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August 20, 2012 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Leading a struggling Kickstarter campaign is not a fate I would wish upon my worst enemy. The project consumes your every waking moment (and dreams) with a constant whine of stress. [...] There's nothing worse than when your Kickstarter dries up like that. People avoid making eye contact with you. [...] It's a time of quiet reflection and common questions: "Are you guys going to be okay?" "Think you'll try again?" and "I hear Zynga is hiring."
How Camouflaj saved République's Kickstarter
posted by griphus (37 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Here's the Kickstarter page, for the curious. The funding period is long over.
posted by griphus at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2012

From what I understand most kick starter like campaigns rake in most of the money in the first and and last few days. Big example is
posted by mulligan at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2012

Thanks, griphus. The article was fascinating, and I'd never have read it if you hadn't put it up.
posted by jaduncan at 9:06 AM on August 20, 2012

The #keephopealive campaign is kind of brilliant, because it so successfully conveys the classic NPR pledge drive message - "We need YOUR help. Yes, you."
posted by muddgirl at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2012

Anybody have a link to the printer friendly version of the Gamasutra article? I'm getting nothing but a blank screen on my iPad. (Not that I think you had any obligation to check before posting.)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:20 AM on August 20, 2012

Actually, the link itself seems to be down right now.
posted by griphus at 9:21 AM on August 20, 2012

Yeah, that was weird, I was clicking through the article and about 80% done when it stopped loading.
posted by exogenous at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2012

Assuming the stuff in the promo material is true, which may be a big assumption, these guys deserve to be lauded. It's a pretty good story.

Gaming is arguably the most collaborative and interactive artistic medium ever devised. The project lead has apparently thrown his life (and savings) behind his company and this project in a ballsy entrepreneurial way because he wants to push the medium in new directions, and create games that incorporate meaningful storytelling and characters.

I think that's spiffy (and apparently, so do a bunch of other people).

I hadn't heard of Republique, but will totally check it out when it's released. Thanks for the post.
posted by hamandcheese at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

How did Camouflaj save its Kickstarter campaign? It looks like their fans had some money to spend on payday in early May, but most waited to see what money was left over after payday to cover the expense and push Camouflaj over the line. Good job scheduling their kickstarter campaign to end the week after payday, not on payday. They opened on a Tuesday after payday, which may have contributed to the large start.
posted by parmanparman at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2012

I think you'll find that people have lots of different paydays, and the pace of contributions was far more importantly related to the 30-day lifecycle of the fundraiser. It's a pattern that's been seen many times on crowdfunding sites.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Should struggling Kickstarters be saved? The whole point of them is to see if threshold for support of a project is there and if so go ahead with it. If the support has to be artificially buoyed up then it seems like the project probably going to run into trouble later on.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

What was artificially buoyed up here though ArtW? They met their goal within the guidelines of how Kickstarter works. Isn't their success proof enough that the threshold for support was crossed?
posted by hamandcheese at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2012

"Artificially buoyed up" would imply that Kickstarter allowed them to lower their goal or gave them money that other projects don't get.

Running a successful social media campaign isn't "artificially buoyed up." It's how Kickstarter is supposed to work.
posted by muddgirl at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2012

Shouldn't "Kickstarter success" be defined as delivering a finished product, not just succeeding in getting funded?
posted by ghharr at 10:47 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think the problem is that the game was "artificially" buoyed up, but that it had a lot of trouble getting noticed in the first place. Ryan Peyton doesn't enjoy the same kind of name-recognition as, say, Tim Schafer, so there wasn't as much of a story behind the game. As a result, it wasn't being reported as much, so as a result, it missed out on all the casual "hey, that sounds cool" audience that help sustain a Kickstarter campaign through its lifespan. I don't think a grassroots marketing campaign to help the game get noticed in the first place really counts as "artificially buoying it up".

