In 2018 I ran a small but successful Kickstarter campaign. In the months and weeks running up to the campaign I did ALOT of research; checking how descriptions were laid out, analysing the wording that was used in the videos, checking price points, every small bit I had control over even down to the image used if people clicked on my profile.
My campaign only just scraped through, for most of it I was below target.
Other crowd funding websites are available, I just happened to use Kickstarter. For most points if you are using a different one in your mind just replace the word “Kickstarter” with the one you are using.
So I present to you,
Brought to you by bullet points to save us both time!
- Story: I estimate that before the campaign I spent well over 300 hours getting
ready: collecting notes on what I wanted in the description, making gifs for the description, writing E-mails that will be dispatched during the campaign, putting together contact lists, putting scripts together, setting up a place to film, filming, showing people, re-filming... etc etc. The list goes on. (And the vast majority of that time was just research.)
- Tip: I picked campaign dates so I would cover two month ends (when most people get paid), it didn't seem to help but I would still do this again in the future.
- Mistake: I didn't have a demo. I was shown the daily conversions for a game who released a demo in the middle of their campaign and you can see a dramatic improvement after the demo.
- Mistake: I didn't contact any press/streamers before the start
- Mistake: I didn't start building a community before Kickstarter because I thought Kickstarter would make the community.
- Tip: My mistakes combined to be worse than the sum of it's parts, I didn't have a demo so I couldn't give review copies to the press (they are well used to putting out an article on a particular date).
- Story: Once I had filmed my part to the camera I thought I was finished and could just edit it all together, however when I showed people they had changes I should make. The next day I put on all the same clothes and waited until it was the same time so the lighting would be identical and rerecorded the last take. However I left the door open, you wouldn't have though it would change anything but the audio went from sounding like a small cubical to a whole echoey auditorium. This took me about 4 days of audio editing to make it sound like it was still one cut.
- Story: I sent out 110 hand crafted unique E-mails and got 3 replies; for these E-mails I researched the receiver, made sure it fit in with their content, found their name and tried to speak to them and show I knew them, sometimes I wrote lots (basically wrote them their article) sometimes I kept it really short and punchy, sometimes I tried to make it funny, sometimes I tried something unusual.
- Mistake: I started my campaign far too early, I was competing against games that looked like they were basically finished using their campaign more as a marketing tool and a way of getting pre-pre-sales.
- Story: I was funded with 1 day to spare, however donations from the Kickstarter website dried up after this, I'm pretty sure they remove you from the Almost There page and all other places they advertise you because Kickstarter now know they are going to get their cut.
- Tip: You can do announcements on Kickstarter, write out your first one before the campaign starts! You can then post this a day or two after you launch when most people are looking. They are a great place to put information for people who want further reading or are on the fence about giving money. If someone is not interested in the product you can’t win them over, however the announcements will be read by people who are undecided or love the product.
- Story: My top tier pledge level was $200 of which I set to have a quantity of 4... This was sold 9 times and refunded 6 times. I don't know if this was by people with other campaigns wanting me to back them, people who wanted to reserve a copy to think about it, people who wanted it but were strapped for cash or just trolls.
- Tip: Have an image of yourself – For most smaller campaigns people will already be untrusting. I think the best way you can show someone that their money is safe with you is to show your face. I do believe if the viewer can see you are a real human they are more likely to make a connection with you and want to help you out.
- Info: Just under half of the funding came from people browsing Kickstarter, this has been the same for me and 3 other games that shared their stats with me (two much bigger than mine and one smaller). It makes me wonder if Kickstarter adjust the amount they advertise you depending on the amount of backers you can find yourself. It's hard to say with a dataset of 4, but it is weird that all those campaigns of vastly different sizes all had about 40% of funding come from Kickstarter.
- Info: BY A LONG WAY MOST PEOPLE PLEDGED IN THE FIRST 4 AND LAST 4 DAYS!
- Tip: Find niche places to market. I posted on a whole bunch of Facebook groups, sub Reddits, Forums that were for promoting games, but the places that performed the best were often smaller groups for space games or multiplayer games.
- Story: I spent £60 on Google Adverts and got £20 back in backers... not a good return on investment.
- Mistake: For Those Not Running a crowd funding campaign: TALK TO PEOPLE WHEN THEY HAVE A CAMPAIGN GOING BAD! Even I have found myself guilty of this. In the back of your mind you think “I don’t want to embarrass them by pointing out their campaign is failing”. However it can be very isolating with everyone thinking this and sometimes you just need to be a sounding board for their thoughts.
- Info: Luck! Seriously! The chances that you dispatch an E-mail when a journalist happens to be between tasks that are more important to them, and they just happen to feel in a clicky mood and follow a link and they think the kind of content you are offering is timely for their audience. Or you launch that Tweet at just the right second so someone sees it and shares it with their friends, 5 seconds later and they don’t scroll down enough, 5 seconds earlier and another Tweet is in your place.
