Kickstarter Postmortem

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Happy 2014!

 

When Nic and I decided to take on Kickstarter we wanted to run the smoothest and best campaign possible. Now, while the road certainly wasn’t without its bumps and bruises, I think that the campaign for STASIS went remarkable well.

Below are a few thoughts and things to consider when setting up your own campaign. Some are obvious, and others are things that we only realized once we were neck deep into our campaign.

SETTING UP YOUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN

When you’re planning your Kickstarter campaign, it’s very easy to be caught up in the excitement and forget a few fundamentals when dealing with Kickstarter. One of the main points to remember is that Kickstarter has to verify your campaign before you’re able to hit that big green launch button.

This can throw a spanner in the works of any ‘preKickstarter’ marketing campaign you’re planning, as this is a manual process and could take a little longer than expected. You are completely at the behest of Kickstarter’s all-too-human managers who have to manually sift through your campaign – amongst others – to ensure that you have met all of their requirements.

I’d recommend that you set up the base skeleton of your campaign as early as possible, and submit it to Kickstarter. You’re able to modify the campaign indefinitely afterwards, right up the launch.

We didn’t do that. We put the entire ‘final’ campaign together, announced our launch date and submitted to Kickstarter with (what we thought) was a healthy lead time. Our idea behind this thinking was that Kickstarter would be awestruck with how complete the campaign was, that they would approve everything in a day or two.

After a week, our mistake started to loom over us. With our announced launch date closing in fast and little feedback from Kickstarter, we halted our plans and pushed our dates out. In hindsight, this was possibly the best thing we could have done for the campaign (more on that later!), but at the time it resulted in sleepless nights and frustrated emails!

USE THE PREVIEW LINK FOR FEEDBACK

When you’re setting up your campaign, you can share a preview of the incomplete campaign in order to get feedback. We planned the campaign by looking at other successes and failures, reading post mortems and generally going on our gut about what would work and what wouldn’t. Once we had external feedback and opinions on our campaign, we could adjust things accordingly.

Those that are providing feedback are your end users. At the end of the day, you aren’t trying to sell your product to yourself – you are trying to sell it to other people, and feedback from YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE is probably one of the most important and valuable things you can do.

DECIDING ON YOUR DATES

We picked November for our Kickstarter launch. The chosen month was due to our personal deadlines and current work schedule. To be honest, it probably wasn’t the best month to launch! We had to compete with Call of Duty, the Next Gen console launches AND Thanksgiving holidays. Had we released a month earlier, perhaps the ride would have been much smoother – but having said that, it was a case of November 2013 or February/March 2014.

When choosing your dates, keep two things in mind:

1 – Your audience. Are there any public holidays coming up? Thanks giving, Easter, Christmas, Summer vacation…all of these factor in whether pledgers have access to extra money, and B) have access to a computer and the internet.

2 – Your schedule. Anyone who has run a Kickstarter campaign can attest to the fact that it’s almost a full time job. You need to put in an insane amount of time! We had three of us running different aspects of the campaign for the entire 33 day run.

Managing press, managing Kickstarter itself, Steam Greenlight, community management on other forums, YouTube Lets Players, technical support on the Alpha, cataloging feedback and emails, updating press lists, spell checking interviews and releases…all of these take a HUGE amount of time, so ensure that you do it when you have available time!

For Nic, Kristal and I, it was especially difficult because we also have a business to run at the same time.

THE CAMPAIGN PAGE

So you have your game, you have your Kickstater page waiting for info, you have decided on your dates – now what?

The campaign page itself is your gateway to success or failure. When we were setting up the STASIS page, we looked at hundreds of other campaign pages – noting points and aspects we liked from each and interpreting them with regards to STASIS.

Consider the use of animated GIFS. Having that small element of movement can really bring life to your campaign page. We chose to have actual gameplay in the GIFs, which went along with our philosophy of IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GAME. We had an actual game to show, not just a concept and that formed the core of the entire campaign.

