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Are Innovative Games Too Risky for Kickstarter?
by Christopher Jennewein on 04/19/14 04:11:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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. 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?

We hit all major Nintendo centric sites a week before launch and followed up repeatedly during the campaign. Hex Heroes was even featured by Polygon, Joystiq, and The Escapist.

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

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Christian Nutt
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I never heard about this game! And I would totally back an original Wii U project on KS. And my husband writes for a Nintendo-based site and loves the Wii U. Just based on that little evidence, I feel like you must have had a hard time getting word out.

Going to take a closer look at this campaign, because it's neat-looking...

At a glance, I think the fact that the gameplay comes at the END of the pitch video and is really prototype-y are both working against you.

The fact that it's an RTS might be turning people off too, or at least the acronym. It has very PC overtones, which is kind of the opposite of "Nintendo." Or maybe that's just my personal feelings. =P

Anyway, my gut based on a quick glance is that it's exposure for the campaign and the early/rough nature of the gameplay shown, along with the general challenge of KS these days. I keep seeing campaigns that just don't make it, no matter how much (or little) they are asking for, and no matter how promising they are.

Christopher Jennewein
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The pitch video for the first week was just the trailer that is now at the end. Mario decided to include an intro during week 2 that addresses single-player, PC, and how gameplay works. Ideally we would have a better trailer with more polished assets, but once we decided to launch and realized we were stuck with something people didn't find visually appealing, we did our best to address our future plans and sell people on other aspects.

I think it's a shame that many people consider hard-core games to be the opposite of Nintendo. We're trying to appeal to that base because Mario and I are both PC gamers. We've also blogged and said in interviews that we think it's best gamers own multiple platforms and not cling to one brand.

You're definitely right in all this, and we were aware of some, but we overestimated the attention we'd receive in spite of early assets/gameplay.

Robert Boyd
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I'd say it's mostly your kickstarter page. No screenshot on the entire page is a huge warning sign to potential backers. If they manage to sit through your video, they can see some gameplay footage but the footage is full of mediocre placeholder graphics in it so it's likely to turn off more potential backers than it will attract new ones.

But in any case, it looks like you'll just barely reach your goal before the campaign ends. $80k is well above the average so if anything, your campaign proves that Kickstarter appreciates innovative games and an innovative game with a better page & pitch could really clean up there.

Christian Nutt
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Listen to this man.

Christopher Jennewein
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We could have benefitted from showing more in-game shots. But we knew our work wasn't final and that there were only so many times we could show the same environment and enemy before it got old.

We sacrificed more development time for marketing opportunities, like securing Grant Kirkhope and our cameos. Maybe that was a bad tradeoff.

Considering that we overestimated the amount of backers we would pull in from our marketing opportunities, I think it's safe to say that the innovation is mainly what sold people and convinced them to back.


Christian Nutt
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There's a reason Ubisoft exclusively sends out bullshots -- they work.

Kelley Hecker
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It seems like you guys have put a lot of work into this campaign. You're very close to your goal, so hopefully you'll get some last-minute backers to get you funded.

Just taking a quick look at the Kickstarter page, there are a few things that bother me. First is having the stretch goals at the top. I've seen a lot of campaigns put stretch goals and updates right at the top of the page, but I personally don't like it. I just want to see what the game is about without having to scroll past a bunch of updates and goals geared more towards people who already know what the game is.

Similarly, I wouldn't have put the cameos section before all the stuff about gameplay and classes. While those other games are great, I care more about what this game is going to be like. I'm sure there are some people who will back this just because their favorite character from another game is in it, but I think those people are in the minority.

And I agree with the comments above about not having enough in-game footage. I would have liked to see at least one screenshot from the actual game on the page, and have the gameplay footage displayed more prominently in the video instead of at the very end.

