Developer Roundtable: Kickstarter

When it comes to funding development, indie developers have a few different options. From having part time jobs, seeking out publishers, or gaining support through platforms like Fig and Kickstarter, developers do need cash to keep making games. With Kickstarter’s popularity when it comes to funding both board games and video games, I took the time to ask a bunch of people various questions about running a Kickstarter. Some of these have failed, others have been successful, and all have interesting advice to share with you.

When it comes to being ready to seek funding, running a Kickstarter might be different then seeking funding from some publishers. You need at least a basic idea and trailer, but having a good bit of development done can bring more interest to your game.

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How far along in development should a developer be before starting a Kickstarter?

Most developers agreed you’d need at least a vertical slice of your game, if not more.

I’d say [with] most successful Kickstarters for indie games the game is usually somewhere between 50-70% complete when the Kickstarter launches. Anything less than that is really early in development and I feel is less likely to release. – Justin Carter

As far along as possible! At the very least, far enough to have something visually impressive to show. To a large degree, Kickstarter backers are like any other customer — they don’t care so much about your 1-page pitch, they want to see that you can deliver something awesome. – Brian Sowers

While most developers felt you needed to have as much of a product as you could offer to gamers, Tiny Red Camel came with a slightly different point of view.

That depends on how the dev will be using the Kickstarter funds. In our case, the Kickstarter was very early in the development process. Running the Kickstarter so early was helpful in getting our team together and also in providing credibility and a track record when we applied for funding from other sources. However there are also downsides to Kickstarting so early because game development is often a long and unpredictable process. – Tiny Red Camel

When it came to the idea of having a playable demo of the game available for people to play, developers who had run Kickstarters had more of a variety of opinions.

Do you think devs should have a physical demo of their game? (meaning if you have a video game, is there a playable demo that people can try out the game with)

There is a huge nuance here I have to make clear first. I WISH we lived in a world where a dev SHOULD include a demo with their Kickstarter. However, the basics of marketing dictates you should sell your customers ideas, not products. Ideas form and change in the customer’s mind to fit their wants and needs, while the actual product has apparent features that are not compatible with the customer’s wants and needs. As such, including a demo, while showing a lot of trustworthiness, can only drive a backer away, as bugs or imperfect gameplay (as you have at the early stages of development) are more apparent. It sucks, but devs should not include a demo because of that. – Oswald de Bruin

Justin felt completely different:

A demo is 100% necessary. It gives your potential backers a change to see and feel what the gameplay is like and can help sell the Kickstarter if they’re on the fence about it. Doing so also allows for feedback to help improve the game in the future. – Justin Carter

Meanwhile, the developers of Cattails held firm in the middle ground:

We went back and forth on the idea of a demo, and in the end we created a demo in a non-traditional way. Instead of providing the demo to everyone, we selectively targeted a few key influencers (YouTubers, Twitch streamers, journalists, etc) to give the demo out to. This worked very well; people who were interested in our game could still see an unfiltered, “real” test drive of our game by watching their favourite YouTubers, but since the demo was not publicly available we did not have any issues with people playing the demo and immediately writing off (our very early version of) our game by saying it was buggy or incomplete. I’d say if you want to provide a demo, give the player a short, vertical slice of gameplay, and keep the action moving. Make sure to spend a good amount of time on the demo and keep the action moving throughout. The worst thing you can do is to bore someone during the demo, because they’ll assume that’s indicative of how the real game will feel. – Falcon Development

Brian Sowers is a board game developer and has his own point of view:

I Kickstarted a board game, so my answer is going to be a little different here. We had a tiny bit of demand for a Print ‘n Play version (basically as close as you can get to a demo in the board game world). It wasn’t a big ask, and we didn’t deliver it, and we still did just fine. I can’t say that translates to every project, but for ours it really didn’t seem to matter. – Brian Sowers

Though some people felt the most important part of running a Kickstarter was mentally preparing for updating, keeping track of, and promoting the Kickstarter itself, others believed it was the visuals you’d see on the Kickstarter page itself.

What is the most important part of setting up a Kickstarter?

The Kickstarter page and video. Both have to be compelling enough so that people want to back your project. – Byron Atkinson-Jones

Falcon Development agreed with Byron, but had a bit more to add.

