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How Camouflaj saved République's Kickstarter
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How Camouflaj saved République's Kickstarter

August 20, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

3. Understanding What Was Wrong

I spent the first week of our Kickstarter campaign trying to understand what wasn't resonating with the online community. This was a difficult and time-consuming process, mainly because I didn't have the tools to clearly understand why our Kickstarter wasn't connecting with people.

I think some of the difficulty stemmed from the fact that there weren't one or two obvious problems with our campaign that we could quickly remedy.

Instead, we were faced with mountains of feedback that seemed all over the place: "Great game, but you should have announced it for PC," "You're not showing enough of the game," "You're showing too much," "You need to be more anti-publisher," "Lean on your past experiences like Metal Gear and Halo more," "People don't like your purple jacket."

Strangely enough, the thing I was most worried about going into launch (would the vision behind République would connect with people?) turned out to be the least of our concerns -- everybody seemed to love the game and trailer. In fact, the most common thing I heard from Kickstarter veterans was, "Your Kickstarter looks great. Just give it a few days. I'm sure it'll start building steam."

A week into our Kickstarter campaign, all the feedback I was able to collect seemed more like static than reliable data. Some community feedback (from NeoGAF mainly) was helpful in focusing the discussion on whether we should announce a PC version of the game (which ended up being the most reliable -- and harshest -- feedback), but if we were to take all the online feedback and rank it in terms of pure volume, you would be lead to believe that all our problems would have been solved if we just announced the game for Linux and PlayStation Vita, and opened up pledges via PayPal.

One point of criticism we faced that surprised me was those questioning the cost of République's development. Before our Kickstarter went live, I was concerned that people would question us for assuming République would only cost a million dollars to make -- an absolute bargain in this industry. But instead, we received harsh criticisms for asking $500,000 for a mobile title, especially one that required "needless" motion capture and voiceover work.

The negative reaction from gamers about our proposed budget was surprising -- I wrongly assumed that hardcore gamers had a good handle on how much money games cost to make. In fact, I personally battled many folks online who felt we were going against the ethos of Kickstarter and independent game development by paying our staff actual salaries.

To make matters worse, I felt in the dark about how about how much exposure our page was truly getting. While the Kickstarter dashboard offers some helpful information such as what external sites are directing pledges to your campaign, it doesn't expose data like number of page views, backer regional demographics, or (until recently) the playback numbers of your pitch video.

Click for large image

One thing that we desperately wanted to know was how much backer crossover there was with non-iOS game Kickstarter projects like the Pebble watch. While many were right to point out that we were pitching a big budget iOS game to a Kickstarter community that primarily serves PC games, we knew that they were forgetting about successful iOS non-game products on the site -- it wasn't that Kickstarter and iOS aren't compatible, it just hadn't been done yet on the games side, and I felt like I had inadequate data to fully understand the landscape.

One tricky thing we were able to do was use Amazon's AWS hosting service to host a single image and then look at bandwidth usage stats associated with that one image, allowing us to see that our page was getting hundreds of thousands of unique views in the first week, but that less than 10 percent of visitors were converting to pledges.

While I wish we could have used this method to track unique views for the entire campaign, we ended up moving the remainder of our images to AWS, making it much harder to track daily bandwidth. All said and done, we know we had over 140,000 plays of our pitch video (which is roughly the same number a Kickstarter that collected $1.2 million had), and I would guess that our page had well over a million unique views.

But even with this information, I felt wildly uninformed about what wasn't resonating about our campaign. I had a gut feeling that simply announcing a PC and Mac port wouldn't solve all our problems, and I was right about that.

4. Late To The Party

While I don't have any hard data to back this theory, I believe that some of our challenges stemmed from an overall Kickstarter cool down for games. Some of this, I believe, is from general Kickstarter fatigue in the enthusiast game press. By the time we launched, there had already been around a dozen or so high profile Kickstarter projects that grabbed headlines, and I noticed more and more readers complaining about the frequent coverage of crowdfunded game projects. Double Fine's Kickstarter revolution was a fun and heartwarming tale, but by the time we launched, I believe we were in the midst of some Kickstarter market saturation.

