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How An Indie Nobody Raised $40,000 On Kickstarter
by William Dube on 08/14/14 09:27:00 am   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.

 

My name is Will Dubé and I’m the creator of Jotun, an action-exploration game for PC and Mac that takes you on an epic journey through Viking purgatory.

In January 2014, I quit my job as a mobile game designer to follow my dream: to make an indie title. My plan was to launch a Kickstarter campaign within two months (ha ha ha).

I spent about two months brainstorming and iterating on different game ideas until I had something solid. I then collaborated with a friend to determine the art style while I fleshed out the design and razored the creative vision.

The game started to take shape:

About two months later (May 2014), we started working on the Kickstarter campaign itself: assets, animations, music, text and video. At this point, I’m the only person working full-time on the project. I received tons of help from friends (4 artists, an illustrator, musician, director/editor) who helped put the campaign together in their spare time.

Throughout this entire process, I put together a marketing plan based on the dozens of articles, blog posts and post-mortems I read and the hundreds of campaigns I watched.

For pre-campaign marketing, I focused on:

  • Spreading the word at local developer gatherings
  • Sharing on various Facebook indie gaming groups
  • Posting to the TIG Source Forums, Twitter and Reddit
  • Launching a short teaser trailer for the game
  • Preparing interviews with a few websites
  • Planning early momentum with friends and family
  • Sharing the pre-campaign private link

Starting out with 0 followers was a daunting task. You really feel like you’re talking to an empty room. This is important though, since it helps establish a backlog of content and a certain credibility once your Kickstarter campaign actually goes live.

I cannot stress enough the importance of talking to other developers. Even though I didn’t have much to show, talking to people who had gone through Kickstarter, both successfully and unsuccessfully, provided invaluable insight into the process.

After sharing the preview link with as many people as possible, the campaign went through many different version, page placement, rewards, text, all went through the blender several times.

Once I was happy with the page (and the Steam Summer Sale had finished), we were ready to launch. Getting to this point had taken seven months

Launch Day - Monday July 21st 2014, 7:59 pm

I knew I needed tremendous momentum right at the start to stand even the slightest chance of getting funded. I spent the week leading up to the project calling (by phone!) every single person I knew to make sure that they knew about Jotun’s Kickstarter launch date and time. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by such supportive and generous family and friends. I also coordinated simultaneous posts to the various Facebook groups I was already posting in.

Thanks to this initial momentum, we reached $10,000 within the first 24 hours and $15,000 within the first 48 hours (30%). At this point, Kickstarter chose Jotun as a Staff Pick, increasing our visibility. We were also previewed by Rock Paper Shotgun and several other sites.

On Thursday, four days into the campaign, we were already losing momentum. The steady trickle of incoming backers was slowing to a drip. After the high of the first few days, I experienced a gut-wrenching low. I could not believe that we were already stalling out and hitting the “Kickstarter slump”.

Out of the blue, I received a KS message from the creators of Timespinner saying they wanted to give us a shout-out in their next update. They were just finishing their campaign and had over 5000 backers at that point. Uh yeah, that’s fine with me. Thank you so much Bodie for that mention, it helped push us past the $20,000 mark.

On Monday, a week after the start of the campaign, we were featured as Kickstarter’s “Project of the Day”. It gave us another boost and we reached $25,000 and 50% of our total funding goal.

The Slump

At that point, things slowed down once again and we officially entered the “slump”. The slump is the two week period in the middle of the campaign where nothing much happens. You’re done with the initial excitement and, at that point, a lot of people just wait until the end of the campaign to pledge.

Thankfully, we were able to get some traction with press which gave us some more backers. To keep our existing backers interested, we started revealing a Norse God every 100 backers and asking people what kind of powers the Gods could provide in-game. This proved to be a great way of encouraging comments. It also gave us interesting content to post to Facebook and Twitter. We also released high quality updates with additional details and new content.

We cross-promoted with several other active Kickstarter campaigns as well.

Greenlight

Concurrent to our Kickstarter campaign, we submitted Jotun to Greenlight. To be perfectly honest, Greenlight was more of a “fire and forget” campaign for us. There’s no time limit to how long your game stays on there. As long as people keep voting “Yes”, you’ll eventually get through. Gamers ended up voting “yes” quite a bit and we were chosen 49th out of 50 games on August 1st in under 6 days (I lost the last day's screenshot unfortunately).

