Below Lead Designer Discusses Kickstarter Failure

Below Lead Designer Discusses Kickstarter Failure

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Kickstarter game success may be determined by timing, genre, an established series, and how much is made on the first day, among other factors.

In August, a Kickstarter campaign for a game from the creators of the browser-based Fallen London launched with a $10,000 goal, and ended up making over four times that much. The Kickstarted project, Tales of Fallen London: The Silver Tree, was released to backers in October, and the following month Fallen London's developer, Failbetter Games, began its next Kickstarter. This time, the game wasn't an extension of the Fallen London universe; Below was described as "a narrative dungeon-delving RPG card game." Though the same amount of preparation went into the crowd-funding campaign, it resulted in failure and cancellation of the Kickstarter. The game, however, is still in development as lead designer Chris Gardiner's personal project, and on the Below website, he posted some thoughts about why its Kickstarter failed.

In the post-mortem, Gardiner, who worked on both campaigns, says that he realized fairly early into the Below Kickstarter that it probably wasn't going to be successful. "You'd expect to make about 60% of your funding in the first and last few days of your project. We'd have wanted to be at least 30% of the way there at the end of the first day to feel confident. It was clear that this probably wasn't going to end well." Though there's no clear path to success on Kickstarter, he has some ideas about what went wrong, despite the two weeks of preparation beforehand. He admits that the timing, so soon after Failbetter Games' The Silver Tree Kickstarter, meant that fans of the developer were likely "tapped out." "Launching two Kickstarters in such quick succession was an experiment," Gardiner writes, and that experiment did not yield successful results.

The two other major reasons he cites as possible reasons for failure may have been even bigger: the fact that Below is a new IP, and that the niche genre may have been a poor fit for the Fallen London audience. There's also the fact that it launched in November, perhaps too close to Christmas, that United Kingdom-based Kickstarters are "not yet the slick experience U.S. backers are used to," and potential burnout from the oversaturation of video games on Kickstarter. Gardiner also considered that "maybe Below just sucks," but adds, "I don't believe it does, or I wouldn't be working on it now."

It's been a huge year for video games on Kickstarter, with the overwhelming enthusiasm for Double Fine Adventure and the Ouya console perhaps the most high-profile success stories (though neither has delivered a completed project yet). Gardiner's post on the Below Kickstarter is interesting because it shows the other side of crowd-funding--what happens when it doesn't work, and how much of a crapshoot it can be. "Kickstarter's a weird ecology... Established wisdom surrounding Kickstarters sounds increasingly like astrology. Start on a Monday! End on a Sunday! Price low to make it look achievable! Price high to motivate people to spread the word! Aim to start and finish on the second of each month! Do offer physical rewards! Don't! Type the name of your project backwards at midnight! Sacrifice a goat!" At least in the case of Below, Gardiner was able to take it on as a personal project; you can even play a prototype on the game's website as it continues development. Many other failed crowd-funded games won't be so lucky, even if they did have careful planning and lots of potential.

Source & Image: Below Game

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Cancelling 9 days prior to ending seems premature... many Kickstarters in a similar position end up succeeding. Some people just click "remind me" and wait for later.

The goat thing sounds plausible.

It's depending on what level of success you are expecting. You can gather a few thousand dollars simply by showing a good pitch to the daily Kickstarter-browsing indie fandom. For tens of thousands, you might need to get picked up by specialist sites, and genre fansites. If you want hundreds of thousands, you might need to get picked up by general PC gamer sites. If you want over a million, you need to get picked up by all gaming media.

It's a matter of how much reprutation you have, what established fandom you can recruit for viral word-of-mouth, (genre fandom, series fandom, creator fandom), whether you have anything newsworthy in your pitch, etc.

A lot of the weirdness in Kickstarter advice comes from the fact that people try to make advice that will serve all projects, and that just isn't possible. Board games have completely different trends from video games which have completely different trends from, say, tech projects. Board games have been studied endlessly with regards to Kickstarter, and still one can throw a stone on sites like BoardGameGeek and hit 3 opposite opinions on "the right way" to do a board game project.

