Lessons from a Floundering Kickstarter Project

Earlier today I got an email from a man named David Lang linking to a blog post he had written called Lessons From a Floundering Kickstarter Project. In it, David discusses his project The Great Mate Journey, which has raised $240 in its first 30 days, 10% of its total. He’s disappointed in its performance thus far, and his post offers an extremely frank assessment of why he thinks that’s true. It’s a must-read for everyone.

The post is striking because of its honesty — it takes courage to be open about potential failure. And despite his pessimism, David’s project can still make it — it would not surprise me in the least. His project just needs to catch a spark, and there’s no telling how or when that could happen.

Regardless of how it turns out, his advice could not be better for people starting their projects. We asked David if we could share the post here, and he graciously agreed. Here is David’s post, in full:

As I write this, my Kickstarter project is half way through the funding period. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near half way to my funding goal, in fact I haven’t even raised 10 percent of my goal. I’ve basically given up hope that I will be able to reach my stated goal, which is fine. I’m still going ahead with my idea but now I need to figure out another way to fund it. I’ll raid my 401k if need be, this damn thing is going to happen! At this point, I figure the best thing I can do is share some lessons from a failing project so future Kickstarters can avoid making the same mistakes. Kind of like donating my body to science.

1) Have a Good Idea. This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth noting anyway. My project, the “Great Maté Journey” seemed like a great idea to me: I could give some meaning and purpose to my travels to South America, I could learn a ton about my favorite drink, I could share my journey with other maté drinkers who were thinking about making a similar trip, I could educate people about the health benefits of maté and maté drinking, etc. I thought I had it figured out. I actually ran the idea by a few friends and they told me it was a cool idea. There’s only one thing I forgot to take into account: NOBODY CARES. Well, that’s not completely true, my parents kind of care. But for the most part, nobody gives a crap what you want to do. Most people will only take interest in things that will help them, or help them help others. It’s not about me (or you), it’s about helping people. I have every intention of using my trip for the greater good, but I didn’t do a great job of conveying that message. Successful projects make other peoples lives better, they give their contributors a warm and fuzzy feeling. Crappy projects don’t.

2) Be Honest. It’s so easy to spot something unauthentic. Everybody knows when you’re not telling the truth (or even the whole truth). Every human being, whether they know it or not, has a built-in bullshit detector and nobody is going to contribute to something that isn’t from the heart. A reader will always forgive a storyteller that over-exaggerates a story, it makes it more interesting. However, it’s impossible to keep a reader enthralled when you hold back any of the truth. With my project, I definitely want to learn everything I can about maté, but I also want to ride horses with the Gauchos in Patagonia, see Iguazu Falls, practice my Spanish, learn the tango, and fall in love with a beautiful Argentinian woman. That’s the whole story.  I guarantee it will make for a better story, and I probably should have just explained it that way from the beginning. The maté is important, but it needs to be a part of a bigger story.

3) Set a Realistic Goal. “Oh cool, here’s a way to raise money for my big idea! Now if everyone I know just donates $5 then I can raise {Insert overly ambitious goal here}” I think this was what I was thinking when I started my project. I bet this is what all the other failed project were thinking, too. It’s natural to want to throw the total project cost as your goal, but it might not be the best strategy. Crowd-funding is really cool, but it’s really new. You can’t expect it to fund the whole project (it might, but don’t count on it.) I think a better mentality for my project was to use Kickstarter as a small victory. Something that showed I could get a moderate level of interest in my project. I should have set the bar lower and then easily reached my goal. After receiving the Kickstarter support, I could have gone for sponsorship from a maté company, or pitched the story to a magazine or newspaper. There are a ton of ways to get more funding, don’t expect crowd-funding to do it all. Instead, think of Kickstarter as a springboard of support for bigger things.

4) Don’t Count on Your Friends. I mean, of course count on your friends, just not to support your Kickstarter project. I showed a friend of mine the project in person on his computer while I was working on it, in order to get his opinion.

“Very cool, I’ll probably donate at the $50 level.”

