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The Wandering Village - Kickstarter success without a playable demo

by Philomena Schwab on 03/18/21 05:46:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Intro

On October 13th 2020 we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our upcoming game ‘The Wandering Village’, which aimed to raise €30’000. By the campaign’s end, 6500 backers had supported us with a total over €155’000 (~$185k).
The main goal of the campaign was to raise awareness for the game and gather funds to further develop the game for its planned Early Access release in Q4 2021. Our team chose a funding goal we were confident to reach early and we wanted to extend the game’s content through stretch goals. This has been our third Kickstarter and the most successful one so far. Articles about our two previous campaigns can be found on our blog page.

 

Part 1 - Before launch

A good pitch:
When we first drafted the basic concept of ‘The Wandering Village’, marketability was a major factor for us. The goal was to come up with a game pitch and visual style that easily communicates what is unique about the game. This first step can have a huge impact on everything that follows. It will be so much harder to get people to care for a game that isn’t unique/interesting at first glance. Thanks to its catchy pitch and visuals ‘The Wandering Village’ has been easier to market than our previous two games.

Early interactions:
We first started to talk about our new project, which didn’t have a name at the time, a couple months before the Kickstarter. People suggested names, chatted with us about gameplay ideas and the background story of the game. At first, these interactions mostly took place on our personal social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, our forums, …).
After one of our tweets went viral during a #PitchYaGame event on Twitter, we realized we should set up a community hub for the game asap. We decided to go with Discord and started to invite people to join so we could easily contact them again when the Kickstarter campaign launches.

Imgur, Discord & the useful bot:
We set the goal to have 1000 people join the Discord before the game’s Kickstarter launch. In order to more effectively manage the Discord’s growing community, we commissioned a Discord bot that assigns people roles depending on which channel they joined from (Twitter, Facebook, etc). This enables us to tag the ‘Tweeters’ if we need help to signalboost a Tweet for example. This turned out to be especially effective when it comes to Imgur. We started to regularly post dev-diaries / development insights and always made sure to tag the “Imgurian” members of the Discord to let them know about the new posts.
After a few posts on Imgur, further participating in #PitchYaGame events and a few posts in game development Facebook groups, 1000 Discord members had been reached.
In the process of making these posts, we also put together a list of ‘VIPs’, aka influential people that interacted with our content, which we later used to ask for shoutouts when the campaign was live.

No demo, but ads!
This was the first time we ran a Kickstarter campaign without having a playable demo of the game. This was scary for us since our studio’s marketing efforts heavily revolve around Youtubers and streamers. We knew we needed something to fill this void, so we started looking into ad companies. This was the first time our studio was able to consider such an option, since it requires some upfront budget.
To research good Kickstarter ad partners, we jumped on some calls with developers that have run successful KS campaigns. Thanks to them, we found two ad providers we decided to work with: Backerkit and Backercamp. This turned out to be a good decision.

Choosing our launch date
In order to choose a suitable launch date, we talked to the folks at Kickstarter (which is always a good idea, since you want them to be aware of your project before it launches), Kickstarter experts (thanks Thomas Bidaux!) and our two ad providers. The general sentiment was that we shouldn’t launch past mid-October, since campaigns that launch later in the year tend to make less money (-10% on average). Tuesday was recommended as a good day to launch and Friday as the best day to end a campaign, so we went with this advice.

Pre-launch page
A new feature Kickstarter offers is the “Pre-launch page”, which is similar to Steam wishlists. People click the notify button and will be automatically emailed once your campaign goes live. Other devs recommended us to launch this page around 4 weeks before our Kickstarter. During these 4 weeks, we gathered around 700 followers. Many of them were backers of our previous two KS campaigns, which we were able to reach again via email thanks to a useful tool provided by Backerkit.

(Yes, we tried to sign up for our own launch xD )
 

Following
An overview of the game’s and our studio’s social media following 1 day before the Kickstarter launched.

