If you’ve ever wanted to run a Kickstarter, take a moment to read Corey and Lori Cole’s advice.

The Coles recently funded a successful Kickstarter campaign for Hero-U with over $400,000 in support, and were generous enough to give us some specific feedback on our current Kickstarter for Var and the Vikings, a puzzle platformer game that teaches you Artificial Intelligence.

The Coles are games industry veterans having worked on many titles and are credited with defining the Adventure RPG genre with the Quest for Glory series in the 1990s. My sister and I played this series endlessly growing up, to the point of inventing live action backyard games based on the content. I suspect this level of fandom helped us win over the Coles to share some time and advice with my team.

 Advice from The Coles

Focus on Higher Tiers

Rewards matter a lot. For most games, your base level backers (typically at the $10-$25 level) will account for only 20% of your income. The Coles identified rewards as both the most important piece of a campaign and our campaign’s key stumbling point. The higher tiers are critical and you have to inspire people with them.

We’ve reworked our rewards with their advice in mind and have had some upgrades as well as more backers in the higher tiers. Our next big push to press will show us just how well that’s worked.

Physical Rewards
Great physical rewards: Successful Kickstarters Rappan-Athuk ($246k/$25k goal) and Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon ($16k/$2k goal) are Dungeon Master scenarios for use with the Pathfinder role playing system.

Rappan-Athuk received $142,000 based entirely on high quality physical rewards and subscriptions for more content. The lower tier digital versions were quite unpopular, with most backers preferring the physical hard cover faux-leather bound versions instead. Contrast this with Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon where the majority of backers preferred the digital version as the physical edition was just specified as “printed” without regard to binding.

My take-away from this, is two fold: firstly, atmosphere matters in pen and paper RPGs and a faux leather bound hardcover delivers that on a level a digital or consumer style print run never can, which is what people expect if you don't tell them otherwise. Secondly, high quality physical rewards matters a lot.

We saw Lori and Corey boxing up their original concept art, and they looked gorgeous. A lot of effort had gone into presentation, and this made a big difference.

We have taken this on board in our kickstarter and opened up a host of high quality rewards with some more coming soon.

Rewards Cost Money
The two most costly are:
Physical - Account for the cost of the rewards, but also the effort in creating and shipping them. Prepare to become a logistics company for a while.
Custom Art - Customised Art makes for popular higher tiers. This will cost a lot of money to produce. Be especially careful about the pricing of private custom art that only one player will get to see.

Understand the Market Perception
Our game is a web game (playable in Chrome). We selected web so the demo would be easier to play (one click, no installation needed). The problem is despite the costs of production being the same, consumers expect web games to be free and installable/mobile games to cost money.

The Coles advised us that because we had a playable demo and we were based in the web, we needed to make it especially clear only backers would receive the full game.

Demos are Good, but keep people on the Kickstarter page
If you include playable demo, people may feel obliged to play it before backing (to do their research). This will take them away from your Kickstarter page. Put up a video of gameplay instead.

After meeting the Coles we surveyed our backers(link), 1/3rd of respondents said that a playable demo was what mattered most to them. We also got our best press based on having a playable demo.

My takeaway from this is to have the gameplay demo on the page, and we’ve just added this. This ensures people can do their due diligence without leaving the page. Having the links to playable levels as well will give users the confidence you can back up your claims. Watching a video and knowing they can click on playable levels may be enough for many backers, but just having the levels may distract them away from the Kickstarter pages. This is especially true if the potential backer has a problem with the demo - For example, ours currently works only in the Chrome browser, so FireFox and Internet Explorer visitors may become discouraged.

I’ve experienced this myself when it comes to the actual project video. I don’t back projects without a video, but I rarely watch the video before backing. Knowing that it’s there inspires confidence.

For Graphics, Focus on Gameplay
People are here for your game and they want to know what it will look like. The average backer cannot imagine your game and needs to see the visuals. This was especially true in the press for Hero-U when they announced their engine. The Coles announced their choice of engine and included visuals of a lower production value game on the same engine. This was a huge mistake as many people expected the graphics to be the same rather than just the game mechanics.

Art effects people strongly. Use only the art you expect to have in game. Prioritise all art resources on producing more of this.

We will be producing more game play footage and more dynamic in game scenarios to get people interested.

Build a Story
We were specifically advised to make the story more interesting. Include some backstory, create some love interests. Help players care about the characters, even though it’s a puzzle game.

We have a backstory and we’ll be writing it up and including it in a future update.

Launch Timing
Take advantage of public holidays. Use Black Friday, Cyber Monday, to offer themed specials during your campaign.

In Conclusion
I’d like to thank the Corey and Lori for their time and advice. It’s not too late to back Hero-U, so show them support and they just may reach some more stretch goals. Visit http://www.hero-u.net/ to join the Hero-U backers. See our current Kickstarter we built with the advice from The Coles at Var and the Vikings Kickstarter

In Yosemite National Park, with Half-Dome (inspiration for the Sierra logo) in the background

In Yosemite National Park, with Half-Dome (inspiration for the Sierra logo) in the background