The time has come to bid farewell. It’s been a memorable month, to say the least, and this final update will be a recap and analysis of a campaign that has many still wondering why in Azathoth’s name it wasn’t funded. As we’re going to see, there’s no easy answer, but first things first:
THANK YOU. Those of you who are here have been extremely kind and supportive. You were as passionate about the project as we were, as can be attested by the sheer amount of shares, likes, and comments. This level of involvement isn’t seen even with campaigns with well over 6,000 backers, and as of this writing you number 1,800. The game has been extremely well received, with overwhelmingly positive comments on its look and feel, character design, and music. The average pledge per backer is an astounding (by today’s standards) $50. In this regard, the campaign has been a resounding success.
Unfortunately, we have to move on. We’re disbanding part of our team as we focus solely on completing Asylum, which is coming along great. Let me clarify that in spite of this disastrous and shameful conclusion, Senscape is in no way at risk, and we have money to deliver an amazing horror game that will stay in your memory for aeons to come. It would have been great to work on two projects at the same time, especially as they share the same roots, but there’s nothing left to do; this was our best shot. As I will explain next, this project required a monumental effort and the launch of the campaign was carefully orchestrated. We can’t easily reproduce that, not without taking more time away from Asylum, which isn’t an option. The same goes for talking to investors and publishers: these things demand time and effort. The whole idea was to produce an amazing game based on Lovecraft’s novel, with a generous budget and no constraints. I don’t want to develop this game under other conditions, and risk not doing justice to the source material. Thus, I’m afraid The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is being put on hold for the time being.
What happened? Let’s try to figure this out together as I review the campaign.
While you were all happy with the presentation and progress of the campaign, three negative things about it come immediately to mind:
- Asylum. It’s not ready yet, which has rubbed some people the wrong way. However, I explained at length why we needed to do this Kickstarter, and while some unbelievers showed lack of faith, the majority of our backers were happy with this new project.
- The official Lovecraft license. This was supposed to be tremendous news for the adventure game genre, and while many were blown away with our efforts to bring to video games an adaptation of a Lovecraft story researched to scholarly standards, the news was received negatively in the more hardcore community of Lovecraft fans. I explained our position and the nature of the agreement we have with the Lovecraft Estate in Providence, and the controversy died down.
- The admittedly ambitious target amount. It may seem like a lot, but game development is becoming very expensive. Even if we scrapped the documentary and the physical rewards, we couldn’t make an adventure game of 8-10 hours with full voice acting and this level of cinematic quality for less money. This isn’t the case with Asylum, which was well into production when we launched its Kickstarter. With a brand-new game it’s different. Still, the goal can’t have been the problem — not when mere months ago games were passing the 100k mark without major problems.
These three points may seem problematic, especially when combined, but they clearly aren’t enough to explain why we haven’t reached our goal. The most troublesome aspect voiced by many — the fact that Asylum is still in production — appeared in a revealing new light when I looked closely into our stats. I compared the list of supporters for Charles Dexter Ward with the list of supporters for Asylum. What I found was very surprising: one third of those supporting this project are Asylum backers, which is far more than I had anticipated. I truly meant it when I said I wasn’t expecting them to back this new project. It turns out that a big chunk of you are reoffending Asylum krazies, so thank you again for yet another vote of confidence.
That 33% is a particularly interesting figure. We needed about 6,000+ people to make Charles Dexter Ward a reality, and, assuming the ratio of new vs. old backers remained the same, this project would have been funded with 2,000 backers, or 66% of all our Asylum backers. That’s a lot. Therefore, Asylum can’t have been the only problem.
But this still doesn’t answer why we aren’t funded. It’s impossible not to notice a sense of apathy towards Kickstarter these days. Previously I would tweet about an adventure needing backers, and experience an outpouring of support with retweets, favourites, and such. Today I say “Kickstarter” and not even crickets reply.
In short, few people seem to be backing games these days, including our own. This can lead to only one conclusion…
Kickstarter is dying
I didn’t want to believe it, because I love the idea of crowdfunding, but there’s no way around this: we are experiencing its decline. It would be a whole different matter if our campaign were an isolated case of plain bad luck, but it’s not — from small teams with modest goals to high-profile developers with solid track records, we’re seeing a very grim scenario where too many campaigns are failing for no other reason than lack of interest. Note that I’m saying lack of interest in crowdfunding, not the games themselves, which generally have received great feedback. October in particular has been a dreadful month for Kickstarter, perhaps the worst I’ve seen, and it’s supposed to be the second month of the Kickstarter year that attracts most pledges. It’s hardly surprising after reading this article by GameSpot claiming that funding for Kickstarter games has dropped by more than half in 2014. How I wish they had posted that before we launched this campaign…
Take Kicktraq for instance. Right now I see barely two games on their list of Top 25 hot projects. Remember the time when the Top 10 alone were all games? I sure do, and it wasn’t that long ago.
Many of you have been saying we should relaunch the campaign, but this was our best shot. There’s no way we can achieve again the momentum we had during the first three days. I can’t stress this enough: the announcement of Charles Dexter Ward was huge. Between our pre-launch campaign, buzz on Twitter, local and international celebrities supporting us, our own posts that went viral, and a massive article in the second-biggest newspaper in Argentina, I estimate well over 100,000 people heard about Charles Dexter Ward. And again, that was only during the first three days of the campaign. It boggles the mind, then, that barely 2,000 people have backed the game — with such a strong launch and the evident appeal of the project, a year ago we’d easily have reached $400k.