In the end, though, it's pretty much all about getting the word out. Which generally means either avoiding becoming a niche effort or making sure that you are an active community member with a well-known (or well-connected) voice in the community you are trying to reach. That, and be prepared to advertise and sell your soul for every ounce of exposure you can get.

Wait, if the company had already been successfully Kickstarted, then why did they launch a second Kickstarter project? I thought the whole idea of Kickstarter was to help establish new businesses. But it seems that this business was already established.

It would be nice if Kickstarter could be used to serve its supposed purpose, rather than being some kind of pre-order service for marginal products.

Entitled:
For tens of thousands, you might need to get picked up by specialist sites, and genre fansites.

Preferably American sites, too. The guys who did the Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams kickstarter have said part of the reason it looked a bit dicey for a while is because they didn't get much traction in the US. Hell, they say that even now that the game is on Steam and GOG their sales in the US are still flatter than the rest of the world because of a lack of US gaming media coverage.

Tom Goldman:
Cancelling 9 days prior to ending seems premature... many Kickstarters in a similar position end up succeeding. Some people just click "remind me" and wait for later.

Exactly this.
The single biggest issue, I think, is when the people behind the kickstarter either click "cancel" well before the fat lady sings, or makes some big expose post on their kickstarter about how they are giving up and yadda yadda yadda, typically avoiding the real reason why they failed in favor of blaming and pointing fingers and going "Shame on them for not supporting me!".

That, and serious lack of updates. People like to see updates, you make updates and it looks like the project is still alive and going. Yet if I see a project that has had just 1 update (near the beginning, lets say), and is already a few days from its end with not even a peep, what does that say about them? Do they not believe in the project enough to make even a small post? Is it just a waste of time if it doesn't hit some magic number day one, so why bother after that? And why should I pledge money to them, when they are giving nearly zero more information out for their project.

Also, for the Below group, maybe it would of helped if they had posted Below under the same name as Fallen? Because the name behind the Fallen title (as well as the other game on it) both had successful kickstarters. I'm not saying it would of been a guaranteed help, but seeing that they have already done two proven projects that have met their goals may of helped a few people feel more comfortable about them. It could of meant the difference between having something like Project Eternity and... well... this... thing...

Aardvaarkman:
Wait, if the company had already been successfully Kickstarted, then why did they launch a second Kickstarter project? I thought the whole idea of Kickstarter was to help establish new businesses. But it seems that this business was already established.

It would be nice if Kickstarter could be used to serve its supposed purpose, rather than being some kind of pre-order service for marginal products.

Why? It can be much more useful to gaming as a pre-order service.

Besides, people overuse that "true goal of Kickstarter" argument" as a kind of "No True Scotsman", to justify why any given game that they don't like shouldn't be there.

"The true goal of Kickstarter was to help poor developers, so Godus shouldn't be there 'cause Molyneux is rich"
"The true goal of Kickstarter was to spread innovation, so Project Eternity that is a traditional RPG, shows it's failure".
"The true goal of Kickstarter was to unconditionally support indies with donations, so demanding rewards is unfair"
"The true goal of Kickstarter was to Kickstart ideas, so pitching an already half-finished game is just money-grubbing"
"The true goal of Kickstarter was to finish games that couldn't happen otherwise, so you shouldn't ask for money if you could finish a game without it"

I have heard all of these as real arguments.

At some point, you would just have to ban most pitches from Kickstarter, including almost all of the biggest ones, to protect it's theoretical "supposed purpose".

Entitled:

At some point, you would just have to ban most pitches from Kickstarter, including almost all of the biggest ones, to protect it's theoretical "supposed purpose".

Exactly.

Kickstarter claims its purpose is to start new ventures, not to act as a pre-order service. So, what would be the problem with them actually sticking by their supposed goal, and banning most of the projects?

I would say the major problem was starting it so soon after their previous Kickstarter. And I don't think the pent-up demand for card games is as big as for traditional CRPG's and there have been a few card games Kickstarted recently.

