A while ago, I wrote on medium an article I entitled The many mistakes of Yooka-Laylee. The Kickstarter campaign to fund the game was very successful, but they made a couple of very important mistakes that I felt should be highlighted for anyone taking interest in the topic of crowdfunding.
I didn’t think this could be a series of articles, but a project that has recently concluded has given me an itch to write about it, and the mistakes they did that every one should avoid.
To be clear, I am not criticising the game itself, I am purely looking at the crowdfunding campaign, the decisions made in structuring it and the weaknesses I see in the strategy they decided to implement.
Hero’s Song — A tale of two campaigns
The campaign I want to discuss today is the one that just concluded, to fund Hero’s Song. It was the second attempt to get the game funded as the studio had made a first attempt to get the project funded on Kickstarter in January this year.
They managed to get $136,849 to be pledged to the project by 3,037 backers.
This was way below their objective of $800,000, and they cancelled the campaign relatively early, promising to come back with a better campaign, one that would show game play, something that was sorely lacking in that first campaign.
That Kickstarter campaign was very poorly thought out, but this is not my point here. I want to talk about the second campaign.
Early September, the studio decides it is time to relaunch its campaign, this time they can actually show the game. But, they made a few very strange decisions.
Mistake #1 — The platform change
In a very uncommon move, Pixelmage Games decides to relaunch their campaign, but this time on Indiegogo.
To be clear, I do believe they are good reasons to choose Indiegogo over Kickstarter. Kickstarter is not available in every countries, its payment solutions are not always available in certain territories, and some of its competitors have options and features that Kickstarter doesn’t have. But when you already have done a first campaign, on the leading platform for video games, common sense would dictate to stick to it to make it easier for those 3,000 backers you had successfully engaged with there.
When I say that Kickstarter is the leading platform for video games, this is an understatement:
Fig is the only platform getting close, but that is an entirely different topic.
And to understand this sub-optimal decision, we need to look at their next mistake.
Mistake #2 — Funding type
One of those features that differentiates Indiegogo from Kickstarter is the ability for the campaign to have a flexible goal instead of a fixed one.
Indiegogo’s fixed goals work exactly like Kickstarter. It is all or nothing, if you don’t reach your goal, the money is not paid by the backers. However, Indiegogo’s flexible goal option allows you to get the money pledged, regardless of the amount reached.
While there are some edge cases where I might consider it relevant, 99.99% of the time, using the flexible goal option is a bad idea.
A lot of the dynamic in a crowdfunding campaign comes from the goal, that target that the community builds toward, and the feeling of success and achievement you have when you reach it. Or the compassion. and feeling of belonging when you don’t. The flexible goals totally undermine these dynamics and make the campaign meaningless to most people.
Do not use the flexible goal option on Indiegogo, it sabotages the very dynamic that makes crowdfunding campaigns.
I understand that flexible goals seem a lot more attractive — this is guaranteed money, even if you don’t reach your goal. But it makes the commitment meaningless — why do you need the money if you can deliver on what you promise with any amount? Worse, if it seems obvious you can’t deliver on your promise without the full amount, using a flexible goal will look like a scam.
In Hero’s Song case, looking like a scam wasn’t the issue. It was just taking away the reason why people would back it, building toward a common (fixed) goal. And the second campaign numbers reinforce this analysis.
We went from the (poorly managed) Kickstarter campaign raising $136,849 from 3,037 backers, to the Indiegogo campaign raising $94,331 from 3,007 backers.
That’s about the same number of backers (but not by much), but more importantly, less money ($32,000 less — or 32% less!). For a second campaign, one that has gameplay shown when the first had nothing, it is insane that they didn’t manage to at the very least raise the same amount.
I believe the biggest factor was the choice to go for a flexible campaign rather than a fixed one, but the switch to another platform also compromised their ability to efficiently re-acquire their past backers.
A better move would have been to go back to Kickstarter, asking for $120,000. Or they even could have asked for $200,000 for that matter, like on Indiegogo. I think they would have managed to reach this on fixed goal campaign on Kickstarter, but going for what you initially got would have been a safe route if money was a priority, as the choice to make it a flexible goal seems to hint at.
These first two mistakes are clearly the main ones, the ones I really wanted to cover. But they were other mistakes that now I am committed to write this down I might as well cover them.
