We learned a lot in the process and we got to make the game we wanted. Now the game is finally out and we couldn’t be happier or more grateful, but when other indies reach out to us and ask for advice, we recommend they think twice. Trying to organize my thoughts to help my friends understand why, I went to some other friends that launched campaigns on Kickstarter and asked them to share their thoughts.
First, I talked with Mexican developer Alonso Martin, the creator of Hearth Forth, Alicia. “I think there were three big factors for our Kickstarter success” says Alonso. “The design of our campaign was important to give backers a good idea of our plans, our scope and our goals, which gave them confidence to support the project. More importantly, our trailer heavily emphasized the experience of playing the game instead of emphasizing its features, creating an emotional connection with the backers and letting them imagine what playing the game would be like. A list of technical features rarely convinces people to buy into something. Third and most importantly, and this is something I’ve learned in retrospect, HFA’s long term development had formed a latent, small but strong community that greatly helped the campaign get over funded. The game’s scope has changed dramatically after the campaign, and we’re set to release on four major consoles”.
Agustin Cordes is an independent devolver from Buenos Aires, Argentina known for his famous horror game SCRATCHES. He went not once, but twice to Kickstarter. First, he funded ASYLUM, a psychological horror adventure inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and set in a massive, decaying mental institute. The second time, he came back with “H. P. Lovecraft: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” but it didn’t work out. Why?
“The game was extremely well received, with overwhelmingly positive comments on its look and feel, character design, and music. The average pledge per backer was an astounding (by today’s standards) $50. In this regard, the campaign has been a resounding success” says Agustin. “Three negative things about it come immediately to mind: the previous game Asylum is not ready yet, which has rubbed some people the wrong way. Second, the official Lovecraft license and third, the ambitious target amount. It may seem like a lot, but game development is becoming very expensive. (…) We couldn’t make an adventure game of 8-10 hours with full voice acting and this level of cinematic quality for less money.” Agustin continues: “this still doesn’t answer why we weren’t funded. It’s impossible not to notice a sense of apathy towards Kickstarter these days. Previously I would tweet about an adventure needing backers, and experience an outpouring of support with retweets, favorites, and such. Today I say “Kickstarter” and not even crickets reply. In short, few people seem to be backing games these days (…). This can lead to only one conclusion… Kickstarter is dying. I didn’t want to believe it, because I love the idea of crowdfunding, but there’s no way around this: we are experiencing its decline. It would be a whole different matter if our campaign were an isolated case of plain bad luck, but it’s not — from small teams with modest goals to high-profile developers with solid track records, we’re seeing a very grim scenario where too many campaigns are failing for no other reason than lack of interest. Note that I’m saying lack of interest in crowdfunding, not the games themselves, which generally have received great feedback. October (2014) in particular has been a dreadful month for Kickstarter, perhaps the worst I’ve seen, and it’s supposed to be the second month of the Kickstarter year that attracts most pledges. It’s hardly surprising after reading this article by GameSpot claiming that funding for Kickstarter games has dropped by more than half in 2014″.
Agustin stresses again: “the response everywhere else has been incredibly positive. It’s just that none of that enthusiasm translated into pledges. Take IGN, for instance. It’s hard to get noticed by the press, and even harder to get them to write about Kickstarters, but IGN was kind enough to post a very positive article about this campaign. Would you like to know how much in pledges that article got us? OK, wait for it…$400.”
“I’m officially clueless.” Says Agustin”. “As of today, I have no idea about Kickstarter. In the past I was happy to advise other developers, but forget it, nothing I say will matter because crowdfunding is becoming a matter of sheer luck and randomness, impossible to control. There’s simply no correlation between marketing efforts and buzz and incoming pledges. You could get coverage on most mainstream websites and still not make it (I’ve actually seen that) “.
“To be fair, some campaigns are still finding success, albeit with a tight margin. Crowdfunding can still work for smaller projects, and you might see the occasional celebrity raising millions, but it’s no longer working for projects like our own that fall somewhere in between… I’d just like to add that the Kickstarter team has been extremely supportive, featuring our project on two occasions and always addressing our questions in record time. They’re a nice bunch, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them. As an advocate (a former one) of crowdfunding, I’m truly saddened by this whole situation.”
The importance of the community, the press’ trust, the budget… These are the very pillars of a successful campaign but sometimes they are not enough… Great projects didn’t even achieve their goals… and some of the ones that did, found themselves needing extra help to complete development or help for distribution and marketing… Is it OK to ask more to the community? Should you look for a private investors? Or a publisher? Sometime is not only money, you need expertise or connections.. So what can you do? What can we do when we have projects/studios that fall somewhere in between the small and the really big ones? Trying to find more answers I interviewed Justin Bailey, CEO of Fig.co.
what if we were available to combine these two sources? Those from friendly investors and then also crowdfunding projects as well from the community?
