Ultimately, the Kickstarter funding campaign was unsuccessful in regards to securing us funds. But it was always about more than just funds, elements that money can’t buy and a sprinkling of good fortune too. We spent a month creating and tweaking the Kickstarter profile, along with reaching out to the press to start creating a buzz in the games community, raise awareness of our plans and have articles published before the launch and on the big day itself. We were also still busy working on the single player demo, creating the world assets, compiling them together in Unity3D and testing builds daily. Once we were happy with the game, the feeling and experience, we were able to package it up into an installer and prepare to submit it to Oculus Share.
Our Game Producer, Sam Watts, was able to get the ball rolling with the press after a chance meeting with Kevin Joyce, Editor-in-Chief of VRFocus at the inaugural VR Brighton Meetup, a few months before launch of the Kickstarter. Kevin was keen to come to the studio, play the game and do some video interviews, ready for an agreed set of articles to be published during the build-up to the Kickstarter launch and throughout the campaign. This agreement also included a series of exclusive dev blogs and after so much great coverage and support from VRFocus during the campaign, we decided to give them the exclusive for publishing what you are reading now, the Kickstarter Post-Mortem. Due to delays to the website design and not having all the social media channels up to speed in time, we delayed the launch of the Kickstarter by two weeks, so it would launch on July 3rd. This also keyed into the fact that, at the time we were still expecting, like everyone else, that Oculus VR would ship the DK2 in July, before our campaign ended and would give us a good boost towards the end.
We attended a lot of events leading up to and throughout the Kickstarter campaign, helping build raise awareness and letting players try out the game before the demo was released. These included the VR Brighton Meetup with other VR enthusiasts, where we got to see the game on an Oculus Rift HD Prototype, giving us a glimpse of how the visuals would be vastly improved when we got our DK2s. There was also a boisterous night at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in Brighton, UK with the Kotaku-UK sponsored I.Am.Arcade and Fight Club games night. The game went down a storm with the gamers there and we were left positively charged ready to launch the Kickstarter. We also had a booth at Develop in Brighton Expo (more below) which was a fantastic opportunity for us to get the game in front of game developers and peers. These were all local events for us and involved lots of trudging around carrying PC hardware about town, thankfully without any issues. Towards the end of the Kickstarter campaign, we attended VR in a Bar at Loading Bar in Dalston, London, UK and the inaugural South West VR Meetup the following night in Bristol, UK. It was good to spread our wings a little bit and take the game on the road and meet more gamers outside of Brighton, since by then pretty much everyone and anyone knew of it in our neighbourhood.
Throughout the campaign, many opportunities arose that we hadn’t even thought of, or considered (that sprinkling of luck) and we made contact with gamers, developers, fans and business associates like we could never imagine or pre-empt during our preparation for Kickstarter. So without further ado, mostly in chronological order from beginning to end, the good and the bad of the Kickstarter campaign:
– Raised profile of game and studio, coming from nowhere to being a serious VR force
– Received high levels of praise, especially for the VR design aspects
– Meeting with Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony Studios Worldwide and having him play the
game, pledge support and initiate discussions to bring the title to Sony Project Morpheus
– Tweets from Palmer Luckey, co-inventor and founder of Oculus VR
– Amazing support from Sony, Oculus VR and Unity3D, all using their channels to promote
– Over 60 articles published online covering previews, reviews, interviews, dev Q&As, “Let’s Play” videos, podcasts and more
– Nearly 1,000 backers with an average pledge value of £40
– Creation of dedicated fan base and hardcore supporters
– Rapid advancement through the ranks on Steam Greenlight with excellent statistics
– Didn’t get funded (duh)
– Delays to Oculus VR Rift DK2 (2nd Development Kit) shipping, and fewer sent than expected
– Problems with last minute SDK release on day we received our DK2 meant wasted time spent on re-working the demo support
– Unable to gain traction with a number of high profile games news websites
– Unable to gain traction with non-VR gamers, especially PS4 gamers post-PS4 dev kit news
– Gamers automatically assumed the game would make them sick
– Unable to launch on US Kickstarter meaning less visibility and pledge tier confusion over £>$
– Similarly, being UK/EU-based, difficulty gaining attention / traction with US gamers / market
What Went Right
1. Submission to Oculus Share – Thankfully we didn’t have any issues with our submission to Oculus Share, the primary source of hosting the files for the single player demo during the Kickstarter campaign. However, because of it being a beta and still early days, there isn’t really a formal procedure for app submission, like with Apple for example, so we were unable to control when the app went live. What we were able to do was liaise with Cybereality, Oculus VR Community Manager and life-saver, to check on progress of the submission and agree a specific date that the demo would be published. We wanted the demo to be available at the same time as the launch of the Kickstarter and Cybereality was able to do this for us. In fact, the demo went up a few hours before the launch of the Kickstarter but it was fine. We had also uploaded the demo files to other, alternative download locations as backup just in case there were any delays to the Oculus Share publish.
