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Video Game Crowdfunding Done Right: Bard’s Tale IV

When I was 11 years old I can remember spending countless hours roaming the streets of Skara Brae, creeping in the shadows to avoid detection… and always on guard….

Wait – you haven’t heard of Skara Brae? Ahhhh, that’s because I’m referring to a fictitious land created by the likes of Brian Fargo in a video game series called The Bard’s Tale. The original series was actually a trilogy, with The Bard’s Tale I, II, and III released between 1985 and 1988. In 2015 many of us retro game-geeks were delighted to learn that Brian has assembled a team to develop and release The Bard’s Tale IV after nearly 30 years!

Brian is now operating under the company inXile Entertainment, and successfully funded the game via Kickstarter, raising a total of $1.5 million against a goal of $1.25 million. The campaign ran from June 2 through July 10, 2015, but achieved over half it’s goal on the very first day, and met the funding target after just 12 days!

Video games are an extremely popular genre on Kickstarter and on Crowdfunding sites in general, and that leads to a lot of failures. The Bard’s Tale IV campaign was conceived, planned, and executed with such perfection that I thought it would be good to look at as a case study to pick out some of the key aspects that made it the success that it was.

They Leveraged an Existing Brand

This one is perhaps a bit obvious but it does highlight the power of tieing your Project to something people are already familiar with and want. I know myself for example, would have probably purchased The Bard’s Tale IV without knowing anything about it save for its existence, purely based on the positive experience I had with it as a kid.

Most campaigns won’t be so lucky however, as their video games are being created from scratch with no existing brand to draw on. It goes without saying though, that if you can tie in to an existing game property you will be at a significant advantage. Depending on your connections in the industry and the stage of development your video game is at, it may make sense to partner with someone who can bring that to the table. Which brings us to the next point…….

A Celebrity Design Team (at least in the video game industry)

Having a solid team brings credibility to any Crowdfunding campaign, but when your team consists of some of the same people who worked on the original games 30 years ago and are well known in the industry it’s a game changer. Brian Fargo himself is very well known and respected in the industry, inXile has a proven track record with two other games successfully funded on Kickstarter over the past few years.

The point I am trying to make is that unless you are well known in the industry yourself, it’s going to pay you huge dividends to either partner with, consult with, or be endorsed by someone who is. There are other examples of this on Kickstarter as well. Legendary game designer Chris Roberts successfully funded his ambitious Star Citizen campaign on Kickstarter in 2013 (now over $100 million in post-campaign funding). Iridium Studios took an interesting approach bringing Will Wheaton on board as a voice actor for their game There Came an Echo. Will also contributed greatly to the campaign buzz by participating in some quite humorous videos.

Again, not every campaign will have access to an individual or group to provide this level of excitement and credibility to their game, but it is something to explore to increase your chances for success.

Extreme Pre-Campaign Buzz

There’s a good reason that inXile was able to raise over half their funding goal in 11 hours. Brian and his team put a great deal of effort into generating significant pre-campaign buzz even before their Kickstarter campaign began. This is what I consider to be one of the 5 Key Parts of any successful crowdfunding campaign.

Brian was in the news as early as January 26, 2015 with PC World revealing his plans for the game — a full 5 months before the campaign launched on Kickstarter. The inXile team was equally busy on social media as well as traditional media and major gaming blogs. A quick google search revealed several articles written two weeks before campaign launch on May 17 — PC Gamer, Game Watcher, and Eurogamer.

There was so much excitement built up before the Kickstarter campaign even launched that success was all but certain. This should be every video game crowdfunding campaign’s goal. Tell everyone and anyone about your game, join forums and Facebook groups related to your genre, get people involved in providing ideas & suggestions, and take full advantage of social media.

Fantastic Engagement Throughout the Campaign

During the 38 day campaign, inXile provided a total of 22 updates to the Kickstarter campaign page. That’s an update on average every 1.7 days! And these were not mere requests for support, no — these were interesting, informative, and relevant communications to the community offering everything from new perks, in-depth details revealed about the game world and gameplay, to reveals of new team members.

By far their most ingenious engagement method was the development and rollout of an achievement system backers could take part in on social media! whereby additional perks could be unlocked for more social interaction!

social media achievements (1)

 

This not only kept excitement and engagement high, but also encouraged backers who might not otherwise be inclined to do so to promote the game via their social media accounts. It was an excellent idea, executed well and while you may not implement a social media achievement system of your own, it may encourage you to be a bit more creative in your engagement and marketing efforts.

One of the things I did in the first campaign we ran, which worked out great, was I started talking to my audience way before we were ready to start. Discussed stretch goals and tiers, worked out was really valuable to them. So they really helped me hone in on what made sense. The thing I learned was that you need things that are interesting to people outside the core audience. Preaching to the converted every other day doesn’t gain you much, in the sense that they’re on board already. — Brian Fargo in an interview with Game Watcher — May 22, 2015

Realistic Rewards and Exciting Stretch Goals

inXile knows their audience very well, and took advantage of that when developing their backer rewards tiers and stretch goals. Setting unrealistic targets for your team is one of the key pitfalls I stress must be avoided. Doing so was already responsible for the catastrophic failure of at least one Kickstarter project already.

The Bard’s Tale IV campaign follows good practice of having a very wide range of rewards to choose from which allows anyone to contribute no matter their financial situation and allows those that are more fortunate of us to contribute significantly and be rewarded for doing so. inXile’s campaign offered reward tiers starting as low as $5, ranging all the way to $10,000 (5 of these actually sold to give you an idea of how hardcore some of these fans are), with a total of 29 additional tiers in between.

Stretch goals were meaningful to the target audience and provided additions of coveted features to the game such as enhanced companion and crafting systems. Higher stretches added celebrity gaming designers to the team.

Summary

inXile’s Kickstarter campaign should serve as a role model for the rest of us on how to successfully crowdfund a video game. They implemented all of the ingredients of a stellar campaign. They conceived of a game people really want and became excited about, built on that excitement with a stellar team, extreme levels of media buzz (both social and magazine/blog), assembled a very desirable set of backer rewards and stretch goals, and maintained a very high level of engagement throughout the campaign. Someone should buy Brian a beer — hmmm, maybe in Skara Brae.

Now It’s Your Turn

Are you considering crowdfunding a video game? How will you attempt to achieve the same level of success The Bard’s Tale IV has achieved? Is there anything you think they could have done differently? Let us know in the comments below!

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