Planning to enter the scary world of crowdfunding? We collect the best advice from Playtonic’s Andy Robinson, ICO Partners’ Thomas Bideaux and Revolution’s Charles Cecil – whose projects have collectively raised more than £6m on Kickstarter – at this year’s Interface on positioning your campaign for success
DON’T DO MOBILE OR FREE-TO-PLAY
“There are a couple of types of games that don’t work at all on Kickstarter,” Bideaux warns. “Mobile games, for lots of reasons, don’t ever work as a whole category on Kickstarter, including Vita games.
“The other thing that doesn’t work – there are a couple of exceptions – is free-to-play. There are a number of reasons for that: the community that is used to crowdfunding tends to be people who buy their games and understand that business model. Another reason is that when you offer something that doesn’t exist, actually making a promise that you’ll get a cape or $50 worth of in-game currency is pointless, because your player hasn’t experienced the game yet – they don’t know if it’s a good deal or not.
“The couple of exceptions in free-to-play that worked were collectible card games, where they were offering booster packs, starter packs – things that for people who play card games have more of a fixed value, so it’s easier for them to project.
“Those are the two big red flags; if it’s mobile and/or free-to-play then you are really making it hard on yourself. 99 per cent of those probably don’t work.”
DON’T EXPECT TO FIND AN AUDIENCE
“Kickstarter and all those platforms are not discovery platforms,” cautions Bideaux. “Very, very few people actually go on Kickstarter in the morning and say: ‘What am I going to buy today?’ But they do go: ‘Oh, I heard about Yooka-Laylee, that sounds awesome, I love Banjo-Kazooie’ or ‘I heard about the new Broken Sword (pictured, below), I love those games, I’m going to back it’. They hear about it outside of those platforms.
“What’s very important and what a lot of people fail to do is understand that they are just platforms – they are just means to an objective, they are just technical support. There are lots of things where you have to do the work yourself.
“You need a community. Projects that fail probably don’t have a community, and projects don’t build out to them – you usually don’t start with a campaign, it’s something that occurs over the life of your project. You’ve built something, either recently or not, and then the campaign is part of that process. That’s a very, very important thing – a starting base from which to launch your company.”
AIM HIGH – BUT NOT TOO HIGH
“You’re setting yourself up for a fall if you overpromise and don’t believe that you can deliver that,” Robinson says. “You shouldn’t promise things you can’t deliver later on.
“It’s wrong, because from our perspective it’s our studio’s first game, even though the team has a lot of pedigree. It’s our first game and a new IP, so everything we do through the crowdfunding, we are also thinking about the long-term future of the studio and the game’s success to give us a foothold, basically.”
KNOW WHO YOUR BACKERS ARE...
Cecil recalls: “For Broken Sword 5, a lot of people had come saying ‘We want it to look classical’, so in designing it we very much went down the route of making the gameplay fairly classical but making it feel modern in terms of the graphics. That was really, really important, because that’s what people had said they wanted. But then you better deliver on it.
“When we announced it, we said it would take six months, because that’s what would’ve happened if we had written what we originally said we were going to. I really worried when that six months came up and people started asking where the game was, because it was actually going to take another six months after that. I thought very carefully and rewrote the release and expected a response, and in fact the response came in two categories: one lot said ‘Well, we didn’t believe you in the first place, take your time’ and the other said ‘Well, we’ve been waiting five years, so we really don’t mind waiting another six months’.
“It was quite clear in that moment that the one thing about dealing with a large community is to not waiver. When you say something be absolutely clear sure that that is the route. Even when people are haranguing you for some kind of response, wait until you’re clear on what your route and position is going to be.”
...AND TREAT THEM WITH CARE
“It becomes a spectrum,” Bideaux says of your backers. “If things go well, these people will be your best advocates. If you make mistakes – and you’re bound to – you will get people who, if they get hungry, will get way angrier than anyone else. There’s a sense of ownership. They want to be treated specially. There’s also that phase where the game’s out and you have two communities – backers and the people that play it. The backers still need to be treated specially. It’s something you need to account for. You need to have dedicated messaging and relationship to those people.”
Robinson agrees: “You need to be completely mindful of backers’ sense of ownership. You have to be very mindful of doing right by them, because rightly or wrongly, they have invested emotionally and feel that they’ve put something on the line to make this happen. As long as everyone in the studio is aware of that and you don’t slip up, it won’t be a problem.”
Revolution’s Cecil offers his own experience: “When we have our team meeting, if there’s just one backer that has a problem, and it’s legitimate, our community manager will raise it and we will brainstorm how to solve it.
“We assume that the people who contact us probably are the hardcore representatives, and there are many more people who have that feeling.
“If you can, it’s worth addressing the one or two people complaining about something, because it almost certainly goes much higher than that.”
BEWARE OF SALES
Bideaux offers a word of caution over launching your crowdfunded game outside of Kickstarter.