You are going to get A LOT of traffic through Kickstarter, so be aware of that when hosting files externally. Even what you perceive as small things, like externally hosted screenshots, can bring your server to a grinding halt and end up costing you a lot of money. We hosted all of our external files on Amazons S3 hosting service, ensuring that we never had crashed servers or stressed out phone calls.

The first thing that page visitors should see is the most important points of your campaign. We started out with our video with the game trailer, showing actual gameplay footage. Another important piece was a link to the STASIS Alpha download (right at the top of the screen), followed by bullet points about the game and then screenshots. Assume that a person visiting your page isn’t going to scroll down to find out more. Once you have them scrolling, you can start to add in extra information about the game and more about the campaign.

TIER PRICING AND STRETCH GOALS

There are articles available about choosing the correct tier prices, so my advice would be to look at other campaigns that have been successful and see how their pricing points were set up. I feel it’s important not to have too many ‘big leaps’ in pricing, and initially, I’d avoid mega tiers (in the $1000 and up range); this can easily cripple you at a later date. Having just one mega tier pledger pull out on the last day could kill the success of your campaign.

In the planning of our campaign, we decided that in the long run it was better for us to have a larger pool of backers at smaller pledges than a small amount of backers at larger sums. This was a community driven approach which helped us during the later parts of the campaign – we could have called on a large group of interested backers to increase their pledges by a small amount, if we ran into trouble.

We also chose not to round off the pledge amounts. A hundred years of retail conditioning has informed us that $19 is psychologically less than $20 and we wanted to apply that to our tier amounts.

Stretch Goals are a bit of a touchy subject, but I will say that they are important in a campaign. We were careful in our choice of goals to not include anything that would affect the integrity of the game and its story. In a way, it was a disadvantage coming to Kickstarter with Stasis in the state that it is in because we are very limited by changes we can make to the game – but again, our core philosophy of ‘It’s all about the game’ won out, with our Stretch Goals adding to the world and the experience, but don’t alter what we are trying to achieve.

PRE LAUNCH!

Time to hit the green button? Woah there! Not so fast! You want to hit the ground running. Having a prelaunch strategy is as important as having a launch strategy. As I mentioned earlier, our prelaunch dates were thrown out by the delay in Kickstarter approving the campaign. During this delay, we decided to spend some more time polishing up the Alpha demo and doing a soft Alpha launch in exchange for a retweet.

We added a countdown to our web page and contacted a few websites for interviews to be released on Launch Day.

Our Alpha demo was combined with a small prelaunch Twitter campaign, where access to the demo was password protected with the password being released to anyone who either tweeted about Stasis or otherwise put the word out.

All of these pre-launch ideas gave our campaign a strong start, something that is important to any Kickstarter. Having a strong start makes backers more confident about the project, and more willing to put their money down!

THE ACTUAL CAMPAIGN

We launched our Steam Greenlight campaign within a few minutes of the Kickstarter. This helped by using the HUGE amount of traffic that Steam gets to filter through to the Kickstarter campaign, as well as allowing the Kickstarter coverage to lead directly to our Greenlight page.

We hit the top 100 on Greenlight in a week and then the top 4 in 3 weeks; we leveraged the press and internet buzz and pushed traffic to Greelight page and from Greenlight to Kickstarter.

The running of a Kickstarter campaign really is a full time job. We had a few philosophies that we stuck to during the entire campaign run.

1 – Reply to requests for interviews as soon as possible. We tried to get back to journalists within 24 hours of the request. This kept the news about Stasis constant throughout the campaign, with new articles appearing almost daily.

2 – Custom answers all the interviews! This one was important for me, because often I have read interviews where the same ‘copy and paste’ information from the developers and the same quotes tend to pop up. We wanted to make sure that each interview and article was given the respect it deserves! Online press and journalists are the life-blood of any indie.

3 – Phase your Kickstarter events. We gave away several wallpapers, a new game trailer and even the Stretch Goals until we felt that it was time to get them out there. In the world of indie games, news travels fast, and new news becomes old news quickly.

