I’m not going to talk about why we chose to do a Kickstarter – I spoke about that in a previous article (link). I want to share our experiences and tell you what, in my humble opinion went wrong and why the campaign failed to collect the required amount despite being Kickstarted for only the small figure of $ 100,000.
One-third of the target amount
It would seem, that for Divine Space, collecting only one-third of the target amount, success was far away, however this was not the case. In fact, the difference of only a small percentage of the conversion rate from visitors to backers. Our conversion was around 3.2%, a good conversion. 5-6% would have been sufficient to achieve the goal. Typical conversion rates for the top projects are 12-13%, according to the sponsors. It’s then logical to point out: “But then you would have collected only two-thirds of the required amount?” And the answer is: No. The Kickstarter audience is very sensitive to the general mood and when they see that the number of backers and amount pledged is growing slowly, and isn’t plateauing, the amount of backers and pledges tend to rise. (By the end, our conversion rate decreased to 2.6%, which was natural: when people realise the project won’t reach its goal, they’ll watch it, but won’t bother to pledge.). In the case of successful projects, the opposite happens; the conversion in the last few days soars to the heavens.
Every missing percentage conversion was lost for a reason, some of them obvious ones. I’m here to tell you about them. The most interesting thing here is that these factors were not related to the game itself. Not, the quality of the game, art, the setting, or even the embryonic gameplay which we showed – which was well received by the target audience. There were serious, critical disadvantages in the “parameters” of the project, which was unfortunately, not in my power to change.
Problem # 1: Video and Video editing
The video was supposed to be not only original, but also entertaining. Hooded figures were conceived as an allegory of the set of similar scenes in science fiction films with the villains portrayed as the publishers who in the opinion of many players create endless clones and farming games. In the original concept, we planned all sorts of funny moments – glowing eyes, smoke coming from the mouth, Darth Vader hands and so on. Unfortunately, there was simply not enough time and energy for the creators of this film. In addition, as I wrote in a previous article, we did not have time to rehearse, making us look pretty pathetic and ridiculous. The video wasn’t funny- we were. Unfortunately, not funny in a good way, like Charlie Chaplin or Tim Schafer in his video where he’s funny and charming. This didn’t promote much faith from our backers, but that was not the worst thing in the video.
Everyone noticed the discrepancy between speech in the video and the movement of people’s lips. I think that is what made the video not work. The audience did not believe in what was happening on screen, and so did not believe in us, and as a result, our project. Without exaggeration I can say that I have received no less than two hundred reviews that we have “the most awful editing in the world and the speaking did not match the lips.” (?)
Problem # 2: The target platform
The biggest problem in the campaign (and the project as a whole), was that it was developed at first for the iPad. I was initially against it, but I was convinced that “this is a little game to the test with.” My mistake, lesson learnt.
It was an absolute miss for the target audience, which is currently being formed on Kickstarter. It was a mistake for the audience of space game fans. It was also a slap in the face to all fans of role-playing games. Basically, it was targeting players who are mostly not interested in games for tablets. I’ve never received so much negativity from players, down to open insults and ridicule in forums. The main comment from the masses was, “This game cannot be good on tablets” and “Things are always cut-down for mobile, and for us as serious players and fans of space games, you can’t fool us”
I know what will be playing on tablets in a year or two, but our target audience is not game developers. These are ordinary people who cannot predict the future in this space. They live for today and in this context, they were absolutely right. Similar tablet games compared to what they like, are tiny, cut-down and uninteresting. Strong statements that Divine Space would be a AAA title for tablets generally made them even more furious. Divine Space created questions from players about the development process, as in their view “It is always done for PC first and then ported to mobile.” In some ways they were right. I believe that a version for the PC would have been successful.
Summarizing, we can say the following. Your target audience should love your project, and then everything will be fine. If there is anything that irritates them, it will necessarily come into play. If you suspect that a particular property of your project does not suit the target audience, do everything possible to get rid of it, because even if only 10% of people choose not to support your project, you can lose much more than 10% of the final pledged amount.
Problem # 3: Freemium (free-to-play)
Freemium (also called free-to-play) – this was the third nail in the coffin for our campaign, but right at the heart of the failure. With multiple games in which this (great in theory) using this model of pay-to-play or pay-to-win, many players truly hate it. For those who do not know what it is: it’s when you can download or install the game for free, but in which high-value items are sold for money. In particularly evil and cynical games, “energy” is sold, without which players caught up in the process cannot continue to play and have to pay. In the case of pay-to-win, games are designed to be an environment where players have almost no way to pass certain levels without paying. In severe cases, in multiplayer games, those who pay receive a huge advantage over non-paying players and turn them into mincemeat. It happens that the majority of players who particularly hate free-to-play were also our target audience. In other words, they were willing to pay for copies of games, they were willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in support of projects of interest to them, but they were not willing to pay for the game to be free-to-play. Of course, not all the players hate free-to-play, or we would not have collected a third of the amount required.
