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I have seen many indie games making money for development using crowd funding (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, et cetera). Some of the games will offer something back. For example, in an RPG game, you might get an NPC character based on you. Some other projects simply give you the final version for free.

Apart from actually finishing the game, which is probably the main reason why anyone would want to give you the money, what should my reward strategy be?

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"What do people want the most" is highly subjective. I've edited the post content to match the question title, which may be borderline still, but is certainly interesting. –  Josh Petrie May 22 '13 at 6:18
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Here's a successfully kickstarted indie game, although the face that the designer was the lead designer for Civ V might mean it's not necessarily representative of anything... –  AakashM May 22 '13 at 8:28
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It might depend what country you live in. In the Netherlands, when you receive money from donations / crowdfunding and you give something back (even as simple as a posting a name on your website) you have to pay tax (which is 21% of the money received). –  Thomas May 22 '13 at 8:37
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Your soul...... –  Sidar May 22 '13 at 8:41
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A lot of people are suggesting involving backers in development (creating people, objects, levels and so on). I don't know about others, but I've certainly avoided games where this is the case, because it says to me that the developers don't have as clear a vision for their game. Maybe it works better for the kinds of games I don't enjoy, making me biased, but it's something to consider. –  AlbeyAmakiir May 22 '13 at 23:04

7 Answers 7

up vote 15 down vote accepted

First of all you obviously need a game that people would want to play. Without that, no matter what you offer you will likely not get much support. So lets assume you have such a game and now you want to attract people.

Looking at the most successful game projects on Kickstarter (like Torment: Tides of Numenera or Planetary Annihilation) you will see a common pattern:

  • full game for some basic pledge (about 15-25$) - this is the bread and butter and kind of obvious. You simply offer the game for "retail" price.

  • full game + some goodies (soundtrack, artwork, developer diary) for a bit larger pledge - might not be the best thing for an indie game (i doubt you are going to bring a world class composer to make a soundtrack for you, but hey, who knows?) but you can still consider this.

  • full game + goodies + slight involvement in development - now this is what you should probably definetly do. Allow the early backers to get into some "backers only" forum where you can discuss game design, where they can come up with suggestions etc. A bit of a higher pledge should ensure you will get only people seriously interested in your game which will not flood your forums with bad ideas.

  • full game + goodies + more involvement in development - allow them to name characters or something, add them to credits. Many people like this kind of things and are willing to pledge quite a bit of money. And its also a nice thing to do.

  • full game + goodies + early alpha/beta access - this is pretty much self explanatory. If someone is willing to invest so much into your project you should really allow him to see the product as soon as possible so he can see how good his investment was!

Obviously, depending on the size of your project some things might not be doable for you, but i think the general idea is clear. If you can also have some stretch goals which will up the tension as the funding campaign progresses that can help a lot too.

Best of luck!

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The only quibble I have with this list is that I'd suggest putting beta and possibly alpha access to the game in the lower priced tiers. Excluding servers for multi-player mode this doesn't cost you anything; and it is a perk a lot of people are willing to pay extra for. Letting people start playing with what you have now (or in the near future) also counters @Josh Petrie's concern that by the time the game is out a number of your backers will have lost interest in it. –  Dan Neely May 22 '13 at 12:51
    
@DanNeely: i agree, there are just really many variables when considering which rewards should go where. My answer attempts to explain the general idea of what are people usually looking for in the rewards tiers and how to handle this as a developer. –  PeterK May 22 '13 at 15:14
    
I think this is the answer I am most likely to accept. –  sm4 May 27 '13 at 6:50
    
Not sure I'd agree with alpha/beta access in the lower brackets because I'd say it costs quite a lot to handle feedback during those development phases, even if it's not upfront money but rather time and interaction woes with a bigger amount of alpha/beta players. (of course, if you simply ignore and just handle the distribution it might not matter, but distributing beta code would surely result in increased feedback to handle?) –  Oskar Duveborn Jun 19 '13 at 10:47

I don't have hard data to back this up, but I firmly believe that offering a copy of the game as a reward is actually a bad plan from a long-term perspective. It can effectively soft-caps your sales, and since it's often the lowest reward level, similarly restrict your capital.

