How did this video game Kickstarter raise $1.4 million?
Also: why you should keep up on forum posts, and lots of discovery news.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
May we point out that, since it’s May 2023, a rollicking summer of video games is almost upon us? Heck, it’s only a few weeks until the idylls of ‘not E3’, which should provide all kinds of entertainment for industry-watchers.
But today, we’re covering a marketing and fundraising space that can still provide the occasional surprise - crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Let’s take a look at a standout recent project, and the market in general for the platform…
[PSA: our 30% off access to our GameDiscoverCo Plus subscription - including a sales analysis weekly newsletter, Steam pre-release data back-end, Plus-exclusive Discord with lotsa handy info, and more runs out in 10 days. So please hop on that if you’d like to support us!]
Kickstarter video game success? Mika shows how
A few days ago, Abraham Cozar at Spanish game dev Chibig (Summer In Mara) sent us a giant ‘postmortem’ for the Kickstarter for the company’s upcoming title Mika and The Witch’s Mountain. The cozy 3D flying adventure game ended its Kickstarter on March 4th with >24,000 backers & 1.3 million Euros ($1.43 million) raised, wow.
We’ll take a look shortly at Mika’s success and how it happened. But before we do, let’s give a little context on the state of Kickstarter for video games - since we think it’s less common to consider as a primary funding method in recent years.
In the absence of larger trends data in recent years, we put together a brief Google Drive document with two tabs - the last 15 video game Kickstarters that raised >$1 million USD, and the last 20 that raised >$100k USD (or local equivalent). Here’s >$1m:
So, Mika is the only >$1m USD game to fund on Kickstarter in 2023 so far, and there’s an average of about 3 per year. There’s a massive contrast with board games here - he 15th oldest >$1m video game Kickstarter funded all the way back in April 2018, whereas the 15th oldest >$1m tabletop game Kickstarter finished on November 29th, 2022.
This gets into the biggest issue - at least pre-pandemic - with Kickstarter for video games, which is simply that trust has been eroded by high-profile games that take an age to ship. (Or sometimes don’t ship properly at all.) Most of my Kickstarter funding nowadays goes to more ‘easy to complete’ media projects, actually…
The oldest ‘recent’ >$1m game KS - Cyan’s Myst-ish Firmament - is actually shipping in 10 days (woo!), four years after its Kickstarter ended in April 2019. But for every well-run Kickstarter like Sea Of Stars’, there’s another like Friday Night Funkin’ that looks like - well - a bit of a mess. You can lose positive feelings around the process.
BTW, just a word on the kind of video games funding well on Kickstarter in general - we see a lot of cozy games, pixel-y strategy games & RPGs - but also some non-pixel-y ones, plus Metroidvanias & visual novels / dating games. That seems like the vibe.
ICO’s Thomas Bidaux did a survey of 2021 trends* on Kickstarter (*2022 coming soon!), which revealed broadly flat video game funding trends, at around $24 million USD (compared to a whopping $272 million USD for tabletop games!) And we suspect video game are still plateauing… this Kicktraq ‘trending’ list gives you an idea of scale.
Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of interest on the low and mid-end for Kickstarter, though, if you can find 2,000 to 5,000 people who share your vision (above). Looks like the # of Kickstarters that end with >$100k is around 60 per year for video games?*
(*Side note: 70% of these >$100k-funded games are in the $100-$200k range, and a lot of them have original goals of $20-$50k. So unless you have a mammoth existing fanbase, that’s probably a realistic expectation. Also don’t forget - KS is marketing as well as funding?)
Finally: board games work great on Kickstarter (here’s some trending KSes!) because the product is - in general - already finished, and you’re really just paying so they can make the physical product and ship it to you. Whereas in video games, which often don’t launch with demos, the final result can feel more uncertain.
That’s where trust comes in. And so let’s get to how and why Mika & The Witch’s Mountain did so well on Kickstarter:
It’s the (Zelda x Ghibli) game pitch, stupid: a YouTube commenter explains the appeal of the current game: “I LOVE the GameCube-feeling Cel Shading art style! It reminds me of my favorite [Zelda] game Wind Waker. Also, Kiki’s Delivery Service is my 2nd favorite Studio Ghibli film, and this reminds me of that!!!” Killer hook.