We realised that we had this problem, but even I did not realize its extent, especially after working with Russian players who are more or less comfortable with the freemium model. Freemium works for other types of games with a different target audience (Farm and city games for example)
Problem # 4: the inability to buy / pre-order the game
This problem was as a result of the previous one and I think this was the biggest drawback of this project. Freemium deprived us of being able to offer players a copy of the game as part of the Kickstarter campaign, say for half the price (or slightly higher / lower). Many backers pay mostly for the sake of a hugely discounted pre-order copy of their favourite games, and then choose higher tiers to get various other bonuses. Most tiers include at least a copy of the game. In our case the freemium model created a situation in which players would play for free, and a huge number of them asked the question: “Why should I pay now if I already get it for free? Bonuses are great, but the main bonus is a free game!”, or “I’ll let the other’s pay, and I’ll play (for free!) when the game comes out.” Writing posts saying “The game will not happen if you do not support it” doesn’t work.
What I estimate the conversion loss to be
Returning to the conversion, we can now estimate and find what we have lost, running a campaign in this way. As I mentioned above, our conversion was at 3%, rising to 3.5%, falling to 2.8%. My estimate is based on personal experience and a view of how other projects fared, comparing hundreds of campaigns and dozens of different statistics. One can agree with me or disagree, but the score is:
In the video and the lack of synchronization, we lost quite a bit, about 0.25% -0.3%. Choice of the iPad platform cost at least 1.25%. Freemium then lost us another 0.75% and “no free copy of the game” at least 1%.
The higher the percentage of people who dropped out due to the shortcomings of the project, the higher your lost income. Most importantly, this is not a linear relationship, its exponential (or a similar order), for example, 10% of lost backers reduce your pledges by 10%, but 15% loss of backers could reduce the pledges by 20% or more thanks to crowd instinct. Of course, these figures are provisional and for different campaigns, they will be different, but this is the essence of it. Conversely, the higher your initial conversion, the higher the income of the campaign. That is why at the beginning I said that the difference is not in the $ 60,000 of actual money, but in that small percentage. That is why all those who have run successful Kickstarters, say: “Your first few days should show good results and strong growth, then your campaign will be successful” or “Do not start until you are sure that your first few days will be very successful.”
With this cumulative “anti-bonus”, we lost not just 3.3%, but the whole 4-4.5%. I’m sure with different campaign settings, our conversion would have been 7% or higher (and in the last days, we’d have expected it to rise to 10% or more). That would have been enough to reach our $100k goal.
Lack of a clear campaign launch date
Until the last few days I couldn’t get a clear answer as to when we would start the campaign. The answer came suddenly, “start now, or as soon as possible.” It deprived me of the opportunity to setup a so-called “warm-start”, sending out press releases with a clear launch date. It gives the media an opportunity to review the draft, prepare articles or reviews, and ask questions of the developers. Unfortunately, the press release, “we’re making a game and will run a Kickstarter … sometime, probably this month … maybe next …” does not work. There was virtually no heat, except for some preliminary agreements with small editions (Thanks to all who wrote about us!)
This affected the number of views / visits of the project: it was a record low for 44 days:
Lack of a warm-start had no effect on the conversion, it impact was on the number of views, which was low: only 19,943. That is very, very few hits. For example, “Legends of Eisenwald” generated 46,000 hits and collected $ 83,000. Moreover, the average payout at Legends was $ 30, while Divine Space was $ 53. Even with the same low number of hits and the “right” of conversion, we would (supposedly) have collected about $ 74 thousand. If we consider that this also affects the mass behaviour (i.e. the more backers, the more they write, and the more hits there are, the more hits we get, the more backers etc), the target amount could have been reached. It is a vicious circle, it can work for you or against you, depending on your project.
Ratio of backers, already active on the Kickstarter versus newcomers. In fact, it was nearly exactly 1 to 1, (this balance was shifted by a single backer who pledged $5,000):
One man, alone on a battlefield is not a soldier
I had to do absolutely everything from the marketing perspective, except for the artwork. This meant working with the media, chat with backers and the community, to work with the forums (three hundred), coordinate backers who helped us, monitor statistics, writing and translation updates, video editing and much, much more. This is hard to do as a single person and I just did not have enough time. We did not get published in the “big” media and I think that was the reason. Furthermore, when you’re interested in Kickstarter, but your entire team isn’t, and aren’t going to participate, I suggest you don’t waste your time and energy on such a campaign (and team!) unless you want to gather experience to see how far you would manage to get alone.