Mistake #3 — Early Access timing
The whole plan with the second campaign was to create a push right before the Early Access, due early November.
While I think there is an interesting strategy in delivering very close to your campaign, one month is too short. Why would you back the campaign when you can just wait a month, and get the Early Access then?
You also sabotage any feeling of exclusivity you might have created around the campaign by opening the gates to anyone right away.
Mistake #4 — T-Shirts
This is very anecdotal, but it is quite revealing that this campaign was built with little thought put into it (IMVHO).
These are the first 2 reward levels giving you access to the game:
At $15, you get the game and an early access to it (whenever Alpha 3 is).
At $25, for $10 more, you get the game and a T-Shirt. Thank god, shipping is not included, but it still promises worldwide shipping.
My recommendations on campaigns is to avoid having any physical goods unless you are looking to raise $100,000 or more, and even then, they are not in any way mandatory. They need to make sense for you.
The objective of your campaign is to get cash to help funding your project, any physical production is going to freeze some of that cash, not to mention the resources to design, manage the production and handle the shipping process.
I am not questioning the idea to offer a T-Shirt in this campaign. I am questioning the notion of offering a T-Shirt FOR $10! Of course you can make T-Shirts for that price, or even less in order to make a margin. But $10 T-Shirt will be perceived as bad quality. The price is part of the value proposition. And the margin is going to be ridiculous once you factor in the time spent on managing the process. In my experience, Backers understand that the company is not an apparel business, that the T-Shirts start at $20, that money needs to be made to FUND THE GAME. They back T-Shirt tiers to support the project first, and have a (potentially) cool T-Shirt second.
When offering a game there are digital perks you can offer, that have no gameplay impact whatsoever, that should come before a T-Shirt. My rule of thumb is that any tier offering a physical item should not be below $80 ($100 with shipping), and any reward tier before that should focus on digital perks.
In the end, 164 backers picked that $25 tier. That’s a low number of people showing interest in $10 T-Shirt, and it makes sense to me.
Mistake #5 — streaming
Streaming your game is becoming more and more important and it is usually a good idea for a crowdfunding campaign. You can engage with your backers, show the game is actually running.
However, it is very important to rehearse and be careful about the build you use for that.
I invite you to check this stream that John Smedley did during the campaign:
Twitch is the world's leading video platform and community for gamers. More than 45 million gamers gather every month…
While it would have been better to have some form of graphics or frame around the video, maybe an insert to show his face, and a call to action inviting watchers to back the campaign, these are details compared to what actually happens in the video:
- John barely speaks in the video. Just walking around with your character in a green environment is not very exciting. There is probably a lot to explain about the game to fill in the blank. Or even explaining what you are set to do in the game.
- It doesn’t seem to know his own game. Things happen that he seems genuinely surprised about when he shouldn’t. (he dies at 4'27'’ — things happen then that he seems surprised about, and he doesn’t explain anything)
- Make sure your build is stable. (it crashes at 4'30'’)
- Make sure the content you are showcasing is ready to be showcased. (at 7'45'’ — “this alchemist is not ready to be showed apparently, someone is still working on it”)
- Restraint yourself from swearing. At least a little bit. (there is more swearing that actual description of the game in that video and at 3'50'’ there is a mouthful)
He ends up ending the stream after a “What the heck! Shit…”. No explanation to the viewers, he just ragequitted apparently.
This goes against what you want for your campaign, showing the game in a good light, and sense of mastery and control of what you are doing with it.
I would also say, keeping that video on your Twitch channel, not a great idea.
Mistake #6 — Stretch Goals
Finally, I can understand when you do your first campaign, that you make the way to common mistake of announcing your Stretch Goals, anyone with a failed campaign should realise that this is not a smart move.
Of course, backers aware of the first campaign will assume similar goals are planned, but not announcing anything leave you with a lot more flexibility on how you want to eventually manage them.
At that stage though, this is certainly a detail, and one of the least harmful mistake.
I have written more in depth about Stretch Goals on the ICO blog.
I wish Hero’s Song well, but I have to say I am concerned about the ability of the team to bring this game to market after so many, very basic mistakes on their second campaign.
I will certainly keep an eye on it from a distance. At least, it is providing for an excellent case study for other projects and have them avoid those mistakes.