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What I Learned About Kickstarter

posted Oct 24, 2016, 11:50 AM by Douglas Sun

As I noted here, my history with Kickstarter is not particularly happy. My first Kickstarter, years ago, not only missed its target, but fell so far short that the phrase “spectacular failure” comes quickly to mind.

The experience left me with something like shell shock, and I can feel my stomach curl up at the prospect of trying another campaign. But it also left me with a couple of important lessons that, I hope, will lead to a bette result next time.

One is that Kickstarter is not the Field of Dreams. You cannot assume that if you build it, they will come. You have to publicize you campaign, because you’re selling the paying public on your idea, just as much as you have to sell them on an actual product on the store shelf. I think that we were naive in that sense; we didn't have much of a plan for spreading the word about our campaign, much less using it for advance publicity for the game, apart from dunning friends and family for pledges.

The other lesson is that getting off to a quick start is important. Understand that Kickstarter is not your friend. Kickstarter’s only goals are to make money and make itself look good. The fact that you can use it to raise money for your own purposes is only a means to those ends. If you get off to a bad start (as we did), Kickstarter will slit your throat and hide the corpse. After a certain point, Kickstarter buried our project so far down in their listings that it was virtually impossible to find us just by browsing. and I’m quite confident that this was because every loser makes Kickstarter look bad.

To which I would add some more recent advice given me by Matt Forbeck, who is one the savviest people I know in the game industry: that backers will respond most favorably if they think that you don’t need their money that badly. In other words, don’t tell them that you need to cover your bills while you hammer out that novel they presumably want you to finish. You won’t get any backers. But if you tell them that the work is almost done and you just need, let’s say, a good copy editor, they’re more likely to come through. On the one hand, this is reasonable behavior. Kickstarter has no mechanism for recovering money from someone who welshes on his backers and never delivers, so caution is in order. However, it also reminds me of how Samuel Johnson characterized the aristocratic patrons of his day: that they’ll ignore you if you’re floundering, but if you can make it to shore on your own, they’ll load you down with help and take credit for doing so.

I don;t know if any of this advice, by itself, will ensure that my next Kickstarter succeeds. But I feel better about my chances knowing now what I did not know then.