Ah Kickstarter, it’s got lovers and it’s got haters. A crowdfunding platform that made a hell of a splash in the independent game development industry in its initial few years, Kickstarter has since become a battleground for backers and developers alike.
The truth of the matter is game development grants are incredibly difficult to come by in the saturated indie market nowadays. Indie game investors are similarly scant and there are more than enough horror stories of game funding sites taking advantage of exhausted developers. Kickstarter, then, still stands as an enticing method of grabbing some cash together for your big break in gaming.
If you’ve been hit with that initial spark of inspiration then it’s likely you can’t wait to get your name out there and start bringing home the bacon. Let me be the one to tell you this, that won’t happen. Instead, follow our simple and easy steps to funding your indie game on Kickstarter.
1. Write A Design Document
If you haven’t already done so, get that design document down. Everything you already know about your project should go straight on the page, down to every asset, level, narrative arc, character, and powerup ability. The stronger your design document, the simpler it will be to not only construct your Kickstarter campaign but to also engage backers that understand where you’re coming from and trust you with their cash.
It’s not all about the backers though. Your design document will form a map of exactly how much work needs to be done, and how much money you need to aim to raise. On top of this, you can begin to compartmentalise just where each section of funding will need to go – your backers will respect this attention to detail later on. Your design document will also be crucial to any further game development grants or indie game funding applications you complete so keep it updated.
TIP: Remember to factor Kickstarter’s fees into your goal and budget
TIP: Find a middle ground for your release estimate but remember that this will almost definitely take much longer than you think now. Add some extra time for your funding to hit your bank account and you’ll be good to go. Make sure you don’t go too far in the future though, if your project is set to finish years in the future then hold off on the campaign for now, no one’s going to back something they might not be alive still to see.
TIP: Don’t overshoot on your design, err on the side of caution to remain conservative
2. Target Market Research
Dive straight into the community to find out the ways of the backer. Grab a magnifying glass and explore genre forums, hashtags, and blogs to decipher exactly who your audience is, and what they want from a game project. Don’t tailor your game to the desires of others, though, this is your creation – however noting what players found frustrating about similar genres, or what they would have liked to see at certain points of a different game can give you an incredibly marketing leg up later.
The importance of knowing your demographic is also undeniably crucial to a Kickstarter campaign. Do you want to appeal to a 40+ age range with your nostalgic port, or is it the 15-30 age range that seems to enjoy first person shooters and RPGs more that you need behind you? Defining this market will even dictate the social media channels you eventually use to promote your page, so pay attention to everything your demographic is engaging with.
TIP: Consider looking at sites like Quora to see what questions players are asking about certain games and aim to make these elements clear in your own title – frustration is the main player killer
3. Scope The Competition
Remember this target market also has numerous other developers in exactly the same position as you screaming for their attention. Check out successful pages and note down their design choices, reward structures, levels of interaction, and standard of screenshots / video content to replicate in your own project. Pay your respects to the failed Kickstarter pages and work out what not to do.
There are several aspects of a Kickstarter landing page that need to be scrutinised here:
- The wording of a project description
- The number of screenshots and how far along these shots are in development
- How many external links are available on the page, and where these links go
- How transparent the budgeting section is – how have they achieved a balance between keeping backers informed and leaving themselves vulnerable to financial questioning
- Composition of video – this is crucial, so crucial it’s got its own step
TIP: The Steam Updates section of a successful game can tell you exactly which features designers decided to implement later on in development based on fan feedback. Consider implementing these features straight off (making sure they’re not at the expense of others) to win fan favour
4. Perfect A Video
And i mean perfect it. The video at the top of your Kickstarter page is your main advertising banner. It’s the first step a backer takes in deciding whether your project is worth their time, and often that first step lasts about 20 seconds. It’s your only pitch, and in this cut-throat world it has to be a snappy pitch.
Anything longer that three minutes will start reducing your chances of securing funders, so keep it short and sweet. Clearly announce the benefits of your product and the title of your game within these pivotal 20 seconds, then treat every 20 seconds after that as another level of interest expressed by your viewer. Give them something new, something more to get excited about, something tailored to each level of interest at each 20 second interval and you’ll have yourself a golden video.
