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From 0 to Light Speed in 3 months – Crowdfunding A Video Game

by Shawn Christenson

star-citizen

The Tally

Between October 10th and November 19th 2012, the Star Citizen project (www.robertsspaceindustries.com) raised a whopping $4,104,189.00, using a custom version of the IgnitionDeck WordPress crowdfunding plugin.

The Kickstarter campaign, running between October 19th and November 19th, 2012, raised an additional $2,134,374.00.

Since the campaigns have closed (May 3rd, 2013), Star Citizen has also received an additional $3,044,770.00 through its website using IgnitionDeck.

The Takeaways

  • Your starting goal should not be your actual, final goal (that should be much higher).
  • Start building excitement early (before you’ve even said you’ll be crowdfunding)
  • Have something special for those earliest supporters (it’s incentive to stay excited)
  • Start working on the press prior to your launch (Just ask they don’t publish till the launch)
  • Create a home for your community to gather (A place away from the money raising)
  • Be honest with your community about what you want to raise, but keep the stretch goal incentives of how you’ll get there hidden until the time is right.
  • Give the ability for your supporters to customize their rewards and up their pledges.
  • Make the final week of your campaign all about your supporters.  They’re the reason this is all going to become a reality, so give them as much praise as you can.

The Project Origin

Wing CommanderIn the middle of July, 2012, IgnitionDeck was contacted by Chris Roberts and his team to help them create a secret website that would launch on September 10th – to allow for a special ‘preview’ of what was to come.  What was to come, a month later, was a full Crowdfunding campaign in order to create the most ambitious space sim ever conceived.  For those who aren’t aware, Chris Roberts is the creator of the massively popular video game Wing Commander, and producer of a few movies like Lord of War, Lucky Number Slevin and Outlander.

The goal? 2 million dollars.
The hope? 6 million dollars.

In talking to them, we knew that their ambitions were high.  The timeframe was short: five weeks to launch. The goal huge: to design and build a full, private member ready, crowdfunding website with 4 different payment gateways, an extended affiliate system and member dashboard.

With that enormous weight on our shoulders, the IgnitionDeck team set out to build a website that would act first as a secret, member-only ‘behind-the-scenes’ look, at what Chris Roberts was cooking up.  This would consist of a custom HTML5 animated intro counting down to launch day (October 10th), leading to a welcome letter, leading to a registration page, leading to a special members content dashboard, multiple blog categories, forums, another countdown, and The Golden Ticket.

The Golden Ticket

RSI-golden-ticketChris Roberts had the idea to present each early registrant to Roberts Space Industries with a special Golden Ticket.  This golden ticket allowed entry to Chris’ big announcement at GDC Online on October 10th. It also allowed a special in-game skin only available to the Golden Ticket Holders.  This Golden Ticket proved to be a hot item and really got people excited to jump in early.

Those Crazy Fans

For a scheduled stress-test by the whole team, we took down the password-protected member wall for a period of 2 hours so we could really put the registration process through the wringer.  During this small period of time, some amazing Reddit sleuths discovered the site, and managed to register an account.  Before we realized what was going on, seven people that were NOT part of the dev team, had snuck in.  From this small accident came a massive windfall of traffic and super sleuths.  People were discussing heavily what this new project by Chris Roberts could be. What could he be cooking up?

Thanks to all this unplanned attention,  when the countdown went up (before this it was just a ‘coming soon’ page) and registration opened officially there was a flood of new members being registered.  About 20 per minute.  It was so fast that we had to double check everything and ensure these were not bots of some sort (they weren’t).  Let’s just say, we had more new members registered in the first day than we had initially forecasted for the entire month.

We capitalized on this attention by praising those that discovered the site early, and by working overtime to make everyone feel extra special for being there already.  The ‘special content’ that was planned to be released over a course of a month we let loose in a week.  It was very important everyone stay as excited as they were when they first got there.

The Press

While a secret members area was created to build excitement for the project, so too was a press tour setup to enable the rest of the world to know about Star Citizen the day the crowdfunding went live.  Chris Roberts flew round the world to do interviews and demonstrations of Star Citizens current preview build – and all press was scheduled to go live at the exact same time his talk started at GDC Online.  9am CST, October 10th, 2012.

The thing was, the crowdfund itself wasn’t meant to go live until he was finished his talk at 10am.  What ended up happening was an extreme amount of traffic arrived at the site, and all this traffic kept refreshing the page in order to see what would appear at any moment.

This slowed the site to a crawl, and before we’d even gone live our server was overwhelmed.  We worked round the clock for 48 straight hours to get everything into tip top shape once more, and it most certainly affected the outcome of the ‘day one raise,’ which is always considered the most important when starting a crowdfund.

The Community

However, what seemed like a deficit was in fact one of the reasons Star Citizen raised as much money as it ultimately did.  Because of the problems, a lot of the community rallied around the project that much more.  With a strong desire to see it succeed at all costs, we were able to develop a closer knit community because of it.