“Nice!” I thought. Turns out that was the worst thing he could have said. Not only did he never donate, but he totally over-inflated my expectations about what I could raise. And what am I going to say, it’s hard to bug people for money that they said they would donate. It puts a weird tension on the friendship. It took me three weeks of bothering my brother to get him to finally donate. As a general rule, take everyone you think would definitely contribute and multiply that by 5%. The real gains are made by getting people you don’t know to contribute, which brings me to the next lesson…

5) Have a Marketing Plan. What separates your project from the rest of the pack at Kickstarter? How are people going to find your project? I put a lot of time into my video and write up for my project. I’ve spent a lot of time writing blog posts (including this!) and talking to people about the project. I didn’t spend nearly enough time on a marketing plan. I’ve only recently started using Twitter Search to find people who are interested in maté, I think that’s a start. I think successful projects do this well. In order to get your project to the finish line, expect to spend more time on marketing than you do on content. Don’t skimp on content, but expect to spend a lot more time on marketing.

I really hope this message is helpful for someone and that no one else makes the same humiliating mistakes as I have. I wish I would’ve read it before I started my project. If you want to see what remains of a failing Kickstarter project, check out www.greatmatejourney.com (Pity donations are gratefully accepted.)

Good luck on your project!

Great Moments in Project Videos

After coming across some fantastic new pitch videos in the past week, I began compiling a list of my overall favorites. Some are serious and moving, others clever and original, and a few just plain goofy. They nicely demonstrate the variety of Kickstarter’s uses — from earnest missions to ideas so weird they just might work.

I’d love to hear your nominees in the comments, but first let’s look at my top ten, in no particular order.

Allison Weiss makes a record: Well, there is some order I guess. Allison’s pitch video was the first that really blew us out of the water. It’s personal, it’s goofy, it’s informational, it very quickly imbues the viewer with confidence that this person knows their shit. Very impressive.

Other projects agreed: Allison’s video has been one of our most-imitated to date, even down to Allison’s cheery, “Hello internet!” It also includes this very compelling reason for backing:

Roosevelt Dime just needs a kickstart: I embarrass pretty easily, and I often get cringe-y when I see videos referencing Kickstarter itself — it’s just strange to me. I can’t explain it. But Roosevelt Dime’s video is a whole other matter. They’re a Brooklyn ragtime band raising money to make a new record — simple enough — and their pitch video is an incredibly catchy song about Kickstarter. It’s less than two minutes, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The best lyric:

“Don’t want no handout/ We’re just trying to get the word about our band out”

Amen to that!

Unveiling the Wonder City: Courtney Zell and Justin Rivers’ Wonder City project is one of my personal favorites on the whole site. It’s a graphic novel about the history of NYC, and the project is presented so dramatically in the pitch video that it feels like the trailer for Kavalier & Clay: The Movie. We’re always in favor of project videos featuring the creators themselves, but Wonder City handles this charmingly. Watch their video until the end to see how.

PS: Check their updates for images from the graphic novel. Very excited for this one.

Brent Rose’s fifty characters: Brent Rose is an actor/writer who wants to create 50 unique characters — with short films for each — in 50 days. Ambitious. And his project video unveils one of them: an awesome, nerdy dude obsessed with things being “classic.” Highlights include playing H-O-R-S-E using Street Fighter II moves (the fireball montage is indeed classic), some impressive yo-yoing, and just generally being hilarious. Many many many laughs.

April Smith makes a record: April Smith’s pitch video was another big trendsetter. April went with a montage approach coupled with some clever narration on her part, and it does a great job of giving you a sense of who she is, which is so important. Throw a rock on the site and you’ll hit a project that imitates it in some way. The sincerest form of flattery!

Sam Winston demonstrates A Dictionary Story: Sometimes less is more, and Sam Winston’s explanation and demonstration of his art book A Dictionary Story is particularly charming. He makes you care about the craftsmanship and concept, and you’ll finish the video thinking, “I can’t believe I can get one of those for $20!” You know a video is good when it gets you thinking like that.

Behind the scenes of Lake Beast: What’s better than an extremely talented person demonstrating the nature of their art? Lake Beast is by an animator named Vance Reeser, and it’s a very moving short film. Vance’s video goes far beyond what you would expect: he demonstrates how he makes his films and shows you the work in progress. (Check his project updates, too.) A great job of sharing why his work is special, and why people should back. I would put Shawn Feeny’s BFF, which unfortunately was not successfully funded, in this boat as well.

Robin Sloan writes a book: We loved Robin’s video so much we asked him to write a guide to making a Kickstarter video. So that should tell you something. What Robin did was create something that felt professional, demonstrated his personality, contained little flourishes that made you think “this guy knows what he’s doing,” and very clearly explains the purpose and nature of the project. A home run from every perspective.

