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Opinion: Kickstarter campaign isn't looking so hot?
Opinion: Kickstarter campaign isn't looking so hot?
September 28, 2012 | By Maethee Chongchitnant

September 28, 2012 | By Maethee Chongchitnant
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, Novaleaf's lead developer Maethee "Eddie" Chongchitnant examines what went wrong with a Kickstarter campaign that's had difficulty taking off.

Kickstarter campaign isn't looking so hot? Well, dang it.

Well, that's currently what's happening to our Kickstarter campaign, God of Puzzle. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what you need to know if you're planning to start a Kickstarter campaign. This time, let's talk about when your campaign doesn't go as planned.

What did we do?

So, the first thing that happens after your project is launched is that you'll get a little traffic from people who go into the "Recently Launched" page on Kickstarter website. This initial traffic gave us 1 or 2 backers. After that initial traffic, you're on your own.

So, what's next? Here are a few things that we tried after our launch:
  1. We started posting in gaming forums and communities. We posted to a few places a day, so we could adjust the message to see if we could get better reactions the next day. This included sites such as Reddit as well.
  2. We sent emails with a press kit to gaming news sites and bloggers.
  3. Team members tried to spread the word about the game on their Facebook and Twitter.

So, what happened?

After a week of posting about the project on almost every place we could think of, almost nothing happened. So, we've stopped working on promoting the page because we weren't doing it right, and it's a waste of time. Instead we decided to refocus our manpower into figuring out what went wrong and are taking actions to fix it while there's still time left before our deadline. The rest of this article offers information on what we've learned from our own experience trying to breathe life into our dying Kickstarter campaign.

Let's first look at some stats. Kickstarter doesn't tell you exactly how many people visited your project page. But it does tells you how many times your pitch video has been played, and the percentage of people who click play and watch the video all the way to completion.

We were actively spreading the word about our project for about one week, and we'd get around 80 too 100 views a day on the video. At the end of week one, we got approximately 650 views on the video with about 20 percent of them playing to completion. At this point, the total number of backers was 18. Scary, right? Very; especially when you know that you need at least 500 backers to be anywhere near your funding goal.

So, with that information, this is the list of things that we've learned:

1. Some projects are a hard-sell for Kickstarter

Not matter how well you construct your pitch, there's a chance that your project is still a hard-sell for the Kickstarter crowd. Now, I'm not saying that our pitch is perfect, but we do realize that our target market is pretty niche; maybe a bit too niche for Kickstarter…

According to the stats on our project, out of 600 to 700 people who viewed the pitch video, less than 20 people are willing to back the project. So, that means, for the people who we've showed the project to (mostly hardcore gamers in online communities), our project has a 2-3 percent chance of landing a backer. Which means, for us to get 500 backers, we need 20,000 views on the pitch video. I have no idea if this number is low or high compared to other projects, but it would be great if the project only needed 2,000 views to get 500 backers, right?

So, how do you know if your project will appeal to the Kickstarter crowd? Well, this is a good question, and a tough one to answer. But I can tell you that there are two types of projects that have higher chance of success: projects that already have a large fanbase and projects that truly innovate. Unfortunately for us, we failed to show innovation in our pitch, and the fanbase for our project (Puzzle Fighter fans) is not as big as we had hoped.

2. Forum marketing is very tricky

Before I explain why forum marketing is tricky, let's look some stats related to forum marketing. And before I continue, I should also say that we did not use any guerilla marketing or sophisticated marketing techniques; so teams that are doing more sophisticated marketing stuff are probably going to get different results.

For one week, we've posted to about 10 different relatively big gaming forums. Each thread that we started would get around 30 to 100 views (i.e. people that actually click on the topic to view the content). Almost all the threads have zero or very few replies.

For every day that I posted on forums, the next day we would get about 80 views on the video, and anywhere from zero to a few backers. So, a lot of the views on the video are probably coming from our forum marketing, but we're still way off. To get 500 backers in 30 days, we need at least 17 backers a day, not zero to a few.

So here's why I think that forum marketing is tricky:
  1. Your topic must make people curious enough to click it. Otherwise, not a lot of people are going to see your message.
  2. Your topic must generate discussion. If your topic doesn't generate any discussion, your thread is going to fall off the front page within one or two days for a relatively active forum.
  3. Your message must make people want to click the link to your project page. Otherwise, you'll get no action on your project page.
After learning the points above, it became obvious to me that starting a thread to directly ask people to "check out our Kickstarter page" may not be effective enough to get 500 backers.

