Note from Tom: Lucid (Edgar Muniz) is a valuable member of the Construct community and also contributes source code to our open sourced Construct Classic.
His sucess on Kickstarter has been deservedly phenomenal, with 9 days to go at time of writing he has raised nearly $42,000, $17,000 more than he asked for from over 1,000 backers. One reason for the sucess is the idea - a 2D sprite animation tool that game developers from around the world want and need.
We asked Lucid to write our first guest blog post for us on his Kickstarter experience and lessons learnt as we think it could be a good way for Construct 2 users to also get their projects funded.
You can follow Spriter on Kickstarter at www.KickstartSpriter.com
When I first quit my job to work on Spriter full-time, the original plan was to begin speaking to investors and trying to otherwise sell the beta when there was a few months of self-funding left. I was planning on having to return to some type of full time work, but armed with the progress I'd made I could continue to develop Spriter and seek investors in my off time. As the end of my funds loomed however, the thought of how much Spriter's progress would be slowed by becoming a spare time project was disheartening. Though 1.0 would eventually come it could never be as soon, and our vision of a perfect tool would become marred by compromises. But halfway through February, Double Fine Productions made history with it's wildly successful Kickstarter campaign Double Fine Adventure, getting fully funded to $400,000 in a matter of hours and eventually reaching over three million dollars. Of course we weren't expecting that level of success, but it brought our attention to the entire idea of crowd-funding.
I started examining other successful campaigns and trying to measure how cool Spriter seemed in comparison to projects at it's funding level. Mike and I were both confident we had something genuinely great on our hands. And if there was a common thread in all the successful projects we saw, this was it. There was no magic formula or special project type. It was just genuinely interesting projects, by people who genuinely cared about what they were doing. We had the quality, and we had the passion for our creation, so crowdfunding was now on the table as a viable option.
At this point there were basically two alternatives.
Put together a detailed and professional presentation and start shopping for investors. Hopefully we could get one to recognize the demand for Spriter, and convince them that our unique approach to workflow was better than copying an established 2d animation package. Then we would need to convince them it's a good plan to release a fully open file-format, sell the editor with an unrestrictive license, and provide users with an extremely useful free version. Basically, an uphill battle the whole way unless we got extremely lucky, and found an investor who understood the industry well enough to get what we were trying to do, and believe in us enough to think we could pull it off.
Present the idea through Kickstarter or some other crowdfunding site. Then we'd do our best to spread the news as much as we could and let a vast range of people decide whether to fund it. These would include gamers who have played games that look like Muramasa or Castle Crashers, developers who'd understand the problems we were solving and the opportunities we were creating with the editor and file format, and animators who could see what we were trying to do with workflow. The same things that might be difficult to explain to someone only concerned with a business plan would be immediately appreciated by those that would benefit most from what we were trying to do. Instead of an investor, we'd be stating our case to our future userbase, the people we'd worked so hard to make the perfect animation framework for.
The choice was both obvious and refreshing. As for why Kickstarter and not another crowdfunding site, Kickstarter just seemed to draw the most attention, and we thought Kickstarter's gameified approach created an interesting dynamic with backers. In Kickstarter you have a time-limit to get funded, and it's all or nothing funding. If you don't reach at least 100%, you get nothing, but you're free to exceed that goal as much as possible. It makes the entire process more exciting to follow and participate in.
We had already planned to release the Spriter Beta to the public before we even considered Kickstarter, but we delayed release to work up to the last second to polish up the beta as much as possible, fixing any last minute bugs, and adding small features to help animators get more mileage out of it in it's early state.
So far so good.
On launch day, the things I was concerned with was whether the video or text were too long, whether or not people would watch or read far enough to learn about 'beyond our funding goals' possibilities, and of course whether we'd make our funding goal at all. I was planning to launch and immediately start looking for full-time work the next day in case the kickstarter didn't succeed. I pressed the launch button at 1:23pm on March 28th. By the next night we were 38% funded with almost $10,000.
We've been asked a few times by other Kickstarters what the key to our success was, and where/how we advertised, etc. In all honesty we got a few core things right, and most of the rest was many many mistakes. We're obviously extremely happy with our success, but the past few weeks have been more a lesson in missed opportunities. To aspiring Kickstarters I'll say this first. Definitely read EVERYTHING in the Kickstarter school which you'll be linked to upon beginning a project. Also, there is a wealth of information from previous Kickstarters, both successful and unsuccessful, you can find via Google. Nearly all of it is helpful, and it's a good idea to start reading up on it months before you start your Kickstarter. I'll try to emphasize the lessons I've learned over the past 3 weeks that either weren't in any of the advice I found online, or weren't stressed to the point where they really sunk in.
Lesson One: Be Special.
I think what helped most to get us funded so quickly was just the idea of the project itself. It really is something that developers have been wanting for a very, very long time. This animation technique has been around since the 80's, yet as far as we know, there are literally 0 other tools made for this purpose, aside from tools like Flash, that are very tightly integrated to a certain language/platform/engine. One of the first tweets about us was from a pro developer saying something along the lines of "I think every developer has had to write this program at some point in their careers". Others responded in agreement adding that it would be nice to have a real polished program dedicated to it, instead of a quickly developed in house tool. So first and foremost is demand. Also, it was great that Mike Parent had industry contacts he immediately notified about upon launch, so word began to spread at ground level and at industry level from the first minute.
Lesson Two: Twitter (and other social networking).