Final Stretch Plan

At the time of writing, here are our stats:

(High Res)

Some Observations:

  • We successfully pushed back the slump three times (24th: Timespinner shout-out, 28th: Kotaku post by Luke Plunkett, 1st: Greenlit)
  • 5.65% of people who saw the video backed the project (1423 backers / 25,171 video plays)
  • 18% of the money raised comes from the $15 tier, 17% from the $250 tier and the rest is pretty evenly split (between 8% and 12% each)

Conclusion

We have a huge final week ahead of us, with tons of stuff to try before the end of the campaign including:

  • Writing a Gamasutra blog post ;)
  • Posting to Reddit (art, animation, final stretch, our story)
  • A Thunderclap campaign - simultaneous social media blast on Sunday night (EDT)
  • Targeted pay-per-click Facebook ads - not too promising yet
  • More cross-promotion - a few planned with bigger campaigns
  • Do another press blast (~300 emails) - 48 hours left, campaign highlights
  • Greenlight - announcements to drive traffic to the KS page
  • Facebook groups - keep announcing Gods and updates
  • Twitter - shamelessly use hashtag trends

Kickstarting a project is a full-time job. From the month leading up until the end of the campaign, expect to spend all of your time on the campaign. It is full-time marketing and community management. Depending on your team size, you can forget about development. The first week and, I predict, the last week are insane emotional roller coasters. Though we tend to hear the negative stories about Kickstarter, the truth is I could never do this project without Kickstarter, the amazing support of family, friends and our backers across the globe. I love you all.

-Will

PS: Jotun is live on Kickstarter and you can follow me on Twitter!


 


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Comments


Wendelin Reich
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Thanks for sharing, this was very interesting!

William Dube
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Glad you enjoyed it!

Ole Helland
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As we might do a Kickstarter for our project, articles like this is really useful. Thanks again, Will! :)

Emeka Enubuzor
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I saw the initial momentum for this game and backed it thinking that it would for sure hit the PS4 stretch goal. Sad that it might not, but still excited for the game. Keep it up!

William Dube
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Thank you so much!

Robert Carter
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Thank you for sharing! Was great to see everything that went on in your campaign, where you focused your efforts over the time it has been live. Im really impressed with how fast you got everything ready for KickStarter, Im only working weekends on my project at the moment but I dont expect to be ready for kick starter for over a year.

Good luck on reaching your goal! Ill make sure to check out your backer tiers tonight after work :D

William Dube
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It really does take a lot of time!

Joshua Mod
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I congratulate you on your success so far. My kickstarter for my game isn't doing so well.
My friends and family are not supportive at all and could care less about helping me.
People I have known for years, and who I thought were my friends, won't even take the time to put a $2 pledge on my project.
Is there any advice you can give me on how to get more people to visit my kickstarter?
I'm putting my heart and soul into my game, and if my kickstarter isn't successful, I'm not going to be able to finish it. Any help or knowledge would be extremely appreciated.
Thanks for your time, and I wish you the best of luck!
Josh
P.S. If you want to check out my kickstarter heres the link https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/epicgamerworld/major-drip-case-of-the-runnies-an-indie-p latformer

Lihim Sidhe
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If I had any money I would back you in a second. I'm just very much in a financial valley right now. The next peak is way past your deadline I'm afraid.

What really sells this project for me is that you have the skill set to actively contribute to the project. With some of the recent, notorious, Kickstarters something simple occurred to me: If one does not have any of the skills required for a given Kickstarter project, it can't really be their dream can it?

You're an ex mobile developer with games under your belt. That experience translates very well into making a game. It instills trust that you have the discipline and experience to see this thing through. What I find disenchanting are the people who seek to be only the lead director/creative overlord and expect money to just be thrown at them because they have a vision. There is nothing wrong with the latter approach but that approach will not earn a single dollar from me.

As your Kickstarter draws to a close with only 4 days and 5k to go... I wish you the best of luck. Harass the Hell out of the Yacht Club guys for a mention. They were in the same exact position you are. It would be crazy to see a Jotun as a boss in Shovel Knight and/or Shovel Knight lost in Purgatory.

That's one advantage indies have: if their hearts are in the right place the red tape can be discarded and things can get mixed up quite well. Go for it man.

William Dube
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Wow Lihim, thank you so much for the kind words. They really made me smile.

I LOVE the idea of Shovel Knight walking around purgatory! Now we just Yacht Club to be on board...

Aaron Eastburn
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Sadly I too am in a bit of a financial valley. I am really sold on this game from the art style.

You are very fortunate to have an artist friend who is willing to contribute to the project. A friend of mine has been looking at getting his game to Kickstarter but he is in a bit of a catch-22 with it. It seems that having really good or really distinctive art is a big factor in a Kickstarter game getting funded. He is in a position of needing the Kickstarter to hire the artist but needing the artist to make it more likely that his Kickstarter gets funded.

Did you hire your artist friend out of your own money or did you make an agreement with them that they get a percentage of the Kickstarter money or final sales?

William Dube
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I ended up working with 4 different artists, one of which I contracted and the others who generously gave their time.

I agree that having strong art is critical to a KS's success.

Joao Requiao
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Good read! I'll share it with my studio partners! Cases like this are really inspiring for unknown indie developers like myself! I really loved the whole idea of this game... it's awesome in many aspects! Thank you for sharing your experience, good luck and congratulations once again! As I've already said on Facebook, you guys deserve it!


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