Quick side-note: AHOMD’s Kickstarter success was featured on Rock Paper Shotgun yesterday. Woo!
So I got over 300% funded on Kickstarter! Here is the post-mortem. It was inevitable.
My initial goal was very small (£4000), and even 300% of that is still a quite tiny budget on which to make a quite large game. But the Kickstarter can still only be described as a success, and all thanks to the goodwill of a bunch of amazing people.
I asked for a very specific amount of money because I knew I would be able to make the game with that amount – I wasn’t making a lowball estimate and hoping for a 300% response. That would have been madness. I genuinely expected to only get £4000, or perhaps as high as £6000 if everything went very well, and I planned my tiny budget accordingly.
Now that I have three times what I expected, I can do a lot more than I thought possible. Even better, the Kickstarter has been a success in other, less immediately obvious ways. It’s raised the game’s profile in places that I never dared hope for – with articles in RPS, PC Gamer and Eurogamer, no less – and it helped to bolster my confidence, confirming that there are people out there who are interested in weird exploration RPGs with procedurally-generated poetry and trains that crawl.
Best of all, though? I reached over 1000 people. If you go on Kickstarter and look at other Games projects, you’ll realize that this is a very respectable number – many projects which raised much more than I did actually have a similar number of backers, or sometimes fewer! Perhaps they designed their reward-tiers better than I did – I avoided physical rewards for the most part, as I didn’t have the time, money or inclination to ship t-shirts around the globe, and I’ve noticed that other Kickstarters with physical rewards have definitely been able to entice people to higher tiers. But this wasn’t an option for me.
On the other hand, though, my low reward-tiers might have been what helped bring more people in. And I think having evidence that over 1000 people interested in what I’m doing is its own reward, to be honest – I’d rather have 1000 people pledging a fiver each than 200 pledging twenty quid each. The raw economics is the same, sure, but creatively there’s a huge difference when you know your work will be reaching a lot of people. And there have even been some familiar names among the backers – some writers whose work I’ve respected for years! It’s all a little daunting, to be honest, but also tremendously exciting.
Have some cold, hard numbers.
It’s almost comical how closely HOMD skewed to the typical Kickstarter data model – a 48-hour surge, a long plateau, and then a second 48-hour surge. Both of my surges were influenced by press coverage – RPS in the first 48 hours, and Eurogamer in the final 48 hours.
People just browsing Kickstarter ended up making up 30% of my backers. This was much more than I expected!
Why did A House of Many Doors do well?
What I’ve learned has been pretty simple. They’re the kind of tips that are probably obvious, and it’s the actual doing of them, in the face of the general lifeness of life, that’s the hard bit. But if you are running or thinking of running a campaign of your own, perhaps they’ll help.
Most important is to plan your Kickstarter like it’s a military campaign. My month before the Kickstarter was mostly planning and marketing, rather than development. At the time, it felt like I was shouting into a great big internet void, but ultimately it paid off – the people at RPS, for example, had been secretly listening the whole time, and their article on HOMD was a massive factor in kicking the campaign off to a good start.
Plan for failure. Be careful and realistic with your budget. I had a lot of plans for what I’d do if I looked set to fail – instead, the Kickstarter was 100% funded in the first 48 hours. This caught me massively off-guard and threw all my plans into disarray, and I probably didn’t capitalize on my success quite as well as I could have. But I planned my Kickstarter so that the funding goal was all I needed to make the game, so capitalizing on success wasn’t a priority anyway.
I think it’s hugely important to have a funding goal that looks realistically achievable on Kickstarter. HOMD had an eminently achievable £4000 goal, and I think that helped a great deal in the first few days. People are more likely to pledge toward a campaign that’s likely to succeed.
Please note that I said ‘realistically achievable on Kickstarter,’ not ‘realistic.’ You may genuinely need £80,000 to finish making your debut game, but without an established reputation behind you, that doesn’t look remotely achievable to a potential backer. Probably best to make a less ambitious game, or seek an alternative source of funding. Kickstarter pledgers are savvy human beings, not amiable money dispensers, and they’re likely very familiar with the rise and fall of Kickstarter campaigns. Why would they pledge to a campaign that they think will fail? All that’ll get them is a lot of sad and desperate emails.
All this being the case, you may be tempted to plop down an ‘achievable-looking’ goal that’s actually way under your budget, and hope to make up the rest of your budget in stretch goals. That might work, but it’s kind of a shitty thing to do, and a massive gamble where the odds aren’t in your favour. Don’t do it.
I deliberately avoided stretch goals for the HOMD Kickstarter because I was already making an ambitious game, and I knew that promising extra content would lead to schedule slippage. I think stretch goals might have helped me get a little more funded – but HOMD clearly did fine without them, so I’m not sure how much of a difference they actually make to small developers. Sure, Obsidian can promise some amazing stretch goals for Pillars of Eternity and cause huge ripples of enthusiasm, but a small indie dev is likely to only have stretch goals that are unexciting or unrealistic. So I avoided them entirely. It’s generally a bad idea, I find, to make any promises at all unless you’re sure they can be fulfilled.
If you do want to do stretch goals, though, don’t put all your stretch goals up at the beginning of the campaign. I think that gives backers the impression that the base game, without the stretch goals, will be bare-bones, and also makes reaching that final funding goal seem less like a huge achievement and more like a first step. If I had decided to have stretch goals, I would have only revealed them when I was close to being fully-funded.
There’s no issue with adding a fun little stretch goal that makes people laugh and won’t directly impact game development, though. Failbetter had a stretch goal during the Kickstarter for Sunless Sea where they’d all go and get a tattoo – a fantastic goal that excited people without impacting development. I was considering adding a £10,000 stretch goal where I would stay in a haunted house overnight and film it. This, on the other hand, was probably a dumb idea.
Press coverage was hugely important to the HOMD Kickstarter – I ended up getting covered by RPS, Eurogamer, PC Gamer, Cliqist, Indiegames.com, and a bunch of others. Why?
Well, honestly, I’m not sure. I spent a lot of time writing a good press release, and I made sure each one I sent was unique rather than a copy-paste job. I also had a relationship with an established name, Failbetter, which I think perked a few ears. Most important, in retrospect, was that I had a ‘hook’ – the procedurally-generated poetry seemed to get a lot of interest, and was something that sites could actually write news about, because it was new. (Mostly. Dwarf Fortress is doing something a little similar, but let’s face it, Dwarf Fortress is going to encompass all human achievement sooner or later.)
Admittedly, I didn’t expect this to be a ‘hook’ at all, and I thought the proc-gen poetry was being done purely for my own entertainment. In retrospect, it’s clear that a game needs to have a unique hook that lets it stick out from the crowd a little bit.
What? No, that’s it! Did you expect some kind of conclusion? Nope! I sat in a room and worked on a video game for ages and then it got funded due to a bunch of factors, most of them random, that happened to align in my favour. That’s all. Eventually entropy will increase and we’ll all die. Go home. Then come back in 9 months and play my indie game A House of Many Doors out July 2016 on PC and Mac.