That's why the Kickstarter for David Braben's Elite remake might fail, unless more people chip in. The market for open-world space sims is unfortunately smaller, it started while Star Citizen was still running, some idiot Americans seem to think that it is a rip-off of Star Citizen or Privateer instead of a remake of the first open-world space sim and he really didn't do a good job of communicating at first, although that's improved. Also, he's asking for a hell of a lot of money and it doesn't have the gimmick of mindblowing graphics, although it has the gimmick of it will actually run on your machine.

Aardvaarkman:

Entitled:

At some point, you would just have to ban most pitches from Kickstarter, including almost all of the biggest ones, to protect it's theoretical "supposed purpose".

Exactly.

Kickstarter claims its purpose is to start new ventures, not to act as a pre-order service. So, what would be the problem with them actually sticking by their supposed goal, and banning most of the projects?

But the "true purpose" of Kickstarter is to put artists, inventors and innovators in touch with people with money who might not have heard of their idea.

Aardvaarkman:

Entitled:

At some point, you would just have to ban most pitches from Kickstarter, including almost all of the biggest ones, to protect it's theoretical "supposed purpose".

Exactly.

Kickstarter claims its purpose is to start new ventures, not to act as a pre-order service. So, what would be the problem with them actually sticking by their supposed goal, and banning most of the projects?

The problem would be, that just like all the other bullshit claims about what "Kickstarter claims its purpose is", yours is also entirely arbitarily made up ad hoc.

If Kickstarter would be about supporting new businesses, then Kickstarter would have banned Double Fine Adventure, Project Eternity, and Wasteland 2. They didn't, therefore Kickstarter isn't only about supporting the first project of new businesses.

Hi all, I'm Chris, the designer of Below mentioned in the article. Lots of good discussion here, so I thought I'd jump in. I'm happy to answer questions if anyone has them!

Tom Goldman:
Cancelling 9 days prior to ending seems premature... many Kickstarters in a similar position end up succeeding. Some people just click "remind me" and wait for later.

cursedseishi:

The single biggest issue, I think, is when the people behind the kickstarter either click "cancel" well before the fat lady sings,

I'll always wonder what the final total would have been if we'd let it run. But I talk about the numbers more in my original piece - you're right that there would have been a bump in the last days. But the question is "how big"? One thing that affects that is how close you are to reaching your target. The more achievable it seems, the more people are likely to pledge.

But based on the trajectory of the Below Kickstarter (project creators have access to a lot of data about pledges during the project) we'd still have needed about 60% of the funding from the final bump. I guess that's theoretically possible, but in this case it's about as coherent a plan as buying a lottery ticket. :(

Some nitty-gritty, insider info here: Failbetter has strong methods to contact their core player base, using adverts in their other games, an established community and social media. For the first Kickstarter, by far the strongest day in terms of pledges was the first one - that's when most of Fallen London's core fans committed to it. The bump at the end was significant, but dwarfed by the first day's performance.

So based on past experience, we would have expected the final bump for Below to have been smaller than our day 1 performance. Which wouldn't have brought us anywhere close to what we needed.

Cancelling the Kickstarter when we did let me take it on as a full-time personal project with a schedule that will allow a release in a reasonable amount of time. I didn't want the project to die. I'm enormously grateful to everyone who pledged, which is why all backers are getting a place in Below's beta and exclusive in-game content when the game goes live.

cursedseishi:
Also, for the Below group, maybe it would of helped if they had posted Below under the same name as Fallen? Because the name behind the Fallen title (as well as the other game on it) both had successful kickstarters. I'm not saying it would of been a guaranteed help, but seeing that they have already done two proven projects that have met their goals may of helped a few people feel more comfortable about them. It could of meant the difference

This may well have made a small difference, but again (based on the data we had), not enough.

Kwil:
The goat thing sounds plausible.

If I ever Kickstart again, the local goats are in trouble, let me tell you.

Aardvaarkman:
Wait, if the company had already been successfully Kickstarted, then why did they launch a second Kickstarter project? I thought the whole idea of Kickstarter was to help establish new businesses. But it seems that this business was already established.

