What developers can learn from that Night Trap Kickstarter

Gamasutra speaks to the organizer of the troubled Night Trap ReVamped Kickstarter and comes away with some useful lessons for developers looking to launch their first crowdfunding campaign.
When Night Trap co-creator Tom Zito launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month to fund development of a high-definition remake called Night Trap ReVamped, we had a lot of questions about the project. So did many members of the game industry: developers and journalists alike (including former Gamasutra editor Frank Cifaldi) quickly began voicing concerns about whether Night Trap, LLC -- the company under whose aegis Zito launched the Kickstarter -- might be fleecing its backers. To learn more about the project, Gamasutra spoke to some of the people involved -- including Zito and his fellow Night Trap co-creator Rob Fulop. So did other journalists, most notably Kotaku reporter Nathan Grayson, who shared the details of his conversation with Zito in an article aimed at elucidating the project for potential backers. Developers, take note: even if you have zero interest in backing the project, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from mistakes made in the execution of the Night Trap ReVamped Kickstarter, some of which have since been acknowledged and corrected by the organizers themselves.

Tell backers exactly what they're getting and how you'll build it

First and most importantly, significant details about this Kickstarter were kept distressingly vague. For example, who's going to develop the product? Night Trap, LLC still won’t say, though Zito does tell me that the developer they plan to work with is a registered Microsoft developer who intends to build the game in Unity. And which consoles will the game be developed for? Beyond PC and Mac, the initial Kickstarter pitch said only “Xbox” and “PlayStation,” with some confusing language about the game being compatible with both current- and last-gen consoles. “I take full blame for this,” said Zito, who claims he instinctually tried to keep things simple when writing the Kickstarter pitch in order to avoid confusing readers. “It goes back to my days of journalism, of wanting to give people as condensed a story as you can.” But a Kickstarter campaign is aimed at wooing potential backers, not informing casual readers. The Night Trap ReVamped Kickstarter has since been updated to clarify that the game is coming to PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, though as of this writing it’s still unclear who will be developing it or what the remastered video footage will look like.

Whenever possible, tell your backers exactly how you'll spend their money

Zito tells me that they’ve already done an HD transfer of the original 1987 Night Trap 35mm footage, but that they’re waiting to see whether or not the Kickstarter campaign succeeds before investing money in restoring the HD footage to a point where they’re comfortable showing it to the world because, in Zito’s words, “we’re not going to spend more money on this until we see if there’s a market for it.” But with no evidence that they've started work on an HD remaster, the Night Trap
"I take full blame for this. It goes back to my days of journalism, of wanting to give people as condensed a story as you can."
Kickstarter organizers are dissuading all but the most curious or hardcore Night Trap fans from supporting them. Some of the campaign’s numbers don’t seem to add up, either; the organizers launched it with a fundraising goal of $330,000, and Zito estimates they'll need to print up to 23,000 console copies of the game and ship them out in cardboard sleeves as backer rewards -- and only as rewards, as he claims to have no plans to sell physical copies of the Kickstarted game at retail. Moreover, the Kickstarter page claims those discs will be delivered to backers six months after the campaign ends. $330,000 isn’t a lot of money to make a game with, even if you’re just building an interactive Unity shell for delivering HD video footage. And presumably that money isn’t just earmarked for the developer, since Night Trap LLC. also needs to finish remastering the Night Trap footage and potentially print and ship over 20,000 discs for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. “What I can tell you, without disclosing confidences, is that if we raised exactly three hundred and thirty thousand dollars, we’d have enough money to pay the developer, press the discs that we need to press, and fulfill the orders that we would have received,” says Zito, when I press him on this point. He might be right, but because there’s no breakdown of expenses on the Kickstarter page his backers have to take him on faith, just like they have to take it on faith that the HD footage exists and that the developer is someone they can trust to deliver on their investment.

Make sure you can deliver what you promise in the form you promise it

As many developers pointed out when the Night Trap ReVamped Kickstarter launched, it seems preposterous that Sony or Microsoft would allow an independent developer to print discs for their consoles and package them in cardboard sleeves. Zito says he’s met with representatives of both Sony and Microsoft, and that they require him to
"If I had this to do all over, I probably would have done zero physical discs."
secure orders for between 20,000 - 40,000 discs before they’ll allow a print run. He expects to have no problems doing so if the Kickstarter succeeds, since he estimates that the Night Trap ReVamped Kickstarter backer tiers allow for a rough total of 23,000 discs to be ordered. However, during our conversation he does admit that he made a mistake in saying that the console versions of Night Trap ReVamped could be sold in cardboard sleeves, and that he has since updated the Kickstarter campaign to stipulate that they’ll be shipped out in standard console-appropriate packaging. Developers, the takeaway here is clear: take pains to make sure that you can deliver on what you've promised before you launch a crowdfunding campaign. Doing otherwise invites suspicion, even if you make a good faith effort to keep your backers and the community at large abreast of your decisions. For his part, Zito says Night Trap, LLC hasn't done the greatest job of getting the word out about its Kickstarter campaign or of communicating openly with its backers at the outset. But after several days of radio silence, the organizers of the Night Trap ReVamped campaign began posting updates to its Kickstarter page and responding to feedback in the comments section. As our conversation wraps up, Zito tells me he regrets offering physical discs at all; Night Trap LLC has since received numerous requests for a digital download alternative from fans who, in Zito’s words, “don’t ever want to own another disc in [their] life,” and he has hastily added it as an option for Kickstarter backers. “I talked to a number of retailers to try to figure out what was the right way to approach this, and almost uniformly, they thought that the right way to do this was with physical discs,” says Zito. “Even though both Sony and Microsoft told us that they thought most people would want this as a downloadable title.” So really, the greatest takeaway might be that promising to print discs for contemporary consoles is never a good idea. "if I had this to do all over, I probably would have done zero physical discs," says Zito.

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