2. Off to a great start – Within the first few hours and at the end of the first day, we had received a healthy number of pledges from keen backers and were well on our way to reach 20% funded within the first few days. We had been told that reaching this percentage of funding, based on statistical data of previous Kickstarter campaigns, was a good yard stick measure of success.
3. High download numbers and great ratings – Last time we checked (5 minutes ago) the single player demo had been downloaded 3,500+ times from Oculus Share with an average score rating of 4.3/5 (82%) and comfort rating of “A very comfortable VR experience”. We don’t have stats from the other sites we hosted the demo files on but know that we exceeded the Dropbox bandwidth allocation. This was a great number of potential backers and way to drive traffic to the Kickstarter.
4. Overwhelmingly positive response to the demo – Nearly every single person we saw play the demo at events was hugely enthusiastic and positive about the game and the VR integration. We appreciate that not everyone likes the racing genre but even those who weren’t fans still appreciated what we were trying to achieve. This was reflected in all the online coverage and mostly within the comments following the articles about the demo.
5. Amazing coverage and PR response – Although it’s fairly obvious that a strong product sells itself, which we were confident of having, we couldn’t have hoped for better traction and coverage across a variety of websites. Managing to get coverage on Polygon, Kotaku, CVG & PC Gamer really gave us a confidence boost and a surge in backers as each article went live. It made it feel as if we were legitimate and making a game people were excited about. On the VR specialist websites, it was a crazy roller-coaster ride of confusion, admiration and outright fandom with lots of attention focused on why didn’t the game mechanic make people feel sick, what had we done to reduce this and generally who are these upstarts coming out of nowhere to take the VR community by storm? We’ve actually lost count but we have contributed and worked with journalists on at least 60 unique articles in just one month covering previews, reviews, interviews, dev Q&As, podcasts, VR design breakdown and much more.
6. Develop in Brighton expo – We had initially applied to be included in the Unity3D sponsored Indie Showcase that was a central feature of the Develop in Brighton expo but were not selected from the 175+ applications they received. They did then offer us a cheap “Indie Demo Area” booth for a fairly low price, which we jumped at the chance to do. However when we arrived to setup the day before the expo opened to the public, we found ourselves in the main expo area as only one other indie developer had also booked out an indie booth (of the 12 available), meaning that we had been upgraded for free to a much larger space. This was no bad thing, in no shape or form what-so-ever but it did mean we had only a few hours to ensure we had enough assets to fill the increased space with. After a quick code update, we were then able to take down with us x3 PCs to run our LAN networked two-player Vs version of the demo plus the trackside camera version outputting to a large HDTV screen, to help with drawing attention to the booth. We had a great two days at Develop expo, especially with the Sony Morpheus being present publicly for the first time in EU as their team were present and we learned a few things about the Morpheus and the attention we had received within.
Of course the highlight of the event was having Shuhei Yoshida come to the booth, play the game and offer assistance with a PS4 dev kit and Morpheus headset in order to accelerate our plans to bring the game to PS4 in future.
