Before braving the second instalment of our Under the Hood series, I have decided to write about what we have found out when looking at indie game projects on Kickstarter.
We looked at successful and failed projects, current as well as historical ones, where we think that they could work as yardstick for our project. We used the data available on Kickstarter as well as Steam Spy to look at post-release performance of titles. In general I am sceptical about the meaningfulness of data analysis for games, but it is providing a tiny bit of comfort in the stormy seas of indie development. Who would have thought that FTL would reach twenty times its funding goal when their campaign started or that Hand of Fate sold over a 100,000 times on Steam (they raised little more than 50,000 AUD on Kickstarter)?
The player curated onboarding process for games on Steam: 'Greenlight' has largely lost its gatekeeping function. That is of course in the interest of Valve who own the platform, as they have a multitude of titles on their shelves. As a player I love Steam, as an indie developer I eye it warily. Like a diver who is circled by a tiger shark.
So Steam Greenlight is more or less a free for all, excellent and not-so-excellent titles are both greenlit. Some of course faster and with more fanfare than others. This means that Kickstarter has become the place where indies can show that their project is different: top notch quality, fun, and that it comes with plenty of je ne sais quoi. In short a Kickstarter project has to be good value for players' money and worth someone's patronage.
For a more detailed analysis we picked thirty-five Kickstarter projects in June and looked at how well they did. Eighteen projects were in USD and seventeen were in CAD (Canadian Dollars), Euros, Swedish Krona and AUD (Australian Dollars).
Out of the thirty-five, sixteen projects got funded, and nineteen did not. The chart below shows the funded projects with the number of backers - two Canadian and one US project rule the top three.
But there are also ten US projects that did not get funded, so just setting up a project on the US Kickstarter site is not enough to get funded. Next we looked at genres (and we had to reduce each game to its main genre to do this):
When we compared this to the list of non-funded projects, we noticed that there were some games which lost out:
My hypothesis is that if there are two or more games of the same genre on KS at the same time, the games which look and feel different are more likely to get funded. For example there were three Horror games in June: Perception, Through the Woods and Song of Horror. Two of these - Perception and Through the Woods - went for an unusual design (artstyle and game-wise) and got funded, whereas Song of Horror looked a bit more traditional and did not. I don't think that this means that Song of Horror couldn't do well on Steam, but that if a studio is dependent on Kickstarter funding it might never get onto Steam in the first place.
Marketing and PR are essential as well, successfully funded indie projects usually feature on sites like Polygon and Rock Paper Shotgun before or during their campaign. They are also more likely to have a larger number of followers on Twitter (and other social networks) than not-funded projects. I am assuming that games that look unusual attract game journalists more easily.
But stories like that of Tale of Tales show that Kickstarter funding and positive press don't mean that a game is a commercial success as well.