Kickstarter Post-mortem for Buck & Miles

3 years ago

business, design, games

Hello friends!

It looks like we’ll have to cancel the Buck & Miles-campaign due to lack of backers. We had a great time though, so sign up for the Astrojone newsletter (no spam, just game updates) and we’ll contact you as soon as we’ve got more news on the game.

As for what happened and what this Kickstarter campaign has taught us, here’s a quick rundown that sort of summarizes the process from beginning to end.

Hopefully you’ll walk away from this article with some new insights!

The Incentive: Kickstarter visits Stockholm, Sweden

Kickstarter

Kickstarter in Stockholm

So prior to even thinking about launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund our game we’d been in contact with a lot of other projects. My friend Oded Sharon had launched (and ultimately failed with) his moderately successful campaign for Bolt Riley about a year prior to the Buck & Miles-compaign, and I had personally been involved with the Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden 2-campaign about a year prior to that (which made a whopping $120,300 – about $85,000 over the target). Another friend of mine had also launched a successful campaign for his game – Octopus City Blues – which made around $20,000 total, so all-in-all Kickstarter looked like a promising platform for funding new projects at the time.

SEK

Forced local currency

Since Kickstarter had yet to expand outside the US, UK, CA and AU at that point in time, it wasn’t really an option for me (being from Sweden). I figured it’d take several years for Kickstarter to expand to non-English-speaking countries, but come September 2014 I spotted a news update from Kickstarter stating that they’d be launching in Sweden, and that they’d also be hosting a launch party here in Stockholm.

Since I was already interested I immediately signed up, and a few days later attended the event. The party was your run-of-the-mill product presentation, but something that caught my attention was the fact that they seemed to focus a lot on localization (which to a lot of us non-English countries can be a huge pain in the side).

Apparently projects were to have forced local currency even to international visitors, which when I (and a lot of others) asked about it during the open Q&A was dismissed with non-responses from the Kickstarter team. I guess the decision had already been made at that point, but a lot of us saw a big problem with what to me looked like yet another misconception about European countries wanting, needing- or requiring everything localized, and the assumption that European countries are as self-sustaining as perhaps the US is.

In either case and despite the risks – and perhaps with too much optimism – I decided that we’d give it a go, and that we’d perhaps be able to get enough exposure during the launch to counterbalance the shoddy and forced localization.

Phase 1: Research (or lack thereof)

Kicktraq

Kicktraq ended up being reasonably reliable

Going into this we expected there to be conclusive information and well-documented metrics available both on Kickstarter.com and around the web, but the reality was more akin to stepping into a self-help convention with a wad of cash in the hand – a lot of people had systems, ideas, theories or even products to pitch you, but none of them really seemed to know what they were talking about.

No matter how much we tried, we couldn’t really find any reliable data to lean on. There were of course a lot of good articles and post-mortems out there, but who knew what underlying efforts or factors that helped (or didn’t help) these campaigns?

At this point we realized that Kickstarter – even at the research stage – was more of a jungle than previously anticipated, so right off the bat we had to rethink our initial approach.

Ultimately we settled for collecting as many articles and post-mortems as possible so we could extract as many do’s and don’ts as we could manage, while also trying to draw up some rough estimates of how much exposure we’d need on a daily basis in order to reach a big enough influx of people for our daily pledge targets to be met, based on a worst-case scenario (which as it turned out, it ended up being!)

In addtion we also came across sites like Kicktraq which allowed us to input Kickstarter campaigns (finished or in progress) and it’d spit back some sort of average-based forecast.

So in the end we knew that we didn’t really have anything reliable to stand on and we knew that the localized currency on our project page would be a huge issue, but we decided to push on anyway and started preparing for our campaign.

Phase 2: Preparation (a.k.a. the grind)

Preparing the campaign was actually the most painful and intensive part of this entire process. Since we had a deadline looming over our heads (the Swedish launch of Kickstarter) we had to get everything ready in about a month’s time.

Rewards

Some of the rewards we offered backers

This included:

I won’t provide answers to the legal questions (because quite frankly I’m not a lawyer and shouldn’t be giving out legal advice) but here are some of the things we learned:

In the end we couldn’t manage to finish everything in time and were faced with the choice of either launching our campaign prematurely or taking the time to polish it to perfection. We chose the latter which turned out to be quite alright anyway as the Kickstarter people were nice enough to give us some free exposure.

Phase 3: Launch (a.k.a. the immediate failure)

Failure

A swift and brutal failure!

Alright, so launch day eventually came around, we hit the button and spammed all our friends, social channels and just about every outlet we could think of. A lot of people had shown a lot of interest, excitement and willingness to support the project prior to the launch, so we were sure that we’d get an initial boost with which we could create a snowball effect and get us a good momentum.

NOT QUITE!

While the response we anticipated was 25-50 initial pledges from friends and family and a handful of free promotions from our closest fellow game developers, the reality was actually a lot more depressing. Few even bothered to respond to our requests and/or the campaign itself – including the people that had shown an immense interest in the project – and the people who actually ended up backing us initially could be counted on one hand.

