We ran a kickstarter for the game I’m currently working on, Space Food Truck. The game is coming along great, but we lacked the funds internally to really step it up a notch mostly in the audio department as well as some aspects in the graphical department due to budget constraints. I needed to be persuaded on the idea of running a kickstarter, but I eventually came around to it. Obviously, things didn’t work out but it was an exciting, sometimes nerve wracking experience. Figured I’d write down some notes on my feelings of the overall experience. So without further ado…

Some Unsubstantiated Thoughts on Kickstarter

The pitch video is important.

Having a good pitch is critical (not even just on kickstarter, just in games in general), and good production would help legitimize you. I think our video pitch need more iteration but neither of us had the energy, time, or will to do it (more on this later).

Don’t shy away from previous accomplishments.

I think we could’ve pushed our previous efforts more to establish credibility. There’s been somewhat of a less than friendly perception of mobile in the eyes of “mainstream” gamers, and even in the press on some occasions. It’s already hard enough as an indie to get press attention, but being typecast as a ‘mobile developer’ doesn’t exactly work in your favor these days, despite how awesome mobile games can be. Anyone that took the time to read our project page or look us up would see our previous catalog, but maybe we should’ve championed it rather than downplayed it.

That being said, I think it was important to state SFT was coming to PC (and eventually tablets), rather than the other way around. Not because of the treatment they get in press or gaming culture, just the data seems to imply mobile is a tough gig even on Kickstarter. I’m not even sure how you’d pitch an iOS game on kickstarter given how there is no way to distribute it to backers without Apple frowning upon it. As much as we don’t like the perception, gamers see Kickstarter as a pre-order system and if they don’t get a copy with their pledge then I’d imagine their enthusiasm for pledging approaches zero.

A lot of the negative rhetoric I typically hear is on Steam, and more specifically Greenlight. Kickstarter isn’t Steam and the majority of those that went to our Kickstarter page most likely never heard of us. Credentials can be important to those that have zero clue who you are. Furthermore, our fans asking for PC and Mac ports of our games is indicative enough to me that our games aren’t viewed based on the platform they originally released on but the merits of the games themselves. In hindsight, I was too concerned with this aspect. If the ideal goal is to have a game good enough to be worth releasing on every platform possible, then the platform drama is insignificant. Almost all our previous games were critically acclaimed, and maybe I could’ve played that angle up more.

Initial reveal of the game: probably not the best time for your Kickstarter campaign?

I’m still wishy-washy on this because it’s hard to get a sense of the direct impact initial announce press releases, marketing, and social media buzz can get you towards Kickstarter pledges. But my logic is as follows:

If you’re starting your marketing campaign to build up interest, excitement, and, ultimately, followers for your game leading up to launch several months away, presumably the amount of dedicated followers you have right before announcing is at an all time low. Kickstarter is about turning dedicating followers into pledges, and is largely about momentum in terms of how many pledges you can get in that crucial first week. So in a way, using Kickstarter in tandem with your initial reveal may possibly be the worst moment to launch your Kickstarter. Conversely, launching your Kickstarter on the day before you release your game is also useless despite ideally having the maximum number of followers at that point. That would seem to imply that there is some middle ground here between reveal and launch.

The vibe I got from other Kickstarter alums was launching a campaign was almost like trying to line up votes in congress before the vote goes to the floor. The more fans you can convince to be there on day 1 to say “yes” the better the chances you’ll have. In a way, kind of antithetical to the whole idea of Kickstarter given that it’s supposed to be about raising pledges during the campaign, but oh well.

And this is me being completely 100% superstitious, but if our initial out-reach to press is pushing a new game and it’s already got a Kickstarter going I suspect it knocks it down a notch. Sometimes due to the journalist’s own stance on kickstarters, and sometimes the publication feeling they are put in a strange position when discussing Kickstarters. In the future if I ever do a Kickstarter again, then I might lean on the side of “don’t let it be your reveal”. Obviously there’s exceptions to that, but Space Food Truck isn’t tapping into any of the nostalgic angles that have been popular as of late on Kickstarter so that’s a bit of a non-starter.

Social Media…helps?

It was really difficult to suss out the impact of twitter and facebook. The analytics I do have suggests it helped…a bit? It accounted for at least 17% of funds raised. But ultimately the pledges were more of a slow steady trickle than anything meaningful to help build momentum. Looking at other successful Kickstarters it seems that twitter and facebook were not central to their strategies for getting funded. I’d go so far as to say that if this is your main strategy for getting funded, re-think it. Building twitter buzz is doable, but that’s about as far as it got for us. Trying to transform “buzz” into action seems supremely difficult in that medium. I think a better twitter strategy would be centered around encouraging backers, fans, followers to tweet about your project rather than making your company and/or personal account the central point of info on twitter where others retweet or discover your game. Easier said than done though.

Tying into the previous point about reveals, building up a social media following prior to a kickstarter launch is vital. A Kickstarter campaign isn’t the time to increase your follower count on twitter or facebook. Maybe if we had massively popular social media accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers it would’ve been different. Beyond our initial kickstarter announcement and the 48 hour tweet there wasn’t much gain in the 30 days in-between from either source. I think a really interesting post for the future would be to get down in the nitty gritty and explore how many views the page got, where they came from, how many pledged as a result from which sources, etc. Ultimately, I suspect our social “reach” is on the lower end of the scale so data may prove to be more noisy and difficult to find any trend in.

It Can Consume You

Regarding our effort on the pitch video, we went into Kickstarter without much expectation. I hoped we could raise funds with minimal distraction so that we could get back to focusing on the game during the campaign and not lose much time. It turned out to be the opposite. From all that I’ve seen and heard from successful kickstarter alums the scope of a well run campaign far extends the the “1 month” of kickstarter and a week or two of prep.  If 2+ months of part time work dedicated to planning, creating, and organizing a campaign takes a significant chunk of a development cycle, then maybe the game is too small for kickstarter? Or maybe priorities are in the wrong order and marketing isn’t getting the attention it deserves? Our dev cycles aren’t measured in years. Dedicating months to a kickstarter detracts from progress on the actual game, and with our deadlines being less flexible, it’s difficult to justify the time spent with the risk of not getting funded.

If anything, Kickstarter is a hyper accelerated marketing campaign. It kind of became an interesting assessment in our studios marketing capabilities. It highlighted holes in our marketing tools and outreach abilities. The silver lining, I suppose, is the game is largely going to be taken care of, but we’ve exposed that the awareness level of Space Food Truck isn’t where it needs to be. Better to be aware of that now than at the real launch of the game.