The second most important part of setting up a Kickstarter is preparing and sending your press release. Contact absolutely anyone that might be interested in your game. Reach out to big press outlets. Reach out to small press outlets. Get a spreadsheet going so that you can track all the people you reached out to, who replied, any coverage received, etc. Falcon Development

Oswald de Bruin raised a counterpoint:

Have a large community before you start the Kickstarter. This is the only thing that actually matters, as I found out. There are not enough ‘roamers’ on Kickstarter to fully fund your project or even get it off the starting line. Of course, a decent page and nice rewards are important too, but they don’t matter if you do not have your fans ready beforehand. – Oswald de Bruin

I feel that having a community does give you a huge boost when it comes to gaining funding for your game, but without an attractive Kickstarter page, you’re not going to get far. People really do judge what they fund based on looks now-a-days.

Everyone seemed to be unsure about timing.

Does timing (Month, day of the week etc) matter much?

I feel it does especially towards the end of the year when a lot of AAA games are coming out around the holidays and people are strapped for cash buying gifts for people it’s less likely that they’ll want to spend $20-$30 on your game. – Justin Carter

Everyone else felt that they had read conflicting information on timing, and that they simply weren’t sure if the timing of the Kickstarter actually mattered.

It is never enough to just make a Kickstarter and release it out into the wild. You will need to promote and advertise the Kickstarter as it runs. While getting involved in the Kickstarter community – especially answering questions on your Kickstarter, and having your own before you launch is very good advice, there is more to do when it comes to promotion.

How should a developer promote their Kickstarter?

Brian felt events were also super helpful, especially when it came to his board game:

The convention circuit was probably our best way to measure interest before launch, because people can give you immediate feedback and you can tell from their body language how genuinely energized they are about the product. You can have a mailing list signup and gauge your “success” by number of names on the sheet. Plus you meet good connections (we met a lady from Kickstarter who was able to vet our project before we launched, and she was endlessly helpful). The downside is it can be a bit expensive, and you have to keep that budgeting in mind or it can get out of control fast. – Brian Sowers

Justin brings up a good point:

Promoting your Kickstarter is a full time job the second you launch it. Being active on social media is a big part it, but that alone isn’t enough. I feel getting coverage on gaming websites is the biggest traffic boost and getting ad space on Facebook and Google will likely get more eyes on your project.- Justin Carter

Let’s talk a bit about rewards. Personally, I have heard that physical rewards on Kickstarter is both a must, but also something you shouldn’t promise as it’s hard to break even.

Are physical items important when it comes to Kickstarters?

The developer’s of Tiny Red Camel put this perfectly:

Physical rewards can be helpful. The simpler merch items like t-shirts and mugs help expand awareness of the game. Supporters at the upper reward tiers like limited-edition physical items. However you should always be aware of costs and make sure the reward level  is high enough to cover producing and shipping the items to the supporters. Tiny Red Camel

The developers I spoke too seemed to all agree — having these physical rewards can be good, but there are a lot of horror stories of them costing money in the end. You can always do non-physical rewards, which does work as well.

Along those lines:

Do you think having a DRM Free release helps your Kickstarter?

The verdict is out on this one. We only provided Steam keys to our Kickstarter backers. Either way, make sure you clearly communicate to your backers upfront what type of release you’re planning on. Some backers will only want Steam keys, whereas other backers will only want DRM free copies. Some devs provide both to their backers. Falcon Developments

Of course, where there are board games involved, you can’t actually have a DRM free release – but with video games, some of the backers on Kickstarter might not have Steam — so this is something you should consider and keep in mind.

What are some tips you have?

Failing a Kickstarter is not the end of the world. Do not, under any circumstance, take it personally. Also, there are other ways of funding your game. – Oswald de Bruin

Don’t be afraid to reach out to big-name press outlets, even if you have no previous relationship with them. There’s generic “tip” emails for almost every major gaming-related news site. The vast majority likely won’t respond or run any coverage, but even if you get just one of them to write up a short article about your campaign, it can drive a boatload of traffic your way. We owe a significant amount of our funding to a shot-in-the-dark email to Kotaku, where a very brief article about Cattails was posted during our Kickstarter campaign. Falcon Developments

Everyone’s going to say this, but it’s worth repeating – it’s super, super important to have all your ducks in a row financially. Know how much money you need, where that money is going to go, and how to properly budget for everything you offer.

One last bit of slightly more tangible advice: I recommend using a pledge manager like BackerKit if you can justify the price. We didn’t, and handling everything through Kickstarter’s survey interface turned out to be a headache and probably lost us money from people who wanted to get additional addons after the Kickstarter had ended. – Brian Sowers

And finally, a piece of life advice from Tiny Red Camel:

It’s a long road, pace yourself so you don’t burn out.

Hopefully some of this has helped you with planning out your Kickstarter! Doing so, is a huge undertaking, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need to get your game out into the world.

Interested in more advise from developers? Why not check our our other Roundtable articles?

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