MIGS 2015 : Learning from Kickstarter failures by Tanya Short

At MIGS 2015, Tanya Short let us in the things they learnt from failure on Kickstarter campaigns at Kitfox Games, and how analysing failures can help you to conduct successful ones. This article revisits the lessons from Tanya’s inspiring presentation.

What makes a good Kickstarter campaign ?

Concrete, high quality content is mandatory

For many of us who have started making games during our free time, Kickstarter works pretty much the same. Ideas aren’t worth anything, it’s worth something when you execute it. So to sell your pitch, you need to give some tangible content that reflects what your game would be like: provide artworks, trailers or make videos of the gameplay.

Providing a playable prototype as part of a Kickstarter campaign is a double-edged sword. If the player does not get a clear, positive impression from the prototype, it is better not to have one.

Pitching skills matter more than making a good game

Making a good pitch has become a core skill for developers these days. How to be a good writer, marketing director? Think critically about it. Making a good pitch has nothing to do with making a good game. A good game doesn’t sell itself.

Taking investors on in the campaign also helps a lot

While crowdfunding is based on many small investments, you have the same problem as when asking a loan at the bank: people only want to give you money if you have money.

Kitfox had investors before the campaign. The funding was meant to finance extra-polish on an ongoing game project. Better to have some budget to start with or at least give the illusion of having budget.

Better yet, if investors contribute to the Kickstarter campaign at key moments, it can give it more visibility, and encourage funding. Investors can help to reach a goal to secure to success of the campaign and / or encourage backers to contribute to reach stretch goals.

Why backers have your back

Most people want to back success stories

In our culture as in our industry, we are encouraged to stay ever positive. When you are told to be yourself, remember to stay positive. Don’t fake it. Just think about why you are successful today.

Backers don’t care much about realistic budget estimations, secret work, or pessimistic projections. Kitfox friends said  it wouldn’t inspire trust to fund a project for 40 000$. When the campaign was up, nobody ever said it was too low.

A higher minimum pledge encourages backers. Kitfox had some success with 10$ or 20$ minimum pledges, depending upon the game’s potential retail price. On psychology of games blog, the author

One failure of their kickstater campaign was they sold out top pledges in two weeks. There were 5 slots in total for 15 000$ pledges. It’s a happy problem to have, but a weird situation, because the backers who pledged this much opted for something exclusive. It’s a kind of betrayal to add more of the same, or offer something even higher that they might have wanted to purchase instead.

The flow of kickstarter: balancing the challenge to reach the goals and stretch goals

Providing more stretch content makes it easier to secretly fail, but requiring only your local network to fund you may also lead to failure because you don’t get to grow your community. A too low target won’t help you find out if the game was marketed enough.

It is tempting to over-indulge in stretch goals. It allows you to adjust how deep to make your product, as backers show stronger enthusiasm. And should you fail, at least you might fail secretly. It feels safe and flexible. Stretch goals can also fire back: if your initial goal is too low, you may not get to grow your community. You will also fail to learn if you marketed your game enough.

Motivating backers with goodies and cool rewards

To motivate backers who hesitate, unlocking cool new things progressively can help tip their decision in your favour. Some of the cool new goodies for pledges are easily undervalued: 4000 copies of the soundtrack sold in lower tier items. Soundtracks was a much more powerful argument than Kitfox expected.

On the contrary, adding bonus reward items turned out to be annoying for developers. While the bonus in-game content is very motivating for backers and valuable to them. The time spent on special content is time not invested in making a good game. In the end, it feels wasted.

If you repeat this trick too much though, backers may wait to see if they can get even cooler things later. they may never actually commit to back you before the end of the campaign. A pledge today is worth exponentially more than a pledge tomorrow. Make the sale now.

Using Kickstarter for more than funding your game

Kickstarter is a fantastic mailing tool

A mailing list can be difficult to populate and manage, no matter the tool, or you quickly reach its limit and have to invest 100$/month. Kickstarter is a super cheap mailing list ! First, it’s free and the posts are public for all time.

You need to get users there though. The key is to give a clear direction. Share one message: this is the link, spread this link.

Kickstarter is terrible for learning from your and other’s mistakes or successes

Do you have data on past campaigns? Well there isn’t really a platform to learn from. Data is only available through Kickstarter itself. Kickstarter provides some basic data, but nothing that allows you to diagnose a failure or understand success.

Learning from other people’s failures can be done with huge efforts. Kickstarter naturally presents successful projects. Of course, Kickstarter has no interest in showing failures. The success stories make you believe in the american Kickstarter dream. Seeing many failures for each success wouldn’t be very encouraging. besides remember, we have to stay positive.