Sometime in December 2019, about a month before I was set to launch the Kickstarter for my sci-fi survival adventure game Aquamarine, I was answering questions for an interview when I surprised myself with something I said. I’d been asked about the first time my tiny studio Moebial had unsuccessfully attempted to Kickstart our indie game, and I ended my response, saying, “I’m actually happy we didn’t succeed.”
The thought naturally flowed out of me, as if it had been gestating in secret these past 14 months. I had to stop answering questions and think about this. Was I really happy about something that, at the time, had taken a massive mental and emotional toll on me? Something that had caused me to retreat from the project entirely? Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but this felt suspiciously like I wasn’t being honest with myself.
“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.”
During the months afterwards, this proved accurate. Among the most important benefits of running a failed Kickstarter was that my game now had at least 248 more fans personally invested in seeing it come to life. Our mailing list had grown considerably, as had our social media profiles. And our dormant Kickstarter page was now a reliable means of communicating with our would-be backers. Funds aren’t the only thing you need to make a successful Kickstarter.
In early spring of 2019, when I started development on Aquamarine again, everything about the project had changed. Moebial’s lead artist no longer had enough time to dedicate to it, our composer was regularly touring and equally unavailable, and I was planning to move across the country from Brooklyn to Northern California, where I’d grown up. In many ways it felt like I was starting from scratch, as the fallout from the Kickstarter failure revealed just how much work needed to be done. But that right there, I realized, is the crux of why I was ultimately glad we didn’t succeed the first time. Had we somehow managed to raise $25K, I may have never had the chance to reevaluate the efficacy of my team or Aquamarine itself.
The opportunity to find new collaborators was also the opportunity to give myself a new sense of excitement and purpose. I’ve been working on Aquamarine since as far back as 2017, and needed a fresh perspective on the game’s design. Taking time off after the first Kickstarter allowed me space to think more abstractly and experimentally about the project. This resulted in the addition of a gardening system (so players could grow their own food to aid their survival), a couple of strange new creatures to encounter while exploring, loads of improvements to the environment art, additional mechanics for piloting your underwater pod, and much more. Some of this was intended to be in the game from the start, but having the chance to reevaluate Aquamarine’s design meant ensuring the game could freely evolve without outside pressure or time constraints.
Bolstered by a new dev team and without the massive overhead of living in a major city, I began to sketch a game plan for Aquamarine’s second Kickstarter attempt. Evaluating the first campaign during this process revealed a handful of major pitfalls I needed to address:
- There was little to no personality in the first Kickstarter. People also want to connect to the human element of your indie game. Put yourself—face and all—entirely into the project.
- Our funding goal was far too high for a team of our size and means. Find the fat in the budget and trim it liberally, even if it means changing your lifestyle to do it.
- Aquamarine’s first launch trailer was serviceable at best, and it failed to fully illustrate the game’s vision and identity. Make a trailer that looks and feels like the campaign’s centerpiece.
- Our rewards were OK, but didn’t play enough into what makes the game appealing. Don’t just offer what previous campaigns have offered. Figure out what rewards are unique to your indie game, and cut the rest.
- Launching with a demo isn’t always the smartest choice. You want to space out your campaign’s biggest updates, especially a free playable demo. Use these updates to give pledges a boost during the inevitable plateau.
Having the experience of launching my first Kickstarter, coupled with the ability to reassess what worked and what didn't, was invaluable to planning a campaign that capitalized on all of our team’s strengths and assets.
Throughout the many months of developing, planning, organizing, creating, and refining all that went into Aquamarine’s second Kickstarter, I never stopped sharing our progress anywhere I could. Updates on our Twitter and Instagram were regular, as were Reddit posts, emails, and devlogs on Itch and Game Jolt. If there was visual content, it was shared, regardless of how temporary or experimental. It all goes back to the most important element of any successful Kickstarter: people who are genuinely thrilled that you’re making something they didn’t even know they needed. For my tiny studio, with no budget for a marketing team or traveling to game expos, we can only find those people by constantly putting our work out there over a long period of time. The numbers may tick up slowly, but they will tick up.
Aquamarine’s second Kickstarter launched on January 22 and is now less than $300 away from our $12,540 goal with 19 days to go. As opposed to our first Kickstarter attempt, at this point it would be shocking if we didn’t fully fund the project. The response has been incredible, and at times genuinely shocking and overwhelming. We have yet to hit a plateau in our funding, some of our rewards have completely sold out, and backers seem to be organically discovering us every day. None of this would be happening without first being unsuccessful back in October 2018. I said it before and it bears repeating: I’m glad I failed. Failure gave me everything I needed to find my own path to success.
- Patric Fallon
Director & Lead Designer, Moebial Studios