Saturday, October 4, 2014
Post Mortem: How to (not) get funded on Kickstarter in 30 days
On Thursday, October 2nd at 2:00p.m. EST the Tumbleweed Express Kickstarter campaign ended unsuccessfully having reached ~22% of its funding goal. Firstly, I want to express my sincerest gratitude towards everyone who supported us during our campaign. The help we received from total strangers was powerful and surprising and the support we received from friends and family was heartwarming and encouraging. We met lots of new people, formed friendships and connections, and strengthened our ties with the communities that we came from. However, due to the all-or-nothing nature of Kickstarter we unfortunately will receive none of the amount that was raised.
Mostly I felt relieved at the end of it, as the negative emotions of frustration and disappointment had already run their course leading up to the final hours of the campaign. Despite the technical failure of the campaign however I do want to stress that this past month was the most successful, intense, and positive marketing push that our project has had in the three years we've been working on it. That said, I want to evaluate the campaign and give my impressions on what happened using the following categories:
What I Know We Did Right: Actions we took that tangibly benefit our campaign
What I Think We Did Right: Actions we took that, while imaginably positive, did not appear to tangibly benefit our campaign
What I Know We Did Wrong: Actions we took that tangibly hurt our campaign
What I Think We Did Wrong: Actions we took that, while imaginably negative, did not appear to tangibly hurt our campaign
Undoubtedly, our team's strongest area of marketing is event outreach. We make it a point to be out at conventions, festivals, and gatherings as much as possible to get in lots of face-to-face marketing and feedback. During the Kickstarter campaign we were at the Boston Festival of Indie Games (FIG) and the Baltimore Innovate App Arcade where we built mailing-lists with fans and connections to other developers leading to pledge support and cross-promotional opportunities.
Public, Playable Demo
Having a public demo was very meaningful for our campaign because it meant we could give something tangible to interested parties and potential customers so they could get a real taste of what our game is about and the direction we're going in to reach a high standard of quality.
Event Journalist Outreach
Leading up to Boston FIG I made it a point to do some background research and send a personal email out with our info and demo to everyone on the Press list for the event. By the time it was time to drive up to Boston we had lined up five interviews throughout the one-day event which lead to a nice handful of articles and podcasts promoting our project and campaign.
Halfway through our campaign I stepped up to take the reins on our Twitter outreach efforts. What I ended up doing was using software to scum the whole of the Twitterverse using search terms to find anyone talking about the tools or styles relevant to our project. If anyone on Twitter mentioned Unity Terrain I would send them a public message linking them to our branded Unity Heightmap tutorial on our dev blog. Did you mention #Steampunk? Maybe you'll like this game! And so on... garnering follows and likes and whatnot building tangible interest one user at a time.
In the last third of our campaign I went on a mailing spree using a list of game-related Youtube personalities linked to me by another developer. Over three days I sent out a couple hundred personalized emails, with downloadable demo links, to the entire spectrum of youtube gamer popularity to see if anyone would make a video about our game. In the end we were able to connect with a handful of Tubers who generously filmed and posted Let's Play videos of our Demo while linking back to our campaign.
To craft our Kickstarter campaign we sourced other successful campaigns and post mortems for inspiration while playing to the strengths of our theme. What we came up with was an art heavy campaign page with thematic designs for our sections, headers, graphics, and rewards. When comparing ourselves to other campaigns I would say that our biggest advantages were with our visuals, our video, our budget and the demo we put up.
We've seen other campaigns go by and get several times more than our funding goal while barely even having concept art to show for themselves. We thought to ourselves, "We have an actual playable project and a sweet trailer, we've guaranteed that this is a real project being worked on in earnest by real developers".
At the end of the day I can say we're damn proud of the campaign we built, but it's hard to say how effective it was without getting access to more exposure.
Over the course of our campaign we put out 12 updates total, amounting to a little more than one update for every three days that the campaign was running. We made it a point to generate as much content as possible during the campaign to give as much interest to our backers as possible while also ensuring to them that we're serious about what we do and that we're working constantly to bring them new and valuable content.
Before our campaign started we actually partnered up with Indie Game Magazine, a digital publication which had previously featured our project in one of their issues. The deal was that in exchange for giving them a commission on specific reward tiers they would provide us with free subscriptions to distribute to our backers as well as run cross promotional efforts for them. Despite being hesitant we ultimately took the deal. During the campaign they promoted us on their social media accounts and wrote a couple of articles about us (despite misspelling our project name...). However, at the end of the day, it doesn't seem like much if any funding at all can be traced back to the cross promotion they ran for us.
Web Journalist Outreach
In the month before our campaign launched we put together a list of as many publications as we could think of and sent out a ton of personalized emails with our press release, some visual content, and a link to download a desktop version of our demo. Despite our efforts though we were unable to hook any big fish before or during our campaign.
Despite our net positive response to our outreach efforts it seems that the majority of them came too late. Most successful campaigns seem to have had an effective following before launching. In fact, you're supposed to have the first 30% of your funding ready to be pledged in the first week of your campaign. Obviously we were never able to hit that mark. Perhaps we over-estimated our support before launching, but we definitely didn't hit our stride in reaching out through Twitter and YouTube for example until after our campaign was in full swing.
I believe that as a team we probably underutilized certain aspects of Facebook as a tool for funding. While we obviously did lots of 'Sharing' and 'Liking', I think it's safe to say that we didn't fully appreciate the power of simply messaging our friends for support. It wasn't until the final week of the campaign that I went and manually messaged everyone on my friendslist and in that process secured a handful of new backers while simultaneously getting the chance to reconnect with friends I haven't talked to in a while and who wanted to support our project. If more of our team was open to that process and if we had put our weight behind it earlier on then we would have been able to better frontload our initial funding amount.
Ignoring All Solicitors
We got a LOT of solicitors during and at the beginning of our campaign. I'm sure that there are companies that either scum Kickstarter manually or have automated systems that email their pitch to new campaigns. Regardless, we did some research early on but shortly after began to systematically ignore them. A lot of them offered services that seemed to overlap with work we'd already done, such as crafting content or creating press releases. On the other hand, they also made grand promises about the number of customers they were able bring our pitch to. Without formal marketing training it was hard to evaluate whether or not we would be taken advantage of , but I imagine that there are legitimate services that we passed up.
As they say, the show must go on! We've received a majority of positive responses about our game leading up to and during the Kickstarter campaign and the continued support from strangers has bolstered our confidence in our design and art decisions. Despite our lack of funding the team will continue to move into production with the intention of bringing the project into beta and wrapping up for release. The tools we need and our overhead expenses will continue to be paid for out of pocket and the team will contribute the time that's needed to make our project a reality.
Our continued marketing efforts will go towards improving and marketing our Steam Greenlight campaign so that we have a strong outlet to release from once the game is complete.