Gamasutra's Kickstarter Survey: The Results

By John Polson

The motivation to pledge to Kickstarter projects seems not to hinge on flashy perks, previously published titles, or even social media buzz. It's all about the spoken word, the majority of respondents said in last month's Gamasutra-conducted survey.

While Kickstarter has shared internal data regarding project success rates, the information around who pledges and what motivates their pledges remains ambiguous. This survey sought to disambiguate that information. For two weeks, the survey was publicized chiefly on Twitter, Facebook, Gamasutra, and its sister site IndieGames.

The following is a look at the trends of the majority of respondents. This feature also examines two specific sub-groups: those who average out as Kickstarter "big spenders" and those with certain operating system preferences.

While some flaws were discovered in the course of this unscientific survey, these questions and their answers should help begin a dialogue on an unexplored but crucial element of Kickstarter projects: the crowd that funds them.

The Demographics

Out of 1,445 respondents who completed the survey, the vast majority play games weekly (95 percent) on a Windows machine (87 percent), have played for over 16 years (82 percent), do not work in the game industry (65 percent), are men (91 percent) between the ages of 21-40 (85 percent), do not know someone who created a Kickstarter project (80 percent), but do know someone who supported a project (55 percent).

The gaming platforms respondents own, their fields of employment, and their yearly income are below:

How Respondents Evaluate Projects

The survey first asked respondents to rate how important certain elements were when evaluating a Kickstarter project -- on a four-pronged scale from unnecessary to essential. The only item chosen by a majority as essential (at 62 percent) was having a perk that includes a copy of the game, followed by another 23 percent who felt it was very important.

Possibly debunking some Kickstarter myths, the majority stated a few elements were unnecessary: a game from an established series (at 77 percent), a project with a demo to try before pledging (at 52 percent), and a project from a well-known, published developer (at 42 percent).

The last four polled elements were variably important. An itemized breakdown of the budget was somewhat important to 47 percent and very important to another 25 percent. A project with in-game footage was somewhat important to 36 percent and very important to an additional 33 percent. A video with the developer(s) speaking on camera was somewhat important to 36 percent, with 26 percent saying it was very important. Finally, 40 percent said a project with physical/limited edition perks (shirts, CDs, boxed versions, plushies, etc.) was somewhat important, with another 38 percent actually saying such perks were unnecessary.

With regard to important elements for a project, the data suggests a copy of the game is largely imperative. Those polled seem to take developers at their word, preferring the details behind each project (footage, budgets, and developer commentary) over a history of published games as requisite for pledging.

However, development details alone don't compel people to pledge. The most common reasons why respondents didn't pledge were because the spoken and written text or footage fell flat. Specifically, 65 percent said the text and videos did not convince them that a project was interesting, followed by 48 percent saying the text and videos did not convince them a project would be completed successfully.

Interestingly, 39 percent said the project idea was interesting but they lacked confidence in an unproven developer -- almost as many as those who said it wasn't important that a developer previously shipped titles.

Pricing a game seems as important on Kickstarter as in retail and digital markets. One third said they declined to fund a project because a game was not available at a low enough reward tier. While no specific price was polled, 55 percent of respondents stated the game perk should be less than the final (retail) sale price followed by 36 percent who felt it should at least be the same.

Reinforcing how essential a copy of the game as a perk was, 26 percent declined funding a project because the game itself was not part of rewards. Finally, 29 percent felt rewards were not interesting, suggesting that contributors were looking for something to compel them to invest beyond the project itself.

The above chart illustrates roughly three clusters of perks respondents felt were important beyond a downloadable copy of the game. Rather than tangible or collectible perks, people chose the "behind the scenes/making-of information/documentary" perk as second only to the game itself. This further suggests that respondents value word-of-mouth -- in this case, the developer's experiences while making the game.


The Influence of External Sources

Contrary to the magic many find with social media, the data suggests word-of-mouth is more influential than any other external source that leads respondents to Kickstarter projects. However, gaming journalists and bloggers can breathe a sigh of relief, as respondents value their opinions only slightly less than word-of-mouth.

Rated on a four-prong scale, from not influential to completely influential, word-of-mouth was the highest rated factor, being completely influential to 19 percent and very influential to another 40 percent. A gaming website/blog was rated completely influential to 13 percent, with an additional 46 percent feeling it was very influential.

Community forums and the act of browsing Kickstarter were less influential. The majority (at 40 percent) felt forums were only somewhat influential, and 42 percent felt the same way for Kickstarter.

Finally, social media ranks as being the least influential external sources. Reddit posts were chosen as not influential to 66 percent; Facebook posts, 55 percent; an email, 55 percent; and a Twitter message, 48 percent.

Respondents were free to interpret the sources of social media messages to be from whomever they choose. The results suggest that even important tweets, Facebook posts, and emails may get drowned in the noise of several (ineffective) messages compared to communication from friends or journalists.

