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Failing fast and hard
by Ethan Levy on 09/09/13 04:23:00 pm   Expert Blogs   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.


It’s the Jewish New Year and I’ve taken a brief break from the two week old Enhanced Wars Kickstarter campaign to attend services. I check the time on my phone and see the notification that we have had two new backers. Despite my best intentions, I cannot help but open up my email to check the details. I recognize both names. At that moment, I know that Quarter Spiral is finished.

We’ve crawled over the 20% funding mark past which 4 out of 5 projects are successful. But with a platform wide backer average of $25, we will need to attract over 1,500 new backers to the project in two weeks. In the past 36 hours the small number of new backers are friends and family. Despite the common wisdom that many projects get funded in the final 48 hours it feels impossible.

Knowing that we were unlikely to attract much press attention, we pursued a number of tactics to spread the word. We had spent months building up an early fan base and had acquired several hundred email addresses largely through articles posted to reddit and Gamasutra. We launched a playable, multiplayer demo in tandem with the Kickstarter. Due to lucky circumstances, an op-ed I wrote defending the free-to-play business model on Kotaku was launched hours after the campaign launch. It was read over 100,000 times, had nearly 1,000 comments and contains multiple links to the Enhanced Wars Kickstarter page. I gave game design and monetization talks to a couple hundred at PAX Dev and PAX Prime where I plugged Enhanced Wars at the beginning and end of each lecture. Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade retweeted the game to over 200,000 followers as a reward I had purchased for their first Kickstarter campaign. Industry friends and fans retweeted the game, and in total the game was tweeted to somewhere between 250k and 300k followers. I wrote posts on Reddit’s r/gamedev thread and Gamasutra that received hundreds of upvotes and plenty of retweets and comments. These were meaningful posts for game developers that contained mention of and links to Enhanced Wars.

I was pursuing an earned media campaign to get as many people as possible to read or hear the words Enhanced Wars. The media itself was popular, judging from talk attendance, upvotes, comments, retweets and personal emails. But the strategy failed. Twitter raised $785. Kotaku $315. Gamasutra and Reddit less than $100 each. I failed to get the funding and tweet bumps I was hoping for from PAX. Over 60% of our funding came from friends and family.

There are many possible reasons for why the campaign was not successful. Perhaps the earned media approach is flawed. Perhaps the demo was not far enough along to excite players. Perhaps our name and art style were too derivative and turned off potential backers. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Regardless of the root cause, our game failed to capture the imagination of potential backers. My Kotaku post was all about how professional game developers are guided by market forces and this is a prime example. When we set our funding goal on Kickstarter, we talked about two possibilities. A low number we knew we could hit mainly from our personal network that would not give us enough funding to finish the game. And the real number, the one we chose, the minimum amount of money necessary to work on the game full time for 6 months and release it at quality.

We chose the scenario that required true player engagement. If we were not capable of attracting at least 2,000 players on Kickstarter, then our game was unlikely to succeed in the marketplace. Better to fail the campaign then to raise only enough money to delay our death for another few months.

The adage in Silicon Valley is to fail fast. We bootstrapped Quarter Spiral, funding the company out of our personal savings for a year and change. We founded Quarter Spiral to build a DIY publishing solution to help independent game developers transform games into businesses. We spent the first 10 months doing the Silicon Valley thing: building our technology demo and pitch deck, talking to potential customers and advisors, securing meetings with VCs. After months of hard work we met with a small number of VCs. We had a good team, an interesting vision and a working tech demo, but we were not far enough along. Come back when you have met metric X or Y.

We looked at our progress to date, our bank account and the amount of effort it would take to reach these metrics. We knew that if we hit them it did not guarantee funding. All it meant was we were in a shape where it would not be a waste of time for a VC to meet with us again. Best case scenario would mean 6 months from that point to funding. We were en route to go broke begging for money. This was our first failure point.

We decided to pivot. We had a working tech stack, so we decided to build a game on top of it. We would build a demo and use Kickstarter to fund the game’s development. We considered our options and given our technology and previous titles settled on a turn based strategy game. We started building Enhanced Wars. We put together a PR strategy and roadmap. We launched a campaign and earlier today, we shut it down. This was our second failure point.

