Whether you're a budding gamedev hobbiest or a veteran independent game developer, it's likely that at some point you've considered crowdfunding as a way to pay for and promote your game. Chances are you know a bit about some of the popular crowdfunding platforms today, such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, or Patreon. Crowdfunding your game may be the perfect solution in making your idea a reality, but before you launch that campaign, make sure you're prepared for what's to come. Read ahead, fellow game developers, in this Dojo.com look into game crowdfunding.
Before You Start
Most game developers have big dreams, but first make sure you (and your team, if you have one) are ready. Before we even dive into the intricacies of preparing for crowdfunding, you should be honest with yourself about your skill level as a developer, your track record, whether you have the right team, and whether you have the fortitude to endure a prolonged campaign.
Also crucially important is your (or your team's) ability to self-promote and regularly communicate with your fanbase. Maybe you're a social media guru and thrive on self-promotion, but many of us don't have that natural ability. If promotion doesn't come naturally for you, don't despair: you can still be an effective promoter if you are diligent enough. And if that's just not for you, you can always enlist the help of your team to promote.
While we're on the topic of promotion, we at Dojo are happy to help independent game developers get their crowdfunded projects seen. If you'd like a bit of extra help, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ok, you're not discouraged, you know you have what it takes, and you're ready to make the game of your dreams!
If you are discouraged, don't be! Gamedev is a craft, and anybody with the right mindset and determination can get good at it. Just keep at it and don't give up. Consider joining Reddit's /r/gamedev community which serves as great support group and learning resource.
But before you create that KickStarter or Indiegogo account, you'll want to add these to-do items to your list.
1. Look at Unsuccessful Examples
This may sound like counter-intuitive advice, but you can glean a lot of good information about what pitfalls to avoid. Determine if there's a pattern for their misfortune. Did they not have a broad enough fanbase to generate interest in their game? Did they promise too much swag or game features, thus depleting their budget and energy? Or did they choose the wrong team - too large, too small, too much drama? If you can pinpoint tricky areas that you'll need to navigate in crowdfunding your game, all the better.
While we at Dojo are not here to fling mud on the internet, do your research. Here's a Business Insider article about three crowdfunding campaigns that went wrong (they're not video games, but still worth reading).
2. Talk with Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns
I suggest that you don't limit your research of crowdfunding campaigns to game-related ventures. Get boot-on-the-street advice from those who have actually done the work and succeeded. Most likely there are entrepreneurs out there willing to share their story. In order to use their (and your) time wisely, prepare a list of questions in advance. If it's not possible to interview the crowdfunders live, you can correspond via email. The point here is to take notes of what to definitely include in your campaign, and how to overcome common obstacles.
Several successfully crowdfunded games have appeared on Dojo.com. And while I'm not suggesting you go spam the developers, you might benefit from researching their games and the campaigns behind them and perhaps reaching out. Check out our incomplete list of crowdfunded games that have partnered with Dojo:
- PixelJam's Glorkian Warrior (click to play) was successfully funded through a Kickstarter campaign.
- Dustin Auxier's The Enchanted Cave 2 was also funded through Kickstarter.
- TekiTown recently funded the Steam version of Kill the Plumber (play the web versions: #1, #2) through Kickstarter.
3. Are Your Expectations Realistic?
For many successful crowdfunding campaigns, the live campaign is just the tip of the iceburg. There is often a sizeable amount of work that happens before, during and after launch. You're not only working on delivering a game; there's a lot of activity related to communicating and organizing the campaign. Most crowdfunders don't embark on this adventure alone. They get help. And a lot of it. As you are enlisting help from friends, family, and colleagues, map out who will do what and by when. Make a schedule and stick to it! You don't want to your game crowdfunding to crash and burn before you even launch. Check out free online project management tools such as Asana, Trello, and Google Docs/Sheets to manage your team's project, expectations, and deadlines.
4. What's In It for Them?
Potential funders - especially those who don't know you - want to know what's in it for them. Be clear and upfront with your pledge rewards. A handwritten thank-you card may be sufficient for a $5 pledge… but probably not. How are you going to reward those who believe in your game and are willing to invest in you? Think about what you can offer and it's value to perfect strangers.
It's also very important to accurately map out the estimated cost of reward fulfillment, along with other project costs. But more on that later...
5. Don't Wait to Build a Fanbase
While a crowdfunding platform will give structure to your campaign, you also need to be able to spread the word about your project. You'll need current emails and active social media followers in order to gain attention and momentum. Don't wait to build your fanbase. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the crowdfunding machinery will pull you along to success. Lastly, cultivate relationships with influencers (e.g., successful game developers, bloggers, Let's Play YouTube channels). Target influencers who are have large followings following and can help spread the word, but don't neglect the smaller guys/gals. Don't wait to introduce yourself until you've started your campaign, as that's too late in the game.
6. Have Fully-Functional Website with Videos and Game Art
You'll want to tell your story and one of the best places to capture that story is on a website. Secure a domain name and build out a fully-functional website. Include screenshots, promotional artwork, videos, and other information that will convince potential backers that you mean business. Many successful crowdfunding campaigns use trailer-format videos to communicate their product and generate interest. Equally important, once your game is far enough along, is posting exciting gameplay videos. Invest the time (and money) as it will show you're serious.
You want to have a central place where your backers can go for information after the campaign. For example, Kickstarter freezes a crowdfunding page after the deadline. You can't upload new videos or post updates. That's why you need a website.
7. Budget! Money Matters When Crowdfunding Your Game
Too many amazing game concepts have been sunk by money mismanagement, or simply the failure to accurately budget project costs and time.
Let's talk about reward fulfillment first, as it is often the most underestimated project cost of all. You absolutely need to map out the potential cost and level-of-effort needed to generate these rewards. Create a spreadsheet tracking what the total cost (including shipping costs, and any customs if using international manufacturers) and total time contribution would look like to fulfill all potential reward tiers. And then build that total cost into your campaign's budget! And pad your cost estimates a bit to allow for contingencies.
Also, be realistic about the budget needed to build your game, as well as building marketing materials and doing promotion. Chances are that you and your team can't work for free. Build an honest budget to estimate your project costs, and do not paint a rosey picture when budgeting. It's much better to pad these numbers also, because delays, rework, and obstacles are guarantees in large projects. Don't just include direct labor in your budget. You may need to hire contract workers or commision outside artwork, music, or sound effects. Or hire translators for localization.
Don't forget about your crowdfunding platform's fees. Often the platform will take a percentage (typically 5% to 10%) of all donations. Also consider the cost of web hosting and marketing.
A hypothetical Kickstarter campaign that raises $20,000 in funding may end up paying $8,000 or more in reward fulfillment, campaign fees, and other indirect costs. And that's before you even pay your team. Read Joey Daoud's helpful post on Kickstarter budgeting: How to Figure the True Cost of a Kickstarter Campaign.
Creating a game is super fun, and managing money may not be on top of your list. Nonetheless, you should be diligent about tracking and managing your finances, as failure to treat your campaign as a business can spell doom.
I sincerely hope that I have not discouraged anybody from taking on a crowdfunding project and realizing the game they've always wanted to create. Also remember that a crowdfunded campaign can do wonders for creating game interest and pre-release sales. Don't expect to profit within the actual crowdfunding campaign, but do know that a successful campaign can create huge potential for long-tail profit after the campaign concludes.
If you found this article helpful or have any suggestions, please be sure to let us know. In the future, we plan on writing a detailed piece about the pros and cons of specific crowdfunding campaigns. Stay tuned!