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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessPoncho - Kickstarter Failure post-mortem
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Danny Hayes
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« on: October 04, 2014, 04:27:34 AM »

Hey guys,

So now the Poncho kickstarter has failed, after a ton of work and hopes and dreams being thrown into it. So now I’m writing this post-mortem to show others where it went right and where it went wrong.

It sucks. We really did risk everything on this, all of our resources and time went into it, but we failed anyway. We followed all the general tips and practices for running a Kickstarter, here’s a list of the main things we did to get funded and generate a crowd:

1

We did a couple of months worth of pre-Kickstarter stuff, we made a trailer, we did a press release telling LOADS of press about our incoming Kickstarter, posted on Reddit and various forums, tweeted like crazy, made a facebook page and generally tried to wave Poncho around on the internet; without any prior games of note, we tried to build an audience for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the Press ignored our emails and press releases. Ah well, the Kickstarter isn’t even running yet…

2

We submitted the Kickstarter for review. We had the launch now button, but we thought it would be better to have them review it so that we’d have better chances of getting staff picked which is important for visibility. That didn’t happen at all, we basically got an email 4 days later with a sentence in it which approximately read “Project looks fine, launch away!”, so we hit the button.

At the same time as submitting for review, we launched our Steam Greenlight campaign. We got a surge in popularity there, but that surge was pretty much over by the time the Kickstarter launched. That sucked.

In hindsight, we should have just used the launch now option. For no visibility benefit, we lost a few days of our Kickstarter since we chose to end on a particular date. D:

3

The Kickstarter launched, we did another press release, more posting on various forums, new trailer, more rampant tweeting, we sponsored the sup holmes show on youtube. After about 2 hours, the kickstarter had generated around £1200 and had something like 74 shares on Facebook. It looked like everything was going to be ok.

Unfortunately, the Press ignored our emails and press releases. I guess maybe they overloaded with stuff right now, maybe they’ll post about it later?

4

The next couple of days we generated about an extra £200 a day. Compared to £1200 in the first two hours, this wasn’t great. We didn’t expect to hit the “trough” of the campaign so early. We frantically sent our more emails to press and to friends and family to tell others about the campaign. Obviously lots of tweeting and stuff too.

We couldn’t help but notice that we weren’t staff picked yet, but a couple of kinda awful games on kickstarter literally without a single backer had been chosen instead. A little infuriating, but it’s ok, maybe we’ll be staff picked later.

What happens if you’re not staff picked? Well at best you’re displayed on page 5 or so of the games section on the site, at worst you’re at the bottom on page 16 or so. Projects are cycled through the listings as time goes on, so anyone trawling through kickstarter had to do some serious clicking to find Poncho. Our page was officially buried.

We started doing some cross promotion with other campaigns too, which helped a little.

At this point we had been crunching to get the Alpha demo ready for people to play. That should help. When people can play the game it’ll be better…

Once again, no replies from press. And when I say we email loads of press, I’m talking like 100 emails. We go to all the little guys and the big ones. I have to wonder what we’re doing wrong? Hmm…

5

Just over a week into the campaign, our Alpha demo is ready! Time to get some Youtubers on side.

We added the desktop demo for download on the project page, as well as developing a web version on various portals on the web to get some more visibility.

We also sent the demo out to around 600 youtubers who do let’s plays of games. All big and small with between a few hundred or many millions of subscribers. Of those, only about a dozen actually did videos, with a few more coming in when the kickstarter was about to end anyway.

We also got staff picked! How come this happened at this point and not before? Well I basically emailed their support team and said: “Why isn’t this staff picked?”. As the campaign had continued I saw other games that had no gameplay footage, or even no video to show, getting staff picked and still not getting backers while we had a nice looking thing getting buried.

Their support team said “Sorry, we’ll pass this on to our editorial team” at which point we were staff picked. So there you go.

We also sent the demo out to the press again. Now, over a week in, some smaller or start up press sites blogged about the game and we got a couple of articles. But, none of the bigger ones like Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, etc, had replied yet.

6

The next few weeks was spent attacking every social media we could. We also did a few video diaries for updates and announced new platforms. By the end of this period, we were about 25% funded.

We did get a small blog post from destructoid, which sent us several new backers. But it was only a two paragraph deal, so it wasn’t too effective. Still, nice to see something out there.

7

EGX.

EGX was our spark, it was an incredibly tiring and daunting experience but we were on the show floor right there with gratuitous space battles 2 and Volume and some other hard hitters. It was surreal to say the least.

Here we started to get a big boost to the campaign after meeting press and getting lots more posting about the game. We also handed out fliers and the like, and responses to the game were generally very positive.