Followers of ‘The Wandering Village’:
- Discord: 1400
- Kickstarter: 700 (pre-launch page)

Followers of our studio/previous games:
- Newsletter: ~100k
- Facebook: ~5k 
- Twitter: ~10k
- Youtube: ~1k
- Instagram: ~1k
- Discord: ~4k
- Kickstarter: ~5k (backers of previous campaigns)

Other preparations
I won’t go into too much detail here, but of course there is a ton of other stuff to prepare for a Kickstarter campaign. Just a few things from our todo list:
- Put lots of effort into the design of the KS page and especially into the trailer
- Design and organize the campaign’s reward structure
(we try to keep physical rewards to a minimum because of shipping and we usually limit the the reward to a maximum amount)
- Organize cross-promotions with other campaigns and shoutouts from VIPs
- Prepare press + Youtuber list -> send out emails with embargo (1-2 weeks before launch)
- Make a list of #, subreddits, FB groups etc where to post about the campaign
(in our case everything related to city-builders, other media featuring giant creatures, game development, Studio Ghibli, dinosaurs etc)
- Prepare a list of other KS projects to run cross promotions with (and contact them)
- Set up Google Analytics
(Kickstarter shows the whole sales funnel so it’s great to find out which marketing efforts actually result in funding. This knowledge might be useful for the game’s actual launch later.)


Part 2: Kickstarter Launch

A major press beat
Finally our campaign’s launch day arrived. Kickstarter launches aren’t newsworthy for most press outlets. That is why we decided to spice things up by launching the game’s Steam page and revealing the first trailer of the game on the same day. We basically treated this press beat as our official “game reveal”, though it is arguable if this was really the case since we have been showing screenshots and other snippets of the game before.

Shouting as loud as we can
Besides the press release, we also tried to get the word out on as many channels as possible. These include: Another Backerkit email to past backers, our newsletter, our forums, our Discord, Steam announcements, Facebook, a first batch of Facebook ads by Backerkit, Twitter, Instagram, Imgur and Reddit. Both the Reddit and the Imgur post went viral. Twitter also went pretty well. We also contacted the people on our ‘VIP’ (aka influential people that interacted with our content before) and quite a few of them helped us to spread the news.

Funded in 24 hours
What always helps us to increase our social reach is to include ‘Social goals’ in the campaign. If backers manage to reach the social goals, they get a special reward, in this case an extra copy of the game. Another thing that can be motivating for people to back at the start of the campaign instead of later are ‘Early Bird Rewards’. These rewards are usually limited by quantity or have a set deadline to their availability. In our case, the rewards were the same, but you could get the game at a small discount. All this initial activity helped to be picked up by the Kickstarter algorithm, which brought in even more backers. Having received the ‘Projects we love’ banner right as the campaign launched, might play a role here too. We reached our initial funding goal (€30k) in less than 24 hours. This was far beyond our expectations, luckily we had prepared 2 stretch goals ahead of the launch.



Part 3: During the campaign

New audiences
The first stretch goal was called ‘Pet Onbu’ and allows players to send out a party of workers to go pet the giant beast. We made a cute video of the beast being pet and tried our luck to reach audiences that like cute things. This resulted in things such as a shoutout from ‘Wholesome Games’ and a retweet from ‘Pet the dog’ among others. We continued this approach whenever we reached a new stretch goal.

Growing our Steam wishlists
When running a Kickstarter, we usually have 3 goals: Raise money to develop the game, build up a community around it and gather as many Steam wishlists as possible to have a successful release further down the line. Launching the Steam page at the same time as the Kickstarter seems to have been a good choice. Steam wishlists were also part of our ‘Social Goals’ challenge which drove some initial traffic to Steam. During the first week, we got 8k wishlists. We were lucky to be featured in a 7 days long ‘City-builder’ sale on Steam, which resulted in 15k additional wishlists.

Youtube coverage without a playable
During the campaign, we reached out to several Youtubers about covering our trailer in ‘upcoming games’ or ‘trailer compilation’ videos. We soon started to receive some coverage (such as these videos by BestInSlot, GamerZakh and KathrineOfSky) and were happy to see that a bit of Youtuber marketing was still possible, even without a demo. 

PR & Ad support
Towards the middle of the campaign we reached out to our good friends at Future Friends, for additional PR support. We wanted to send out another press release, stating that the game’s Kickstarter goal has been reached. We did and got quite a few additional articles covering the game. Thanks Future Friends!
We also kept on running Facebook ads together with Backerkit and our second agency, Backercamp, joined in towards the middle of the campaign as well. They both managed to achieve good results. On most days the ROAS (return on ad spend) was 2.3-3x, which means the ads doubled/tripled the amount of money we invested by bringing in new backers daily. 

