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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Crowd-Funding – Some Ideas to Make Your Fundraiser Successful.

I’ve been involved with the freeware and indie developers for some years now, and one thing’s for certain – as soon as money gets involved, everything becomes a whole lot more complicated!  There is of course no absolutely sure-fire way to have a successful crowd-funding campaign (unless you have an already famous name in your field, perhaps).  However from what I’ve observed in tracking many Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns, and what seems to have made the most impact, here are 12 suggestions that should help – depending on your project some may apply more than others, but I think this is a reasonably comprehensive guide to the basics:

1          Have a video in which you make a personal appearance!

One of the key aspects of funding campaigns that appeals to people is that they’re helping a person, or people, to fulfill their dreams.  Make sure your potential funders can see that there’s a real person behind this game.  It’s so much easier to identify with a person than a studio name!  Also, although the project itself is of course vital, many numbers are funding the person / people just as much, if not more, than the game itself.

2          Don’t be afraid to be very specific, even if you think it makes you sound daft.

Why are you making this game?  Your reasons might seem inconsequential or even a little absurd to you – “I always wondered what a platform game would be like with RPG stats” etc sort of absurd – but you know what?  You may not be the only person in the world who’s ever wondered that / always wanted to have a game that had a particular feature that you’ve never seen before – and that may be what convinces someone to fund you.

3          Have some gameplay footage.

Your only actual gameplay footage is something with horrible pre-alpha graphics.  So what?  Show it anyway – make sure you point out anything that isn’t final quality of course – because it proves two things to potential backers – 1 – that the game is actually in development and not just a bunch of concepts and pretty pictures, and 2 – that the team making the game actually have the required skills to make something that looks vaguely like a game.  Of course, if you can have a video of a small section of the game in as near a finished state as possible, that’s even better – but an early proof of concept with placeholder aesthetics is a lot better than nothing.  (This step is less important if you have a proven track record of making games and an existing fan base, although still useful – but absolutely essential if you are a new developer.) 

Even if you have a playable demo available, I’d put some gameplay footage up – more people are likely to view a 1 / 2 minute video than actually download and play your demo.

4          Having trouble getting the word out?  Don’t be afraid to email game sites / blogs a second time.

One of the things I constantly hear from indie devs is that they send out emails to literally hundreds of gaming sites and blogs, and only get a response from a tiny handful – typically less than ten!  The odd game gets picked up by one of the big sites and suddenly their fundraiser begins to fly, but that doesn’t happen the vast majority of the time.

The trouble is, there are so many games coming out, and so many funding campaigns starting, that many will simply be missed – especially by the bigger sites.  After a week or two, if you’ve heard nothing, don’t be afraid to try again, starting your email with something like “Apologies for sending this again but I’m not sure if my first email got through”.  Many indies I’ve talked to seem to feel that the lack of response indicates a rejection or simply a complete lack of interest on the part of the recipient – this is not necessarily the case.

In truth many sites and game journalists don’t want to cover funding campaigns, but I don’t think it can hurt to try again if you get no response.  Maybe it won’t help, but it can’t hurt to try, right?

5/        Find other ways to get the word out.

Forums are places where people with specific interests tend to group together.  So if you have a fundraiser for a strategy game that’s not doing very well, guess where the best place to tell people about it might be?  That’s right, strategy game forums.

However a word of caution should be added – registering on a forum, making one post, and in that post simply advertising your own game is almost always viewed very negatively - each forum has its own set of rules and expectations.  So if possible, start an account and become an active member of the community before you think about posting about your own game – and when you do try to approach it with a humble attitude, “I don’t know if any of you would be interested in my game that I’m trying to fund…” etc, rather than a brash “Hey I’m making this fantastic game that you really must try out!).

6/        Don’t forget social networking.

Similar to the above really.  Never underestimate the power of word of mouth publicity.  Be generous with your attempts to help other developers too, and get involved in discussions not directly related to your game from time to time – not many people are going to like a poster on Twitter who only ever talks about their own project, for instance.

7/        Build a Fan Base First.

