Producing a video game for the VFS Game Design program is a lot of work. Scratch that. Producing a game is like jugging six balls while tap dancing on a wire over top of a tiger pit. Tigers that shoot lasers out of their eyes.
And are on fire.
So, if making a game with a five or six person team for a school program is that difficult, what do you think making a game with thousands of recorded lines of dialogue, advanced AI and scripted action sequences is like?
This is the world that I’ve been living in for the last seven years.
I’m a part-time instructor in the Game Design program, and after being in the industry long enough to be considered a veteran — with experience working for Relic, Radical and Turbine — I decided to set out to do my own thing, and make a game by my own standards. Out of this idea, and with help from a team that included Jeremy Soule, the “John Williams of video game music,” Consortium was born. A first person story and character based shooter, Consortium has been in development for seven years and has so far been funded by the Canada Media Fund (C.M.F.) and from out of my own pocket.
The way to finance independent projects has taken a radical turn in the last few years, so through my production company, Interdimensional Games, we decided crowd funding via Kickstarter was the best way to see the game realized.
Remember when we talked about what making a game is like? Creating, running and being successful at a Kickstarter campaign is a whole other beast. I had no idea what was in store for me and what hurdles I’d have to overcome before even pressing that Launch button.
What’s fortunate is that I am not alone in this, and a few other VFS grads have hopped on board with the project. Travis Wilson ( GD15) has been a long standing member of the team as a 3D Artist and Choreographer, and Bob Edwards, from Writing for Film and Television’s 34th class, has recently come on board as Content Writer and Community Manager. It has been three weeks since the Kickstarter campaign launched and Consortium has raised $48,000 of its $50,000 goal; success is looking very good at this point. However, a Kickstarter campaign is a different animal than is typical to fundraising. So, let’s use the Consortium campaign and the lessons learned from it, to talk a little about what goes into making a crowd sourcing campaign as successful as possible.
First of all, carefully write and create the entire campaign, starting with the all-important pitch video.
Kickstarter tutorials will tell you that the video is supposed to be a personal story of sorts: Who are you, Why are you doing this, and Why is your product worthwhile? The more personal it is, the better. But what it doesn’t tell you is that it should also be between 2-4 minutes long, be funny if possible, explain your product in a way that is easily digested by the average person, and of course, it should stand out from the five hundred other campaigns on Kickstarter that are just like yours.
If it’s too long many people won’t even bother to watch the whole thing, or will skim through it and not get the whole message you’re attempting to convey. Some people will even just see the length after clicking play, and immediately move onto the next project without watching any of it! The Consortium campaign video is 5:08 long (trimmed from almost 6:30 originally!) and is currently sitting at roughly 20,000 video plays – of which only 18% actually finished the whole thing! Believe it or not, that is a relatively high percentage when compared to other projects. The reality is that attention spans are dwindling as the years go by and there’s no way to combat that except to increasingly find ways of selling your product as quickly as humanly possible. Unfortunately, this then leads to concepts and ideas being reused a billion times over (I’m looking at you zombie craze!) because it’s easier to sell your idea when you can simply point to another one and say, “It’s like that one, only BETTER!”
Humor in your pitch, I think, is a no-brainer.
Humor sells, it’s always sold, and it will always sell. Just try your best not to alienate or offend anyone with your particular brand of humor. If you don’t have humor, make up for it in other ways. The Consortium pitch video isn’t exactly funny, but it sticks to showing the game and nothing but the game. It works because it’s raw… it’s uncut… and it’s REAL.
To be easily digested by the average person AND to stand out are the biggest challenges pre-launch.
Here you are with a truly amazing game concept on your hands. You’ve been thinking about this game for years, really getting into it, and are absolutely certain that the whole world would love it as much as you do. But now, how do you sell it to a stranger who has not been thinking about it, as you have, for years? It’s a lot tougher than you’d think. Basically, if you can’t sell it in a single sentence, you’re not going to sell it. So where do you start? Boil it down to the very essence of what makes your product unique, and forget about everything else. Don’t talk about yourself (more than a simple introduction), or your company, or how amazingly wonderful you all are. Nobody cares. Don’t even talk about how amazing your product is! Nobody will believe you. You need to show them! Get people interested by showing them exactly what their “experience with your product” will be like. Find your hook and stick to it, don’t muddle things up with stuff nobody but you cares about.
So then you come to launch day.
The Consortium team were eager to get going because we were all really proud of the campaign and couldn’t wait to see the response. But we also had an ace up our sleeve – we sent a playable demo of Consortium to the people over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun weeks in advance. All we were looking for was for someone in the gaming press to say, “I have played the game, I like the game, and this company is not full of crap!” – That alone would go an extremely long way for a relatively unknown/new developer like Interdimensional Games. Suddenly, we had some credibility to back up our claims, and people on the fence had a great reason to make the leap.
Careful planning and setup for exposure is a key element to any successful campaign.
It is imperative that you start as strongly as possible. Quite literally, the first 5 days are vital to a successful campaign. People are far more likely to back a project that started strongly and rocketed their numbers in the first day or two than one that did not. A lot of people (unfortunately) treat Kickstarter as a pre-order store, and so, if you’re able to hit that 100% mark, your product becomes a ‘guarantee’ and you’ll get even more backers to help reach those all-important stretch goals.
After all that, you’ve still got to market it, while simultaneously doing PR, Community Support, producing worthwhile updates, ensuring your reward tiers are actually making people happy, sending out demos to the press, replying to a barrage of direct messages and comments, etc.
Oh yeah… And you still need to actually raise the money.
Kickstarter isn’t the only way to spread news about game projects, and Consortium is currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight. Doing a Greenlight campaign simultaneously with Kickstarter will allow you to drive traffic both ways and get more exposure across the board. Greenlight functions as a way for the gamer community to choose what game they want to see commercially available on the massive digital game distribution service, and now allows “early access” to games in development — essentially meaning you can sell your game before it is even completed.
Gamer or not, Consortium offers something for anyone interested in the digital narrative form.
Interdimensional Games also hosts an Alternate Reality Game that’s explorable on the website, which has been running for several years, containing an interactive Flash Game and leagues of information about an alternate reality so close, and yet, so far from our own.
Check it out! (Select “Experience” at the landing page.)
Gregory MacMartin teaches Game Theory (Analog)