7. Not making players feel sick – So whilst there will always be a few people who will feel ill from using VR or fast-paced games, the majority we spoke to said that they felt absolutely fine playing the demo with no nausea, or if they did experience it, it was fleeting until their brain adapted. We’ve covered many times elsewhere through our press coverage the specific design considerations made to reduce simulator sickness but it was great to see our choices being confirmed by real gamers with less VR experience, or “VR legs” than us. Proof is in the pudding and we’ve tracked some players who have completed over 700 laps of the single player demo in VR.
8. The /r/Oculus community – We spent a lot of time with the reddit Oculus subreddit community discussing the game demo, design and Kickstarter. We were really made to feel welcome and at home with the members there, with a lot of passion for what we were trying to achieve and deliver. Despite being involved in VR & simulation for years, we hadn’t really participated a great deal in online communities before the launch of the Kickstarter so it was refreshing to be accepted so openly. However I think this came from a) having a strong, exciting concept that was a playable game and b) being a human being within the community, discussing with honesty and transparency rather than some marketing / PR robot just trying to sell and push messages down throats. Reddit formed our largest source of Kickstarter backers (259/978 – 13.5% total pledges) and we will continue to interact and be part of the community moving forwards. Seeing Cymatic Bruce, one of the most visible and respected online VR personas, covering the game demo on his regular Sunday live stream and going bananas with excitement over it will remain one of the highlights for us.
9. Racing up the ranks on Steam Greenlight – We created our Steam Greenlight submission / page a week before the Kickstarter campaign and were amazed at the initial response we received and statistics coming from the profile. Talking other developers who had submitted their games to Steam Greenlight, we were pleasantly surprised to discover what we thought were average statistics were in fact really very good. We spent a good couple of weeks with over 65% yes votes and were steadily increasing our ranking up to and into the Top 100 within a very short space of time. There were a great number of positive comments and feedback, with growing excitement to see the game make it through and be available on the Steam platform.
10. VIP backers and influencers – Not only did we meet Shuhei Yoshida and begin discussions about PS4 dev kits and Morpheus hardware, he tweeted, retweeted and publicly pledged his support for the game to his large follower base. We were also able to connect and talk to Palmer Luckey who tweeted and posted about the game and Kickstarter. We also managed to bring a number of other high profile game industry professionals on side, such as Ben Kurcher and Stephen “Rockjaw” Reid, who were publicly happy to show support and help spread the word through their large follower base (as well as create great coverage through a positive article on Polygon). Furthermore, tweets and promotion from the three main companies we were working with (in relation to using their hardware and software) were happy to tweet, retweet and promote the campaign. For this we are thankful to Sony, Oculus VR and Unity3D.
What Went Wrong
2. Not such a great start afterall – We raced up to 10% after the first day and all got excited and
confident that we were going to be successful. However it then coughed and spluttered a bit
and by lunchtime Sunday 6th July, we were just scraping 15% funded. This is when we should have been at 20% ideally, if we were to be statistically successful. It actually took us nearly two weeks to hit 20%
This put a little bit of a dampener on the start of our first full working week on Kickstarter but we were strong of mind and knuckled down to push on.
3. Poor download count : rating ratio – Even though the single player demo was downloaded over 3,500 times from Oculus Share, and we had two great ratings, the number of people giving ratings was pretty poor; just 70 last time we checked. More ratings would have helped get us into the top 5 panel on the homepage for complete domination. Not only that, whilst we were tracking he ratings we noticed some unusual behavior one evening when we suddenly got a number of new ratings in quick succession but they were all 1/5 stars as our average suddenly plummeted from 4.9/5 to 3.9/5. This is another side effect of not having many ratings, in that a few bad ones can dramatically alter the averages. Seemed as if someone collectively had it in for us that night.
4. Failing to convert the numbers of people downloading and playing the demo into backers –Although we had nearly 1,000 backers, which is fantastic, there’s still a large difference in numbers between those who play and those who pledge. Similarly for Steam, we started off with roughly capturing about 50% of visitors to yes votes but this steadily declined over the month the longer the game was on Greenlight. At present, it’s around 25% of visitors have voted yes. With our current 50/50 split between yes and no for whether they would like to see the game on Steam, that means there’s still 50% of visitors who aren’t even voting, which doesn’t cost a thing.