It gets even worse when you take stats into account. I’m no stranger to Kickstarter, and my approach was very thorough: we created hype, got in touch with journalists in advance so as to warrant articles on the launch date, ensured a solid tier structure, had an interesting and informative project page, a killer pitch video, attractive rewards, compelling game materials, and fun updates, encouraged activity and comments, etc. We did everything by the book. The resulting launch was a tremendous success: we raised $10,000 in three hours, were covered by over 150 sites and blogs, got shout-outs from many other campaigns, and the vast majority of people were thrilled with Charles Dexter Ward. For crying out loud, we were Greenlit on Steam in nine days.
To compare, Asylum took 24 hours to raise the first $10,000. Our initial trending was through the roof, and the project should have been funded. But then pledging took a gigantic nosedive that made me literally livid — you can’t imagine how stressed I was during those first hours. The reason for this nosedive is obvious when you compare the graphs for our two Kickstarter campaigns:
Yes, it’s that bad. Whereas with Asylum the ratio of pledges from the Kickstarter community vs. external pledges (that is, the result of our own efforts in promotion) was evenly divided; with Charles Dexter Ward we see that only 30% came from Kickstarter itself. Now, you might say, “Sure, but you couldn’t have made it even with the previous ratio,” but it’s not such a mathematically linear relationship. If the Kickstarter community hadn’t kept dwindling since Asylum, we’d have received pledges amounting to at least $50,000 on the second day. And Kickstarter is all about psychology — if people get the impression that a campaign can make it, they’re more likely to support it. Enthusiasm is contagious, but there wasn’t enough to begin with. Of that estimated initial 100,000 people who heard about the project, only a very small portion visited our Kickstarter page, and even fewer were inclined to back the project.
I stress again: the response everywhere else has been incredibly positive. It’s just that none of that enthusiasm translated into pledges. Take IGN, for instance. It’s hard to get noticed by the press, and even harder to get them to write about Kickstarters, but IGN was kind enough to post a very positive article about this campaign. Would you like to know how much in pledges that article got us? OK, wait for it…
I’m officially clueless. As of today, I have no idea about Kickstarter. In the past I was happy to advise other developers, but forget it, nothing I say will matter because crowdfunding is becoming a matter of sheer luck and randomness, impossible to control. There’s simply no correlation between marketing efforts and buzz and incoming pledges. You could get coverage on most mainstream websites and still not make it (I’ve actually seen that). This erratic and unpredictable behaviour can drive you nuts: like a macabre joke, our most celebrated update with a talking Charles — so well received on social networks — resulted in a negative day.
To be fair, some campaigns are still finding success, albeit with a tight margin. Crowdfunding can still work for smaller projects, and you might see the occasional celebrity raising millions, but it’s no longer working for projects like our own that fall somewhere in between. It could be just a phase, and 2015 might be better, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up, because the trend shows decline since 2013.
I’d just like to add that the Kickstarter team has been extremely supportive, featuring our project on two occasions and always addressing our questions in record time. They’re a nice bunch, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them. As an advocate (a former one) of crowdfunding, I’m truly saddened by this whole situation.
So what next? We have Asylum of course, which is looking better than ever. We know it’s delayed, but we always make sure to keep you updated on its progress, and you’re going to love what you’re about to see. As for Charles Dexter Ward, wish I had better news, but I don’t. You know how I kept pushing the campaign and delivering rich updates, but the truth is that by the first night I knew we weren’t going to make it. Since then I’ve come up with a plan B that may help us fund the game ourselves, but it will take time. For the time being, it’s best if you don’t keep your hopes up.
No, I don’t feel like coming back to Kickstarter, at least not in the foreseeable future. While crowdfunding Asylum has been a fantastic experience, a remarkably fun and fantastic learning process, this Kickstarter is leaving a very sour taste in my mouth. It was too much stress and work, and it wasn’t nice for you, either: I hated seeing friends upping their pledges when I knew very well they were going through financial troubles. Asylum left me wanting more, but it’s clear that I’ve had enough of crowdfunding after Charles Dexter Ward. This was perfect timing as well, before we go into epic crunch mode on Asylum and before Cordes Jr. arrives in January. There’s no way I can go through another month like this one in 2015.
So goodbye, Kickstarter, we’ll always have the Hanwell Mental Institute…
On the positive side of things, we have attracted much attention with this project. Our community grew a lot as well, with hundreds of new likes and followers. Speaking of which, make sure you follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Hey, you can always register in our awesome and friendly forums as well.
The most important thing about this campaign was your support and confidence in the Senscape team, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it, but we have other things to look forward to. And yes, they all involve fear and nightmarish terrors.
As for Charles Dexter Ward… Now is the moment to let go and submerge him in the depths of uncharted seas where strange star constellations are sometimes glimpsed on the darkest nights and alien things surface occasionally, putting him to rest in that sunken city of oddly angled shapes and ever-present slime where an abominable being awaits patiently and speaks to us in our deepest dreams. Time to fhtagn.