• # Why Kickstarters Fail and How to Avoid It

As an introduction let me just say I've been working as a liaison between Nintendo and indie developers for the past few months and have succeeded in bringing over around 15-20 new indie games to Wii U and 3DS. I've emailed back and forth developers who were running Kickstarters and through this I started to get some insight as to why many promising Kickstarter campaigns fail. They may seem like simple common sense (and they are) but they still seem to be overlooked too often. I wrote this so hopefully I can provide some insight to indie developers who may be starting a Kickstarter campaign in the near future. I hope it helps.

# Why Kickstarters Fail

I've had the opportunity of observing a fair few video game Kickstarter campaigns over the past few weeks from a close proximity. Some succeeded, others didn't. Being in touch with many of the campaign starters has given me a bit of insight into why some Kickstarters fail and others succeed. It's too often that you see a really great concept fail to build any kind of steam in their funding. Extremely talented developers will be baffled when they see their projects never make it past lift-off. And yet others seem to glide towards their funding target with the simplest of ease. It's not magic or voodoo. Having a really good idea just doesn't cut it on Kickstarter. There are some clear-cut factors that should be taken into account from the start. Of course, it's never completely in one's hands and there are many outside factors that you just can't control. But before anyone starts a Kickstarter campaign I'd advise them to sit down with their development team and figure out how they will avoid these 3 pitfalls.

## 2. The Project Isn't Far Enough Along

So, in summary: don't start a Kickstarter campaign unless you'd be ready to let fans try a demo of your game already at this point.

