How-to: prepare your Kickstarter campaign page for an indie game?

Hey there, I’m Jordan! A few weeks ago, I raised $39,000 on Kickstarter for my solo developed Metroidvania, Haiku, the Robot. I wanted to write this series of articles while it’s all still fresh in my mind and I guess it’s my way of giving back to a community that has given me so much already. If you are a solo dev thinking about launching a Kickstarter then I hope this encourages you to know that it is completely possible to do it all by yourself.

This is my project if you would like to check it out for reference: Haiku, the Robot.

There are probably a few ways to be successful on Kickstarter and I’m sure other people have had different experiences with their successful campaigns, so I just want to make it clear from the beginning this is my experience only.

Let’s start from the beginning:

When do you want to launch a Kickstarter for your game?

I started building my game about a year before the Kickstarter. Seeing as I didn’t have any prior experience in making games then I made roughly 8 smaller games in the first 8 months by following tutorials on YouTube and then slowly starting to code everything myself. However, while I was making those smaller games, I was constantly working on Haiku on the side — I was making art, animations, world-building, and just thinking about Haiku’s story.

There were a few times I thought about running a Kickstarter but I was put off by the thought that it’s my first “real” game and game development was just a hobby at that point. Slowly, I started realizing that I was enjoying game development more and more. Coincidentally, my happiness at work was slowly declining and it finally got to the point where I had to make a decision, either find another job or give game development a go. As you can see, I took the second route.

Luckily, during that entire year, while starting out, I had built a decent following on Instagram (~7500), and later, on Twitter (~1200). With this amount of following, I felt confident that I’d be able to give Kickstarter a good try. The game was roughly 70% done in terms of mechanics and about 20% done in terms of worldbuilding. People often recommend running your Kickstarter campaign when your 50% of the way there, but to be honest, it felt more like I was 20% of the way there.

Some early enemy concepts for Haiku’s world

So, how do you build an audience?

This is a question I get asked a lot! So much in fact that I decided to make a separate article about the topic. If you want a more in-depth read about my approach to social media then check it out here: mister-morris-games.medium.com/how-to-build-an-audience-for-your-game-as-an-indie-developer-on-social-media-625721401886

Having a following and community at the beginning of the campaign is critical. You will have people that are already committed to backing your project before it even launches so when day 1 comes round, you’ll get a good initial boost which will carry you through the rest of the campaign.

Think about it from a backer perspective, if you’re looking to potentially back a campaign, then you most likely check how long the campaign has been running, how much funding have they got already, and do some quick maths. If the campaign launched 24 hours ago and it’s already at 20% with 29 days to go then that’s a good sign for you (as a potential backer) that the project will get funded, therefore, you’ll be more enticed to contribute as well.

More on the topic of launching and building hype later.

Next, research for Kickstarter and look into other successful projects

I think this might be the second most important part of your Kickstarter campaign before it even begins and before you even create a campaign page — research the hell out of it.

I must have spent about 2 months in total on research, and then I finally started setting up the Kickstarter page. I watched videos on YouTube from GDC on how to have a successful Kickstarter campaign for your indie title. I looked at other successful campaigns and studied what rewards they had, how much they asked, how big of a following they had (pre-campaign), etc. I also kept an eye on current campaigns, and how monitored how well they were performing.

Here are a few materials that I used while researching:

A screengrab from BiggerCake for Haiku, the Robot. It helps you track other campaigns as well.

Okay, you’ve done your research and you’re serious about launching a Kickstarter, but how much should you ask for?

What funding goal should you set yourself?

I calculated how much money I would need to live for a year to complete the project and then added taxes and Kickstarter fees on top. After, once I had the physical rewards more planned out, I added those costs on top as well.

I honestly don’t think you should undercut yourself. You should ask for exactly how much you need to live in the time frame that you plan on finishing the game. What I kept telling myself was if the funding goal is too much, then I know that the game doesn’t actually have that much interest, I should take it as a lesson, and try something else. One thing is to drop a follow or a like on social media, but it’s another thing to drop hard-earned cash on something that isn’t finished yet. Also, I couldn’t imagine asking for money that would only last 6 months when I needed a year, all it would do is add unnecessary stress and rush me to finish the game.

