understand and accept, people’s reactions hit us pretty hard. After the post was back up, many people on Reddit continued to accuse us and our friend. In the following days, our friend was constantly harassed when she posted on Reddit. Some people jumped over to our companies Twitter and Imgur account and kept on blaming us, asking if we were buying upvotes there too. It’s really not cool to falsely accuse people.
Almost two weeks later we decided to start posting in smaller subreddits again. This proved to be no problem. But when we dared to do another post in r/gaming later, people immediately reacted very aggressive. We took the new post down and decided to stop posting in r/gaming (at least during the Kickstarter).
After upgrading the demo with a new feature to easily export GIFs, we started to run competitions on Twitter. The coolest drones that were shared with #NimbatusGame would receive a free Alpha key for the game. Lots of players participated and helped to increase Nimbatus’ reach by doing so. We also gave keys to our most dedicated Youtubers/streamers who then came up with all kinds of interesting challenges for their viewers.
All these activities came together in a nice loop:
People downloaded the Nimbatus demo they heard about on social media/social news sites or from Youtubers/Streamers. By receiving newsletters and playing the demo they learned about the Kickstarter. Many of them backed and participated in community goals/competitions which brought in more new people.
Not much happened in terms of press. RockPaperShotgun and PCGamer wrote articles, both resulting in about $500, which was nice. A handful of small sites picked up the news too. We sent out a press release when Nimbatus reached its funding goal, both to manually picked editors of bigger sites and via gamespress.com.
Part 4: Last Days
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 a few 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 24 hours before the campaign ends. Even after having done quite a few Thunderclaps, we are still unsure how big of an impact they have.
A few minutes before the Kickstarter campaign was over we cleaned up our campaign page and added links to our Steam page and website. Note that Kickstarter pages cannot be edited after the campaign ends!
The campaign ended on a Tuesday evening (UTC + 1) and raised a total of $75’000, which is 369% of the original funding goal. After finishing up our “Thank you” image and sending it to our backers it was time to rest.
Part 5: Conclusion
We are very happy with the campaign’s results. It was unexpected to highly surpass our funding goal, even though we didn’t have an engaged community when the campaign started. Thanks to the demo we were able to develop a community for Nimbatus on the go. The demo also allowed us to be less “promoty” when posting on social news sites. This way, interested people could get the demo and discover the Kickstarter from there instead of us having to ask for support directly when posting. This, combined with the ever growing newsletter, turned into a great campaign dynamic. We plan to use this approach again for future campaigns.
300 ------------------> 430 Facebook likes
1300 ------------------> 2120 Twitter followers
1000 ------------------> 50’000 Newsletter signups
3500 ---------------------> 10’000 Followers on Steam
0 ---------------------> 320 Readers of subreddit
0 ---------------------> 468 People on Discord
0 ---------------------> 300 Members in our forum
23% of our backers came directly from Kickstarter.
76% of our backers came from external sites.
For our previous campaign it was 36/64.
The average pledge amount of our backers was $26.
94 backers decided to choose the Navigator reward, which gives them access to all games our studio will create in the future. It makes us very happy to see that this kind of reward, which is basically an investment in us as a game company, was popular among backers.
Main sources of backers
Link inside demo / Newsletter 22’000
Keymailer is awesome, but also contact big Youtubers/streamers via email.
Most money for the Kickstarter came in through the demo.
Social news sites (Imgur, 9Gag, Reddit, …) can generate a lot of attention for a game.
It’s much easier to offer a demo on social news sites than to ask for Kickstarter support.
Collecting newsletter subs from demo downloads is very effective.
It’s possible to run a successful Kickstarter without having a big community beforehand.
We hope this insight helps you plan your future Kickstarter campaign. We believe you can do it and we wish you all the best. :)