Moderation, enthusiasm and a willingness to try everything are the secrets to running a successful Kickstarter campaign, according to Payload Studios’ Russell Clarke and Natalie Griffiths from Press Space PR.
Speaking at an event last week, run by industry body TIGA and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, Clarke and Griffith outlined the ups and downs of using the platform to raise funds for their new game, TerraTech.
TerraTech is a procedurally generated exploration and combat game in which the player creates and takes vehicles into battle. Destroyed opponents can be looted for parts enabling the player to create their own unique machines. It’s a game that evokes everything from Minecraft to Smuggler’s Run, via my childhood afternoons playing with Lego Technic.
The game was in production for some time before Payload turned to Kickstarter for extra support. Their campaign was launched in July this year and raised a modest, but significant, £39,000. This was £4,000 over their target with the funds earmarked for new multiplayer features and other game improvements.
The talk, which was hosted by Kickstarter’s Stephanie Pereira, stood out among the many crowdfunding events that we have attended. Despite being a Kickstarter backed talk there was no promise of instant success. In fact, there was a refreshing sense of honesty around the likely success rates and the amount of effort required to run a good campaign. The days of Kickstarter being little more than a pre-order service are, thankfully, disappearing.
Don’t be greedy
The titles that grab the biggest headlines in the games press are usually those asking for the largest amount of funding. We’re talking about the likes of Godus, Republique and Star Citizen. Meanwhile, many other studios have more modest expectations. Clarke explained that the Payload team thought very carefully about the amount they wanted to raise. They initially considered setting their target at £50,000, but analysis of the crowdfunding market led them to be more cautious in the amount they asked for, but also more hopeful of success.
Pereira explained that although 44% of all Kickstarters reach their funding target, the success rate falls to 34% in the games category. Long gone are the days where just being there was enough. The take-away was clear: don’t expect to use Kickstarter to fund your entire game. Instead, be clear about what the funds will contribute towards and it is very likely that the community will still back it. In addition to Kickstarter the studio also put in many unpaid hours and received funds from the UK government Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, which Clarke said is an essential avenue for all UK developers to explore.
Don’t stack ’em high
Prominence was also given to the management of Backer rewards. We’ve all heard stories about bedrooms with boxes of T-shirts piled high, stranded due to unexpected postage costs. Payload were careful not to over encumber themselves with swag that would be costly to distribute and use up valuable development time. As a result, most rewards tiers consisted of digital content, with packaged products reserved for the higher end pledges.
Expect the unexpected
Getting your Kickstarter live is also just the beginning. After an initial rush of pledges many campaigns tail off, needing a late surge to see them over the line. Pereira revealed that of the campaigns that reach 20% of their funding goal, 80% go on to be successful. But this doesn’t happen in a bubble. Payload worked with Natalie Griffith of Press Space to plan a full campaign of activity. This was to ensure that those who had pledged were kept informed and engaged, and that prospective backers where exposed to the campaign as much as possible.
By their own admission there was something of a ‘let’s see what sticks’ approach to their marketing push. Clarke was surprised to see how varied the final referral list was for pledges. With everything from regular Twitch broadcasts to a Reddit AMA playing its part in raising funds. Perhaps most successful was a ‘Back on Kickstarter’ button that was embedded into the demo of the game itself.
The biggest takeaway from the event was that Payload were not greedy. They didn’t view Kickstarter as a silver bullet, but as one weapon at their disposal. And as the temperature around video game Kickstarters begins to cool this was a reminder that the platform can still make a genuine difference to a project if managed correctly.
You can download the demo for TerraTech here. The full game is due for release in 2015.