Incidentally, 81 percent of respondents chose word-of-mouth as one way they mention projects they pledge to, with every other way trailing far behind:

These next charts show a disparity between how many projects respondents pledged to and how many of those projects respondents mentioned to others. One can conclude pledgers do not promote all of the projects they back.

When it comes to how much respondents contribute per project on average, the majority (47 percent) chose the $10.00 to $24.99 range, followed by $25.00 to $49.99 (at 23 percent). Regarding their interest in future Kickstarter projects, 61 percent feel about the same and 29 percent are more interested than before, suggesting interest overall has not waned for the crowdfunding site.

The Big Spenders

The majority of "big spenders," defined here as pledging $50 or more on average, are 31-40 years old and have a higher salary than the majority. Big spenders ranked perks mostly similarly to the majority. However, they ranked physical copies as the second most important perk.

This data may suggest that big spenders donate more because they make more, they are from a generation where boxed video games were more prevalent, or both.

The desire for boxed games seems evident in how the big spenders evaluate projects, too. Big spenders value these limited edition perks more than small spenders.

Big spenders also have more favorable funding rates in the past six months, notably in funding 10-plus projects.

Tapping into big spenders may require knowing what turns them off of a project. Here, 69 percent refused to fund a given project because the text and video were not interesting, while 48 percent feared it would not be completed successfully.

Finally, there is no evidence of nepotism in relation to big spenders and those who create Kickstarter projects. Around 76 percent are neither friends nor relatives and only 23 percent are friends of someone who created a project.

In conclusion, big spenders seem fair game for everyone willing to cater to their inclinations.


Battle of the Operating Systems

Whereas sites such as Humble Bundle have publicized the pledging trends of groups based on operating systems, Kickstarter and its project creators have not and cannot, since OSes are generally lumped in one perk level. For this section, data was separated into OS-specific groups and a Linux/Linux+PC group (since Linux-only excluded 82 percent of all Linux users). This group is labeled in the charts as "Linux+nonMac."

Of all respondents, 2 percent used only Linux, 69 percent used only Windows, 6 percent used only Mac, and 7 percent used Linux or Linux+PC.

Of particular note, Mac users were most willing to pay more than the final purchase price for a downloadable copy of a game. Linux-only users most preferred to pay less, and no Linux-only users wished to pay more.

Regarding average pledges, Windows users had the highest percent of $100-plus pledges, and Mac users had the highest percent of $50-plus pledges. Linux-only users did not pledge above $50, and Linux/Linux+PC users pledged the least amount above $50.

Finally, Linux-only users were the largest percent pledging to 10-plus projects in the last six months, followed by Mac users.

Mac users were also the group to least likely fund zero projects, suggesting they rather strongly want to support Mac-compatible game development.

Based on this data, there appeared to be no clear champion of Kickstarter projects. Each operating system-based group had different tendencies to suggest how it chooses to support. Linux users supported the greatest number of projects, Windows users had the highest average of pledges, and Mac users were the most willing to pay extra for the perk that includes a downloadable game.

Conclusion and Further Study

This survey received completed responses from 1,445 individuals, resulting in a 91 percent completion rate. As shown in the data, the motivation to pledge to Kickstarter projects largely comes from spoken suggestion. It is also the most common way in which respondents tell others about the projects to which they pledge.

Developers also may want to use their words (and proof of concepts) adequately to earn pledges. Respondents expressed the two main reasons they don't pledge are when the text and videos failed to ignite interest or instill trust that the projects would be completed.

While many trends surfaced from the majority and subsets of data, this Kickstarter survey is not an exhaustive look at how people pledge to Kickstarter gaming projects. For one, the survey was largely advertised by Gamasutra and IndieGames sites and social media; the former caters to business- and development-oriented individuals and the latter caters to independent game fans. This survey did not record traffic sources, so a broader-reaching survey may be more representative.

A few respondents expressed concern about interpreting the question: "Should a perk level be less, the same, or more than the game's final sale price?" This should have been interpreted as "Should the perk that includes a copy of the game be less, the same or more as the game's final sale price?" Fortunately, the survey included another question that mostly gets at the issue, "Have you ever considered but ultimately decided not to fund a Kickstarter project?" with "Game was not available at a low enough reward tier," as a possible reason.

For the operating system comparison, a future survey could have users select their predominant operating system rather than picking multiple OSes.

A survey regarding one or more specific projects with thousands of supporters could provide different insight, where reactions can be attributed to specific examples. A future survey could also explore the more recently predominant stretch goals.

Finally, this researcher would like to have asked about beta- or alpha-related perks. The Minecraft model suggests charging less (as a means of incentive) when people purchase a game earlier in development. However, Kickstarter perks with beta/alpha access are often set higher than a final digital copy. It would be interesting to learn people's reactions to these differences.

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