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.
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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.