I occasionally hear this impression, but Kickstarter quite specifically isn't about funding new businesses - it's about funding specific creative projects. You can check out their mission statement here. The age and size of the creative business running the project isn't a factor - one of the great things about them is that they're a viable approach for both businesses (big or small), and individuals. That's why so many established companies (most of them much bigger than Failbetter) use it to fund their more niche projects

My personal opinion is that, in most cases, Kickstarter is a better fit for individual creatives than for corporations (outside of a handful of famous successes).

Andrew_C:
I would say the major problem was starting it so soon after their previous Kickstarter.

This is my feeling, too, although there were a number of contributing factors, which I dig into in my initial piece.

CHGardiner:
Hi all, I'm Chris, the designer of Below mentioned in the article. Lots of good discussion here, so I thought I'd jump in. I'm happy to answer questions if anyone has them!

Tom Goldman:
Cancelling 9 days prior to ending seems premature... many Kickstarters in a similar position end up succeeding. Some people just click "remind me" and wait for later.

cursedseishi:

The single biggest issue, I think, is when the people behind the kickstarter either click "cancel" well before the fat lady sings,

I'll always wonder what the final total would have been if we'd let it run. But I talk about the numbers more in my original piece - you're right that there would have been a bump in the last days. But the question is "how big"? One thing that affects that is how close you are to reaching your target. The more achievable it seems, the more people are likely to pledge.

But based on the trajectory of the Below Kickstarter (project creators have access to a lot of data about pledges during the project) we'd still have needed about 60% of the funding from the final bump. I guess that's theoretically possible, but in this case it's about as coherent a plan as buying a lottery ticket. :(

Some nitty-gritty, insider info here: Failbetter has strong methods to contact their core player base, using adverts in their other games, an established community and social media. For the first Kickstarter, by far the strongest day in terms of pledges was the first one - that's when most of Fallen London's core fans committed to it. The bump at the end was significant, but dwarfed by the first day's performance.

So based on past experience, we would have expected the final bump for Below to have been smaller than our day 1 performance. Which wouldn't have brought us anywhere close to what we needed.

Cancelling the Kickstarter when we did let me take it on as a full-time personal project with a schedule that will allow a release in a reasonable amount of time. I didn't want the project to die. I'm enormously grateful to everyone who pledged, which is why all backers are getting a place in Below's beta and exclusive in-game content when the game goes live.

Yeah I understand, Kickstarter can be a rather fickle mistress when it comes to the cash-ola. I've seen a few projects jump leaps and bounds in the last few hours, some even in the last second. While others just manage to scrape by just by the tip of their nose. So I can't help but feel a little down when a project cans itself before the fight is up, even if they don't end up making it in the end. It's great to see that the game is still being made though, even with the kickstarter not working out. There are a few canceled titles I have been interested in, but most seem to have just been canned and that's it. So I wish you luck good sir.

And I certainly saw that last post, and I can't help but applaud a little for someone who is willing to reward those who showed commitment even if the project failed. Not every project on there does that, and while certainly the backers aren't risking anything, its still a nice gesture of faith on both parts.

I certainly dig the idea of the game though, so can't wait to see it when it's done!

CHGardiner:

Kwil:
The goat thing sounds plausible.

If I ever Kickstart again, the local goats are in trouble, let me tell you.

Don't forget a fez for every goat. You must also put the fez on backwards, and only while the goat has had his/her gaze transfixed on the moon as it passes between the sixth and seventh zenith, and through the House of Viskhana. Also, don't forget the bug milk.

Least, that's how it works where I'm from. I'm not familiar with European Goat Sacrifice traditions.

Entitled:

The problem would be, that just like all the other bullshit claims about what "Kickstarter claims its purpose is", yours is also entirely arbitarily made up ad hoc.

If Kickstarter would be about supporting new businesses, then Kickstarter would have banned Double Fine Adventure, Project Eternity, and Wasteland 2. They didn't, therefore Kickstarter isn't only about supporting the first project of new businesses.

You can read their own mission statement, where they state that their purpose is not a pre-order service, which is more my objection than the "new business" thing. It's supposed to be about funding projects, not giving backers rewards. They've had to become more strict about electronic hardware projects, for example, because people were treating it as a pre-order service.