The Quiet make us LOL: The Quiet are a band from LA, and for their project video they decided to make a Time Life-style commercial for their project. Generic footage of the surf rolling in while song titles scroll across the scene. A pair of hosts — one wearing the world’s fakest mustache — exchange hilariously canned dialogue in front of a laptop running a fireplace screensaver.

So good.

The Fishes document every Sizzler in the US: Liz and Reed Fish are entertainers by trade, and it shows in their video, which is warm and easy. With tons of charm they explain their ridiculous mission to photograph all 206 Sizzlers so convincingly you won’t question it in the least. Very well done.

Creator Q&A: The Masters

Photography projects have been very successful on Kickstarter thus far — from Laura Kicey’s trip to Iceland to a Colorado ghost town to a cross-country road trip we’ve seen backers respond strongly. Their success supports a point we tout as being so important on Kickstarter: interesting rewards with a built-in story element. With a photography project, these rewards are just layers of stories: the story of the project, the story of the photographer capturing the image, and the story of the image itself. Many possibilities.

It should be little surprise, then, that the highest-grossing Kickstarter project so far is a photography project. Masters, by George Del Barrio and the Vanderbilt Republic Foundation, has raised $38,000 of its $50,000 goal to date, with five days to go. If funding is successful, the creators will use the money to fly a team to Cambodia and take portraits of the Cambodian “Masters” — the elderly Cambodian musicians whose knowledge, traditions, and history is dying off with them.

“Masters” seeks to preserve that history and those men by preserving and documenting their legacy. We sent George some questions about his project, and our exchange is below. To support this project, follow this link.

Tell us about your project and your background.

Happily. “Masters” is the maiden voyage of the Vanderbilt Republic Foundation, —a pro-bono creative agency that partners with Arts/Culture/Human Justice non-profits to spur the realization of their mission. Right now, we’re allied with Cambodian Living Arts. They work to foster the contemporary expression of traditional Khmer performing arts, repairing the profound cultural damage wrought during the brutal Khmer Rouge years. The CLA connects the few performing arts Masters that survived the genocide with the next generation of students, and this work is crucial: in Cambodia, all arts teaching is done orally, as in ancient times. When a Master dies, their knowledge goes with them, and that knowledge can itself extend backwards in time by centuries.

The CLA has the vision that by the year 2020, the arts can become Cambodia’s international identity (not the killing fields), and this is what really caught our attention. We want to get them there, and in the process, construct a new iconography. One radiant with hope.

We’ll spend a month in Cambodia, shooting the Masters, their students, their art form and the incredible world they inhabit, all using a large-format film-based process and commercial thinking/standards. This approach, partnered with the planned life-sized traveling exhibition, will allow us to fully communicate the vibrancy of their individual stories and the universal truth of the renewal each Master/student embodies. The goal is nothing less than the creation a body of work so powerful that it can contribute to the assembly a new Cambodian reality, and this work will be given to the CLA to further their efforts for the next *decade.*

As for me, I’m a Queens-born portrait photographer by profession, and have a 3.5 year-old son, Benjamin Más. The boy is my power source.

How’s it going so far?

We’ve so far raised more than any project in Kickstarter history. I don’t expect to hold that crown long (especially not with Obama’s designer hanging around here), and Kickstarter is itself still quite young, but it’s a hell of a thing. When we put “Masters” up, back in the beginning of August, the place was mainly a collection of music projects and individual efforts/adventures. A project that sought to effect international change and needed an eye-popping $50,000 to do it was a bit different. Still is, I suppose. But there’s simply no other way we could be in this excellent position, at this point, without Kickstarter. Traditional non-profit fundraising takes too long and is almost wholly reliant on pre-existing contacts. Being able to offer a compelling return on investment while appealing to a broad audience is, in 2009, the only way. And once we clear the lengthy process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status, we’ll be able to offer backers tax breaks in addition to rewards, next time—that’s when things will get very interesting.

What’s been your most popular reward?

That’s a tough one to answer, only because I look at the ratio of rewards reserved against the funding they’ve brought in. We’ve sold 25% of our $1,250+ reward, for example, for serious gain, but that’s only 5 pledges. 43 backers pledged at $75+ to attend our fundraiser, and that was a serious, serious success. But then I look at our brand-new $100 reward — the Fujiroid signed by both myself and the photograph’s subject (guaranteed to be one the Masters) — and we moved *seven* of those in a day without doing a thing to advertise them. My suspicion/hope is that we’ll sell those out. Once folks hear about what’s being offered at that level, they’ll see that the value presented is just off the charts.

