How I raised $24,000 on Kickstarter

By Andrew Plotkin, contributing writer


(CNNMoney.com) -- Andrew Plotkin is a programmer and game developer whose works include So Far, Spider and Web and The Dreamhold.

On November 1, I posted a crazy plan on Kickstarter: I wanted to quit my job and spend my life writing text adventures. That's 1980-style, old-fashioned text games -- you remember Zork and Adventure -- a genre which hasn't been commercially viable for 20 years. I had the notion that a new generation of book fans, carrying e-readers and smart phones, could bring interactive fiction back to life.

Because it was a crazy plan, I made a conservative pitch: I'd first write one full-length game, for iPhone. I hoped to attract $8,000 in a month. That's not really enough to support development of a large game, but it's enough to help. More importantly, if I got that much, it would indicate the idea had potential. If not, I'd go do something else.

Fourteen hours later, I had achieved my month's goal. By the end of the first day, fans had contributed nearly $12,000. As I write this, it's twice that.

How do you do that?

More than zero people have asked me this in the past two weeks, which is hilarious, because my attitude towards business and marketing practice is "Why are you asking me about somebody else's job? I program, not publicize. Let me write my flippin' code."

I can describe what I did, but I can't answer in the form of a recipe. That's no surprise. It's about what you've done with your life and who you know. (Just like everything else is.)

But I guess everybody who succeeds on Kickstarter has to answer this question.

How did I do it, really?

First, spend 15 years working hard on projects with no reward but community goodwill.

I say that without either pride or resentment. It's objectively true. Kickstarter is succeeding for me because I have released a long list of text games, for free, that many people love. And I have created a long list of open-source projects that many people value. My project is explicitly about doing more on both fronts: I promised to write a game, and also to spend time developing the free game-creation tools.

That's the core. Some subjective factors that I can't measure, but which I'm sure helped:

  • Say up front what you want to do, why you want money, and how that money will be converted into something awesome. (A list of features is not exciting, of itself. Describe an experience.)
  • Have a great video. I wrote a script, and then my co-conspirator Jason McIntosh and I whaled over it. Jason threw away a bunch of stuff and added a bunch of stuff; then we filmed it. Twice.
  • Think about your audience and who wants what. I have contributors who want an iPhone game, contributors who want interactive fiction, contributors who want to support my open-source projects, and contributors who want to support me. These are not all the same people. Rewarding all of these groups appropriately is non-trivial, and there has been some discussion about the way I did it.
  • For a game project, include a demo. (I realized this only barely before launch-day! The demo that I posted represents two intense weekends of work; I hope that's a good omen for my production rate in 2011.)
  • Don't be afraid to plug yourself and your CV. I know you're all saying "how could you fail to promote yourself?!" but I had to be chivvied into it. (Thanks, Jason Scott.)
  • Contrariwise, don't be a jerk. Actively don't be a jerk. Say thank you to everybody, early and often.
How did I promote it?

First, I re-read an article about Dejobaan Games (a local indie game company), in which they deconstructed their most recent game launch. In particular, I absorbed their notion of writing press releases. That was very helpful.

Then I sent e-mail to people. Not even very many, in fact. The big one was an editor at GameSetWatch, because I've interacted with him before, and he's interacted with other interactive fiction authors. I sent e-mail to random people who have asked me about commercial IF in the past. Turns out one of them was Schuyler Towne, who made $87,000 on Kickstarter to sell lockpicks! Total serendipity: he's interested in IF.

So, lesson: have contacts who are appropriate to your subject. Helpful! I know.

Obviously, a couple of days later, the big story was about how big the story got. I was hoping for that, but it's not something you can ordain. I will ride the snowball for as long as it lasts.

And how do you feel about this, Mr Plotkin?

On October 31, I was another schlob hoping to make some money. Now you people are asking me for my advice on Kickstarter. I have not gotten smarter in the past few days! Why are you looking at me?? Do I have something on my face???

Yeah, it's been kind of overwhelming.

Thank you, all of you who have contributed. I will do my darnedest to create something worthy of your generosity. To top of page

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