3. Making your project viral is everything

Your project is "viral" when it effectively promotes itself. It's when you can stop promoting your project because other people are already talking about it everywhere. Basically, if the number of backers for your project grows at the rate that you need, without you having to do anymore marketing, congratulations, your project is viral and probably awesome.

Unfortunately for us, this never happened. As soon as we stopped actively promoting the project, we got absolutely nothing. And because our project isn't viral, it means that if we want 500 backers, we have to find ways to get them all by ourselves, which isn't easy, especially if you didn't plan it in advance.

4. Strengthen your social network and research how to do it right

If you're at all counting on the power of your social network to save the day, make sure that your social network is a strong one and that you know how to effectively promote on social networks. If you think about the "reach" of your initial post and the chance that your followers/subscribers will share or retweet your post, you can probably estimate how many people are going see your post.

But out of everyone that saw your post, how many of them will actually click on the link? Your post might just be a short sentence plus an image, but it has to do so much. It has to capture the attention of people who are scrolling through hundreds of items on their feed, stop them from scrolling past it, and click on the link. There is a lot more to social network marketing, so some research in this area will probably help.

What we're doing to fix it

For our project, we have one last round of ammunition left, and we've been trying to make sure it will hit the target. This last shot has to be something interesting enough for people to share and make the project more "viral." This last shot is our playable demo.

It's still pretty rough, but we've been trying to make sure that it will leave a good impression on the people who play it. We're also revisiting all of our marketing plans, as we didn't really do it right the first time.

Yes, you could say that it is a long shot, but we have to at least try everything before we admit defeat, right! Oh and a little miracle would help too, I guess…

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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Owen Bennett
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I don't want to sound offensive, but your Kickstarter video is really bad. It looks and sounds unprofessional, which leads people to think that your game will also be unprofessional. There are loads of problems with lighting, sound, composition, script and so on. Either get someone who knows how to shoot and edit video, or focus on what you can do.

Whilst I understand that you want to show people that your game is like, but better than, Puzzle Fighter, you spend a large amount of time at the beginning of the video talking about and showing someone else's game. Now, either the people who have come to your page are Puzzle Fighter fans, in which case they already know the problems with it, or they aren't, in which case they don't know about it, so there's no point in bringing it up. If you want to show the comparison, then do it underneath.

It's a full 2 minutes into the video until you start talking about YOUR game, by which point most people (80% by your stats) will have switched off. It's 4 minutes into the video until we see any footage, screenshots or concept art for your game, which is basically the reason why people are going to give you money. If you don't have enough stuff to show, then you probably aren't at the right stage to be trying to use Kickstarter.

My advice: look at other Kickstarter projects asking for around the same amount of money. Ask yourself whether you'd back them, and why or why not. Look at successful projects and see how they pitch. Ask yourself if presenting direct to camera is the best way to pitch, whether your script works with people who don't know you, look at everything you include in the video and whether it adds something to the focus on your game and what makes it special. Lastly: for the love of God, don't make jokes about watching porn.

I hope that helps!


Jack Matthewson
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Speaking from experience, I'd agree that forum marketing is generally not worth the time investment, especially for a smaller company. If you try to conceal it, it's subversive and can actually damage your product if caught out, if you're overt then people will generally ignore it.

Benjamin Quintero
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Questions and comments I had while watching this video:

* A noise reduction filter with Audacity or a paid tool would have done wonders for this video.
* The video was way too long..
* When you were "searching for a clone" it instantly made me feel like you were saying, "no clones are out there so we need to make one." At which point, why not just play Puzzle Fighter?
* Too much time was spent comparing yourself to a game that will probably still be better than yours in the end (given that Capcom is pretty well known for amazing visuals and Puzzle Fighter is proof of that).
* Your primary argument against PF is that you can't find online matches, so what's to say that your game will be so much more popular than a Capcom game; enough to keep the online matches flowing?
* To be honest, the porn crack was kind of funny but most would probably find it offensive. It didn't help your case when most of your illustrations looked like you pulled images off the internet. Even your one completed character looked... well.. like she might belong in a "galge" game before ending up in a puzzle fighter clone.
* The "meet the team" at the end was a plus because it made this look slightly better than one kid's pipe dream. Interviewing them (even if it meant using subtitles) might have been time better spent than the 5 minute introduction to Capcom's game.
* The game seemed to have an ever-increasing scope of ideas comprised of mashing up multiple games. There was nothing unique about what you were selling except cross-platform gaming.

