Friday, October 5, 2012

Pangenic's Kickstarter Post-Mortem

There's no doubt about it, a niche game, barely out of initial design, from a small indie team, is a tough sell to any investor. We were a little starry-eyed by the recent, and excessive, Kickstarter successes. We thought perhaps a little irrationally that concept work alone could carry us to our funding goal of 45k. In this post-mortem I'll take a stab at dissecting what went wrong.

First, a little background. The core of pangenic is pretty simple but surprisingly catchy: Build from the gameplay of classic turn-based tactics games (a genre and player demographic, rarely catered to in our age of action games), fuse it with an aesthetic of ink and parchment, and set it in the scientific revolution of late 1800's England. Cool right? We thought the old-school gameplay, mixed with irresistible steampunk aesthetic would be a win. Several hard lessons learned later we are a little wiser about what it takes to make a kickstarter success:

Pre-load Your Publicity: Kickstarter is a great bubble, and it's gaining momentum all the time, but getting out into the real world is your make or break moment. Why not tackle this before your even launch your campaign? Getting agreements from game review sites, blogs, etc, will mitigate so much risk that it's not even worth a second thought.

Even with direct email contacts to a host of game review sites and blogs, Pangenic didn't stick.

The tricky part is making your pitch robust enough to sell a kickstarter backer on a personal level, and grand enough to make it "newsworthy". An established studio turning to a crowd-funding platform is newsworthy (or at least it was the first 6 times). An RPG with 8-Bit graphics is (evidently) newsworthy. Our main external funding source (as tracked by Kickstarter) was Rock Paper Shotgun's Kickstarter Katchup, and the graph below shows the positive impact just that small amount of publicity had on our project:

The Perfect Pitch: One easy mistake to make is to think that Kickstarter is only about pitching your project. Selling your backers on your idea is only half the battle (and in some ways the easiest). The harder task is convincing them that you are the team to make it happen. The things that contribute to this are video & content production value, engagement with the community through updates and comments, previous track record successes, and of course much more. I suppose the simplest model for this is a sliding scale:

Choosing the Right Moment: I suspect the funding successes of Kickstarter look like a bell curve. On the low end, when the project is early in development, your chances of success are slim. As you progress further into production, with perhaps a playable demo and finished art assets, your chances of a successful campaign improves. Then as the project nears completion, your perceived need being less, your success diminishes.

In any case, Pangenic was too early in development; enough to spark the imagination, but not quite enough to give a clear picture of what the game is. One Rock Paper Shotgun commenter hit the nail on the head "Pandemic [sic] fails my main criteria for speculative kickstarting: either a) the developer needs an established track record and a large team, or b), the game needs sufficient game footage to demonstrate proof of concept." [AngoraFish].

We were simple too early in the project to demonstrate enough in-game content, and scrambling to produce more polished work only lead to frustration from lack of timely updates.

Gamasutra recently wrote that Kickstarter is still the Wild West, and indeed it is. From day-one of considering Kickstarter as your funding platform you need to focus on mitigating risk and nailing down unknowns. You need to know where your weak points are, and have strategies in place for addressing them before your click the "Big Green Button".

Time for Plan B: The good thing about being a gamer is that we are used to failure on the path to success. We'll spend the rest of 2012 exploring avenues for traditional funding (venture capital, private investment, soul selling, etc). Re-submitting to Kickstarter is an option, but we now realize we'll need at least something playable and a lot more examples of game content to make it a success. Building up slowly with a loyal base of followers is a strong strategy, and will hopefully give us the momentum we need to make the game a success.

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Some Pangenic Kickstarter stats:

Total Backers: 410
Average Pledge: $30.6
Total Pledges: 12,583 (27% of Goal)
Funding Period: 25 Days
Average Backers Per Day: 15
Average Pledge Per Day: $466
Pledges via kickstarter vs external: 77%/23%

Top 3 Backer Sources:
Video Games (Discover): 28%
A Project Backers Confrimation Page: 21%
Rock Paper Shotgun (Kickstarter Katchup): 10%

Video Plays: 5,821 (27% Completion Rate)
Conversion Rate from Video Plays to Backers: 7%

Reward Comparisons:
     $15 Pledge Level: [235] $3,525
     $25 Pledge Level: [39] $975
     $42 Pledge Level: [78] $3,276
     $58 Pledge Level: [16] $928
     $84 Pledge Level: [12]1008

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