MS: Do you think crowdfunding is still an option for developers?
JB: “Games work really well for crowdfunding. It is kind of interesting to look to IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, neither platform was built for games -they were built for products, where entrepreneurs would go and set a campaign goal that was reflective of a minimum order they needed to get the product manufactured, if they exceeded the campaign goal, they would give perks for people who participated -because when they get to manufacture more of a product, the manufacturing costs go down since they are buying in bulk, and so extra perks make sense – and I think this is what the games community was so excited about it .. We’ve been using these platforms that weren’t really intended for games in the first place. In Kickstarter and IndieGoGo case, they don’t really maintain a community, they basically give creators a platform to organize their own communities and then creators bring their communities to the campaigns. It is a myth that people go to kickstarter everyday and look and discover projects. I’ve seen it as low as 3% organic discovery from the platforms, it is a very small amount. It is fine to have a tool to organize the community if you don’t have a website… but big product companies, they find it easier and cheaper now to build their own website because they already have the traffic anyway, so the amount they would pay to kickstarter for their fees with these multi-million dollar projects is cheaper for them to literally build their own website of pre orders and they also get control of every aspect of the experience and keep all the data – which is better for their business. So at scale, it doesn’t make sense any more. When you raise over a million dollars, having a tool that helps you organize your community, one site that fits every industry, it is not really that useful anymore, but I do think it’s going to remain relevant for games because it already has such a large presence. – in some regards, it has become synonymous with games. So I think we’ll still see small studios that want to use Kickstarter, small companies or individuals that don’t want to create their own tool, and so there’s going to be a lot of people that still are going to use it. Projects between 10k and 100 thousand, where it might still make sense to use the platform.
For Bailey, when you get to a large amount of money and you start opening up to investment, that’s when it doesn’t really make sense to have a generic and cross industry tool that lacks organic discovery.
JB: “When investment is involved, it’s absolutely necessary that their be some vetting and curation.” says Bailey. “Investment in video games involves so much potential, and the communities funding the projects give the creators creative freedoms not available with other funding sources, that it doesn’t make sense to stop at the funding, but instead makes sense for a relationship to continue through development and even helping the game sale better by lining up press and getting promotion ready for the game – all that makes a lot of sense when you take on an investor, because as an investor I don’t want to invest in something and then no longer have and participation.. I’d like to check in and see how the development is going and … Maybe help promote the game. I want it to have the distribution and be positioned correctly in the marketplace.”
MS: So, what’s different with Fig.co?
JB: We designed our website specifically for games and one thing we made a change on compared to other sites is that we don’t take any fees on the reward activities. We figured that if the creators are coming in and bringing their community, and that is what is largely driving the reward activity, then the developer should keep all that money. The value that we bring and that differentiates us from rewards-only campaigns is we offer people the ability to invest in Fig and earn returns (if any) related to specific games. So we have a relationships with our investors, we feel that investors may be interested in not only following one game, that they would be interested in the industry at large and that they would be interested in multiple games, and that type of community is what’s missing currently on the existing platforms. Developer communities flow in, and then immediately flow out – there’s no network effect, no cross pollination of projects. So that is part of where we bring our value, we help advise the campaign and make sure that the goal is realistic, that what they are trying to do with the money is achievable, and then we do have a bunch of a coalition members and I generally encourage them to help get the word out for other developers who are using our platform. So, for instance we might go to Brian Fargo or Tim Schafer or Feargus Urquhart or Alex Rigopulos and even go to some studios that have been on our platform before and ask “Would help get the word out?”. When the campaign goes live, we help spread the awareness that the campaign is going on.
MS: And what changed regarding the community?
JB: I hear all the time that if people are already passionate about giving their money away, how are they going to react when they have an actual financial stake?. For me when you get involved in funding a video game in any capacity, whether that’s on pledging for rewards for an early copy of the game or whether it is investing, you are getting emotionally involved with that. People are so emotionally involved and vested in the games that they are willing to get involved two years in advance, that’s already a very tight connection and a huge amount of responsibility. What seems logical to me -and the data is proving out this- is that when this whole movement started with crowdfunding games, people were willing to give thousands of dollars for free, and sometimes they were doing this for things like dinner or some kind of experiential reward. I met a lot of those people and I asked them what they were doing, and in the most cases they were like: “hey, I want to help give them a boost, a one time boost, so that they have the money they need to make the game, and then if that game makes money, then they will be able to fund themselves”. So one trend we’re seeing now is that no one is really participating in those thousand dollar and up tiers – and that’s part of what’s leading to the diminished performance of reward based crowdfunding. We think there is an opportunity here: we agree that kickstarter is set up to give you that one time boost, but what if you are not looking for a one time boost? What if you want to involve the community in funding multiple games and multiple projects? Logically then these people need to have the opportunity to share in the potential returns (if there are any) as well as the rewards. So even though the thousand dollar and up experiential reward tiers are disappearing, we are seeing a lot of people interested in investing at the thousand dollar and up level. You’ll still have the reward activity, but the people who are really involved in the project (especially now after Oculus signing for 2 billion dollars with Facebook), they are providing a substantial amount of money, and they have a right to be able to share from any profits from it too.
