You can thank Game Academy founder Trey Smith for being the inspiration for this Monday post, as he had a few choice things to say about a Kickstarter he backed recently. While I won’t go into the details, it made me realize that while Kickstarter can be the saving grace indie developers need to make the game of their dreams and dually jumpstart their career as an indie developer, it can also kill their career before it happens. As with anything in life, there is a negative side to using Kickstarter to fund your game if you choose to mismanage the project. Below are some mistakes you need to avoid to not only ensure you don’t lose the trust of your backers, but your overall brand isn’t permanently tainted.
Keeping Everyone ‘Out of the Loop’
Have you ever heard of a Kickstarter meeting its funding goal, only to fail to keep in contact with its backers? It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens more than it should. Take Primer Labs’ Code Hero for example. A game designed to teach anyone how to code via a Minecraft-esque game, it was hailed as one of the most exciting projects at the moment. Educators, colleges, and so on funded the game so they could use it in their classrooms one day. Parents funded it so they can teach their children how to program at a young age.
Then the game went through all of its funding very quickly. Then silence. Click on the link above and browse through the comments, and you will see a tale of people wanting refunds, contemplating suing the company, and the team doing very little to assure backers that the game is on its way.
Now clearly there was a lot more going on at Primer Labs than the team failing to provide appropriate updates on theing ev progress of the game. If you’re interested, there is a great Joystiq article about the game from last summer that details the drama associated with Primer Labs and Code Hero, and it can be used as a testament on what not to do during the course of your Kickstarter campaign. At the end of the day though? Primer Labs’ brand has been tainted, and the head developer of the entire project? Nobody is going to trust him anymore.
The moral of the story is this: keep everyone in the loop no matter how bad things get. Games become a lot more expensive very quickly, and sometimes, funding dries up. It happens, and while some would argue that pre-planning and an emphasis on staying on budget or under would stop this from happening, sometimes random things occur that is out of developer’s hands. Yet no matter how bad things may get, don’t just disappear. Keep people updated on the progress of the game. Although you are definitely going to get a few people complaining about the status of the project, most people are going to be disappointed yet thankful you are keeping them updated on the status of the game.
Mismanagement of Funds
Again, some projects run out of money. While again, pre-planning and staying on budget can greatly eliminate the risk of this happening, it does happen from time to time. Yet, there is no excuse for mismanaging the donations of a game, because let’s be realistic for a moment: if you mismanage the donations given to you by backers, people are going to learn about it. This is the Internet age – we already know what Will Smith and his family had for breakfast; nothing stays secret for long anymore.
Going back to the example of Code Hero for a moment, it was announced early on that Code Hero had run out of funding. No concrete details were provided (again, keeping everyone in the loop is vital during and after a Kickstarter campaign), thus causing everyone to assume that the creator of Code Hero, Alex Peake, had spent all of the money and wasn’t going to release Code Hero anytime soon – if ever.
Was this the truth? Probably not, but again, looking back at the interview with Joystiq, it is clear that money was indeed mismanaged during the project. Especially in the case of David Lopez, who was promised to be paid $55,000 a year, only to be asked to work for free soon after his hire. His checks bounced, and he walked away with only $800 to show for the project.
There is a clear difference between running out of funding due to things happening beyond your control and defiantly mismanaging your donated funds. Always manage your funds appropriately whenever your Kickstarter campaign is successfully funded, and in combination with keeping everyone in the loop? Your brand will be trusted and never tarnished despite what life throws your way.
Releasing a Less-Than-Stellar Game
We have all heard of instances in which successfully funded games on Kickstarter failed to meet the expectations of backers when it was finally released. It happens, and while there is no clear-cut reason why it does, as an indie developer you need to find a balance between hype and reality. It’s easy to become lost in the moment when hyping your Kickstarter campaign, yet you need to be as realistic as possible when doing this – especially if you are unsure if you can deliver on the hype in the first place. It’s disingenuous to your backers and people excited about the game, and will cause a vast amount of disappointment among those that have been following your campaign for a while.
When you announce new plans and ideas for your game, follow through with them. If you cannot deliver on an idea for your game? Tell your backers in the comments. It all goes back to the first point made in this discussion: communication. A lot of the flack your brand will receive can be eliminated via constant communication, and while many are afraid to announce ‘bad news’ on their Kickstarter page, this ‘bad news’ is all part of the development process.
Kickstarter is a powerful tool that can make your dreams come true or shatter them. Use it wisely, be upfront and honest with backers, and manage your project wisely at all times. To sum it all up? Be responsible at all times. By doing so, your brand will go untarnished.