The launch of Kickstarter changed the crowdfunding landscape, offering a more reliable way for creatives to bring their projects to market. It was a natural fit for the indie development community which has found huge success on the platform over the years. Granted, crowdfunding isn’t the powerhouse it once was, but for an entity that’s funded over 10,000 games since its inception there’s still opportunities to succeed, or so you would think. The reality of crowdfunding your game is often at odds with indie developers’ expectations that Kickstarter is an easy and free path to making the game of your dreams. Unfortunately, that often isn’t the case.
Your campaign will probably fail
Crowdfunding isn’t what it used to be, as games just don’t get the coverage they once did when crowdfunding was still new and exciting. Kickstarter has been in decline for some years now, with pledges slowly decreasing. There are, of course, still some huge successes on the site, but these are often by creators with established audiences and fans.
The truth is, if you launch your game on Kickstarter with no community support your project will probably fail. The days of new and unknown projects hitting it big in crowdfunding are over, in part due to some high-profile failures and the erosion of people’s trust in the funding method, and in part due to the decreasing visibility projects are receiving on Kickstarter itself. This is something you need to come to terms with before you start, and seriously, if this is your first game, then you have even less of a chance of hitting your goals.
It’ll cost you time and money
It’s ironic that most people start a Kickstarter campaign because they don’t have enough money to fund their game, only to realise running a successful campaign these days isn’t cheap. First, you’ve got arrange the marketing, in a position where you already know failure is likely you’re going to need all the help you can get. Depending on your own skill set, you might have to outsource this to a freelance or agency. Great marketing isn’t cheap and, of course, also doesn’t guarantee success on a platform reliant on community interest.
Then you have the trailer and project graphics to consider. Again, these a vital to even be in with a chance and may also require outsourcing, which puts you further in a hole without a likely return. People often want proof of concept before they invest in a game and you need to get that across in the quality of your assets. This isn’t something you can skip without paying the price later.
The most valuable thing a Kickstarter project will cost you, though, is time. It isn’t a case of uploading the campaign, sitting back and waiting for the money to come rolling in; crowdfunding is exhausting. Running a successful campaign is like taking on another full-time job. You need to be posting updates and answering messages every day, tracking and analysing data all the time, reaching out to journalists and influencers and your community constantly. A Kickstarter campaign is often seen as the easy solution, but it’s anything but: you’ll have to work insanely hard to get people to notice and engage with your project.
You only get what you give back
So let’s say your game is the exception, you find success where others haven’t, and you manage to fund your game. Well, the hard work has only just begun, as you are now beholden to a community of people who have financed your game and are expecting what you promised – and more – in return. For indie developers, this can be particularly challenging. You may only be a small team or even a solo dev and suddenly have a large audience demanding progress reports, with no way to manage that.
Crowdfunding is a minefield, especially once you’re funded. Your new fans will expect a lot and feel a personal investment in the project. Always being realistic can help control this variable, such as setting your funding goal reasonably low, but you’re still going to be left with people who expect you to deliver what you said, and on time. This can be a significant amount of pressure, especially for new studios or inexperienced studios.
Kickstarter isn’t marketing
Contrary to popular belief, a Kickstarter campaign isn’t a free advertisement for your game. In fact, launching a crowdfunding project won’t solve your marketing problems at all. For a start, the project itself will need marketing to succeed, and a crowdfunding project is a much tougher sell than the game itself. You’ll need to have robust marketing plans in place to even be in with a chance of success. So, if you’re thinking of crowdfunding as a quick and easy way to bring significant attention to your game, think again.
Marketing Kickstarter campaigns aren’t easy either. There’s an endless amount of variables – all the way down to blind luck – to consider. Add to that the fact that most media outlets don’t cover unfunded Kickstarter campaigns and you’ll begin to realise the challenge these kinds of projects face. You won’t get covered by major outlets unless you’re successful; you can’t be successful unless you’ve already got a community ready to support your game; to get a community you’ll need to market your game to enough people; to market your game to enough people you’ll need a major outlet… you see the issue with not having an already established name or brand?
Variety is the spice of life
Now, Kickstarter isn’t totally defunct, and of course, it still has its uses. But if this post has made you think twice about Kickstarter, yet you still need some cash to finish your game, then know there are other options out there to explore.
Depending on where you are based there are things like government grants to consider, such as the UK Games Fund, who help developers get government funding for their games. There are also publishers to consider – there are plenty out there willing to take on the right projects. And, of course, if you feel that crowdfunding is absolutely for you there are other platforms to give a shot. Indiegogo is an alternative option for indie game developers, although you may face the same issued you’d come up against with a Kickstarter campaign. There’s also Patreon, a route a lot of smaller developers are taking these days to continue to produce their work supported by a small community of backers on an ongoing basis.
Overall, crowdfunding is a risky and unpredictable approach to developing and promoting games. A lot of PR and marketing firms – including ourselves – are hesitant about working with Kickstarter campaigns as a result. If you do choose to go down this route, then it’s all about doing your homework and preparing for failure. Crowdfunding is not easy and even the people who do find success often still have it hard, so good luck out there.