Castle Story case study: The importance of the community
Sauropod Studio was founded by two game design graduates from Université de Québec à Montréal, François Alain and Germain Couët. Castle Story was originally conceived as their final graduating project. Shortly after graduating, the pair decided to make a go of fully developing and publishing the game and Sauropod Studio was officially born. In January 2012, after posting a video demonstration on Reddit that received an overwhelming positive response from the online community, François and Germain made the decision to work on Castle Story full-time. Over a year and a half later, and following a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, the company boasts a team of six people (including the two founders).
All projects need funding. When the founders of Sauropod Studio made the decision to work on Castle Story full-time, they soon realized that they would need to finance the project – and to support themselves while they developed it. When they looked at their available financing options, crowdfunding looked to be the only viable option for two new independent game developers financing a small, relatively obscure independent game.
The duo was also attracted to crowdfunding because they were determined to maintain full creative control and ownership of Castle Story. Accordingly, they were wary of involving a publisher or other formal investor who might demand to have a say in creative decision-making – and then take a share of the profits. Rather, they wanted their only stakeholders to be the game’s audience. In this way, if the game was unsuccessful they would have peace of mind knowing it was not the result of some third-party demand and that they had let the product speak for itself.
Starting in January 2012, the team at Sauropod began the six-month long process of preparing to launch their Kickstarter campaign. This process included developing a workable prototype of the game that would, in turn, allow them to produce a compelling demo video. During this period, the team undertook a 4-month administrative process to set up an account with Amazon Payments and get the project accepted by Kickstarter.
During the process of preparing for their crowdfunding campaign, François and Germain had to develop skills and knowledge related to the administrative and legislative steps required to set up a Kickstarter campaign, and to manage an online community. In the end, Sauropod opted to hire an online community manager to help them manage the volume of community engagement they faced both during and since the close of the Kickstarter campaign.
That up-front time investment was well rewarded. Within five hours of launching, the campaign had already reached its $80,000 funding goal. On the second day of the campaign the project had already raised just shy of $200,000. By the end of the 30-day campaign the project had raised over $700,000, about 878% of the original funding goal.
Analysis: Building a Supportive Community
What does Sauropod’s experience indicate, more generally, about how one can maximize the chances for a successful crowdfunding campaign? Aside from offering a unique and compelling product, this case study shows that the success of the crowdfunding campaign is closely linked to building and maintaining momentum about the project and the campaign. Indeed, Sauropod’s success is in line with recent academic work that suggests that the “social capital” and “preparedness” of a campaign and its founders have a profound impact on the chances of a project’s success.
By posting a demo video to Reddit several months before launching the Kickstarter campaign, Sauropod created a certain amount of buzz about the project even before they announced that they would be launching a crowdfunding campaign. In this way, they built a ‘community of interest’ for the game, with whom they immediately began to engage through a development blog, through interactions on Reddit, and through other social media such as Twitter and Facebook. As they were doing so, they caught the attention of someone with a strong social media following (over 1 million Twitter followers) who tweeted about the project – a fortunate event that ensured a great deal of additional exposure via social media.
Having already established a large following prior to launch, Sauropod was able to leverage that community during the crowdfunding campaign. In February 2012, Sauropod announced that it was planning a Kickstarter campaign. By announcing the campaign well before it was launched, Sauropod was able to build up anticipation among their supporters and begin building momentum behind the campaign. And their efforts were met with success. When the campaign did finally launch in July 2012 there were already thousands of supporters chomping at the bit to contribute to the campaign.
The decision to create as much anticipation as possible around Castle Story before launching the crowdfunding campaign was a strategic one. In fact, one of the reasons that Sauropod chose Kickstarter (as a crowdfunding platform) was because of the exposure that the popular platform offers due to its high number of users (estimated to be roughly 3 million in number as of June 2012). The team also knew that getting featured on the Kickstarter homepage was the best way to benefit from that exposure. In order to be featured, the campaign had to achieve a certain level of momentum in the first few hours and days after it is launched. By creating a significant level of anticipation among an existing community of project supporters prior to launching the campaign, Sauropod was setting things up so that the campaign would likely receive a large wave of traffic as soon as it launched. As such, they were also maximizing the chances that Castle Story would be featured on Kickstarter’s homepage – and thereby gain additional exposure among other Kickstarter users not yet familiar with the campaign.
In order to help keep up the momentum throughout the entire 30-day campaign, the Sauropod team made sure to keep engaging with the community. They did so by answering questions, posting updates on their plans as the pledged funds continued to increase (i.e. stretch goals, although they did not have any pre-planned stretch goals), posting development updates on their blog and directly on the campaign page, and responding to feedback (as received via Kickstarter, email and other social media outlets).
All-in-all the campaign’s success came from careful advance planning and establishing a large, highly supportive online community before launching the campaign.