We had some large announcements during the campaign, along with free giveaways. The idea was that even in the slow days, there would be something interesting on the page – something that people could talk about. You don’t want to give away EVERYTHING on launch day – hold some announcements back.

4 – Don’t discount social media! Social media (our focus was on Facebook and Twitter) was a driving force behind much of Stasis’s success. Social media allows for personal stamps of approval on your game and as many advertisers will tell you, word of mouth is the BEST advertising you can get.

Don’t only tweet about your game to other gamers. There are THOUSANDS of people out there who may not be gamers, but will still be interested in your game. I even tweeted Ridley Scott in the hopes of a reply!

We had a page on our website which had easy to access quick links to help promote Stasis. With one click you could post about the game on Facebook or Tweet about it.

Twitter paid advertising is surprisingly effective, but could get very expensive very quickly. We spent $200 and got some fantastic targeted tweets, which lead to a few hundred Alpha downloads (and hopefully a few pledges).

5 – Heavy Focus on “Lets Players”. We put a lot of focus on getting the game into the hands of Youtube authors. The Lets Plays are a FANTASTIC resource for people to get excited about the game.

Stasis is a difficult sell in the world of quick, easily accessible games because you have to clear time and sit down to play it. It’s not a game that you can quickly experience on a lunch break – so having the videos of people doing exactly that let those people who didn’t have the time play the alpha.

When engaging Lets Players, be sure to give them permission to monetize or otherwise use your game on their channels. A simple webpage with all the information and permissions can do this.

6 – Give the press easy access to information. The press is your mouth piece – you want to make it as easy as possible for them to get all the information they need. Having a clear and concise Press Kit is ESSENTIAL. This must not only have all they may need to write a story about your game (logos, names, screenshots), but also links to all previous press releases. The longer that a journalist spends trying to sift through mountains of text to get the relevant information; the less likely they are to promote your game.

The press kit, combined with the 24 hour interview rule got Stasis a massive amount of coverage.

You should also write and format Press Releases correctly – be sure to check out our website or search for examples on how we did this.

A quick note on the press releases – build your own targeted email list.

7 – Cross promotion with other Kickstarters. Something that I had no idea about before we actually started running the campaign was the power of cross promotion with other Kickstarters. Look for other games in your genre and contact the developers running it. I have only had good experiences with other campaign runners.

GENERAL THOUGHTS

The lynch pin in the success of the Stasis Kickstarter lay in our Alpha demo. If you are planning a Kickstarter, I cannot stress enough the importance of a demo. Potential players want to experience what they are backing and the most direct way to do this is through a fully functional demo.

We hosted the Alpha demo on Amazons S3 service ensuring that people had constant access to it throughout the campaign. We also released a torrent of it (hosted for a while by some friends and incredible volunteers) which kept the costs down.

We have had over 40,000 Alpha downloads at 1 gig per download; this would have swamped our webserver. Don’t assume you can serve that many downloads off your VPS or shared hosting platform-it will be disastrous – a day of downtime and you may spoil your campaign.

PayPal donations came in thick and fast once our main goal had been met. Nic had the PayPal page set up so that we could go live with it as soon as we were comfortable. Nic had a meeting with Paypal and their crowd funding department reviewed the page and gave us some pointers. Crowd funding has become a legal grey area in many ways so it’s better to contact them and just make sure that everything is in order.

IN CLOSING…

After 33 days we managed to hit our $140,000 goal.

For an unknown developer on an unknown license hitting that magic $100,000 mark was an incredible feeling, but an exhausting experience! It was a month of extreme highs and lows, but I wouldn’t have changed anything about how we ran our campaign.

I wish anyone looking at going this route a lot of luck! Buy extra coffee…you are going to need it!

You can check out our campaign page here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bischoff/stasis-2d-isometric-scifi-horror-adventure-game

Our post Kickstarter Pledge page is here;

http://stasiscommunity.com/pledge/

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