We had hoped to go out with a bang with EGX, and hoped that people would scramble to fund it after seeing Poncho was only in it’s final days. While we did should up around 10%, it wasn’t enough.

Once again, pretty much ignored by press. Not one post from any of the larger sites.

8

It’s over. Poncho has failed to reach it’s funding, with over 415 backers and 36% of the needed cash.

The main point to draw from this is, getting press attention is bloody important. Only 40% of the total backers came through Kickstarter, the rest were from links posted around the net. If we had gotten just a  couple of posts on the bigger sites at the beginning, then maybe we would have succeeded.

I really don’t know what we did wrong in that regard, maybe it’s just bad luck. But it killed the game, anyway.

And now here we are, the campaign is over and we’re still doing this. Why? Because some publishers have seen the potential that Poncho has, and so we still get to make this thing. I hope everyone likes the full game as much as they liked the demo when we release it in the Springtime! Azn

That’s all for now, I hope this post helps anyone thinking about doing their own kickstarter!  Coffee

– Danny –
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erebusman
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2014, 06:57:22 PM »

Thanks for the post-mortem very interesting.

Are you guys outside of the US?  The amount you were asking for several people to survive for 6 months seemed really low and unrealistic? 

Do you feel that your low asking point potentially turned people off thinking you were inexperienced and couldn't possibly make a game with that amount?

I noticed on you said that you guys had worked on it for two years and now you need funding to work for 6 more months (full time) but this also gave me a 'doesn't ring true' vibe.  Did you get any comments from forums, backers, posts, media about your time frame and expectations about finishing?


I'm not asking these to be a shit ; I'm genuinely curious about these points. I'm considering a kickstarter one day for my project and I read a lot about them.  I found those items curious and I really would like to know if you considered them, or anyone gave you concerns about them?  Maybe I'm the only one thinking that and therefore it wasn't a factor?

Thanks
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Danny Hayes
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« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2014, 02:57:46 AM »

Hi Erebusman,

Yeah you're right, the amount is pretty low. But we did do the calculations, and it was based on what the 3 of us needed to get through 6 months, based on our cost of living for the 3 months we were full time before the campaign. We're in the UK also. I don't think the asking price turned people off, when people spoke about it we mainly heard how that amount was about right.

We also never really heard anything to the tune of "will you be able to finish it in that time?", my previous job was as a project manager and lead programmer, so I have a little experience in organising timelines for games.

I think the most important thing when it comes to funding and prices is the cost of rewards I think with backers. We had a a T-shirt and full digital package deal at £50, which was a bad price for what people were getting, so it was our least successful reward.
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Christian Knudsen
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« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2014, 05:12:44 AM »

To be quite honest, I imagine a lot of people feel like it's perhaps a bit too inspired by Fez instead of being its own thing. You've got similar pixelart, very similar music and the name is a clothing item worn by the main character. Instead of rotating the scene, you're jumping between layers, which is certainly a different mechanic, but it's still a world perspective gimmick.

It's a bit of a pity, because you've clearly put a lot of work into this and the pixelart is gorgeous (though perhaps a bit too busy, making it hard to distinguish layers), so I'm glad that you've got a publisher interested and will continue to develop the game.
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Danny Hayes
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« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2014, 05:47:09 AM »

Yeah, we do get compared to Fez a bit, since it's a pixel art game with a 3D mechanic. Though it was purely accidental that we ended up with something similar, we were thinking about changing the name of the game because of the comparison, but we felt that anything other than Poncho would be wrong. I don't really mind being compared, as long as the game feels right to me, so it's not so bad.

People seem to really like it though, reviews have been good so far! I hope people still like it when it comes out in 6 months or so, but yeah thank god we were able to get publishers on board. :D
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« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2014, 05:58:53 AM »

Sorry to hear that the KS failed. Overall it looks like you ran a pretty solid campaign, and as someone whose run a KS before- it's very exhausting so I applaud all the hard work you put into it. A few notes I would say based on my own limited experience:

1.) Don't sweat the Greenlight not launching at the same time as the KS. There are hundreds of projects that have launched a GL and a KS at the same time (mine included) and despite positive responses, thousands of Yes votes or in some cases- quick greenlights, the translation from someone browsing GL to backing on KS is well below 1%. There are probably interesting stats behind this but I generally assume this with the fact people dont browse GL looking to buy anything. They're probably just bored.

2.) The only point of critique I would have from your campaign is the lack of "meaty" updates. There are some good updates but generally the updates are loaded with other KS projects (feels like Im browsing KS again) or a general status update on the status of the campaign (which lets be honest, wont excite many backers). Before we launched our KS (granted it was smaller) we planned out project updates about the game for a minimum of every other day of the campaign. We never cross promoted and we found that quality updates generally lead to backers increasing pledges. I don't know if this is related to them feeling like they've made a good investment or that seeing more content got them excited? But we deliberately held some content out of the main page on launch and just revealed more and more. In example, we had one person back at the $7 early bird, increase to $25, $50 and then $125 over the course of the campaign as various updates were posted.

3.) All is not lost. You now have a mailing list of 400+ of active KS backers that you can easily leverage a message to in the event you either relaunch or at some point down the road, launch another KS for a different game. That's a good size pool of backers that could create a nice boost to the start of a campaign.

Best of luck with the future of Poncho. Do you feel you've made it far enough to continue development on a part time basis or do you plan on moving to a smaller project (or scaling back Poncho to a smaller scale game)?
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rj
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« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2014, 06:14:31 AM »

To be quite honest, I imagine a lot of people feel like it's perhaps a bit too inspired by Fez instead of being its own thing. You've got similar pixelart, very similar music and the name is a clothing item worn by the main character. Instead of rotating the scene, you're jumping between layers, which is certainly a different mechanic, but it's still a world perspective gimmick.

It's a bit of a pity, because you've clearly put a lot of work into this and the pixelart is gorgeous (though perhaps a bit too busy, making it hard to distinguish layers), so I'm glad that you've got a publisher interested and will continue to develop the game.

my girlfriend brought this up actually as her primary theory as to why it wasn't funded, and i think honestly the biggest issue is that the stuff the KS showed was very fez-esque; the junkyard from the demo is much more compelling and unique than the forest, which draws unnecessary comparisons with the natural environments of fez.

even if you didn't try to do this, i think it hurt you in the long run to focus on the less mechanical areas of your world. i also think that your lack of a traditional kickstarter video (i.e. one with a talking head) hurt it too, perhaps.
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Danny Hayes
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« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2014, 07:05:09 AM »

Yeah, but unfortunately the forest levels make up 60% if the game, since it's based on a ruined world overgrown with life. But yeah, I've learned a lot of lessons for the future game for sure. Smiley
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« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2014, 11:06:20 AM »

Thanks for sharing your experiences...

From my own viewing of your KS project. my single biggest issue is your promo video... I always watch the video first... you waste 30 seconds with slow paced and boring stuff.  None of the devs appear in the video. I don't get a connection or feel of who I'm backing, and that alone would make me probably not back your project... I mean I can always buy your game once you finish it, KS to me, is me investing in people who I feel inspire me.. As much as it is backing a project..

So for future KS's More action and pace, especially early, have your team or at least you talking on camera about the project and what you want to achieve, your history etc people like to know more about who they're backing, not just the project.
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« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2014, 01:20:25 PM »

You have a great project, so sorry it didn't cross the line.

I feel your pain directly - I've got 3 days left on my KS and while funding levels are ok, backer numbers are abysmal.

If it makes you feel any better - we had an excellent marketing campaign which resulted in articles in IGN, gamasutra, Rock Paper Shotgun plus some huge youtubers played (e.g. pewdiepie) yet this failed to even make a noticeable change in our backer numbers.
I've been trying to figure out what the problem is, but it is just puzzling.  If a bunch of people told me my project sucks or whatever then at least I could address the problems, but there's nothing even like that so I'm just guessing.

And re: being featured - I also don't get it.  I think I'll follow your lead and message them directly.

Anyway, this is just a stepping stone. You have built up a valuable fan base so you will still be successful!  Coffee
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Danny Hayes
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« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2014, 01:31:29 PM »

Thanks guys. your advice is much appreciated! I'm just treating the KS as being a learning experience.  Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2014, 11:30:00 PM »

Be aware that NONE of your friend will tell you what's wrong with your game, even if they know what's wrong.
And almost all your fellow dev will do the same. Sometime I do it on Tig and I only look like a jackass.. And that's why no one do it. No one want to look like a jackass Smiley
Vlambeer made a talk about it recently. You are not nice friend if you don't tell what's wrong. Part of the success of most indie star is because they have fellow dev that can tell them the truth and they can handle it to make a better game.

I don't think being like fez is a bad thing. If people buy and like Fez, they can think that they will have fun playing Poncho too, and buy it. People likes to play game they already played before (in the same genre).

Poncho lack one big thing: a marketing story, something to talk about it.
I imagine me around a table with my friend. There is a blank in the conversation. How can I talk about Poncho to my friend, and look cool ? "I heard of this cool pixel art platformer, where you can switch planes". No I won't look cool Smiley
The same on facebook. And the game can be fantastic, it's not the point. I can't pitch your game to my friends.

Journalist seeks stories too, not games. They seek something that their readers can talk about on twitter/facebook.

You can talk about your game and find a story in it, or you can talk about your team and find something cool about it.
Try to pitch every successful indie game to your friend. You will see how easy it is.

The only other "problem" I saw, is probably starting your kickstarter before EGX. It should has been the other way.
(and your EGX stand cost you probably a lot!)
But I don't see any other mistake. You handle everything else perfectly for me.
I hope to do as well in the organisation as you did when I will do my kickstarter.

PS: I may be wrong.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2014, 11:35:57 PM by WildFactor » Logged

Danny Hayes
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« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2014, 12:00:35 AM »

Yeah, well there were other features than the main game mechanic, such as the randomly generated creatures and NPC's, that we try to use to make the game seem more special. There's also some other stuff that's not in that demo that I hope people will like, which I can talk about it eventually. Smiley

People also seem to like the story, about a robot who wakes up in a post apocalyptic world and begins a journey to find his maker. Though again, as you say, a good critique can be hard to find surprisingly amongst the gaming community.

But yes, harsh criticism is really what we need. Other than the odd: "It's reminiscent of FEZ" or "That shifting blocks level made me ragequit!" comment, it's mostly people talking about how good it is, so the more bad things we pick out of the game now, the better.

And yeah, I WISH we had started our campaign with EGX!  Facepalm We were hoping that we would get press at the beginning and then end with a bang in the 48 kickstarter "rush", but that didn't happen...  I mean well, we did get more lots more backers, but not enough.
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« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2014, 12:51:18 AM »

Story: I'm talking about the marketing story, not game story.

Example Fez:
- Game Story: Tribal folk. The one-eyed ones who're only able to see and exist in two-dimensions etc...
- Marketing story: Phil Fish is an asshole he doesn't like Japanees.
Which story do you think made the head line ?

"randomly generated creatures and NPC's," I don't see it explain in the video. It's still not something I can pitch to my geek friends or start a conversation with.


I don't question the quality of the game, which look fantastic. And I will back you again if you start another kickstarter Smiley
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joe_eyemobi
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« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2014, 01:06:05 PM »

Hey Danny, did you just go through the support page to ask the KS guys to feature you?  Or did you find an email for them?  I went through the support form, but I've had no replies at all.  Shrug
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Danny Hayes
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« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2014, 01:52:20 PM »

Hey Danny, did you just go through the support page to ask the KS guys to feature you?  Or did you find an email for them?  I went through the support form, but I've had no replies at all.  Shrug

Hi, yeah I used the support form, it took them like 10 days or so to reply. They are sloooooow.....
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rj
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« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2014, 02:21:18 PM »

Be aware that NONE of your friend will tell you what's wrong with your game, even if they know what's wrong.
And almost all your fellow dev will do the same. Sometime I do it on Tig and I only look like a jackass.. And that's why no one do it. No one want to look like a jackass Smiley

this explains why a lot of my posts are critical analysis replies to devlogs that have no other posts besides the OP

i have no problem being a jackass

that's probably why i was one of the few people who gave a massive tear down of the poncho demo, too

tbh more people should be jackasses it's lonely
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joe_eyemobi
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« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2014, 03:04:12 PM »

Hey Danny, did you just go through the support page to ask the KS guys to feature you?  Or did you find an email for them?  I went through the support form, but I've had no replies at all.  Shrug

Hi, yeah I used the support form, it took them like 10 days or so to reply. They are sloooooow.....
Actually just got a reply from them telling me to piss off - oh well we tried
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joe_eyemobi
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« Reply #18 on: October 06, 2014, 03:22:24 PM »

Be aware that NONE of your friend will tell you what's wrong with your game, even if they know what's wrong.
And almost all your fellow dev will do the same. Sometime I do it on Tig and I only look like a jackass.. And that's why no one do it. No one want to look like a jackass Smiley

this explains why a lot of my posts are critical analysis replies to devlogs that have no other posts besides the OP

i have no problem being a jackass

that's probably why i was one of the few people who gave a massive tear down of the poncho demo, too

tbh more people should be jackasses it's lonely

I like jackasses (not to be confused with trolls!) as long as they are objective and can back up their critique with logic/facts Smiley 
Speaking of which can you offer me an opinion on why my KS has bugger all backers lately.  Feel free to comment on my thread so we don't hijack Danny's one:
http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=43244.0
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Danny Hayes
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« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2014, 01:10:19 AM »

this explains why a lot of my posts are critical analysis replies to devlogs that have no other posts besides the OP

i have no problem being a jackass

that's probably why i was one of the few people who gave a massive tear down of the poncho demo, too

tbh more people should be jackasses it's lonely

Yeah, that was actually a super helpful tear down and we would have had more ragequits at EGX without that critique. Playtesting followed by harsh truths is important!
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