MS: Why did you decide to start Fig.co now?
JB: A part of the decision was because the laws in the US changed to make this type of fundraising possible. Also, I was COO at Double Fine, so one of my responsibilities was finding funding for Double Fine’s games. I think crowdfunding is an amazing source and, specifically, I wanted to find sources that allowed us at Double Fine the ability to retain our creative vision. Crowdfunding was amazing for that because, while we did feel responsibility to the community, we felt that the community entrusted us with this creative control (specifically for Tim and for Brad Muir for Massive Chalice) because they believed wholeheartedly in the vision and want us to deliver on that. The sad reality of course is that the funding sources were never enough by themselves to supply the whole budget. In Broken Age‘s, case the kickstarter covered just a portion of the budget (a material portion, but let’s just call it a third to a half), but it didn’t cover the whole budget. To cover it, Double Fine put in its own money from its own games. Brad I remember had a really awesome scope, and all of us wanted to develop the game that he wanted to create, and he got mostly there but the amount of funds available kept him from achieving his whole vision. Massive Chalice was a great game, I don’t want to take anything away from it, but what would have happened if we could have expand the scope and had the money for him to deliver on his full vision, what would that have looked like? I always wanted to give that to him. Then we did other projects with the Indie Fund. Those were investments projects and it was just from investors funds. These project too never really had the full financing they needed to deliver on the full vision and my thought was what if we were available to combine this two sources? Those from friendly investors (like the Indie Fund) and then also crowdfunding projects as well from the community? Then, of course, with the law changes, the ultimate goal was to allow the community to be the investors. The goal is to raise the full budget that game developers really need to deliver on these experiences. Our last campaign, “Consortium The Tower,” in one day, we raised more with investment interest and reward dollars than what it raised in its entire time on kickstarter in 30 days, and that made a lot of people take notice! Up until then people were like “well, you know, the reward activity, I am sure it is much better on kickstarter”. And we actually beat them on reward activity too during those first couple of days, which are the most crucial days for the entire campaign – so that wasn’t the case…
MS: How many games are in the site now?
JB: We have a bunch of games that have come to us, way more than we can put on the site. We are being very careful right now just to make sure that the game really fit our philosophies. We have plenty of games to keep us going from now all the way through 2017. The reason why we are going a little bit slower is because we (Fig.co) are in the background. We are comparing data and trying to figure out what is a project that is a good fit. I don’t think that every project is the exact right fit for us and there are various reasons for that. We think what we have is very interesting and basically I want to be a little cautious in the next steps we take so we don’t move too fast.
MS: And what kind of games are you looking for?
JB: We are looking for all types of games. There are a few things that would preclude a game from being the right fit, sometimes the timing is just not right. Right now we are focusing on one game at a time. We did an experiment where we ran two game campaigns at the same time just to see how it works or if the audiences would build on each other. And, for now, I do like the idea of having one being a feature model very much like when Humble Bundle first started. Another thing that comes to my mind is that some game devs want to approach the developer process by keeping things hidden from the community: keep the plot hidden, certain parts of development hidden until the end. Making the whole experience a surprise. I don’t think that works particularly well for crowdfunding because you need to have a lot more visibility and involvement with the community -and with the investors being the community- they should be updated with what is going, what’s happening with the budget and the scope of development. And so that is not going to work for every game or every game studio – that’s a limiting thing for us.
MS: What’s the difference between Investment based crowdfunding and a regular crowdfunding?
