Interview with Industry Veteran Jon Kimmich on Crowdfunding
With Kickstarter funding success stories on the rise I’m getting more indies asking for tips and advice on how to prepare, launch and manage Crowdfunding campaigns. I try not to publish anything as a guide without first testing it myself or finding an expert on the subject – fortunately Jon Kimmich, editor of recently released The Crowdfunding Bible, was on hand to answer all my questions.
[In this interview Jon Kimmich, industry veteran and Editor of The Crowdfunding Bible, talks about the impact of crowdfunding on the games industry, opportunities for indies and provides a checklist for folks preparing to launch their first crowdfunding campaign.]
Why this book? Why Now?
Obviously, there’s been a lot of activity in this space recently. While there had been other games-related funding campaigns before this year, it was really Double Fine’s Kickstarter campaign that started to drive serious attention to sites like Kickstarter, IndieGogo, RocketHub (not to mention seeing Tim high-fiving people in the line at Starbucks during DICE as his campaign shot past a million). It made us think that it was time to assemble some of the “tribal knowledge” that teams were gathering and make it more widely accessible.
Related to that I had a number of friends and acquaintances that were about to embark on campaigns of their own, and as a result would provide “real-time” access to seeing how a campaign evolves from the point at which a team says, “Let’s crowdsource our funding”, up to and beyond hitting their target. Along with this, I had started to get requests from potential clients/advisees about what sort of information was out there. As it turns out, there wasn’t very much, nor was it particularly easy to find.
Rusel DeMaria had just completed his campaign for “High Score – 3rd Edition“, and Scott Steinberg was also looking into the space, so it made sense to collaborate. So, to some degree it was a confluence of timing and events that brought things together.
What impact has Crowdfunding had on the Games Industry?
Well, first off, I think that it is important to note that that we are very early in the evolution of this method of funding consumer products. Games in particular. Most campaigns for games fail, according to Kickstarter, 75% of them, and with an average like that there is clearly room for improvement. And let’s not forget that none of the high-profile games that have been funded this way have yet shipped. Lot’s can happen (not all of it good) between conceiving a game and the consumer getting to play it.
With the success of games campaigns such as Double Fine’s Adventure, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns, and Leisure Suit Larry, one might be tempted to conclude (as several games journalists did) that campaigns for games on kickstarter was the domain of wealthy, aging “baby-boomer” gamers, nostalgic for the games of their childhood, with more disposable income than common sense. But that would not explain the successes of campaigns like The Banner Saga and Republique, both of which are new IPs from new teams. So clearly something else is going on here. Developers are recognizing this tool (crowdfunding) is out there, but when to use it, and how to use it effectively, still remains elusive. As a result, we see lots of projects get posted, and not surprisingly, most do not succeed.
How does this change the dynamic between Publisher and Developers?
The amount raised in every crowdfunding campaign for every video game on every crowdfunding site, would still not add up to enough to make one traditional AAA, big-budget console title. So, I think it is fair to say that while it is on publisher’s radar, crowdfunding is not something that they feel threatened by. Let’s face it, the concept of publishers (individuals or businesses that called themselves publishers and do publisher-like stuff) have been around for a couple of thousands of years. So long as there are creative individuals and teams that have ideas that are beyond their scope or expertise to bring to market, there will be a place for publisher-like entities that fill these needs, especially for larger works.
Having said that, at the low end, publishers who focus on financing, marketing or distributing indie or mobile games are becoming much more aware of how this could impact their business and their value proposition to developers. It may force changes in their business and the services they offer.
Outside of the games space I’m beginning to hear rumblings that venture capitalists and investors who focus on consumer goods and services are much more concerned by this trend. Especially as the JOBS act recently signed into law is turned from legislation to regulation.
Going forward, how will this affect the industry over time?
As services like Amazon and Ebay have changed how new product are retailed, Crowdfunding and pre-retailing will change how some types of projects are financed, recycled and monetised. Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, its peers and successors, will change how products are conceived, tested, and how communities are developed, nurtured and maintained.
For indie developers, this becomes another method for them to finance their games, if they are savvy about building their audience of fans, managing their fans expectations, and delivering compelling experiences. For developers of AAA big-budget console titles, we’re probably pretty far away from being able to fund something of that scale with methods like this. It’s quite possible this approach will never be suitable for games at that scale and budget.
What do you feel is the Key Takeaway of this book?
Developing and managing a crowdfunding campaign is, at its core, a consumer marketing campaign. You need to evaluate your product, and your own abilities in light of that. Do you have the skills and expertise to make a pitch, a brief but compelling case for your game? In this sense it is not all that different from pitching to a publisher, only now you’re pitching the directly to the end consumer. Yes there are some things that publishers care about that consumers are perhaps less focused on, but many of the questions you have to ask yourself are the same. Who is my target audience? Where do they consume information about their upcoming games (and their purchase) online? What social networks do they participate in? Who are the IEU’s (Influential End Users)? And so on. Will that target audience find my game experience and my pitch compelling? Can I reach enough of them so that if only a very small percentage of them go to my campaign site (and fewer still actually contribute) I can still reach my goal?
