Some of the most candid advice you will ever hear about crowdfunding

Chris Avellone, Brenda Romero and other developers weighed in at today's IndieCade crowdfunding panel, imparting a healthy dose of practical advice in addition to some cautious optimism.
With crowdfunding turning into the first port of call for many developers looking to launch a new project, today's IndieCade crowdfunding panel -- led by Loot Drop co-founder (and unsuccessful Kickstarter project founder) Brenda Romero -- imparted a healthy dose of practical advice in addition to some cautious optimism. "When [co-developer Tom Hall] and I launched our Kickstarter, we were the cutting edge. In two days, we were out of date," said Brenda Romero. "It doesn't feel like a failure. Kickstarter prevented a game from being made that had a flaw. I like to say Kickstarter saved me a year's worth of work." Joining Romero on the panel were Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity), Chris Avellone (Project Eternity, Wasteland 2) and nine-year-old Kenzie Wilson, who with her entrepreneur mother Susan launched a Kickstarter to fund her admission to a game development summer camp. Each brought a distinct perspective to the panel's topic.

The Bad

The "hidden" costs of Kickstarter and similar services come up on occasion: the fees extracted by the servicers, possible taxes, unforeseen expenses. Temkin, who had run three other successful Kickstarter campaigns in addition to his successful card game Cards Against Humanity, in particular warned against offering physical rewards to backers. "You will get burned by shipping," he said. "Ship it to yourself before you even do a Kickstarter. Make sure you know what you will need." "International shipping will clear out your entire Kickstarter," added Avellone, who is attached to three Kickstarters to date which include physical rewards. And so help you if you miss a delivery date, said Temkin, who described encounters with irate backers who refused to accept any reason for a delay. Wilson reported a similar experience, saying some commenters on her and her daughter's project refused to believe so much money had gone into shipping physical rewards -- and demanded that she post receipts. While everyone on the panel noted that understanding donors would always outnumber the "trolls," Wilson encouraged project creators to "get creative" with low-impact rewards, and Temkin advised creators to be generous with their own timeline. Delivering early, after all, was always better than delivering late. "Increase your deadline dramatically," he said. "If you think you can get it done in six months, give yourself a year." "Just be transparent, just give [your backers] the facts," continued Avellone. "If you've been transparent with your backers up to that point they will trust you." "The people funding your game have [generally] not been inside game development," Romero added. "So you end up needing to educate them on it... It's a full-time job."

The Ugly

Susan Wilson, a successful entrepreneur, said she was shocked and aghast by the outpouring of negativity she and her daughter experienced because of the campaign. "We asked for $829. We received over $20,000," said Wilson. "People asked what we were going to do with the extra and were outraged when I said I didn't know. It was not okay to say 'I don't know.'" Wilson's critics accused her of fraud, even going so far as to suggest her daughter Kenzie -- seated beside her at the panel -- did not actually exist. She admitted that she had no idea at the time the sort of charged atmosphere she had been heading into -- one in which, as Romero reminded the audience, Anita Sarkeesian had also just raised a substantial amount over her funding target, to skepticism and outrage from a vocal minority of detractors. "Anyone with a dollar has an opinion," said Romero. "People get very emotional about [crowdfunding]," Temkin offered. Because Kickstarter and similar services offer a tremendous amount of empowerment to both project creators and prospective backers, he said, it becomes a hot issue even for the uninvolved. "That's just a result of the technology being new and [the fact that] we don't yet have the language to talk about it," Temkin concluded.

The Good

The panelists each stressed that there were positives to bear out of pursuing crowdfunding -- and optimism for services like Kickstarter to improve as the websites continue to develop. "The most valuable thing we got was a community of people who cared about our game and evangelized about it," said Temkin. "No amount of money can buy that." Asked what to do about drops in press attention or interest from backers, Avellone recommended that project creators "have a narrative" beyond the fact of the crowdfunding page itself, and to hold back certain big news until the second or third week, when donations start to slip. Additionally, Avellone reminded attendees that "having to course correct happens even with successful campaigns." The benefit of crowdfunding, he said, was being able to take into consideration and implement community feedback from an early stage. "You aren't going to waste development time, art time hooking in a feature that customers don't want," he said. As an alternative to costly physical rewards, Avellone stressed that digital goodies can often be more valuable to certain donors -- especially big spenders. "Any reward that involves immortalizing a person [in the game] is great," he said, listing off examples such as naming boss characters, weapons or artifacts after donors. "Obviously, it works better for some games than others [but] there are probably a lot of super-fans out there that would jump at the chance." Avellone cautioned against setting a low donation target with the "gamble" of receiving more. Likewise, Temkin reminded attendees that it was not only acceptable, but advisable to factor in living costs. "Budget in to get paid and live," said Temkin. "It is responsible to budget in being paid and it is irresponsible not to do that."

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