Game Development Marketing/Business

Kickstarter Is For Market Research


Months ago, I wrote about how glad I was that I didn’t create a Kickstarter campaign to help fund Stop That Hero!‘s development. It wasn’t because I didn’t think Kickstarter was a good idea. It was because I didn’t want to do a half-ass campaign as an afterthought.

When Double Fine Studios had their record-breaking campaign, I was surprised by how many people thought that this meant that Kickstarter was a fantastic fundraising opportunity for indies. Granted, there’s good news that projects by people such as Tim Schafer and Kevin Smith can be funded without needing a huge publisher backing them.

But these people are celebrities. Of course they’re going to get a lot of attention and pledges. What about Joe Indie, the obscure person with the yet-realized dream?

Kickstarter is not a magic money machine. People can and do fail to get funding.

But perhaps the money isn’t the point.

As Corvus Elrod wrote recently in Every Kickstarter a Success, the crowd-sourcing site “is the most affordable and brutally efficient marketing tool” he’s ever used.

… the type of audience intereaction that Kickstarter makes possible is enormously valuable and the fact that the only finanical risk you take is not getting funding for a project that likely doesn’t have an existing market to sustain it anyway, there’s simply no reason every Kickstarter project shouldn’t be considered an overwhelming success – providing you simply do the hard work.

One of the toughest things to do when running a game development business is figuring out what project to work on. You can’t just work on what you think is fun and hope it pays off. You have to do market research to find out who your customers are and what they want. Otherwise, you’re hoping that when you release your game, your interests overlap with the interests of enough customers to sustain you. It relies too much on uncertainty and luck.

Kickstarter is great for measuring such interest in your project. For one example, Christopher Williamson of DreamQuest Games recently finished a campaign to raise funds for Alpha Colony: A Tribute to M.U.L.E..

While the campaign fell short of the $500,000 he was hoping for, he did manage to break $100,000 in pledges with almost 1,000 backers. He’s written up a post on 20 Ways to Screw Your Kickstarter in which he talks about the lessons learned.

But his Kickstarter update post indicates that they got the validation they needed for this project: “The world has shown it wants Alpha Colony to be built and therefore we are making some big changes in preparation for a second launch on Kickstarter!” Keep an eye out for the Alpha Colony relaunch in weeks, with an updated focus on multiplayer and a different funding target.

Ian Bogost wrote that he thinks Kickstarter is less of a fundraising platform and more of a new kind of entertainment: “It’s QVC for the Net set. And just like QVC, the products are usually less appealing than the excitement of learning about them for the first time and getting in early on the sale.”

Perhaps that’s partly true, but being able to measure that excitement as early as possible is vitally important to the success of a project, and ultimately, to a business. If Kickstarter and other crowd-sourcing sites make it easier to get that early feedback, it translates into a lot less wasted effort.

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