Also, the little warning that "all game footage shown is a proof of concept completed in just a few short days" would really turn me off from backing. You want $80k, but couldn't spend more than a few days making a prototype? It makes it sound like you just threw it together at the last minute. I would have said something like "Alpha Footage" instead. Perhaps instead of spending so much time getting cameos and reaching out to the media (although that is important) you could have spent a little more time on the prototype.

With all that said, I do hope you guys pull through and get funded in these last few hours. Good luck!

Christopher Jennewein
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Mario and I went back and forth about the order of the sections. I agree that I'd rather see info about the game up top, but one of the first things he looks at is stretch goals. Moving them up was only done in the last week, but it's great to hear your take.

We both thought that cameo appearances would be our second biggest magnet, next to Grant Kirkhope. When Shovel Knight and Game Grumps announced their cameos to their fans, those were our two biggest days. But you might be right that it wash't necessary to put the cameo section closer to the top; it was their plugs that got us backers, not our advertisement.

Thanks, Kelley! I'm getting more convinced that we should have spent more time on the game than on marketing.

Kyle Redd
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Putting things like stretch goals and recent developments at the top of a KS page is a very common practice, and I've never liked it either. I guess the idea is that most of the visitors to the KS page will be coming from another site where they've already learned all of the basic info about the game, so give them the secondary info up front.

Meanwhile those of us who find most of our KS projects by browsing through their "Discover" section have to scroll through several pages of the extraneous stuff before we are able to read the initial pitch.

Matthew Thomas
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I think the argument can also be made that Kickstarter is heavily influenced by PC gamers, and it can be assumed that most PC gamers don't have that much interest in WiiU titles (I don't have the numbers to back up this claim, so take my comment with a light grain of salt).

I for one am very interested and sold. Rest assured that I will do my part.

Ryo Sasaki
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Looks like you guys are going to make it, good luck! I'm actually a little surprised that this high goal can be reached. Nowadays kickstarter projects normally need more polished gameplay to raise this much money. It seems to me that the arguments in this article are a little biased. Exactly like Robert said above, "if anything, your campaign proves that Kickstarter appreciates innovative games and an innovative game with a better page & pitch could really clean up there."

Vitor Oliveira
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I've just became a supporter, and I knew about your game for a while, I remember reading about Hex Heroes on Go Nintendo, but that prototype footage turned me away from backing the project - I just found that too ugly. Now there is this intro on the video, explaining better what you guys want to achieve, and that helped convincing me to back the project.

By the way, another thing that almost made me give up on backing you guys now was some tiers as "US only". I don't know about other people from other countries, but that ALWAYS make me mad, specially on a digital reward. I don't mind having to pay for shipping items, but a digital reward be US only?

Rick Davidson
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Its probably the case of a slight tweak making a big difference. Have you tried having the promo trailer at the start of your video and the explanation/request for help second? I found myself not connecting with the first part of your video because I just wanted to know what your game is and why its cool. It seems the "show me the game first" videos perform better than the "and now let me show you the game" type videos. No data, just my impresssion.

I'd be interested to know what other community involvement you had in addition to the 1-week-before-kickstarter blast you mentioned. It seems that building a community for a few months with updates, content, excitement, etc is important to finding and connecting with your early advocates.

Good luck for the remaining time!

Christopher Jennewein
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We set up our website a few months before and started blogging. We should have been submitting those blogs to other sites, but our plan was to use social media to draw people to our site. That didn't quite work. I thought if we had content and then spread the word that we would get followers, but that wasn't enough. We also weren't talking about Hex Heroes but the game industry in general. I think we would have received followers if we showed and talked about the game more.

James Yee
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Lots of good feedback here, let me toss in my 2 cents.

First off, remember Republique? ( They too started off like you guys, with a single platform special focused project that went meh with lots of good press at the time. They adjusted and barely squeaked by and it looks like you might too.

Worth paying attention to is the fact that, as you say, Wii U owners probably aren't that hip to Kickstarter. As much as folks like myself like to think "everyone knows about Kickstarter" the truth is MOST do not. You are definitely getting into "percentages of percentages" when looking at Kickstarter backers who are Wii U owners. In fact when you say "a large percentage are new Kickstarter" I would wager your number is over 75% and wouldn't be surprised if it was closer to 85%.

