Most developers don't release all of their stats or write up advice and insights following a successful crowdfunding campaign, and those who do are often lost on obscure blogs that don't appear when you Google for advice. But I'm in the unusual position of both being a games journalist and having successfully Kickstarted a small game project (unrelated to MMOs and my work on Massively). Six months ago, I ran a campaign for my new sci-fi 4X game Predestination, and in the process I learned some valuable lessons on what works and doesn't work on Kickstarter. We've since published the campaign stats and gone on to help a few other campaigns hit their goals.
In this article, I run down the lessons I learned the hard way during the Predestination Kickstarter campaign and give some advice for developers hoping to get funded.
Five things people look for in a Kickstarter campaign
- An interesting game idea with the pre-order at a reasonable tier.
- Evidence that the developer has the ability to complete the project, such as a previous success or a gameplay prototype/demo.
- A project that looks like it will reach its goal. Some people don't pledge until a project is already over the line, or they hit the Remind Me button and check back at the end of the campaign.
- A developer who's enthusiastic about the game and the backers who are helping to make his dream come true, particularly if the game wouldn't be possible without Kickstarter.
- A project creator who is engaged with backers, answering questions in the comments and posting frequent updates on various parts of the game and how the campaign is going.
The biggest tip I can possibly give to anyone hoping to get funded through Kickstarter is to work your ass off in preparation. Research successful and failed campaigns, build up as big a pre-launch audience as you can, and spend the time to make your campaign page look as professional as possible. You get only one chance to make a first impression, and on Kickstarter it counts for a lot. Successful campaigns also usually introduce the developers behind the game and roughly break down where the Kickstarter funds will be going. You're asking people for their money, and they deserve to know why you need it.
Making a project video isn't an exact science, but over the years a few strong trends have emerged. Almost all successful projects show the game in the first minute of the video, along with a brief explanation of what type of game it is and what the core gameplay involves. Even if the game is very early in development or all you have is art assets, people want to see what it is they're backing. Keep the pace fast by touching only briefly on each feature; people who want to know more will go on to read the campaign page text, which can be as long as you like. Remember that both the campaign page and the video can be updated at any time during your campaign, so be sure to update them in response to feedback.
Selecting and pricing rewards
The most popular reward level for video game Kickstarters is almost always the lowest-priced tier that provides a digital copy of the game. Free-to-play games can't offer this incentive and have a much harder time getting funded; offering microtransaction points just isn't the same. Digital editions seem to perform best at the $10 or $15 level, but we had some success at $20. It's also extremely important to offer something really good at the $25 level, as Kickstarter reports this to be the most popular pledge level across all campaigns by far. If the basic copy of your game is available at $10 or $15, try to upsell people to $25 with a special limited edition or other unmissable rewards.
For larger rewards, a good general rule is to design the reward so that upgrading from the previous tier is a no-brainer. Predestination's $40 beta access tier included two copies of the game to make sure that it was mathematically good value for money, a strategy that worked extremely well. Some people also need a physical edition of the game they're backing, so offering a well-priced collector's edition or DVD box is an obvious choice. The most popular limited edition rewards usually include some kind of authorship over the game, such as the backer's name being included in the credits or the ability to design part of the game or name an NPC.
Stumbling blocks with reward tiers
One of the most common mistakes new indie campaigns make is having too many confusing reward tiers when the project launches. Try not to flood backers with dozens of tiers that are all very similar, as it makes choosing between two tiers more difficult. If you want to offer players a minor choice between multiple editions or rewards, don't create separate reward tiers for each. Just write the options in the reward text, as you can include the choice in the final backer survey after the campaign.
It's also important not to offer too many physical rewards. A lot of projects offer t-shirts and other goodies as rewards, but they can be very expensive and time consuming to make and ship. Remember that fulfillment of rewards has to come out of your own pocket, and so will eat into your goal; there's no use hitting 200% of your goal on paper when half that's going to be splurged on t-shirts and pen drives. However, we also found that some backers will pledge only if there are physical rewards such as a collector's edition. A good general rule is to try not to offer physical rewards for tiers below $100.
Many campaign owners also aren't aware that they can change rewards that haven't been claimed yet. This came up during our campaign when I noticed that a few people almost immediately picked up the $500 tier but nobody had touched the $1,000 one. I upgraded the $1,000 tier from one in which the backer's name would appear on a plaque to one that let the backer design one of the game's core races, and six people jumped at the chance. Lowering the unclaimed concept art rewards from $300 to $250 had a similar effect.
Read on to page 2 for tips on red flags to avoid, marketing for independent developers, and making the most of your final 48 hours.