As I contemplated writing a post-mortem of the campaign, a few people have asked about how The Emerald Flame Kickstarter achieved its success, so I decided to share my takeaways. Considering how many blog posts about Kickstarter I read in preparation for the campaign, it feels a bit surreal to even be writing this now, but I hope it will prove useful to other puzzle game creators venturing into the crowdfunding space. (This post got very long very quickly, so I have separated it into 2 parts: Before Launch and During the Campaign.)
It goes without saying that people have run successful campaigns in myriad ways and these recommendations are based solely on my personal experience. It is not necessarily that all of these points will make or break your project, but below is what I did to prepare and I plan to take forward these practices with me. Having run only one campaign, I have learned a ton but still can’t claim to be an expert on the topic… which brings me to my first point:
Do your research.
This one is crucial and will take a significant amount of time, but you've got to study if you're going to take the test. So listen to podcasts about crowdfunding. Watch interviews with designers and publishers. Read blogs. My favorite place to start is this post by James Mathe, followed by the entirety of Jamey Stegmaier’s blog (or his book). I read the blog post by post on my commute through much of last year and incorporated a lot of the principles he lays out into my campaign. (This will not be the entirety of your research, of course... there is much more outlined below.)
And you never know, going through these steps might even make you realize that you don't want to run a Kickstarter! After all, it's a ton of work, both on the front and back end. If you don't want to deal with marketing and logistics, or have a very limited amount of free time, maybe you're better off seeking a publisher. Don't stay married to the idea of crowdfunding--it's not always the answer.
Build an audience.
Every single piece of Kickstarter advice I read or listened to strongly emphasized this point and the need to start doing it as early as possible, but it’s easier said than done. One thing that helped me tremendously was that PostCurious had a prior reputation from The Tale of Ord. The game was well-reviewed and I had proved myself capable of delivering a product, which automatically lent me a certain level of trust. But only 500 copies of The Tale of Ord were made, so how did everyone else hear about it?
The truth is I considered using Kickstarter to fund the production of Tale of Ord back in 2018, so I read a lot about crowdfunding back then and tried to follow Jamey's wisdom by starting a monthly newsletter, using social media more, and finding ways to engage with enthusiasts.
I wanted people to get something out of the newsletter, so rather than just using it to promote PostCurious products, I started trying to introduce other things that could be of interest to my audience. My subscriber list started out small but has grown a lot over the past two years, and one can say that it was ultimately a big factor in why we funded so quickly. A big percentage of our first day backers were newsletter subscribers.
Social media is tricky and I am far from being a guru, but posting regularly, following others, commenting on posts, and figuring out which hashtags to use are good ways to get started if you don’t already have a presence. One way to build on this is offering some kind of free puzzles as well. Free puzzles are a great way to get people engaged with your brand and give them a taste of what you’re offering. You can also use these on your website and in your newsletter.
Finally, connect with people who have similar interests on various platforms. Introduce yourself and participate in (or start) discussions. Building relationships within the community is important, but don’t do it solely for the sake of self-promotion. Be real and connect on a human level!
Can you fund without doing this kind of buildup beforehand? Of course it's possible, but it's going to be harder to build a house without foundation.