What’s your strategy for getting your project funded?

We’ve been keeping our mailing list of 1,200+ informed and involved and been maintaining a steady stream of information throughout all the expected social networking spaces. In addition, we printed up some Kickstarter-specific promo cards, and have been leaving them everywhere. I’ve been posting updates to our backers as frequently as I can manage; they’re practically family. For all the VRF principals, it’s not been possible to have a conversation with any of us that didn’t circle back to the project, and Kickstarter, for two months. And the power of personal relationships is strong. When people look in your eyes and see conviction, they take that belief and spread it confidently on your behalf. We hosted a fundraiser that had all ticket sales go through Kickstarter, and at the event, had booths available for any additional on-site pledges. There’s our advisor, John Gruber, a quiet young man with a penchant for letters. He’s been periodically advocating and directing his audience to us, with great effect.

And, finally there’s the “Friends of Cambodian Living Arts”. They’re so excited by the potential of our project that they’ve recently created a $20,000 challenge grant that’s working *right now* and doubles every dollar pledged on Kickstarter. They’ll match every pledge, and donate up to $20,000 towards the project *only* if we reach $50,000.
But even with all this, there’s no room to let up. We’ve only gotten this far by making a full-time job of Kickstarting.

What will you do with the money?

Every penny goes towards the production expenses for the shoot, in Cambodia. $50,000 represents the unavoidable costs; the total cost of the production is higher, but we’ve secured strategic partnerships that will save us significant sums. Root Brooklyn, for example, is donating *all* the equipment needed for the shoot, for the entire month. That’s a gift worth about $63,000. In this fashion, we’re avoiding every expense we can. But to take a full crew to Cambodia, for a month, prepared to go anywhere required in-country for the shoot, with a full-time translator and local production crew involves some level of inevitable cost. A comparable commercial shoot, for the same length of time, with equivalent deliverables, would be a seven digit production. I say this with no exaggeration. Only a truly cohesive, creative, effective team could pull this off, and I can tell you that the past year has been the most profound team-building exercise of our lives. These days, I tend to think that Matthew, Dwayne and I can do anything.

We’ll use the money to pour our hearts into effecting a lasting change for an entire country.

Any closing thoughts?

This place that we find ourselves in is a testament to the remarkable goodwill, support, advice, attention, and love we’ve received. We’re a miracle of collective creation, and as much as I want us to reach our goal for all the stated reasons, I often find myself thinking about what this project can mean to the people that truly believe in us. 2009 has been rough for everyone, and has hollowed out too many people I adore. Each instance weighs on me. To create something lasting for them amidst the wreckage…it would be a good fate.

Feltron vs. Kickstarter

Nicholas Felton is the excellent designer and infographic maestro behind the Feltron Annual Report, a printed book that Nicholas self-publishes presenting statistics about the past year of his life. Everything from streets walked to number of times he listened to a song to how many alcoholic drinks he had per day laid out beautifully, like the image above from the 2006 report. It’s incredible.

We had the chance to meet Nicholas recently, and we got to talking about how his visual approach to statistics could be applied to Kickstarter. The huge opportunity Kickstarter presented was immediately obvious — we have so much data flowing through our system that could be so useful and so much fun for everyone… if only we could just present it in the right way.

Which brings us to Feltron vs. Kickstarter, a project that — if funded — will bring in Nicholas’ time and brain power to spruce up our infographic look. (Not to mention secret DNA testing to clone his Shaolin techniques.) Backers have the option of project updates ($1), a very cool on-site profile badge ($10), a gold, limited-edition Kickstarter button ($20), the Feltron Annual Report ($30), and to be on the design calls as we decide what to do ($100).

And because it’s Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. We get no special treatment. So if you’d like to see Nicholas’ work on Kickstarter, we humbly ask for your support. Thanks!

New Arrivals: Designing Obama

There have been tons of excellent projects that have gone live in the past week. Here’s a look at some that got our attention.

Designing Obama: Maybe you’ve heard of this Obama guy? Scott Thomas certainly has — he was the Design Director for the campaign, and this project collects his work, as well as tons of other amazing designers, to provide a definitive statement of the look and feel of the Obama campaign brand. The material is being collected into a book that varies from $10 for a PDF to $150 for an inscribed copy in a gold sleeve to a $10,000 version handmade by Joe Biden. Have you seen that guy’s Etsy store?

