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Karakasa Games producer Wiley Wiggins had very little gameplay footage to show for Thunderbeam, his successfully funded iPad adventure game, but found a creative way to skirt the issue. "We had a lot of concept art, and a video detailing the project that was full of clips of classic adventure games and 70's sci-fi we loved," he says. "The video seemed to resonate with a lot of people, especially other fans of the classic stuff we were referencing."
The game earned $24,221 on a goal of $20,000, but he concedes that gameplay often drives contributions -- though that model doesn't always work well with developers' plans. "[It] is a little counter-intuitive, since you probably need less money the further along you are in the game," he notes.
As always, using your best judgment is key here, as projects' financial needs at different stages of development will vary. But once you're ready to take the plunge, don't hesitate to share as much as you can.
"Being able to show some of that raw work is really important," adds Au, "because it shows your audience that you're committed to this thing that you're making, and it gives a sense of how far along you are and what you're doing."
A defining element of Kickstarter and other similar services is that backers are in essence exchanging financial support for some sort of reward, and projects typically offer numerous dollar amounts with more alluring returns at each ascending level.
Rewards offer creators a way to connect the backers' support with the project's aims and goals, but in many cases, they are not simply freebies -- they are another expense.
"The prizes in Kickstarter have to be treated like a business to be effective. You need to factor in per unit price, shipping prices, and then decide on a price tier," asserts Wiggins, who says he miscalculated the shipping costs for Thunderbeam posters and suffered a smaller margin on that funding level.
But as Au suggests, most backers simply want to play your game, whether it's through beta access, a play-testing opportunity, or even a download code when it ships -- and by and large, that's a free or expense-light option, along with soundtrack downloads, wallpaper images, and other digital files.
Even so, giving away your game can present other challenges, especially when it comes to iOS games. Karakasa Games offered free copies of Thunderbeam at many levels, but Wiggins claims they will only receive 50 promo codes from Apple; further rewards will be gifted out of pocket.
For Star Command, Warballoon opted not to promise codes for the game, noting that without a large burst of launch window sales, the game may not scale the App Store charts, hurting the long-term prospects of the game. Coombs believes they could have doubled their number of backers (more than 1,000) by giving away the game, but explains, "That would also mean on day one our most valuable asset, our fans, would be gone because they all have the game already."
Allowing backers the opportunity to insert themselves into the game in some small way can pay off; for example, Star Command saw two people pledge $1,000 apiece to become in-game characters, while Young Horses let two backers name an object or place in Octodad 2 for $200 each. Blade Symphony, an online PC fighting game from Puny Human, offered a variety of content options, including custom weapons and skins for backers, plus the ability to place an ad or logo in a stage, have an achievement named after them, or earn an executive producer listing in the game's credits.
"We had a bit of a panic when we saw the number of people going for the higher-tier rewards," admits Alex Norris, public relations lead at Puny Human. Luckily, the team was able to accommodate the 19 backers who pledged to contribute ads to a stage; and in all, Blade Symphony earned $19,058 from 451 backers, with a starting goal of $15,000. "Our artists had a whale of a time working on something that was custom-built for the people who pledged to our Kickstarter project," he adds.
Au says that physical rewards have a "really interesting pull on people," though, adding, "You want to give something to someone that feels real and that's tangible, that's more than a thank-you." She cites one of Thunderbeam's rewards as a standout offering -- a wearable button that featured the game's logo and doubled as a micro MP3 player containing the game's soundtrack.
Common physical rewards include T-shirts, posters, and other small trinkets, but can scale much larger with success; Octodad convinced one backer to pledge $1,000 for an original oil painting of the game's cephalopod lead, though a custom-fit costume of the character remained unclaimed at $800.
"Even though it didn't make us any money directly, a lot of news sources commented on the costume," says Young Horses programmer Devon Scott-Tunkin, "and it probably got us more attention than any other prize."
Don't hold back on those price levels -- backers may simply be more interested in funding your vision than trading their contributions for tangible prizes. Wiggins included a $1000 backing level for Thunderbeam, which offered a vague promise of friendship and rewards; and to his astonishment, three people each pledged that sum. "Those backers have been as valuable to us as people as their pledges have," he says. "Some of them have had great suggestions, and we've been open to them. There's a different dynamic in Kickstarter than if we had sought traditional funding, and I really appreciate that."