Transparency: Why Crowfall Did Crowdfunding Right

Kickstarters are a mess if not done well. How did Crowfall do its campaign well? Larry Everett explains.

Hopefully, you’ve heard that Crowfall hit its Kickstarter goal this morning.

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Congratulations to the team at ArtCraft. It’s not an easy feat to raise $800,000 in 72 hours. On Wednesday morning, Crowfall launched its Kickstarter campaign. Within its first 24 hours the game was more than halfway funded, then just a few hours ago, it passed its goal. And whether or not Crowfall is ultimately a successful game is yet to be seen, but it did crowdfunding right.

Crowfall isn’t the only game to do crowdfunding right. Double Fine did a wonderful job with Broken Age. Arguably, it can be said that Star Citizen did it right, too. However, some games that came out of Kickstarter, even the ones that hit their funding goals didn’t exactly win in the end.

What makes a good Kickstarter campaign? What was so right on about Crowfall’s Kickstarter?


Crowfall hit the mark: openness about outside investment

Crowfall’s Kickstarter campaign actually started well before we even knew that the game would even have a Kickstarter. As is mentioned in the Kickstarter video, developers Gordon Walton and J. Todd Coleman did have money to begin the game. Besides much of their own money, Walton and Coleman mention that they did have investors to begin the campaign. As much as I’m sure designers would like to start with nothing when jumping into the Kickstarter campaign, that will only spell defeat in the end.

Crowfall also started advertising and building hype for the game before we even knew what it was or who was involved. The first teasers for Crowfall in December didn’t even mention the name of the game, but rather they teased the feeling of the game. This is the first teaser:

Where did we go wrong?

There was a time when our industry took CHANCES.

Our games didn’t have to appeal to everyone, and we didn’t judge ourselves solely on mass market success.

The amusement park games, it’s impossible to lose. With sandbox games, it’s impossible to win.

If you can’t win and you can’t lose, then

What’s the point of playing?

Just like Double Fine’s campaign prior, this began its Kickstarter campaign by finding the gap in the industry. Kickstarter is not designed for the mass market. They are meant to show that a lot of people are still interested in niche ideas. And this is where Crowfall started. It’s also where Broken Age started, and The Repopulation started there, too.

Another thing Crowfall did, which can backfire if not done carefully, is keeping parts of the game under wraps. In a column called Transparency, it might seem hypocritical to say that I believe that games should keep anything secret. But the idea behind this secret wasn’t strictly to prevent people from find out what’s going on, instead rather helped build hype for the game.

Setting backer expectations

Another item that I believe worked in Crowfall’s favor was that the focus was on the team making the game. Before the details of the game were released we learned that Walton, Coleman, and MMO industry icon Raph Koster were working on the game. Double Fine’s game had industry great Tim Schafer, Shroud of the Avatar had spaceman Richard Garriott, and Star Citizen has the Wing Commander himself Chris Roberts at the helm.

Crowfall also set realistic goals. The developers know what it’s going to take to get the game made. The Repopulation, another MMO Kickstarted rather recently, ran with its first campaign with a really small goal of $25,000, which confused the hell out of anyone who knew anything about the cost of making an MMO. The company did another one that was only set for $50,000, which still made people wonder what the designers were thinking. Crowfall was realistic about how much it needed to make the game. In reality, it’s still probably low, but it’s more realistic at $800,000 than The Repopulation was at $75,000 total.

The backers for Crowfall know exactly what they are getting into. Of course, we can’t expect everyone who backs the game to read all the fine print, but it’s all there. If all the details of the game are not laid out on the Kickstarter page, then a Crowfall has an amazingly complete website to check out everything the game has to offer.

Keeping up the good work

Of course, Crowfall just started, and if time tells us anything there will be mistakes made along the way. But mistakes are OK if they are fixed promptly and fairly. But what things should Crowfall do to avoid some possible mistakes.

For instance, it is in Crowfall’s best interest to remain open about what it’s doing and how development is coming along. As we saw with Double Fine, the backers were able to see the progression of Broken Age as it grew. When things came up that the studio wasn’t expecting, then Schafer would make a video and explain what was going on. Of course, there was some backlash, but that didn’t really cause too much trouble for the game as a whole.

Assuming Crowfall can stay on the course that it’s on, then there will be little for backers to complain about. Unfortunately, creative mediums need to have some fluidity. Under normal development, we can see the whole course of a game change from what it was originally intended to be at the beginning. Kickstarted games can’t do that.

Ask Peter Molyneux. His game Godus shifted from a regular game you’d play on your PC or console to a mobile game, and the backers revolted in a horrible way. The actions of some of the backers was inexcusable, but the sentiment was understandable.

I’m looking forward to watching Crowfall develop.

I usually don’t back Kickstarter projects, but this one looks like it might actually be worth my time. It fits a niche I am really interested in. Even if the game falls on its face after launch, it will be worth the investment just to see the game made.

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Larry Everett
Don't use a lightsaber to spark up your cigarette.