How to get your indie game funded on Kickstarter

Alright, this might be a bit presumptuous. There's no all-size-fits-all success cheat sheet for Kickstarting an indie game, especially these days, of course there isn't (sorry!)

But there are some things you can do to give yourself your best chance. There would be too many to mention here (and some are based purely on good mojo, which is possible but hard to replicate when it's your first time) but here are a few solid tips to start with:

Game Kickstarter how to

1. Check your timing

There are the obvious things - don't run your Kickstarter during/around E3 or major releases in the same genre as your game. Have an existing community around your game. Have assets to show.

When Thomas Brush launched a Kickstarter campaign for Pinstripe, the game had already been in development for four years - and there was about a year left. That is four years without the funds to make a game - but that's also four years he spent making it ready for public attention. And it paid off, given it was funded in its first day.

2. Build a community *BEFORE* you launch

It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how often I hear "I don't have time to build a big community before the Kickstarter, I'll do it later..." And it's breaking my heart. It really is, because at this point you know this campaign won't make it past the $10k mark if they're lucky.

You need to be able to point out at least a few hundred people who are engaged and interested enough to back you as soon as your Kickstarter launches. People who will spread the word about your game, too.

Take Lost Ember, for example: Mooneye Studio only launched their Kickstarter after reaching 5,000 subscribers on their mailing list. It took them months of community growth, a gameplay demo at Gamescom, and a lot of patience. But it certainly paid off as they knew that by the time they launched their Kickstarter campaign, enough people were engaged enough with them to subscribe to their newsletter, and therefore more likely to pledge.

This all depends on how much you're aiming for of course, but the size and engagement of your community will determine your success, ultimately. 

3. Tell a story

Supporting a game's creation at an early stage is very much an emotional affair. Your potential backers need to feel invested in what you're making, and the best way to do this (especially when you're ultimately selling a story/universe) is to capture your community's imagination.

From the pitch, to the overall presentation, to the tone you take in the reward tiers section, it all counts as selling an atmosphere. One of my favourite examples of campaigns that got the atmosphere spot-on (without overdoing it) was Night In The Woods: casual tone in line with the game, humour showing through the whole page, and unique rewards (handmade plush of Mae the cat anyone?), it's enchanting from start to finish.

4. Show some proof

This is incredibly important, especially if you've never shipped a game before. So I'll even say it again: show some proof - that your game exists, that you won't take the money and run, that you will deliver on your promise and that your backers can place their faith in you. Game backers got burned by Kickstarter projects before, so their trust has to be earned.

That's why you need to have more than a game concept to show - you need a playable game build (back to point #1.) A 20-minute vertical slice polished enough that you would be happy for it to be plastered all over the internet would do just fine. Either giving out the demo on the Kickstarter page or sending it to streamers would work in your favour.

Working on the Kickstarter for Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King, a large part of our traffic came from Twitch streams and YouTube gameplay videos. People could see what the game was shaping up to be like, and it helped sell the game as a game in-production rather than a simple promise.

5. The money talk

Admit it, that's the part you came here for. I don't blame you.

How much money do you need? Ask for a quarter of it (or half if you don't need that much.)
Counter-intuitive? Yes. Vital to your campaign's success? Also. That's for a few reasons:

  • You might objectively need hundreds of thousands to finish your game. But in the stage crowdfunding is in these days, you'll be lucky if you can make a quarter of it. 
  • Having a more achievable goal, and reaching it, makes it more likely for you to receive outside help as your project has been 'successful'.
  • A campaign that's 100% funded before the end has received 'social proof' - making it more likely for the media to cover it, and for people to pledge if they were on the fence.

Want to make more? Have a few stretch goals lined up, and choose them well. At first, only reveal the first one to avoid scaring off your backers. These stretch goals should be geared towards expanding the game experience for players: additional in-game content, localisation in certain languages, more platforms, you name it.

Indie game Kickstarter money

6. Last but not least

  • As in point #2, your community will determine your success. Show them some love (and personality!) Now is not the time to be stingy with your community interactions - prove them you care, and they will be there for you.
  • Kickstarters are an exhausting affair. You have to be available 24/7 and stay positive no matter what - even in the face of daily annoying comments. So get some proper rest and fun before you launch, stock up on vitamin pills and try to stay as healthy as possible for a month.
  • Having different reward tiers for different price points is great, but 10-15 is more than enough. More options than that, and unless you're really bringing something unique in your rewards, you could confuse backers.

There's a lot more to this, although I'm not here to bore you with a novel - but look out for more advice later on. If in the meantime you're planning a Kickstarter campaign and need more guidance, feel free to get in touch!