Best practices for video game campaigns
Although many crowdfunding-related best practices are applicable to all types of project, a one-size-fits-all approach is not always optimal. Below, we look at some crowdfunding best practices that address certain particularities of video games projects.
Video games projects, even small, simple independent ones, often command larger production budgets than other types of creative project such as independent films. This means that video games campaigns typically have higher funding goals than their other creative counterparts, creating additional challenges when it comes to crowdfunding. (The average games ask (of successful campaigns) on Kickstarter is $68,300 compared to the average ask for successful film and video projects which is only $11,735 and the overall average ask for successful campaigns across all types of projects which is only $15,600).
Games audiences are also particular and require slightly different kinds of engagement than other audiences, which presents its own set of unique challenges in the context of crowdfunding.
Below we have outlined a few crowdfunding best practices targeted specifically at video games projects.
Show that you have something
The key to any successful crowdfunding campaign is well-crafted, high-quality promotional materials that provide as much detail as possible about the project.
In the case of video games, however, providing compelling promotion materials for your project is even more critical. Most consumers (or contributors) will want to preview elements of the game – or at least see some developed art assets -- before they support it. In some cases, a well-made pitch video with some stills or short clips showing off the key design and gameplay elements may be enough of a preview. One of the best ways to get your audience’s attention is by allowing them to actually play a short demo of the game they will be backing. As Chris Roberts of Star Citizen suggested to Game Developer, “the sort of crowdfunded campaigns that are doing well, or will do well, are the ones that are able to show much more up front, show what you’re going to get as someone who’s backing it.”
Video games consumers are particularly (and notoriously) demanding and they want to make sure that any project they support will meet their standards. The best way to prove that to them is to let them experience some of the gameplay first hand. However, always bear in mind that you still want to maintain some mystery so that your supporters remain motivated to purchase your game once it is complete. Vander Caballero the Creative Director for Papo & Yo --a non-crowdfunded game--revealed in an interview that Minority Media may have revealed too much of the game too early, something they suspect has had a negative impact on their sales for the game.
Get as much market coverage as possible
The key to any successful crowdfunding campaign is reaching and compelling as many contributors as possible. For video games this often means reaching out to audiences in the US, one of the world’s largest videogames markets – if not the largest. For example, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2012-2016 report, the US accounted for just over $13 billion in video games sales in 2011, representing a full 88.6% of total video games sales in North America and almost 23% of total global video games sales. Many video games projects require higher funding goals than other types of projects, so limiting a campaign to local markets in Canada (or even Europe) often makes it very difficult for the campaign to reach those lofty goals.
As the US is also one of the largest markets for video games in the world and where most game developers’ (whether Canadian or from elsewhere) existing audiences are located, it is critical that a large-budget video games campaign have access to US gamers. This is what Revolution Studios discovered when preparing to launch their campaign for Broken Sword. In the end they decided to set up a US subsidiary in Delaware and launch their campaign on the US Kickstarter site in order to get the exposure to the US market they needed, despite the fact that they had access to Kickstarter’s UK platform. Indeed, as UK-based studio Atomhawk Design recently reported to Pocket Gamer, “the lack of US payments was a crucial factor in hurting our campaign,” and they planned to relaunch the campaign for The Realm later in 2013 with a US account.
Game developers are more likely to reach their goals if they make an effort to promote their project and campaign to the US market.
Get your contributors involved.
But the video games consumer community is a particularly engaged group and they demand an even greater level of engagement than the average consumer. The interactive nature of video games products – and their development -- means that consumers tend to be more accustomed to being involved in content creation than audiences of other types of media.
Many games creators who have had successful crowdfunding campaigns report that the contribution categories that show the most activity are those that offer contributors with either:
an opportunity to access bonus content such as additional levels or gameplay features (something that is uniquely possible with games projects),
an opportunity to creatively contribute to the game by designing characters, props, landscapes or even contributing to the narrative of a game, or
participate as beta testers and have an opportunity to comment on the game provide comments and feedback .
Games consumers tend to be more engaged than the average consumer, not to mention the fact that they also tend to be more engaged with new technologies and trends, meaning that they will tend to be more aware of how crowdfunding works. As a result, games consumers will demand that project creators engage with them more than consumers of other types of projects. They will also be less forgiving of mistakes and will more readily voice their frustrations or support. Make sure you do your best to respond to every tweet and to every comment on your campaign page, even if it is just to acknowledge that you heard them.
And as Charles Cecil expressed on a panel at the Independent Games Summit at Game Developer Conference 2013, it is important to take heed of any feedback your audience provides on the product – or about anything else -- via these channels (within reason, of course). Revolution Software was actually able to use some feedback from the community about certain issues to improve their product. While not all feedback will lead to project changes, the fact that you have taken the time to hear and respond to a backer can make them feel like valued contributors.
Maintain your accountability.
General best practices for any crowdfunding project require that project owners update their contributors on the progress of their projects.
This is even more important for video games projects, particularly if there are delays in the production of the project. Games audiences are particularly demanding and value communication as well as accountability.
One great example of this is Fez. While not a crowdfunded game, Fez was announced in 2007 and won a number of awards before it was even released, but the game was not released until 2012 due to a number of delays. The game’s developer, Phil Fish, received severe backlash from his audiences and supporters when he failed to meet projected release dates, demonstrating how quickly a games audience was to hold him accountable for his promises.
If your project is delayed communicate that to your contributors and provide them with an adequate explanation for the delay. Not only will you provide them with an honest explanation for the delay, but you will be building a genuine, even personal, relationship with your audience. In this way, your audience may surprise you by offering support and encouragement in the event of a significant delay -- rather than frustration and a loss of confidence in your product. As he explained during a panel at GDC 2013, that is what Colin Walsh of Celsius games experienced when a close family member became ill and production on Drifter was delayed. By being transparent about the situation, Colin not only avoided a backlash from his supporters, but was also surprised by the outpouring of support he received from them during that difficult time.
Don’t forget about traditional media.
One of the main strengths of crowdfunding is its ability to leverage social media to spread the word about your campaign. And while this applies as much to video game project campaigns as for any other type of project, video games campaigns should not underestimate the power of more traditional media.
The video games community is quite tight-knit and getting coverage for your campaign in key industry and trade publications (such as Develop, Gamasutra or Kotaku) is an important way to get the word out about your project and campaign beyond the boundaries of your personal and professional network. Coverage in these more traditional media is also critical to help give credibility to your project and campaign.
It is important for games creators to build good press relations with key industry or trade publications before and during the campaign to ensure that valuable additional coverage. While it can be difficult to get the attention of these media outlets (given then number of crowdfunding campaigns on the go), succeeding can have a tremendous impact on the result of a video game crowdfunding campaign.
Bear in mind that every project and every campaign is unique. While the best practices presented above provide general guidelines for success, the most important thing to do is to do your homework and find what works for your project.