The Anatomy of a Failed Kickstarter

We tried our hand at a Kickstarter campaign in October of 2017. And man did that not go well! Being the thorough technologist that I am, I decided to a proper rundown of the full effort for you guys to understand how it happened. Keep in mind, that fortunately, I have the money to bring the game to fruition even without the Kickstarter, so the campaign failure actually did nothing to the creation of our first game. But let's get into the details!

Preparation

Before launching into the Kickstarter I did several months of preparation. That work focused on several key areas:

  1. Which Crowdfunding platform to use?
  2. How to market it?
  3. When to launch the campaign?

I started out doing an in-depth analysis on previous game crowdfunding and found several issues. Firstly, the amount of successfully crowdfunded games were getting ever less. There had been some pretty high profile failures in crowdfunded games and the appetite for it was lessening. Secondly, I found tons of sites bragging about successful crowdfunding but virtually nobody showing stats and data from failed campaigns. The latter being one of the main reasons that I am writing this article as if someone had done that before us we may never have launched this Kickstarter at all.

So what were our findings and analysis?

  1. Platforms: We had a choice between Indiegogo and Kickstarter. My research led to Kickstarter being the better of the two, as it had a larger natural following. This proved to be correct - 40% of our pledges came from the Kickstarter community.
  2. Marketing: We were launching our first game - so we had no email list of existing customers to get the momentum rolling. So we aimed for Social Media marketing as the driver of our traffic. This proved to be false - see below.
  3. When to Launch: Before or after we had a playable demo? We opted for before, because Kickstarter was originally launched to fund ideas. Not pre-orders for nearly finished products. We felt that the idea level was the right stage to launch the crowdfunding campaign. This proved to be false - see below.

Launch

Prior to and during the Kickstarter we had an opportunity to focus group test our game concept and idea. We showed the idea to friends and family and had it and our Kickstarter video reviewed by independent gaming groups and communities. Without exception, everyone loved the game idea and the game world. We were feeling confident about the concept itself - and that proved to hold true to the very end of the campaign.

Our Kickstarter page and video attracted talented people from around the world to contact us with offers of their skills and abilities and many of those were added to our network for future work with us. This proved to be an unexpected and wonderful win for us - as the UK is not necessarily the best place for things like music and voice acting talent. The Kickstarter campaign unexpectedly brought those people to us from around the world.

Marketing data worked out like this:

In a target rich environment of gamers, we had a click-through rate of 1 in 10 000 and a conversion rate of 1 in 5. What that means is that if we marketed the Kickstarter campaign to 10 000 people, 1 of them would click on the ad. Out of those 1 in every 5 would make a pledge.

From a marketing perspective, a conversion rate of 1 in 5 was amazingly good. That meant that our offering on the Kickstarter page was compelling to those that found us. However, the click-through rate of 1 in 10 000 was not good.

We were looking for £200 000 at an average of £10 per pledge. Which means we needed 20 000 pledges. At our marketing statistics, we would have needed to market the campaign to over 500 million people to get those pledges in an open ad campaign - because of our lack of incumbent mailing list of previous customers. The problem with that is that if you do a Facebook ad campaign and select a worldwide audience, that is interested in video game related content - that TOTAL amount of users does not add up to 500 million.

We were able to make this conclusion after 2 weeks of the Kickstarter campaign being live. We did trial runs on Google AdWords and working with external marketers and found the results to be the same - thus we had to make the conclusion that the Kickstarter campaign the way we had designed it was actually impossible to achieve.

Conclusions

So we had some excellent takeaways from this that hopefully will come into use for others trying the same route - and will be for us in our second round of crowdfunding we will be doing next year.

  1. Timing: It's better to crowdfund your second game than the first one. When you do your funding calculation, you need to assume that your existing mailing list or customer list is good for 50% of the amount you need. The rest you can get through marketing and Kickstarter. But its impossible to generate 100% of your pledges through marketing alone.
  2. Completion: The game needs have a playable demo. There have been too many crowdfunding failures for gamers to trust ideas anymore. And building a game is actually quite difficult. A playable demo at funding is essential now.
  3. Choice of the platform: Kickstarter is not a good place for game funding. Its great for board games and tabletop games right now, and products. But games have better funding options like fig.co and Indiegogo now. Even Patreon might make for a better funding platform. There is too little visibility through Kickstarter due to the fact that there is a flood of campaigns showing up all the time.
  4. Marketing Companies: They can't generate better results than you can do yourself. For the most part, there is no reason to use them.

What's Next for Us

At W.R.K.S Games I always had the money for the indie gaming level of studio myself. We did the Kickstarter round to finance the bells and whistles like celebrity voice actors and original orchestral soundtracks etc... 

So for us nothing has changed, the small 4 man team is still hard at work on our first game and we still intend to release in 2018. However, we may well be back with a new crowdfunding round post demo development - but not on Kickstarter.