My brother and I have been working on Ring Runner for over four and a half years now. Having recently graduated, we saw our student loans turn into bills, and the income from our part time jobs simply wasn't enough to finish our game. So we ran a humble Kickstarter campaign, not knowing what to expect. Thanks to the generosity of our family and friends and the belief and enthusiasm of gamers from all over the world, it appears that our campaign will now shortly come to a close at over 200% of our initial $12,000 goal.
Here are five things that I've learned from our campaign that I feel anyone who is thinking of launching their own campaign should know!
KICKSTART YOUR KICKSTARTER
With the massive avalanche of simply awesome game projects pouring onto Kickstarter today (310 currently active), particularly with the floodgates opening to UK projects, it can be hard to stand out -- particularly for completely unknown indie devs like us! So my biggest recommendation is to coordinate with friends, family, and any pre-existing fans you may already have to create the biggest launch possible.
In the graph above, you can see the effects of making it onto the "Popular" list, and consequently, the effects of being left off the list as well. Not only does being on the popular list get you a huge influx of traffic (about 45% of the total video views our game has recieved were generated while we were near the top of the list), but it also attracts media attention.
If you look through kicktraq.com's statistics, you'll notice that most projects slow down near the middle of the campaign, but dropping off this list without any external advertisement or articles can be fatal!
DON'T AIM FOR OUTLIERS AND KNOW YOUR CHANCES
If you visit Kickstarter, you're likely to see a lot of successful or potentially successful projects. But you shouldn't base your expectations on what you see at first glance, particularly if you're only looking at "popular" projects, as these are the outliers. Basically, you're only looking at the top 3% -- even less if you're getting your information through media sources that only cover unique or exceptional projects.
According to Kickstarter's statistics, 43.8% (34.4% of games) of projects launched are successfully funded -- although nearly 68% of those projects are under $10,000. I've seen plenty of high quality, promising projects not meet their very reasonable goals, but I've seen many more fail because their goals are unrealistic.
The worst thing you can do is look at a massive success and think, "hey my game is kinda like that one!" And then your eyes turn to dollar signs. $$
SIMILAR PROJECTS JUST LAUNCHED? NO PROBLEM!
There's a lot of space games on Kickstarter! Throughout the duration of Ring Runner's campaign, dozens more space games have made their debut. But this has probably been the biggest help for our little project all thanks to the "Backer's Confirmation Page." Nearly 20% of our backers have come from a Backer's Confirmation Page, which is a selection of "similar" projects presented to users after they've just pledged to another project.
If it weren't for game like Strike Suit Zero and Star Citizen, our little game may've never even been seen by others. So don't look at similar projects as competition! Think of them as partners and potential advertisement!
BACKERS ARE CUSTOMERS NOT DONORS
The term "fund-raising" is deceptive. Kickstarter acts as more of a pre-sales system. Over 63% of our backers have simply pre-purchased our game. The portion of backers that have "selected no reward" aside from family donations are practically non-existent.
So treat your backers like customers and offer them a clear and valuable product for their pledge -- your thanks should go without saying! In other words, imagine going to a restaurant and getting a bill that read: Hamburger $3.25, Drink $1.65, Fries $2.00, Our Thanks $1.00.
That being said, Kickstarter combines some of the best aspects of traditional transactions and micro-transaction models in that it allows customers to scale the amount of "product" they wish to receive. I have no doubt that Kickstarter's structure encourages folks to pay more than they might have through other commercial settings, but they do expect something in return. Physical rewards like T-Shirts and mugs seem like an obvious way to promote higher donations, thereby keeping your project higher on the lists, but due to production and shipping costs sometimes, they can very quickly result in a net loss if not handled carefully.
We tried to avoid physical rewards, but if I could relaunch the campaign, I'd try to offer more Kickstarter-exclusive content. Unfortunately, the reason we weren't able to make these kinds of promises is that we are still not certain what distribution systems our game will use. Making DLC exclusive is very difficult if not impossible on certain services.
DOES A DEMO HELP?
This is a really tough question. Ring Runner's campaign launched with a demo that offers 2-5 hours of game play. If you can convince a person to devote that much time to a demo, had you not convinced them to donate $15? We did receive several messages from backers telling us that they enjoyed the demo, and a few even increased their pledges, but how many potential backers said to themselves, "I'll check the demo out first..." and were either dissuaded by their experience or simply never got around to it?
It's very difficult to gauge how many folks you lost in this manner because we'd yet to establish a line of communication. What I can tell you is that, everyone's lives being as busy as they are, it can take weeks to get around to actually downloading and playing a demo. I'm sure all of us here have a sizeable backlog of games we'd like to play. For this reason, we ran our campaign for 45 days, rather than the recommended 30 or less.
Undoubtedly, the demo DID earn us some backers and increased pledges, but since the negative effect is very difficult to measure and the positive effect wasn't very pronounced, I'd have to say that a demo, even one which is received positively, does little for a project aside from reassuring backers that a final product is within reach. I'm fairly certain that an early-stage demo would actually end up injuring a project.
MY RECOMMENDATION FOR KICKSTARTER: MILESTONE INTEGRATION
Anyone who's poked around Kickstarter is likely to be familiar with the term "Stretch Goal." A short definition: extra content/development you promise your backers if an amount of funding is reached beyond your initial goal. For instance, our goal was 12,000, which was all we needed to survive long enough (*burger budget) to release our game. However, at 16,000 we offered development of a new environment: The Space City.
Nearly every project offers stretch goals. They're a good way to encourage donations beyond your minimum goal; but more importantly, they legitimize the extra cash you make. Without them, ostensibly, overflow would go straight into your pockets or a new Lamborghini (in our case perhaps a Hot Wheels Lambo). Despite their ubiquity, Kickstarter has not formerly integrated stretch goals into the design of a project.
I would like to see a connection between stretch goals and the progress bar. In other words, rather than a complete bar reading: 100%... 134%... 458%... etc, your project would display a different colored bar displaying a percentage to your next Milestone (Stretch Goal), the title of which would also be displayed. In this way, backers are able to see what their pledge would do for an already successfully funded project in a clear and attractive fashion.
Thanks for reading, and huge thanks to all of our backers and supporters!