Part of me feels a little bit presumptuous writing this article, because while we have had a successful Kickstarter, there are certainly many more Kickstarters that have been far more successful. At first glance, you might think that massive multi-million dollar success stories from Double Fine and inXile seem like they'd be more useful, and certainly more interesting.
But I think our experience will probably be more useful to most people reading this article. Because most game developers are a little more like my team -- Dinofarm Games -- than they are like Double Fine. Most working game developers -- the people who really need Kickstarter more than anyone -- don't have a famous game designer at their helm to give their campaign a massive popularity boost.
With that in mind, I have decided to present a sort of "working-man's Kickstarter tips" article. This article is written for people who are passionate and believe in what they have to offer, but don't have a lot of money for marketing or production of some amazing video. I hope that my experiences and advice can help small developers get healthy funding for small, but great games.
Further, we're in the somewhat unusual position of having run two Kickstarter campaigns for the same game -- a tactical dungeon crawler game called Auro. One of the campaigns failed, and the second one succeeded (by an almost 200 percent margin). With this experience, we can take away a few lessons and share them with you.
Our First Kickstarter
As I mentioned, the game I was trying to Kickstart was Auro, a turn-based tactical dungeon crawler (I've written about it before here on Gamasutra). It's striving to be much more accessible, simple, and easy to learn than our previous title, 100 Rogues, while at the same time being deeper strategically and also better looking. Also, it's going to be cross-platform, where 100 Rogues was only available on iOS and OS X. 100 Rogues was also well-received, getting good reviews pretty consistently, so we felt pretty confident that our Kickstarter would do well.
We were totally wrong about that.
Our first video started off with a shot of Blake (our lead artist) and I sitting at a couch and pretending to play some video game that couldn't be seen. About the room, we had strewn hundreds of pieces of video game paraphernalia: a Master System, a U-Force, an Atari 2600, dozens of cartridges from all kinds. Even our bodies were covered head to toe with video game stuff: cables of all sorts, Power Gloves, that ridiculous NES helmet accessory, and Blake had a Super Scope over his shoulder.
The video starts out with this ridiculous scene, which we thought was pretty funny and strange. We were both shouting at the screen and generic video game noises coming out of the off-screen television. I'm yelling at Blake to "shoot his head", and Blake is yelling back that he is shooting his head. Then we do that thing where we pretend that we just noticed that you walked in and we weren't quite expecting you, and we go into a quick spiel about who we are.
The rest of this video was basically shots of concept art and gameplay mockups. We spent a decent amount of time talking about 100 Rogues and how different Auro was from it. Because of that comparison, there was a lot of talk about what Auro wasn't, and a small amount about what it was.
Even though we liked it, this video was kind of a disaster, in retrospect. Actually, even a week into the Kickstarter, we started getting some meaningfully negative feedback. Our campaign asked for $15,000, which we figured was pretty reasonable (for three guys working for what we thought would be maybe another six to eight months, $15k is actually a very small amount of money). But we were met with a good bit of hostility regarding this figure, which we found surprising.
There were also some good (i.e. useful) bits of feedback, though, both regarding our video and even some things like our character design. Things were at a crawl, so we took this advice to heart and started quickly on a second video that we'd launch halfway through.
Our Second Video
One of the best bits of feedback on our first video was that we were not only too "what Auro isn't", we were also a bit too "inside baseball" -- I was talking the way that one game designer speaks to another. It probably wasn't the best way to communicate what was great about the game to a normal, non-game-designing person.
We were inspired by the famous Star Command video, which had just come out. It was extremely thematic -- voiced by an in-game character and never once mentioning anything about the game's development. Basically, it was like the total opposite of our first video, and so we, in quite a rush, decided to emulate that.
Few seemed to like the original look for our lead character, the eponymous Auro, so we changed him around as well. Here's the old Auro and our new, current Auro, which was used in our second video.
Our second Kickstarter video launched about halfway through. We made the rounds, excitedly spreading the word that we've now got a new, improved Kickstarter video. I personally worked really hard on editing this video, which was extremely thematic and more of a production. Blake voiced over some dialogue as one of the game's characters, which played over shot after shot of concept art.
Then at the end of the video, the user was treated to some meticulously mocked-up and animated simulation of "game footage", which took me probably a dozen hours to do. As I'll explain later, this ended up being a dozen wasted hours.