“To get Strike Suit Zero (pictured, below) on Kickstarter we had a limited number of versions of the game at $15, and the normal version was $20,” he explains. “When we launched the game on Steam we did the usual 20 per cent discount, so it was $16.
“We had a number of people who backed it at $20 who got really angry with the studio, saying: ‘You lied, you scammed us.’
“To be honest, it was clumsy on our part. We didn’t anticipate it. We didn’t project ourselves to that notion over the pricing. They were right, but they were also very bitter in the way they were expressing themselves. Way more than someone who might’ve lost $4 to ‘Oh, you did a discount and now it’s full price’.”
VALUE STRETCH GOALS
With backers able to invest varying amounts of money, Cecil advises devs to be wary of the equally diverse stimuli behind fans’ input.
“We had several people at $5,000 and one of them didn’t even register,” he recalls. “I managed to get hold of him, and he said: ‘Look, I’ve got a small flat so just send me the digital stuff, don’t send me anything physical.’ Which was kind of insane, but wonderful. He was supporting the project because he loved the project.
“It’s really important to understand and price accordingly, as well. When we were offering $175 tiers, people were really motivated to move from $100 to $175. I was terrified that it might come back and someone who couldn’t really afford it was being driven up. There are people at the different levels who invest for different reasons and have different motivations.”
LAUNCH WITH A DEMO
Armed with little more than a brilliant idea? Playtonic’s Robinson warns that you might need to develop your concept further to attract backers.
“First thing I said when I saw [John Romero’s Blackroom Kickstarter] was: ‘He hasn’t got a gameplay demo’,” he recollects. “I couldn’t believe it.
“50 per cent of having a successful Kickstarter campaign is having a great idea that people want to back and pay money for, and the other 50 per cent is convincing them that you’ll make it.
“That’s the advice I would give to anyone who is doing crowdfunding: show the team – who is the team, and why do they have the pedigree to make this game and bring it out? What have you done so far? Show the game.
“But it’s not a consistent thing – there are certain genres of game where you don’t need a gameplay demo. You look at the 2D games like Mighty No. 9 and Bloodstained, where they very transparently hired a company to mock up fake screenshots, which people were fine with. Obviously for that sort of game, people were satisfied it was a good representation of the sort of stuff you would see in that sort of game.”
Bideaux also calls out Bloodstained (pictured, below) and Mighty No. 9, but argues that those titles remain exceptions to the rule.
“For a 2D game you need the demo, as well,” he retorts. “It’s true for everyone. Unless you have the chance to be famous, you need a demo.
“It’s so important now – you need to be able to show you have something that runs. Even demos can be fake – you can make something that looks good very quickly.
“Romero’s campaign is interesting because it was an outdated version of how crowdfunding works. Three years ago, campaigns were different, and two years ago, they were different, and last year, they were very different. The production values of the page, the video – all those things have changed dramatically.”
LEARN FROM OTHERS’ MISTAKES
While there is much to be learnt from the headline-grabbing crowdfunding campaigns, Bideaux highlights one notorious example of what not to do.
“Shenmue 3 is one of the worst campaigns ever,” he slams. “The only thing they did right was having the Shenmue name, and showing it at E3. 99 per cent of the work was done for them.
“It’s a horrible campaign. Bloodstained’s fantastic, it’s a good example. Shenmue is something that people should shy away from replicating.
“If anything, it’s good to look at a mid-size campaign, one that raised into the $100,000s, rather than the big ones, because the big ones usually have a brand power that can bend things their way.
“There’s one number that’s very scary: the median size of a campaign is $10,000. If you raise more than $10,000 for a video game on Kickstarter, you are in the higher half of projects. It’s something that is often ignored. There are fantastic projects that don’t raise millions. There’s an emotional scale that needs to be kept in line as well. It’s still very difficult to raise north of $100,000.”
HAVE A SEPARATE MARKETING CAMPAIGN
A Kickstarter in itself can be a good way of raising awareness about your game, but don’t expect it to replace traditional marketing.
“We had a marketing campaign for about a month or so before the Kickstarter began,” Robinson reveals of Yooka-Laylee. “We were obviously in a position where was a lot of interest from all the media to do that sort of thing, so we partnered with IGN to reveal our lead characters, which was something which I kind of wished for from the beginning. The rest of the team was like: ‘No, let’s throw everything out.’ But we purposefully left that for something that we could build a campaign off right before the Kickstarter.
“One of the things that we’re doing that may or not work, that we might have come back on us, is that we went out with an initial prototype that was about three months of work and were determined to have game to show and show everything we had. But, after that, we decided we were going to spend some time and the next time we showed the game it was going to be final, more akin to a traditional game PR marketing campaign.
“Hopefully at that time backers will be at the stage of ‘Where is it? Where is it?’ and will be super pleased, rather than us perhaps taking some of the shine and magic off of it and showing off wireframes and environments for six months and everyone getting a bit bored.”