5. Missing the mainstream / big games sites press coverage – Whilst we were really happy with the websites, some of them at the top of the rung, who did run articles about the game, demo, Kickstarter and team, and will be eternally grateful to them for doing so, there are still a lot of games sites with large reader-bases that simply wouldn’t respond or cover Kickstarter campaigns. Getting a response and connection only to be told “We’d love to cover your game once you’re funded” is one of the most frustrating things to hear. It’s a chicken and egg situation; with your coverage, we’d increase our reach and increase our chances of being funded. We were hoping to gain some traction on the non-gaming websites too since VR is hot property at the moment and we were trying to piggy-back that interest as a reason to get coverage there too, but ultimately failed there too.
6. Being at the back of Develop expo – This wasn’t a huge issue but it was slightly annoying since we had “the game of show” on our booth but were stuck at the back of the expo hall, away from the main area. Not complaining, since we were upgraded for free and there were a lot of positives to take away, but there were a few student demo areas with Oculus Rift content on display as well as ours. A number of attendees, by the time they got to our booth, had been put off VR demos because of sub-optimal content elsewhere causing simulation sickness. So when they say the screen with 360-degree rotating tracks, they thought that this would definitely make them feel ill.
7. Gamers thinking they would get sick from playing – This was a common theme throughout the coverage and general feedback; people took one look at the videos and immediately assumed that the game would make them feel sick. A lot of our early coverage focused around this fact and featured many interviews and dev Q&As with the Game Producer, Sam Watts, discussing the specific design choices made to reduce simulator sickness but we couldn’t shake the thought from gamers’ minds. As discussed above, when people actually tried it and played the demo, most of them were pleasantly surprised to discover that it didn’t make them sick.
8. Lack of engagement with “normal” gamers – We quickly had the attention and support of the VR gaming community but we utterly failed to gain any kind of traction or emphasis within the non-VR gaming communities for any of the platforms we’re looking at supporting. We switched early on from releasing Oculus Rift screenshots, with the dual channel display, to just posting the 2D screenshots from the normal version of the game. We found that gamers are very Marmite about VR; they either love it or hate it with little inbetween. As soon as they saw the Rift shots, they turned off and weren’t interested, making it near impossible to bring them back in with the 2D mode. This was even more apparent with the PS4 gamers we were trying to bring on-board after the Sony announcements; they just seem to want to know a game is going to be made, with a release date and available on the PSN Store. Which of course, at this stage, we couldn’t offer them.
9. Not having a clue about the Steam Greenlight selection process – Through our discussions with other developers who had submitted their games to Steam Greenlight and hearing their experiences of wallowing statistics, taking months or years to be selected, we were falsely encouraged and expectant that we would race through the selection process early and easily, based upon comparisons our of statistics against theirs. That didn’t happen. We are still within the Top 25 on Steam Greenlight but we saw with each batch going through, just being in the Top 75 doesn’t automatically mean you will be one of the 75 chosen in that batch. We have an idea of what other aspects affect your chances, such as a successful Kickstarter campaign, coverage online, general consensus regarding demand and potential success, as well as your profile statistics. But we still have no visibility or idea when / if we will be selected.
10. Lack of VIP testimonials early on – What we didn’t achieve, mostly through not making the game known about before the launch of the Kickstarter or attending events, was any form of celebrity game industry professionals until well within the campaign. The Kickstarter story video would have greatly benefited from some leading industry figure vox pops about why they love the game and think everyone else should be involved with backing it too.
What We Learned
1. Don’t rely on high pledge tier levels – For games, unless you have some serious clout and degree of fame behind you, bringing dedicated fans to the campaign, don’t calculate your goal values (base & stretch) on expecting backers to stump up a large amount of cash to help you meet them. We had some high level pledge backers, to whom we’re eternally grateful and wish we could have seen the rewards go to them, but the majority of backers went for the levels that gave access to the game and nothing more.