Overall however, the theme that rang throughout the video for me was simply that Puzzle Fighter is a sub-genre of a spin-off of a puzzle game. That crowd is about as niche as you can get and most of them would probably rather just play Puzzle Fighter because Ken and Ryu are in it.

I know this all seems harsh, but I only say it to drive a point. Don't think that working harder to market this idea is going to turn it into a success. A Puzzle Fighter clone might have a destiny that is out of your hands. This might be a game that just doesn't have a place in the world...

Joel Nystrom
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Hey, you should really put the gameplay video on top, and the current one at the bottom. Seriously, the difference in quality between the two is huge, and the gameplay one looks really good actually.

You have nothing to lose I'd say, try it! And try spreading the gameplay video on Twitter etc.

Kyle Harrison
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Ya I cannot lie, I that was probably the worst pitch video I've seen yet. I can see you were trying to be snarky funny, and swear, much like David Jaffe. Thing is though, that Mr Twisted Metal has his speech down to a fine art and can execute the snark and swear approach while still feeling endearing and easy on the ears.
Please correct me if I am wrong. But English isn't your primary language is it? Something that will help immensely is instead of "winging it" in front of a camera, is to practice the lines first, but and then record once the scene is fluid. It may take hours of practice but it's worth it. It will feel 100% less awkward to the viewer. Or speak your native language and use subtitles, I don't think there's ever been a time where that's been a terrible option.
I don't mean to sound like a basgard but jokes need to be delivered correctly otherwise the punchline falls flat and the joke may end up driving people away. On a positive note, I thought the call of duty joke was funny, and but that's because it was the most natural sounding joke of the entire production.
Something that insurmountably bothers me however, is how you have a mic with a pop filter that makes you sound pretty good and clear, and yet you don't use it through any other part of the video than a couple words. The why?? This I video would have without question benefited from that being used the entire time.

And I do agree with the other commenter's, focusing less time on puzzle fighter and more on your project would have benefitted greatly. If you must mention puzzle fighter at all. I can see its your base inspiration here, but and that's fine, but but look up any book or documents on pitches and they'll tell you one of the worst mistakes you can make is uttering a phrase like "its like (insert well selling AAA title here)", it informs the community your doing nothing but cloning an existing idea or franchise and it makes the backer wonder if you can even match the quality of that title in the first place

The Le
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The game is clearly a clone of Capcom's PUZZLE FIGHTER, so I don't see the point of the kickstarter at all, nor do I understand the justification for $10,000 price tag.

The rewards suggest that Kickstarter is being used to get pre-orders rather than anything meaningful - so at $5 I get two copies of the game and $15 I get five copies of the game and be a free beta tester?

And finally, for a game that is a Tetris/Puzzle Fighter ripoff... why wasn't there a demo on day 1?

Steve Fulton
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I had fun with the demo. I know it is rough, but a couple more iterations matched with a better pitch video might do wonders.

Babak Kaveh
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Watched the video, read the pitch. I will not be commenting on the idea itself (I don't think recreating an existing game, simply because it's servers are empty is a good idea - there is a reason why those servers are empty) but here is my opinion on the presentation and this article (and most of this has been said by others before, but reiterating it might still have value - see it as a vote.)

1. Audio in the video was not acceptable.

2. Kickstarter Presentation was weak:

-Not many positive points about your product, but lot's of negatives about the past and the other product

-A few drawings don't cut it - they are not awesome enough. You have too little to be selling the product. Instead maybe you should have focused on selling the idea?

-Having the playable prototype is great. Possibly the only positive thing in the entire campaign.

-I am sorry but I didn't get most of your humor - see I am not a funny person myself, but I do appreciate good humor, and your jokes/jabs simply were not funny. It is important to know your strengths and build on those. If you have an awesome coder, have a few frames in the video where he is running an amazing OpenGL demo he made. If you have an awesome artist let us see him for a few seconds making art on his Wacom. Don't try to be funny just because it is a public video - be yourself at your best, and if all else fails, act professional and dress smart.

