In the latest episode of Kickstarter Tips we explore opportunities in Kickstarter's latest upgrade, Lessons from Wildman's surprise update andcombining different forms of promotion effectively. Finally, we talk with Strife from Galaxy Games about how they managed to get their video game project funded in under 10 hours, despite having done almost no media outreach.
In this interview we talk with Strife about:
- How they got funded in 10 hours, and 500% in under 6 days.
- Where their backers came from given that they did no media outreach.
- Finding volunteer team members
- Working with larger, pre-existing communities for feedback
- Creating a brand new property from fangame material
- Using female characters in indie games
- Launching on Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter at the same time
- Why you might want to break down your expenses publicly with your backers
- How to gain credibility without years of experience in the games industry
- Finding innovative digital-only rewards
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Mentioned in the Podcast:
- FREEDOM PLANET'S KICKSTARTER PAGE
(campaign runs until Feb 14, 2013)
- Galaxy Trail Games Website
- Freedom Planet on IndieDB
- Galaxy Trail on Twitter
- TIGSource Forum thread
- Sonic Retro forum thread
Strife: Well, Freedom Planet is basically a fast-paced retro game that is pretty similar to the 2D games that you that you would find out like the Playstation 1 or the Sega Saturn. You would play as one of the three different monster girls and you have to run through each stage as fast as you can while smashing robots and like making things blow up. I was originally the only person working on the game, but since then, the team has ballooned from like a single person to around 15 people. As far as the idea goes, I came up with it when I started thinking about how a lot of platform games [0:00:32] to be based off Super Mario and I borrowed a lot of consoles from the Mario Series. So I wanted to try something different and create a game based on Sonic the Hedgehog instead. So I challenged myself to see how far it could take the concept like basically make a platform game with Sonic-like physics and the level of design instead of Mario.
Crowdfunding Dojo: You said that the team ended up growing kind of organically. How did you actually go about finding those new team members and encouraging people to contribute?
Strife: You see that [0:00:59] is making freeware stuff and doing everything about myself is not a problem, but since this project is going commercial I can’t do it alone. Like I realized that so throughout the develop, I have been getting involved in different kinds of game dub communities. And once I find someone that I think would be a good fit for like helping us out, I would shoot them a message and the rest is history. Usually, I just like seek them out if I think that they are like a really good fit. I think the first time I actually posted ads and actually went out and like sought people that way was I don’t like a voice acting for them and I posted up auditions for the main characters and I got a pretty good number of hits. I think like a 120 people auditioned in total and out of those like 30 or 40 are pretty good. But in the end, I would take 10 and to this day were a pretty tight group and like we have a lot of fun together with it.
Crowdfunding Dojo: So let’s talk about, one of the things that you posted on the description as something that makes your game unique is that you actually went way beyond the kind of classic having one token female character to having all the main characters in your game female. Why did you do this and what have you found their reactions been?
Strife: Oh, to be specific the three player characters are female. The cast itself actually has more male characters than female ones. It is funny because it wasn’t actually like a conscious decision at first. It had more to do with our character designer than us. Her name is Ziyo Ling and she is from China and she came up with the design for the main three girls, and we decided to stick with that for no real reason other than just like try something different. We have gotten a little bit of flat that, but fortunately, it hasn’t been as bad as most issues are like regarding the gender of the protagonist. I think it has a lot to do with like what our target audience [0:02:42].
Crowdfunding Dojo: And who generally has been your target audience?
Strife: Just like the people who are into retro gaming and who were just kind of like into cartoons and that kind of stuff. They generally tend to be pretty forgiving with all that kind of stuff and the game kind of has like a Japanese flare to it, like an Asian flare. And in Japanese culture, the female protagonists are a lot more common.
Crowdfunding Dojo: So have you found that having this sort of Manga style characters has brought much interest to your game sort of outside the typical US and UK kind of area?
Strife: I think that have actually. But like for now, my base of operations is mainly with the English speaking countries, but I have actually gotten some offers through like email and stuff to translate the game and like localize it to other languages like there is this guy who offered to do some work localizing in Russia. I got another offer for Germany and two other options I am looking at are Japan and Denmark because that is the South of the game and I think it will do really well on Japan and Denmark because that is where I live right now.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Let’s talk about that. A lot of people under the impression that basically you can’t run a Kickstarter project unless you live in the US or the UK even Kickstarters only kind of pop-up when you go to start a project gives that impression. How did you actually go about listing on Kickstarter and steams Greenlight for that matter as someone who is in Denmark and not the US or the UK?