(Gamasutra is down - I could be either covering what the original already says or I could be flat-out wrong).
posted by swishypants at 10:47 AM on August 20, 2012

Solving two problems at once, the print-friendly version of the article is still up. Mods feel free to replace link in original FPP.
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by cortex at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2012

posted by hellojed at 11:12 AM on August 20, 2012

posted by griphus at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2012

posted by griphus at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree with most of what Camouflaj say in their article, and I can back my words up with numbers! Consider this graph of Kickstarter pledges to Republique over time and also a graph of pledges per day. There are a number of things to note here:

1) Republique raised $37k in one day and $60k in three days. This is not the sign of an unpopular project that is having trouble getting noticed.

2) By 24th/25th April, pledges per day had reduced to a level that would make it absolutely impossible for the project to succeed.

3) On 26th and 27th April, pledges shot up. Why? Because Camouflaj announced that Republique would be coming to PC and Mac. This was not some kind of stretch goal beyond their $500k target, this would be included in the original target. Not only that, but they said:
This won’t be some basic, simple port. No copy-paste. The team has spent the past week drafting up a smart plan to deliver a special version of République featuring new gameplay, controls and story elements tailored to the strengths of the PC and Mac platforms.
Suffice to say that this would involve a heck of a lot of extra work for no extra money, for a game that was designed to be an iOS flagship title. Frankly, it smelled of desperation to me.

4) Even committing to PC and Mac didn't do the job - a week later after the announcement, pledges had once again dropped to a too-low level. So they did a big social media push on 3rd May which clearly worked very well.

5) Yet again, pledges dropped down, so Camouflaj did a number of reciprocal promos with other Kickstarter games, urging their backers to support each other's projects.

6) In the last few days, they made it, thanks to some very committed fans and a lot of hard graft by Camouflaj on the social media front.

Some Lessons

I am always wary of Kickstarter games that only barely scrape past their target. Assuming that the target is justified and not artificially high, this implies that there just isn't enough demand to support the game, and that could be either because:

a) the creators didn't have enough followers
b) it wasn't interesting or original game
c) it was marketed poorly
d) it was described poorly

Everyone tends to focus on A, using the well-worn "Well, that's fine for Tim Schafer, but what about the rest of us?" While you may well need to be Tim Schafer to get millions, it is total bullshit that you can't have a successful Kickstarter project without being famous. All you have to do is set your target lower. And in this case, I'd argue that Camouflaj had a pretty decent number of followers.

No, their problems lay in B, C and D. Republique did extraordinarily well by almost any standards on Kickstarter. Not many games make $500k, let alone $100k. But they wanted a very large amount of money for their game which, frankly, didn't seem all that interesting or well-articulated. It was never that clear to me how the game would actually play - it looked a bit like a point and click, but apparently it was action. And the story... well, helping a young women escape from a futuristic dystopia isn't as original as they think it is.

Finally, their project page spent too much time about the genesis of the project and the bios of the people involved, and not enough on the core game itself. If you scroll down past all the videos, there's:

- 1 paragraph on the game
- 4 paras on the creators and process (and some vague stuff on the game)
- 1 para on the game
- 1 para on specs that most AAA games have
- 4 paras on iOS, Kickstarter, and game publishing
- 4 paras on high-level rewards
- 3 paras on Kickstarter

Compare this with what I consider to be the gold standard of Kickstarter game projects: FTL, a rogue-like spacecraft sim. Scroll down to the heading "FTL: Spaceship Simulation Roguelike-like": there's a good 7-10 paragraphs that are pretty much only about the game. Yes, there's stuff about why Kickstarter etc, but that's further down the page, where it should be.

And if you can't write enough specifics about your game that gets people interested, you need to go back to the drawing board.

I hope Camouflaj do well with Republique and I think it's clear they realise quite how fortunate they are. But I don't think they learned the right lessons.
posted by adrianhon at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2012 [18 favorites]

Actually, on second thoughts, I wouldn't say I disagree with what they said in the article; I think that they touch on some interesting points. But I think the larger issues surrounding their difficulties are not addressed in it.
posted by adrianhon at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2012

where does the "thing.txt" meme come from
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2012

When the two companies agreed to the acquisition, the terms included giving Instagram $300 million in cash and the rest in shares — about 23 million of them.

Indeed. I looked at the Republique campaign early in its run, and while the art looked cool, I couldn't figure out what kind of game it would actually be. It looks like they're going in an interesting direction, but one that would've disappointed me quite a bit if I'd sponsored it before additional information came out.