PieLab: When this project first rolled in, I double-crossed my fingers and toes hoping that “Pie” meant, well, pie, and that this would be a project to develop new combinations of crust and awesomeness. And while that’s not exactly what this project is about, it’s not terribly far off. Basically a group of creative folks in Greensboro, Alabama (is “Greensboro” the Springfield of the South?), started a pop-up pie shop, and they want to expand it into a center for design, creativity, and, well, pie for their community. Very cool.

Emoji Dick: The work of Fred Benenson — a Creative Commons-er — Emoji Dick is a Mechanical Turk’d translation of Melville’s Moby Dick into Japanese emoji icons, which I didn’t know existed until, err, now. Here’s an example:

This project has proven to be weirdly polarizing on Twitter and Boingboing — people want to know why do this, what its purpose is. Since when did art need purpose?

Fund Nothing: So Fund Nothing is about as descriptive as it gets. According to creator Jeff Edwards, this project is Kickstarter’s first conceptual art piece. The project is looking to raise $100 — 100% of which will be used to give backers certificates of participation that cost exactly $.85 to produce. Jeff has has four takers so far. Should be a fun one to follow.

One Night Stand: A group of comic writers and artists have decided to collaborate on a one-off issue focused on “casual encounters.” (Every Craigslister knows what that means.) The finished comic will not be sexually explicit, they assure us. I’ll probably end up backing anyway.

TINYBROKENFILMS Presents: Three friends decide to make a 12-part serialized film. Promising.

Help Fund My Brutal Arcade Game: This is the work of a game developer named Mark Essen, and I neglected to include it in last week’s video game roundup because the use of the word “brutal” made me think it was some over-the-top violent thing. But what Mark means by brutal is brutally hard — which this puzzle game is. I watched about 40 seconds of gameplay footage yesterday and had to do some light Foucault reading to keep my brain from destroying itself in confusion.

100k Stray Toasthed Pull Toys: The work of industrial designer C. Sven Johnson, this is a different kind of project for us. It’s seeking $7,500 to design and then share the CNC designs (a form of production: here’s Wikipedia on it) with backers so they can produce their own.

Showpaper Issue 63: Such a niche project, but one after my own heart. Showpaper is a DIY, print-only zine focused on punk rock and indie shows in Brooklyn. They’re seeking $800 to pay for the next issue.

Gold Coins

In a project update last week, Robin Sloan — who previously penned this video guide and whose Kickstarter project is currently 243% funded — wrote about “gold coins,” small treasures left for an audience to discover and relish. Robin quotes a writing coach advising: “Place gold coins along the path. Don’t load all your best stuff high in the story. Space special effects throughout the story, encouraging readers to find them and be delighted by them.”

Robin specifically means writing when he talks about gold coins, but there’s a larger truth in there for people creating projects. Especially “don’t load all your best stuff high in the story,” to which I add, “And make sure not to overload them at all.”

It’s important to show passion when pitching a project, and it’s equally important to be judicious with how much and what kind of information you share. (This goes for both Kickstarter and real life.) You might have a million and one reasons why your idea is the one worth funding, but the only ones that matter are those that you can present convincingly in those first 20 seconds you have to make an impression.

Every project creator should ask him or herself: what are my project’s gold coins? Is there a good story behind the project? Is there one reward that’s particularly strong? Are you strong on-camera? Find what these things are, and build your project around them. If you have a really awesome reward, then don’t add too many others — they’ll only distract from your best stuff. If you’re good on-camera, plan to do regular video updates and advertise it loudly.

The point about sprinkling these things throughout the story is huge. Running a Kickstarter project is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. A better phrase, in fact, would be campaign. Like a political campaign, a Kickstarter campaign is a marathon, and every day is a chance to win even just one new supporter.

So plan your days out. Create goals and deadlines within the project. Space and target your emails and social media messages asking for support so as not to fatigue. Add new, limited rewards. Post in-depth project updates on the most interesting parts of your story. Think of the experience that you would want as a backer, and then work your ass off to replicate it. Now scatter those gold coins, and you should be all set.

Creator Q&A: Borut

The Unconcerned is the working title for the subject of this post, a video game set in Iran during the protests following the recent election. Quite the weighty subject matter. In the game, you play a couple looking for their daughter who has disappeared during the rioting.