Strife: Oh, the thing is I am actually American. I have an address both in US and Denmark and all I really needed to do is set up my Amazon account with my US bank and credit card. So through that I can still like operate and manage the project through in Denmark because it is basically like if you are like travelling or whatever.
Crowdfunding Dojo: So let’s talk about okay, you managed to get your project listed on Kickstarter. How did you go about kind of getting that initial publicity that gave you such a really strong start straight out of the gate and what size kind of community did you actually already have by the time you hit the launch button?
Strife: Well, I would say… Well, first of all, as I have said before, that the game is based more of Sonic than Mario and because of that I elected a lot of research into Sonic level design and like it is how pulled off. And about the year ago, I joined the Sonic Retro community and it is quite possibly one of the biggest Sonic communities on the internet. Once my account got approved and I made it sure it was okay to post my project and I did so and I kept posting updates and stuff and asking questions, and through that I got a quite a lot of followers because a lot of it like, Sonic Retro gets a lot of traffic especially on their forums. Once the game started ditching most of the Sonic elements and started looking more like an indie project, then I moved on and posted on like TIGSource, IndieDB, Youtube and a couple other places too, and we are getting a descent amount of attention by the time we were ready to begin our Kickstarter. As a matter of fact the covered us a few months and advance and that actually mentioned us yesterday because of our Kickstarter and as a matter of fact The Struck to Aid covered as a few months in advance and they actually mentioned us yesterday because of our Kickstarter and Greenlight class. To sum it up, we already had a pretty descent number of followers by the time we that we put our Kickstarter up.
Crowdfunding Dojo: And where were those followers like? Were you building a mailing list or is this mainly on social media? Was it mainly on the forums that you are mentioning?
Strife: Yeah, it was mainly the forums and the various places that I posted updates because I think forums are really a good way to like get in touch with your target audience and receive a feedback. Because I mean it is like a great there and it is not as like chaotic as an instant-messaging session.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Absolutely. So you mentioned getting some coverage fairly early on by The Struck to Aid and I also noticed a quote on your project from Indiegames.com. How did you actually go about getting these? What was the actual process of contacting the media?
Strife: Well, actually to be honest we never really approached any media outlets about our game. Everyone who has written an article about that came to us first. I guess it is a part of that like notion where you know, like if you would build that they would come. But I think maybe the reason for this is that the general idea behind Freedom Planet it is just unusual for a game that is so like obviously inspired by an existing franchise [0:06:52] actually be good on its own merits and that might be the reason why the media is interested enough to come with us first. Like everyone these days keeps talking about like how innovation is the key to success, but if there is one thing I have learned from Freedom Planet it is that improving on an already existing concept can be innovated in itself, so like the Call of Duty Syndrome. I mean, it is okay to improve upon an existing concept like [0:07:15] and [0:07:16], right?
Crowdfunding Dojo: Uh-huh. So do you think that you would have gotten the same kind of results if you started making the game as something that was still very much in, but didn’t actually start off with Sonic like assets at the start?
Strife: Well, there is the fact that I built up most of my fan base around people who had experienced with Sonic based level of design, so I may have not met some of the people that I would have otherwise met.
Crowdfunding Dojo: So let’s talk about the campaign itself and how you put it together. You actually had an unusually low goal set especially for the video games category at only $2,000, where a lot of people are asking for much more. Why and how do you think this impacted your campaign success in actually going on to raising a much larger amount?
Strife: We want to be honest about where we would spend the money on, so we decided to stick with like a very low and realistic funding goal especially since this is our first Kickstarter. And once we were funded successfully, we have started putting up some stretch codes that weren’t as essential as our main goals. As per how this impacted our success I think is kind of hard to say, but I do believe that again much more of our success was because of our already descent sides of fan based who have been telling us for months that they would back us if we ever started the Kickstarter.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Nice place to be in. So how did you end up going about getting that kind of trust and credibility form the community when like okay, if you go and look at your biography on your site, it doesn’t show like decades of working for some huge game development studio. But usually one of the first things that people are looking for are some well-known name or years in the industry before getting the kind of level of trust that you seem to have.