What we realized working with such a close knit community, while being a project very much in the public eye, was that we needed to focus on making the biggest fans happy first.  These were the people that had plunked down their hard earned money to put their money where their mouth was.  These were the people that were going to bat for us all over the internet, on forums, comment sections on blogs, and in the social media sites.  What they asked for always took precedence over what the sideline critics were complaining about.

When crunch time hits, and you need just that much more to cross the finish line, it’s your existing community that will make that difference.  Ensure those people are your top priority.

star-citizen-stretch-goalsThe Stretch Goals

Stretch goals have become somewhat of a norm when it comes to crowdfunding.   A stretch goal is when you’ve hit your first goal, and you’re giving your community incentive to go further.  Why should they give more, if you already have enough? With more money, what will your project be able to achieve?

Star Citizen came out of the gate with a goal of 2 Million dollars to raise – already the highest starting goal ever set for a crowdfund project. We knew going into it that Chris wanted to raise at least 6 million in order to truly create the game he envisioned.  The decision was made early on to reveal that number straight away, but to keep stretch goal values hidden for later.  A general outline of what raising 2 million meant versus raising 6 million was provided so everyone went in with the right expectations.

The real excitement inducing stretch goals were revealed slowly, and as each was discovered, the focus became on hitting that goal in order to learn what the next one would be.  Because the stretch goals remained hidden, it kept the community wanting to learn more.  This kept word of mouth flowing, as everyone was telling everyone they could in order to have their curiosity satiated.

Reward Customization

Something that was really introduced during the crowdfunding campaigns for the videogames Project Eternity and Planetary Annihilation was the concept of reward customization.  The ability to look at what you’d pledged for and add to it.  Also get a t-shirt, a book and/or a physical copy of the game.

Star Citizen took reward customization to a whole new level, by implementing add-ons into their IgnitionDeck website.  The ability to pledge more, in order to get that book, or that physical model of your in-game ship, was actually requested by the supporters.  What really took off however, was when the supporters could pledge more money and get in-game items as well.  A way to see the game they so want to play get made, and also have even more fun in that game when it gets released also.

Chris Roberts ensured that all bought items were not extra special in any way, aside from ensuring you had them at the start.  There was never any game imbalancing item that would ruin the gameplay for others.  This was important, and it showed the community that extra money wasn’t going to compromise the game he was setting out to make.

Supporters were able to see every item they pledged towards in their own private member dashboard – and upgrade any item at any time.  This allowed for people to really get whatever they wanted, that was available to pledge towards.  What happened, was there became a select group of ‘collectors’ who began tallying the ships and other in-game items they would be receiving.  When a new ship was announced – these collectors wanted to be able to say they had it.

The Final Week

The general consensus is that the first few days are the most important of any crowdfund.  And this is certainly true – if your first few days don’t go well, it will be hard to climb from that and still hit your goal.  But it’s still possible, as Star Citizen showcased.

The real time to shine is in the final week push, as in the case of Star Citizen, and in watching very closely that of the Double Fine Adventure Game, Planetary Annihilation and Project Eternity.  In each case, that final week represented some amazing numbers as far as new supporters goes, and also the work from the project teams to really up the excitement and showcase their dedication to the project.

As soon as your project campaign ends, there will be an initial high for your supporters and your team.  Then, there will be a period where you need to recoup your energy, and your supporters will wonder what happens next.  Your final week of your campaign gives you a chance to really show your supporters that everything they’ve been excited about has been worth it.  That everything they hope for is going to be a reality, and that they were right to put their faith in you.

Take your last week to give them more than they expected, to give them a thank you gift, and to make them feel like they are the number one reason this is going to happen.  Make that final week about your supporters, and not about you.

Listen To Your Supporters

Make sure you have someplace your supporters can talk.  Make sure you listen.  The chances are VERY high, that if those that have already pledged to you have given you money, they are speaking for those that have not given you money as well.

With Star Citizen, the supporters started asking very early on if they could get T-Shirts, and a boxed edition of the game.  They wanted to pledge more to get in-game items.  We heard it all.  And they kept asking.

Here was the thing – because we didn’t get those things up right away, they thought we didn’t hear them.  They thought we were refusing to meet their wishes.  This wasn’t true, at all.  It just takes time to implement things you hadn’t planned for.  And believe me, they’re going to ask for stuff you didn’t think of.  So don’t try to think of it all ahead of time.  Instead, start slowly and be prepared to iterate fast, and meet the wishes of your supporters.  You’ll help your campaign more than you can ever realize.

$4,104,189.00 in 39 days

This is an incredible number.  And it’s definitely not an easy achievement.  This campaign had a lot going for it from the start, number one being from a superstar game designer in Chris Roberts.  However, that doesn’t mean that one can’t learn from everything that was done to make this campaign a success.  Study what we’ve written out above, and put into action those things that feel right for your campaign.

We’re very proud of the work we did with the Roberts Space Industries team and the success of Star Citizen.  IgnitionDeck was put through the paces on this huge crowdfunding campaign, and came out better for it.  Now everyone who uses IgnitionDeck has the advantage of being battle-tested and ready for anything, thanks to Star Citizen.

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