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What I learnt from my 3rd successful gaming Kickstarter

Ben Tristem teaches game development online, and has run three highly successful Kickstarters to fund the development of his courses. Ben shares his experiences with the crowd funding platform, in the hope that you too can use it to launch your project

Who Am I?

I'm Ben, and I make online courses teaching people to make games.

A little over a year ago I launched my first Kickstarter, and was delighted that it funded 1000%. I blogged about my experience on Gamasutra here. Since then I've become one of the top instructors on Udemy.com, written a book with a big publisher, and various other cool things all of which I have the original Kickstarter to thank for making possible.

Today I find myself mid-way through my third successful Kickstarter, this time to raise funds to create a course on the "epic", and now free Unreal Engine 4. It's been quite a ride, and even Tim Sweeney the founder of Epic games has pledged to support this one. I want to share the ups and downs with you here, in the hope you can replicate some of my fortune.

Course Image Here's the course image Udemy kindly created for me, even before the course appears on their site.

Why Crowd Fund?

A quick reminder as to why I'm a fan of crowd-funding for business to consumer products, especially ones that you can create an initial version of in months rather than years...

  1. Validation of your original idea, before you spend time developing it.
  2. Feedback on your idea during the campaign, with the community's help.
  3. Funding for the development of the idea if and when the campaign funds.

... I list these things in that order, because I honestly think that the validation and feedback are the most valuable two steps. The principles of lean manufacturing dictate that we get feedback from end-users as early and often as possible. Why not Kickstart this process?

Why NOT Crowd Fund?

Let's be honest, the first reason is it's scary. What if it flops? Will I look an idiot? Is the idea to un-developed? Etc etc etc.

Interestingly I found pushing the button on my 3rd Kickstarter the scariest of all. At this stage I had the most to lose (you can see all three campaigns here). After two successful campaigns I was concerned my luck may be out, and I had a lot to lose.

Anyway, I felt the fear and pushed "Publish" anyway... and I urge you to do the same. A failed campaign isn't the end of your world, many of the best campaigns aren't first attempts. People will forgive, and forget, especially given how Kickstarter "buries" failed campaigns to make themselves look better.

Other, more rational reasons not to crowd fund include...

  • You have a business to business product.
  • You can't deliver worldwide, or at least widely.
  • Your product will take years to produce version 1.

What Exactly Is Crowd Funding?

There are actually at least 4 classes of crowd funding...

  • Donation - charity, basically.
  • Reward - Kickstarter style, you get something in return.
  • Equity - You get a slice of the company, think Crowdcube.
  • Debt (or loan) - The crowd lend you money, that you pay back.

... my only experience is with the reward type, so I'll stick to talking about that. Also people as me "Why Kickstarter". My answer is embarrasingly naive: "It's the first one I thoght of, it worked, I'm sticking to it".

In this model there are two dimensions, the reward (or pledge) amount that each person pays, and the campaign total and related stretch-goals. Here's an example graphic I'm using on the Unreal Engine 4 tutorial campaign, that should make this concept clear visually. The Xs in the bottom row are grey because at the time of writing this stretch-goal isn't met...

Kickstarter pledge and stretch goal matrix

I like to think of it like this: increasing pledge levels give the individual backer more stuff in return for their pledge. Stretch-goals improve the scope of the product, and benefit all backers.

Who Gets What When?

You, the organiser, get the money only if you meet your initial goal (which you can't change once the campaign funds). For about two weeks after the campaign ends Kickstarter try and get the money from everyone who has pledged. Typically a few percent of these people can't get the money together, but most people end-up paying. At this stage Kickstarter and the payent processing company take their cuts, and you get wired the rest of the money. Expect this to be about 10% down on the campaign total.

As a backer there's no real guarantee you'll get anything. However, if the organiser has communicated well in the campaign comments, and they have a good track-record you may be ok. You'll get your product(s) when the organiser is ready. It's really about as set-in-stone as that. Seems a bit one-sided to me, hence I feel a large responsibility to act with integrity and keep my promises as far as possible, and if I can't to communicate often and early.

What Works? What Doesn't?

So, the moment the campaign is live you need to go to work letting people know about it. The first couple of days is crucial, in fact a lot of campaigns are made or broken in the first few days. Tell your friends on all social channels, try and find influencers to talk about your project, and be very active in the comments.

I've found Facebook groups specifically to be very helpful, but remember to ask permission before posting anything. Recently I also found Reddit to be very helpful, without my knowledge this post got quite popular. I'm too old to know how to use Reddit properly, but it seems a great discussion platform.

More concretely, here are screenshots of the top 10 pledge sources for all three of my campaigns. Bear in mind the Unreal campaign is only about 55% of the way through funding at the time of writing, so you won't see things like the "48-hour reminder email". I'll let you draw your own conculusions from the data, blue links are pledges from within Kickstarter...

Ben Tristem's Unity tutorial Kickstarter dashboard top referral sources

Results for my first Kickstarter, for The Complete Unity Developer.

Ben Tristem's Blender tutorial Kickstarter dashboard top referral sources Results for my second Kickstarter, The Complete Blender Creator

Ben Tristem's Unreal tutorial Kickstarter dashboard top referral sources

Results for my current Kickstarter, The Complete Unreal Creator

In Summary

If you've got this far and you're still thinking about Kickstarting your project, I would urge you to try it, if not for what you'll earn then for what you'll earn. If it "fails" then remember my mantra, FAIL = From Adversity I Learn. If it succeeds you never know where it may take you.

Good luck, be brave.

Ben Tristem

You can find-out more about my published Udemy courses here.

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