As Borut, the game’s developer, explains both in his pitch video and in our Q&A below, he is well-aware of the needed delicacy in making a game like this one. He is approaching this with complete earnestness, both in terms of the subject matter and the Kickstarter project itself.

The project launched over the weekend and has raised over $1,200 so far, with a goal of $15,000 and 84 days to go. Rewards include the game itself, original artwork, and even having an in-game character modeled after a backer.

We emailed with Borut about his project, its politics, and how indie game development can fit in with Kickstarter. To check out the project, click here. Here is our conversation:

Can you tell us about your project?

It’s a small game that’s set in Iran, during the riots and protests that followed the election this June. You play two characters, a husband and wife who are looking for their lost daughter.

The gameplay will be a combination of solving puzzles and action. You’ll come across different types of people on the street while looking for your daughter, and they’ll react to you differently depending on what character you are at that moment (the father or the mother). You have to use these differences to get past obstacles like police or crowds, and get information from people that will help you find your daughter.

A lot of people don’t think games can address such serious topics, but I think that not only can they address them, games can sometimes be the best way do so. Games can make people feel like in they’re in another place and another moment in time, to give them perspective on serious events like these.

What was your thinking in *how* you decided to take on the task of creating a game around the Iranian elections? How are you handling the delicacy of the subject matter?

That’s a great question - how I approach such a volatile and sensitive topic is definitely at the forefront of my mind as I’m working on the game. I think one of the keys to creating a successful story about such a serious topic (in any medium) is that the core of the work should deal with emotions that translate to any place and time. I think anyone who is a parent or whose friends are parents can at least in some way relate to the pain a parent would feel losing their child.

There are a number of political issues I’d like to deal with in the game, but I think these will work best as subtext. By that I mean that your explicit goals as the player at any given moment don’t have to relate to the political situation. Instead, they will indirectly expose you to situations that encourage you to think about it more. For instance, one of the characters in the story is a police officer, and you will come across moments where police are being unnecessarily violent against protesters, as well as moments where they are the victims of violence (based on real events). By asking you as the player to deal with and resolve such situations, my hope is that you’ll ask yourself more about how such situations are created and what causes us to do such awful things to each other in such times.

How I approach these topics is especially important early on in the game’s development, so I’ve been taking time to do research and am trying to be very careful designing the game’s mechanics. I’m a very strong believer that everything you decide to put in a game says something explicitly, whether you realize it or not. I’ve recently been designing the gameplay differences between the father and mother characters and I’ve been trying to avoid making those differences based on the physical nature of the two characters (like the father being capable of taking more damage during a fight). Differences like that play up the unequal nature of the sexes, and downplay what role society has in controlling that inequality. So I’m trying to make those gameplay differences consist more of how other characters *react* to you, based on which character you are. For instance, the types of actions that would cause a nearby police officer to become suspicious of you and stop you would be different if you’re playing the father or mother. Everything in the game has to go through that kind of analysis and thought process.

I realize it is perhaps audacious for someone (especially, say, a white, middle class, U.S. citizen like me) to make a game, or any other piece of media, about such a different place and culture. But I also feel like this game really needs to be made, and I don’t see any else doing it - understanding people and trying to help them relate has always been a passion for me.

What is your background? And what about your collaborators?

I’ve been working in game development for about 9 years, doing programming and some game design.  After graduating from Georgia Tech in 1998, I did regular software programming for a little while and then eventually tried to create my own startup studio with a couple partners. That didn’t work out at the time, but it was an amazing learning experience. From there I went to work for Radical Entertainment, on a game based on the movie Scarface. Then I worked at Sony Online Entertainment on a PS3 launch title (Untold Legends). I’ve been at EA the past two and a half years, until I finally decided I had to get back to making my own games (while doing contract work on the side to help pay the bills). I’ve also taught game design at the Vancouver Film School, and have written about game development for a variety of books and websites.

I’ve started working with a couple artists, Amanda Williams, who did some of the art for the popular iPhone game Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, and Alex Drummond, who also does concept art for the game Edge of Twilight (which is currently in production). I’ve got a friend who’s offered to help me with sound effects, but I haven’t reached the stage in the project where that’s necessary yet. I still have a lot to determine about the music for the game though, as to what kind of music and how much there will be.

How does Kickstarter fit as an indie game funding model?

I think it has the potential to work very well for certain size games. A small downloadable game’s budget can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand. I think at the moment it probably works best for games in the $1-25k range, but hopefully that amount will increase both as Kickstarter’s audience grows, and as the audience for indie games grows.

