To create a videogame is really hard. To create a videogame without any budget outside of your kitchen money is even harder; but to create a videogame without any budget in 4 years and then getting ripped off by a publisher who has your exclusive rights is devastating. CBE software was not the only one involved but also Amanita Design, Colibri Games and Daedalic Entertainment just to name a few.
This is the story of CBE Software and J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition.
In 2012 we released three games – J.U.L.I.A., J.U.L.I.A. Untold and Vampires! I was extremely enthusiastic because J.U.L.I.A had great feedback and I saw a bright future for CBE software. We invested a lot of time creating a full 3D adventure game prototype for another publisher and it looked like being funded for the first time was a very real possibility.
Then our bright future suddenly turned into a real nightmare.
It all started with my rather innocent request to obtain a belated royalty report from our publisher. After three months, it became more and more obvious that we had a problem. No money had been paid for J.U.L.I.A (which also included other games) and the publisher refused to come clean about what was going on. One week later, we heard from the 2nd publisher that they decided not to fund the other 3D adventure project we were working on.
As three months turned into ten, the J.U.L.I.A. deal soured. On top of that, sales for our new game Vampires! never really picked up.
It was rather disappointing and heartbreaking and with rising debts I was very close to slamming the game industry door shut once and forever.
Then back in February 2012, I got an email from Indiegogo. It was an invitation to small developers to try crowdfunding. At first I considered it and then shook that idea off. I thought to myself, we are unknown and there’s no way anyone would invest in us. Besides, it’s Indiegogo, not Kickstarter and so far, Kickstarter is only available to US, UK and Canadian residents. After spending a few hours going through IGG projects, I saw how developers struggled on that platform. So I decided funding a new game was entirely out of the question for me.
That same day I came home from work and my (then) four year old daughter wanted to play J.U.L.I.A. with me. While the story is a bit too complex for her, she loves the planets and traveling and she is really good at some of the puzzles. It had been almost a year from release and after we played for maybe an hour, I immediately knew how different the game would be if I was designing it today.
Then I started thinking – What if I could fix JULIA’s most obvious blunders? What if we tried to fund a little budget for an “Enhanced Edition”? Ideas started to bounce in my head faster than I could process them, I couldn’t sleep a single minute that night.
Preparing for the campaign
I started by studying existing failed and successful campaigns on IGG and Kickstarter. I didn’t want to underestimate anything as I knew that this could be our last chance for survival. After days of analyzing quite a few projects, I decided upon the key factors which in my opinion were essential to a successful campaign. Ultimately it came down to one question: Would I give money to this game? Distancing from my own experience was almost impossible, but it still helped me gain important perspective.
The factors I’ve decided upon were:
- Clear goals – I’ve seen many projects where funding distribution is not clear and when this happens I don’t feel like investing because the credibility of the project is immediately shattered. Also, the goal must be proportional to the budget so it feels right for the amount of money raised.
- Realistic Pledges and perks – I thought that placing wallpapers as $20 reward would just turn everyone off, I wouldn’t pay $20 for wallpapers. On the other hand, promising a live elephant would do the same or at least will be way out of our budget. Perks need to be accessible, appealing to everyone and distributed properly.
- Brief & comprehensive campaign information– I believe campaigns must be clear and to the point from the very beginning, so everyone gets the information right away. Don’t assume people will return to check up on information multiple times. You are lucky if they check it at all. You might have only one shot at each potential backer, use it wisely.
- Reasonable target – It would be great to get $3,000,000 for a game; but I decided to start small and make my goals more realistic. In the long run, a modest success story is much better than joining a huge and increasing crowd of failed projects.
- Fixed funding campaign – Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo has two campaign modes – fixed and flexible funding. The difference is simple: fixed funding campaign means that you get the money only if you reach the target while flexible funding will get you any money you raise. I immediately knew that while it might seem tempting, the flexible campaign is a big trap. If we got only $300 and our funding goal was 10,000; we would still be expected to deliver the $10k project but with only $300. I just wanted to make sure we could really deliver and make it right.
- Nice pitch video – While I could have just published a typical trailer, I knew that a personal message to our potential backers would communicate much better why we were doing this campaign. Whatever you do just be careful not to end up with something like this! :)
- Playable demo – In an age where tons of different game studios launch their Kickstarters, I wanted to stand out by including a playable demo so potential backers can see for themselves what they are investing their money into.
- Keeping the campaign alive – I knew that people are often driven off by not enough campaign activity. I thought I was prepared to invest a reasonable amount of time to communicate with the community and explain anything they might want to know. Well… I was NOT prepared but I survived.
After setting up a plan in my head I kept thinking, what actually IS a reasonable goal? This is the exact point where I weighed the pros and cons of various options. I felt like I was standing somewhere on a high ledge, preparing for my leap of faith. Still, I knew our financial situation couldn’t get much worse and in retrospect my thoughts on the IGG campaign were very optimistic.
At the same time, I had some last minute hesitation seeing how many other Indiegogo campaigns had failed before. In the end I instinctively believed it was possible, that we could do it. I decided to be entirely transparent throughout the whole process, which was the one genuine thing I could personally guarantee to our backers. Complete honesty.
Finally, we decided to go for it and agreed on a target budget of $5,000. That would only cover Lukáš’s salary, but in my heart it was well worth it. So this is the moment that changed my life. And I decided to launch CBE’s first crowdfunding effort, the J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition Indiegogo campaign.
It took time to set up, prepare assets and a lot of constant hard work to get through the campaign. But the end result was amazingly unexpected. We ended up raising almost three times more than we had asked for. I felt humbled yet incredibly energized at the same time. In the end, people’s kindness allowed us to improve our game which is now absolutely incomparable with the original.
However, the money was far from the most important lesson from this rollercoaster process. As soon as the campaign ended, I truly understood how important community support is. Not only for our crowdfunding, but for indie developers in general. I’ve bonded with amazing friends, both old and new, who all gave an unbelievable amount of help and support. We are forever thankful to them for giving CBE a second chance.
I don’t think of myself as a “crowdfunding expert”. But as one indie who has gone through a very difficult process successfully and considering the kindness that was given to me; I can only hope that my experiences and lessons learned might be helpful to those out there hoping that crowdfunding can make their creative dreams come true.
It is very valuable to know what to prepare before the campaign, what to do at launch, the stamina and mental strength it takes to think on the go while you’re running one and especially how to end it. All these ideas need to be organized, planned and executed as a team. My opinions are only to highlight what worked for me and my genuine insights into the realities of crowdfunding.
Everything is important, take nothing for granted. I want to give back to the wonderful community that has given me so much so far and it is impossible to write all of this in just one blog. So I will be publishing different parts monthly, in hopes to cover as much information as I can regarding how to set up, run and survive crowdfunding.
I would like to invite you to follow my thoughts through “Surviving Indiegogo” updates. As I share my experiences I will openly discuss: setting clear and doable goals, designing perks, budget distribution, looking for help, promotionals and what I did to think outside of the box.
On closing I’d like to really thank you for reading my blog! Please, don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, feedback or anything I could do to help.