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Kickstarter for the Average Indie

September 12, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Part of me feels a little bit presumptuous writing this article, because while we have had a successful Kickstarter, there are certainly many more Kickstarters that have been far more successful. At first glance, you might think that massive multi-million dollar success stories from Double Fine and inXile seem like they'd be more useful, and certainly more interesting.

But I think our experience will probably be more useful to most people reading this article. Because most game developers are a little more like my team -- Dinofarm Games -- than they are like Double Fine. Most working game developers -- the people who really need Kickstarter more than anyone -- don't have a famous game designer at their helm to give their campaign a massive popularity boost.

With that in mind, I have decided to present a sort of "working-man's Kickstarter tips" article. This article is written for people who are passionate and believe in what they have to offer, but don't have a lot of money for marketing or production of some amazing video. I hope that my experiences and advice can help small developers get healthy funding for small, but great games.

Further, we're in the somewhat unusual position of having run two Kickstarter campaigns for the same game -- a tactical dungeon crawler game called Auro. One of the campaigns failed, and the second one succeeded (by an almost 200 percent margin). With this experience, we can take away a few lessons and share them with you.

Our First Kickstarter

As I mentioned, the game I was trying to Kickstart was Auro, a turn-based tactical dungeon crawler (I've written about it before here on Gamasutra). It's striving to be much more accessible, simple, and easy to learn than our previous title, 100 Rogues, while at the same time being deeper strategically and also better looking. Also, it's going to be cross-platform, where 100 Rogues was only available on iOS and OS X. 100 Rogues was also well-received, getting good reviews pretty consistently, so we felt pretty confident that our Kickstarter would do well.

We were totally wrong about that.

Our first video started off with a shot of Blake (our lead artist) and I sitting at a couch and pretending to play some video game that couldn't be seen. About the room, we had strewn hundreds of pieces of video game paraphernalia: a Master System, a U-Force, an Atari 2600, dozens of cartridges from all kinds. Even our bodies were covered head to toe with video game stuff: cables of all sorts, Power Gloves, that ridiculous NES helmet accessory, and Blake had a Super Scope over his shoulder.

The video starts out with this ridiculous scene, which we thought was pretty funny and strange. We were both shouting at the screen and generic video game noises coming out of the off-screen television. I'm yelling at Blake to "shoot his head", and Blake is yelling back that he is shooting his head. Then we do that thing where we pretend that we just noticed that you walked in and we weren't quite expecting you, and we go into a quick spiel about who we are.

The rest of this video was basically shots of concept art and gameplay mockups. We spent a decent amount of time talking about 100 Rogues and how different Auro was from it. Because of that comparison, there was a lot of talk about what Auro wasn't, and a small amount about what it was.

Even though we liked it, this video was kind of a disaster, in retrospect. Actually, even a week into the Kickstarter, we started getting some meaningfully negative feedback. Our campaign asked for $15,000, which we figured was pretty reasonable (for three guys working for what we thought would be maybe another six to eight months, $15k is actually a very small amount of money). But we were met with a good bit of hostility regarding this figure, which we found surprising.

There were also some good (i.e. useful) bits of feedback, though, both regarding our video and even some things like our character design. Things were at a crawl, so we took this advice to heart and started quickly on a second video that we'd launch halfway through.

Our Second Video

One of the best bits of feedback on our first video was that we were not only too "what Auro isn't", we were also a bit too "inside baseball" -- I was talking the way that one game designer speaks to another. It probably wasn't the best way to communicate what was great about the game to a normal, non-game-designing person.

We were inspired by the famous Star Command video, which had just come out. It was extremely thematic -- voiced by an in-game character and never once mentioning anything about the game's development. Basically, it was like the total opposite of our first video, and so we, in quite a rush, decided to emulate that.

Few seemed to like the original look for our lead character, the eponymous Auro, so we changed him around as well. Here's the old Auro and our new, current Auro, which was used in our second video.

Our second Kickstarter video launched about halfway through. We made the rounds, excitedly spreading the word that we've now got a new, improved Kickstarter video. I personally worked really hard on editing this video, which was extremely thematic and more of a production. Blake voiced over some dialogue as one of the game's characters, which played over shot after shot of concept art.

Then at the end of the video, the user was treated to some meticulously mocked-up and animated simulation of "game footage", which took me probably a dozen hours to do. As I'll explain later, this ended up being a dozen wasted hours.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Chris McLeod
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Great write-up. Thanks for the tips. Your +15% then - 50% tip should be it's own full-fleged tip; it seems really helpful.

JoseArias NikanoruS
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"First, find a number that you'd consider the absolute bare minimum amount that you'd need to really get this project done. Then, halve that number, and that's the number you should shoot for."

I find this one quite dangerous.

First, I feel like this can confirm the false notions of many that games are cheaper to make.

Second, if you ask for half what you need... isn't it more plausible that you aren't able to deliver and so you tarnish the reputation of the whole kickstarter thing.

In the worst case scenario: people would find real prices outrageous and they wouldn't back the projects anyway because they don't get completed...

Saul Gonzalez
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I agree that the "asking for less than you need" advice is dangerous and perhaps dishonest, though the author probably means no ill will.

If your Kickstarter is successful, it becomes a commitment for you to finish the game. If you have to scramble for other funds later, that's a terrible position to be in. And if you cannot finish due to lack of resources, you'll be (rightfully) labeled irresponsible at best and a scammer at worst.

For the author, it seems Kickstarter money was "something that'd be nice to have" rather than something that would make or break the project. Since the game was likely going to be released anyway, their "absolute bare minimum amount" to get it done was actually zero.

Again, I don't mean to disparage the author, but it seems like his experience on this particular point would not be applicable to someone planning to use Kickstarter to raise the primary budget for their project.

Keith Burgun
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Yeah, I should have specified, if I did not, that this technique only works if you're like me and you're making this project whether you can afford to or not.

Todd Williams
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Very interesting! After reading this and the 2 related articles on your site, I have some thoughts...

It sounds like this game was going to be made regardless of the funding, which means that you really are asking people to fund your time. It's a fine thing to ask for, but I wonder if it would have been more successful to say something like, "help the game release early," or some-such thing. It's something to consider that when you've already got the tools you'll need (a bag of pixels, as it were), what are we really funding? Paying for a hot dog and a diet coke to keep you going is less glamorous than funding something like a Unity license, or a submission payment.

That said, 100 Rogues was a great game, and I look forward to Auro.

Jeremy Alessi
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I appreciate this feature because of the failed/succeeded comparison. I actually just went and viewed both of the Kickstarter pages before completing the article. Off the cuff, I just think the first video was a bit slow in addition to being a bit harder to understand. There was a funny moment at the end with the fire, but other than that it just came off being a bit underdone given the direction. The successful video was much more succinct and really gave me an idea of what the game entailed quickly.

Great job on a successful Kickstarter and thanks again!

Neal Nellans
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This is a helpful article, but what would be even more helpful if you went into more detail as to how you promoted/ advertised your kickstarter. I understand that the style of the video has significant impact, but I think getting traffic to the page is even more important. You obviously have a well-maintained website for your company I would be interested to hear what number of users came from your site, other sties or articles that you published or what paid advertising you found successful.

Keith Burgun
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Did zero paid advertising. Basically told people about it on facebook, twitter, reddit and email. That's about it.

Troy Walker
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thanks for sharing your experience.. this was great information.

Derek Manning
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Great write-up. I have contemplated doing a Kickstarter campaign for my side project so this was very good stuff to hear.