JB: When you go and you make a reward based campaign on IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, you can just go and get the free money from the crowd (minus those platforms transaction fees on reward money) and do whatever you want. For us investment is tied to it and we’ve been making sure the structures include clear mechanisms about what investors can expect with their investment because we are dealing with SEC and we are dealing with regulatory committees and governing bodies… There is paperwork that’s needed for these structures. One of the business terms for example is about investors and how they are investing, how they will get paid. So those details have to be worked out beforehand. That is another caveat for people using investment based crowdfunding. When people invest they are actually not investing a developer the way we have it set up. They are investing in us (Fig) and, in exchange for that, receive a stock that tracks the financial performance of the game, but we invest in the project. So that is an important distinction and it is helpful specially in this regard because what happens is that if there were direct investments going to latin american studios there would be a lot of legal questions about what is allowed and what is not allowed for that structure. Our structure makes it to that basically anybody can invest, whether they’d be in the US or international. There is one caveat here that they have to comply with their own laws before investing. There is a large amount of trust involved with the studios we work in the whole venture, there is trust between the investors and ourselves, there is trust from the community and the developers, and there is trust between the communities and us. A triangle of trust exists.
MS: How can the latin studios submit a pitch?
JB: To submit your games we have a PITCHES section at fig.co but it hasn’t been very front and center until recently because at first we were taking most of our games through connections. But we are starting to take on new pitches through our site and we are going to make that more easy to access and the form of submitting pitches.
MS: Let’s say you pick up the project, the campaign is a success. Then, what happens when the game is finished?
JB: This is a great question. We operate like a co-publisher, and so there are options of certain publishing functions and other functions that we require as best practices. or instance, what happens generally when you go to Kickstarter is that the early SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for that title gets associated with Kickstarter. You can go and try that now but the majority of games that had a kickstarter when you google the first result will come up with the campaign page on Kickstarter. In our minds it’s a lot of wasted attention because when people search those games they want to find a place to buy them, not just an archived crowdfunding page. So one thing we are doing is requiring the developers who use our platform to allow us to non-exclusively sell it on our site, and that money would be subject to the split between investors and developers as in any other distribution platform, but it has higher margins since we don’t have to pay a distribution fee. In addition, we have distribution capabilities on other platforms that developers can opt into. If they don’t want to distribute themselves or if they already have relationships, we do work it out so they can self publish on those platforms, but we need to try to ensure the revenue stream is shared as Fig agreed beforehand with the investors – hat is part of what we do. But the big part of what we do, one of the reasons we saw better reward based participation during the first part of our most recent campaign is because we do marketing and of course kickstarter doesn’t market your campaign at all. We do. We establish a custom market segment for indie games that have been very successful in return on investment from our marketing efforts, and we continue to customize that and build on it. And it is working really well. We are seeing returns from +50% to 600% on those efforts and we are tracing it all the way through purchase. We recently did a marketing campaign with Hyper Light Drifter on Steam and traced it all the way through the purchase on Steampowered.com..
MS: Thank you very much, Justin!
So, do I recommend crowdfunding? Yes, I do. The community is amazing and you’ll be surprised how committed a backer can become with your project… you’ll also be surprised how amazing and generous the people in your industry is: on every step of the way someone was there to guide us, support us, feature us… Would I repeat our last exact experience with Kickstarter? No, not really. I think we’d definently do a better job than the first time but still we’d need more than just money for the campaign to be a success. And let’s not even talk about successfully delivering a game or successfully launching it… The competition is fierce and if you go there like we did back in 2014 -being completely unknown, based on the edge of the world and with almost no marketing/press experience- it’s not going to be easy… And don’t get me wrong: for me “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty”… we are, after all, in the business of making amazing games, right? And we are making games in Argentina -while the cost of electricity is rising by the second- so believe me when I say I understand effort, pain and difficulty… Just be sure you have all your weapons and partners ready before screaming “Challenge Accepted!”.
About Alonso Martin
Alonso Martin is a filmmaker and video game developer. He’s been experimenting with video games for nearly 20 years. Heart Forth, Alicia is his debut video game.
About Agustin Cordes
Agustin Cordes is leading the development of the Asylum horror adventure game and Dagon, a free and open source engine.
About OKAM Studio
Okam Studio is an award winning development studio headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina, specializing in video game development.
About Martina Santoro
As CEO, partner and co-founder of Okam studio, Martina plays a key role in developing both video games and interactive projects that tell unique stories across multiple platforms. With a background in animation production, being her first venture to change the way we consume entertainment, taking content development to the next level, Martina has been the driving force behind Okam studio original entertainment properties. She is also collaborating with International Business Media as Editor in Chief of InsideGamesLatam.biz helping to promote the Latin American Games Industry.
About Justin Bailey
Justin Bailey is Head of publishing, operations, and studio strategy at Double Fine. He is now CEO and Founder of Fig.co were he is funding games through reward and investment based crowdfunding.
As the only funding platform created by gamers for gamers that offers reward, equity, and debt-based funding, the Fig.co team empowers developers and passionate fans alike to bring well-known franchises and undiscovered indie titles to market.