My Kickstarter has failed!Grab a blanket, break out the ice cream and your favorite feel-good movie 😭
I'm just kidding! It's no big deal, and I'm very happy to explain why.
Crowdfunding had been on my mind a long time, though I started to actually spend time seriously researching Kickstarter early 2016. I started to write promotion video outlines, catch phrases, todo lists, and timelines. I started working social media, farming Twitter followers, and reading articles about who succeeded or failed. By early 2017 I had started a company, was filing taxes, filling out forms, setting up bank accounts. I was recording and editing video and audio, something that takes a lot of time and effort. What I was doing though, to be blunt, was spending more and more time doing things other than game development.
My goal was defeated by the means.In August of 2017, I had a full week off of my day job for the Japanese summer break. I didn't spend it working on marketing, social media, and Kickstarter. I spent five weekdays nine to five developing Solace Crafting. I got so much done, it was in an odd way disheartening. In one week I furthered development more than I had in six months of trying to do seven or eight jobs at once. After that something inside of me started to boil.
I knew I wasn't spending my time and energy where I wanted to, despite the obvious allure of funding. Still, I had dug so deep into the idea of Kickstarter, that I didn't want to simply abandon it. In mid-September, I threw together a video, and pushed the 'launch' button. I bought the services of an indie focused marketing company known as Black Shell Media, through which over sixteen hundred Steam keys were sent out to YouTubers and gaming related media, millions of Twitter views were achieved, thousands of clicks, as well as my own paid advertising.
All in all though, Solace Crafting was too underdeveloped, did not attract the media, and Kickstarter lulled from day one.
Now that's all behind me.I am once again focusing 95% of my time on game development, and it feels great.
Should I never have looked at Kickstarter in the first place? I don't think that's something I or anyone else can say. I learned mountains worth about social media, advertising, business startup, taxes, law, video production, and much more. I met a handful of dedicated supporters that have given me some invaluable insight, and really helped me better understand even what I myself am looking to create. It would be nice to already have the game selling on Steam, but it may never have started down the path it is now had this extra time not been allowed to it. All things said and done tens of thousands of people have now heard the name Solace Crafting that hadn't just 30 days ago.
My sincere gratitude goes out to those that have backed the Kickstarter campaign. As Kickstarter is all or nothing, some of you have expressed an interest in supporting Solace Crafting outside of Kickstarter. I am considering several ways to go about that, and will post again with my findings asking for your input on the best way to go about that.
In the meantime I will get back to posting regular updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I can post to them all simultaneously, it's not very time consuming), with less frequent updates here and on Steam. If you'd just like to know when Solace Crafting is ready, joining the mailing list, or adding it to your Steam wishlist is a non-intrusive yet surefire method to get a notification. I only send out mailing list updates for major events.
What I learned preparing and running a Kickstarter1. Health and relationships
Mine suffered. I lost a lot of sleep, grew short-tempered, put on weight for the first time in my life, and got sick a lot more often than I usually do. I skipped outings with my wife and family because I was "busy," and even skipped my day job a couple times. Looking back these were all poor choices, and I would encourage indie developers to accept the fact that there is never enough time, and to always put your health and relationships first.
2. Social Media Followers
I grew over 7,000 Twitter followers across my three accounts over the course of a year. Somewhere around six of them backed me on Kickstarter. This was the biggest let down of all for me. I spent somewhere over 150 hours throughout the year on Twitter, yet the end results were laughable.
Now, I met some of the kindest, most supportive people on Twitter as well, who continue to help test Solace Crafting and have been a big healp; so I'm not saying Twitter is useless, just understand the term "follower farming," and do not engage in it. Most accounts are just following you because they want their follower count to go up into the millions, as I did, they don't care about you or your game. The people that do care will notice you eventually if you're posting #screenshotsaturday #indiedev #indiegame etc. and don't need to be farmed.
This applies somewhat to Instagram as well, but Instagram and Facebook are much more organic.
Facebook does not allow the same sorts of freedom that Twitter does and requires quite a bit more work. I would reccommend working with paid advertising (see #3) more than trying to spend time in social media much yourself.
The advertising I paid for myself via Facebook, Twitter, and Google ads did far worse than the non-paid posts run by Black Shell Media, a service I also paid for. The difference is that they are posting on accounts they have spent years building up with large audiences, versus paid advertisements that target an extremely diverse audience and are clearly marked as "paid". People that follow content posters like Black Shell Media do so because they are interested in upcoming games, indie developers, and crowdfunding campaigns. No matter how specific you get with paid advertising keywords and targeting via facebook/etc ads you're going to hit a lot of people that don't care about any of these things. I would highly recommend considering a service or two or three ranging from 50$ to 500$ posting to curated audiences over self-managed paid advertising.
4. The demo
My demo sucked, and that was the end of the story really. Plenty of people are able to see beyond that and are willing to back your project, but streamers and media get stuck. Getting people to back your project is less of a problem than getting people to see your project, and they're not going to see it if streamers and media don't have enough to work with. You also don't need any fancy video production if your demo works, you just record it and your good.
5. The video
Do not spend any time trying to make your video fancy by mocking up cut-scenes, making new models, recording new voices. If it's not in your game, it's not in your game! This was something I learned early on. Trying to take screenshots and video of stuff that isn't finish takes time. Instead of spending that time you should finish it! Then all you have to do is record.
5. Time ⏰
If you're building a board game, printing a comic, shooting a movie, you need money, and Kickstarter might be the most awesome thing ever to earn you money. If you're an indie developer, you need time, not money, no matter what people in the industry are used to saying. Consider two alternatives to Kickstarter:
A: Don't spend your time on anything other than development, and just get the game to an early-access stage. Steam has the most subscribers of any sort of "media outlet" you can imagine times ten thousand. If you're game is going to sell at all (and some games just aren't, no offense) putting it live on Steam will sell it.
B: Consider IndieGoGo for its investment options. I ultimately stuck with Kickstarter because its got the "biggest audience," but that didn't cover up the problems with the campaign, and it also comes with a lot more rules, and a lot less options. I have people that -want- to give me money to help out, but Kickstarter only offers an all or nothing campaign style. IndieGoGo allows you to offer equity, and to opt to keep what you get, both of which for a goal as small as mine was, may have been a better option. Not in all cases, but it's definitely worth thinking about it.
I read time and time again that crowdfunding takes a lot of time and work, but I never mentally translated that as "time you could have been developing," until it was too late. Life is, however, experience! I'm not interested in moaning about what's done, and have my eyes back on the true goal: a great game!
I'm shooting to publish a public build before the year ends, with a big update this Saturday!
Thank you again to everyone who has backed, commented, and shared their ideas. Your continued participation is important as we move forward with turning Solace Crafting into a financially healthy and well-staffed project, and is very much appreciated by me and everyone looking for better games.