Hello again! I hope you enjoyed the last posts and took something from them – but if you’re here, you probably did! And if you haven’t read the last articles, better do so now:
Now that you’re all caught up, let’s just dive in! This week it’s all about Kickstarter and how we managed to collect over 320,000€ (350,000$) within a month’s time. And let me tell you, it was not as easy as you might think!
Preparing the campaign
As I mentioned a couple of times before, the Kickstarter was what finally enabled us to really concentrate on the development and work full-time on Lost Ember and got us more money than we had ever seen before. Seeing that amount on our bank account that was more used to a big 0 than anything else was really weird! But it’s not like we just set up the campaign and watched the money pouring in. Preparing a Kickstarter that size is a lot of work and we spent months researching other campaigns, talking to other campaign creators and to Kickstarter itself and getting everything ready for our actual campaign.
The decision to even do a Kickstarter wasn’t an easy one. Not only is it a lot of work that might be for nothing in the end, there’s also a certain risk of ruining the chances of getting a publisher with a failed campaign, meaning that a failed campaign might have been the end of it altogether. We already were in touch with a lot of publishers before the campaign and to some of them we mentioned our idea to start a crowdfunding campaign to lower the costs on their side, but most were not too keen on that idea with some even strongly recommending not to do it, if we’d like to work with them. But the idea of signing with a publisher this early in development also had a couple of downsides for us. Most publishing deals include some kind of milestone plan that the payments are tied to. If you don’t deliver what you promised, the money stops coming in. This was obviously a big risk. Not only did we not know if our timeline was right, what if we changed our mind about certain features? After all, we just recently changed the whole structure of the game by not doing episodes, but instead a full game. What if something like that would happen again? Everything would have had to be signed off by the publisher. And even if most of them would guarantee us full creative freedom in theory, as long as they could stop the payments, we were still dependent on their approval.
Additionally, there was no way to know if they would do a good job with marketing the game. Sure, they had more experience, but most publishers also have a couple of less successful games in their portfolio and for a lot of them Lost Ember would have been a smaller title compared to others. Would they really put as much effort into marketing as they did for their other titles? There’s a lot of trust involved in signing a deal like that. I wrote another article about the pros and cons of working with a publisher and why we decided to self-publish in the end a while ago. If you’re interested in that, you can find it right here:
So anyway, at some point we made the decision to go with Kickstarter instead of a publisher. If the campaign failed, maybe it’s just a sign that there’s not that much potential behind our concept after all and it would be better if we stopped before putting years and years of work into a game that’s just going to flop. And if it did not fail, we were pretty sure that we would still be able to continue the talks with most of the publishers in one way or another, if need be.
With this decision out of the way, there were a couple of questions we had to answer as soon as possible: How much money do we ask for? What did we need to get there? What kind of rewards could we offer?
The first question wasn’t as easy as you might think. From our publisher pitches we had the calculations of how much time and money we would need for the full development, which at that time would have been something like 200,000€. How much money should we add for marketing? If we weren’t going to work with a publisher, we also should factor in some money for external QA and localization. What other things are there? We hadn’t released a game before so just coming up with that final number was a lot of guesswork. We landed on something around 250,000€ – not including the costs for the Kickstarter rewards. To cover our costs and of course taxes we would probably have to set the goal to something like 350,000€. The most successful German Kickstarter for a game at that time reached just over 400,000€. Could we really expect to get that much from our campaign?
With Kickstarter, you only get the money if the campaign is successful. So if we set a goal of 350,000€ but only got 300,000€, the campaign would fail and no one would get anything. But surely with 300,000€ we could still deliver that game and come up with a different way to get that last remaining amount? We decided to come up with an amount that we felt meant that the game was going to get developed and just be absolutely transparent about that in our campaign. After all, we already had offers from some publishers and even if some weren’t too happy with the idea of a Kickstarter-game, surely that wouldn’t be a dealbreaker for all of them. Our main goal was to get to a point where all main features were implemented and the story was written. At that point, we wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable signing a milestone plan. We would know much, much better if certain features and story elements worked and if the overall structure of the game was alright. 100,000€ was what we came up with for that.
