Q&A: Catching up with Kickstarter

Kickstarter's head of community Cindy Au answers our burning questions, while also divulging general tips for those developers looking to get a Kickstarter underway at some point in the future.
We've been focusing on Alternative Funding as our topic of the week here at Gamasutra, which of course has included plenty of conversation and trading of secrets regarding Kickstarter. It seems like a great way to round off the week, then, is to talk directly to Kickstarter about how game projects on looking on the funding platform, which game projects have been the most notable, and what developers planning a Kickstarter campaign should consider. Here, Kickstarter's head of community Cindy Au answers our burning questions, while also divulging general tips for those developers looking to get a Kickstarter underway at some point in the future.

There's a frequently-repeated sentiment of "Kickstarter fatigue," of communities and consumers getting tired of and backing off from funding Kickstarter game projects. From the data end of things, what are you seeing? Are numbers going down?

Actually, the numbers are going up. In 2012, we saw $84.5 million pledged to game projects. As of August 1st, 2013, $64.7 million have already been pledged to game projects. Of the Kickstarter users who have backed a game project, 39 percent have gone on to back another game. It's a very healthy category with a great community of backers.

What are the hidden costs that developers need to take into consideration when pursuing a Kickstarter? Taxes, for instance.

I definitely encourage game developers to consider both the costs of production (software licenses, artwork, development time, and so forth) as well as the costs of reward fulfillment (shipping, printing, packaging). The amount of variance in international shipping costs can come as a surprise to developers who've not had to handle shipping and fulfillment before, so it's a good idea to research this thoroughly ahead of time and talk to other developers who've gone through it themselves. Taxes can certainly be a challenge to navigate depending on the individual. We recently put together this FAQ and guide to help creators with their planning.

Are there particular games Kickstarters you saw as being especially successful? Not precisely in terms of funds raised, but in terms of its execution and how it appealed to potential backers.

There are so many! Among my favorite projects will always be The Banner Saga. To me, the Stoic Studio team really exemplifies what the Kickstarter experience can be -- not just about getting a game, but connecting with that game and its developers, and being a part of its origin story. They have released incredible updates throughout the course of the project detailing their development process, and most recently, they shared an expansive update walking backers through their animation process. This week, they're live streaming the recording of the game's orchestral soundtrack with the incredible Austin Wintory. This is an ongoing experience for both Stoic and their backers, and it's been a hugely rewarding one.

The concept of stretch goals often seems at odds with game development. Some critics contend they lead to "feature creep" and don't actually support the core design of the game being pitched. Do you have any advice on how developers can be smarter about working in stretch goals?

We're actually working on something longer that addresses that question and I'd like to wait [to comment further]. I will share it with you once we're ready to publish.

Discussions of pricing one's campaign have come up in the past -- some say you should set your funding target for your game's Kickstarter as low as possible; others believe in giving yourself of a bit more of a buffer. What is your advice, or what are your general guidelines, for setting campaign targets?

I always advise developers to set their goal for the amount of funds they will need to make the game they want to make. If you've scoped out your game and know you'll need another $20,000 to finish it, don't ask for $10,000 and hope you'll be able to figure things out. Conversely, don't ask for $50,000 in hopes that you'll get lucky. The funding goal is an important part of your story -- it helps communicate at what stage you're at with the game, how much work has been done already, what remains to be done, and what your timeline will look like. Kickstarter's all-or-nothing funding model is an important factor in goal-setting. It means that if you set a funding goal but don't reach it, no money exchanges hands. You will not be required to try and make a $20,000 game for any less than $20,000. That's a situation we don't want anyone to be in. Something that can be easy to forget with all of the big stories of success is that the possibility of not reaching your goal isn't something to fear, but something that exists by design to help give you valuable feedback on your project without compromising your creative vision.

With Kickstarter expanding to UK and Canada, what are you seeing as far as interest in games projects in those two countries? Is it comparable to the ratio of games projects versus other categories we see being put up by US-based users?

In the UK, games represent the third highest total number of projects launched, after film and publishing. In the US, games represent the fifth highest total number of projects launched, after film, music, publishing, and art. We're not in Canada just yet, but will be there by the end of the summer. The international community has been a major supporter of Kickstarter game projects in general. In fact, 42 percent of game project backers come from outside the US, with the UK and Canada leading the pack, followed by Germany, Australia, and France.

Any general tips for game developers looking to Kickstart? Things that a lot of projects overlook?

While it's definitely a good idea to do your research and see what's helped other projects succeed, I encourage game developers to experiment a bit and remember that there is no magic formula! What worked for one game may not work for yours. At the end of the day, you can never go wrong if you're committed first and foremost to making a great game, are open and honest about what you're doing, and willing to show your work. Demonstrating that you've put a sincere effort into your project is key to building trust with your audience, and instrumental in expanding to new audiences. Finally, don't be afraid to fail. You have nothing to lose by trying, and can learn a lot about your project by approaching Kickstarter as an iterative process.

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