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How to Run a Successful Kickstarter for your Game
Nathan Lovato has run 2 successful kickstarter campaigns over the last couple of years (the latest of which raised 4x the initial goal). He explores some of the basics and common pitfalls you should avoid.
Chances are you’ve thought about running your own Kickstarter. Money coming directly from your community and passionate players, wouldn’t that be great? Crowdfunding is more than an option to budget your projects.
First, it doesn’t have to be the only one. It combines well with subsidies, it doesn’t prevent you from collaborating with a publisher, or running on another stream of income. It offers a great way to test the market and your communication before you release your game to the world.
But success is not a given. Less than half the campaigns reach their goal. It is not easy money either. Take this route if you want to involve your community and unlock some extra funds as you’re building the game. It takes a lot of preparation, and a good understanding of what your visitors will love, more so than want.
Note there’s an upper cap to the amount of money you can raise as an indie team. So far in 2017, half of the successful projects in the games category got less than $10,000. About 30% got between $10,000 and $50,000. Be wary of that, and plan your game budget well. Meaning you should be past the pre-production phase when you go on Kickstarter.
I ran 2 successful campaigns myself and got over 4 times the initial goal on the last one. I don’t produce games per se: I’m into game creation tutorials instead. But communication and pitfalls are still the same.
Kickstarter is still leads when it comes to games
Kickstarter is the most popular and the most open crowdfunding platform for game developers. Fig, a curated platform with an equity-based model, beats it on the average raised funds per successful project… but getting on the platform and succeeding are even harder. In 2016, there were less than 10 successful Fig campaigns, compared to about 380 on Kickstarter.
Although it has one of the clunkiest text editors I’ve seen, Kickstarter has the best brand recognition amongst players. This plays a big role in the total pledges you can get, especially if you’re not popular yourself. If you want to pick another platform, do so with great caution.
Ulule might be an option if you target specific countries and are looking to localize your campaign. Patreon is another alternative, based on recurring funding. It’s a lot harder to get started, as you likely won’t get enough money to make a living, but it can work you produce content on a regular basis.
Let’s get the basics and best practices out of the way:
Always have something to show. For a game, you should have a demo or a good prototype, easy to download and play, sitting at the top of the presentation. I had over 200 free videos for people to get a sense for what they would get.
Never announce the stretch goals until you meet your initial goal. It does nothing good for you. If you share them early, you can’t adapt them to the expectations of the backers. It even takes a great communication beat away from you.
Only make promises you can hold. You should really budget your project right before you try to crowdfund it. Careless promises will come back to haunt you 2 years down the line.
Announce the Kickstarter 2 to 4 weeks in advance, and try to generate some hype to get many pledges on day one. It is quite similar to a product launch.
You’re not only looking at 30 days of work during the campaign. You must prepare it way in advance, and raise awareness before launch.
We started discussing mine back in 2016 with the developers of the Godot game engine. We agreed to collaborate months before the project even started. It’s not always possible, but you should secure the support of your closer contacts, friends and family as soon as possible. Remember the 20% principle: you must raise enough money in the first 24 to 48 hours to get enough momentum to succeed.
Preparing the campaign took over 30 man-days in total, spread over 8 months. I flew to Belgium to meet the development team and core contributors back in February. We outlined the course with the engine’s administrator, listed some key goals we’d like to reach, and got to meet personally. In the following months, he followed every step of the project and gave invaluable feedback, along with several other persons. Without them, it wouldn’t have been the same.
2: Build a community beforehand
Your Kickstarter will boost your community. As game developers, it will also rely on it to drive people to your campaign page. No one loves your work as much as those who’ve been following you for a while already. And again, crowdfunding is love-driven: people support you for the unique nature of your project, but also because they know and trust you. When the campaign is funded already, newcomers will feel safer knowing that several hundred others put their faith in your team already. We were certain we could get more than €8,000 back in June. Thanks to the community, it happened in less than 12 hours, and drove a ton of extra pledges until the end.
The thing is, I already had over 30,000 YouTube subscribers, more than 100,000 monthly views on tutorials, 500 daily visitors on my website and a mailing list with 7,000 entries on the launch day. I received support from important open source communities like Krita, a program I covered with dozens of tutorials, Libre graphics world, and the official Godot engine’s website. This gave the campaign’s street cred a definitive boost. Along with more than 200 videos released to date, this helped the backers feel confident in my ability to lead the project, and gave the campaign a lot of thrust. It was not only followers, but also me being part of other communities. I poked in where Godot users hang out since 2016, and made some friends there.
3: Answer a need or fill a niche
You can’t get funding for any project on Kickstarter. You must provide something fresh, produce a game that brings something special to the world. Other options are to fill a niche where there’s a clear demand. That’s how adventure games and old school Western RPGs made their comeback a few years ago. Or you could build a project around a popular IP. Bouncing back to the previous tip, you should have some contacts to help you spread the word as far as possible. Without visibility and momentum, it’s always going to be hard.
There are tutorials for the Godot game engine spread around YouTube and the Internet. However, there was no professionally-built online course for it. The demand was high. I ran a market study to get a sense for how many persons would want the course, how their skills were like, how the community was growing… I defined the funding goal and scoped the project in consequence.