Luckily some of Mike's game dev friends and others who stumbled upon it tweeted early about it, long before I realized Twitter would be the main source of backing for the big rush in the first two weeks. I cannot stress this point enough: If you're not already on Twitter every day, and you want to one day be able to spread news about anything very very quickly, start being on Twitter every day now. If you think you understand it, but haven't used it, you don't understand it at all. Basically, someone says something there, and hundreds of people know about it seconds later. It's extremely powerful, and trust me, you don't want to be logging on for the first time a week into your Kickstarter campaign, wondering whether your posts will be considered spam, if you should be tweeting thank you's to people who tweet about you, etc.
Also familiarize yourself with Reddit and Facebook. Many people know Facebook, but haven't thought about it from a business type perspective. It's a great tool for spreading information and interest, and you don't want week 2 of your Kickstarter to be the first time you're thinking about these things.
Despite me posting scarcely, bumbling through Twitter and Reddit, social networking by far (especially Twitter) has been the main source of funding until more recently where funding has tapered off and now most of our funding is coming from people finding us within Kickstarter itself.
Lesson Three: Prove it's real.
This is one of the things we got right. While waiting for the project to be approved by Kickstarter staff(took only a day), I submitted a story about Spriter to RockPaperShotgun. They never wrote anything, but they have a link to a page "Hey, Developers!" explaining mostly what not to do if you want them to print your story. One thing in particular I clinged to throughout the Kickstarter is:
A very important note on Kickstarter projects. If there isn't concrete proof that your game will exist and do more or less what it promises too, it's highly unlikely that we'll post about it - we have to be very careful about seeming to encourage our readers to give money to something that may not come to pass. So, it's probably not worth contacting us unless you have, at the very least, a trailer, and ideally something playable.
Releasing the beta this early was scary. We knew it wasn't bug free, there were huge chunks of functionality missing, and testing hadn't occured on a scale above a score of people. Alot could have went wrong. But I think having the useable beta was a big key to our success. Almost everything written up about us from forum posts, to blogs, to game dev news articles have mentioned the beta. Countless times I saw someone questioning our ability to deliver in a forum, and being replied to with a mention of the working beta. There were a few very frustrating cases where early on someone posted a bug or crash report directly on our Facebook or somewhere else we were attempting to promote, but we were able to turn this into a positive thing by quickly fixing the problem publicly. Any small negatives were far outweighed by well known Twitterers praising the editor. Unless you're doublefine or some other well established entity, you must prove that you're making something real. Either have lots of footage of different aspects of what you're explaining, or have a playable demo. Whatever you make, prove as best you can not only that it's cool, but that you can deliver.
Lesson Four: Prepare for success.
This was probably the biggest misstep from day one. I hoped for the Kickstarter to be extremely successful, but I was only prepared for either failure or making our goal by a hair in the final days. If you think there's even a slight chance you'll do well (which you should if you're doing a Kickstarter), prepare for it. I'll give a few examples here. Email. Once you get your first few Facebook likes and backings in your inbox, immediately set it up to forward Kickstarter fund alerts and Facebook Like alerts to a separate inbox. In week one, there were a few fund alert emails every few minutes. These were getting mixed in with various mails of praise, questions, bug reports, companies wanting to work with us, indie devs would wanted to integrate Spriter into their engines, etc. There were countless replies I made late enough to feel rude, including replies to prominent industry people and companies. No one seemed insulted, and I apologized to everyone, but it's easy to avoid such situations. If you notice you're starting to get frequent emails, set up your inbox to divert automated mail, and adopt the policy to always answer email immediately. If you're used to saving an email to answer when you have more time, be prepared to change this once your Kickstarter takes off.
Aside from social networks, which are big enough to get their own lesson, the same goes for forums, messageboards, and anything else where people can discuss you and your project. If you find someone talking about your project, immediately join the forum, bookmark it, and then reply. If your Kickstarter is successful, you will not be able to remember everywhere you posted, and when you stumble upon a post you made inviting more questions that you haven't responded to for 2 weeks, it's not a good feeling. Bookmarks help you easily avoid this problem.
My last note on preparing for success is to think about what you'll do if you get fully funded in a few days. If you're anything like me, you might feel a little silly, but it makes the difference between having some new additional content to show everyone and things you're ready to announce and discuss, or scrambling to put something together on the spur of the moment to help maintain interest now that your project is already funded.
Lesson Five: Have fun.
This might sound a little generic, but it's something I'm only getting now. The entire campaign has been a wonderful and amazing experience, but only now am I really starting to allow myself to really enjoy it. Of course I've been excited since day one, but I can't tell you how much of my time was spent fretting and stressing out over every last thing. Recently we announced some of our 1.0 features via a document I put together. I had attempted to create that document and this blog post, expecting to take a few hours for both combined. It ended up taking all of week three, with most of the time spent going in circles over how to get started on each and getting almost nothing done. I took an afternoon off from refreshing Twitter and Kickstarter, and staring at empty text documents, and suddenly my mind was clear. I got both done in 2 days, and I feel somewhat human again. There's only so much you can control. Do your best, and keep moving. If answering emails and forum posts literally takes up the entire day, treat it like a workshift, and give yourself time to unwind after a full day. It'll make everything you do the following day much more productive and positive. Kickstarter isn't an investor meeting, you'll do your best if you're enjoying the process as much as your backers are.
This entire Kickstarter experience has been nothing short of life-changing. I now have the opportunity to do exactly what I love doing, exactly how it should be done, with no one to answer to but my partner Mike, and over one thousand people who share our enthusiasm for what we're doing and believe in us. There really is nothing like it, and I can't think of a more awesome way to get something done.