Kickstarter is a very odd beast. There are projects hitting all levels of complexity and from just about any kind of people you can imagine. You could see a one man team looking to get a pet project funded for just $500. Then again, you can see Zach Braff asking for $2,000,000 for a new movie. However, no matter the size of the project or who is running it, one thing remains the same: You must find people and convince them that your project is awesome enough to give money to.
I am one of four members of a brand new indie studio, High Class Kitsch. Toward the beginning of April this year, we decided that we should run a Kickstarter campaign to help us release our game, Pandora: Purge of Pride. Nothing too odd about the story so far, right? Well, there are a couple things you should know about High Class Kitsch. When I say we are a brand new studio, I mean it. We originally formed as a student team to work on our senior project at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. That project is what would become Pandora: Purge of Pride, our debut title. This lack of direct, tangible evidence of previously published titles or big-name companies that we had worked for was going to make running our Kickstarter tough.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
However, we went for it. We set a goal of $5000, and I we buckled down for a busy month. I am happy to report that our Kickstarter ended today, and we exceeded our goal, reaching $6101. We are by no means rich off this, but we met each and every one of our goals. Now that we are at the end of our Kickstarter experience, I have some insight for anyone who is planning to fund their game, especially if you are super new like we are.
1. Know what you are selling
This may seem obvious. You may think, “But Ryan, I’m selling my Minecraft meets Octodad indie mega-hit!” First off, that would be an awesome game. However, that’s not all you are selling. You need to determine what makes your game absolutely incredible/irresistible in the first place. What’s your hook? Why should anyone care about your game? Figure that out before anything else. With Pandora, that was largely our art style. People responded well to the hand-painted look, and they found the Victorian setting unique. Thus, we showed off the art as much as possible.
There’s still more that you are selling though. As much as you need to sell your game, you need to sell yourself. What’s your team’s identity? What makes you interesting? Are you wacky and absurd? Are you a group of “mad scientists”? Where did you come from, and what’s your story? We at High Class Kitsch have a story, and we try to make it something unique. First, we came from being a student team and are now working at what we love full-time. That’s an innately interesting story. It’s also immediately apparent that we are friends and that we work well together, bouncing ideas and jokes off each other at a rapid-fire pace. Further, we make games that are enjoyable by the larger audience of players (eschewing the “bro gamer” or the “hardcore”), and we like to turn gaming tropes on their head a little bit. Finally, we let our sense of humor show in our team name (High Class Kitsch, taking a stab at the idea of games being essentially product-art, or “kitsch”) and in our mascot, Kitschy Kitty. Once you have the identity for your team and your game figured out, you can move on to actually working on your Kickstarter campaign.
2. Form relationships with other teams on Kickstarter at the same time as you
Working with people proved invaluable while we ran our campaign. Indies love helping out other indies and seeing them succeed. In that spirit, I reached out to a handful of indie teams looking to fund their games at the same time we were.
In some cases, I had met the designer before. I had met Mo, the man behind A.N.N.E., at MIGS last November when both of our games were in extremely early stages of development. When I saw he had a Kickstarter going as we did, I sent him a message and asked if he would be interested in cross-promoting. He was, and we ended up referring each of our projects’ backers to the other project. I can’t speak for Mo, but I found this hugely helpful. We got a solid bump in backers and a whole bunch of gamers who may not have heard of us before got to thanks to Mo.
In the end we cross-promoted with four indie games (A.N.N.E., Boon Hill, Magnetic by Nature, and Dog Sled Saga) and a local musician (Danielle Staples). This sort of promotion is great because both parties benefit, but it also helps in the long run by setting up cooperative relationships between your team and other teams around the world.
3. Keep your backers informed and involved
This point is another one that may seem obvious, but you have to consider how you will inform your backers before, during, and after the campaign. Before you even start, you need to make a good project video. Kickstarter drives this into your head as you are making your project, but, seriously, do it. It’s a great chance to showcase your game and your team’s identity.
Posting regular updates helps a lot too. These will allow your backers to know what your team is up to, what’s coming in the future, and give them an opportunity to post comments. Those comments are great. Pay attention to them and respond in a friendly, informative manner. This will help keep your backers feeling connected to your project.
4. Use social media
Social media and keeping your backers involved go hand in hand. You probably already have a fair amount of friends, family, and followers on various networks, and you can use them as a springboard. However, do not depend on them. Expand. One particularly useful idea for us was to have a Reddit AMA. Yes, Reddit can have some trolls, but that’s fine. For every troll you get, you get 3 good questions and potential backers. Use this to your advantage. If I learned anything about people during this Kickstarter, it’s that people are much more willing to support you if you actually talk to them openly and honestly.
