The funding period for the Ringmaster Kickstarter ended without success. 179 backers (well actually, 183 total: apparently 4 people don't understand how Kickstarter's "all or nothing" funding model works)? That's pretty cool! But, only managing to scrounge up 19% of my goal wasn't pretty cool. So what went wrong? In my post-mortem, I said it was a "combination of reasons". I'll try to break that down further here.
I picked what I'd imagine is an atypical funding period. Since I didn't want to start or end during the holidays, I ran from mid-December until mid-January. The thought was that hardcore fans wouldn't be distracted or feel like their budget was constrained by gift-purchasing. But:
That's NINE DAYS with just three new backers. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is great, but it killed the little momentum that my campaign had. I'm not saying that a Kickstarter with a similar timeline is always doomed - there are several ending in the next few days that have reached or exceeded their funding goals - but it sure doesn't help.
A couple of people asked why I didn't set a lower goal: my answer was that I wouldn't have been able to realize my vision. So what about reducing scope to something less ambitious? Say enough to get down to $20,000: simplify both single and multiplayer, and cut down from 50 wrestlers. Even then, it's more than double the amount that was eventually pledged. But I think that the final pledge number could be a bit misleading, since if people see a project that they think is going to lose, they probably won't back it.
I could have also done more work up-front instead of looking for funding at the prototype stage. If it was a six-month side project, maybe I could have gotten 10K to finish it. But the fact that this project didn't meet its goal as is may mean that more effort up front would only lead to a more painful financial failure down the line.
And, I hate doing side projects.
Marketing is something that I had very little experience in, but it's vital to the success of a campaign - Kickstarter hammers this home in "Kickstarter School":
An exceptional project can lead to outpourings of support from all corners of the web, but for most projects, support comes from within their own networks and their networks’ networks. If you want people to back your project you have to tell them about it. More than once! And in a variety of ways!
I came into this project with a really strong pro wrestling network. I was able to get the support of Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez, who run the industry's most influential publications in WO/F4W. I got some help from other influencers like Chris Harrington of Indeed Wrestling and author Paul O'Brien. I managed to get myself booked on close to 20 podcasts. I also partnered with indy wrestlers like Adam Pearce and Bobby Phobia. On the wrestling side of things, I probably couldn't have done much better (unless I somehow had partnered with WWE, but they would have never done that unless the project was already a rousing success).
However, I'm not well connected in the game industry at all. I did manage to get a quick post on Kotaku, but almost nothing on other sites. This was despite pitching to video game writers who are known to be wrestling fans. Why did I fail to get press? Maybe my pitch sucked. Maybe the project just wasn't that interesting. Or maybe it was another casualty of timing, and the press was too busy with other stories and the holidays to bother with a Kickstarter project that was far short of its goal.
Another popular question, maybe even the most popular question: "what about Android?" The tone is often as if thinking that it will only take a moment to support, naive to the reality that it would have doubled the budget of the project. Anybody that knows me knows that I'm not a huge fan of either Google or Android, but that's not why I went iOS-only. Rather it's because supporting other platforms would have made this whole thing even more expensive. The hope was that going Universal and supporting both iPhone and iPad would have appeased many who owned an Android phone but happened to have an iPad.
Here's the breakdown of reward popularity:
Kickstarter claims that the average pledge amount, site wide, is $70. In my case, it was $32.50. Mine was boosted a bit by the $40 reward level, in which backers could add content to a fairly prominent spot in the game without spending too much money. Originally I was going to put this reward level at $30, and I'm glad I went a little higher, as it proved to be more popular than the iBook.
Since Kickstarter also says that $25 is the most popular pledge level, I do think it was a shame that so few people went for the iBook. Initially, this book was going to be just a strategy guide. Later, when I partnered with O'Brien and the comic book creators, I realized there was room for more content. I was hoping that these additions would make the iBook more enticing and people would adjust their pledges. Nobody did. Part of the blame lies in the fact that I couldn't actually change the copy for the reward level since there were already pledges at that amount. Kickstarter's rules. I tried to make the case to Kickstarter support that adding some pages in iBooks Author would be a minimal amount of work and was unlikely to turn into an empty promise, but they wouldn't budge.
I also went with a price anchoring method (another thanks to Chris Harrington for his advice here) to make the $300 "Create a Wrestler" reward level seem like a bargain. It worked, as a few pledged at that amount, but I suppose it didn't work well enough.
I also didn't have a $5 reward level despite the fact that that would be the likely retail price of the game. A large number of $5 pledges wouldn't help much in terms of reaching the goal, so I wanted to start at $10. But I didn't want that $10 to be a rip-off, and just putting the name of a backer in the credits didn't seem like enough. And of course, it came to me in the shower: what if I made that name a tappable link that could go anywhere the backer wanted? Being the first Kickstarter to do that is something I've claimed since the beginning of the campaign, and nobody has disagreed with me. So even though my Kickstarter failed, I can say that I invented something.
When it comes down to it, 180 backers isn't very many. Maybe there just weren't enough people that want to see a pro wrestling promoter sim on iOS. It's a niche (promoter sim fans) of a niche (pro wrestling fans), of a niche (those who own iOS devices). And maybe that's not a market large enough to make it worth developing a $30,000 game for.