It’s been a month since we finished our successful crowdfunding campaign for†Gods Will Be Watching, collecting 20.385€ or more than $25,000. Now Deconstructeam is putting 120% effort into our first playable scenario with the hope that we can submit a build in time for this year’s†Independent Games Festival. With our plans in motion, we decided to take a day off from development on Game Maker to write the promised post-mortem of our funding campaign and tell you about our experience that has been as exhausting as it has been fruitful.
I’m sorry for Indiegogo, which gave us good results and made our crowdfunding possible, but if you are able to use Kickstarter, use it. We couldn’t since the platform only operates within USA or UK, so unless you have a trustworthy contact in such countries who is able to face the legal stuff, you’ll have to go with what we think is the second best: Indiegogo.
Why? Kickstarter has better diffusion (without mentioning how many comments that said “I stopped reading at Indiegogo“), better managing and tracking tools, better communication with your backers, the ability to increment your pledge, and one thing that surprised us when examining the numbers on each platform: It looks like some users back projects for entertainment at Kickstarter, just take a look at a random selection of users and their average contributions.
On Indiegogo, if you look closer at what projects our supporters have backed, most of them just backed Gods Will Be Watching (which means that they made the effort of entering the platform), and if not, they backed from 2 to 5 projects. So, I would say that if we’d have gone with Kickstarter we would have done even better.
And expect people to give you money. A crowdfunding campaign is not something that begins on the launch day and ends after 30 days. A great part of our success, besides having an interesting project, is our background. Who are you? Why should people give you money? Have you done something previously, which could guarantee the backers a certain quality? Thankfully, Gods Will Be Watching came with a lot of positive press behind it and a nice silver medal on Ludum Dare 26 Jam.
Also, being present on social networks is crucial, but not just during the campaign: ALWAYS. Communicate with the world, make friends, enjoy it, and then your virtual environment will be more likely to support your cause (either by spreading the word or by donating) because you’ve connected with them on a personal level. At Deconstructeam we’ve always been close to the internet because I like to share what I do and learn things from people who share my passion either as press or as developers. When the time came to announce the campaign, it produced a great synergy. A lot of money came from people who had direct contact with us via twitter, facebook, forums, competitions, etc.... So, if you don’t have that kind of presence, you should start right now, not just for the sake of your crowdfunding campaign, but because it will make your grow as a developer.
Mostly before launching the campaign. We spent a month getting all the communication ready, design, layout, planning the perks and the stretch goals, editing a good video, making an updates calendar… And whenever you launch the campaign, get involved, feed it, and with that I don’t mean annoy people on twitter. Once in motion, our team kept working on the game, with a schedule in mind for keeping the campaign nourished with images, scenarios, cinematics, soundtracks, work in progress broadly. You have to transmit the sound of your effort. Needless to say that you cannot present yourself with some paper sketches and a video with your face unless you are Tim Schafer. You can’t wait until you have the money in order to start working, you have to be the very first to believe in your project, so you should develop the game with all the means within in your reach until the project is solid enough to consider asking people for money, letting the backers judge the potential for your product, not your words.
About the video, a small piece of advice: A lot of the game, less of your face. Think as players, seeing the face of the developer for ten seconds is enough, they want to see the game, what is this thing they are (hopefully) about to back. We created a cinematic trailer of the Gods Will Be Watching universe, in part to conceal our ridiculous english speaking skills, but at least fill your presentation of the project with lots of images, in game if possible, while enumerating the virtues of the game. If you can add a playable prototype to that, you’ll have an excellent arsenal for your campaign.
A crowdfunding campaign is not something you would do every day. The most usual is to approach a campaign wihout previous experience, so, like the one who prepares to climb Mount Everest, is ideal to have someone who has climbed and descended it several times, so he can guide you during the process. A lot of things we did right were thanks to Eduardo Garabito’s know-how, who took the wheel during our journey and lead the communication efforts. Since it’s in the press where lies the other half of your success, I give the floor to the man itself:
Guiding one of this adventures is taking charge of a small team. Stick with this. Small team. There’s no room here for a press office, nor a public relationship team nor even a media chief. Here you play with another set of rules, and here’s where the guide’s role takes place, mistitled “The PR guy”, who ultimately has to prove himself seasoned on marketing, planning, and even the team’s psychology. And these are just the main skills needed to guide a crowd-funding adventure.
The problem is that nobody is born an expert in such a variety of fields, even a little experience brings the necessary skills to plan a project like this, with some guaranteed success. If you lack experience I’m sure you’re wondering “what leads should I follow?”. These projects require, as Deconstructeam has shown, a meticulous organization and a work ethic that keeps the team on task. Trusting in crowdfunding means you’re putting yourself at the mercy of the public, who may embrace you (or not). When selling a game to the public you need to focus on content.