Your confusing backer levels don't help. The stage in development you came to Kickstarter (I always recommend at least some kind of playable pre-alpha before launching a Kickstarter), the lack of art and gameplay examples, the list goes on and many have already pointed them out well.

I would also add there's no budget breakdown. You say more here about your $80K goal than I noticed on your Kickstarter page and since we're a tertiary entry to your page that's a bad way to get that information.

In the end, I hope this all works out for you but I definitely think the answer to the Headline is that "No, Innovative Games are not too risky for Kickstarter." It's all in who you're targeting and how you run your campaign. Examples include: Kingdom Come: Deliverance ( Blew through goal and it was in Pounds not dollars!), Predestination (They did two Kickstarters:, and of course FTL ( just to name three.

Christopher Jennewein
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Thanks! I think you're right in many respects. Innovative games are a good place for Kickstarter (because we all know how tough a sell it would be to a publisher).

James Margaris
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It doesn't look very good in in-game footage or screenshots. And it doesn't look bad in a tempy-but-promising way.

When people look at it and see that it doesn't look good the natural conclusion is going to be that it doesn't look good because you aren't capable of making something look good. That may not be correct, and it may be unfair in some way to expect people to come up with great polished graphics before they have the money to do so, but that is the impression it gives off. Not only are the graphics not good but they don't communicate much intent or spirit - it's hard to mentally project what the finished game is going to look like and the in-game art doesn't really capture the concept art.

I also suspect that people are becoming a little cynical about "big names" attached to KS projects. Very often it seems like these people are only tangentially related and KS backers have been trained not to get too excited by them. If you have a big name I want them intimately involved with the project, not just doing music or pre-production concept art while people I've never heard of do the day-to-day work. There have been a number of recent KS projects that claim to have big gets then you read the fine print and they aren't central to the project.

Anyway it looks like you've succeeded and 80k for a primarily Wii U game is nothing to shake a stick at. So good luck making your game!

Edit: It's also worth pointing out that there may be a stigma against "party" games, given the glut of bad ones in the previous gen, especially on Nintendo systems.

Dane MacMahon
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I know if a new title from a new team with some innovative aspects to it goes up on Kickstarter in my chosen area of interest (mainly PC RPG games) then my usual forums and news sites will cover it heavily. Right now RPG Codex is leading the charge to get an RPG from a new husband and wife team well over the amount they requested, for example.

Problem is you need that audience to fight for you. I'm not sure that's really there in abundance on WiiU, but it looks like you'll make it so I guess there was enough.

David Paris
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Looks nice, but being targeted at the WiiU makes it an instant pass for me.

Local multiplayer still has value, but it needs to be an add-on value rather than the primary focus. Friends still come over, and everyone still has siblings, but if you don't have a blast playing it alone, then its probably not worth owning.

Andrew Shaftling
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Excuse the simplification but - dev XY tries to do Kickstarter and fails (isn't this case but...). dev xy calls its project too innovative or thinks audience is not ready for their amazing new thing. tl;dr grow the f*ck up.

Mario Castaneda
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Talk about OVER simplification. Did you read the article? Did you see the Kickstarter campaign and the obvious blood, sweat, and tears poured into it? This wasn't your amateur run at a crowdfunding campaign.

John Flush
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In fairness he gave plenty of potential causes other than just 'too innovative' in the article.

I think most of the comments already hit the real nail on the head though. Presentation goes a long way and a WiiU only thing still seems like a stretch to me. One thing that I think is missed though is Art Style. Screenshots and game footage is one thing, but when the art just doesn't appeal to the masses you will run into problems.

I don't think it is because local multiplayer is dying though... I don't think that can ever be the staple of a game. It is more that Single player is not dying and that needs to come first. Then if you happen to make it a 4 player+ local multiplayer game it will spread by word of mouth even more.