-Just by mentioning that "you end up watching porn at night" you probably alienated most of your female audience, all 40+year olds, half of the population of the world that is religious, most parents, etc. etc. I'd say that joke cost you about 80% of your audience. Now, that may sound prudish, but you need to be very very aware of various cultural sensibilities when trying to mass-market.

-Your presentation was limiting the concept of a puzzle fighter unnecessarily - it came across as if you are simply making a multi-platform reskin of an already great game. If you have new puzzles (you should), new concepts (leveling up, power-ups?), new interfaces (social media integration), etc. You should have made that clear. Always leave some ends open to implementation and to the imagination, and make sure you are adding value to existing projects.

3. Forums are a great way to market your game to a small niche, but you need to find:

-a forum where that niche hangs out and not just any generic forum

-Your forum posts should have included screenshots, links to the demo, and should solicit ideas/requests for improvement from the community you are targeting - and all of this needs to be done BEFORE you start your Kickstarter. Actually, if you find active forums where YOUR AUDIENCE hangs out, and make a posts with lots of images, screenshots, concept art and links to the site/demo, and you get less that 100 replies in the first day, you should not really make the game - the player base/market is simply to small.

Having said that, based on your article I don't think you have necessarily learned all the lessons you could have, and I don't see the tide turning for your campaign. Here is my opinion on the four points you made in the article:

1. If 2% of the people watching the video are willing to back you, you have an awesome conversion rate. If only 800 people watch the video, the video is pretty bad. Due to the buzz Kickstarter is getting there is a huge number of people going through the pages, so if you are getting so little traffic, that means you are not successfully directing it there.

2. Forum marketing is not hard - but you need to do it right. You need to start a couple of weeks before the Kickstarter. You need to create a buzz by having Media-rich posts, and soliciting advice, and making strong comments on related games. A few days before the Kickstarter, you go on those forums and drop the link to an EXCLUSIVE demo version. Next you announce the Kickstarter on the same day your Kickstarter page goes up. Also, 10 forums is a ridiculous number. You have 5 people? go for 100 forums. Start at posting on all kinds of issues a month before going into the campaign, and start posting about your game when you get close to it.

3. You state that your project didn't go viral - and that's no surprise. Going viral is not EVERYTHING though - not if you are only asking for 10K USD. What you need is a potential customer base - a way to target people who play similar games. Kickstarter is not where that marketing happens, it is where you gather the money, and define the rewards - it is where you formalize your pitch and give it more credibility. The real marketing happens in web adds, SEO, Forums, Articles like this one, Friends and Family, Game Conferences, etc. and it needs to start at least a month before your Kickstarter.

Let me quote you: "the fanbase for our project (Puzzle Fighter fans) is not as big as we had hoped." If you limit your customer base to only "Puzzle Fighter fans" and make your video look like an ad for the sad state of that market, do you think you ever would have a chance of going "viral"?

4. I don't know what your definition of your "Social network" is, but I have funded EVERY SINGLE ONE of the projects that my friends have pitched on Kickstarter - that's a grand total of two projects. If you pitch your project to 5 x 100 friends and family members, and tweet to 5 x 50 followers, and get only 25 backers, you might need to rethink the strength of your network and reshape it.

Finally, on your comment: "Oh and a little miracle would help too, I guess…", rest assured, miracles won't happen - you have to get a whole lot right, and very little wrong before luck/God/gods/fate/FSM becomes a factor.

Tyler Yohe
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Sorry Maethee, dont want to pile it on, but I think Babak is correct on just about every level. As a suggestion when trying to fix the points he made however, I've found it often helps to take a step back and look at things analytically and not passionately (which is hard when you are essentially putting your life out there - I know you want to make a good impression). This helps when identifying your audience, and avoids potential 'deal-killers' like he was point out with the potentially offensive humor.

Just as a side note, Babak also makes great point that pre-thought is everything. I personally have been working on my game for 1.5 years, and have been slowly building my social network, AND my kickstarter campaign, for about a year (granted my timeline likely doesn't fit your model game however). As he said, viral is not everything, if you pre-plan to build an fan-base or audience, it significantly helps. I've been planning and tweaking my kickstarter, getting our name out there on forums, ever since the day I decided on the final scope of my project.

Babak Kaveh
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Quick correction: Just read the portion about your past game (Biology Puzzle: 2008) again. What have you guys been up to from 2008-2012?

Jacob Johnson
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Keep trying and learning man. Thanks for having the balls to show that you want to succeed through failure.