Strife: Yeah, it is kind of anomaly where like how do you suppose to get experience if you can’t even find a job to begin with. Michael [0:09:16] that action speaks louder than words and you could have like a masters in computer science and like a book science resume of a different game companies and stuff. But I don’t think most gamers care about that kind of stuff. It is like gamers don’t really want credentials, they want games. So the question is not about how much like experience I have per se, but whether or not I can just make out some game. So with that said, my team and I have figured that we should just let the demo do the talking you know.
Crowdfunding Dojo: So I noticed that another thing you did that was fairly well reasonably unusual in the project is right from the start, you actually had a complete ‘budget breakdown down’ down to individual pieces of software that you need to buy. Why did you do this and did you get much feedback from people on whether this was important to them?
Strife: Well, you know, a lot of Kickstarters projects fail and by the looks of their pages I kind of got the idea that one of the reasons was that they were somewhat vague about where they would spend the money on or what they needed it for. So we decided from the beginning that we didn’t want to make that mistake and we figured that the more specific we were about what we would spend the money on, the greater our chances to [0:10:24] and success would be. I think that it is there to say that it is a really good idea and we have gotten a couple of comments about out from people who appreciated the breakdown.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Let’s talk about the number of updates we have. Usually what we see is a lot of updates from the very large projects and the smaller projects tend to do very, very few updates yet, you at the time I looked your averaging more than one update every day. I think 1.25 was the average. Did you start out with any kind of plan on how often you are going to update or you know, at what particular milestones you are going to update?
Strife: So I just posted updates to my project [0:11:08] posting updates on a forum because I want my backers to feel like they are a part of my thought process.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Well, no sign of it slowing down just yet and you are heading into the middle part of your campaign. We looked at some of the numbers and found you have been funding around $1,200 a day despite having an average pledge level as low as $23, which usually projects getting $23 average pledges are making a lot less than you are. So clearly it is appealing to a lot of people with over 50 people pledging everyday on average.
Strife: I am still trying get my head around that!
Crowdfunding Dojo: Yeah. Where do you think those 50 people a day are tending to come from? Like the fact that you didn’t have a really strong spike at the start that then died of, to me it seems to suggest that it wasn’t all from just emailing your community. Where do you think those people are coming from now?
Strife: Well, most of it at this point is just kind of word of mouth from other people who are in our fan base to begin with just like spreading the word out. And I mean for one thing we are offering the game free of charge to anyone who could [0:12:14] $10 or more. So in a way, it is like a risk year version of like a pretty order for those who feel like helping us out and then another reason I think our pledge level is consistent like this is because we have encountering up with the state number of stretch codes to carry things along. Well I mean, like it was study at first, but right now, we don’t want to promise the world. So at some point we will probably start making new stretch goals and just like let things even out a little bit.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Sure. That was one of the other questions I was going to ask you is that I know we have seen a number of projects particularly, game projects. When they fund very strongly and very early there is pressure there to add more stretch codes but of course the more stretch codes you add, that is still not changing the delivery date that you have promised the game buy, which has led some people into problems. How did you go about planning the stretch codes and deciding what you are going to include to sort of stay out of those kind of problems?
Strife: Well, some of our stretch codes involve adding your features to the games, but we are more worried of the features affecting the early state. So we made sure to know that we are going to include those features and like the future expansions that after the original game was complete, and those expansions that will still be guaranteed the people who already bought the game for free. So like it won’t be like DLC or anything like that content. I think that is the reason [0:13:34] and so far it seems to be working pretty smoothly.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Okay. And what kind of timeline have you given people for those expansion packs like how much time are you giving yourself to make the game and then get on to the expansion packs.
Strife: I haven’t named a specific real state yet, but I have said a few times that I want to get the game out by early 2014. And then once the full version of the game was out, I want to give myself a few months to get feedback and try and like fix any problems that might come up. And then once that starts to settle down, then I can start thinking about putting work into the expansion sides. And another thing is I also need to try and figure out how I am going to make like some kind of automatic update system all right because I think that would be ideal for this.