## 3. The Target Is Too High

This rule is simple. Sometime you see two very similar projects and one succeeds on Kickstarter and the other doesn't. The difference? One aimed for $5,000 and the other aimed for$10,000. Or one aims for $10,000 and the other for$50,000. They both could end up raising $45,000 but the second one loses it all when they don't reach their target by the end of the campaign. I know this is easier said than done because at the end of the day, those numbers are real. The teams sits down and crunches numbers. They know that the project won't get done without this kind of money. But the question they have to ask themselves is, what will happen if we fail the Kickstarter? Did we succeed in getting the money we needed because we set a high-enough price? It's better to aim a bit lower than what you hope for but make the target one that is easy to reach. There is no set formula for doing this because every game is different. So, you should take a look at recent Kickstarters that seem somewhat comparable to your own and make a proper estimation of what you can target and still succeed. And remember: Kickstarter campaigns that succeed, almost always get funded considerably above their target. I just took the last 12 video game Kickstarter campaigns to get funded and calculated their average funding. The average between them was to reach 256% of their target funded. So, whether your success will end up being 110% of your target or 400% of your target, you should find a way to include that in your target plans. Drop your initial target by a little bit and assume that if you succeed you will get a that extra bit added on to the final funding. ## 4. Lack of PR Oh boy. This is the golden rule in my opinion. This is where I have seen first-hand the majority of Kickstarters fail. Kickstarters are so often run by brilliant individuals: game developers. And that means that their expertise is in coding and expert game design. What they usually haven't had much experience in is dealing with PR. Usually, the previous companies they worked for had PR representatives or out-sourced their PR responsibilities to a specific PR firm (the majority of big publishers outsource their PR to a firm and most smaller developers hire a few individuals internally to handle PR.) Working on two video game websites means that a large part of my day is working in PR/marketing. Whether it's paying attention to how one build's awareness of their brand on the internet, how to increase exposure, or what makes something go viral, these all have been my bread and butter for the past year and a half. So, when I noticed the lack of exposure in many Kickstarter campaigns it wasn't hard for me to realize why many of the most promising ones were failing. Again, we return to Double Fine. Don't expect to be like Double Fine. Tim Schafer has instant virality potential. He said, "Adventure!" and the internet said, "KaBOOM!" Don't expect your campaign to go viral like that unless you are well-known in the gaming world. If you're like everyone else, you're going to have to launch a PR campaign to get anyone to notice your project. Basically, you're going to attempt to get as many gaming websites to talk about your campaign. This will help spread your message to millions of gamers instead of a few hundred that like to stalk Kickstarter's website. The way to do this is to email those websites. The way not to do this is to send a press report to their email. Take it from me: most gaming websites get more press releases in their email than they can handle and unless you are one of the more significant stories, your press release will probably end up in their trash bin. Instead of sending a press release, send an email that seems personal. It should sound like you're talking directly to the editor and informing them about your project. There has to be some kind of hook. Something that draws them to your campaign. The editor will only want to report on your game if he can make some kind of headline that draws attention. He/she is looking how they will benefit from running this story. So, feed them that line and reel 'em in. Tell them what makes your game special. And assume they will only read one paragraph of your email. For the really big sites offer them more. Maybe an interview or an exclusive set of screenshots. So, what sites should you email? As many as you can (and us, of course: ninten.enthusiast@gmail.com.) But, these are the ones that report on Kickstarters, so they are more likely to publish your story: A) Kickstarters are practically the life blood of these sites and they will almost definitely spread the word to the Kickstarter community: • indiegames.com • Jayisgames • Rockpapershotgun • TIGSource • Indiegamemag • DIYgamer If you want to really go thoroughly through all the decently-sized indie sites that would talk about your game this is a great list: http://www.pixelprospector.com/the-big-list-of-indie-game-sites/ B) These sites are massive but they are the ones that also report on Kickstarter campaigns pretty often. As long as a Kickstarter looks promising or has an interesting twist or innovation, they're willing to report on it: • Venturebeat/Gamesbeat • Gamesradar • Kotaku • Joystiq • Gameinformer • Shacknews • Eurogamer • Destructoid • Escapist Magazine • VG247 • Videogamer.com • Gamezone.com • PC Gamer • Gamasutra • Polygon C) Finally, there are a ton of Youtube channels that cover indie games and Kickstarters. Youtube channels are a very powerful source of exposure on the internet. You can contact these "indie"-coverage Youtube channels on this list via your youtube channel: http://youtubers.pixelprospector.com/ Don't give up after a week if you don't see the campaign succeeding. Keep on doing relentless PR or look for another angle to get the engines started. Reprinted with permission from NintendoEnthusiast.com and Menashe Kestenbaum at http://nintendoenthusiast.com/15245/kickstarter-feature-part-1-why-kickstarters-fail-and-how-to-avoid-it/ Report Article ## User Feedback I totally agree that you should have a playable demo or very (very) good gameplay video before starting a campaign! Personally, I won't back a project with only concept art/teaser video since anyone can easily create a decent looking scene using Unity/UDK/etc... #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites In my opinion, when you have a solid demo as implied in this article, then the team probably isn't too far off from a polished game. They might have to create more levels and content, but the general structure of the game is there and it's polished. If I were to have a team with good programmers, how would I ever be able to finance a decent artist for my game without some starting funds? Not many quality artists are willing to work for free, at least I have never come across any. Problem is, you run into a deadlock: no artist means no demo and no demo means no money for an artist. What I'd like to see is some advice for teams which have most of the required expertise required to build the game, but need just that extra monetary boost to lift off. #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites @godmodder, only teams started by artists ever make games. It's a well known fact programmers can't get games done without at least some start-up money to get artists. #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites In my opinion, when you have a solid demo as implied in this article, then the team probably isn't too far off from a polished game. They might have to create more levels and content, but the general structure of the game is there and it's polished. If I were to have a team with good programmers, how would I ever be able to finance a decent artist for my game without some starting funds? Not many quality artists are willing to work for free, at least I have never come across any. Problem is, you run into a deadlock: no artist means no demo and no demo means no money for an artist. What I'd like to see is some advice for teams which have most of the required expertise required to build the game, but need just that extra monetary boost to lift off. Like anything in life, people will invest in you if you shown that you have some skin in the game as well.. putting money into the project of your own to get to that bare minimum level is necessary for any other business pitch, why not kickstarters? #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites It's a well known fact programmers can't get games done without at least some start-up money to get artists. Is it? Ah well, now that I think about it, this might actually be true today. With tools like Unity, artists can probably make a game on their own. Whereas programmers on the other hand cannot easily make quality art. It used to be the other way around I think. In the 90's you could do little as an artist without a programmer to put all the magic on the screen. Have programmers put themselves into a difficult position then? There exist free art assets for programmers as well ofcourse, but engines and code seem much more reusable. #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites Engineering art can be improved. Blender is free, the tutorials amazing and even if the final result isn't great, you'll be infinitely more qualified to talk to artists which is helpful if you need to work with them. I also believe that putting money in your project is essential. If you don't believe in yourself enough to invest in yourself, why should others believe in you? If you don't have money, bootstrap your team by hiring yourselves out to other developers to help on their projects. That's how most of the bootstrapped studios I know of did it. #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites As a sidenote, I wonder if some of the potentially unsuccessful Kickstarters have succeeded after all, simply because the developers pushed in resources themselves at the last moment (if it didn't quite reach the goal). So I'm thinking that this is probably one way to get a successful Kickstarter. Get a certain amount of funds yourself, and then try to see how much you can spare by raising it through Kickstarter. Unless there are some rules against people backing up their own projects. Also, what about not using the official "Kickstarter" for your game? Look at several of the indie titles as of yet, such as Minecraft, Cubeworld, 7 Days to Die or similar. These developers don't even bother with Kickstarter, but instead make their Alpha versions available to the audience for a small fee and that will itself fund the development. That's right, an Alpha version! The good thing about this practice is that the game won't ever fail to reach an agreed upon goal and then get defunded. If anything, it'll only fail to be released as a solid game because the devs didn't know how to allocate the funding properly. Now, you may not be Notch and get millions off of the Alpha and Beta versions alone, so this method may not always be the best (or even possible). Plus you need to have your own website up and running, and perhaps some legal counsil to boot (which ain't cheap). But at least it's worth mentioning that the official Kickstarter isn't the only way to kickstart your project. #### Share this comment ##### Link to comment ##### Share on other sites As a sidenote, I wonder if some of the potentially unsuccessful Kickstarters have succeeded after all, simply because the developers pushed in resources themselves at the last moment (if it didn't quite reach the goal). So I'm thinking that this is probably one way to get a successful Kickstarter. Get a certain amount of funds yourself, and then try to see how much you can spare by raising it through Kickstarter. Unless there are some rules against people backing up their own projects. Also, what about not using the official "Kickstarter" for your game? Look at several of the indie titles as of yet, such as Minecraft, Cubeworld, 7 Days to Die or similar. These developers don't even bother with Kickstarter, but instead make their Alpha versions available to the audience for a small fee and that will itself fund the development. That's right, an Alpha version! The good thing about this practice is that the game won't ever fail to reach an agreed upon goal and then get defunded. If anything, it'll only fail to be released as a solid game because the devs didn't know how to allocate the funding properly. Now, you may not be Notch and get millions off of the Alpha and Beta versions alone, so this method may not always be the best (or even possible). Plus you need to have your own website up and running, and perhaps some legal counsil to boot (which ain't cheap). But at least it's worth mentioning that the official Kickstarter isn't the only way to kickstart your project. This is indeed a great approach, with Minecraft being the obvious winner with this, but there's a dark side to this, which is actually one of the other games you mentioned: CubeWorld. I threw down$25 for the Alpha in July of 2013, and then the dev basically disappeared. He's had a couple of blog posts saying "I'm working on great stuff!", maybe once every dix months or so, but otherwise has had NO contact with any of his "backers", and the backlash is pretty deep.

Lesson here: if you're going to use the general public to fund your game development, you MUST keep in contact with them! Even if it's one-way, letting your investors have at least a glimpse of your work goes a long way. For a truly extreme example of this, there's Limit Theory, a one man game who's developer posts a dev log DAILY (a serious, down deep dev log, too), and his fans are rabid. It's all about communication!

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