4: Communicate daily
During the campaign, I released 1 free tutorial almost every day on YouTube. It helped new people learn about the game engine, about GDquest (that’s the channel), and it proved everyone that I could produce quality content fast. That was a lot of work: being alone, a typical day would start at 6 AM and end around 11 PM. A good recipe for burn-out. But it paid off: the community got involved, shared tips, and suggested new topics, keeping everyone engaged.
Videos take a lot of work, but so do detailed the updates and pretty pictures you’ll need to design. As a game developer, you should keep some visual elements to implement during the campaign, so you can feed social channels with appealing pictures. Feel free to keep the updates short, but keep them coming! And as these will take a substantial amount of time off your days, try to hit 2 birds in 1 stone. You could use them to log your progress and reflect on the work ahead, for instance.
Finally, prepare material in advance if you can:
Write chunks of text to use anytime, like fun anecdotes and game creation tips
Schedule posts to social networks using a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer
Save some pictures to share on the days you’re most tired or short on time
5: Use a lot of pictures
Your Kickstarter presentation should filled with pictures. If you can explain anything with an image, do so. You’re designing a landing page: don’t expect people to stay for long. Those who watched the trailer will likely only be glance at the text.
It takes a lot of subtractive work to edit the presentation down to its essence, but it’s worth it. You must still retain all the information your backers will want to know. How the game plays, how long it will take you to ship it, if they can pledge via PayPal, etc. I contacted fellow game developers who have had successes on Kickstarter, and got excellent feedback from some of them as soon as I had something to show. They quickly went through the page, acting as a backer, and tore it down. There’s nothing like honest reviews to help you succeed.
The trailer itself should be short. One minute for the game and one minute to get people engaged is more than enough. Or you can only provide a game trailer and leave the campaign’s details for the rest of the webpage. To learn more about game trailers and landing page design, check out our marketing guide for indies with no budget.
6: Getting started? Analytics to the rescue
Gather data before you even think of a launch date. If you can’t secure at least 20 to 30% of the goal in the first 48h, the campaign has little chance to work. I put out a form before launch, and got 660 answers. It showed that pledges would add up to over €8,000, the goal that seemed the most reasonable. I scoped the course and Kickstarter based on that, and you might want to consider it for your own projects: for us indies, the budget is often a fixed variable.
The amount of content you put in the final game, you can always extend or trim. You can always enhance the experience, iterate more if you have more money than expected. But it’s often quite the contrary. If I got more than the goal, perfect, I had a large pool of ideas to pick from. Otherwise, it would stay short and to the point. Still filled with valuable content, just nothing extra.
The reward tiers are based on the statistics from the form. People told how much they would pledge, and the median amount, the quartiles and the 9th decile determined the first 3 rewards. The first quartile was at €10, and so was the first reward. Every backer should get educational material. So, I chose to offer 3 versions of it for the first 3 rewards, at €10, €20, €40. Having a tiered product gave the backers a strong incentive to get the best version possible. Some even sent messages along the lines of “€40 is too much for the course”, ignoring the other 2 cheaper versions.
Be sure to plug google analytics into your Kickstarter account before launch. It will provide more detailed insights than the Kickstarter dashboard: where people come from, how they navigate your Kickstarter campaign, how many read the updates, etc. It’s all invaluable to set your priorities.
7: Spread your rewards well
People pledge based on their love of the project. They scan the page and pick the reward that best suits their budget. If someone can afford to spend 500$ on your game, and you give them a pretext to, they will.
So, spread your rewards well: have 4 or 5 tiers between €5 and €100, based on your analytics, and offer a few more above €100. Some fans will go higher than you might imagine. I got 4 pledges over €400 and one at €240. Had I put the top reward at €1,000, I might have gotten 1 or 2 pledges for it. Those backers aren’t necessarily individuals: companies or nonprofits can back your campaign as well, and even get tax deductions doing so, depending on the country.
Give upgrade incentives to optimize rewards
Try to provide great deals, and incentives to increase one’s pledge. Be it when the backers first check the campaign or when you get closer to the end. You will see them labeled as “Reward adjustments” in your Kickstarter dashboard.
I work with tiered products to give people who don’t have a lot of money an option to support GDquest. One can get the essentials, the pro of the premium version of a course. The clear majority of picked the latter, the more expensive one.
Earlier this year, I released 2 game art training products that could complement the Kickstarter well. Everyone who increased their pledge from €40 to €70 got both, plus a set of Krita brushes. A serious deal that over 200 persons jumped on! Yes, that’s €14,000, from people who would have never bought all the products individually anyway. The same should be true for games: few backers will look back at what you did before, so try to package previous products and give people a good pretext to pledge more.
The result? An average pledge of €46. For most projects, it stays around €20.
A Kickstarter not only brings you money: your supporters will stay behind you. The crowdfunding campaign itself is an opportunity to do a lot of communication, grow your community and reinforce your reputation. That might even add a valuable entry on your resume!
There are plenty of ways to do it wrong and fail miserably. But if you design the campaign carefully, gather data, budget it, prepare yourself way in advance, and offer something that people might want or need, it can sure work. It may sound hard, but it really isn’t harder than successfully launching a game, finding a good publisher or investors. However, it’s a wonderful adventure that will sure leave you a bit tired, but the heart filled with the warmth of hundreds of adorable and supportive messages.
To get more insights on getting started, check out this presentation by Thomas:
Great stories about great game developers, and how they thrive in the era of data.
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