Crowdfunding Dojo: I know I can see that being particularly valuable considering that you have one of your reward here is actually alpha access to the game, which presumably at that early stage you are going to have a lot of turnover. And then more interestingly I saw you also had as well as alpha access, a different reward here for a better access and then of course a different reward here again for the final game. As well as including a number of things like digital art books and the option for people to come in and co-design a number of assets in the game. There is a quite an interesting range of reward tears in there. How did you come about coming up with those ideas? Where you modeling them of any other particular projects or where you talking to your community and asking what they would like you to include?
Strife: We did take inspiration from the previous Kickstarter projects that were successful and that is actually one of other things in the Kickstarter help file that they recommended was to like look at like other Kickstarter projects and like see what they did right, what they did wrong. And the thing is it was tricky for us to come up with interesting pledge rewards now that didn’t involved shipping in somewhere because we are not kind confident in our ability to manufacture things, like physical things, except for maybe like series and stuff. So we decided to go all out in a digital stuff you know like digital artwork, digital soundtrack and like chances to like kind of leave your footprint of the game by working with us to design extra content.
Crowdfunding Dojo: It is interesting because I know a part of the kind of common ‘wisdom’ is that it is quite difficult to get any kind of level of pledges with only or primarily digital kind of content. At the same time, we have seen going through your tears we’ve got, you currently you have raised about $2,800 from just the $10 tear alone about roughly about the same amount from that from the $20 with half as many people looking at the soundtrack. What looked like a physical copy of the game to me, but you cleared up in one of your recent updates that I don’t think it actually was a physical copy at the $80 pledge level.
Strife: Yeah. Yeah. The thing is like the original idea was that it was like the physical copy of the soundtrack.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Uh-huh.
Strife: But the way that we described it was a little bit confusing. So now what we are going to do instead is actually making it like a physical copy of the game in CD format and then have the soundtrack in CD format on top of that, so that way like that way people will still be happy with their pledge knowing that they got what they thought they did.
Crowdfunding Dojo: Okay. So you did actually increase what people were getting at that pledge level from what you actually originally intended to accommodate for the people who kind of misunderstood how it was worded?
Crowdfunding Dojo: Okay. So what do you think might be some of the lessons that you have learned so far or what surprised you along the way of doing the Kickstarter? Like is there anything that at this stage you would do differently in the hindsight?
Strife: I guess what surprised me the most was basically the overwhelming support we’ve gotten. I mean like I thought it would take like at least 10 days to return our goal, but we reached it in 10 hours. And another thing that is surprising me is like just how much exposure the game is getting especially because we begun our Kickstarter and Greenlight projects close together.
Crowdfunding Dojo: You mentioned this thing Greenlight. Did you find that launching the Kickstarter campaign has had a big impact on the number of votes you have actually gotten on Greenlight?
Strife: As a matter of fact we would like to thank one of our Kickstarter backers who convinced us to go on Kickstarter and Greenlight at the same time. Our original plan was to wait on Greenlight until we were successfully funded, but then this guy was like, “Hey, why don’t you do them both? Otherwise [0:18:23] a lot of publicity.” so we figured, “Hey, why not?” on that note I think it is important to know that we have waited until we were successfully funded before going out Steam Greenlight and that, not only that but our Kickstarter, the money we get from the Kickstarter isn’t necessary to actually finish the game. We just need the money to like polish it and export it to other platforms. So far we already give advice about this. Don’t put your Kickstarter game on Greenlight until your funded otherwise it could send a bad impression and decrease your chances of getting Greenlight especially if your Kickstarter ends up failing.
Crowdfunding Dojo: That is some wise words of advice. So finally just to finish off, where would be the best place for people to follow Freedom Planet and Galaxy Trail Games after the campaign is actually over?
Strife: Well, we posted up our major updates at Freedomplanet.galaxytrail.com. But if you would like to keep tabs on the development process and more detail, like you just like our day to day thoughts and how our tweaking of the game to make it better, we have our project page on NDDB and obviously we will update our Kickstarter project page as well even after it is finished, and we also have a thread on Sonic Retro. I usually go there first because the guys over there have really good advice and I also update TIGSource, but not as frequently and our thread there tend to get drowned about by everyone else. So the best places are Freedomplanet.galaxytrail.com and Nddb.com/games/freedom-planet.
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