I won’t lie, it ticked the entire team off beyond belief (myself included). Our girls and guys had spent the past two months working away (literally day and night) on the campaign, backed by friends and fellow developers, only to see next to no support once the campaign had actually launched. I felt really, really, really bad for them.

I’d read somewhere that projects lacking an initial boost are much more likely to fail, so as a producer you’re forced to choose between either giving up right off the bat, or somehow trying to motivate the team despite the grim circumstances. I chose the latter, and began what would become a month-long process of scouring the internet for any facts that could help convince an already bummed-out team that success was still viable.

Phase 4: Reassessment (and damage control)

Lizard

Lizard by the awesome Brad Smith. The game runs on both computers as well as the actuall NES!

So the first day had ended, we’d tapped out all of our resources and we barely made the target for the day. We’d spent literally all of our ideas and connections on the first day just to try to stay on track, and we had no idea how we were going to acheve the same results for the next 29 consecutive days.

We started looking at other projects on Kickstarter and noticed the following:

Since we were out of ideas we started out cross-promoting with a handful of other cool projects. There was Lizard by Brad Smith, Pocket Rumble by Cardboard Robot Games and Target Acquired by TouchTen Games to name a few. The cross-promotion ended up not doing much in terms of bringing in new pledges, but I ended up becoming friends with all of the creators who turned out to be really awesome people, so I’d definitely say that it was worth it. I guess nothing brings people together like being in a pinch. :-)

Side note: Make sure to check these projects out, since their campaigns all succeeded. They’re really cool.

We attempted to get both the attention of the press as well as potential benefactors via various pitches but we never really managed to strike gold (either because our project wasn’t good enough, we weren’t newsworthy enough or because the noise was simply too hard to cut through), and this eventually turned into more of a daily PR effort based on soliciting journalists in various ways with the hopes of eventually getting big exposure somewhere.

Something that disappointed us was that a lot of the gaming news sites that actually cover Kickstarter projects ignored us, despite the fact that they frequently covered (what I’d personally and subjectively call) less ambitious projects. Since some of our friends got on there quite easily we were a bit demoralized by this, but we kept on trying to contact journalists anyway.

Eventually Jason Schreier from Kotaku got back to us and featured us on the front page (which was insanely nice of him). This created a slow trickle of visitors that lasted for a couple of hours, but what surprised us about this was that almost none of the visitors actually pledged to the project (according to the statistics that Kickstarter offered via its backend). When the novelty of the article had died down and people stopped visiting the campaign, we had pretty much nothing to show for our PR efforts. What bugged us about this was that we had no way of telling whether the campaign was uninteresting, whether our game was bad or if it was the previously mentioned localization/currency issue that made people reluctant to pledge.

In either case PR started feeling like a dead end too at this point.

Phase 5: Wrapping up (and licking the wounds)

rip

Well then.

So the campaign was nearing its end and we’d managed to raise about 12% of our goal. Despite frequently trying to partner up with people who have large followings, managing to get a few features on a handful of gaming news sites and constantly using social media to try to build an interest the fact remained that almost none of our efforts led to any pledges – except for Twitter which for some strange and inexplicable reason represented the majority of our pledges.

Ready to accept defeat I decided to get in touch with the creators of currently-running projects that were doing fairly well despite not being particularly newsworthy (much like our game) to ask for help, and some of them essentially told me that they’d used automated tools that automatically spam every single person they have in their contact lists on every single social network, and that most – if not all – of their pledges came from friends and relatives who had been directly asked to contribute (via this automated message). In other words, it didn’t appear that they’d actually made any money off of Kickstarter itself.

Upon researching the tools they’d been using I almost started getting the impression that some (or maybe even a lot) of the seemingly successful projects on Kickstarter – especially the ones that aren’t particularly sensationalistic – might have reached their goals purely based on the close, personal networks of their creators. Of course there’s no evidence to support this notion, but I guess that’d mean that Kickstarter hadn’t actually done much for them beyond being a glorified payment solution. Huh!

The Conclusion

Cover

Still in production!

So on the last day I decided to pull the plug on our project. I redesigned the entire project page into a neat thank you-message (which you might’ve clicked on to reach this article) since Kickstarter prevents creators from editing finished campagins, and cancelled the campaign.

To this day I can’t figure out exactly what caused the campaign to fail, but I have a couple of suspicions:

So would we do it again if we had the chance? Probably not, but I still appreciate the experience it gave us and all the relationships we established. The massive PR campaigns we launched in conjunction with our Kickstarter campaign did get us a handful of really dedicated fans (and words can’t express how much we appreciate them), and we managed to make a lot of really, really, really cool friends among project creators.

To anyone thinking of launching a Kickstarter project, I’d say:

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share comments below if you have any.

P.S. To anyone who’s curious, yes, we’re still working hard on finishing the game. ;-) You can check it out at Astrojone, our game design studio.