Hi! My name is Nik Mueller and I’m a pixel artist with Curious Panda Games. Back in August we launched our Kickstarter campaign for our turn based tactical RPG The Iron Oath. The campaign successfully concluded in September, and we more than doubled our goal of $45k, garnering $94,524 from 3835 backers. Though part of it was just good fortune, we put in a lot of work that helped us get noticed and ultimately funded, and I’m going to try and lay our entire process out for you.
Building an audience:
One thing we see a lot is that some devs wait until their game is nearly done(or is done) before they go public. Unfortunately if you wait that long, chances are that it’s already too late and you’re going to have a tough time gaining an audience. This is something we were guilty of with our first game, and with so many indie titles being released every day, it’s not a mistake you can afford to make.
When we started work on The Iron Oath, we knew that we ultimately wanted to take it to Kickstarter, and nearly a year in advance of our campaign's launch we went public with our game to start building a following. This was no easy task, our Twitter accounts between the 2 of us had maybe 100 followers at the time, and our newly created Facebook and Tumblr pages took a while to get going. Here’s an outline for what worked for us on social media:
Post early and often: As soon as you have something for your game that you think is interesting enough to show off, do it. It’s almost never too early to start building interest. Posting daily isn’t a must but it certainly helps.
GIFs are king: Without looking it up, I would say 90% of our tweets pertaining to our game contained a gif, either of an animation I whipped up in Aseprite or of something in-game. From our experience, gifs are by far the most effective way to gain impressions and followers.
Find the best time for your posts: We found out that our posts performed best after 10PM EST for every day of the week. This may not be true for you, so pay attention and maybe keep track of your results for a month or two.
Use the appropriate hashtags and participate in #screenshotsaturday: Most devs know this by now, but it’s important to tag your tweets appropriately. In our case they were almost always accompanied by #pixelart #gamedev #indiedev #indiegame, and of course #screenshotsaturday when Saturday rolled around(which we usually planned ahead and saved our best gif for).
Go easy on the Twitter follow button: It quickly became apparent to us that there were a lot of accounts that would play the follow/unfollow game(trying to get you to follow back). We weren’t too fond of that tactic and from the start we only followed people who we were genuinely interested in, and didn’t care whether or not they followed us in return. If you go around following hundreds of accounts per day under the premise of hoping they follow you back, you’re building an inflated audience that doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual interest in your game. Of course, this is just our opinion, and since we didn’t try the other method we can’t say for sure what works best, but we do feel that we grew a more organic audience by handling it the way we did.
Post on relevant subreddits and forums: There were a few forum threads on our game that we discovered(it’s good to google your title every once in awhile!), and it gave us the chance to engage in some great discussion with those communities. We also frequently posted some of our work on subreddits such as r/pixelart and r/Unity2D. It’s also a good idea to start a devlog on TIGSource to get some extra eyes on your game and to talk with some other developers.
By the time our campaign started in August we had a combined 3500 Twitter followers, 2300 Tumblr followers and 100 Facebook likes. Our YouTube channel had also gained 1600 subscribers from the pixel art timelapses I had been uploading, and our newsletter had 300 subscribers(we have a signup widget on our website and Tumblr). Not groundbreaking numbers by any means, but we were quite happy with the progress we made throughout the year. We’ll get into how each social media platform contributed to our campaign a little bit later.
Campaign Page Preparation:
The first thing I should say is that you need to give yourself plenty of time(months if possible!) to prepare your campaign page as it’s a lot more work than you might think. We gave ourselves a few weeks and we were still tweaking the page just minutes prior to launching. Before launching you need to:
Choose your funding target carefully: We went with $45K, which was what we calculated to be the absolute minimum needed to get the game done by our estimated release(March 2019). Be sure to account for taxes, the Kickstarter fee and some inevitable failed payments(we had about $1500 worth).
Prepare your page description: Lead with the most important and exciting parts of your game. We didn’t expect most people to read much past the Introduction, Features and Gameplay categories, so we made sure to get down to the point of why our game would interest them. This is another part where you need lots of gifs(it helps if they’re tied to what you’re describing) as they help sell your game a lot better than a still image can. Don’t lead with the story or lore of your game, as most will simply not care until they’re sold on the gameplay itself.
Choose your rewards and plan some add-ons for later in the campaign: Considering that we’re a 2-man team, dealing with physical reward fulfillment for potentially thousands of backers seemed like a nightmare that we wanted to avoid. For this reason all of our rewards were entirely digital, but still enticing enough that our backers felt that a higher tier was worth it. Allowing add-ons is another good practice that lets people increase their pledge for a higher tier reward. In the last few days we had a lot of people add-on to get beta access or just grab a second copy for a friend.
