Crowd-funding

Does crowdfunding work?

27th November 2015

Does crowdfunding work? For Cloud Imperium Games' (CIG) Star Citizen it certainly has. Christopher takes a look at the history of the game and what CIG have done to get where they are.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must state that I am a backer of the Star Citizen project. How much? Let's just say I'd be in a lot of trouble if I were married. I am not alone, nor have I pledged as much as some to this game.

But it's not just a game for people like myself. Chris Roberts (CEO of Cloud Imperium Games) has sold us an experience, the dream of the universe that I and those like me have wanted to explore since we saw Star Wars as children. Those who spent their childhoods playing with Star Wars action figures and computer games like Wing Commander and Elite eventually grew up and got jobs. Some worked their way up to great jobs, paying enough to have a disposable income that would allow them to spend thousands on spaceships to fly in the universe Chris and his team are creating.

Star Citizen is clearly an outlier in the world of crowdfunding, one which will not soon be surpassed though some have tried to replicate its success. Some will say that people have paid $100m in total for imaginary spaceships in a game that does not exist, or one that has bugs. It is important to remember that this form of funding is still relatively new and many do not understand how the development process, especially during alpha, works.

In 2012, Chris initially asked for $2m across the Roberts Space Industries website and Kickstarter to show investors that there was still interest in a space combat simulation. The pitch video, below, spoke to a lot of people and funding smashed those numbers, reaching $6.2m between the two by the end of the initial campaign. This funding continued steadily on the website until in December of 2014 spending reached $65m resulting in the announcement of a Guinness World Record. Today, a year later, as I look at the stats page the project has a little over $500k to go before hitting the $100m mark after a successful Anniversary Sale.

CIG's strength lies in community engagement. They have involved backers since the beginning and those backers have brought in friends and family members with their enthusiasm, it's a marketer's dream. The community was built before the campaign began due to the limited level of engagement that were possible on crowdfunding sites. The initial members who registered before the October 10th deadline became Golden Ticket holders to commemorate their support before the campaign launched. Early backers were able to obtain a physical Citizen Card with their pledge package which is no longer available. Events are held at games conventions and their own CitizenCon which sees tickets selling out every time. CIG engage with their community and the community reciprocates.

Most people realise by now just how much the gaming industry is worth, articles about Grand Theft Auto V's budget and the sale of Candy Crush Saga to Activision are widely circulated but the way games are funded is slowly changing. Crowdfunding has allowed developers to make ambitious projects a reality without a publisher but it is often titles with a strong following that have succeeded where others have failed.

Crowdfunding is still a minefield for some. A number of well funded projects, some high profile, have failed to deliver on their promises but I still feel it is the way forward if the project is right and the preparation is done. So how do you prepare for a crowdfunding campaign?

1) Have a product. It doesn't need to be a finished product but you need to have something to show off. Chris Roberts had prepared an alpha build that allowed him to show off some of the features of the simulator to potential backers.

2) Planning, planning, planning. At this point the project should have a roadmap that you shouldn't be deviating from unless stretch goals are met and you know you can implement a new feature. Know how much you're going to need to complete the project. Few projects have gotten away with making major changes to the product.

3) Do not rely on continued funding. Some projects manage to continue to bring in more money through early access sales but for the majority of projects this should be seen as additional funding for further down the road. Ask for what you need when you begin the campaign or you may start running into financial issues.

4) Make sure your product is something people want. Before you decide on whether you want to crowdfund do some research into the popularity of similar products on crowdfunding sites. If there are lots of similar products and yours doesn't do something original, it is doubtful you will succeed.

5) Build a community and engage with them. One of Star Citizen's strengths is its community, CIG built and involved theirs before starting the campaign so when the time came to launch they already had an enthusiastic group of people who wanted to spread the word. Most sites do not allow the level of community engagement you will need, so build your own.

6) Physical rewards are nice, but concentrate on the product. Physical rewards, especially personalised rewards can be a logistical nightmare to deliver on but often people are more interested in the project itself. CIG found this out when they came to deliver the Citizen Cards.

7) Keep your community interested. If your product is software, release alphas and betas to them, more often than not they'll be happy to test it. If it is a physical item post regular updates and videos showing the current progress. The moment the community feel as though they are out of the loop they will begin to lose interest, it's a gradual process but it will happen.

Is there the possibility that this project will fail? Of course, but I for one believe that Star Citizen has been and will continue to be a success despite what its detractors have to say. While I wish the game was ready today I also wish I was about to sit down and watch the next three Star Wars movies back to back.

For those who are with me, I'll see you in the 'verse.