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So, just recently, I was asked to give a 90 min lecture in my home city regarding crowdfunding after managing to run a successful campaign myself in mid 2012. The lecture is pretty long, but I'll include the video at the end in case anyone's interested in sitting through the whole thing. If not, I was also asked to write a shortened version of it for people to read, so I thought I'd share it here.
Keep in mind this whole lecture purely relates to my own experience with crowdfunding and not to that of others, but I hope that any prospective crowdfunding applicants can get something useful out of it!
Hi, my name is Alex Norton, and in mid 2012 I ran a successful crowd-funding campaign for my procedural RPG, Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox, earning over 500% of my requested total. How did I do it? Well, I'll tell you – but it's not an exact science. The best I can do is to give you what advice I can.
First of all, why did I even look into crowd-funding? Many campaigns you see on places such as Kickstarter are looking to fund an entire project – sometimes asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars to do this. To me, that seems a bit much, particularly given that all that is offered up on these campaigns are some design drawings and an empassioned speech by a director of some sort. My tact was different. I already had a product, but a rough one. It worked, but wasn't as pretty as it could be. To make your project pretty is often the part that takes up most of your money, so that's what I looked to crowd-funding for. Polish is often what makes or breaks a product. No matter how impressive something is technically, without the right shine it just becomes hard to "sell" to an audience.
In addition to polish, crowd-funding my game gave me an insight into its market viability. Would it sell? Is the idea sound? How will the public react to it? All of these questions and more were answered purely based on the social response that my project got on the network, and on blog sites that talked about it. So that's another angle for you to look at.
The first time I attempted crowd-funding, however, didn't go so well. I made up a video for my product, slapped together a few screen- shots and gameplay videos and left it there for a month on IndieGoGo, expecting to find the account full of money at the end of it.
Needless to say, the excersise was fruitless. Not only did it get to barely an eighth of what I needed financially, it copped a fair amount of negative publicity, which put me to thinking.
Now please, don't get me wrong, the fault for this lay with me entirely. IndieGoGo is a fantastic site (and available for use by people in Australia) but my strategy for running my campaign was entirely wrong. So I took the lessons I learned from it and made the move to Kickstarter via one of the American members of my team.
After doing significant research on other, more successful, crowd-funded projects, I came to the following conclusions:
- Communication is key! Talk to your pledgers and potential customers. Answer their questions when they have them and keep them engaged.
- It all comes down to how you sell your product, and how you sell yourself and your team as people.
- Be aware of your target audience and gear every little thing you do towards them and only them.
- Market your campaign. Send links to blogs, reviewers, journals, magazines and spread it across social networks. Get traffic to it.
- Be willing to put in the hours that it takes to make regular updates, answer all questions and keep the customer engaged at all times.
On top of this, I decided to change my tactics to include the following:
- Show the customer that the project is being made by people. Good quality, friendly, nice people. If they like you, they'll be more inclined to like what you're selling.
- Don't just show them why your product is special. Show them why it's special to YOU, and why it should be special to THEM.
- When you're selling your product, you should also be selling the people making it. It makes the customer feel a part of something, rather than a simple ‘browse and buy' scenario.
- Write lots of updates. At LEAST 3 per week. Show them you're working at it. Show them how dedicated you are. Try and use video where possible. People respond to video. Get your best speaker onto it.
- Talk to the pledgers, not just as someone who answers questions, but really engage them in conversation. Show them you're real.
So after doing all that, I had an interesting campaign. It took work, to do all that, I won't lie, and that's something you have to be prepared to do. It'll be more work than you think it will be, too. So, for the month that your campaign is running, prepare to turn away friends and family, to decline invitations and to tell everyone to leave you alone. If this project really means that much to you, then you need to be willing to dedicate your life to it for a month.
I did this myself, and the response was massive. My project was fully funded within the first week, and after that it just kept climbing and climbing. I had to move on to add stretch goals quite quickly, which was something I'll admit I had not planned for, but when it comes to crowd-funding, you never know what might happen, so you have to be prepared for not only the worst, but the best, too!
Once it was all over and done with, I had the aftermath to deal with, which was another thing I wasn't expecting. It's not as simple as all that. To suddenly go from being a penniless developer to having all that cash sitting there… It's a hard thing to be responsible and look after it properly, but you must. Don't go nuts with it as some people have done in the past. Be responsible, be well-managed and you'll reap the benefits of it.
Another thing you'll have to deal with is the public hatred. Yes, it's strange, but some people don't like to see other people succeed, and if you happen to have a particularly successful campaign, some people will hate you for it. They will make you feel terrible, but trust me when I say that it's best to just ignore them. If you've handled your campaign as I stated above then you'll have a vast and loyal following behind not only your product, but you as well, and they'll always make you feel welcome!
Not all campaigns work though, and it's not always your own fault, or because your product is a bad one. Sometimes the planets just don't want to align for you, and that's alright, too. If that happens, it is definitely worth your time to analyze the wreckage and find out what could have been done better, so that you don't make repeat mistakes next time. That information is PRICELESS, I cannot stress enough. A failure is only a failure if you fail to learn from it. Remember that. You can always try again.
So, what would some last-minute advice be to a potential crowd-funder? The following is the best I can offer:
- Just because you CAN crowd-fund, doesn't necessarily mean you SHOULD. Make sure your product has GOTTEN somewhere first, otherwise jumping into a crowd-funding situation can bring some pretty nasty PR down on your project.
- Don't do it unless you're prepared to deal with it. I cannot stress to you just how much work it is if you do it right, and that is something that you really have to be ready for. PROPERLY ready for.
- Be sure to market your campaign EVERYWHERE. Don't rely on people to just happen across it one day. Spread the word EVERYWHERE. Don't be shy about it!
So that's all for now! This is a cut-down version of this topic, but for the full version, feel free to watch the video at the link below. I wish you all the best in your campaign and your projects! Good luck!
[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.]