Create a to-the-point trailer: Try to grab the viewer’s attention right away and skip the long introductions and logo fades; a length of 2 minutes seems to be the sweet spot. If you insist on talking in your video, save it for after your actual trailer, but honestly the gameplay footage should be able to speak for itself. The timing of the audio is also pretty important and Chris spent a lot of time making sure what you were seeing in the trailer matched with what you were hearing. For the final shot of the trailer, you want to leave the viewer with a good impression. In our case, we went a huge mysterious creature that revealed itself to the characters, followed by a quick fadeout synched to the music.
Think about your stretch goals: We would recommend holding off on revealing your stretch goals until you’re a little closer to being funded. We had a pretty big wish list to draw from, and by doing this we had the chance to adjust our goals based on what the community wanted(though in our case we pretty much stuck to the initial plan). It’s important to not get carried away and remain realistic here. We ended up going with some stretch goals that expanded on the core functionality of our game such as ‘Sea Travel and Encounters’. While a console stretch goal would be nice, it wasn’t something we could realistically do on our own.
Consider doing social goals: This is a relatively new thing that campaigns have started doing, giving small rewards for various milestones achieved on social media(such has 100 retweets). It’s a fairly simple thing to do that gives your backers an incentive to get involved in spreading the word.
Pick the date and time you launch: We launched on a Wednesday at 11am EST. We found that many recently successful campaigns had started on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and so we followed suit. It’s also good to consider your end date, which is something we simply overlooked. Our campaign ended early on a Friday, so we didn’t get to reap the benefit of the coming weekend(for obvious reasons, weekends are where you’ll gain the most backers). If we had to do it over again, I would definitely choose to start on a Friday, and end on a Sunday.
I would recommend checking out some successful Kickstarter campaigns to get some ideas on how to format your page, especially those of a similar genre as you’ll likely share an audience. A few campaigns that we looked at were Pixel Princess Blitz, Fort Triumph, Blasphemous and Darkest Dungeon.
Launching Your Campaign:
The first 48 hours of your campaign are the most important and you need to do everything you can to get off to a good start. Hopefully the following you’ve built to this point will be enough to do so, but there’s some extra things you can do too:
Use Thunderclap: This requires a fee, but you’ll definitely make it back through pledges. Our Thunderclap had a reach just shy of 700k people and it went out the moment our Kickstarter was live. In the weeks prior to our launch, we tweeted a daily countdown and linked our Thunderclap to try and get as many supporters as possible. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to some indie-friendly Twitter accounts such as @HeinyReimes, @ComputerFiguur, @ProjectMQ and @screenshotsaturbot
Utilize your social media accounts: Post your best gif and make sure all your followers know that your campaign is live. It’s also a good idea to add a call to action on your banners/headers(such as ‘Back us now on Kickstarter!’) along with placing a link in each of your profiles(use bit.ly to shorten into a kck.st link).
Send out a blast to your newsletter subscribers: In terms of percentages, your newsletter subscribers are probably going to be among the highest for conversions so be sure to let them know!
Post on relevant subreddits: Be sure to check out and follow each subs rules, but most smaller ones will allow you to post once at the start and once at the end. Bigger subreddits such as r/gaming are worth a shot but we couldn’t gain any traction there.
Upload your media to YouTube: We immediately uploaded our trailer on YouTube and our composer Alex did the same on his channel. He also uploaded the game’s first few tracks over the next couple of days which helped us a lot.
Make an album post on Imgur: We didn’t do this until day 3 of our campaign, which worked well since it was a Friday. Our post ended up making the frontpage for several hours, and the community there was overwhelmingly supportive of what we had to show off. We had the most success posting around noon EST.
All in all, our first 48 hours went pretty good, but we were still at a point where we felt the campaign could go either way. Fortunately our Imgur post on day 3 went better than we could have hoped and helped propel us to nearly 50% after day 4.
During the Campaign:
Managing a live campaign requires a lot of time and work. However don’t go crazy and deprive yourself of food and sleep. You don’t want to burn out, and taking a break every once in awhile helps keep you sane! The beginning and end of your campaign are going to be the most active periods in terms of backers. It’s inevitable for every campaign to die down during the middle stretch but don’t get discouraged! As you can see from the image below, we certainly experienced it ourselves.
Here’s what we did to help combat the lull:
Communicate with backers: You need to show your backers that you care. For us we felt compelled to thank everyone who left a comment, whether it was on the campaign page itself or on social media. We were also happy and quick to discuss various features of the game when someone posed a question. We received a lot of positive feedback for being open and communicative and it’s definitely the way to go.
Post frequent updates: We posted 20 campaign updates during our 30 day run, with most of them being content updates that went in-depth on certain features of the game. We have a lot of passion for our game and we had a lot to talk about, and in turn our backers really appreciated the effort. It’s a good idea to plan out a few updates ahead of time before launching your campaign as you’re guaranteed to be busy! Each update usually took me a few hours to put together.