If you’re a solo developer, I would ask you to do yourself a favor and ask for a decent amount. Don’t rely on getting overfunded because I think it’s quite hard to convince people why you should get crazy overfunded when you’re a solo developer — all the costs should really be going into supporting you.

To be honest, I got quite a bit of feedback saying that I was aiming too high. I was asking for ~$28,000 including fees and shipping rewards, but I’m glad that I stuck to my guns because it was honestly what I needed to live for a year.

It looks a bit sloppy but this is how I calculated my funding goal in GBP. After, I had to convert it to Euros because I live in a European country (and we use euros).

Making rewards and tiers

This was my favorite part! Coming up with different reward ideas and how to group them into tiers.

Brainstorm a bunch of ideas, take all the other successful campaigns that you researched earlier, and think what might suit/fit into your game. Then, categorize them into how much time/effort do they require, and distribute them across your tiers accordingly. I think adding stuff to the final game as a thank you to backers is really cool from both a creator’s and a backer’s perspective.

Take successful campaigns that are similar to yours, check how many backers did they get, and on average what amount did they pledge (use BiggerCake). This will give you a rough estimate on what the majority are willing to pay, it’ll help you structure your tiers, and it’ll give you an idea of what tiers are going to sell and in what quantities. One thing to look out for are campaigns that paid for advertising. In most cases, at least with recent projects, you will find a “BackerKit” logo at the bottom of their page. I would usually disregard these projects because I knew I wasn’t going to pay for advertising and these projects usually go into crazy, 6-figure funding amounts.

The most important thing you want to remember is that the majority of people are going to go for a lower tier rather than an expensive one. You want to make the low tiers close in price points but super attractive. For example, let’s say you can get the game for $15 but if you pay an extra $4 you’ll get this and this extra. It’s a no-brainer and most people will see the value in giving the extra $4 to get a better tier. You are giving more to the backer while benefiting as a creator by getting people to pledge a little more — it’s a win-win for both sides.

I followed this concept for all of my lower tiers and applied it to the early birds as well. I didn’t offer the game at a cheaper price but I made the next two tiers with early bird offers. In my campaign, you could get the game for $15, and for an extra $2 (for a limited amount only) you could get a special discord role, your name in the credits, a digital wallpaper, and a digital map of the game — now that’s a no brainer and they sold out in the first 48 hours.

I did the same for the beta-testing early bird reward. For an extra $10, you could get access to beta-testing (which is great for a solo developer as you need as many testers as possible) and you could add your name added to the game in a special area dedicated to backers. The combination of these two early birds eventually made up 26% of the funding goal.

A screengrab from BiggerCake on Haiku, the Robot. The cyan and yellow parts make up for 26% of the entire funding amount.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother with giving out a tier that’s lower than your actual game. As a creator, I think it doesn’t do you any favors inviting people to a lower tier. It’s another tier you have to manage and another reward that you have to deal with. Plus, from what I’ve seen from other campaigns that actually offer a lower tier is that it hardly gets any backers — so all in all, not worth it.

When it comes to big tiers, like designing bosses and characters. I looked at a lot of other campaigns and saw that they were roughly priced at $1000 and they weren’t really selling. Maybe their needs were different but for my game I wanted lots of bosses, enemies and characters that you could interact with so I decided to lower the price barrier in order to get them sold. I asked myself, would I prefer to sell one at $1000 or three at $500? And went with the lower price. To my surprise, some people still pledged more than the asking amount.

Often you’ll see Kickstarter advice online about avoiding physical rewards and it’s because it’s a pain to manage. You have to get them manufactured, produced, and then shipped. I decided to use a company that does both the manufacturing and shipping for me so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. It’s a bit more costly and I don’t actually earn much more than the lower tiers but at the end of the day I felt like the community deserved it — plus, it’s always nice to be able to back something and get one of the rewards a lot sooner than the game’s actual release.

Alright, you’ve got your goal set, the rewards and tiers planned out. You’ve researched other campaigns and now it’s time to bring it all together.