So how do we build a campaign that would be able to gather 100,000€? One thing we knew for certain (and the thing that’s definitely the most important factor of our success) was that we didn’t want to make the whole campaign dependent on the right magazine to write or the right streamer to show gameplay. We wanted to (at least in theory) be able to reach as many people as necessary to reach the goal. With a price of 20€ for the game that was an easy calculation: 5,000 people paying 20€ each would get us there. At the time we had about 500 followers on Twitter and Facebook, which meant we had to put in some work to raise that number.
There are two factors we considered the most important. The first one was our trailer that we released about two months before the campaign during gamescom. Releasing a game trailer during a big convention like gamescom can be a bit risky, since there’ll be a lot of bigger trailers and announcements that the press is likely to focus on. On the other hand, if you manage to get your trailer included in some kind of “these were all the announcements during gamescom” recap article, you would get a lot more eyes than usual since these articles are clicked a lot. We decided to try it, got the trailer ready, collected as many email addresses of press and influencers as we could find and tried to get Lost Ember included in as many events around gamescom as possible so no one writing about gamescom could completely miss it. And it worked. Overnight we had over 100,000 views on the youtube video and there were articles in all kinds of huge online magazines like Kotaku or RockPaperShotgun about our game. Our first huge marketing success.
The second thing was including the community not only in the campaign in the form of social stretchgoals (an idea we got from Swiss developer Philomena Schwab and her campaigns, thank you very much for your advice! :)), but also in the preparation. A lot of people don’t realize how important social media followers, wishlists or newsletter subscriptions can be for a studio. Reaching a lot of people with one video and then never being able to reach them again was our main fear back then and is always an important factor in deciding when to start marketing: should we wait until release and put everything into that one push or should we try and reach more people over a longer period of time, risking they would have forgotten about it by the time it releases? Well, if a lot of people don’t realize this, maybe we should just tell them. Especially with indie developers, there are a lot of people who want to support you in any way they can, but since they can’t buy your games (because they’re not released yet), they don’t know how. Some may decide to like your tweets, some may post something on reddit, some in chats of streamers,… the possibilities are endless and if you don’t have millions of followers that means that your visibility is scattered across hundreds of sources and none of them really stand out. So we decided to try and focus our efforts, tell people what we want them to do and – to encourage even more people – we made it into a little competition.
The thing we decided was most important for us at that point was newsletter subscribers. If our goal was to reach as many of our followers as possible at the start of the campaign, that seemed like the best thing to do. It doesn’t require you to have an account at any specific site and is not as easy to miss as a tweet for example. When we finally announced that we would launch a Kickstarter, we didn’t specify a date, but instead specified a number of subscribers that would mean the start of the campaign. We added a very prominent counter to our website and included a “referred by” field in the subscription form. The person who referred the most people that would later actually support the Kickstarter campaign, would win a special Lost Ember prize box.
This kind of social campaigning worked really well for us with our newsletter subscribers doubling in just a few days without us releasing any new content (this was before the trailer when all we had were some screenshots and concept art) and a lot of people posted on their own social media, encouraging people to subscribe and use their name for the referral box.
It took us about 3-4 months until we got from 500 to 5,000 subscribers and we could finally start the campaign. When we finally announced the date, we added a huge countdown to our website and would tweet something every day mentioning the launch date. We wanted to make absolutely sure that everyone knew at what exact time the campaign would start. And they did.
Launching the campaign
For the campaign itself we wanted to do something unique and interesting that would set us apart from all the other Kickstarter campaigns that launch every week. Something that would be interesting to write about for the press, that would allow us to create more content for tweets and things like that and would enable us to reach new communities. We decided we would rent a camper van and tour Europe for a month, visiting local gaming events, other developers and streamers and of course film ourselves while doing that and post the travel vlog to youtube every couple of days.
It’s hard to measure if this was actually worth it in the end, but it did get mentioned in most of the articles about our campaign and – while our videos never got huge attention – it did allow people to get to know us better and actually feel like they would be a part of our campaign. I think sometimes it’s worth putting some effort in doing something for your core community, no matter how small it may be. And they sometimes still mention our weird and fun tour videos when they meet us at conventions now. So it is something that stays in your memory a bit longer than the average game trailer.