Respond to constructive criticism, ignore the trolls: We received a good amount of constructive criticism and appreciated those who took the time to let us know what they thought. Fortunately we didn’t get many hateful or purely negative comments, and we simply ignored the few that we did receive. Getting into an argument with a troll is simply a waste of time and energy that should be spent elsewhere.
Cross-promote with other campaigns: This is one of the best things to do during the middle stages of your campaign. A single cross-promotion won’t account for much, but they all add up in the end. In total, we ended up running 12 cross-promotions. It’s a good idea to stay within the realm of video games, but we also ended up cross-promoting with a board game RPG as we felt we shared a similar audience. Don’t cross-promote with everyone that approaches you. We only did so when we felt it was mutually beneficial, meaning if you have 2000 backers and they have 50, it’s not going to help you much.
Be active on social media and forums: We made sure to post at least one gif per day across our Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts. We found a couple more forum threads where our game was mentioned so we went and introduced ourselves and engaged in discussion with some potential backers.
Utilize Reddit and Imgur: Going viral on either Reddit or Imgur can make a huge difference for your campaign. We ended up making two more album posts on Imgur (1 | 2) that both briefly reached the front page. I also posted frequently in the pixelart subreddit and one of them managed to become the second most upvoted piece of all time which was pretty darn cool.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help: We reached out to a few well known RPG companies that had run successful campaigns in the past. In doing so, we ended up getting shoutouts from the wonderful folks at inXile(makers of Bards Tale) and Owlcat(makers of Pathfinder: Kingmaker). Their support made a huge difference in our campaign and we can’t thank them enough!
Marketing and Advertising:
Most of our marketing was done through social media in the methods described above. Beyond that, we also emailed over 100 websites and youtubers. Overall the response rate was pretty low, but we’re thankful to the few who did respond and either posted an article or a video. In general, reaching out to press is worthwhile, but it’s not something you should be depending on for success. Your experience may be different, but we were pretty much told to expect this going in.
We tried to run some ads on our own through Facebook and Reddit but we barely managed to break even. We were approached by a lot of advertising agencies throughout the course of the campaign, but most came across as spammy and we ended up ignoring nearly all of them. That’s not to say all ad agencies are bad however, there’s definitely some good ones out there, but you need to do your homework.
We had heard good things about Jellop and we ended up working together for the final week of our campaign. Jellop specializes in Facebook ads, and they were very professional and wonderful to work with. In the end, backers from their ads accounted for around 17% of our total funding. If you’re going to be running a campaign I would definitely encourage you to reach out to them. I can’t say you’ll have the same results as us, only that in our case it was absolutely worth it.
Fortunately for us, nearly everything went according to plan. As mentioned before, we got off to a pretty good start, and by day 5 I would consider it a very good start. From there things started to slow down and it was rare for us to get over $1000 in a single day. On September 1st we reached our funding goal, and following that things started to snowball. A culmination of shout-outs, social media posts, and Jellop advertising gave us an extremely strong finish.
Some takeaways from our referral graphic:
Kickstarter was the biggest single source of backers at 32%, followed by Jellop at 17%. Imgur came in around 15%, but we don’t have anything concrete for that and it’s just an estimate(we think a lot fell into the “Direct traffic no referrer” tag).
We were very pleased with our numbers from Twitter, Facebook and Youtube - a combined 9%
The RPG forums we were involved in accounted for around 2% combined, which we think was a pretty great result.
Despite our Tumblr following being fairly high, it didn’t translate as well into backers, but still accounted for about 0.5% on its own.
The 48 hour reminder email is huge. A lot of backers will lurk around until the end of your campaign and there’s always going to be a late surge from that.
We did a poor job of using referral links for the most part. For things such as our newsletter and Thunderclap we actually have no idea how they performed, but we still consider them important.
The only thing that didn’t really go according to plan for us was Reddit. Not that it did poorly(50 backers is nothing to sneeze at!), but from our research we were expecting a lot more.
Quick recap and closing thoughts:
Build an audience well in advance of your campaign to ensure you have a good start
Give yourself plenty of time to set up your campaign page, I would recommend at least 1-2 months.
Be active with updates and interact with your community!
Don’t be afraid to ask for a shout-out or cross-promotion from another game
Consider an advertising agency such as Jellop, but it’s not a must
Have a press kit available somewhere on your main page, and make sure your social media accounts are clearly visible
Gifs - gifs everywhere!
BackerKit is a very useful service for handling everything after your Kickstarter
Don’t forget to eat and sleep :)
Thank you for reading, and we hope you’ve learned a few things from this write-up! We’d also like to thank our amazing backers for their support, as we literally couldn’t have done it without them. If you'd like to follow us or learn more about The Iron Oath, you can check out the links below: