The many mistakes of… Apocalypse Now!

Thomas Bidaux
Jan 27, 2017 · 9 min read

I am going to talk about the game! The game! Not the movie!!!

So, in the same vein as the two previous “Many Mistakes of…” articles (on Yooka-Laylee and Hero’s Song), I will go through the Kickstarter campaign for the Apocalypse Now! video game. However, unlike the two previous articles which reviewed campaigns after they were over, this time, the Apocalypse Now! campaign has just launched and is still in its first 48 hours.

Like in those articles, my comments are 100% focused on the crowdfunding campaign and not the game itself. I totally trust Rob to create a compelling interactive narrative for the game and his partners seem totally qualified.

So, this is where it is at as I am writing this:

Mistake #1 — No gameplay footage and no demo

Last year, John Romero launched a very important campaign as far as video game crowdfunding is concerned. With the high profile it had (it doesn’t get any better as far as high profile game designer are concerned), it totally tanked and the main reason (according to Romero and external analysts) was the absence of gameplay footage or a demo.

While before the right project could get away with a campaign just relying on a good name (*cough* Shenmue 3 *cough*), it is now essential to actually show the game to get a chance of getting funded. This is not a bad thing if you ask me, but not the point here. It is a known fact — everybody working on crowdfunding for video games has been rehashing this point. Last year, at GDC Europe, I was asked to do a talk on “crowdfunding advanced techniques”. As I wrote, I decided to have one slide on crowdfunding basics, to put these well-known principles in everybody’s mind, just in case. This is the slide:

The fact that there was 0 gameplay shown at the launch of the campaign was an incredibly bad move. Especially when momentum is such a key aspect of a campaign (see the second item on the slide).

On the campaign page, there was a cryptic “Teaser video of the prototype coming soon” image. That was also a very bad move. First, teaser video of a prototype? These words are scary on themselves, but the fact you don’t even have this when you launch is even more scary to potential backers.

What is even more frustrating is that yesterday, ONE DAY after the campaign was launched, that teaser video was put on the page. And guess what? It is far from perfect, but it is millions of time better than any of the assets on that page at launch. Check it:

I shared it this morning on twitter, and some of the comments I received are right: it doesn’t show much gameplay (and the one bit identifiable as gameplay at 40' seems to be shooting sequence, the opposite of what the message on the game is, but I digress), and that’s very valid feedback. It would not be enough for many potential backers. But it would have been so much better than the current video.

To be fair, I suspect the team followed the recommendations that are on the Kickstarter official help section, the creator handbook:

My recommendation for video games project is always to show the game first, and then, maybe, you introduce yourself and talk about the project from your perspective. The Kickstarter handbook is great, but it tries to be a catch-all guide, and certain types of projects have their own rules, that’s certainly true for video games.

The lack of a video Day One also means that there are no gifs on the page. I know it sounds ridiculous sometimes, but having excellent gifs, showing your game, throughout your campaign page is a great asset. Many people just have a quick peek at the campaigns and make a judgement call based on whether or not they can get what the project is about. A gif is a great tool for games for that. No need for people to click to watch the video. And as a sidenote, hidden in the Apocalypse Now! campaign is a video with archive footage of the movie shooting with Francis Ford Coppola talking about the movie and the game. As I was going through the page, this was the first indicator for me that the campaign was genuine and had missed its potential (then I scrolled and saw Rob’s name, and I knew it was a quality project totally mismanaging its campaign). Watch the FFC video, it’s inspiring (even if not nearly enough without the other elements, like gameplay footage).

Mistake #2 — Hidden social links

At Indiecade Europe last year, I did a talk entitled “10 other reasons to crowdfund your game (illustrated by kittens)”:

(I feel like I am promoting all my talks from last year, apologies if that sounds self-serving)

Crowdfunding campaigns are great not just because they bring you money. They are also great community building tools — especially when this is the first time you reveal your project (more on that later though). You can crystallise a lot of the passion around the campaign and recruit a lot of your early advocate. But, to do this well, you need to make sure you have all the other tools in place too, to multiply the channels to reach your audience.

The most common channels would be Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and the official website (with possibly a newsletter you can subscribe too).

The Apocalypse Now! campaign has all of that and more (well, no newsletter, but all the others), but they are very badly featured on the page. To find the official website, I had to check the Creator’s Profile of the campaign. It is a great domain name (www.apocalypsenow.com), but the referencing of it is abysmal. Surely, making it more prominent on the KS page would have helped.

The Facebook and Twitter pages are linked, but not highlighted in any way (it is customary to make images to promote those links and have them stand out), and at the very end of the page:

And the result is what you could expect. The campaign has 1,722 backers, but this is the state of their social pages:

These numbers are very scary to me — that campaign is not building anything to keep any momentum beyond the first PR splash (that PR splash was great by the way, as could be expected, but the campaign wasn’t set in a proper way to transform it efficiently).

If you go to the Youtube channel, it is not a lot more glorious.

First, finding it was not very straightforward. Then, the total absence of official branding is not inspiring trust, or at least a sense of professionalism. No profile image, no banner image, and a single public video (the prototype teaser I was referring too earlier). To be fair, at least, that one video has 7,000+ views, which is not that bad considering the fact it came after the initial campaign announcement. Imagine if it had been there day one though? For some people, Youtube is the internet. The first place they will look for a project is not on google, but on Youtube. Having no video ready is a missed opportunity. Especially when the official video is actually on Youtube, but unlisted. When I found it, it had 6 views.

There is no reason to keep this video unlisted — it is part of the messaging of the project. Many people prefer to share Youtube links rather than Kickstarter links.

Moreover, Youtube, while being strict about the links you can put inside a video, does allow you to link to a Kickstarter page. Neither video has a link to the Kickstarter campaign page. There is no link to the Kickstarter page in the descriptions of the videos either.

A good thing was the fact that at least, the teaser video was properly tagged — it is often something overlooked. So it has that going for it.

Mistake #3 — Stretch Goals announced

This is a regular mistake, but I still get riled up when it happens. Do not announce your stretch goals. Ever.

They were removed from the Apocalypse Now! page now, but they initially went up to $5m, probably an indicator of the team’s expectations for the campaign. Keeping people humble is one of the positive side effects when I strongly tell them to keep their stretch goal to themselves.

That change and the quick addition of the teaser-gameplay video makes me feel that the team is quickly realizing what they have done wrong.

Mistake #4 — Surprise announcement

I think that there is an old heritage from the Kickstarter early days (eons ago, like 2012/2013), where projects would spring on you and it would work for the project and its momentum. Since then, the world has moved on, the novelty of crowdfunding itself has worn off, and I feel that almost any project is better served by preempting the launch of the campaign by making earlier announcement, even for high profile ones.

Pillars of Eternity 2, that just launched on Fig to a nice start, had teased about it a week earlier.

Pre-announcing a campaign is a great way to fine tune your message, gauge the fans expectations. You also don’t combine the “we are making an XYZ game” message with the “give us money right now to make it” one. You give time for the audience to decide whether they are interested in the project and not make a knee jerk reaction to it because there is a campaign going on. especially if the campaign is not instilling the most confidence because of simple mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong though, if you plan to crowdfund the project, when you announce it, you need to be transparent about that. But I believe that launching the campaign at the same time is counter productive. I also think it creates reactions like this one (from the Apocalypse Now! movie Facebook page):

Closing Words

There are actually a few more missteps that I could talk about, but they would be very specific to the project itself (and irrelevant to anyone but the Apocalypse Now! folks), or more about optimising a campaign rather than making a campaign work.

I genuinely believe this a real project, with talented folks behind. It seems though that they totally missed the step where they would involve marketing professionals in their process and went into that campaign with the wrong ideas on how crowdfunding for video games works. I hope the project can turn it around (or make it work in a campaign done later, when readier).

One last thought

I will leave you with one of the campaigns that made me the saddest. And a cautionary tale about the fact that your reputation is nothing if you don’t have the right tools to leverage it.

Renowned film director Abel Ferrara went to Kickstarter to get a movie with Willem Dafoe as the main actor.

The movie got $18,725 pledged to it , out of the $500,000 it needed. And you probably never heard about the campaign.

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