Kickstarter is a necessary method for independent studios to help fund production of their games. But it can sometimes feel like a roll of the dice as to whether or not a campaign will succeed. Kitfox Games (a GPS alumni studio) is currently in the process of running their second Kickstarter campaign for their new dungeon crawler / dating sim, Boyfriend Dungeon.
Their Kickstarter has a standard run of a month, but the game funded itself within six hours, and they’ve continued to hit stretch goal after stretch goal. The campaign will finish on Saturday, September 15th, so back them now!
We sat down (via email) with Tanya X. Short, Captain and Creative Director,and Victoria Tran, Community Manager, to learn more about the strategy behind their successful campaign.
So lets start at the beginning here. Take me back to your brainstorm for stretch goals and rewards. You’ve had some fun ones! How did that ideation process go down?
TS: We had been thinking about this Kickstarter for… a year or so. So as soon as we knew that it was a possibility, we started writing down all of our ideas and puns and things that made us excited. There were about six months working on Boyfriend Dungeon where we hadn’t announced the game to the world, so Victoria was vibrating with excitement that she couldn’t share, and I believe a lot of that energy went into coming up with Kickstarter reward ideas.
So, we threw all the ideas for rewards and stretch goals into a spreadsheet and then I asked Indiebox how much each one would take to make/ship/etc… then I spent some time (probably way too long) fiddling with them and figuring out which ones were the most appealing. We wanted to make sure that people felt like they were getting something special, and that it would be genuinely fun and interesting to get our updates. We didn’t think we’d get funded in 6 hours (woah), so we had some mid-campaign updates planned that ended up being unnecessary or delayed, but… good problems to have.
Did you do any promotional campaigns leading up to the launch of the Kickstarter?
TS: We officially announced we were going to do a Kickstarter earlier this year, but… most of our promo campaign before August 1st or so was more general. Follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter, join our Discord, etc.
VT: I wrote a bit about what we did before the campaign here [GPS: click through to see a lot of great stats!]. But nothing particularly special – Kitfox does a lot of organic outreach and emailing to press, so that was definitely our main focus.
You have quite an active Discord community. How big of a role did Discord play in that promotion?
TS: In early August we sent press, friends, and Discord community our Kickstarter trailer and secret campaign page link, so they could give us feedback and prepare to spread the word when we launched. We definitely got some important feedback from our Discord, which helped make the campaign better/clearer. And they came up with the term “knaifu” to describe our hot lady dagger, so, we’re eternally indebted to them, really.
VT: Discord was vital! They helped spread the word and were basically the reason we got to reach places we likely never would have ourselves.
How did you feel the morning the Kickstarter launched?
TS: I’m not the kind of person that ever got stressed over final exams, but man, my heart starts racing when we’re going to start a Kickstarter. There’s this weird coldness when your body has too much adrenaline. It’s not quite going into shock (I’ve done that), but it’s also not productive. You’re… in a state of processing everything and hyper-alert, your body thinks a predator is nearby, and really all it is, is that something with a big influence on your future is about to happen and outside your (immediate) control. Obviously the Kickstarter preparation was under our control, but… after you push the button… everything’s different.
Were there any big milestones for you within those six hours between launching and fully funding?
TS: I think most people on the team spent the first six hours just watching the pledge total tick up. We did technically try to get other work done, but it’s hard when every two minutes someone shouts “We passed $10,000!” or whatever… it’s too exciting and nerve-wracking. Again, good problems.
It’s seemed from the outside like the dream campaign. Have you run into any difficulties throughout (backer relations, etc) and if so, how did you mediate it?
TS: Our main problem in the campaign (which will probably continue to draw criticism for years to come) is that we wanted to avoid having add-ons… they caused us a lot of headaches during the Moon Hunters campaign because it’s really easy not to notice when someone has increased their pledge by $5, and then you send them a separate survey, and make sure everyone gets what they paid for. But we also didn’t want to waste money and time shipping people random stuff that they might not want (i.e. having everyone over $50 get a t-shirt). But without add-ons, you end up with a weird situation where people might (for example) just want a reward like our body pillow, but you can only get it for $300 with the ultimate collector’s edition. So far we’ve mediated by reminding people that we’re a small team, and hoping we can keep it as simple as possible, while also making the rewards satisfying for as many people as possible.
Talk me through your strategy to use Twitch alongside your Kickstarter campaign.
TS: Well, to be honest, we wanted to highlight Caffeine.tv more! It’s a great service that has an amazing anti-toxicity approach to all of its design and promo, but we were a little too early in their process and already had a big Twitch following, so… we did the easier thing and just streamed to Twitch when we felt like we had something to talk about (the launch, a boba tea tasting, etc). Victoria’s been handling all of that and our community has been really lovely. I see it as a chance to have a face-to-face now and then, and remind folks we’re human, when otherwise the Kickstarter comments or Discord messages might be a bit cold.
VT: Twitch (or streaming, in general), is a bit tough as a game developer unless you can commit to it weekly with quality content. I aimed to have a weekly stream during the Kickstarter but make them as fun as possible without being irrelevant. After all, Boyfriend Dungeon is pretty silly itself. So our first one was with Dr. NerdLove, a relationship advice expert, where we answered questions about dating in real life and sword smooching. Our other one was a boba tea taste testing/AMA stream. Both were super fun and successful in their own terms! I admittedly missed one due to being away at PAX West. Also, this meshes a bit with your Discord question, but acknowledging the existence of the Discord community and/or fun things they thought of was important when it came to the streams as well. For a long time – even before the Kickstarter announcement – I had a running joke with our community about my love of boba tea, which eventually became a stretch goal to stream on Twitch. As Tanya said, it’s a great way to remind people you’re human – comments can only go so far.
What’s your biggest takeaway and/or piece of advice to indie studios looking to replicate your Kickstarter’s success?
TS: STUDY FAILURES! I mean, sure, feel free to study our success, but there is actually more to learn if you can search out unsuccessful examples of games in the genre you’re working in. There are a lot of failed dating games on Kickstarter — and some of them are great-looking games! Some of them are downright beautiful! But marketing (whether it’s a Kickstarter or a video game sold online) is more than that — it’s timing, strategy, and details. It’s kind of like that old Tolstoy quote… ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Successful campaigns are all alike, but every failed campaign fails in its own special way. Sometimes that can be more educational.
That is very good advice. So, give us your final pitch for those reading that may not have backed Boyfriend Dungeon yet!
TS: I’ve always wanted a dungeon crawler where you could date all kinds of differently beautiful people — and in Boyfriend Dungeon, those beautiful people are your weapons! If you like the idea of fighting monsters and dating your sword(s), please give us a few bucks. We’ll work hard to make the best game we can, because we want to make you happy, and make the world a little bit brighter and cuter.
You heard them! Back Boyfriend Dungeon now!