"When Indie Dream turns into Indie Reality"
aka our Kickstarter disaster

In a recent Epic Battle Cry podcast, Daniel Kayser said a line, which I found quite inspiring: “I think that right now is the most exciting time that there has ever been to be in indie game development.”. As I’m writing this, we have 2 days left to reach our goal of $5000 on Kickstarter, which I’m certain we won’t, it has been 33 days since the launch and we have only 4,430 views on our Kickstarter page with 71 backers and with $1,170 pledged. Now, I’m a big fan of Epic Battle Axe, but I don’t think I can agree with Daniel on this one anymore.

This writing is not for the larger indies out there, this is for the one to three guy teams who haven’t yet released their first title. We are a two man team trying to break into the indie scene and this is about our Kickstarter experience and about the things we tried to get visitors to our campaign page.

We noticed the small number of visits right after the launch, but following a post on Reddit’s game development forum we calmed down a little. The post was titled “Never imagined indie scene to be so tough” and in it we complained about the low visibility of our Kickstarter 1 day after the launch. We got a lot of good feedback and suggestions about our campaign from that thread. Here’s the irony though - that post actually generated us the most views and backers throughout the entire campaign and it wasn’t EVEN about the game per se.

Before the launch
Many have said that we went into Kickstarter unprepared. It certainly was our first project of such kind, so yes, we didn’t exactly know what to expect, but I wouldn’t say that we jumped in blindly either. Here’s what we had before the launch:

As the demo was ready we didn’t want to wait too long to launch the Kickstarter so we read a lot of articles about how to launch a successful campaign and did the overall research about the subject and went ahead. According to Kickstarter’s official statistics, only 34.95% of gaming projects are successfully funded, as we didn’t want to end up in the other end of those statistics we decided to go in safe - small goal, playable demo, reasonable backer rewards.

The launch
Right after the launch we sent out emails to 65 gaming news sites and posted announcements to 68 forums and to our twitter, facebook, steam, youtube and indiedb channels. The response was rather cold, we got 1 reply from the press (greenlitgaming.com) and many forums actually banned us for advertising. After 26 hours, we had managed to get 284 video views and 7 backers (5 of them within first hours after launch).

It goes without saying that we were quite baffled and worried when seeing those results and it’s where we learned the first hard truth about the industry - nobody really cared about another small indie game.

Struggle to get noticed

As we truly wanted to make this game we started looking into all the possible ways to get more eyes on our project. Here is a list of things we tried and analysis of how they worked (or rather how they didn’t).

E-mails to press
We sent total of 4 letters to almost 100 news sites, so about 400 letters to the press. I don’t know if this is too low number for contacts, but we only sent a new letter if we had something new to show for, figured no need to spam.
Result: We did get a few articles on smaller indie sites, here is the total list of them: kickstarter-conversations.com, anythinggeekyreviewed.co.uk, thereticule.com, pixeljudge.com, indiegamenews.com, gamedev.com. Unfortunately, those sites don’t yet reach to a wider audience, so we didn’t get much visits and backers from there. To make matters worse, many sites also have a policy of not writing about crowdfunding projects.

Video requests to Youtubers:
A few days after the launch we sent a review/first-impressions video requests to every single Youtuber in this list (there’s about 170 active users there): youtubers.pixelprospector.com
Result: We got 5 people to make a video review of the game (Toegoff, VertigoTeaparty, scottofengland, Playinithard, FedoraG4mer, Azerothen). Not a bad result when looking at the numbers, but all of them are still building up their user base and have a small number of subscribers. In the end it didn’t really have much impact to our Kickstarter page visits.

Forum posts

We posted about our game and Kickstarter campaign to 68 forums. Many forums don’t allow new users to post links or, like mentioned above, self-advertisement, so getting banned or suspended was common. It’s weird though, because if somebody else posts about your game, it’s ok.
Result: While I’m sure the forum posts helped with the visibility, we only got 4 backers through the forums.

Press kit
We now know that we should’ve put our press kit together before the launch, but I guess better late than never. We created the press kit so that it would be easy to copy/paste information from it and hoped that this way we could appeal more to the editors.
Result: We sent out our second letter to the press about this and the result was almost non-existent, the only thing notable is that we got a shout-out tweet by Greg Miller, Executive Editor of IGN, which got around 500 people to play the game and a few of those backed.

Game updates
Throughout the campaign we did smaller updates to the game, but because the PR part took most of the time we weren’t able to do anything major.
Result: The biggest update we did was that we added an additional control scheme where the movement is relative to the screen instead of the craft. While many people requested it I’m not sure how it affected the visits or the pledges.

Developer commentary video
When the struggle for visibility became worse, we thought that getting more content about the game out there would help us. So a developer commentary video about the demo was made. We even featured it as our Kickstarter video for a few days.
Result: While people generally liked the video, it didn’t generate any surge of backers or visitors.

Greenlight relaunch
When we first launched our original Greenlight in May we initially got a lot of views to our Greenlight page because the section for the recently launched projects on Steam gets lots of visits. So even though we were going to lose our previous votes we decided to relaunch, since without reaching our Kickstarter goal, there wouldn’t be a game anyway.
Result: This actually worked pretty well, in 9 days we have got 13,348 visits to our Greenlight page, lots of comments and we also noticed more backers per day, nothing too major though.

Contest

For one final effort to get noticed we decided to create a story writing contest where the winner would get the $1000 backer reward featured on our Kickstarter page - a chance to write an entire new campaign for the game. We posted about the contest to forums and this was also the main subject in our last email to the press, we only got featured in Blue's News.
Result: There are as of right now 7 contenders (with awesome stories) who have entered the contest, it hasn’t affected the visits or pledges on our Kickstarter page much though.

Visibility is everything
My subjective opinion is that projects like ours are at the mercy of editors from big news outlets and high tier Youtube names. If a small project gets featured on IGN or by someone like Totalbiscuit or Nerd3 it is more likely going to get funded. I think that the risks with this are that to make sure a project gets funded, the developers best bet is to start catering to the sources where they are most likely to get visibility. This however can hurt the creative side of the game.

Conclusion
Maybe we didn’t have enough following before the launch, maybe our Kickstarter pledge “prices” were calculated badly, maybe our Kickstarter video was badly edited or maybe the game just sucks, whatever the reason, I hope this is a lesson for all future indies who plan on crowdfunding their title. I’m not saying that this is what to expect, but I hope it gives a general idea of current attitude towards projects like ours. On the bright side, it certainly has been an educative experience about the industry for us.

By Lennart Rikk 26.08.2013