Building the Kickstarter page

If you’re a solo developer, then think about your story and what makes your game unique. I must have spent a good few weeks just brainstorming ideas on how I wanted to portray my story. For me, Kickstarter is just as much about the creator as the project itself. One of the most important things your page must convey is trust — people are trusting you with their money to finish this project.

When you’re ready, build out a preliminary campaign page and get feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. This is the basic outline of the page, don’t make a bunch of visual yet but try using stuff that you already have as placeholders. This is your first round of feedback just to get an understanding of if the page makes sense, if the structure flows correctly and if you have a compelling story.

Once you're happy with it, it’s time to bulk it out! Make all those pretty visuals, and add them to the page. You want a good amount of content that clearly shows to the potential backer what the end result will look like. Be careful not to make the page too long though or people will never finish looking through it.

Here’s a general structure that the page should follow:

  1. High-level description of the game: “Without having to scroll too much, tell me what is this game all about.”
  2. Detailed description: “Okay, now I’m interested and I want to find out more.”
  3. Your story: “This looks cool, who’s making it and what’s their story.” (Could be swapped with point 2)
  4. Rewards and budget: “How can I back, what am I going to get, and what is my money being spent on.”
  5. Risks and challenges: “Wait a minute, how do I know that can I rely on this person to deliver the project?” (This is super important!)

Don’t forget to make a good trailer, include yourself and your story in the video as well — people are backing you (the creator) just as much as the project. I did my trailer after building out the campaign page. I had plenty of content by then and also a solid story to tell. Make sure to check out GMTK (Game Makers Toolkit) on how to make an indie game trailer below — I couldn’t explain it better so just watch this.

Now, remember all those successful Kickstarter campaigns that you researched before? It’s time to make a shortlist of contacts and reach out to them for one final round of feedback. Giving feedback requires a lot of time and energy so be super grateful for any help you get and don’t feel bad if more than half of them don’t get back to you — they’re probably working hard on their game!

Handling feedback

I wanted to touch upon this briefly because I think handling feedback can be hard sometimes. So my advice is: you know your project, story, and situation best, feedback is just another perspective from the outside. It should make you rethink some aspects and that’s it. At the end of the day, it is up to you if you decide to incorporate that feedback or not.

I reached out to many people for feedback, I got some really good, fresh perspectives on things, and I got some really bad feedback that was subjective and not really actionable.

Good feedback is usually detailed. Someone doesn’t agree (or does agree) with something and explains why — this is the type of feedback that you want to look for. Something that you can pick apart and apply. Maybe you disagree with the feedback but, because they explained why, you get to understand their perspective.

Bad feedback is usually very subjective and not detailed at all. For example, someone messaged me “your page looks empty”. There were tons of visuals, paragraphs of text and they didn’t specify what felt empty. I asked them “what feels empty?” and they weren’t able to give a proper response. Ignore this type of feedback and move on to someone else who you can have a meaningful discussion with.

Be wary of the so-called “experts”

I had a few people slide into my DM’s and countless emails asking if I needed help with the Kickstarter. And to be honest, at times I felt like I needed it. I was terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing and if I should even be doing a Kickstarter at all.

I even replied to a few of them but some things just felt off. Some wanted to be paid hourly rates and couldn’t give me a rough estimate on how much time they would spend on the project — I mean, the last thing I want amongst the stress of running a Kickstarter is someone telling me that they worked 50 hours on the project and I owe them a ton of money. Some were offering to do my Kickstarter updates and manage my community — the community that I had spent building up for the last year. I wasn’t going to hand that over to some random person. My community and backers want to hear from me, the creator, the person they are putting their trust into, not some random person who up until this point they’ve never heard of. Some even tried scare-mongering tactics such as constantly telling me that my funding goal is too high and throwing lots of numbers, conversion rates, and other stats at me.

What I want to say with all of this is it’s okay to seek help but please be careful who you pick and always make sure you understand what/who you are committing to.

I’m glad that I did by myself in the end, I was confident in my funding goal, my story, the project, and ultimately, my capabilities. You got to believe in yourself even though it’s scary.

I believe in you and so does Shia.