There is also a popular theory that a large percentage of Kickstarter backers are the same people supporting multiple projects (as opposed to the site attracting multitudes of virgin backers). We tried to understand this more but failed to gather any meaningful data. If the theory is true, then that would explain why we had some trouble getting pledges -- hardcore gamer Kickstarter backers were just financially tapped out by the time we went live.

I think there is something true about this "LTTP" theory -- since we wrapped up our Kickstarter, there has been significant drop in the number of high-profile Kickstarter game projects, especially those that exceed $500,000 in pledges. I'm convinced that a lot of would-be Kickstarters have gotten cold feet after seeing the struggles that République, SpaceVenture, Clang, Takedown and Shadowrun Online experienced.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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mike madden
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Thank you for sharing. Always fun to read the trials and tribulations that developers go through in chasing their dream. Happy to see you are getting that chance.

Felipe Budinich
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I'm currently in the midst of our own Kickstarter campaign and I also got the "Look at that game, look at how expensive their video looks... They don't need our money." comment, it was completely dazzling (and it's not as polished as yours!).

We are doing pretty much Ok, and most probably we will reach our humble 10k goal, but I think that you are completely right about feeling like the feedback is confusing.

Curtiss Murphy
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Fantastic article! Thank you for sharing and congratulations.

Kickstarter fatigue will increase. It's a 'me too' phenom already. Unique, then novel, then interesting. How long until it's passe? Reminds me of Ray Kurzweil's predictions - innovations will sweep through our lives with ever increasing speed.

Kyle Redd
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"I often thought about the rich guys on Kickstarter intentionally making rough-looking webcam videos to appeal to peoples' charitable instincts and subsequently pull in six or seven figures in pledges."

That's a pretty incendiary statement to make. Which campaigns have actually been guilty of this?

Johnathon Swift
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Very nice, and for a sample of one I can confirm that I'm the only person I know personally (at least that I talk to on a regular basis) that has backed a Kickstarted project, and I've backed about eight or nine at this point.

That being said, I have heard discussion between some people that are weary of "gambling" on some of the less known projects. For example the Planetary Annihilation kickstarter seems to have gotten some praise for being a very experienced team behind it.

Joseph Cook
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It really is eye-opening when you start questioning gamers about how much they think it costs to make a game. Unfortunately, the emotions of seeing a relatively large number take over compared to the simple logic and mathematics behind what it takes to pay people and run a business.

Take the Defense Grid 2 Kickstarter, for example. They asked for $1 million to fund a full sequel to the game, and I saw a lot of "How the heck can it cost $1 million to create a tower defense game??" Only after you run the numbers and think about it for a bit, you realize that $1 million can probably fund a company of 10 people working for average wages for a year. For a very highly polished game like the original Defense Grid, someone could easily understand how it could take 10 people working for a year to create that.

I wonder if it would be of help to some Kickstarter projects to be more transparent into where the money will go? If potential donors knew "This other game had X people working on it for Y months, and after costs of office space, legal expenses, and benefits, it costs us $Z to create", maybe it would make it easier to understand where they're coming from asking for a specific amount?

Billy Bissette
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A counter to this is that companies shouldn't be looking to get all their funding through Kickstarter. Even people who consider themselves "micro-investors" can choke on that idea, that the developers are asking the consumers to shoulder most or all the costs in advance, while the developers will end up with a complete product that they can continue to sell in order to continue to make themselves money. (Considering yourself a micro-investor seems silly to me anyway. You aren't a micro-investor, you are just a fan who is pre-ordering a game and possibly getting some pre-order bonuses. Unlike most pre-orders, you just won't get your money back if the game goes belly-up after the first month or so.)

The more popular argument is of course that other Kickstarters ask for less. And, to be fair, if you launch a Kickstarter then you are competing against other Kickstarters. Maybe you really need $1,000,000, but if the other guys are asking for $200,000 or $50,000, it starts to look like you are greedy. Or out of touch. Or a company with ideals beyond your station. Or a company that should be looking at more traditional funding routes. You certainly aren't seen as a fan who wants to get a game out, but rather more likely as a business who, after seeing other success stories, is trying to jump onto the Kickstarter money train before it leaves the station.

