Launching an Indie Game on Kickstarter

Kickstarter is becoming a difficult place for indie games -- both in terms of purchasing them and launching them. It's a weird, uneven market; many people are forsaking Kickstarter's model entirely, while others are using Kickstarter exclusively. Ultimately, Kickstarter's value isn't in its platform, but rather the marketing efforts of those behind a product. Too many consumers have been burned by mindlessly consuming games, and unless a game has a lot of hype it's not likely to breach interest.

Backers Are Becoming Disenchanted

By now, most people who frequent Kickstarter have gotten burned a few times. Some games simply don't fund, so you can be left in the dark wondering what happened. Other games didn't really have their mechanics sorted out; they ship either half completed or completely broken. Many games just aren't that exciting. They're expensive, but they're just re-skins of old classics. And, of course, there's the sheer volume. By the time one thing comes out, it's time to get excited for the next thing. Backers have no idea what to choose and that choice becomes paralyzing.

And there's just too many bad games. People can throw something up on Kickstarter without knowing anything about game mechanics or marketing; they just have an idea and they want money to make that idea real. It only takes one or two really bad games before backers just give up entirely.

Mistakes Indie Designers Make With Kickstarter

  • Expecting too much from Kickstarter. At one point, simply being on Kickstarter was often enough to generate interest. Today there are so many games that designers really need to have their own audience and marketing strategy before they get started.
  • Getting crushed by success. If there's any type of discrepancy at all in the numbers, it can easily be the downfall of any business. Simply underpricing a product by a few dollars (such as by underestimating shipping) could mean that the company doesn't make a profit. 
  • Having unreasonable goals. Most people aren't going to make a million on their first Kickstarter. If a campaign doesn't fully fund, a designer is back to square one. A realistic, achievable goal is better than shooting for the moon.
  • Using Kickstarter too early. Launching a game on Kickstarter should be the last step after prototyping and playtesting the game. Kickstarter is for funding, not game design -- and backers aren't supposed to be playtesters. Reputation is everything and those who get a reputation for half-finished games won't be able to fund again.

Alternatives to Kickstarter

When not using Kickstarter, many designers instead have to pitch directly to publishers or they have to put up their own money (or investors money) to print their own copies. From there they can become their own distributor, either directly through their website or through a third-party service such as Amazon.com. Regardless, though, an indie developer often has to advocate for themselves if they want to make a profit. 

Kickstarter is a valuable tool but it is becoming a far more competitive tool as well. Designers need to understand the Kickstarter platform and limit their expectations before they go in -- or they may become yet another failed launch.

At the same time, a failed launch isn't actually a failure. Often it can generate interest in a game, tell a game designer whether their idea is feasible, and serve as a sort of primary market testing regarding customers and their interests.