Build up the hype

I encountered so many issues with the “follow this project” or “get notified on launch” feature on Kickstarter that I eventually decided that it wasn’t that important. It’s important but everything is 10x more important when the project is live, so please don’t stress too much about the follower count before the campaign launches. For reference, I had about 200 followers on launch and I ended the campaign with 1164 awesome backers.

The main issue is that in order to follow projects on Kickstarter, you must sign up first (which is understandable) but then you have to verify your account. I assume that this is to avoid projects gaining fake followers, but Kickstarter does a terrible job of telling people to verify their account. Countless people reached out telling me that they want to help and follow but they get an error. The error doesn’t state anything about the account not being verified, all it says is that there was an error please try again later. As soon as I found this out, I stopped caring too much about the follower count I had on Kickstarter and instead focused my efforts on preparing my community on social media for the launch — after all, that is where they are most comfortable following me for updates around the game anyway.

I announced the Kickstarter about a month before the launch date. I reminded people about it a couple of times a week, and then ramped up the hype about 2 weeks before. I announced the official launch date and time, started showing off some of the rewards, posted a daily countdown in the last week, and made sure everyone knew where they could find the project.

In hindsight, I actually think announcing your Kickstarter a month before is good for your audience to get used to the fact that this is coming. Some people might even make preparations for it and put some money aside, for example. The only thing I would have done a bit differently is crank the hype up one week before the launch. As soon as people start seeing rewards and other stuff, they get excited, and they want to back immediately. It’s quite hard to maintain that attention span for 2 weeks.

Got a demo? Flaunt it.

I think having a demo for your Kickstarter is great. While people often say it’s not absolutely necessary, I do think it helps A LOT.

Remember, it’s important to build trust with backers. If you have a demo that’s polished and (relatively) bug-free then potential backers are more likely to believe in your capabilities of finishing a good game.

It’s also good for building up hype, give it out to streamers and YouTubers and ask them to play it the weekend before you launch. It helps content creators because you are giving them special access before the public can get their hands on it, and therefore, it helps their channels too.

Here’s a little montage I made from people who played the demo before/after it’s release.

Also, once the demo is available to the public to allows people who might have missed this opportunity to make even more content! I’ll cover this topic a bit more in my next article: how to get people to your Kickstarter page.

For my demo, I only had one area of the game complete and some of the core mechanics. The bare minimum that would make a viable game. I released the demo early to a group of dedicated fans that had been following me since the beginning so that they could squish bugs and give early feedback. After all the bugs were fixed, I just kept polishing it until I felt somewhat satisfied with it (even though us game devs are never truly satisfied and we always feel that it could be better). So you don’t need anything big, just something well-polished that leaves players wanting more.

Now you’re ready to hit launch

Once Kickstarter has reviewed and approved your project, you will see this big, fancy launch button. I had no idea what would happen if I clicked it, I even googled a bit to see if I could find an answer and found nothing. Let me tell you what happens, it launches the project. Then and there. Immediately.

Kind of expected, I know. But if you had the same question then now you know what happens! I actually launched the project 10 minutes early because I was so anxious to see if there was another screen with other things that I had to fill out before the actual project went live, but no, it just goes live.

As soon as you launch, go to every social media platform you own and tell the world about it. Your first tweet or Instagram post is the one that is going to get shared the most so make sure it looks good. Before pressing that launch button, make sure you have this “it’s live” post prepared because from here, things get crazy, and they get crazy fast.

That’s it for preparing the Kickstarter page. My next article will be all about a very important topic which is how to get more people to your Kickstarter page. Especially, people outside of your community which is the hardest part. So stay tuned for that!

I hope this helps anyone who is just starting the process of putting a Kickstarter campaign together. It’s scary if it’s your first time but you can do it!

This series is to encourage you to know that it is completely possible to run a successful Kickstarter campaign all by yourself.

If you would like me to look into your Kickstarter project personally, then I do offer 1-on-1 consultations. You can find more information here: mistermorris.games/consultations — thank you!

Independent Game Developer. Pixel Artist. Video Game Marketeer. Crowdfunding Consultant.