The Kickstarter (or what have you) campaign will act as a marketing push for your product, through which you'll generate some word-of-mouth and a grassroots fan base. If you offer what is essentially a pre-order, then you're burning a huge portion of that grassroots activism because your game isn't actually available yet, and you won't let that interest reach its full potential. Thus, you'll have a localized clique of fans who are very interested now, drive some "sales," but then don't gain you a whole lot until the game ships months later, and which point they may have mostly moved on and won't be as likely to help drive actual sales.

Additionally, offering pre-sales as a donation reward restricts a lot of your flexibility in adjusting your initial sale price to help cover and cost overruns you will have inevitably had during development.

To offset some of the "sticker shock" potential donators may feel by not having a pre-sale reward, you could offer to make their donation "count" towards the purchase of the final product when it ships (although this will likely involve management overhead on your part to support).

Obviously, the ideal reward in a crowd-funding pitch costs you much less than it costs the donator. Ideally it costs you nothing, but that's impractical once you factor in the opportunity cost of your time. You also want to eek the most value out of that donator's mindshare, so things that can keep them engaged during the development cycle are good.

Cheap things you can offer involve things you already have to do yourself (mainly oriented around content creation):

  • Naming NPCs after donators or putting their likeness in the game is simple and easy and can make a lot of people happy.

  • Have them help design a puzzle, or quest, or item, or enemy (Mercury didn't do quite this, but does thrive on user-supplied content).

  • If your game has a server-side component or some place you can store account data, allow donators to have unique avatars or other special effects. Guild Wars 1 shipped with a Collector's Edition that gave you glowing hands when you would emote, and a lot of people were sad that the sequel didn't have a similar feature. A little bling can go a long way.

Capturing the mindshare of donators throughout development is important not only to build hype and anticipation, but to ensure they convert into actual paying customers on launch, and to keep them active as potential word-of-mouth influencers during and post launch.

  • Allowing donators of a certain level access to internal forums or a stream of private development updates can keep people engaged while you work. You'll probably want to make sure there is at least a EULA, some basic legal protection, in place so you don't get embroiled in a lawsuit that you "stole the idea" of somebody who posted it on your forums (this is why professional game developers don't accept unsolicited "ideas" and such in the mail).

  • You can also consider allowing donators at a certain level early access to the game, just be aware you could run into a piracy issue. This can be extremely useful since you get ongoing feedback as you iterate, which can really help shape the game in a positive fashion.

I would avoid offers rewards of a physical nature unless they are very simple to product (like stickers). Anything that will incur a manufacturing cost and administrative time on your part probably aren't your best bet; you have to pass those costs on to your donators and you rarely end up with very high-quality results.

Above all, try to tailor your rewards to what is unique or compelling about your game in some fashion. It's hard to provide many suggestions without knowing more about your game, but making sure the rewards jive with the brand and feel of the game itself can really help establish a firm bond between the donator and your project which will help keep them interested and more likely to spread the word around.

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Thank you for the elaborate answer! Basically you are saying that is always good to do something that will make the player feel he's part of creating the game or the game itself. That was my idea as well. However almost every crowdfunding project offers the final version of the game for donation (usually digital copy, or special "signed edition") and it usually makes a significant amount in the funding. –  sm4 May 22 '13 at 9:17
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I highly doubt that this is a good idea, the majority of people will only care about the game, so by not providing the game as possible option you will lose a lot backers and at the same time a large part of the fan base. (people are much more likely to be fan of something they invested time or money into). Also it's one of the most profitable rewards for the developer: a digital download doesn't even cost the developer a cent. –  API-Beast May 22 '13 at 11:08
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I don't disagree that it's a risky proposition not to offer the actual game as part of the reward structure, but I do think it's a better long-term business decision; it does cost the developer something: a sale at the actual launch date. You are are still getting people to invest in other ways so your (valid) point about people more likely to be fans of such a thing still holds. –  Josh Petrie May 22 '13 at 15:23
    
I think it would be really interesting to see some numbers on sale volume from crowd-sourced games (the actual indie ones, though, not things like Project Eternity) to see if there's any actual merit to my prejudice that pre-sales like this are harmful for the indie market. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find any usable metrics. –  Josh Petrie May 22 '13 at 15:23
    
@JoshPetrie If the Kickstarter fails, there is no long-term business you can do. Also cost per copy is 0, so the more copies the better, and with preorder's from Kickstarter you have a lot more >paid< copies from the beginning. –  API-Beast May 22 '13 at 15:47

I've made some reasearch on few game projects in Kickstarter. I have picked smaller projects on purpose, something doable in few people, or in a single person. These are all recently successfuly funded projects. I haven't found any successfuly funded projects that don't offer the digital copy, so I picked a project that as one of its goal has to release the game for free. I looked into other projects as well, but as PeterK said, there is a pattern.