Cross promotions
A great way to reach additional backers for your campaign are cross promotions with other projects on Kickstarter. We had contacted a few before the campaign went live, but the lion's share of the work was done while it was running. We kept observing other games that launched and reached out to them if we shared a similar target audience. Just think about it! People that like similar things AND already have an account on Kickstarter, so chances are high these people could become future backers. These shoutouts can take place either on social media, or (this is my preferred way) via backer updates. We also reached out to quite a few creators whose campaigns had been over. Some of them were planning to send out a backer update anyways and happily featured us in it. In total we got 15 shoutouts via other campaign’s backer updates.

 

Part 4: Last Days

Project of the day + 48h email
During the last week of the campaign, we were featured as ‘Project of the day’ on Kickstarter twice. This helped us to get back in favor with the algorithm, bringing in new supporters. What also always helped to get a big push in the last few days is the ‘48h before campaign ends’ email that is sent out to everyone who clicked on the ‘Remind me’ button, but hasn’t pledged yet.

The feeling of winning
For a while, it looked like we wouldn’t reach our last stretch goal. Another viral post on Reddit saved us and we managed in the end. To me, it’s always great if you can give your backers the feeling that they really made it and reached all the goals. This was also the reason why we extended the deadline for our social goals beyond the end of the campaign. It seemed like such a shame that backers wouldn’t be getting an additional key for the game because they closely missed our social goal requirements. With a bit of extra time they managed and were very happy about it.


Part 5: Past Campaign, Conclusion & Leanings

Indiegogo
Right after the Kickstarter ended, we launched an Indiegogo InDemand campaign. We had seen this approach from other studios who managed to raise a significant amount on the platform. So we wanted to see how much we could make there with 0 marketing effort. It took us about 2 days to set up the campaign. After the campaign ended, we gained €1500. So we managed to raise more money then we went preparing the page, but also not as much as we had expected.

Add-on fail
There is one thing we really screwed up with this campaign: Add-ons. We managed to take part in the Add-ons beta Kickstarter was currently running. So we happily set up our Add-ons and launched the campaign. But it seems we have missed one major point: Physical (aka things that need to be shipped) Add-ons can only be added to physical reward tiers. Most of our rewards tiers were set up as digital only, since Steam keys don’t need to be shipped. So this resulted in most of our backers being unable to select Add-ons, which likely contributed to our average pledge amount to be lower than it could have been. These settings couldn’t be changed anymore during the campaign, not even with the help of Kickstarter support. Next time, we will set things up correctly! 

Tracking fail
It seems we are getting this wrong every time we run a Kickstarter. We should really be tracking all our efforts with custom referrer links. Running a Kickstarter is a great way to see which of your marketing efforts actually lead people to pledge for the game (compared to Steam where this can’t be tracked). So this is a perfect opportunity to check your sales funnel, post strategy, etc. But, it’s just so tempting to skip the extra step of creating a referrer link if you can just copy paste the link from the browser, especially when in a hurry. Will we ever learn >_<?

Result
- The campaign ended up raising €155k (~$185k) from over 6000 backers.
- During the 30 days of the campaign we gained 30k Steam wishlists (half of them during the city-building Steam sale)
- We spent a total of about €20k (~$24k) on Facebook ads via Backerkit and Backercamp and got about €50k (~$60k) in return
- 11% of our backers were returning backers from previous campaigns
- The average pledge was €24 (which is similar to our previous campaigns)
- 45% of our backers seem to have found out about the campaign via Kickstarter (which is higher compared to our previous campaigns)
- Besides all things Kickstarter (email, discovery, search), the traffic came in mainly via Facebook ads, Google and Twitter.
- 40k people played the project video and 20% watched the whole thing

Steam wishlists during Kickstarter period (Steam page launched on same day as Kickstarter)

Steam wishlists during Kickstarter
Growth of social channels
TWV Discord: 1400 ---------------------> 4000
Youtube: ~1000 --------------------------> 2000
Instagram: ~1000 ------------------------> 2000
Twitter:  10k --------------------------------> 15k

Outro / TLDR
All in all, we are very happy with how the Kickstarter went! We gained a lot of confidence that running a campaign without a demo is possible and were impressed by how well the Facebook ads worked. It probably helped that this was our third campaign and people are starting to trust us to deliver the games we promise. As we hoped, the Kickstarter was a great way to raise money, build up a community around the game and increase our Steam wishlists. So, we remain huge fans of crowdfunding and will most likely be back on Kickstarter with our next game in a few years :D

 


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