2. Kickstarter stories aren’t interesting to the press – We knew that there was a certain negativity amongst the press these days regarding Kickstarter. The service is a few years old now and whilst there have been high-profile, newsworthy campaigns, there have been a lot of high-profile, catastrophic failures too. The press has got burnt out spending time and energy covering these, wasting screen space to campaigns that fail to fund, or deliver. The best way to get coverage is to have funding in place with a known development schedule and expected release date planned.
3. There is a lot of negativity in general around Kickstarter – Having been in operation for a few years, there have been many high profile success, and failure stories coming from Kickstarter projects. Obviously, Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s success showed a lot of people that Kickstarter could be a valid alternative funding option but this was some time ago and wasn’t without its own problems. A number of games and developers have jumped on the bandwagon since and fallen off spectacularly. Even successfully funded projects haven’t been without their own problems and recently, coverage of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R re-boot and controversies surrounding the IP ownership and development team, plus the collapse of the overly successful YogsAdventures and stories of mis-management and missing funds, has all added to a set of gamers wary of supporting such campaigns now and in the future.
4. Backer physical reward postage counts towards your total – One thing we didn’t gather from our investigations and research into Kickstarter was that any additional postage, for physical reward items that backers choose, is added to your fund total. So if we had just scraped over our goal, that wouldn’t have all been from straight pledges, it would have included the total amount that backers had pledged to cover the postage costs too, which we would then still have had to cover when sending out the reward items. Kickstarter should really track the two values separately of one another, actual pledges and rewards postage contributions.
5. Stick to your original plan and don’t get distracted – Through our profile on Steam Greenlight, we soon discovered that we had completely overlooked one gaming platform; Linux. A vocal minority of Linux gamers were very noisy about our lack of Linux support and that they would only back the game if we announced official support for this platform. We tried to judge interest as we had to gauge whether the additional effort, time and cost was worthwhile but we realized that they weren’t going to budge, having been burnt by developers promising support in the past and it failing to materialize after they had pledged. We were able to work on a Linux buildbut with all the variants of Linux available and our testing abilities reduced, a number of issues soon became apparent that we just didn’t have time to fix. Coupled with the current lack of support for Linux, Oculus VR and Unity3D, we were stuck and unable to provide a demo build that supported Rifts. All in all, it proved to be a time costly distraction that we could have done without so we will have to re-think our platform support moving forwards once we have new SDKs available that re-enable Mac and Linux support for Oculus VR and Unity3D. Since we havea 2D and VR mode, each new platform adds two branches of development and testing, something that a small team needs to measure the value of having very carefully.
6. Ensure “Early Bird” means that – We set our ‘Early Bird’ reduced price pledge level to include too many pledge slots, meaning that only towards the end of the campaign had we actually sold out of these. We set the value at 500, thinking we would have more backers overall to snap these up sooner. Turns out that 500 is almost 50% of our total backer number and the value should have been much lower, making early adopters feel more special and forcing later backers into the slightly higher pledge tiers.
7. Cross-promotion really helps – We hadn’t planned any cross-promotion for our campaign at launch which soon became obvious we should have done. We were fortunate enough that many other Kickstarter campaigns, either already funded or running concurrently to yours, want to cross-promote and work together to boost each other’s numbers. We ended up promoting other indie game developers at the end of our updates, who returned the favour, plus took the opportunities as they arose e.g. integrating Trinity VR “Trinity Magnum” controller support and providing @Anticleric with game assets to integrate into his DK2-enabled, backer-only build of Technolust. For our part, all we had to do was integrate advertising into our in-game billboards for the other projects we were working with.
8. Plan your social media strategy and messaging effectively – Although we covered all the main social media channels, we underestimated the task of having to cover all timezones and ensure that the messaging and promotion was reaching all potential backers globally with the correct messaging. Metrics soon showed where we should focus our attentions but still, have to carefully plan updates and messaging to ensure don’t come across as spammy. Google+ was a desolate wasteland compared to Twitter, even Facebook. Twitter allowed for the greatest engagement with followers and fans since everyone saw every post every time. We didn’t have the budget to pay Facebook to boost posts and reach all our fans who had liked the page there. Research and find daily hashtag posts that are repeated weekly and find suitable retweet bots to forward your messages accordingly. E.g. #indiedev and #gamedev are useful, as is the #screenshotsaturday and #madewithunity in order to spread new artwork and utilize the vast follower numbers.
