The current Kickstarter landscape is crowded with spectacular successes and a fair share of dashed hopes. Launching your own funding project can feel like a formidable task. How do you do it?
We talked to four indie teams who got their games funded with Kickstarter. The teams and their games are very different from one another, but it turned out there were strong commonalities in their approach to Kickstarter. We hope their tips will be helpful and their experience encouraging to any of you thinking about launching your own Kickstarter projects. Read on to hear from the customers themselves!
Don’t start with Kickstarter. Make a game first. Make lots of games, or a demo or trailer, and share your work as much as you can.
The customers we talked to all had solid games development experience behind them by the time they launched their Kickstarter projects. Some had even released their games. They had communities and networks of people interested in their work. They carefully thought through and prototyped their ideas long before launching on Kickstarter so that they had high-quality content ready to show potential backers and press.
Chicago-based Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy are co-founders of Cardboard Computer. They launched a Kickstarter project for their game Kentucky Route Zero in January of 2011. Jake had been developing games for years, and one of his projects, "A House in California" was a finalist for the Nuovo Award in the 2011 Independent Games Festival (IGF).
“It helped me a lot that I had been publishing games for a while. It’s been really important for me to work on small projects and to publish my stuff as much as I can”, he says.
It took Jake and Tamas five months to create the Kentucky Route Zero trailer for their Kickstarter project. “We wanted something very concrete. We made a concept trailer, it was a ton of work, but very useful, because we nailed down the aesthetic”.
The game Back to Bed had already been released in 2012 by the Danish National Academy of Digital, Interactive Entertainment (DADIU). Then, in February of this year, two new studios founded by some of the former students who worked on the first Back to Bed game launched a Kickstarter project.
“Our game was so far along in the process so we weren’t looking to integrate all new features”, says Back to Bed project manager Klaus Pedersen. “We went to Kickstarter to cover the final stretch of production for a new version. The core gameplay was already done. We needed the funding mainly for the Unity Pro licenses so we could polish, tweak and release on multiple platforms”.
Copenhagen-based Logic Artists successfully funded their RPG Expeditions: Conquistador in September of this year. They also created a high-quality demo but released it late into their Kickstarter project. Although the timing of the demo wasn’t perfect, once it went live it gave their project a critical advantage.
“It was really important for us to show people what we could do”, says producer Ali Emek. His colleague game designer Jonas Waever says “For us it showed how important it is to finish a demo and release it. It can be small, but make it polished, put it up for download and say to backers that you need money to finish this game”.
Find the unique hook in your game that will attract potential backers.
As Klaus from the Back to Bed team says, “I think backers are savvier – they want to see quality and have a playable prototype. They want to back things out of the ordinary, daring and creatively risky projects”.
Jake and Tamas made it clear to backers that music would play a key role in their game, with a sizable chunk of their funding going to pay the band upfront. The original bluegrass-inspired soundtrack and multilayered “magic-realist” look and narrative helped make Kentucky Route Zero a critics’ darling shortly after its release late last year.
Aaron Rasmussen and Michael T. Astolfi are the U.S.-based team behind the game BlindSide. They got funded in December of 2011, and released their game in May 2012. BlindSide is based on Aaron’s experience of being temporarily blinded following a high school chemistry accident. On their Kickstarter page they describe their game as a “survival/horror adventure game with no graphics at all. Navigate a 3D world using only your ears and what's between them.”
“We prototyped our idea really quickly and tested out core game play within 24 hours”, says Michael. Aaron adds, “At the minimum we had to say ‘yes, this game is going to be fun and it’s something we want to pursue’”.
“Supporters found Aaron’s story fascinating and we used that to create an interesting and unique game experience”, continues Michael. “Our idea of audio-based virtual reality with a mobile device presented them with a whole new experience they hadn’t had before”.
Polished content increases your chances of attention from industry bloggers, news sites and organizations—attention you can leverage in your Kickstarter campaign.
The first version of Back to Bed got a lot of critical praise, including nominations at both Nordic Indie Game Night 2012 and Unity Awards 2012. The game also won in the Student Showcase at IGF 2013. All of this recognition gave the Kickstarter drive a huge advantage. They could share the accolades with their backers and get extra coverage for their Kickstarter project on sites such as Polygon and Gamasutra.
Jonas at Logic Artists says that shortly after releasing their demo, they featured a video of people playing it at their booth at the Gamescom expo.
“It was a fully playable demo with a fair bit of polish”, he says. “It was the biggest boost for us when we could show the Gamescom video, because at the time nobody knew who we were”.
Catch Part II next Friday: spreading the word, budgeting, and using Kickstarter to find the people that will care about your work