What has your experience been so far?

It’s been great - in the first day alone I raised $836 and after three days I’m at 8% of my goal, $1211 out of $15k. Even if the project doesn’t meet its funding goal, it’s incredibly empowering to know there’s people out there who believe in you and want to see the project succeed.

How will you be keeping backers informed?

I plan on doing regular updates on the game’s development process. I still have to figure just how much I’ll publish publicly, and what information I’ll keep for those backers who have pledged for exclusive behind the scenes access. To start, I will probably only do detailed development updates every 2-3 weeks, with smaller updates here and there. As the development ramps up, detailed updates will probably become more frequent, maybe once a week or so. I’ll probably include in-progress art as well as insight into what problems and approaches I’m taking in the game’s design and programming.

How and where will the game be released?

The game will be available for download on PC, and ideally for download on the Xbox as well. The Xbox has two channels for downloadable games, Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Live Indie. It’s easier to publish something on the Indie channel, but it also restricts the price you can charge to $5 (whereas I think the typical price for a game of this size and depth is about $10). The Indie channel also doesn’t have as broad a market as the Arcade channel. As I get closer to finishing the game, I’ll have to figure out if it’s worth the effort to go through the longer approval process for the Xbox Live Arcade, which also depends on Microsoft’s interest in publishing it on that channel. Because of the political nature of the game, they may want to keep it on the Indie channel.

As for the timeline of the game’s development, that’s still up in the air. Realistically, it’ll be at least 6 months of work, but it may take longer, even over a year. It depends partly on how successful the funding is via Kickstarter and how much of my time I can devote solely to developing the game.

Are you consulting any Iranians or anyone who was in Tehran as you develop this?

Absolutely - Right now I’m starting by just reaching out through my personal network. For instance I have a friend and ex-coworker whose parents are Iranian citizens and whose mother was actually in Iran this summer during some of the protests. I’m also hoping to make more contacts for additional interviews/research through the attention the project gets on Kickstarter - in fact while answering your questions I’ve already gotten an email from someone whose family is from Iran and who offered their support.

Aside from that I’m doing a lot of other research, reading about both the politics and culture of Iran. I would like to travel to Tehran myself, but I’m not yet sure how feasible that is.

Any closing thoughts?

I’m hopeful that indie game-playing community is open to both this kind of game and this kind of method of funding games. Part of the challenge is definitely figuring out how to get the word out there yourself, but Kickstarter is a really cool service and it has a lot of potential for indie game development. I’m excited to have my project on the site and to see how the site develops and grows over time as you open it up to more people. Thanks to you, and thanks to all my backers!

Kickstarting Indie Gaming

There is a potentially decade-defining revolution happening in gaming right now, and not many are noticing. The iPhone, flash games, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Second Life, Facebook widgets, and even Foursquare haven’t just moved the bar for gaming development —they’ve completely redesigned and re-purposed it.

We’ve gone from game development as an artistic/programming pursuit to the past five years, the age of the blockbuster game. Like Hollywood, anything that doesn’t fit a predetermined market requirement is cast aside. Big console and PC development takes years of work and ginormous sums of money, and as a result, the gaming studios play it safe, releasing sequels, retreads, and other swill. Sound familiar?

But just as there’s more to film than Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, there’s more to gaming than Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat. Indie game developers have always been around, but they’re now finding friendly outlets and eager gamers thanks to the iPhone, Xbox, and Playstation’s relatively open platforms. For many, it’s the first credible outlet they’ve ever had.

But still, there is money — a lack of it. And for some developers, that’s where Kickstarter has come in. We’ve had games like High Strangeness, Liferaft, and Resonance — all excellent. Another set in the post-election demonstrations in Iran (we’ll be posting an interview with its developer tomorrow). Also a documentary on competitive Street Fighter 4, a Halo-based talk show, and a new video game journal, among many others.

The rewards are often great. In addition to the games themselves, creators have offered to base characters after backers and use them as in-game voices. And for the creators: I don’t know the ownership stakes normally given to game developers, but I can take a guess. On Kickstarter creators always keep full creative control and intellectual property.

If you aren’t a big gamer you probably don’t think of these people as artists in the same way you do filmmakers, painters, or musicians. And considering what’s out there, you aren’t wrong. But a good game developer or designer’s work can be just as profound and just as serious as anyone else’s. Visit a couple of the projects above and I bet you’ll agree.