Niche – a community-based Kickstarter campaign

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Niche is a game about about the scientific topic of population genetics – which is quite unusual for a successful Kickstarter campaign. But the team had some very innovative ideas that helped engaging their community.

On  April 28th we launched our Kickstarter campaign. What we wanted, above all, was to strengthen bonds with our community through an exciting adventure. By the campaign’s end, 2,838 backers had supported us with a total of 72,375 Dollars (which is 482 percent of our funding goal).

All the PR and marketing was handled by our indie developer team of four people. Our team decided to go for a funding goal we were sure we could reach and extend the game’s content through stretch goals. Neither money nor marketing was the main goal of this campaign.

About the Game

»Niche« is a turn-based simulation/strategy game about the scientific topic of population genetics. Players shape their own animal species and find an ecological niche for it to live in. Hungry predators, climate change and spreading sickness constantly challenge the species survival. Resource management and smart breeding based on real genetics are key in Niche.

mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_01a mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_01c  mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_01f mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_01b

mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_01d
Niche is a turn-based simulation/strategy game, where players shape their own animal species while facing predators, climate change or sickness.

Before Launch

»You must have a community before launching your Kickstarter!« For us, this sentence was utterly true. We could never have reached the same level of funding without our small, but dedicated fan-base. Over the past year, we visited various events (such as GDC, gamescom and Game Connection) and posted frequently on social media (mostly Facebook and Twitter) in order to connect with people that are interested in our game idea. We entered the Kickstarter with a small, but loyal following of around 700 people.

A few weeks before we started the campaign, Niche had passed Steam Greenlight. There had never been so much positive energy in our tester group before. Reaching a shared goal together was a great feeling that we wanted to replicate with our Kickstarter campaign. Thanks to the Greenlight we had already produced most of the PR material for our campaign, most notably the trailer for Niche. However, there was a downside to launching the Kickstarter campaign after having our game Greenlit: If we would have launched Greenlight in parallel with our Kickstarter, all the yes-voters would have been potential backers. We tried reaching out to the Greenlight yes-voters again when the campaign launched, but our Kickstarter announcement was only seen by a handful of people.

With most of our PR material in place, the rewards turned out to be the most time-consuming aspect of the pre-launch phase. We went through many iterations, restructuring the rewards, asking for feedback, restructuring them again. Each of the reward tiers was named after an animal, starting with the »Frugal Frog« tier of 1 Dollar up to 5,000 Dollars for the »Benevolent Blue Whale« tier. Our stretch goals and community goals were designed to follow a specific concept. We let potential backers know that their actions would influence the evolution of the animal species in the game.

During the process of restructuring rewards, we came up with a new reward concept that we haven’t seen before. We named our new approach »Shared Reward Tiers«. The concept is simple: We offered a reward tier with a limited quantity. If all these rewards were taken, we would implement a new feature in the game that all backers would benefit from. These community rewards were very popular amongst our backers.

The team tried an approach »Shared Reward Tiers« that turned out to be very popular amongst backers, adding new features to the game if a certain reward tier was taken completely.
The team tried an approach »Shared Reward Tiers« that turned out to be very popular amongst backers, adding new features to the game if a certain reward tier was taken completely.

We decided against Early Bird and Kickstarter exclusive rewards in order avoid splitting our community into winners and losers, based on the great advice from Stonemaier Game’s book »A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide« (EDS Publications Ltd., 2015). Stonemaier’s insights also convinced us to add a 1 Dollar reward tier, because it lets people join the update loop to build up trust in our efforts. Many of our 1 Dollar backers later increased their pledge to a higher tier. There are many Kickstarter experienced developers out there who are happy to help. KeokeN Interactive was a huge help for us.

There are just so many small things to pay attention to, such as adding a »We are on Kickstarter«-button on your website, changing your Facebook and Twitter information to mention your campaign, telling all your friends about it, sending out announcement newsletters etc. This list goes on forever.

In terms of campaign length, we decided to go with a 33 day Kickstarter. We were advised by multiple sources that a game studio’s first crowdfunding campaign benefits from a longer campaign duration, because the news of your game needs time to spread. We didn’t believe it at first, but it was definitely the right thing to do. A few more days would probably have benefited us even more.

