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Anatomy of a Kickstarter Campaign

Quite some time has passed since Kickstarter caught the industry’s attention. This year many of the early successes are starting to reveal the fruits of their campaigns. In the wake of all this, I decided to pull apart some of the more famous Kickstarter projects and see what they have in common.

This is partially a guide for potential developers looking to get into Kickstarter and partially a guide for consumers trying to decide whether their backing is going to be put towards something that will bear fruit. And fruit that someone who isn’t about to die from starvation could stand to eat. So glove up, grab a scalpel, and get ready to dissect in Professor Sam’s BIO 404 class.

The Idea

As with everything, we are starting with the idea. That’s pretty much Kickstarter’s core model: selling a number of people on only an idea. The point though is to find one with a well-thought idea. That includes everything you could or could not think of. Who’s going to make the music, or the art? How exactly are the funds being spent? The idea planning even extends to the stretch goals. Some people throw together stretch goals after their campaigns are met with early approval. This often leads to the developers making promises they are not completely capable of keeping.

[Lecturer’s note: As much as some may deride attempts to curry extra favor through the familiar, most people will collapse like a soufflé made of disposable income when facing the thunderclap of nostalgia. It is likely the same principle that has been spreading sequelitis to the mainstream console development studios; sequels are relatively safe investments. Just look at a number of the biggest Kickstarter projects: Wasteland 2 from the original post-apocalyptic RPG in 1988, Shroud of the Avatar from the entire Ultima series, and Torment: Tides of Numenera spiritually from the 1999 Planescape: Torment. My honor, however, demands I attempt to dissuade potential developers from trying to fund a Kickstarter off nostalgia alone.]

Kickstarter is a dangerous thing.

Nostalgia is one helluva drug.

The Team

Many of the higher profile Kickstarters have teams formed of ex-members of more traditional development teams or teams of traditional developers moving into untraditional territory. Either way, the key to this step is to clearly and prominently display the team’s credentials. Here’s a bit of strange example but let’s look at Obsidian Entertainment. They are rather well-known for games like Fallout: New Vegas and KOTOR 2, so they listed their previous experiences as a team. It helps reassure potential backers that the developers have a decent pedigree and reputation, as well as a reputation that could be damaged if the team fails to deliver the promised game.

The Presentation

A clear cut, well-defined Kickstarter page is key. Example, you say? Take a look at Star Citizen’s Kickstarter page; I go back every time I need to cry. It’s just that wonderful. A well-designed and formatted campaign page makes viewers feel like the developers put a little forethought and effort into displaying themselves. You could have the best idea and all the skill to make it real but a jumbled mess of a page could very well push backers away. It all comes back to professionalism.

Anticipated? ...Maybe...yes.

The Prestige

Advertising is always important; it will always be important no mater what stage of the campaign the project is at. “The prestige” is when you bring everyone back, that point right after your first big surge of backers. Developers, you’ll know it when you see it. The prestige demands updates. If you want backers to return and continue to directly or indirectly drive up traffic to your campaign you must give them updates. The updates can be about anything: new technology you’ve just implemented, a soundtrack that has been updated slightly, a new piece of concept art, or even just an audio log. It doesn’t matter, there just has to be updates upon updates upon updates upon yet more news upon updates. So many updates that backers will want to bite their ears off and pluck their eyes out to stop the never-ending barrage of information. Okay, maybe not to that extreme. But a steady drip of information is necessary to both inform the backers on progress in the studio and keep developers honest about how the game is evolving as it struts down the runway to release.


No Kickstarter is a 100% safe investment but if the campaign has all these vital organs, it is the closest to perfection one can hope for.