This game sounds like it is a perfect fit for me. I love stories. I love browser games. Dungeon-delving? RPG? meh on those two. But I love card games. As a whole sounds like it would be something I'd really enjoy.

If I look at the kickstarter page for it, I notice two things. A very underwhelming pitch video. Yeah it's cool and dramatic, but it feels more like the announcement of a big corporate produced game than an indy. Who are you? Why are you making this?

There is a moment that the video becomes interesting and it's at "do you imagine you're welcome here?". I wish the video started there and then gave me some idea why the game was being made or what the idea was.

Hey wait there's a try the game button.... I missed that on the first 2 page scans. Maybe the video should have pointed that out too.

brb...

....okay having tried the prototype, yes, this is exactly my kind of game.

My instinct says is that some mistakes were made in presentation. You're responsible for fallen london. That game was awesome. What is different for this game? What's the same?

Also I feel that the kickstarter pitch as a whole was unpolished.

Pledge 5 pound for a wallpaper.
Pledge 8 pound for the first dungeon (worth 10 pound!)
pledge 14 pound for 16 pound worth of content
Pledge 20 pound for 26 pound worth of content

It just isn't a very strong sell. And that's a shame, because I think the game should be, you just didn't find the right tone. Cause I can imagine nothing better than you guys keep writing and making browser games. That would make me very happy and I'll keep playing.

Eh. Kaiju Combat is a ridiculously niche title that got an explosion of funding about a week away from its month-long funding period. It's more important to know your fans, give them something to tell their friends, and provide something that looks nice to entice people who may have been less interested, as well. You want to get them pumped up to see this thing get done.

The incentives are also a good way to get interest. Kaiju Combat got this right as well; investors got to submit and vote on monster designs to be put into the actual game, as well as on gameplay features and mechanics. There were also clever incentives like the "get two copies and two develop keys so your uninterested friend has no excuse not to check it out!" package.

It's all about the presentation, and as others have stated here, this game largely failed to sell itself; timing, back-to-back projects, and the like don't appear to be the likely culprits.

cursedseishi:

Don't forget a fez for every goat. You must also put the fez on backwards, and only while the goat has had his/her gaze transfixed on the moon as it passes between the sixth and seventh zenith, and through the House of Viskhana. Also, don't forget the bug milk.

Wait, wait. I'm going to have to write this down.

dunam:
It just isn't a very strong sell. And that's a shame, because I think the game should be, you just didn't find the right tone.

Maybe! Obviously you're the best judge of whether it'd sell to you or not. If working on free-to-play games for the last few years has taught me anything, though, it's that the concept of "value" varies immensely from one person to the next. In this case the tone and pricing structure were *very* close to our previous kickstarter, which raised 450% of its funding target.

Small tangent: When you're planning a Kickstarter, the project page is a dangerous thing. It's the part of the campaign you have the most control over, but it could have the least effect on your success. I'm sure we can all think of successful kickstarters that had poor project descriptions, few gameplay details, or uninspiring pledge rewards. And I've seen some amazing projects that had great videos, samples of gameplay, and well-written descriptions that still didn't succeed.

Ultimately, the project page is only one component of success. How effective it is depends on other factors (are you getting wide coverage? Are you appealing to your existing fans? Are you reaching out to new ones? Are you adhering to the bits of Kickstarter astrology that seem to be correct, like starting and ending a project at the start of a month?).

One example of a great project that isn't getting the attention it deserves is Galactic Keep: Dice Battles. Beautiful project, lots of information, good pricing. But I almost missed it completely - I'd even heard about the game a while ago and only heard about the Kickstarter because it was mentioned on another forum. I suspect it'd be relevant to the interests of some of the folks who've posted in this thread - check it out.

A very underwhelming pitch video. Yeah it's cool and dramatic, but it feels more like the announcement of a big corporate produced game than an indy. Who are you? Why are you making this?