I would however like to thank two people for their continued support (both moral and technical, working with text and media) throughout the campaign. They are Rinat Bakiyev (whom I met in our group ” Russian on the Kick ‘on Facebook) and Thomas Watson. I do not even know how I became acquainted with Thomas, it happened sometime after the launch of the campaign and I think I was very lucky. If such people appear in your project – you are lucky, appreciate them.
At the same time, cut off the people who promise to help and support, but then don’t do anything. They will spend not only your time but also what you entrust to them will not be done in time. This unfortunately happened with Divine Space, when some people promised to help with spreading the word, but nobody did anything serious. Some 90% of Russian forums that I contacted who were interesting in writing about the project, in the end didn’t cover it at all.
And yet …
Despite the fact that the audience had almost no reason to support us (and they were good reasons not to support us), we collected quite a large amount. This means that the project was really good. Throughout the campaign, I received many great reviews from colleagues who for several decades in the industry have made much more than I have (so far). One of the letters went something like this: “I am surprised that you have collected so much. Game for the iPad, and even free-to-play – I thought you would collect much less, despite the fact that your game looks simply amazing. Why, why do not you do this for the PC? “. Just in case anyone thinks those are just empty compliments…
Fail? No, it was an incredible success!
I received three offers to purchase the project and / or the whole team. One went something like this: “We want to buy your game and team- name your price!”
The second was a more interesting offer which I received from one of the world leaders in the game industry (currently in first place for the mobile games). For obvious reasons, I can’t say which company. In addition to the full cost of the project, raising wages for all employees to the normal level, the leadership perfectly understood what Divine Space was and how much would be needed to stage a full release. The company would take over the marketing and promotion, and work to ensure that the Divine Space would appear in the top mobile apps on launch day (and, following their success, I’m not in much doubt). Omitting all the details, I estimated my personal benefit in two to three years (after certain events) at $ 1.2 – 1.5 million.
The third proposal was simply to buy all the rights and the team from my partner (and probably me too) and continue to develop.
Why did it happen? During the campaign, I was able to show the Kickstarter project, its strengths, its vision for the future of mobile gaming, and what it will be in a few years. This is not meant to be ostentatious self-PR. If your campaign is an active Kickstarter, update every 2-3 days. If you are moving mountains to reach the goal, you will get known. If your project is really good, even if your campaign fails, your project will survive. Or not..?
Success..! No, this is the maximum possible epic fail
The partners, with whom I worked, refused all offers; offers to buy were not even considered. The reasons seem to me ridiculous, unfounded and not professional, but for ethical reasons I won’t voice them here. Let me just say that this proposal was a dream perhaps for all small developers … quite unbelievable. This was a great opportunity to work with professionals with probably hundreds of successful games; an opportunity to learn and to gain experience. Yes, we would have to bury our pride, but the experience was worth much more. From a financial point of view, the proposal was one that for start-ups, happen once in a lifetime. For me, probably the most important thing was not lost wealth, but the opportunity to learn from doing business with those who do the best in our industry.
What was the alternative? Divine Space is no more. Will it be revived? I do not know, and it is unlikely I will produce it in any case. What will it be without me? It may be good, but it won’t be the Divine Space that I worked so hard to produce.
So, in the end, an epic fail?
No. Despite the epic quality of the latter fail, for me, the whole campaign is more than successful. It provided an incredible experience and a lot of contacts that started work, just at the end of the campaign. I met with journalists and PR companies, stars the gaming industry, to collect several million dollars on the Kickstarter and talented teams, who successfully raised $200-500 thousand. I learnt about first impressions in the video, and how to make it the more effective and popular. I learnt what not to spend time and effort on, it’s not worth the effort that I spent on them. I became familiar with backers and understand better the they want and what is interesting, and what will not work. Meanwhile as crowdfunding grows and develops and as it remains popular, I’ll continue to move in that direction.
I am currently working on three projects that are likely to appear on Kickstarter (or a similar site). Two of these are games (the team of one of which I’m just forming). The third is directly related to crowd-funding and aims to address the problems that I encountered in my own campaign. It’s too early to disclose details, but I hope that small project teams (including domestic ones) that start with good projects can significantly increase their chances of success and media coverage.
I wish you all the success in the bustling sea of crowd-funding and I hope that this post will be useful, even if you do not ever get to play Divine Space.