Since I mentioned visiting streamers during that tour, obviously one other pillar of the campaign was sending a demo to streamers. We didn’t feel super comfortable making the demo completely public since that also means that we would have to do a lot of support during the campaign and – seeing that we’d be in a camper in some foreign country most of the time – that made us nervous. But we still wanted to show everyone that we actually could make a game and that there already is something playable. We decided to just send the demo to streamers, so people could still see the gameplay in action and maybe even get their favorite streamer’s opinion on it (which might be a good or a bad thing, but we were pretty confident).
All of this combined – making sure everyone knows when the campaign starts, giving the press something interesting to write about, and being weird enough for a couple of pretty big streamers to want to collaborate with us – helped us get a very successful campaign launch that opened even more doors for the rest of the campaign.
Within just 4 hours we reached 10,000€ and after 2 days we reached our goal of 100,000€. Which also meant that even more press wrote about us, we were mentioned in a lot of “the most successful Kickstarters this week” posts, Kickstarter itself of course quickly featured us and even more streamers and other people reached out. Lost Ember ended up as Germany’s 2nd most successful crowdfunding campaign for a game ever, without anyone ever having heard of us just a few months before it.
Here’s our campaign page, for anyone interested: LOST EMBER a story-driven exploration adventure PC/PS4/Xbox by Mooneye Studios — Kickstarter
After the campaign
A Kickstarter campaign always also means extra work. Not only do the rewards need to be produced, stored and shipped, the community wants to get regular updates and insights into the development. After all, they just spent money on something that’s not due to be delivered for a long time, so it’s understandable that you would want to know the status of what you paid for.
Since we severely underestimated the amount of work this would become, we got someone new on board. We finally had the resources to do that and found a perfect addition to our team in Sinikka – our new producer and first full-time hire. Sinikka took over all the community work and everything not directly related to the development like the Kickstarter rewards. And even with this additional help, we weren’t able to meet our deadlines and sooner or later we knew that we wouldn’t be able to release on time. So we made the always difficult decision to delay the game release – twice. We ended up releasing the game more than one and a half year after the release date we communicated during the Kickstarter. But luckily the overwhelming majority of our community was more than understanding and willing to wait a bit longer if it meant a more polished game.
But the game wasn’t the only thing that would be delayed. In fact, we still haven’t managed to send out the last reward packages due to COVID-19 shipping restrictions and limitations – two years after the release of the game and five years after the campaign started. That not only means that it got more and more expensive, since we already produced everything and have to pay for storage ever since, but obviously people are getting understandably impatient. We never would have thought that we would still have to spend so much time, effort and nerves into managing the aftermath of the campaign this long after it has ended.
All this extra work and team additions of course also mean an increased budget. And even without additional cost: we did not hit the 350,000€ that we needed for the full development. So we pretty quickly knew that we probably still needed additional funding from somewhere. But at least it wasn’t as urgent as it was before the campaign. We had some time to figure things out.
Sooner or later – once we were happy with the general story outline and had a rough implementation of most game elements – we reached out to some of the publishers again. And some of them reached out after the campaign by themselves. Some of the deals we were offered now looked very different to the ones before, since now we had brought in the majority of the budget, but we still weren’t quite happy with anything that was offered. Additionally, we now knew that we weren’t half bad at marketing ourselves. The main benefit from outsourcing it would be the time we would save – not a small thing, but was it worth giving away a major part of the revenue of the game we already put so much into?
I already talked about the pros and cons of working with a publisher in a past article that you can check out here. As you may know, we ended up publishing Lost Ember ourselves, which did require us to find some additional funding, but looking back at it definitely was the right decision for us at that time.
And that means that we almost reached the end of our little peek into the past! There’s only one thing left to share and that is arguably the most juicy bit: all the numbers from budgets to sales figures and our final verdict: was it all worth it?
I hope you’ll come back next week for all that and wish you all the best day you could possibly imagine! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them in the comments below or reach out via Twitter or Mail or however else you like!
See you next time!
Go on to the final part: