Near the beginning of 2013, my company decided to step out of our box a bit. Despite technically being a data analysis company and not a game studio, we decided that a game was in our future. We introduced the concept for The Game of Books – a gaming engine for readers – on Kickstarter in an effort to gain interest in the project and test the concept against the actual market.
The effort was ultimately successful, raising $110,000 over the course of a few weeks and becoming the 7th largest publishing project in Kickstarter history (The Game of Books is as much a “Big Data” publishing project as it is a game project).
What we didn’t realize was how astronomically unreasonable our initial $102,364 target had been. We shouldn’t have made it. Despite the occasional well-publicized project that seems to magically generate millions of dollars in backing, Kickstarter really doesn’t fund big ticket projects that often. In fact, at the time our project closed, only 400 projects in the history of Kickstarter had ever raised more than $100,000. Put another way, 99.55% of all Kickstarter projects never raise more than $100,000. Those that try to raise that amount are being somewhat naive, and those that actually make it are the benefactors of a rare breed that I call, “sculpted luck” – an odd type of luck that seems to get more common when you work really, really hard to create it.
“15 days before our close our chances looked very bleak.”
To this day, I have a very clear idea of how the things we did lead to our success – or at least impacted our success – but I’ll never shake the feeling that in the end none of it would have mattered without a healthy dose of random luck. Seven days before the end of the campaign, there was no assurance that we were going to make it. In fact, 15 days before our close our chances looked very bleak. Despite having a number of very generous corporate sponsors to back us, we were not on track to reach our goal.
I’ll never forget an e-mail exchange I had with one of Kickstarter’s employees, who was helping us through some technical difficulties we were having.
She was very kind, but it was clear that they considered our goal to be somewhat lofty. At one point she suggested that we consider canceling our goal of $102,364 and relaunching with something more achievable, like $25,000. We were attempting to do what 99.55% of Kickstarters had never done, and it wasn’t until after we’d launched that we realized how insane that was.
But this is the life of an independent, or any start-up. Audacity, followed by mixed results, followed by audacity, followed by failure, followed by audacity, followed by failure, audacity, and eventually, hopefully, success. And then hopefully success again. It’s a cycle that – again, hopefully – returns to its beginning more rarely with each cycle.
Kickstarter as a funding mechanism was both an electrifying and terrifying experience. I remember reading an interview with gaming legend Peter Molyneux, creator of classics like Populous. Peter was running a Kickstarter campaign for his new game, Godus, at about the same time that we were running ours, and at one point in the interview he says, “By definition, Kickstarter is one of the most intensely scary experiences you can ever undertake.” He’s right. That describes it perfectly. Nearly all Kickstarter campaigns start with a bit of a kick as you recruit your friends and family to take part, and push an initial media campaign. Then there’s this long period in the middle where you seem to lose momentum.