  1. A.N.N.E
  2. Among the Sleep
  3. Bitcrobes

1. A.N.N.E

4,113 Backers, $100,272 pledged of $70,000 goal

  • Only 66 backers are willing to pay $1 and receive just a virtual thank you.
  • 2952 backers are willing to pay $10/$15 to get digital copy of the game with some goodies ($15). That's more than half of all backers and about half of the goal!
  • Hundreds of people are willing to pay more if they get the game and their name somewhere in the game. It looks like they don't really care where - the cheaper the better.
  • Very few people are willing to pay to have their own NPC, but the goal is very expensive and probably involves quite a lot of developer-donator interaction.

2. Among the Sleep

8,110 Backers, $248,358 pledged of $200,000 goal

  • 179 backers are willing to pay $5 just for forum access
  • 4768 backers (more than half) are willing to pay $15/$20 (early bird existed) when they receive a copy of the game
  • only 1624 are willing to give $5 extra for soundtrack
  • 700 backers - but that was the limit - are willing to pay $30 for two digital copies
  • hundreds of people can pay more than $100 to get access to alpha/beta stage
  • tens of people are willing to pay a thousand for their name in the game and contact with the developers - while this doesn't look like many backers, it makes quite a lot of money.

3. Bitcrobes 52 Backers, $813 pledged of $660 goal

  • Truly an indie project, 1 person. The goal is to have the game free, so you will get your copy in any case.
  • A lot of people are willing to donate $1 for a good cause :)
  • Gratitude and wallpaper - 14 x $10
  • A lot of money raised from very few people who want to unlock special features.
  • 3 x $75 for having your own bitcrobe! This is a significant amount for this project

Conclusion

From this mini-research I'd say that for a game that will be released and sold for some retail price, the rewards should be (in order of "popularity times money"):

  1. Digital copy of the game (with extra digital content) and supporter badge on forums if applicable
  2. (1) + Name in the game in credits
  3. (2) + Access to alpha/beta test and/or being part of development (suggestions)
  4. (3) + Part of the game itself (NPC, place, name on a stone etc)
  5. (4) + Personalized item from the developers/meet up

For a game that is released for free, the order changes and point 4. will be no.1. The rest will probably stay the same (excl. the digital copy).


To summarize answers from the others

  1. Always offer something that doesn't cost you anything.
    • There is a controversy whether offering a digital copy costs you or not. I'd say it doesn't (excl. discount), because the interested person will either buy it during the campaign or later. From experience, many companies make a lot of money on pre-orders. All early-bird discounts work like that - companies like less money now then possibly more later. It minimizes the risks. For truly indie project, you want to make sure you have money to finish the project first and this makes it the most important option.
  2. When you offer something that costs you time/money, make the price reflect that. But make sure you offer it, because there are always people going for this option. Offering to be part of the game is a good way to go.
  3. Early access to the game and suggestion forum can create possible issues with piracy and legal issues with suggestions, but being handled correctly, it can give a lot of important feedback. Also people are willing to pay for that.
  4. A meetup with developers, skype conference etc. is not as popular and doesn't make a big part of the donations. But it might create a positive hard-core fan base!
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Let's face it, people who back your project probably only want one thing:

  • The Product

In the case of a video game it is a optimal reward since the cost per digital download, for you, the developer, is nearly 0. This should be your basic reward, everything above should just be extras for those who want to fund you more.

