Since launching in April 2009, more than 13,000 projects have been successfully funded on Kickstarter.com, with over $100 million pledged by users of the crowdfunding sensation in that time. Video game development projects have comprised a mere sliver of that valuable haul, but many high-profile titles have smashed expectations to bring in tens of thousands of dollars, allowing their creators to complete the games and maintain direct connections with backers.
Kickstarter isn't the only website of its kind -- Gamasutra broke down several of the leading options in May -- but it is the best-known of the bunch, with an all-or-nothing funding design that means project creators that fall short of the stated goal walk away with nothing. And with Kickstarter touting a funding rate of 44 percent, more than half of the projects launched to date have been unsuccessful, with many game development campaigns coming and going over the last two and a half years.
Based on conversations with the creators of those games and others that have triumphed on the site -- along with Kickstarter's director of community -- here are several tips and tactics for creating and promoting an effective game development campaign on the crowdsourced funding service.
Launching a campaign starts with a proposal form, after which Kickstarter's community team makes sure it meets guidelines and may offer suggestions prior to approval.
But project leads can learn a lot about finding success on the site by analyzing existing campaigns to discover which elements often help define profitable and well-circulated projects. And don't just limit yourself to researching video game campaigns.
"We looked at a lot of game ones -- just to see what was working -- and then went off-target, looking at books, videos, plays, pens; you name it," admits Jordan Coombs, co-founder and designer at Warballoon, which recently raised $36,967 on Kickstarter for its first project, Star Command.
The research prompted Warballoon to break from the trend of creators talking into the camera, leading instead to a narrated trailer that helped the Game Dev Story-like iOS and Android management sim blast beyond its $20,000 goal. "We really believe in doing our homework, being prepared, and understanding what makes things work," he adds. "Fortune favors the prepared."
Octodad began life as a freely released student project about an octopus disguised as a human father, and the team at upstart Young Horses recently raised $24,320 for PC sequel Octodad 2 on a goal of $20,000.
Kevin Geisler, producer and programmer on the game, says he looked at both funded and unsuccessful projects to discover common trends. "Pretty much all the successful projects had very polished presentations and well-structured information, as well as an interesting campaign video," he observed. "The Kickstarter campaigns that don't have a certain level of professionalism really cast a strong doubt as to whether the game they promise will ever get made."
Cindy Au, director of community at Kickstarter, says the suggestions offered to creators of approved projects are strictly optional, and while they'll call out funding goals that seem wildly out of reach, most project leads know how much money they'll need. Still, she recommends that creators think about "how many people they can reach" and base a goal on that, instead of sticking hard and fast to an existing dollar amount. Plus, successfully funded campaigns typically earn 25 percent more than the goal amount, so shooting low can pay dividends -- and it's better to pull some funding than nothing at all.
Building an effective project page seems nearly as important as sharing your stellar idea on a site like Kickstarter, as the ability to convey the quality and intentions of the project within the singular template can make or break a campaign. "You have an opportunity to tell a really good story through your video and the rewards that you're offering people," asserts Au. Her team stresses the creation of high-quality videos clips, as they lead the project page and give creators an opportunity to speak directly to potential backers.
"Really go for it. Don't be afraid to show yourself and what you've been working on, and don't be afraid to put yourself out there and make a direct connection through your video," adds Au. "People tend to be camera-shy, and it can be scary to get in front of the camera. But it's so important, and I think even being anxious on the camera shows that you're a real person and you're making this thing."
Most interviewees agreed that having a solid chunk of completed gameplay to show in your video makes a huge difference in funding, as well. "If all you've got is your description of it and not much else, it's going to be really hard to have a compelling story to tell someone," concedes Au.
Developer Ted Brown posted a Gamasutra expert blog in August about his own failing Kickstarter campaign for an iOS title called Ninja Baseball, which ultimately tallied just less than 38 percent of its $10,000 goal. In that blog, which posted a week before the project ended, Brown lamented assuming people would back a game they've never seen, concluding that he "made the decision to push the button before the pipeline was ready."
In the case of Octodad 2, the team already had a completed series entry available for free -- which helped build the profile of the project and allowed them to launch the campaign based on the original game's reputation. But for Star Command, Coombs says that Warballoon opted to wait until it had plenty of gameplay to demonstrate, and eventually launched the campaign in September. "We had looked at Kickstarter in June, a little after we announced the game," admits Coombs, "and just decided we didn't have enough to show people and ask for support."