Don’t forget about your backers after your campaign is over. They are your advocates during your campaign, your best customers, and will be first in line next time. Shower the attention on them that they so richly deserve. They have paid hard cash to fund your idea, based on your vision, the passion in your appeal, and the wisdom of the collective audience of like-minded people you have assembled. They have placed their trust in YOU. It’s an awesome responsibility, and all too easy to forget when a large sum of cash appears (as if by magic) in your bank account. Don’t lose sight of the backers who helped you get your project off the ground.
Finally, what advice do you have for indies just starting out?
For developing a crowdfunding campaign, let’s pull out the “Game of 20 Questions” from our book:
- How good is your idea – really? Are you certain that people will be interested in it?
- Why is your product, service or venture destined to sell – what value does it offer the customer?
- What differentiates your project from existing competitors, or alternatives that have come before? Are you utilizing an existing brand, IP or personality that has a pre-existing base of fans or consumers? (Using an existing, if perhaps older, brand or IP which consumers have fond memories of can be a very effective strategy).
- Can you express your idea simply and at the same time get people excited about it? If not, it may be that the idea isn’t all that compelling, or that you may not be the right person to communicate or present it.
- Do you have something tangible to show when presenting your venture – some visual aspect of your project that can help other people visualize it?
- How well do you know and understand your target audience?
- Do you have confidence in your ability to reach out and connect with potential backers? Have you planned which vehicles you will use to reach out and connect with them?
- Have you calculated just how much money you need – truly need – to get your ideas off the ground?
- Have you factored in all financial variables, including the costs of reward fulfillment, payments to the crowdfunding service, and taxes?
- Have you been sensible enough to build a budget that allows for breathing room in certain areas, and factors in conservative projections?
- Are you positive that you can fulfill all your promises, including completing the project in the allotted timeframe, and delivering on all features and content covered in your pitch? Have you considered the impact on your product’s brand identity, or your own personal brand, should your campaign not succeed?
- Do you have some great rewards in mind to give backers and fans as incentive to donate? Have you mapped out your reward tiers? How will you offer these rewards, and what dollar amount will you attach to them?
- Can you offer meaningful rewards at a variety of investment levels to attract all potential patrons?
- What specific or unique rewards will you use to get people talking? Can you create any singular ones that can be utilised in social media campaigns or for press outreach?
- Do you understand all the personal and professional demands that the process of running a crowdfunding campaign demands from creators? Are you prepared to put 110% effort into making your crowdfunding project a success?
- Do you have at least some marketing, public relations and social media connections and savvy?
- What promotional campaign activities do you plan to pursue leading up to and during launch? How will you keep the buzz going after your crowdfunding project debuts?
- Are you ready and able to take a big personal risk?
- Do you – and at least a few other people you can look to for support, whether financial, emotional or otherwise – fully believe in your project?
- Who can you turn to for help, whether in terms of assistance with asset creation, financial backing, raising awareness or just help spreading the word?
Most importantly: Have you examined other crowdfunding projects – both successes and failures – to understand which approaches, techniques and strategies work or tend to result in failure?
And the 21st Question: Have you downloaded the .pdf of our book: The Crowdfunding Bible? (Epona’s Note: It’s free to read as PDF – reading through it now and it’s gold mine of applicable tips and case studies)
For indies just staring out, who are still trying to make their mark, living in an apartment the size of a closet, eating ramen and putting all their money into their first game, I think the crowdfunding advice from Brad Crawford (director of “100 Yen, The Japanese Arcade Experience” who successfully funded his documentary using IndieGoGo) sums it up pretty well:
“Be creative, go crazy, make up some wacky new perks or do something totally different. This whole crowdfunding initiative is fresh so don’t be boring. Take chances, there’s only positive things that can come from it. We live in an amazing age where a couple people in a basement can create a feature film [or a game] and distribute it worldwide. Don’t take that for granted.”
The Crowdfunding Bible
The world’s most comprehensive guide to raising money online, The Crowdfunding Bible shows you how to launch, market and successfully operate a high-tech fundraising campaign, regardless of your chosen industry, scope or budget. Built for enterprising entrepreneurs and individuals alike, it reveals the secrets to catching the media and public’s eye, and convincing fans to support ventures of all types, in a language that everyone can understand. With interviews from leading game-makers, device and gadget designers, and an introduction from Eric Migicovsky (creator of the Pebble E-Paper Watch), if you want to bootstrap your game with sites such as kickstater.com, indiegogo.com or rockethub.com The Crowdfunding Bible has what you need. Follow the authors on Twitter @jonkimmich, @GadgetExpert and @DeMaria.
Jon Kimmich has been an author, instructor, strategic advisor and consultant to companies, individuals and investors in the games industry for over 15 years. During this time he was responsible for the acquisition of studios by Microsoft such as Bungie Studios and FASA Interactive and business/publishing relationships for games such as Dungeon Siege by Gas Powered Games, Rise of Nations from Big Huge Games, and MechAssault by Day 1 Studios as well as many internally developed games such as Crimson Skies, MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, Brute Force and Halo. He currently works with development studios, publishers, educators and investors to incubate and drive strategic innovation in content and business models in the mobile and digital entertainment sectors and be reached at www.software-illuminati.com and on twitter @jonkimmich.