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Beyond crowdfunding: Chris Roberts urges you to turn backers into fans

Beyond crowdfunding: Chris Roberts urges you to turn backers into fans

November 6, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

When it comes to running a crowdfunding campaign, Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts -- who's helmed the most successful one over, with over $26 million raised so far -- used his GDC Next presentation to make sure game developers don't miss the real point:

"It's not just about raising money.... this is the mistake I see a lot of other campaigns make. The best thing about crowdfunding is that you get to build your community early."

"It's very important to aggregate the people who are interested in your kind of game," he says. Roberts wasn't even sure, after a decade away from games, how many people were interested either in him or the space sim genre.

He knows now: hundreds of thousands.

But to keep that community engaged and to bring in newcomers is not simple or trivial. Roberts offers some advice:

"Make sure you are meeting the demands of your community." "The community are very good at telling you actually how they want to support you, help you, and give you more money," he says, and you should listen to them. In exchange you should let them "experience the journey of making the game alongside you."

"Build your own site." "It allows you to have complete control over the medium and message," Roberts says. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are "good for finding or initially building a community," says Roberts, but not managing an ongoing one. There's also an advantage in that they cross-promote projects to engaged potential backers. But beyond that, they're a disadvantage: "it's not necessarily great for interacting with your growing community," says Roberts, and "once your campaign is over, that's it. If new people come to the party, how do you get them to join?"

Offer them upgrades and perks a la carte. One big pivot for Star Citizen, says Roberts, is that the community wanted to collect starships. Initially, starships were tiered rewards, but now backers can simply buy them, and accrue more and more.

"We found people were making multiple pledges at different levels... to collect the starships," he says. "We went to the community... Selling add-on spaceships was the number one request, and we never would have discovered that or been able to pivot to that on Kickstarter."

"You can pivot much quicker than a big publisher can," says Roberts. "You get rewarded when you do that."

Involve players, take them with you. Roberts draws an important distinction: "There's the game that people are going to be playing, and the one they'll have watching the game get built. The dream is the final game, but the journey is a lot of fun."

Roberts' team publishers a monthly newsletter of 40-50 pages with mostly behind-the-scenes info, as well as daily a daily blog with 8 to 10 posts every day, including in-universe fiction updates as well as behind-the-scenes material and fan-made content.

"We try to make backing fun," says Roberts. "We create events around new content reveals. Spaceships, everybody loves spaceships... we build elabroate in-fiction commercials, in-fiction brochures," he says, and trailers that are "very much like car commercials" for each one, which helps sell them to the fans.

Continuing your campaign allows you to bring in new (paying) fans. "A lot of these events continue to drive new members," says Roberts. "As far as we are concerned we've never stopped our campaign. We have more people and more money coming in than we ever did at the beginning of the campaign."

Roberts' most successful funding month was October 2013, a year after the campaign originally launched. "We think it's because we share and continue to push out information about the game," he says. "We have a community that is highly engaged... already building clans and squadrons... and we continually bring in new people."

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