So… I spent the last several months planning, running, and then re-running my Kickstarter campaign:
…and, organizing a worldwide Spaceteam tournament. I want to share some of my experiences.
The two campaigns were extremely similar on the surface, but I did more work behind the scenes on the second attempt. While it’s impossible to tell exactly what tipped the scales my best guesses are:
- Existing momentum combined with more aggressive outreach
- The Tournament helped keep the buzz going for the duration of the campaign
- Some unexpected exposure near the end
I think the experiment as a whole was an important precedent but I’m not sure how easily it could work for a brand new team/creator. I believe a large part of my success was because I already had an existing audience, from a game that I self-funded, and spent the last 2 years gradually building that audience.
This was not a traditional campaign. The goal was to raise enough money to live for a year making free games. I chose Kickstarter over Patreon (and Indiegogo) for this campaign because:
- I needed an “all-or-nothing” goal so I could commit to making the games for free. If I promised to make free games and then ran out of money (eg. not raising enough on Indiegogo, Patreon supporters backing out, etc.) it would put me in an awkward position and wouldn’t be fair to supporters. It might mean switching gears and charging money for the games, and in that case I would want to redesign the game mechanics/presentation to fit that model. I need to know this ahead of time so I can plan. Because the Kickstarter succeeded I’m confident that I’ll have enough money to develop and release the games for free.
- Patreon is definitely growing, but Kickstarter still has a much larger audience.
- Patreon is better suited for short-form works that can be produced once a month or more. I’m still concerned that when I do try Patreon I won’t provide enough month-to-month value since my games are going to take 6 months or more to finish. Maybe a monthly developer diary with in-progress art & design will be good enough.
- This kind of project is very unusual on Kickstarter and I figured that would make it more interesting to the press.
There are a lot, so this is mostly going to be a point-form brain dump. If you want more info on any particular aspect, just ask!
Things that happened in both campaigns:
- Talked to Kickstarter directly (by email and in person) about my project ahead of time to make sure it was within their guidelines
- Used Buffer to post to Twitter/Facebook/Google+/LinkedIn simultaneously whenever I mentioned the campaign
- Put links on my blog, forum, website, Twitter bio, email signature, every public facing place I could think of
- Asked my game industry friends/connections to spread it around at their offices
- Kept a database of Press & Community Contacts, where I stored emails of everyone who might be relevant. Categories like “Champions”, “PayPal donors”, “Translators”, “Potential Collaborators”, “Business Cards” (collected at conventions), “Interested in Accessibility”, “Interested in Customization”, etc.
- Did an informal press release, to sites that had written about Spaceteam in the past, and others. A site I discovered during this process: http://gamespress.com/
- Posted in some relevant forums (Geek & Sundry, BoardGameGeek, etc.)
- Whenever people emailed about the game (with praise or bug reports), I told them about the KS
- Made a promo screen in the Spaceteam app itself linking to the KS (bit worried that Apple might not like this, but they never complained)
- Tried to contact celebrities/influencers that might help. eg. Notch, Wil Wheaton, Penny Arcade guys
- Got propositioned by a lot of services that claimed to help KS campaigns with flash-traffic, promotional services, or private networks of backers. Decided to say no to all of them.
Things that happened differently in the new campaign:
- There wasn’t nearly as much press the second time around (maybe they considered it old news?)
- However, lots of momentum from the first project
- Announced the new campaign a week in advance, with a mailing list signup (got 1800 names)
- Used mailing list, old KS, and new KS to provide updates
- Targeted specific journalists that had written articles about game funding/new models
- Organized a worldwide Spaceteam tournament with 25 regional venues, global high scores, and special achievements to unlock (this is a whole ‘nother blog post!). These were a fantastic success and kept people playing and talking about the game throughout the month
- Posted a blog entry about the campaign/philosophy to the Gamasutra member blogs
- Paid for a service called Kicklytics that provided some useful meta-data about the campaign. The Cross Promotion Opportunities were fascinating if only because they introduced me to a bunch of other interesting campaigns.
- Cross-promoted with a few other Kickstarter campaigns (limiting myself to Local Multiplayer cooperative games only). Approached by several others and felt bad turning them down, but felt they had too little audience overlap.
- Wore a Spaceteam button on my shirt every day (probably didn’t help much, BUT… one time I went out jogging and almost decided not to wear it, and then after my run I discovered one of those Just for Laughs hidden-camera gags and they ended up filming me. They probably didn’t use the footage and the badge would have been much too small on the screen… but I thought it was a funny coincidence)
- Tried to start an official Reddit AMA, but was not approved (I assume because of the crowdfunding angle?)
- Instead, started a Reddit discussion about my philosophy (should have done this sooner)
- Mid-way through the campaign, added extra tiers at $500 and $1000 to entice high-level backers to give a bit more
- Near the end enticed all tiers to go one tier higher, with a calculation of the difference it would make (eg. “if everyone at Tier 3 goes up to Tier 4, that means an extra $10,000!”)
- Promoted a Facebook post for $43 (which apparently reached 19,224 people and resulted in 148 “actions”). This was the only time I paid for any traditional advertising.
- Made a Thunderclap campaign to get a bunch of people to Tweet at the same time
- Got selected as a Kickstarter “Project of the Day”
- Wil Wheaton tweeted about the campaign (thanks Wil!)
- I had no way to measure the actual impact of most of the things I did. To date, the things that have generated the largest download spikes (by far) have been:
- A mention by YouTuber Jenna Marbles (that I had nothing to do with…)
- A mention in a Reddit thread about “Your favourite game that no one has heard of” (that I had nothing to do with…)
Lesson: Just try stuff and don’t stress out about whether it’s going to be “worth it”.
- Constantly sending emails/posts/messages feels like you’re spamming the same group of people over and over again. In fact, only a handful of people see it each time. And each individual person might only see three or four messages, even though you are sending out hundreds. After promoting the first campaign for a solid month, it ended and I still got told by a lot of people that they were just hearing about it. Lesson: You are being exposed to your own marketing 100x more than anyone else. Trust others to tell you when it is “too much”. No one knows about your project.
- I worried about the campaign pretty much constantly. I didn’t feel like I could start working on the new games/Lexicogulator/etc while the KS was running since I would be neglecting it and blame myself if it failed. This is a hard lesson to learn and I’m still second-guessing myself about it. Lesson: Don’t do this. You need to take breaks.
- Even if your game already has 2 million downloads, that doesn’t mean you can reach 2 million people. I’m sure putting links the in game helped, but the only people who saw them were people who still had the app installed and who opened it during the month of the campaign. Lesson: Numbers only mean so much.
- According to the statistics my first campaign apparently had a 99.6% chance of success. It failed. So I honestly had no idea whether the second one was going to work until the very last day. Lesson: Unusual projects follow unusual patterns. When you’re trying something new, sometimes the rules don’t apply.
- Tournaments are hard work to organize but a lot of fun.
Well… I hope that helps for now. I’ll add more if I think of it.
Talk to you soon!