Your Kickstarter Probably Sucks. Here's How To Make It Better.

You would not believe how many Kickstarter ideas we've been shown in the last few weeks. Ever since Double Fine (and then Wasteland 2) showed there was serious money to be made on the service, every man, his dog and his dog's workmates from the IT department have been sending us their idea for the next big thing.

Many of them aren't. They're complete rubbish.

It doesn't matter how good your idea is, or at least how good you think it is, a Kickstarter project isn't some forum post or drunken roundtable discussion with friends. It's a serious attempt at asking complete strangers for often sizeable sums of cash.

Which is the first place most campaigns go wrong. I don't think they're taking that core conceit seriously enough. You're not asking for Facebook Likes, or retweets, or people on Reddit to leave an anonymous message saying "yeah, that's great". You are asking people for money.

Yet given the level of polish and thought that goes into so many presentations, you wouldn't think that was the case! A badly-encoded video that shows nothing but some concept art and over-uses words like "unique" is probably not even worth watching, let alone watching and thinking "hey, I should give these guys some of my hard-earned money!".

So if you currently have a Kickstarter project, or are thinking about starting one, please, take a step back. Think about what it is you're asking people for. And try and bear at least one of these things in mind.

SHOW THEM SOMETHING

If you want money from a bank to start a business, you can't just walk into it and expect them to hand it over. You have to present them with a business plan, which usually involves two things: research and presentation. You need to do your homework, find out if what you want to sell/male has a market out there. And if it does, you need to show the bank you're capable enough to be able to deliver that.

Ditto for Kickstarter. Don't just record some words about how awesome you think your idea is, show some boring/amateur concept art and expect the cash to come pouring in. It won't, because you've done nothing to differentiate your idea from a bunch of drunk people drawing mission branches on the back of a pub coaster.

What you need at the very least is some professional concept art. A best-case scenario would involve some alpha footage of a level/character in action. An even better scenario would be to combine the two into some form of trailer. If you don't have those, or even have access to them, maybe you shouldn't be making a video game. Because getting access to them takes only one thing: money.

SPEND SOME MONEY

You've gotta spend money to make money. If none of your friends are artists, go to an art site/forum and hire someone. If you're lucky, you can get someone to draw you a few very good pieces of art for a few hundred bucks.

If you don't have the software or other means to make a nice trailer, you're going to need it. Either buy it yourself (which could cost hundreds, or even thousands) or again, see if you can hire someone (which could cost hundreds). Same goes for music.

WATCH YOUR MOUTH

The second you initiate a Kickstarter project, you're no longer simply a video game developer (or wannabe developer). You're also an in-house PR team. Big publishers spend so much on PR because it's so damn important, both in terms of properly conveying what your game is about, and in helping it get noticed by busy games writers/journalists who see hundreds of new games a day.

That being the case, think very hard not just about what makes your game special, but what's going to help it stand out amongst the crowd. Don't use words like "throwback" or "unique" or "visceral", or anything else that's been used so many times it no longer means anything.

My best advice would be to say as little as possible. Don't sit in front of a webcam if you're not a good fit for the camera. And if your voice isn't a good one for radio, don't say anything. Just write some stuff down on the site. Nothing kills a Kickstarter boner faster than seeing some 21 year-old with a headset lisping about how awesome their new game is. It's the height of unprofessionalism, which may sound harsh, but remember the key rule: you're asking for money. So hey, you've got to be professional.

Say what it is, where it's set, what you do then let the trailer/art speak for itself. If the foundations of your game aren't interesting enough to get noticed and make some money, well, sorry, your idea might just not be very interesting.

LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY

Christian Allen's Takedown project has shown that, if at first you don't succeed, coming back with a stronger message and something to actually show people can work wonders. Takedown has made the money it needed after an abortive first attempt, and the team now have the cash to follow their dreams and make the game they want to make.

It's a formula 95% of the other projects on the service could do with copying. That's not to say 95% of the failing/failed projects will then succeed; in many cases, people simply won't care about a game regardless of its pitch. Sorry.

But there's nothing wrong with trying a little harder! And if all that's too much to remember, at least remember this: you're asking strangers for money, so take it a little more seriously!

(Top image credit | LOUIE DEL CARMEN )

Comments

    To me one of the big no-no that so many of these kickstarter projects are doing is asking for higher pledges in exchange for inserting something from the pledger like a weapon, character or even gameplay ideas! Seriously just NO.

      +1 to this.