Selling your team is important to assure people that the project will actually succeed. Selling the actual concept is important to assure them that they care whether it succeeds.
posted by verb at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do wonder if they would've enjoyed more success it if it started as PC/Mac with an iOS port. I may be displaying my ignorance, but it's hard for me to wrap my head around iOS/android games that aren't relatively simplistic.
posted by Vhanudux at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2012

I still wonder how they plan to distribute a game on iOS. There is some hand-waving around the answer in the question section, but Apple's store is just not set up for that kind of thing. They might have to do a gift purchase for every single one.
posted by smackfu at 12:48 PM on August 20, 2012

The pattern of contributions Republique experienced is actually very common on Kickstarter. We experience the same on our own campaign, as have many others. The only notable thing about this one was the uncommon scale of their goal, which meant the usual Kickstarter white-knuckles at the end was the result of bigger sums of money. But their curve was not uncommon.
posted by kk at 12:52 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

kk: Yes, most Kickstarter projects have an S-curve, but it's the blips and events within it that I found particularly interesting (along with the high target and incredibly-tight finish, as mentioned).

smackfu: iOS distribution is going to be a serious problem. We managed it with our game thanks to a combination of a free app that required credentials we supplied to backers, plus crossed wires at Apple - but there is absolutely no chance they're going to let anyone do it again, certainly not to several thousand people. Unless Apple changes their policy, they'll either need to release the game as free somehow, or provide a lot of refunds (which we still had to do, as well) - or risk an angry army of backers.
posted by adrianhon at 1:24 PM on August 20, 2012

I still wonder how they plan to distribute a game on iOS. There is some hand-waving around the answer in the question section, but Apple's store is just not set up for that kind of thing. They might have to do a gift purchase for every single one.

I know that some devs are doing exactly that for their kickstarters. The biggest problem is with gifting the app in appstores countries that you don't have credit cards for, for that you need friends in those countries.
posted by jonbro at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2012

adrianhon: To be fair, the main page of the Republique kickstarter is far different (and far too busy for me) now than it was back on day one when I first heard about the project and checked out the page. At the time it was a lot more focused on the product itself. The copy and design changed over time as Ryan Payton and his team switched up their strategy after a lacklustre response.

smackfu: I seem to remember reading in one of their supplemental updates that they had already worked out a mechanism with the reps on iTunes Connect.
posted by whittaker at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2012

There's nothing worse than when your Kickstarter dries up like that.

Like fuck. Begging for money for a project and hoping you'll get it isn't in the same league as actually launching a project and not having anybody show up, ya big whiner.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:24 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

To me, the biggest issue with Republique's Kickstarter campaign was the apparent amount of hubris on display, whether it was intended by the creators or not. The actual concept sounded pretty neat, for example, but there wasn't that much detail on why it absolutely had to be mobile, full stop. As someone who doesn't have an iOS device, the decision to completely ignore Android users was also unfortunate. It's somewhat understandable given the current business realities (conventional wisdom says Android users buy fewer apps and fewer Android users buy any apps at all), but as a company who's made it their mission to push the acceptance of capital-V, capital-G video games on mobile devices, you'd think it'd be worth their time to make the case that Android could also support a so-called triple-A gaming experience.

They also spent a lot of time trying to dissuade people who were only interested in a PC/Mac version from holding out on the game, saying Republique was a game that could only be done on mobile platforms, and then they did an about-face announcing PC support during the depths of campaign support. A second boost came later because of the announcement that two big voice actors, David Hayter and Jennifer Hale, were on board with the project. This felt to me like the equivalent of calling up your industry buddies to help you drum up support for your pet project, at a time when so many other Kickstarters were plying the "holy crap you guys we have no money but look at this amazing idea we have."