Ah, Kickstarter videos... You have to have one. They make about 20% difference to the success rate. But what they should contain is less clear. There are certainly psychological benefits to seeing the faces associated with a project. But! Developers are rarely performers. God knows I'm not, as you can see in our previous video.

With Below, we literally came to a point where I had to choose between shooting more footage of myself muttering to camera, or polishing the Below prototype. I chose the latter, because I'd rather the work speak for itself. Was that a mistake? Maybe! There isn't the data to tell conclusively. I certainly don't think 30 seconds of my face would have tripled our funding. It's really not that impressive a face. It's kinda funny-looking.

Some stats, though: a higher percentage of viewers finished watching the Below video than finished watching the video for our previous project. That suggests that this time, more people were engaged all the way to the end, and weren't being put off by my rodent-like face, terrible posture and inefficient mumbling.

Rereading all that, I'm worried how my posts are coming across in this thread. I'm not claiming it was pure bad luck that meant the Below kickstarter failed. Just the opposite. We made decisions that turned out to be mistakes - we chose the timing, we didn't update enough, we didn't reach out to new audiences enough, we chose a project that would be a hard sell to our core players.

We discussed most of those things before launch. In each case, we decided either it was worth the risk, or there were other factors that constrained us. Some of those judgements were wrong. And some of them were wrong but we'd have been stuck with them anyway because of constraints. We'd certainly do a whole lot differently if we did it again.

I'm sure that's the case with A LOT of Kickstarters. I bet most people who launch projects there have done their research and are doing the best they can with the resources available.

CHGardiner:

Maybe! Obviously you're the best judge of whether it'd sell to you or not.

Touché. Unfortunately I couldn't get my focus group in, so I had only my own opinion to work with. Everyoné's got one, most of them are shit, but somehow I think mine isn't. Surprise surprise :)

Anton Ego said it better: "The bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

You make a very strong point and it's a pleasure to read what you write. It's easy to see why you're making story driven games.

The galactic keep video is a bit boring to me, whereas the product sounds kinda cool. The fallen london video I find very strong; it shows past success, makes some powerful promises and actually seeing you would make me vastly more likely to pull open my wallet. I guess somewhere in my brain it says that you can't scam me now, because I could look for you and hit you in the head now.

I think the weakest part of that video is the photo's of other people and I wonder if that had something to do with people not watching it until the end. That, or the bad quality video camera. I think you make a very good presentation actually. If people were interested in excellently handsome people with smooth voices, they'd watch something like the old spice commercial on repeat.

Nah, I think your audience is people with curiosity and they're turned on by the powers of your imagination.

What? No. I'm not coming on to you. I just like the size of your imagination.

Seriously though, I wrote that post because it's certainly true that sometimes despite doing awesome stuff, it doesn't get the reward it deserves. I just felt that it wasn't the case here. I believed that you didn't present it well. I thought it might be useful to you to hear my experience, singular and unscientific as it may be.

It probably feels like a kick in the face after you've just made a small fall. Sorry about that. I meant well, I want you to succeed.

dunam:
I thought it might be useful to you to hear my experience, singular and unscientific as it may be.

It's absolutely useful to hear this - I hope I didn't come across as snarky or defensive. Your post was taken very much in the generous spirit it was intended, and I've been blown away by the thoughtfulness of the people in this thread. I AM NOT ACCUSTOMED TO THIS PHENOMENON IN INTERNETLAND.

I had some great news about Below today. When the kickstarter was unsuccessful the first thing I thought I'd have to compromise on was art. But it turns out I was wrong.

CHGardiner:

dunam:
I thought it might be useful to you to hear my experience, singular and unscientific as it may be.

It's absolutely useful to hear this - I hope I didn't come across as snarky or defensive. Your post was taken very much in the generous spirit it was intended, and I've been blown away by the thoughtfulness of the people in this thread. I AM NOT ACCUSTOMED TO THIS PHENOMENON IN INTERNETLAND.

I had some great news about Below today. When the kickstarter was unsuccessful the first thing I thought I'd have to compromise on was art. But it turns out I was wrong.

Congrats!

I found you had given a very measured response. It made me more curious and I am now building a storynexus world which is surprisingly fun.

 

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