We at Prismatic Games are certain that Hex Heroes is a game that any player would enjoy. It blends hardcore and casual gaming in a way that we've yet to see. It takes full advantage of the Nintendo Wii U's many features, including the asymmetric gameplay that is so far exclusive to this console thanks to the Wii U's gamepad.
But Hex Heroes didn't take off on Kickstarter as we anticipated. This campaign was in the works for over 4 months. We even spent the week before launch building hype on various Nintendo-centric websites, as well as securing cameos from independent developers.
So why wasn't Hex Heroes funded in its first 3 weeks? Let's find some answers.
Is local multiplayer dying?
For Wii U owners and Nintendo fans, local multiplayer is a staple. Nintendo hasn’t given up on the genre as evidenced by Nintendoland and Mario Kart, so technically, the audience that exists for it is the one we’re directly aimed at. Even if it is dead, Hex Heroes will have an online single-player mode from the start with online multiplayer modes as a stretch goal.
Is it that the Wii U audience is too small?
There are over 5 million Wii U owners, so if only 0.3% of them backed our project at our lowest reward tier we would be funded past our highest stretch goal. Major Nintendo fan sites have on average several thousand followers on Twitter. NintendoLife.com in particular, a site that covered us frequently, has over 37k followers on Twitter.
Do Wii U owners not know what Kickstarter is?
Not a stupid question. A large percentage of our backers are new to Kickstarter, with Hex Heroes being their first backed. We were surprised by how many were unaware of how the site functioned - that their money would only be taken if we succeeded. We also ran into a lot of people who were “waiting to be paid before backing”.
Is it a lack of press?
A few sites were unable to cover us without a playable build (IGN in particular), and while that's understandable, it's still going to be tough in the future if that's their stance, because the Wii U is not capable of playing beta versions. This was also the case for various Youtube celebrities that we reached out to.
Is it the game itself?
Fellow indie developers, backers, press reporting on us, and even popular Youtube celebrities don’t think so. They say an experience like Hex Heroes has been a long time coming and are impressed with the talent behind it. A Nintendo editor at The Escapist backed immediately when he heard about the project.
Is it that gamers don't care about innovative games?
We've noticed that a lot of the big campaigns play off gamer nostalgia. Heart Forth, Alicia, a campaign for a retro metroidvania game needing 60K was funded in less than 48 hours. Outcast Reboot HD needs 600k and is currently at 35% with 18 days to go. This is on top of Broken Age, Mighty No. 9, Shantae, Shovel Knight, Hat in Time, and others, which are great games, but were transparently sold as love letters or homages.
Is it the team?
We brought Grant Kirkhope on so that we'd have a huge name behind us. Mario Castañeda has a critically acclaimed game under his belt, and the several cameo inclusions speak confidence for the team. In some cases, the people behind the project mean everything (take Double Fine for example), in other cases, like with Shadow of the Eternals, Boogerman HD, or Bizenghast, a team of experienced developers just isn’t enough.
Was it the overall campaign?
We launched with a less than stellar video and no PC support, but later remedied those problems a week in. Could those really have made all the difference?
Our rewards could be confusing - this was likely due to the PC version being announced later, but we made a concerted effort to consider the little guy. All too often we had looked at campaigns with far reaching rewards and very little under the $50 level. In fact, we made every reward from $10 to $35 only $5 away, hoping that backers would not be turned away from lackluster or expensive rewards. We also teamed up with Sandboxr to deliver stunning 3D prints for our backers at a low cost and added a digital art book to the $20 tier in the last week to make that level more attractive as well as reward generous backers.
As far as community, we’ve kept our backers updated and very much involved. We’ve held contests and even offered a “referral program” where for every 5 friends that referred them, they’d climb another rung on the reward ladder. Strangely enough, our referral program, which we thought would really drive backers, has not received a single (legitimate) entry. We held votes to determine the order of stretch goals and the other half of the playable classes to overwhelming support.
Finally, was it the 80k we needed? We slimmed down our costs as much as possible. With Grant’s fees and the necessary cost to spend ample time balancing the game, the goal we ended up with was very true to form. Not to mention, our stretch goals really create little overhead - where some campaigns’ stretch goals exceed 3 and even 4 times their initial goal, ours stopped just shy of 160k. We weren’t trying to get rich - we earnestly wanted to make this game. There’s a lot to be said about backer psychology, however, and it may have ultimately benefitted us to lie about our needs and set our initial goal to 50 or 60k. We would be hitting that goal by now, and maybe we’d be slingshotting way past it simply on the grounds that a lower goal is far more reachable. It’s not uncommon for backers to only back things that they think will succeed, and we’ll never know just how much money is unaccounted for because backers are holding out for success rather than helping to contribute to it.
Call it bad luck?
The Morpheus news hit around the same time, stealing the spotlight for a good couple days following GDC. Also, our Nintendo contact, who is a supporter and avid tweeter, had been temporarily banned from Twitter during the entirety of the campaign. It’s also been difficult coordinating with our cameo providers to continue plugging the campaign. Our cameos were great ideas to draw in existing fan bases, but if the fan bases weren’t aware, it didn’t do much. Landing the Game Grumps was an amazing boon to the project, but due to them going through an office move, they were unable to make a video (the videos they had been posted were all backlog).
To boost exposure, we created a movement on Twitter aimed @Notch to request Steve from Minecraft as a cameo. We managed over 100 retweets to no response. Did Notch even see the tweet? We’ll never know…
We coordinated a very successful Thunderclap campaign about 20 days in. For those that don’t know, Thunderclap is similar to Kickstarter in that a campaign is launched and requires supporters. When enough supporters have signed up through Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr before the campaign’s end (usually a couple days), the site blasts out a simultaneous post on those sites. Our estimated social reach was well over 100k people, but the Kickstarter campaign showed no noticeable gain. The problem may have been that people who were supporters of the Thunderclap campaign had already shared Hex Heroes with their friends online, and so a Thunderclap blast wasn’t really reaching new ears.
We also had our hearts set on being featured on Kotaku, which has in the past has been a driving force of success for campaigns. During the entire month of our campaign, our repeated efforts of reaching out were met with no response.
What was up with our trending chart?
Looking at Kicktraq’s trending chart, the Hex Heroes campaign was quite an anomaly. We steadily brought in backers and rarely suffered a complete drought. It wasn’t a fast enough rate, however. Recently, the trend is showing an exponential gain, so we’re still crossing our fingers.
Is relaunching an option?
Not immediately. Not until we have a playable build with more developed art. A relaunched campaign would have to be treated dramatically different as we can’t do cameo reveals the same way - the cat’s out of the bag on that one. We updated nearly every day for this first run because we legitimately had things to say. If we relaunched, our updates would be far more sparse.
Days to go
We haven't given up yet. If Hex Heroes showed early signs that it was wasn't going to make it, we would have pulled the campaign. We did our research and saw that other Kickstarters have a slow start and then reach their goal in the last week. Even during our campaign we saw others that were funded with hours left.
Our backers are another driving force for us. With almost 500 comments on our Kickstarter page alone, we've gotten to know some of our fans and how excited they are about Hex Heroes. We don't want to let them down.
“Hex Heroes makes good on the Wii U's long-unfulfilled promise of truly innovative gameplay - The Escapist
“...if, like me, you are a Wii U owner who is in need of many more great games, then you owe it to yourself to check the game out. I think you’ll be glad you did!” - OpRainfall
“Thanks to you guys, I now love the term ‘Par-TS’ “ - Nintendo World Report