High Score 3 on Kickstarter: A Post-Mortem

High Score 3 on Kickstarter: A Post-Mortem

When I started my Kickstarter project I was aware of the incredible success story of Tim Schaefer, whose Double Fine game development studio asked for $400,000 and ended up making more than $3.3 million for its latest project. I figured that if he could make that much, I could make a little without too much trouble. After all, I had a good project, a fine book and lots of friends. It should go smoothly, right?

Part 1: Getting Started

I did some research, looked at some projects that were working and read all the material that the Kickstarter people offer to help you prepare. I worked for a week on my pitch video and initial presentation of the project, my rewards for backers and a number of other details, such as the amount I would ask for and the project timeline. I thought I had it all figured out and was, finally and with some trepidation, ready to launch. Pushing that button was like launching myself into empty space without a parachute. I was committed. I was excited. I was terrified.

The risk we all take when we do something like Kickstarter is that people won’t respond – that we’ll fail and look foolish. Our egos are involved. Are we going to be picked for the team, or the one that everybody ignores? What do we have to do to be successful?

I knew from the start that social media would be critical, and that I would have to market the project relentlessly. I had my main media ready to go – Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In specifically. But I’m not a social media powerhouse. I have friends, but I rarely post updates. I usually can’t think of anything to say that I think other people will find interesting.

I also knew that rewards would be important, and that the most natural reward was a copy of the book, or an autographed copy. I had the problem that the books and shipping would cost me money, however so at first I limited the number of book rewards. However, my aces in the hole were meals with famous designers, such as Will Wright, Trip Hawkins, Lorne Lanning, John Romero, Peter Molyneux, Sid Meier and more – about 20 in all – each of whom had generously offered to help the project It is because of their support that I was successful, I’m sure.

Part 2: Backer Support

Day 1 was good. I got quite a few backers right away, and things were looking promising. But by Day 2, I saw that this was going to be a long haul, and that I had a lot of work to do. The project had slowed down.

Over the first week I kept putting the word out and sent a press letter to a huge list of press outlets that I had gathered. Over the subsequent weeks, I did several interviews and even wrote a couple of articles. However, what helped me immensely in those early days was the feedback from my backers. I heard from people who were major fans of the book, and many of them offered me help in improving my project.

First off, they told me that I had to give away more books, so I bit the bullet and offered unlimited book rewards and set prices at $50 for the book and $70 for an autographed copy. This helped. People like books. I also had other rewards, such as every person who donated $10 or more would have their name in the book, and people who donated $1000 or $2500 got special mentions.

The project picked up steam, and was moving forward at about $1000 per day. I still wasn’t sure if it was going to succeed, but I kept adding rewards and updating the project, listening to my backers and accepting all the help I could get. One backer even offered to produce a limited edition comic book as a low-cost reward, and many people were interested in that. I also added a T-shirt option, which people liked.

There were still very slow days when my doubts resurfaced. I watched my friend Brian Fargo make $500,000 in 17 hours with his admittedly very cool project to produce Wasteland 2. Meanwhile, I was struggling to get to $25K. I was asking myself if I had done something wrong? Why weren’t people flocking to my project?

I came to realize that each project has its own life, its own cycles and its own audience. Books on game history don’t compare with amazing games by great designers. I got over my frustration and moved on. And my project continued to move slowly, but steadily toward the goal.

Part 3: Setbacks

The project continued to move forward, but then I hit a couple of snags. First, Taito wouldn’t let me use a Space Invader image on my promotional T-shirt, so I had to scramble for a new design. That wasn’t so bad – more a disappointment than anything major.

What really shook me was discovering that my publisher was going to set the retail price of the book at $50 and was going to give me a far smaller discount on books than I had anticipated. So, once I figured my costs, for every $50 book I was offering, about $30 of it went to expenses. This immediately changed the nature of the project, and was an example of my not doing all my homework before setting prices and launching the project. I was caught by surprise, but I shouldn’t have been. This is a lesson I want to share. Be sure you know all your costs up front so you don’t get blindsided in mid-stream like I did.

I posted an update about these issues and had a lot of people blaming the publisher and putting a negative spin on things. I don’t blame the publisher. The print business is difficult and I know they are doing all they can to support this project. But I was still distressed at that time.

Then I got a message from an industry friend – the kind of friend who tells you the truth, and she told me that the negative news was a turnoff. That I needed to keep things on a positive note and to encourage people to believe in the project. She was right, and I realized that I still had a lot to learn about marketing a product or managing an event. It was a great lesson, and one gratefully accepted.

And in the end, I worked things out with the publisher, and they donated a number of books to the project – enough so that it took much of the pain away.

As the project entered its final week, two people stepped up and gave me $2500 angel/corporate donations, which turned the tide of the project and made it possible for me to meet and exceed the goal.

Part 4: Completion

I have to say that this Kickstarter project was both exhilarating and an emotional rollercoaster at the same time. I had low period when I really thought I was going to fail. It brought up a lot of personal issues. There were great times, too, when I would hear from fans of my book, telling me how much they have enjoyed the book, and in some cases, how High Score actually changes their lives for the better.

In the end, I’m really glad I took the risk and pressed that Launch button. I’m glad I found a landing spot and that I am now able to move forward on the 3rd edition of High Score. I’m extremely grateful to the people who backed the project, the people who offered their time, support and advice. Thank you all.

High Score 3: A Kickstarter Postmortem

About Rusel DeMaria
Game writer, consultant and designer, Rusel DeMaria first began hanging around video games in 1967 with Space War. A lifetime later: Founding editor and creative director for Prima Publishing, 60+ books, senior magazine editor and game designer/consultant/analyst with an ongoing passion for the best games have to offer.

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