The dev team is trusted & knows how to structure Kickstarters: as they say in the postmortem: “at Chibig we have launched several Kickstarter campaigns with a similar structure: we prioritize balanced information, interspersing text and images in a pragmatic way and without saturation.” Clear info, previous backers? Both good!
Chibig spent - both pre and during campaign - on paid acquisition: the team grabbed 2,000 more project followers before launch via ads, and it went even better during the Kickstarter, with “maximum ROAS of 285% and an average [KS pledge] of €54, resulting in a 3,250% funded campaign.”
They managed to time a demo to the Kickstarter campaign: this is a key differentiator: “The campaign overlapped with the Steam Next Fest and we released a demo… nearly 25,000… played the demo during the festival, resulting in 20,289 new wishlists.” There was also influencer pickup, leading to more interest and pledges.
After initial success, adding a Switch physical version was key: Chibig noted in its conclusion: “After the great start of the campaign (€100,000 in 24 hours) with almost all digital rewards (16 digital items out of 21)”, they saw ‘stagnation’ in backers. But adding a Switch physical version - and a Mika figure - boosted pledges greatly. (Though it also massively upped delivery complexity!)
At the end of its postmortem, Chibig points out that their $1.4 million Kickstarter haul is hardly all free profit, citing the following costs: “advertising campaigns and agency services (between 30 and 40%)… the costs of production (around 15%) and distribution of the physical elements (between 10 and 12.5%)… the cost of taxes, fees and possible non-payment (around 15%).”
The team at Chibig continues to use Kickstarter heavily, though, and are also running another Kickstarter - for a Summer In Mara spinoff - that has almost $200,000 in funding, with 26 days left to go on the campaign. (This one is also multi-platform.) The path to a series of successful crowdfunders isn’t easy - but it’s definitely possible.
Steam forums: your moderation skills matter, folks!
At GDC this year, Chris Hanney (Space Pirate Trainer, Shredders) did a Steam-centric community management talk entitled ‘Negative Reviews Begin With a Forum Post’ (here’s the slides, and here’s a full Twitter thread explaining the talk in depth.)
His Seinfeld metaphor-driven conclusions? Based on a 3-year study, 10-15% of negative Steam reviews “are caused by unresolved issues in the Steam store” - specifically “people posting things on Steam forums and then waiting… with no reply - and then [writing] a negative review.” And what should we take away from this?
Reviews matter, and resolving player feedback is key - Chris says: “Customers scrutinize a Steam game's page before buying, looking at all detail- from video, key artwork to short description. But it's the peer review section that seals the deal… We should aim to stop negative reviews before writing a [review] response becomes necessary.”
It can be difficult to intercept a forum post before it becomes a negative review: Chris looks at Total War: Warhammer III, with 13.9% of negative reviews coming from unresolved forum requests - but cites one outlier where the negative review is left just 3 minutes after the forum post! (Tricky to intercede.)
But that doesn’t mean to say you can’t make an effort: Chris noted that on Space Pirate Trainer, which he worked on: “We resolved forum issues as soon as they appeared, resulting in a higher positive review ratings and fewer complaints… Only 1.1% of negative reviews came from unresolved forum requests.”
Steam forums with many unresolved bugs make players less likely to buy: When a game launches, if there’s a mess of unreplied-to bugs and no ‘stickied list’ of known issues, GameDiscoverCo thinks it might make an undecided player less likely to buy. Best case for devs or community managers interceding? Shredders has 20% of forum replies made by devs, “a huge outlier”. (But on low post volume!)
Patch notes on Steam are another place to diagnose & resolve problems: Chris notes that: “Forum comments on developer patch notes can be goldmines for frustrated players who only visit the forums for an update in their Steam library. Let's pay attention to feedback in patch notes to improve player experiences!”