- Tip: Kickstarter campaigns don't have to be 30 days long, you are advised to make them 30 days but they can be 60 days max. I went with a longer one to include some school holiday, 3 public holidays and 2 month ends (when most people get paid) however none of this seemed to have a great impact.
- Info: I couldn't see any difference between funding on weekends or weekdays. (though I only have a small dataset)
- Story: It took days of work to make it look like I casually sat down and recorded the video one day. But in reality each sentence had 20+ takes on.
- Info: Considering so many games sell thousands of digital keys on Kickstarter you would expect they would have a method to distribute those. But nope. So you will have to spend some of your precious time working out how to E-mail out a unique key to each person. (they do have fantastic exports for backers data and the ability to message someone individually, however it’s still a problem for those who can’t reasonably dispatch them by hand.)
- Tip: If you have done campaigns or successful projects in the past LIST THEM! Again people need to know they are putting their money with someone that knows what they are doing.
- Story: Once my campaign started it basically became a full time job where every day had mandatory overtime.
- Info: I got the “Projects We Love” tag about 2 days into the project without me doing anything.
- Tip: I put “recommended” in the title of my $25 bundle. This one was overwhelmingly bought more than any other bundle and I think helped squeeze a little more money out of the people who would have bought a lower tier.
- Info: Kickstarter doesn’t build a community, you need to have one there before hand, but it will turn a small community into a decent sized one.
- Info: It's shocking how little time is spent reading the description, images get information across quicker than words so anything that can be turned into an image should be (or just condensed down to bullet points)
- Tip: Even though I just said people don't spend long reading don't be afraid to have long descriptions. As long as the quality is high and the sales pitch is good people will keep reading until they have made a decision about buying the game or not buying the game. If the customer reads to the end and feels like there wasn't enough information to make the decision they are more likely to lean away from buying it.
- Tip: I didn't link from my Kickstarter page to my Steam page because I didn't want people to leave before cashing in.
- Tip: I made sure I had a Steam Store page live before Kickstarter for anyone who did want to look up the game for additional information.
- Story: I put an announcement on my Steam page (that was basically uninhabited) with just a text link and still got 10 pledges from that, which is a fantastic conversion rate. If I had of been more on the ball I could have really shouted about it with images and forum posts and links in the description because it's obvious Steam have high value customers who are likely to pay.
- Tip: Public Holidays were bad for me. I picked a period with 3 in because I thought customers would be idly scrolling the internet at home but one of the bank holidays I had zero backers.
- Story: I didn't get a silver bullet for finding backers. To massively simplify I got: 5% funding from Twitter, 5% from Steam, 5% from Reddit, 5% from streamer 1, 5% from streamer 2, 5% from article 1, 5% from article 2. And while each one doesn't seem like much they soon add up. Just under half of the funding came from Kickstarter visitors.
- Story: “Heartbreak weekend” This was what I called the weekend where I had my first $200 pledge back out. It was a low point because I needed to be at about 60% funded but was only at 40% funded. Pledges were coming in slow at this point and it took me about 3 days to get the $200 back.
- Tip: Kickstarter give you links (called tags) to know where people found you from. Use these to make sure you are optimising the ones that are converting well. (and optimise the ones that are converting badly even better).
- Info: The Kickstarter website locks the description once the campaign is over, so make sure before the end you edit it to look exactly how you want. Add any social links or links to Steam you might want for the future.
- Story: I made sure all my rewards were digital; name in the game, designing a spaceship, achievement named after them. If I got a huge following I didn't want the last month of development to basically be like a factory sending out t-shirts, or worse only just scraping through and having to source all these items for single digit numbers of people.
- Info: Backers get charged at the end of the campaign.
- Info: It took a month from the end of my campaign for the money to be in my account.
- Tip: Kickstarter use the image you provide everywhere, this is a massive part of your sales pitch. Make sure you get your key concept across in your image.
- Tip: Give backers a reason to get in now rather than waiting for Early Access or Full release.
- Info: Kickstarter performs really well in search engines. For a long time it was the top hit on Google and still rates in the top 3.
- Story: Expos, a big expo was on during my campaign, I often regret not going as I do think this would have helped, however I have to remind myself that they eat up a lot of time. Maybe if I had of put my time into organising an event I would have had less to spend in other areas and been less successful.
- Mistake: Talk to people! It doesn’t matter if it is going good or bad, Not as a sales pitch but be open with other developers or people in your community. Say “jeez my campaign isn’t going well this week, I’m below target, do you have any thoughts?” Even I am guilty of being too uncomfortable to go and talk to someone with a campaign running below target. But from experience know that is when they most want opinions from people around them.
The only qualification I have to write this is one tiny but successful Kickstarter campaign that I worked far too hard on and had luck behind me to get it to succeed.