On April 23, 2014, Crytivo Games launched an indie game crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising $320,000 to fund the development of “The Universim,” http://www.theuniversim.com, a next generation planet management-God game fashioned in the likes of Sim City and Total War. Their campaign generated a whopping $387,345, with additional PayPal funding pushing the total over $400,000. The “tipping point” came late in the cycle, when all their hard work truly started to pay off, and the last week of contributions positioned them well above their initial goal.
The story is familiar. Every morning, you jump out of bed, excited to work on your passion project. However, as time goes on, you’re eventually faced with a dilemma. Is this passion of yours a business, or a hobby, and if the former, how are you going to find time to develop the business skills you need to bring it to life? Alex Koshelkov, creator of “The Universim” can relate. From his perspective, “… bringing the business side of things into what was always a work of passion is quite a jarring change… After the fun and excitement of designing the game and getting a prototype up and running, working on the pitch almost seemed significantly more difficult than anything that came before.”
“Kickstarter was something we’d been hearing about for months. At the time, it was still pushing out a fair amount of success stories. However, it was also the beginning of a spot of trouble in paradise. People had shaken off that initial mindset of throwing money at projects with reckless abandon, due to a number of failed projects. Being a small startup, this shift to a culture of constant scrutiny certainly weighed heavy on our projected outcome. We started considering every avenue besides Kickstarter, including just taking donations through our website for a slow trickle of income.
However, without a large, initial injection of capital, the project’s estimated development time would have gone through the roof. Passion is an amazing fuel, but you need to be realistic about what game development really entails. There are a lot of long hours and a huge amount of work involved. If anything, time certainly doesn’t come cheap. That is why we decided to take a risk on Kickstarter, and that is why the pitch and constant community engagement are so important.”
Koshelkov realized that making a great pitch, like making a great video game, would require soul searching and planning. “…it’s as important a part of the overall development process as making the game itself, if not more, funny [sic] enough.” Over the course of four months, the Universim team:
Koshelkov advises, “Your pitch needs to be as good as you can possibly make it. A great product can only carry a mediocre pitch so far.”
Within the four month planning process, Koshelkov and his team had to work out a budget “for everything we still needed to achieve for the game.” Their budget included room to hire additional staff, purchase assets, and cover important expenses. Koshelkov explained, “It can be difficult to gauge the exact budget one will require to complete a game, as anything can crop up during development, but we did our best to cover our bases.”
While this may seem daunting, Koshelkov points out a valuable silver lining… the process of describing yourself really well to backers let’s you know yourself really well too. “The pitch wasn’t just about explaining the game and drawing in backers, though. It played a crucial part in highlighting what makes The Universim great, and who we were really marketing to.” By formulating their pitch, the team identified:
“Our greatest desire was to bring back the glory days of the god/planet-management game with The Universim, and that really came through in the pitch. It became clear very quickly that we weren’t the only ones who wanted to see it happen,” said Koshelkov.
Preparation and planning are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a successful indie game crowdfunding campaign like Koshelkov’s. “… without exposure, you’re more or less like a sailboat without a single shred of wind to push you along.”
Crytivo Games mainly used a combination of media coverage and fans to get the word out. “We contacted just about every gaming news website known to man, but very few actually published anything regarding the game. For each website that featured us, we noticed a decent spike in backers. However, it was far from the amount we needed. Our greatest hurdle was figuring out ways to get the word out about the campaign. Thankfully, our backers really pulled through when it came to sharing the page.”
Koshelkov’s suggestions for harnessing the power of your fans:
“What really made the difference was the fans.” Koshelkov continued, “Media coverage is a huge part of any game’s marketing. But in the end, we can certainly attribute a huge part of our success to the fantastic backers who shared the project until their fingers bled, whether it be with strangers, family, or friends. Beyond that, continuing to fight every day for whatever exposure we could get was a recipe for success.”
One thing Koshelkov learned from his campaign experience was to tease the audience more. “It is definitely the age of the teaser. Leaving those delicious, mysterious breadcrumbs leading up to a massive reveal seems to be doing the job lately. We probably should have started dropping a few teasers and more information sooner than we did.”
“If you have a fantastic idea and the means to make it a reality (which entails that you really need to organize and plan A LOT), then you’re already halfway there.
You will also need to develop something tangible to show your potential backers/investors. You need that prototype more than you can ever understand.
Beyond that, just never give up even when things are looking bad. That’s when you need to fight the hardest.”