5. Use the actual media (a.k.a. Interviews rock!)
I am referring to a couple things when I say the “actual media”. Basically it’s anything where someone else is writing or talking about you, be it in the newspaper, online, in a blog, podcasts, or on the radio. Over the course of our Kickstarter we had a solid amount of interviews with various outlets. These ranged from being the first guests at The d-Pad radio show on UNRegular Radio (our episode isn’t up yet) to a very nice piece on our studio from nJoystic. We had a couple bloggers give us a shout out, and we even had the Worcester Telegram & Gazette cover us (twice!). Do not skip over any opportunity to talk about your game. People want to hear interesting stories, and you can provide them with plenty. Game development is crazy, and is very interesting, especially to outlets that are not directly concerned with games.
That said, this will not just happen for you. Reach out to journalists and bloggers. Arrange deals with Let’s Players or streamers to demonstrate your game. Take the initiative. Not everyone will respond or be able to cover your game. However, some people will be able to and will be more than happy to. The only way to make sure no one covers your game is to not talk to anyone.
Any time you get to talk about your game is another place that will send their readers/viewers/listeners to your Kickstarter.
6. Get your game into the hands of gamers
Gamers love playing games. Gaming is probably their primary hobby. They are excited for something new, and you have that new thing. Go to absolutely every single event that you can demo your game in-person. Nothing is too small or too big.
We were at PAX East this year. Pandora was one of four games being shown at WPI’s booth. That booth was behind the immense Capcom and Double Fine booths, and right next to the very popular Divekick booth. We used this as an opportunity to bring in as many gamers to play the demo we had. While they were playing we would talk to them, get feedback, and generally have a pleasant conversation. There is nothing better for your game than a bunch of gamers playing your game, enjoying it, and then talking about it with other people. I have had people telling me that they were happy to see us on Kickstarter based purely on the demo they played at PAX.
Oh, and remember: anyone can be a gamer. One of our biggest fans at PAX was a woman who hadn’t played games “in ages”, in her own words. However, when she sat down to try out Pandora, she loved it. She said it was the first game she really loved since the classic adventure games of the early 90’s. Another huge fan that we gained at PAX was a kid around 9 or 10. He loved exploring the mansion and hearing Pandora’s narration while his dad helped him with the trickier puzzles. These gamers will be more than happy to back you on Kickstarter as well.
7. Care about what your Kickstarter page looks like
Back to the actual Kickstarter page. Your Kickstarter needs to look good. This is especially true for games. Taking the time to address small details, such as making your own section headers rather than simply using bold text, will show potential backers that you care. An eye for detail on your Kickstarter page will convince them that you had the same eye for detail while designing your game.
This carries through to your backer video as well. This is one point where we were criticized. Our video didn’t look polished, and that’s largely because it wasn’t. It was a bunch of footage caught on shaky-cam and compiled. My recommendation: find someone who actually knows how to shoot and edit video, and get them to help with your backer video. They will do a much better job that you will.
8. Set reasonable goals, but add some crazy ones too
Ah, here comes the ever-thrilling topic of money. How do you determine what your goal should be? How do you set backer rewards? What actually works?
You need to form a budget. There is absolutely zero way around this. Crack open Excel and start documenting every single expense that you need to cover with your Kickstarter. What software and licenses do you need? What legal fees do you need to pay? Don’t forget any hardware you might need as well.
Then, look at how much you should have for yourself, if you plan to cover any development-time costs with your Kickstarter. A good formula is as follows:
Cost = (Amount of money you need to live on/month) * (months to develop game) * (# of people)
We were lucky in that regard, in that we got to do a lot of our development while still students at WPI, and that counted for school credit. If you are developing games full time, however, this will likely be your greatest cost.
Then you have to create rewards and budget for them. As a general rule of thumb, you should spend 15-20% of a given reward level on the reward you are giving to the backer. This ensures that you are making money, but the backer is getting a good value reward. Another fun fact to consider: the most common level backers will go with on Kickstarter is $25. However, you can bump up that average (as we did, to ~$35) by offering some creative rewards for higher backer levels. These rewards should include something that actually involves the backer in the game somehow. Maybe they get to be an exclusive beta tester. Maybe you include them in-game somehow (we offered portraits of them to be included in Pandora’s mansion). This is where you can get really creative, so have fun! Which leads me to my final point…
9. GET PUMPED!
Get really pumped! And stay pumped! The best way to get people excited about your game, your Kickstarter, and just about anything that you do is to show that excitement yourself. Think about this: you are making a video game that other people can play. It will be distributed via a massive network of computers, and funded by a worldwide audience of awesome people. Even a generation ago, this would have been essentially impossible. You are doing something awesome, so you should definitely show your genuine enthusiasm in everything that goes into your Kickstarter. It may seem cheesy, but it helps. People get excited when they can tell someone is doing something they love.
Setting up and running a Kickstarter is not easy. Not at all. It is worth it though. Hopefully this helps some of you out there who are going to fund your projects on Kickstarter in the future!
P.S. Kicktraq is a super useful resource for you once your Kickstarter has started. Check them out.