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Postmortem for a Kickstarter Project that *just* made it over the line

Phantasmal wasn't a massive success even though we had ticked all the boxes for what a Kickstarter should do. We weren't able to pin point a single cause, but we had some theories on some of the reasons.

I’ve just finished up running Kickstarter campaign for my roguelike survival horror game Phantasmal.  I managed to just make my funding goal on the last hours of the Kickstarter.

 

Kickstarter Page

Steam Greenlight Page

Gamasutra Article

 

You may have read about a lot of campaigns that were massively successful and really smashed their funding targets - this is not one of them.  

 

Overall, funding was adequate, but our raw backer uptake was fairly low in comparison to a lot of other projects, i.e. less than 200 as opposed to the typical 500-1000 for most average games.  We seemed to run out of steam after the initial spike of activity.

 

I’m not sure what the causes are specifically, but I can take some educated guesses.

 

So really, we just crept over the line but I hope that my experiences will help other devs out there as much as awesome devs like Bill Borman before me helped me with his excellent Kickstarter postmortem and advice in general.

Preparation

One of the things that we did do a good job of was the preparation.  I was fortunate to have a great kickstarter coach, Kat Jenkins from Multitude, who walked me through all the prerequisites prior to the campaign.  I had also been researching a couple of great sites:

 

The common thread amongst all the advice is that preparation is absolutely key to running a successful campaign.  In fact the majority of your effort should be directed at the initial preparatory tasks.  It’s analogous to cooking a great meal - the purchase and preparation of the ingredients normally takes the majority of the effort.  It’s the same for a kickstarter.

As such I wrote up a brief plan with all the required activities and milestones.  Having a plan is crucial, especially from a mental standpoint.  A Kickstarter can be a real emotional roller coaster ride, and when you feel really down about it, you just have to make sure you look at your plan and see if you’re on track.  Judging progress objectively is important.

The preparation tasks included:

Task

Note

Secured Day 1 Backers

This was absolutely key - my target for the first day was 10%.  As per Tim Ferris’ site, I got in touch with my closest friends and family a week prior to the actual campaign.

Created a 1 page website

www.phantasmal.co.nz  As per IGG’s The Perfect Landing Page I created a single page site that would redirect visitors to the Kickstarter page.  On the final day I converted this into the main game website. 

Note that now that the Kickstarter is over, the Kickstarter page now has a link back to the game site.  Phantasmal.co.nz also has a Paypal widget for people to pre-order the game.

Facebook

Phantasmal FB Page - I built up to 200 or so followers on it, many from my own friends however since I don’t have a huge friends list, my FB following wasn’t as large as it could have been.  It has been documented that having a decent sized FB personal following can increase chances of success.

Twitter

I had heard a lot of good things about game promotions on twitter, so I decided to invest heavily in it.  As per IGG’s site I used a tool called JustUnfollow to efficiently follow/unfollow people and to copy followers from other users or tags.  In 3 months I was able to build up 4000 followers.

Steam Greenlight (SGL) Campaign

I prepared a SGL campaign ready to launch on Day 1 of the Kickstarter.  Note: The SGL users didn’t really convert to backers.

Gameplay Trailer

I spent a good 2-3 months working on the gameplay trailer with my marketing mentor.  He stressed that the video would determine the success or failure of both campaigns.  As tired as I was of working on it, this video was absolutely crucial for success as it was one of the main things that backers and SGL users would see first.  

Kickstarter Page

I put a reasonable amount of effort into setting up the Kickstarter page, and got as much feedback as I could from coaches, friends, and family.  Once it was at a reasonable point, then I felt comfortable to launch.

Forum posts

I had been spending time posting my activity in TIGForums, Linked In, and Unity .

Demo

The team and I prepared a demo a few months prior.

Mailchimp

I set up mail chimp along with several mailing lists built up from my own email contacts which I sent out on day 1.  Out of the thousand plus contacts only a fraction replied, but I was astounded by the generosity of a few people I hadn’t spoken to for a while!

Kicktraq

On day 1 I made sure that my project was registered so I could keep an eye on daily stats.  You register your project by simply pasting the URL of the KS project into the Kicktraq Search field.

Updates

I prepared all of my backer updates for funding milestones and/or updates every 2 or so days apart to maintain backer interest. 

For the 2 daily updates, I also had a folder of pictures and media that I would include.

 

Backer Momentum

One of my goals was to have adequate momentum through the course of the campaign to ensure we made it to the end.  Sometimes if a project does particularly well, it can experience an almost exponential growth curve in funding.  However, I was being realistic and expected a reverse bell curve like so:

 

By the end of  Day 1, I needed to get 10% funded, by the end of week 1 I needed 30%, etc… to maintain adequate momentum.

Thoughts on Social Media and Forums

PR and Reviews

From a marketing standpoint, even though we didn’t have a stellar backer uptake, I think we made some outstanding achievements:

 

Here is a list of all articles during the kickstarter

 

The following are the highlights our marketing campaign:

 

PR

Comments

IGN Article

I would have never dreamed in a million years that a game of mine would make it into IGN - this was a massive achievement.  I had the immensely good fortune of working with PursuitPR who facilitated this. 

This was part of a package that we won from the Kiwi Game Starter Competition during our Kickstarter Campaign. 

Although the article and the youtube video from IGN gathered its fair number of trolls - the exposure was very much worthwhile.