We do not have enough money to continue as a company. We will shut down the game and unwind the studio. We will move on with our lives.

Days on Earth is the most limited resource for any of us. I do not regret that our entrepreneurial venture did not work out. I do not regret the strategies we pursued or the game we made. I do not regret a public failure.

I regret that it took us this long to fail.

The dust was only just kicked up into the air. I do not think any of us have clear plans for what the future holds. For me at least, it is the start of a New Year. The world is full of possibilities.


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Paul Tozour
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Sorry to hear that, Ethan. I was looking forward to trying out Enhanced Wars.

David Ngo
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The final nail isn't in the coffin, but even if it does fail, I don't think that's a bad thing. Having spent several months on a game that fails to monetize in the marketplace, this type of failure is not a big deal at all. All it means is that you have to pivot. Try another game concept or try to improve your game concept drastically. I think you did all the right things in terms of marketing. The game just doesn't have enough legs to capture the imagination of potential backers.

Wanted to thank you for doing all these talks on monetization and F2P games. My partner and I were in the middle of a pivot, and your talks helped us a lot. Would love to show you our game once we have a web prototype to share with you. Good luck and keep up the fight. Success always comes after a long line of failures. Just keep determined, and increase your rate of failure. :)

Ethan Levy
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Thanks much for the kind words. Glad you enjoy my monetization talks.

My email address is on my website - - under the Contact section. Send me an email when you have a prototype ready.

Patrick ODay
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This is the first I've heard about Enhanced Wars and I loved Advance Wars on the handhelds. There is a real problem of connecting individuals with crowd funding campaigns that they may care about. I'm starting to think that there needs to be a amazon/netflix recommendation system: "I see you like X-Com and Advance Wars, you should check out Enhanced Wars". As it is now I ignore KickStarter's emails because the emails are never about anything I care about.

James Yee
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Being one of the guys that you probably pinged through Gamasutra you are on my list to look at but I go through so many doing the Kickstarter Conversations blog it's easy to get lost.

*Goes to look at your campaign*

Oh yeah I remember that one now. I was going to list in on my "Caught my Eye" list on Monday and it was listed as cancelled. Damn timing. :(

It sucks that all the hard work you've put in, all the things I'd suggest, and you're still not there. :(

Dane MacMahon
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I check gaming news everyday, usually Eurogamer and Rockpapershotgun, and I still never even hear about most kickstarter campaigns. General kickstarter summary updates usually include 99% genres and styles I don't care about, so they don't seem worth my time.

We need more specialized gaming media of quality. Sites like Eurogamer are getting bogged down in endless news across a vast myriad of platforms, genres and releases.

Michael Kelley
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"If we were not capable of attracting at least 2,000 players on Kickstarter, then our game was unlikely to succeed in the marketplace."

Two words; Dueling Blades. Although re: number of players, consider the source which is 6waves.

Sry to hear of the loss of your company.

Phil Maxey
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I'm a big fan of Advance Wars so it's a shame this did not succeed. I'm hoping to address some of the current drawbacks with the usual route for crowdfunding games with my start-up

Ben Sly
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I imagine it's small consolation, but I must say that I am impressed by your decision. With Kickstarter, it's very tempting to pull at straws to hit the minimum funding goal and avoid disappointing everyone involved in the project, but also condemn the development team to a dangerously optimistic schedule that is far worse in the long run.

Taking this long to fail isn't good. But, the ability to identify when you have failed is invaluable.

tony oakden
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Our society and it's constant "positive attitude" bullshit has a lot to answer for IMO. Failure is something which goes hand in hand with innovation and exploration and should be embraced not feared. Over my years as a project manager I've seen a number of projects, which should have been killed early, go full term because of the inability of the team to accept that they are deeply flawed. The results were bad for everyone. On the other hand I have seen projects, which I was sure would fail, go full term and succeed, It's difficult to make the call as to when to pull the plug, but deciding that something isn't worth pursuing is not the same as giving up.

Jane Castle
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Yes it is very hard to figure out what will and won't succeed. I remember some famous investors saying that the iPhone would be Apple's biggest flop to date......

Then again I thought Mine Craft wouldn't do well.... so what do I know.....

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