(For Defense Grid 2 specifically, not only was it competing against other Kickstarters, it was competing against other Tower Defense games. That genre which the market has been flooded with for years, and for a while appeared to be one of the backbone of free Flash games. It was a sequel to a somewhat recently released game that didn't need Kickstarter. People only quirked their eyebrows harder when they were told that Defense Grid 2 was going with a high budget Kickstarter because the first Defense Grid didn't make money. And it certainly didn't help the court of public opinion when they saw the tiering system, and how the "goal" was only an expansion pack while the full sequel was a stretch goal.)

Jeremy Alessi
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Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing Ryan!

Matt Walker
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Excellent article and of course I'm thrilled that these hard working people made their goal - but does Gamasutra not believe in editing their feature articles at all? There are at least two totally obvious spelling errors that really stand out in this article. (And if I caught them they must be obvious - I'm not exactly an English major.)

Boon Cotter
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Is it possible that the game's fiction worked against it? I was one of those visitors who watched the video, was incredibly impressed, and then moved on without pledging. It's a stunning piece of work, and it looks like it could have come from an established studio with a mountain of cash behind it. But that's not what disinterested me, in fact the polish was what made me focus. Truly gorgeous work.

What turned me away was the fictional space and the aesthetic, which said: Mainstream.

There's a fantastic mechanic in there, wrapped up in a presentation space that feels very safe. This isn't a criticism. There's no problem with the space, and I love the blend of sci-fi espionage you have going on. But I've seen it, and done it, and don't really want to re-do it. It feels like big studio domain, and what has traditionally attracted me most to Kickstarter campaigns is the sense of something which is mechanically AND visually and emotionally risky (experimental, unique). You hit one target for me, but missed the other two.

Not that I want to imply that my feelings are indicative of some broad public opinion. In fact, I could very well be the only potential backer who felt this way. But I just wanted to offer you another point of view that you may not have considered, if it helps at all.

I do wish you the best of luck, and I'll almost certainly purchase the game because it looks phenomenal (I've seen so called triple-A games with less polish) and the main mechanic is brilliant.

Aaron Fowler
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Thanks for the insight. It certainly tipped my initial idea of the recipe and plan for a successful KickStarter campaign. (Not that there is a guaranteed success plan, but still)

Who would have thought that being too polished would be seen as a negative? Because certainly the opposite is true as well.

I guess you just need to communicate your idea clearly, demonstrate or prove that what you are promising can be done, and relate to the community in a more personal way.

Thanks again for sharing!

Tora Teig
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I really enjoyed reading this, and it is so inspiring to see you guys having success with this project! Best of luck to you and thank you for sharing some of the journey with us :)

Eugene Zhukov
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Very very interesting article! Thank you Ryan! It was very helpful and instructive to read this article, having own Kickstarter experience. Unfortunately our project (SKYJACKER) failed to reach its goal there on Kickstarter, but it's really helpful to read such postmortem and to compare other's experience with your own. I even made brief extraction of the most important thoughts and ideas to make troubleshooting for the future. Thank you Ryan!

Matt Hackett
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After reading this, I'm actually less convinced than before that our little indie company could get a project crowd-funded. It sounds like the project's success depends heavily on press coverage, and that's our single biggest weak point right now. Nobody wants to write about our released games, and it seems to me that it would be even harder to get them to write about an unreleased game.

Interesting read, thank you for sharing and congrats!

Ryan Payton
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Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone. Glad people are finding the article helpful.

Eugene Zhukov
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Ryan, we both with my partner have some point of discussion since May concerning your project. Could you reveal: all your updates were prepared in advance, or it was a result of spontaneous actions. For instance, did you planned to launch #KEEP HOPE ALIVE in advance, exactly in a day you did this, or it was some not planned spontaneous action in purpose to save the project?
Thank you in advance for your answer.

Kenan Alpay
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Kickstarter is scary, but it managed to make the impossible, possible!
I'm really excited at the idea of "core" games on iOS, and I was crossing my fingers from day one. I'm super excited that you guys made it, and I can't wait to see the fruits of your labor. Wishing you guys a smooth development, I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Remi Lavoie
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Very interesting read, thanks for sharing your experience.