Pew Die Pie

I was also very lucky to have Pew Die Pie play through the game.  After being ignored by the vast majority of youtubers and review sites, this was a huge surprise.  The video to date has gathered about just under 3 million views. 

Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into backings.  As one user on TIGSource theorized, the actual conversion rate from those 3 million are probably quite low: 

I know 2million views seems like a lot, though you have to keep in mind the bounce rate, bots etc. Then take all that and assume the advertising standard of .1% up to 1.5% conversion rate (depending on demographic etc). (conversion meaning people who follow up and go to the kickstarter page) then from there a percentage of that percentage will convert to a sale. 

Base....................................2.0 million views

assuming 10% bots ............................1.8 mil

assuming a generous 30% "low time" bounce rate  .....1.26 mil

.4% conversion rate to KS page ("decent ad/semi-targeted demo")..5,040

5%-10% sale conversion rate ("decent to good").25.2 - 50.4 backers. 

Conclusion: about 25.2 backers. 

Theory: The ad displayed likely didn't actually reach 2 million people and the people reached likely didn't get pushed over the edge by the advert to follow up. 

(imo, the conversion rate is likely less than even .4%...closer to .1%) 

Sadly, I dont’ think we even got 25 backers out of it :/ 

Either way I owe Pew Die Pie a huge thank you for picking up the game especially since we are effectively nobodies in the game dev scene at the moment.

Rock Paper Shotgun

RPS found our project through Kickstarter on their own, and this generated some fantastic traffic for us.

Gameplanet Articles

Gameplanet.co.nz really is amazing - they are so supportive of the New Zealand indie scene.  For us they put up 2 articles, and the editor Matt McGuire really spent a lot of time gathering detailed information on the game and on us as a team.

 

Although the the PR didn’t lead to raw backer numbers, it did establish a brand and awareness of our project and us as a team.

Youtubers

Youtubers have been hailed as indie developers’ best friends, as they can get us a lot of exposure.  I went through pixel prospector’s big list of youtubers and methodically went through most of them, emailing them or messaging them directly through Youtube’s messaging system, requesting that they play my game.

 

I was mostly ignored, but the many that came back were amazing.  Most notably, a few of the biggest Youtubers responded: PewDiePie, LordMinion, Squeezie.

 

Overall I’m amazed by these incredible people who do this largely for the love of gaming.  I personally do feel very lucky and grateful for their help - they are indeed crucial to us indies.

I put together a tribute montage youtube video for them as a sign of my massive appreciation.

Statistics

Here is a breakdown of the sources of the backers.

 

The articles on RPS, IGN and PewDiePie’s video seems to have had the greatest impact.

 

Note that while overall backer numbers were low, our press brought in some of our biggest individual backers (e.g. one backer who saw the PDP video pledged $1000, and another who saw the IGN article pledged $300).

 

 

Few people who visited the page watched the video to completion, which indicates that the video wasn’t up to standard.  I’m not entirely sure what would constitute a “good” video, but perhaps a better gameplay trailer with higher quality video overall would have helped.  The length of the entire video could have also been considerably shortened.

 

I noticed that near the end when I changed the video to be a bit less serious, the percentage of plays completed rose slightly.  It probably does pay to do a video that shows your passion for the project.  

 

The $15 reward tier was the most popular by far.

 

Analysis

 

Ultimately, although we did just scrape through, I think the campaign could have been improved in a number of ways.  I think that we did prepare to the best of our ability, which is why there were no clear cut answers (to me) why we didn’t get more pledges.

 

Here are some of my guesses as to why the campaign didn’t do better:

 

  • I should have built a bigger community / fanbase at the start

    • Crowdfunding doesn’t create new fans for you, it is simply a ‘multiplier’

    • We had a very small fanbase (or none) so we saw the effects of multiplying something small - we got something not much bigger

    • For the people that played the original demos, we should have had some means of retaining their interest and engaging with them

    • However the situation was very much chicken and egg: we had no real fans to start with so I guess this gave us a small base to start with.

  • A lot of competition within the horror genre - many AAA horror games were announced at the same time e.g. Silent Hills (PT), The Evil Within, Alien, etc...

  • People were getting weary of KS games projects after the failure of teams to deliver on time or at all, including some high profile ones Clang (Neal Stephenson), Yogsventures (compare 2014 statistics to previous years)

  • The campaign needed to be better:

    • We had too many rewards which made things confusing - we should have only had 5 maximum.

    • The trailer could have been much stronger- one that actually showcased our unique selling points

      • the current one looks like a generic horror game maybe a poor looking one

      • The environments needed a significant visual improvement

      • This was confirmed by first impressions e.g. on the IGN video many people made snap judgement just based on seeing a few seconds of trailer

      • The video wasn’t catching enough on a personal level (changed it near the end to be more personable)

    • The art for the thumbnails and rewards should have been of higher quality

    • The overall layout of the KS page could have been a lot better and cohesive - first impressions are massively important!

I also learned that some of our strongest supporters were people who really understood the game, or were people who I interacted with personally (e.g. at expos or via emails).

Conclusion

I think the two most critical were probably the uniqueness of our game (or perception of it) and the fact that we didn’t have a large enough and engaged fanbase from the start.

 

We do now, even though it is relatively small, but it is a start!

 

So the question is would I do this again?  It was massively stressful - a true emotional rollercoaster, but at the same time I met some of the most incredible people during this journey and had some amazing experiences.  So yes, I’d do it all over again!

 

By the way feel free to vote for us on our Steam Greenlight Page!

 

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