      There is a big difference to adding names to the credits, or a face to an NPC, compared to actually affecting the creation process

      Although in the case of Wasteland 2, It's working very well. I agree that it could be undesirable if there are immersion-breaking "n008z00Rs Knife" named items and places, but it can be done tastefully.

      For example: No Mutants Allowed pledged $1000 to have a previously existing location in the game renamed after their fan-site. This name and tribute blends seamlessly with the setting, and raised $1000.

        "This name and tribute blends seamlessly with the setting"

        Speak for yourself, in fact even if it does it would be a coincidence. How many angry pledgers will there be if they paid that much but the devs said no we can't add that. Best not to do it.

    Listening to EBA, the guys on the show were discussing a rise in the number of Devs asking for money from people as a way to avoid Publishers. I think it's a bit much honestly, and I probably wouldn't donate a cent, but it's an interesting idea. If you guys haven't heard, check it! Epic Battle Cry!!

      Epic battle cry is awesome. I love daniel's puns. CRY HAVOC!!!!!

      Fellow Axe-heads ! :)

    It's like class of heroes 2. It was too expensive to get a copy of the game, it should have been $30 for a digital copy because most hardcore hand-held gamers have a Vita now, and that was the audience they were trying to tap ino.

    I think something else is that whatever you do, you should ask for the minimum amount to realise the basics, with a 'if we get more, we'll also do these nice things' aspirational goal. Eg the kickstarter for a collector's edition release of Class of Heroes II, their goal is far too high to be possible, and it looks like at least some of that money is to go toward dubbing the game into english and then licensing the Japanese vocals if they get extra. That seems backwards to me.

      you would be surprised just how much the original language can cost, especially if they had big name actors that the original company payed a lot of money for. This is especially the case if they were to use a cheaper studio and newer actors that haven't hit it big yet.

    Nice article, Luke.

    You know what I would like to know about Kickstarter, is the really high tiers of donation. I would have no idea what to offer them and again what is a realistic offer from an indie developer.

    Off the top of my head I would think that some thing around 500 to 1000 bucks would be the top. And then I just wouldn't know what should be the reward for that sort of donation.

      $10,000, you get to make out Tim Schafer.

    This information would be great if Australian developers could actually use Kickstarter. There is no amazon payments support in Australia so we cannot have projects funded through kickstarter. Some global and local alternatives would be nice and i think they deserve some publicity for reaching a broader market.

      I learnt about Pozible the other day from one of the Show and Tell articles. Seems to be the Australian equivalent of Kickstarter.

    I think everyone should listen to the recent Giant Bombcast where they talk about the Kickstarter phenomenon. The service has existed for a long time and I've purchased many things like innovative camera accessories from it. Then the Doublefine story happened. Now the site is clogged by gaming bandwagoners jumping on, hoping to strike gold with selfish abandon. It's completely misguided.

    There's a millionaire pizza tycoon who wants $1 million to make an MMO on Kickstarter. Such confidence that the man doesn't think it's worth 1/42 of his money to invest. Since all pledges get refunded if the target is not met (this won't happen), people are 'donating' money just to fuck with the guy by posting dumb questions in the donors-only comments section.

      Maybe his plan is to let the jokers put in their fake pledges, then pledge the difference himself at the last minute so the system counts the funding as successful and charges all their credit cards. He'll get however much he had to put in right back, with everyone elses on top.

    I hate you lu....
    Wait... this is a good article...
    Good Job Luke!

    Good article! I agree with the majority of the points, but I don't necessarily agree that you shouldn't say something if you don't have a radio voice or if you don't present well on camera. Well not in all cases anyway..

    One of the things I would like to see from an unknown asking for money is that they have a genuine passion for what they are trying to achieve. If I were a venture capitalist I would want to meet the person I was giving money to for that very reason. In the online space, where you're asking millions of people for funding, a video showing that passion could well be the thing that gets you funding.

    I don't particularly agree with the second half of the third point. Nothing kills my interest in a project more than not knowing who's behind it and not hearing their passion and enthusiasm for it. If you go into a business to pitch your product, you can't have someone else go in to cover for you, there are no words on screen and music to hide behind, you have to sell your product by the enthusiasm in your voice, body language and the quality of the work you present.

    Just because you're a 21 year old with a lisp trying to make do with the sound equipment you can afford, it doesn't mean that people aren't going to buy into your enthusiasm about how your game is going to be a great one, nor is it unprofessional. If you don't believe that your game is great, why should I? Sure, there's such a thing as being too over-confident and egotistical, but a lot of successful people didn't get where they are now by hiding their face or voice and talking down their product.

    "sell/male has a market""

    Isn't that prostitution? ;)

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