I can understand why people would be put off by the "polished" look of the game. Personally, when I look at Kickstarter projects for games, I do not look for high profile names. Rather the opposite, I look for a small team with a cool idea, and not enough money, and for whom finding a publisher would be pretty hard to near impossible.
As for your game, you could have pitched it to any publisher, or any other kind of financial backing system and be rewarded with a pile of money, based on the sheer professionalism, and polish of your product, (not to mention the game projects that members of your team have worked on). This to me, (and this is my opinion here, but may also be shared by others) was what made me look at your kickstarter page, and your video, be interested, and yet not contribute to the campaign. I saw the product, and instantly I thought: "well this game will eventually see the light of day whether I contribute or not, there's no way that they wont be able to get financing in one way or another". Now, that might not be the best reaction, but I am sure that I am not the only one who thought and did so.

Anyway, that's it, I just wanted to shed some light as to what might be going through the minds of some of the visitors to your kickstarter page (or others like it), and hopefully help your team and others who will surely follow gain a bit of insight.
That being said, I wish you guys the best of luck on your project, and like most people, will be looking forward to seeing, and playing, the final product.


Ryan Payton
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Eugene: Absolutely no planning was done, including #KeepHopeAlive. That was one of our big mistakes -- we thought we were going to be a lot stronger out of the gate.

Eugene Zhukov
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I see ... I told him the same Actually the same was my mistake as well. But in result we generated a lot of cool stuff during our campaign, spontaneously reacting on backers' desires. But some of our our backers are preparing to their own kickstarter now, and they already prepared all updates they will need to post during the campaign.
Thank you for your reply, Ryan, and thank you again for mentioning us there in your update that time - I remember this too ;))
Good luck with your game!

Kevin Oke
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Ryan - Did you expect at all that sort of backlash from the hardcore gaming crowd? Really surprising to me, as there are a lot of advantages to developing for iOS that is very conductive to innovative games, especially for start ups that don't have a vault of finances to reach into: No lotcheck, dev kit, dealing with video cards and driver compatibility etc.

I come from a core gaming background and still love them, but I can't see these "war on gaming" and "tablet supremacy = core games' death" theories as anything but irrational.

Anyways, I missed out on the Kickstarter (d'oh) but if you're still taking monies I'd love to chip in.

Billy Bissette
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I think the "war on gaming" against iOS is similar to the arguments long levied against consoles.

In the case of consoles, designing for consoles has certainly affected PC games. Where a couple of decades ago, PC games were the "best" and consoles had to get scaled down ports, now PC games are getting ports of console games, often with little to no improvements (and sometimes with added issues.) Publishers went to consoles because that is where they thought the money was (whether it actually was or not.)

That is why people get up in arms when a new PC game has a "Push Start Button" at the title screen. Or displays tutorial stuff with gamepad buttons, assuming you will be using a gamepad just because you've got one plugged in. When you go to the video options and see you've got only three or four basic things. When the PC version gets saddled with Games For Windows Live, because the publisher won't spend the money to create a new working network option. When Ubisoft does anything.

People expect similar to happen as iOS becomes more popular. The difference here is that PC versions of iOS games tend to be priced around 5-10x as much as their iOS counter-parts, even when they are nearly identical. So not only do you get a game made for a different environment (iOS games tend to be made for playing in shorter bursts, and for a different control scheme, for examples) and a weaker system, you get to pay much much more for it.

Steven Christian
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"I think we were right to assume that it's all about having a great video, although I'm a little confused as to why only 20 percent of our visitors watched our entire pitch video."

Personally, I will start watching a video and if it's good I'll click the link to go to the parent site (youtube or vimeo) to continue watching it in HD and read people's comments.

I have no idea if I'm the majority, but this could attribute some of those stats.

Billy Bissette
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I often won't watch a pitch video through fully. If it turns me off, I turn it off. If it sells me, then I might turn it off anyway, as I don't really need to see more. If I'm curious about the title, but not in the market, I'll watch to see what the hype is about and then quit.

Mark Jordan
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It seems like a KS needs the developer to build up huge hype first, then make the KS live, so there is a surge that triggers their metrics. They mention that 30 days is good, but I would say 40+ is a minimum for most games. We thought KS would be a source for sharing our open alpha, but it is tough to even find ours on the site. As a KSvet, I'd appreciate any specific feedback you can give me:

Carlos Rocha
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Excellent article, reading it and preparing for a possible kickstarter of our own :)