Let’s focus first on the public. You should treat them as fans (and not as clients), communication must be direct, genuine and unadulterated. This means that in small teams the nature and identity of the group is of indisputable value which can’t even be replaced by a soldier of fortune. As the professional in charge of the communications, the duty of “that PR guy” is to assume the role of the interpreter between what the developer values in their project and what the users think. And vice-versa, of course. Think about who are you working with, what game you represent, and to whom is its message targeted, before falling into any absurd Social Media cliche.
But the promotion itself, is not as easy as you think. Advertising yourself, in theory, is just a matter of opening your wallet, producing some content, and putting a commercial on a site where potential buyers are going to see it. It’s not actually that simple, it’s probably safe to assume this, which was true for us: you have no money for marketing. This put us in a situation in which the promotion —which basically came from specialized publications and videos— depended completely on others spreading the game. I’ll gladly welcome you to the amazing world of the unwritten laws of press, but I’ll take the luxury of reducing it into a single piece of advice: you are a human being writing to another human being. Treat others with proximity and respect, work your content until it becomes interesting (and of course, truthfully) and forget press releases empty of soul, favoring a human approach. The quality of the game will speak for itself.
You can reach Eduardo via twitter:†@darkouterheaven
The beginning of our campaign was the most powerful stage, within the first 3 days we surpassed the initial goal, breaking our schemes and forcing us to change the tone of our communications towards the stretch goals. The peaks in the increment of the funds you can see on the graphic above usually are binded to press apparitions or on YouTube videos of our game (the power of YouTube is vast). And last, the final countdown and its magical effect which significantly increased the amount of backers, moreover, our last phase went even better thanks to†Devolver Digital and its decision to take part in the project as publishers.
And the responsibilities that came with them. Choosing a good spectrum of rewards is essential to satisfy the potential backers, which will make the difference between them pledging 10€ or 50€. And the reward must be fair to the contribution. Personally, it bothers me when the perk of 5€ is just a wallpaper, or a thanks tweet. These should be free, damn it, we cannot sell kindness. But on the other hand, we must remember that these are rewards, not a pre-purchase. Is 75€ too expensive for a physical edition? 90€ for a t-shirt? Yes, if we were selling shirts or boxes, but this is about showing gratitude for support. After calculating the costs, we are going to spend 2313€ to the production and shipping of the rewards, (4%) for the Indiegogo fee,(3%) in Paypal taxes , and the well-spent percentage for “the PR guy”. Suddenly, the we collected 20385€ is nearly reduced to half! We planned this, but even so, the number feels frustrating when you move the eyes from the crowdfunding campaign page to your current account.
Then there are the big rewards. Actually, we had little hope on the success of the higher categories, from 500€ to 2000€, but if I have learned something from my experience as a game designer in the field of social and free to play games, is that if someone wants to spend his money, you should allow him to do so. For some, ourselves included, it’d be madness to donate 500€/1000€, to a project we like. But as we all know, the economy is different in every home, and 1000€ isn’t a month’s salary for our wealthier backers, to whom we are incredibly thankful.
I think we made a stellar move with our 2000€ perk. A Game Jam built on what the backer wants. Think about what you can offer that is unique, filled with the nature of your development team, even if its mad and ambitious, and put it on the campaign for a price you consider fair. And then move it, the reward didn’t sell itself. Our plan was to offer it door to door, and talk about the marketing benefits of holding your own Game Jam. We were lucky that we made our first pitch at Devolver Digital, and they were very pleased with the offer. However,†Made in Spain Games let us know that they were also after the 2000€ perk, but Devolver beat them to the punch. In any case Made in Spain Games finally supported us with a 1000€ pledge (Thank you so much). Take risks like this, you never know what might happen
There are plenty of ways to approach the challenge of crowdfunding. This is what we did, and we think we did well. We’re glad we were able to share this with you and tell you why we think it worked. Of course, this is no magic recipe. We probably did things that won’t work for you, we probably got lucky in areas you may not get lucky. Feel free to discuss it with us or share your experience with us!. At the end of the day, it’s all about common sense. But most of all, get ready to work hard, because you’ll have to, and it’ll demand most hours of your day. Try to keep a clear head during your campaign. Don’t focus too hard on numbers. You’ll drive yourself crazy staring at the numbers too much!
Personally, I was so emotionally drained after the campaign I spent a week away from the computer and the phone. Now I’m satisfied to be working harder than ever under the public’s watchful gaze. However, if I can avoid it, I’ll never will make a crowdfunding campaign in my life again.
Special thanks to Jake Sizemore (@SirGigglesIsMe) who helped us with our english writing!