Some viable extras would be:

  • Beta access: Earlier access to the game, for many people this seems to be a kinda big deal. Maybe not ideal for the game though as there will be less impact when it is finally released, on the other side early user feedback is very useful.
  • Collector's Edition: Exclusive features for people who backed. a additional character for example.
  • Take part in the design of something: Should be limited to higher tier rewards as this eats up development time and could influence the quality of the game.
  • A meet-up with the developers: Something for hardcore fans, should be limited to a few.

I would avoid any physical rewards since they cost you money and time and there isn't that much interest in those.

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I agree giving out the product is important. But from all the crowdfunding projects I've seen since I started this question, it is obvious that being part of the game is very appealing. –  sm4 May 22 '13 at 12:47

Here is the numbers from Prison Architect, they implemented a crowd-funding model and are still in Alpha and already have raised over $3.4 million

http://www.introversion.co.uk/prisonarchitect/

(Overall: $3,460,225)

Base Pack ($30): (Included Alpha Access) 89,811 Sold - $2,694,330 (Greenlighted on Steam now)

Aficionado ($35): (Includes Alpha Access, PDF of Prison Architect Art book, and a download of the Official Sound Track.) , all previous tiers of donation rewards- 3,841 Sold ( $134,435 )

Introversioner ($40): Get all four Introversion games, all previous tiers of donation rewards 6,689 Sold - $267,560

Name in the Game ($50): One of the prisoners named after you, all previous tiers of donation rewards 5,945 Sold - $297,250

Physical Pleasures ($100): special limited edition Game DVD and Soundtrack CD, a Poster, T-shirt

Digital-Immorto-Criminalise Your Face (100 max) ($250): Not only a character named after you, but you also get the artist to design a entire character to look like you, all previous tiers of donation rewards - 63 Sold - $15,750

Shake it like a Polaroid Picture (20 max)($500): Same as above tier however you'll be used in a in-game scenario/campaign as well, all previous tiers of donation rewards - 17 Sold - $8,500

Warden Norton I presume? (5 max)($1000): Remember the Civ V world leaders that each bring a special world ability? Not content with your own prisoner likeness, and custom polaroid? Come in at this level and you'll also get to design the warden. There will be five wardens in game and the player will have to choose which one to use each time. One of these will be designed by you and us and have a special feature or buff that we'll work together to figure out. As if that isn't worth the price tag alone you also get....every......other......tier. 6 Sold - $6,000 Oops :)


I think this is a great example of pricing tiers, rewards and how far a community will go to get behind a game they are really truely excited about. Chris the lead developer / only programmer i'm aware of from a 3 person team, even came out and blatently said "we have no idea how long we'll be in alpha phase, quite a long time i'm sure."

Not to mention Introversion although quite famous among cult circles, is fairly unknown to the general population and about as Indie as you can get. At the time they started Prison Architect KickStarter was not available for use in the UK so they designed their own crowd funding model. And in a interview Chris stated that it felt morally wrong and borderline lying, to use kick starter as Kickstarter "mission" is to get a project off the ground and running, and Prison Architect already had been worked on and near an alpha state by the time Kickerstarter was available in the UK.

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I think it is required to state your affiliation before posting "advertisement", otherwise your post will be flagged/edited/removed (not neccessarily in this order :)) –  sm4 Jun 19 '13 at 9:07
    
I'm in no way affiliated with Introversion at all, just an avid fan, and this is in no way meant to be and advertisement. Regardless, I'm pretty sure the answer was quite on topic with the question. All this data is readily available on their website, where they openly post their sale numbers. –  WootyWoodpecker Jun 19 '13 at 19:25

For start you should always have some kind of demo and story behind your game. If you just want to "create a game" that is nice but very doubtful.

If you, on the other hand, come with a really interesting demo, a very nice designed trailer and few main ideas that you are planning to use in your story then people will definitely wish to support that. If people are not supporting it, then it is not good enough, so go back to the whiteboard and create something even more awesome.

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I don't think the question is about how to present the project as much as it is about what rewards are effective for incentivizing funding –  ssb May 22 '13 at 6:40

It mainly depends on what kind of game it is.

But one thing that always works is rewards which are about visual enhancements. Skins/Dyes/Character equipment

This is good because it doesn't affect game play and imbalance the game for players who are not rewarded and keeps things interesting and competitive.

Make sure that the items/skins are unique and limited.

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