“We got funded on Kickstarter!” - Something 33% of project owners that endeavour on the platform get to say with conviction. Crowdfunding is easier than it’s ever been, but far from the simple equation of “if you build it, they will come”. As the stats show, more dollars are being poured into funding great games. Yet, significantly less than half of Kickstarter video game projects are successful in their quest.
In our effort to bring our Chemistry RPG, ChemCaper: Act I – Petticles in Peril to PC, we embarked onto Steam Greenlight (as we wrote about previously) and Kickstarter, with the latter being the funding arm of $50,000 for this project of ours.
Thankfully, through the immense support from 1,046 backers, we hit 110% of our goal and are able to be part of the 33% of games successfully funded on the popular crowdfunding platform. To say the least, it’s been a tremendous learning experience for us first-time developers. We’d like to share some nuggets of knowledge we gained from our time on the Kickstarter bandwagon with readers and fellow game developers.
I. Model the best, learn from others' failures
There’s a wealth of success stories on the internet about successful Kickstarter projects, so we started with the games, projects, and developers we personally like: Pillars of Eternity (Obsidian), Exploding Kittens (The Oatmeal), Friday the 13th: The Game, Battletech (Harebrained Schemes), to name a few.
The focus at this point of planning shouldn’t be how much money they raised. Instead, on everything they did right with their Kickstarter page – the structure, order, and design, their write ups, their rewards, the way they engaged their supporters… Every detail helped in the grand scheme of things as they came together to form our campaign page.
Then there’s the uglier side of our research: learning from past failed projects (that also had great ideas, some falling short within 1% of their goal, ouch!) and facing the reality of the increasing number of game projects failing in 2015.
II. The cause
Without sounding overly righteous, the bulk of great Kickstarter projects have a cause. And causes can be as simple as a resurgence of the isometric RPG paying homage to its predecessors like Baldur’s Gate, which is what Pillars of Eternity (then known as Project Eternity) is. It hit people right in the heart of nostalgia who missed the RPGs of yesteryear and got them emotionally invested, even better, EXCITED!
Our cause is tricky; in developing an RPG based on Chemistry, we could easily fall into the trap of being “yet another RPG” or “yet another educational game”, bearing in mind that educational games have had reputation of being corny in the last decade.
So we have to be crystal clear on what we aim to do, in short: merging mainstream gaming and education so kids can have fun learning and on a platform they love – video games! Likewise it’s best to place your hook at the very top of your page, preferably in a video so you can do within the person’s attention span (a couple of minutes) what takes words a significantly longer time to.
To our amazement, our Kickstarter campaign brought to light just how many people have been seeking quality edutainment for the 21st century, seeing as how education’s been severely lagging in the engagement department for a long time.
III. Show (off) your game
The other thing that got people excited about ChemCaper was our trailer (as seen above). As I mentioned in my previous article about us on Steam Greenlight, it’s best to have an awesome trailer and that’s no different with Kickstarter. We were fortunate in having a full-blown reel for the mobile version of our game to show people what to expect in future.
What’s important is to show people your game at whichever stage of development your game is at, at least a concept that foreshadows where your game will go because that’s what people will be pledging their money for.
On top of that, highlight the outstanding features of your game. What’s special about your game? For example, in the case of ChemCaper, Petticles are in-game representations of molecules and teach chemical bonding in the form of these cute creatures that kids can connect with, and the world and lore of ChemCaper is based off the elements in the Periodic Table – things that encourage implicit learning. These can be in the form of images or video snippets.
The Periodic Table done ChemCaper style
The World Map of ChemCaper based on the Periodic Table
Ultimately, everything that we included in our campaign was to inspire the confidence in people that ChemCaper on PC will happen and we’ve got these things in place to ensure it works out. With the existence of fraudulent Kickstarter campaigns, we feel that trust is an important (if not the most) thing to build between you and your audience, and in every way possible.
IV. Timing (and a little bit of luck)
Timing, without question, is important for a variety of reasons respective to a game developer. What we encountered halfway into our campaign was something of a stroke of luck – Microsoft’s acquisition of MinecraftEdu. This industry move opened several doors for discussion on the use of video games in learning. Because of ChemCaper’s primary association with education, we were able to leverage on the credibility of Microsoft and MinecraftEdu’s move in that area to reinforce, “Yes, this is the way education is going and we’re part of that movement”, and drive people our way.
We do realize this would be unlikely, but if you do have a playable build of your game at the ready, let it rip! We didn’t have a build of the PC version we were campaigning for, but at the time we did have a beta for ChemCaper’s mobile counterpart which we’re prepping for its approaching launch at GDC 2016. This allowed people interested in ChemCaper experience the game for themselves and allowed us to let the game do the talking. We were only able to carry this out for our folks over in Malaysia, but looking at how it helped our campaign on the local front, we would open this move up to the rest of the world should we run other future Kickstarter campaigns.
In our opinion, Kickstarter project rewards go beyond the transaction of “stuff”, it’s a powerful way of adding value to our backers. This principle of adding value to the people around us is something we as a team believe strongly in.
Not having rewards (or good ones) would’ve essentially turned our Kickstarter project into a charity, and that wouldn’t have been much fun for our backers we reckon. Having rewards appeals to the very natural human thought of “what’s in it for me?”, and fulfilling that need makes the transition a little smoother and fair for everyone.
Apart from that, rewards that give backers the opportunity to be immortalized as an in-game character or part of your game’s lore makes it that much cooler bringing a project to life, it gives people the chance to hold a piece. It’s also no surprise that the cost of producing physical rewards will add up, so that means it’s advisable to have a spread of both digital and physical, and if possible, some experiential ones too. Striking that balance comes down to your capacity to fulfil them while also ensuring your video game gets developed. It helps to have a breakdown of how the funds will be used as a means of transparency and again, trust.
A way to introduce your rewards tiers is by having catchy names, something we had a whole lot of fun with! We got creative with Chemistry-related terms and puns, weaving some of the following examples:
Rewards are also a way of showing of gratitude to our backers; in conjunction with the Lunar New Year, we then decided to leverage on the festivity by surprising both existing and potential backers with an “ang pao” – early access to the mobile version of ChemCaper: Act I – Petticles in Peril a week before its official launch date this 14th of March.
To wrap up this first part of our account, the first few things to consider in your Kickstarter campaign are:
- Do your research, this includes failures and the present climate of crowdfunding.
- Highlight your cause or the big "why" of what you’re doing to have people invested in your project.
- Show as much of your game as possible and its best features because they're cool! And also to instil confidence that your game is underway.
- Good timing and sometimes a stroke of luck helps.
- Add value by offering rewards that are worthwhile.
We hope our recent experience with a successful Kickstarter campaign gives you some insight into running a crowdfunding campaign of your own. Stick around for Part II of this piece where we talk about outreach and your audience.