Playful Oasis

A year ago, we founded Playful Oasis – a collective of indie game developers, who are working on nature and biology related games. The collective currently consists of 25 indie teams from all over the world. Five members had run a Kickstarter campaign prior to our launch and promised to give us a shout-out, which turned out to be a great push for the first few days. Two other members (Slug Disco and Axon Interactive) were running their campaigns at the same time as ours. This was beneficial for all three teams. We spent many hours strategizing together and did a lot of cross-promotion.

Playful Oasis is a collective of currently 25 indie game developers, who are working on nature and biology related games.
Playful Oasis is a collective of currently 25 indie game developers, who are working on nature and biology related games.

YouTubers and Streamers

YouTubers and streamers have become important allies for game developers. They are in direct contact with potential buyers or in our case backers and can significantly increase a campaign’s reach. We prepared a special challenge for them. If a YouTuber/streamer managed to beat the challenge, they’d receive a bunch of Early Access keys for Niche as a giveaway for their viewers. We made a list of content creators who’d potentially be interested in our game. They were selected mostly by browsing YouTube for »let’s play«-videos of games that had themes similar to Niche. We sent out a total of 50 emails and challenged each YouTuber/streamer via a short pitch text. Ten of them answered our call and promised to create a video during the campaign.

Kickstarter Launch

We launched our Kickstarter campaign on a Thursday evening (UTC + 1), which is midday in the USA. In order to celebrate the launch, we organized a modest party in Zurich, which could be accessed worldwide via a livestream. There were only a few people watching, but it still felt like an important event that we wanted to share with our most dedicated community members.

For the launch of the Kickstarter campaign the team organized a modest party in Zurich that was livestreamed.
For the launch of the Kickstarter campaign the team organized a modest party in Zurich that was livestreamed.

As mentioned earlier, we didn’t use any Early Bird rewards so we had to come up with another way of motivating people to back the project right away instead of later. We did this by using a timed community goal. If 100 people backed the project within the first 24 hours, a new feature would be added for all the future players to enjoy.

These first few days of the campaign were clearly dominated by friends and community members who backed the game. We made sure to clearly communicate the incentives for backing Niche right away: Reaching 30 percent of the funding goal in the first week is important proof to potential backers that the game has a chance to get funded.

The not-so dry Middle

The time between the first few and the last few days of a crowdfunding campaign are often called »the dry middle«. This wasn’t really the case for us. A lot of things happened during these three weeks. To maintain momentum, we constantly challenged our community with new goals to unlock additional features for Niche. In hindsight, adding three to five additional days to the campaign duration may have been a good idea.

To keep momentum, the team constantly challenged the community to e.g. come up with ideas for genes or send in pieces of fan art to unlock new game features.
To keep momentum, the team constantly challenged the community to e.g. come up with ideas for genes or send in pieces of fan art to unlock new game features.

On the 4th day of the campaign, we were close to reaching our funding goal, but the day started slow and we needed to do something about it. A few days prior, our friends from Slug Disco had managed to raise several hundred dollars thanks to a post on imgur. We decided to copy their approach. This strategy worked out better than we had expected. In just one day our imgur post received over 100,000 views and resulted in a lot of new backers. Thanks to this post, we reached our funding goal after just three days!

Niche was funded just three days after the launch of the Kickstarter campaign and reached almost 500 percent of its funding goal.
Niche was funded just three days after the launch of the Kickstarter campaign and reached almost 500 percent of its funding goal.

We were totally unprepared for this early success. Our intention had been to start planning the stretch goals a week after the Kickstarter launch. After a stressful night shift the first stretch goal was in place. One could think that we learned from our mistakes, but we didn’t. We kept on underestimating the speed of our campaign and had to create new stretch goals every few days. If we ever run a Kickstarter again, we will prepare at least three stretch goals in advance.

The success on Kickstarter was a surprise for the team and so the first stretch goals had to be prepared during a night shift.
The success on Kickstarter was a surprise for the team and so the first stretch goals had to be prepared during a night shift.
This charts shows how the various actions during the campaign affected funding.
This charts shows how the various actions during the campaign affected funding.

We hadn’t contacted the press before the campaign launched. This was more of a question of time than an actual plan. We believed that YouTubers and streamers would be easier to get in touch with, so we focused on them. After we had reached our funding goal, we put together a press release, did some research on editors who we subsequently contacted. This resulted in an article by PC Gamer and another by Rock, Paper, Shotgun. We also uploaded a press release on gamespress. Our friends from Slug Disco saw a lot of small review sites pick up their gamespress post, using this method. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for us.

Our YouTuber/streamer challenge was in full bloom. The news had spread and many small content creators picked-up the demo via our website. Around 70 video reviews were created during the Kickstarter campaign with a total count of over 250,000 views. This constant flow of content for the game kept people engaged and showed a positive impact on backer numbers.

We continued to showcase Niche during our Kickstarter campaign. Some of our team members exhibited Niche at the Nordic Game Festival and we also attended multiple local game events within Switzerland and nearby. This was a nice change of pace and we even met some of our backers in person and found a few new ones along the way, although compared to other things we did, the impact was rather small.

The Whale Search

A particularly interesting experiment we tried was the »Whale Search«. Long story short: We asked our community to help us find a backer for our 5,000 Dollars reward tier. If they managed to complete this challenge, a new feature would be added to the game. We opened up a Google Doc to communicate with our playtesters and backers as we had done previously to brainstorm gene ideas for a community stretch goal. Aside from a short incident with a troll, we are very satisfied with our communication experience via Google Docs. Five hours after the search had started, we had already found our whale. Fun fact: The whale was already in our playtester group, but telling a story allows people to connect with something on a different level.

The so called »Whale Search« was another community event, where a backer for the 5,000 Dollars tier should be found to add a new feature to the game.
The so called »Whale Search« was another community event, where a backer for the 5,000 Dollars tier should be found to add a new feature to the game.

As mentioned, we had a hard time reaching the people that had earlier shown interest in our game on Steam Greenlight. We decided to set up our Steam page and community hub in order to ensure that they were alerted about our Kickstarter campaign. We invited every user that left a positive comment on the Greenlight page and had soon built-up a solid following on Steam. We didn’t see much impact for the Kickstarter, though.

There are countless things going on during a Kickstarter campaign and it’s hard to keep track of them all. Services like Google Alert are helpful, but they don’t pick up everything. We asked our playtesters and backers to let us know whenever they discovered a post about Niche and thus stumbled upon many small sources we hadn’t noticed, such as different science communities on Facebook who were talking about us.

Last Days

We were unsure whether or not our project would get a big final push since we were already funded, but the fear was unfounded. Every person that hit the »Remind me«-button on a Kickstarter page receives an email 48 hours before a campaign ends. This helpful reminder caused a flood of new pledges. We reached our last stretch goal about ten hours before our campaign ended. Since we had already communicated this goal as the final one, we withheld announcing any further stretch goals.

The final stretch goal was reached ten hours before the campaign ended and as it was already announced to be the final one, the team withheld announcing further ones.
The final stretch goal was reached ten hours before the campaign ended and as it was already announced to be the final one, the team withheld announcing further ones.

We decided to do a Thunderclap to broadcast the last few hours of the campaign. To make the signup process a bit more entertaining, we offered people three teams to choose from, each with its own Thunderclap message. People enjoyed the idea and started rooting for their team (»Team Cute«, »Team Science« and »Team Gamer«). Unfortunately, not enough people signed-up (we needed at least 100 per team) and therefore only two of the three messages were sent out at different times of the day. This happened mainly because we didn’t pre-schedule enough time to contact people. We still believe that doing a »Multi-Clap« is a good idea, but we will go for less team options next time.

On the last day our friend Alice Ruppert made a reddit post, which generated quite some attention and attracted a few additional backers. In addition, we created another imgur post, which managed to generate another round of views.

A few minutes before the Kickstarter campaign was over, we cleaned up our campaign page and added links to our Steam page and website. Important: Kickstarter pages cannot be edited after the campaign ends!