9. People don’t read – We’ll freely admit that our Kickstarter campaign profile was long. We’ll admit now it was too long and contained too much information that the majority of potential backers seemed to ignore. We were constantly having to tweak it and remove content every time we wanted to update the profile because we were hitting the maximum length. We were informed before launch that potential backers don’t even watch the Kickstarter story videos anymore and instead will make a decision whether to back a project within the first few lines of the campaign, so use animated GIFs to showcase the in-game footage. We had 13% of all viewers of the story video watch it all the way through to the end.
10. Kickstarter doesn’t communicate anything to you during your campaign – Towards the end of the campaign, through idle browsing of Kickstarter ‘Staff Picks’, we noticed that we were listed under the Games > Video Games category as a having been chosen. Whilst there are hundreds, nay thousands of projects that full under being a staff pick, we never received an email from Kickstarter informing us that this had happened. The browsing of staff picks doesn’t seem to be organized in any way and sometimes we would be near the top, sometimes you’d have to scroll a long way down the list to find us, so we’re not overly sure how much impact this had on backer count but it does mean you can promote the fact on your project profile image.
What We Would Do Different Next Time
1. Launch the demo well in advance of the Kickstarter launch – Although we had advertising in-game for our social media channels and out Kicksarter & Steam Greenlight campaigns, we should have released a version earlier in advance to build up the coverage and awareness sooner. We could always replace the in-game ads once the Kickstarter was live. In fact we should have a system where there are a set of in-built ads for offline mode but if an Internet connection is available, stream the ad images from an online source so we can change them without needing to issue a new build.
2. Aim to pass Steam Greenlight before [re]launching the Kickstarter campaign – Having a profile on Steam already set before launching will give you a ready-made group of fans willing to support and help bring the game to release sooner.
3. Launch with a tighter campaign – Our Kickstarter profile ended up trying to cover every aspect we had been advised to address and provide evidence for and became too long, too wooly and not concise enough. We would have a tight, short profile story with more imagery and key details, focusing on what we want to do now, rather than lengthening it with what we also want to do in the future. This information should be available to read on the official website, linked from the Kickstarter campaign, if people want to read it but ultimately, kept out of the main story.
4. Ensure enough people can play the game – We planned the campaign to co-inside with the launch of the Oculus VR Rift DK2 headset mid-way through to give us a boost during the doldrums part of the campaign but due to manufacturing, shipping and SDK delays, the amount of headsets that made their way to pre-order customers was significantly lower than expected. Combined with the issues around the new SDK and having to work on a new build and eat into development budget unexpectedly, we didn’t get that boost as expected.
5. Ensure have a large group of backers ready to go on day one – We thought we had built up enough fans and followers ready to become backers on day one launch of the campaign but we could have done so much more. By doing the points above we would ensure that this would be the case next time around and have already had confirmation from a large part of the community that they are ready to pledge and support again when we launch the next funding attempt.
Although we were unsuccessful in passing our base funding goal and achieving funding through the Kickstarter campaign, we feel that overall the campaign was successful in its own right, in relation to everything else that we did achieve. We announced the game and the studio to the world, we made people sit up and pay attention, we received some amazing press coverage and we started the process of creating a passionate fan base around the title, ready for step two. We also learned a great deal about what it takes to be indie developers and how best to arrange and organize the team, budgets and development plan moving forward. As covered elsewhere, we had a Plan B & C when we started, but thanks to all of the above, we now have a Plan D, E & F to follow up on and ensure that Radial-G : Racing Revolved will be more than just a month long attraction. Stay tuned for more news and announcements coming soon and details of what our next steps will be. You can subscribe to the mailing list by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and get involved sooner with development and progress. Thank you to all the wonderful people who pledged their support, got behind our vision and believed in us.