Don’t be afraid to get creative either – the whole talking head spiel is for YouTube, on Kickstarter innovation wins so whip out the glitter glue and sugar paper for this one.
TIP: Stop skipping YouTube advertisements, you can learn a good deal about the structure of a good promo video from how brands work with the countdown timer at the start of an ad to engage their consumers quickly and clearly
TIP: Don’t be outrageous but if you’re going down the creative route consider viral culture. Videos are the most shared form of content, and because Kickstarter allows you to use a video placed elsewhere you can monopolise on this throughout your social media channels. Create something that everyone will find entertaining and you’ll spread the word to a much wider audience through shares.
TIP: Introduce the game before you introduce your team – backers are interested in what they get out of the transaction, and unless you’re running a very dubious campaign it’s not going to be you and your mates.
5. Spend More Time On Your Profile Than You Think Necessary… Then Spend More
Whether you’re a copy virtuoso or a crayon scribbler, you need to buck up and make your profile landing page the best damn thing you’ve ever written. This is so much more than a pitch or an advertisement, you need to speak directly to possible funders, inspiring a deep level of trust in them while retaining confidence and authority over the project’s destination. Keep your writing concise, clear and grammatically correct while ensuring it reflects the personality of your company and goal. Keep it informative and exciting, and don’t be afraid to be bold – just don’t claim to be the RPG messiah.
Decide your reward structures, using your design document, market research, competitor findings, and budget. Then… and this is CRUCIAL… do it again. And again. Check it like Trump checks passports. If it’s wrong, you can’t change it after publication, and that can be devastating.
TIP: Investigate shipping rates and their projected rates of change over the next few months before posting your reward structures
TIP: Be conservative in what you’re asking for. The sad truth is that an unknown developer can reasonably only ask for around $10 for a game copy. 10 backers pledging $10 each is much better than 1 backer pledging $30.
TIP: Look up basic SEO and start implementing some keyword research into your profile copy. This will draw natural search queries to your page and boost recognition. You might even snag the attention of video game funding organisations or indie game investors using this method.
6. Burrow Down
There’s plenty of testimonials and survivor reports of Kickstarter developers recounting their holed up days of crowdfunding. You’re in for a stressful, sleep-deprived period of time so prepare yourself for staying glued to your screen. Get the Doritos in, kiss your friends goodbye, tell your children to sort their own shit for a while, and bunker down.
TIP: Use services like Buffer to schedule social media updates so you can make sure your channels are looked after and working constantly during the process, should you slip off for a nap every so often.
7. Stay Present
If you do step 6 correctly, this is a given. However, in case you decide to take a hands off approach to your crowdfunding campaign, remember to be there for your backers. Personal replies, comments and answers go a long way in indie funding. Knowing that you’re always on hand to provide clarity to chat about the project will ensure the trust of your punters and can translate into mega bucks down the line.
Take feedback seriously – one of the biggest advantages Kickstarter brings to its backers is the ability to take part in development and track changes in real time. Invite your backers into your daily grind and take their acknowledge their opinions – they may have spotted something that can make or break your project and these are the people you have targetted specifically in step 2 so try and trust their intuition.
TIP: Do the same on social media, even if it’s not about your game. Connect with players or other developers, answer questions, engage in debates, vote in polls – the more people see your name the more they’re going to get curious as to what you’re about. Engage with the state of digital marketing as it is today and you’ll see traffic spike.
8. Don’t Be Disheartened
A failed Kickstarter is not a road block, it’s a traffic diversion. So many projects underperform on Kickstarter, and even if you complete all the above steps perfectly there’s no guarantee the right people will be looking on the right day. Take a day to commiserate, have a few beers, play some video games, laugh and cry with your friends and then get up the next morning, have a Berocca and get researching.
Even if you secure your funding, it’s easy to quickly realise you’ve underestimated your needs. There are numerous other funding paths waiting to be opened up – game development grants are difficult to procure, but a Kickstarter success will liven up your pitch potential. Indie game funding and investors do exist and if you put the leg work in you might see a return. Otherwise, if you really are dedicated, pick up another job, silently wait for Great Aunt Bess’s inheritance money, let little Timmy wear the same shoes to school next year – keep chipping away at the finances and try again when the project is further developed.