After finishing up our »Thank you« image and sending it to our backers it was time to rest.

The »Thank you« image that was posted a few minutes before the Kickstarter campaign ended – once it closes, you cannot change the campaign page anymore.
The »Thank you« image that was posted a few minutes before the Kickstarter campaign ended – once it closes, you cannot change the campaign page anymore.

 

Post Kickstarter

We woke up the next day and found ourselves inundated with »I missed the Kickstarter!«-messages. PayPal had already been a payment option during the campaign, so we decided to open up a simple pre-order system on our website and link to it from our Kickstarter page by using a »Late backer«-button. Our Kickstarter ended a week ago, but the pledges are still coming in at a constant level with 3-5 people pre-ordering Niche per day.

Even after the Kickstarter campaign ended, people could still back the game on Niche’s website via PayPal using the »Late Backer«-button.
Even after the Kickstarter campaign ended, people could still back the game on Niche’s website via PayPal using the »Late Backer«-button.

We are very happy with the Kickstarter campaign results. Not only did we receive far more money than we ever expected to further develop Niche, we enjoyed the shared adventure with our community, which brought us closer together with our supporters. The community has also grown in numbers. More than 3,500 members are now part of the Niche pack.

More Data
  • 36 percent of our backers came directly from Kickstarter.
  • 64 percent of our backers came from external sites.
  • The average pledge amount of our backers was 25 Dollars.
  • Additionally to the money on Kickstarter we received about 1,500 Dollars via Paypal.
Most of our Backers come from
  • USA: 1,396 backers
  • United Kingdom: 280 backers
  • Switzerland: 203 backers (we are Swiss)
  • Canada: 170 backers
  • Australia: 152 backers
Main Sources of Backers
  • Kickstarter: about 19,000 Dollars
  • Facebook: 12,796 Dollars
  • Twitter: 3,899 Dollars
  • Our website: 3,001 Dollars
  • Google: 1,602 Dollars

There is one thing that feels strange to us now that the campaign is over. We always try to be as generous as possible, giving away keys freely without hesitation. This is no longer possible, because we don’t want to decrease the value our backers invested into Niche. This new mindset is something we need to get accustomed to. It is strange to realize that after so many hours of unpaid work, we’ve now turned your hobby into a paid job.

Conclusion

If we had the chance to travel back in time, there are quite a few things we would approach differently. Firstly, running our Greenlight and Kickstarter campaigns at the same time would most likely have led to a synergy effect we missed out on.

Given the chance, we would definitely prepare the images for the first few stretch/community goals before launch. Creating them during the campaign was very exhausting since there are countless other things that require attention as well. We also weren’t prepared for our limited rewards to run out so quickly and only managed to fill the constantly opening gaps in a delayed manner. Generally, the keyword here is low expectations. We should have believed in ourselves more and be prepared for the seemingly unlikely option of being successful.

We never expected to earn so much money with our community-based Kickstarter approach. Without the constant support of our community, it would have been impossible. The fact that our game refers to a science topic was a great help as well. This allowed us to contact various science blogs and news sites alongside the game press we reached out to.

During the campaign we constantly tried to come up with new approaches to increase our reach, such as the whale search. Many of these ideas worked out better than expected, which encouraged us to keep pushing. We hope this insight helps you plan your future Kickstarter campaign. We believe you can do it and we wish you all the best!

Alexander Grenus, Philomena Schwab

 

About the authors

mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_philomena_schwabPhilomena Schwab
is Game Designer and Marketer of Team Niche.

Game Designer and Biology lover, currently working on Niche. Philomena finished her master thesis about community development for indie games in 2016 and is founder of Playful Oasis and chair member of the Swiss Game Developers Association.

 

mg0516_niche-kickstarter-postmortem_alexander_grenusAlexander Grenus
is Game Designer and Project Manager at stillalive studios and was Niche’s Kickstarter Advisor.

Enthusiastic game developer, who loves game design, 3d art and architecture. Alexander got involved with game development in 2002, released his first game in 2007 and works currently at stillalive studios.

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