If you’re thinking about doing a fundraiser in the future, think about what you could do now to establish a fan base ready to pitch your new game to.  Release a freeware game that’s a prequel to, or scaled down version of, the game you plan to get funded?  If the main game is a long way off but you have a mini-game planned for it already working, could you modify that to release as a stand-alone game?  Can you get a community established based around the game world you plan to set your new game in – free ebooks, concept art, short stories, etc?

8/       Borrow a Fan Base.

I am NOT saying rip off other titles here, but if your game has a lot in common with the old Sierra adventure games, or a shooter like Cybernoid or R-Type – or whatever – don’t be afraid to introduce your game as “A shoot-em-up in development reminiscent of R-Type” etc.  You are making your game appeal to an already-existing fan base, and that could do wonders for your fundraiser.

For instance… what do you think would attract more attention, “A 2D RPG in production” or  “A Zelda-style RPG in production”?  If the exact same game was looking for fundraising, I can guarantee you that it would get more exposure using the second description.

(I must mention that this idea was first brought to my attention in a presentation about getting your game mentioned in the gaming press, given by indie dev Lewis Denby at Adventure-X 2012 – it’s something that hadn’t occurred to me before, but was so obvious once he’d said it.)

9/        Got funders already?  Keep them updated – regularly!

Even if there’s not too much going on, or it’s all tricky dev stuff that wouldn’t make interesting reading, post regular updates on Kickstarter etc.  I just saw a project that was funded 3 months ago, and who have not posted anything since.  It seemed to me that a few people are starting to wonder whether they’ve been conned… (I’m not saying the dev team aren’t working on the game of course, but if they don’t update… how are their backers to know what’s going on?)

10/     Don’t make silly claims you probably won’t be able to keep.

This is going to be the biggest, baddest, best space shoot-em-up ever made!”  Hmm… it might be very good in fact, but if you make daft claims about how fantastic your game (and by extension you) are, you’re setting yourself up for a (probably quite nasty) fall.  Talk about your hopes, dreams, aspirations (“our goal is to make a game that will considered among the best of its genre”) but don’t tell everyone your game is going to be fantastic, because no-one likes a big head, some are probably going to hope you fail and enjoy it if you do, and you will probably put off potential funders who will feel that you have already made claims that you cannot possibly substantiate, so why should they believe the rest of what you say?

11/      Be transparent about what you need the money for.

You’re asking people to give you money – it’s only fair that you let them know what you intend to do with it!  Some people will be more likely to fund a project when they know exactly how the money will be used.  This is less important for small fundraisers, but when you’re asking for tens of thousands of dollars, it’s a pretty big deal.

12/      Be creative with your incentives.

Getting the balance right between not having too few perks and not having an overwhelming number is tricky, and this depends on the size of the project and the type of perk available – but generally between 6 and 12 seems to be a good number.  Play to your strengths, offer at least one or two fairly unique perks – in-game features are very popular with some, a thank you on a website or game credits are often welcome, one of a kind items can be good – but try to keep some low-value perks that only require something to be sent by email or made available to download, you don’t want to have to raise a lot of extra money just to pay for the perks for raising money in the first place!

I’ve never understood why some games don’t offer a pre-order of the game as one of the perks – typically most perks are based around this plus maybe other items.  I haven’t studied this in detail but I’d guess that around 60% of all backers choose the perk that simply acts as a pre-order for the game. 

If you’re planning a fundraiser for a game that will actually be released for free (or at least free-to-play even if there are in-app purchases), you really need to work the exclusive features – “have your likeness in the game”, “voice a character in the game”, “design a boss”, etc.

Reality Check

2,531 games have been successfully funded on Kickstarter.  Sounds good, right?  Well, look at the other side – 4,677 games have failed to reach their funding goal.  Of those, 3667 reached less than 20% of their funding goal.  Only 35.11% of game project Kickstarters have been successful.  So don’t take anything for granted – it’s certainly possibly to successfully fund your game with crowd-funding, but it’s by no means guaranteed.   If you're going to give it a shot, I wish you every success!  

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