The Kickstarter Blog

Sometimes, Kickstarter Projects Don't Make It

There’s no one reason why a project fails, but usually it has to do with rewards that are too pricey, a funding goal that’s a bit out of reach, bad timing, or myriad other things in life that can get in the way of success (I had finals! I had a baby! My cat got sick! Portal 2 came out!). That’s just kind of how life is. 

Last week, I interviewed the creators behind a failed Kickstarter project called graFighters. Their story was an interesting one, largely because they’re likely one of the most successful failed projects we’ve seen. After falling about $17k short of their $20k goal, they went on to raise $200k from a private investor who found them on Kickstarter. This is about as close to a Cinderella story as it gets in the world of game development. A few media outlets picked up their story, and the focus shifted to the fact that it’s not just individuals like you and me who are looking for interesting projects on Kickstarter. It’s also serious investors and companies looking for the next big hit.

But let’s backtrack a little here. The graFighters story struck me as especially interesting because it was ultimately a story about failure, and what you can gain from failing. While there a lot of amazing successes on Kickstarter, there are also projects that seem to do almost everything right, but still aren’t able to pick up the momentum they need to make it.

Take, for example, these two projects:

Scroll Ninja by Rei Kagetsuki

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The Hyrtl Simulacrum by Jeanne Kelly

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Both had cool ideas, personal pitch videos, and nice rewards. I’d check in on their projects every couple of days, hoping they’d get that big burst of funding that happens when enough people have passed your project around, fallen in love with your concept, and realized they’d be fools not to pledge.

But it never happened.

And yet, not reaching their goal on Kickstarter didn’t mean the end of the road. As Jeanne said in a note to her backers:

“I want to say thank you again to all of you that pledged your support. Knowing that so many people appreciate the work makes it easy to carry on with this project. I’ll continue to adapt and refine the piece in the hope to see it brought to fruition.”

It’s something we see all the time — project creators who are absolutely committed to their work, and undaunted by the specter of failure. In fact, failure becomes as integral to their projects as success.

Putting yourself out there on Kickstarter can be both exciting and terrifying. Nearly everyone who works at Kickstarter has done a project, myself included. As someone who is more than a bit terrified of coming out from behind her computer screen, making a video and promoting the project was a giant uphill battle. Anxiety sets in and you find yourself thinking “What if nobody likes this?” or “What if I work really hard but still don’t make it?” The funny thing is, even the most confident, outgoing project creators I’ve talked to are plagued by these same anxieties. You walk into this knowing that failure is always a possibility. 

If I had it my way, every good project would reach its goal and be wildly successful. But that’s not always the case, and that’s okay. For the graFighters team, Jeanne, Rei and many others who’ve failed before them, Kickstarter became a place to meet people who sincerely believe in your work and want you to succeed. Your everyday backers may not be able to cough up $200k or $20k, but they can tell you that you’re on the right track and remind you that in a world where it often seems impossible to get noticed, they noticed you.

Comments

    1. Missing_small

      Creator Howard Fine on December 18, 2011

      Hi Cindy,

      Based on your experience, what factors do successful project creators follow in order to lead to funding? Like what are the top 3 elements of a successful campaign? I'm thinking of posting a project, but as your post says, I'm terrified of failure. Does Kickstarter help with promotion at all, or is it solely up to the creator?

      Howard

    2. Lab_guy.small

      Creator Charles Alvis on March 12, 2012

      I think you should talk about projects that reach their funding levels but fail to product rewards. I can think of 2 projects where their backers are unhappy. ZionEyez Glasses - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zioneyez/eyeztm-by-zioneyez-hd-video-recording-glasses-for… and Refillable Bamboo Notebooks http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jaybill/refillable-bamboo-notebook… I have first hand experience from with the creator of the Refillable Bamboo project Jaybill McCarthy lying to his backers.

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      Creator Rei Kagetsuki on September 6, 2012

      Sorry to leave this comment so late after this article was posted, but I think I should clarify what happened to us after Kickstarter. ScrollNinja found no success whatsoever. Since we didn't have enough money most of the developmetn group went on to other things, and I worked side jobs to pay our [at the time] lead developer. 6 months of development we had a multiplayer demo which we sent to indi game blogs... only to be mostly ignored. The one thing that stuck with me though was a comment from a blog writer, which was: "You realize your kickstarter failed because your video is bad." They at least mentioned they played our demo, but didn't even give any sort of review or anything. In the end we got no PR and no support. We gave up and I still suffer financially.

      We will be trying Kickstarter again. I'm working on getting a project (not a game mind you) up for funding soon and this time we have much better rewards and I have a plan B in case of failure. The question still persists in my mind though: why aren't we allowed to start projects over? When we did Scroll Ninja very few games were on Kickstarter and most of them failed. Now games go up and top $1m in a few days! If we could revise our rewards, reword our description, and re-shoot our video to fix what we screwed up the first time would we get more interest? If we could put it back up and start over would it succeed? If you'd let us, I'd sure like to try.

    4. Img_20121122_213515.small

      Creator Rei Kagetsuki on December 21, 2012

      After posting the above message I was contacted directly by a member of the kickstarter staff encouraging us to try again. So we regrouped, pooled all the extra cash we had, and set to work. Now we've got a new plan which we believe will have a higher chance of success and a demo everyone can play right from the get go. The new campaign is here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/374397522/scroll-ninja-revised .

      Our biggest hurdle now is getting it covered and passed around. I've sent e-mails to every indi game blog I can find, tweeted, etc. but we haven't gotten any coverage yet. If anyone comes across this please spread the word!