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System Shock Kickstarter Post Mortem with Nightdive Studios

We spoke with our client, Nightdive Studios, on the successful Kickstarter they just wrapped up for System Shock. Here's what happened to make it a success.

We sat down with Larry Kuperman, the Director of Business Development for Nightdive Studios, and asked him about their recent Kickstarter success.  We’re all excited to see System Shock coming back so we wanted to find out how the Kickstarter went “behind the scenes”.

Our Kickstarter campaign for the reboot of the classic game System Shock concluded on July 28th, 2016, having raised just over $1.35 million or 150% of our project goal. We learned a great deal during the process and I wanted to share some of the lessons while the experience is still fresh in my mind.

There were a number of decisions that had to be made beginning in the period leading up to the campaign.

Kickstarter Versus Fig – Kickstarter is the best known of the various crowdfunding solutions, but there are a number of alternatives available today. In the period leading up the campaign we had several meetings with the team from Fig.co. They certainly made a persuasive case for their platform, which has had some notable successes. In the end we decided to go with Kickstarter, based in large measure on our wanting customers more than investors. We had a great experience with Kickstarter and we received excellent support, but I would urge other companies to carefully consider all alternatives before making a decision as to platform.

Sailing Into The Headwind – Just before our campaign was to launch, the press and consumer reviews of Mighty No. 9 came out. Many people who had backed that title on Kickstarter were disappointed. People began to ask us if we weren’t worried about “Kickstarter fatigue.” Once our campaign began, we did see a small minority of users post that they wouldn’t back a game because of fear of a negative experience, but we had taken steps to counter-act these concerns.

The Success of the Demo – As far back as March, timed around the Games Developer Conference, we had shown a Demo of a pre-alpha build of the game. Initially, only screenshots and a video of gameplay were available. But we wanted to demonstrate to backers that we were committed to creating a real game and that they could play an opening level themselves. Timed to coincide with the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, we made the Demo available to anyone. You didn’t have to back the game first; in fact we encouraged everyone to try the Demo for themselves. We made it available through Steam, through GOG.com and through the Humble Store.

We were well aware of the risks involved. It was pre-Alpha after all. Potentially, there could have been some kind of bug that had not come up in our testing. In the days and hours leading up the release our team was still working on optimizing performance. Yet in the end, the release of the Demo, more than any other single factor, contributed to our success. We succeeded in showing our commitment to making a great game and that we were going to be honest and transparent with our supporters.

Working With the Press – In the days leading up to the Kickstarter launch, we gave the reporters at Polygon a build of the Demo to try out and allowed them to do a full video review. Bear in mind that our developers were still at work optimizing performance. We knew that we were taking yet another risk. But we felt, and we were right about this, that seeing the gameplay in the Demo would encourage potential backers to try it for themselves. The article and the video review contributed to the success of the campaign.

We took great pains to make ourselves available to the press and the public. We did too many interviews to count, some live, some through Skype and others through email. Stephen Kick, CEO of Nightdive studios held an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. We streamed gameplay on Twitch. Visibility was important and we put a lot of effort into this.

With A Lot of Help From Our Friends – Nightdive Studios has been publishing games since 2012 and is, I am very pleased to say, well-respected in the gaming community. Moreover, many of us individually are veterans of the gaming industry. Before and during the campaign we reached out to our friends and contacts and they all came through for us, supporting us via mailing lists and social media. The list includes many luminaries in the gaming industry: Paul Neurath, Warren Spector and Tim Stellmach of OtherSide Entertainment; Brian Fargo of inXile Entertainment; Tim Schafer of Double Fine; Matt Toschlog of Revival Productions; Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman of Red Hook Studios. There are many others, too numerous to name.

We also got great support from many of the corporations that we work with. Steam, GOG.com and Humble all hosted the Demo for us. We worked with Razer on the laptops that were part of the tiers. Microsoft and SONY both carried news stories. Dynamite Entertainment is working on an art book. NVIDIA donated a video card for a drawing. Again there were many others.

We also received amazing support from Luke Crane, Head of Games at Kickstarter. Every time that we managed to break something, Luke was there to fix it for us. We truly could not have done it without him.

And none of this would have been possible without the amazing efforts of the team at Arms & Anchors. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Keep Me Posted – We knew in advance that we would need to post frequent updates, on the Kickstarter page itself, the various forums and on social media. But until you are actually in it, you cannot understand how much time and effort this is going to take.

We had prepared a schedule of activities and posts in advance, with the understanding that there were other milestone events that we would post that could not be scheduled in advance. For example the date when we would make our initial goal could not be predicted.

However as the campaign became more and more successful (we raised $400,000 in the first 48 hours) new opportunities arose. The NVIDIA card donation, mentioned earlier, was not initially planned. That needed an update on the Kickstarter page, followed by social media posts, then answering questions on the forums. While it sounds like a good problem to have, it all took time.

Summary and Key Points – Find the platform that is right for you. There are more choices now, be sure to do your research. While it might not work for every company, the Demo was a key factor for us. The press can be your biggest ally, communicate as early as you can, allowing them lead time. Engage with partners and industry friends.

I hope that people in the industry find this of some help.

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Jay realized he wasn't going to be the best "employee" after leading his first start up for three years so he decided to do it again.  He founded The Powell Group in 2010 and the team has grown steadily ever since.  He's been building relationships and negotiating contracts in the game industry for nearly 20 years and if it pertains to expanding business networks, or promoting games and projects, his team can probably help you at www.powellgroupconsulting.com

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