The #KeepHopeAlive campaign seemed like a bad idea, given Camouflaj was already being accused of asking for too much; putting a hashtag like that on the thing made it sound a little bit like a charity cause. The gaming press started chiming in too; many of the reveal videos came from Electric Playground, and prominent gaming podcasts started pushing Republique hard. A lot of these seemed to come from friends of Ryan Payton, which added to the sense that the company and the game didn't really need grassroots support. And then there were the comments from Payton about how the game could still be made if the Kickstarter failed, and what the campaign was really for was to ensure "creative freedom." This is a fair point; publishers are often seen as necessary interference, and plenty of games fail because the publisher required concessions aimed at increasing mainstream appeal at the cost of making the game seem generic. But "give us money so we can make the game we want" is a harder sell than "give us money so we can make the game, period."

In the end, I donated, because I was always on board with the original concept. The way Camouflaj handled the entire campaign, especially in light of how so many other gaming Kickstarters around the same time handled their campaigns (The Banner Saga, FTL, Shadowrun Returns and Wasteland 2 all come to mind), left a sour taste in my mouth. But if the game is great, no one will remember any of this except as a historical footnote.
posted by chrominance at 8:27 PM on August 20, 2012

I have an iPad. I like weird games.

I didn't drop anything on République. I just kinda… watched it trundle along, since its campaign partially overlapped one I was running, and Camoflaj is based in the same city as I am, so it kept on showing up on Kickstarter's front page.

As adrianhon mentions, even after they revised the hell out of their description, there's a total of ONE paragraph about what kind of game you're actually buying. I dunno if there was any kind of gameplay in the early videos, I seem to recall there wasn't any. Which only backs up my theory that unless you are Tim Schaeffer saying "hey I want to make a new point-n-click game even though nobody wants to publish that genre, I have Ron Gilbert on board too", you HAVE to have some kind of final-quality media to show. And if you want pro amounts of money, you need pro quality in those samples.

Also I have realized that Kickstarter sucks in one important respect: you become really, really boring for up to a month, because all you ever talk about is THE CAMPAIGN. You are probably marginally more boring if you don't reach the goal early. I reached my modest goal in the first two days, then became boring because I was struggling to reach my stretch goal...
posted by egypturnash at 9:27 PM on August 20, 2012

Part of the problem with Kickstarter is that Kickstarter themselves don't seem to do a lot of advising project creators on how to best set up and run ther campaigns. It seems to be a very "hands off" style of system, with the knowledge of best practices comming from the users themselves, distributed on blogs, and representing a lot of "here's what we did" ... which ain't helpful unless you are doing almost exactly the same thing.

Odd, that, since Kiscstarter themselves are in the best position to provide this advice, perhaps even on a individual basis for every project. But providing good customer service like that ain't cheap!

A broadly similar platform, PledgeMusic (which I am involved in), provides full support to the campaign creators in writing the campaign, and in running it, in managing the on-site comments, and then in actually fulfilling the obligations after the campaign closes. Most of the company is directly involved in actual discourse with campaign creators or pledgers

Here's the comparison point ... less than half of all Kickstarter projects succeed (according to their own stats). More than 90% of all projects on PledgeMusic succeed.
posted by jannw at 2:22 AM on August 21, 2012

Part of the problem with Kickstarter is that Kickstarter themselves don't seem to do a lot of advising project creators on how to best set up and run ther campaigns.

Strange you say that... Kickstarter has always been very hands on. Projects have to meet a high quality bar to be posted at all. There's lots of back and forth with the video, and picking the various funding levels, etc. After the sale, they work with the teams to set them up with trusted fulfillment partners, etc.

But we're talking about raising half a million dollars here, of which there have been very few projects anywhere at that level. Even this article's after-the-fact advice is useless like "don't be too professional." I'm not sure how much more guidance can be given when the key to success is "go viral."
posted by smackfu at 7:05 AM on August 21, 2012

"Kickstarter has always been very hands on"? Not in my experience!

I ran one a couple months ago. Kickstarter's entire environment in the process was that somewhere, a human looked at my campaign and approved it. At no point was there any communication beyond that. Fulfillment has been entirely in my lap.

There were also some projects with terrible pitches going on at the same time as mine. Stuff that really failed to describe the project at hand. And yet it was live.

Kickstarter may have been more hands-on in the early days, but they sure aren't any more.
posted by egypturnash at 7:15 PM on September 6, 2012

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