There’s an interesting meta-question here about whether it’s truly worth everyone’s time - particularly on big games - to do a great job of this. You may be overwhelmed by comments and issues, and some community members may provide the answers to others as a sort of surrogate support. Is this solution fine, or to some extent a cop-out?
Also: the information you need to resolve these issues often requires direct dev team access & some careful choreography. (It’s not always trivial!) But Chris - and GameDiscoverCo - believes that excellent customer service here can really pay off.
[BONUS: Victoria Tran of Among Us’ recent article on conflict management for community managers is a super-useful adjacent document, even if you’re not having emergency meetings.]
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up for this newsletter, at least until Wednesday, let’s take a gander at the notable platform and discovery news since we last convened a newsletter. Like this:
Alongside a spiffy new commercial (above), Apple rolled out 20 new Apple Arcade titles all at once, including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roguelite, a Disney word game, a What The Golf? spiritual sequel (woo, What The Car?), and a bunch of ‘converts’ from the regular iOS App Store like Hill Climb Racing & Temple Run.
Steam’s redesign of its search feature is well thought-out, since “players can now search directly for your developer or publisher if you have set up a homepage”, and “players can search for any tag, genre, theme, or category and find a link directly to the right store hub to explore those game.” Very handy.
Xbox’s Phil Spencer had a bunch of podcast comments to take note of, last week: “Different vision, won't ‘outconsole Sony & Nintendo’… ‘We lost the worst generation to lose (XB1), where everybody built their digital library of games’.. ‘There's no world where Starfield is 11/10 and people start selling their PS5s’.” They do it theeeeir waaay?
Hypercasual mobile F2P game veteran Voodoo has shifted to ‘hybridcasual’, saying at this point, they “test about 1,500 prototypes annually”, but “our ambition is to release four games per year. So the funnel is really massive, and all those games are not hyper-casual.” Seems like in this often cut-throat space, it’s more about finding a killer micro-hook & then building a bigger game around it…
Ah, there’s more info on the Nintendo Live event, which is indeed taking place alongside PAX West in Seattle from September 1st to 4th. Tickets are free & available by lottery to all (not just PAX West attendees!), though there’s some kind of additional/separate ticket lottery for PAX ticket-holders. Fun times.
We’ll be talking about UGC more this week! But did you know that Epic’s goof-around multiplayer GaaS Fall Guys is getting a Creative Mode on May 10th, where players can build their own levels? Here’s a dev demonstration of the mode, which looks pretty slick, actually. This trend will run and run…
CD Projekt’s oft-forgotten PC platform GOG has revealed a net profit of $1.2 million for 2022 - on $45.3 million in total sales, slightly down YoY, and +11% active users, as they note: “despite our decision of suspending sales of all games on the territories of Russia and Belarus in March , we are returning to the stable level of pre-pandemic growth.” It’ll presumably spike with the next big CDPR title?
Top PlayStation games for April 2023 by paid downloads, according to the Sony crew? It’s Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Dead Island 2 all the way for PlayStation 5, with Pavlov and Creed: Rise to Glory’s update topping downloads* for the curiously quiet PSVR2. And Fortnite, as ever, atop the F2P download charts. (*Some of these units may include cheaper upgrades from the OG PSVR version?)
Interesting to see Amazon & Epic teaming to push Fortnite via cloud: “Amazon and Epic Games just made Fortnite available to players on Amazon’s cloud gaming service, Amazon Luna, in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the UK. Amazon Prime members can start playing the game today as part of their Prime membership, and all other customers can play with an existing Luna+ subscription or by signing up for a free seven-day trial of Luna+.” (I even see it as an ad, after I buy a product on Amazon.)
Microlinks: ten tips for killer mobile game user acquisition, Q2 2023 version; Neal Stephenson’s Lamina1 is trying to create an open metaverse standard, but do people prefer walled gardens?; some stats on recent Steam themed sales & wishlist wins, including 10,000+ for Shapez 2 in Puzzle Fest.
And that’s about all we have for today. See you back on Wednesday for more insight, analysis, and a dad joke or two. We’re GameDiscoverCo: the co that discover the gam.
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]