Few Kickstarter campaigns see as much of a commitment from its creators as Radial-G developer Tammeka Games. Over the course of a month from 3rd July – 2nd August 2014 the developer poured everything it had into trying to raise £50,000 GBP to fund development of its upcoming virtual reality (VR) compatible racing title. Sadly, despite plenty of support from the VR community and beyond, the campaign fell short of expectations, leaving the team to rethink its approach to the title.
So what went wrong with the campaign? What did the developer do right and what could it have improved? What has the team learned and what else has it gained? These are all discussed in Tammeka Games’ extensive post-mortem of Radial-G‘s Kickstarter campaign, the first part of which can be seen below. Here the developer gives a recount of its campaign, along with a list of positive and negatives and an overview of what went right. Check back to VRFocus later in the week for part 2 in which the developer discusses what went wrong, what it has learned, and how it would change its approach to the Kickstarter.
We formed Tammeka Games in January 2014, with the main purpose of developing VR games. We quickly decided to design and develop and arcade racer, based partially on some of the team background but mostly through our love of the racing game genre. We all loved F-Zero and Wipeout and were saddened at the apparent gap in the market left by these two games not being updated for many years, and the closure of the Sony Liverpool studio. We knew that we had to raise funding in order to be able to develop the full game but were able to rustle a small amount together to cover the costs of creating a single player demo, preparing and running the Kickstarter and moving onto developing a multi-player demo to release later down the line.
Ultimately, the Kickstarter funding campaign was unsuccessful in regards to securing us funds. But it was always about more than just funds, elements that money can’t buy and a sprinkling of good fortune too. We spent a month creating and tweaking the Kickstarter profile, along with reaching out to the press to start creating a buzz in the games community, raise awareness of our plans and have articles published before the launch and on the big day itself. We were also still busy working on the single player demo, creating the world assets, compiling them together in Unity3D and testing builds daily. Once we were happy with the game, the feeling and experience, we were able to package it up into an installer and prepare to submit it to Oculus Share.
Our Game Producer, Sam Watts, was able to get the ball rolling with the press after a chance meeting with Kevin Joyce, Editor-in-Chief of VRFocus at the inaugural VR Brighton Meetup, a few months before launch of the Kickstarter. Kevin was keen to come to the studio, play the game and do some video interviews, ready for an agreed set of articles to be published during the build-up to the Kickstarter launch and throughout the campaign. This agreement also included a series of exclusive dev blogs and after so much great coverage and support from VRFocus during the campaign, we decided to give them the exclusive for publishing what you are reading now, the Kickstarter Post-Mortem. Due to delays to the website design and not having all the social media channels up to speed in time, we delayed the launch of the Kickstarter by two weeks, so it would launch on July 3rd. This also keyed into the fact that, at the time we were still expecting, like everyone else, that Oculus VR would ship the DK2 in July, before our campaign ended and would give us a good boost towards the end.
We attended a lot of events leading up to and throughout the Kickstarter campaign, helping build raise awareness and letting players try out the game before the demo was released. These included the VR Brighton Meetup with other VR enthusiasts, where we got to see the game on an Oculus Rift HD Prototype, giving us a glimpse of how the visuals would be vastly improved when we got our DK2s. There was also a boisterous night at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in Brighton, UK with the Kotaku-UK sponsored I.Am.Arcade and Fight Club games night. The game went down a storm with the gamers there and we were left positively charged ready to launch the Kickstarter. We also had a booth at Develop in Brighton Expo (more below) which was a fantastic opportunity for us to get the game in front of game developers and peers. These were all local events for us and involved lots of trudging around carrying PC hardware about town, thankfully without any issues. Towards the end of the Kickstarter campaign, we attended VR in a Bar at Loading Bar in Dalston, London, UK and the inaugural South West VR Meetup the following night in Bristol, UK. It was good to spread our wings a little bit and take the game on the road and meet more gamers outside of Brighton, since by then pretty much everyone and anyone knew of it in our neighbourhood.
Throughout the campaign, many opportunities arose that we hadn’t even thought of, or considered (that sprinkling of luck) and we made contact with gamers, developers, fans and business associates like we could never imagine or pre-empt during our preparation for Kickstarter. So without further ado, mostly in chronological order from beginning to end, the good and the bad of the Kickstarter campaign:
– Raised profile of game and studio, coming from nowhere to being a serious VR force
– Received high levels of praise, especially for the VR design aspects
– Meeting with Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony Studios Worldwide and having him play the
game, pledge support and initiate discussions to bring the title to Sony Project Morpheus
– Tweets from Palmer Luckey, co-inventor and founder of Oculus VR
– Amazing support from Sony, Oculus VR and Unity3D, all using their channels to promote
– Over 60 articles published online covering previews, reviews, interviews, dev Q&As, “Let’s Play” videos, podcasts and more
– Nearly 1,000 backers with an average pledge value of £40
– Creation of dedicated fan base and hardcore supporters
– Rapid advancement through the ranks on Steam Greenlight with excellent statistics
– Didn’t get funded (duh)
– Delays to Oculus VR Rift DK2 (2nd Development Kit) shipping, and fewer sent than expected
– Problems with last minute SDK release on day we received our DK2 meant wasted time spent on re-working the demo support
– Unable to gain traction with a number of high profile games news websites
– Unable to gain traction with non-VR gamers, especially PS4 gamers post-PS4 dev kit news
– Gamers automatically assumed the game would make them sick
– Unable to launch on US Kickstarter meaning less visibility and pledge tier confusion over £>$
– Similarly, being UK/EU-based, difficulty gaining attention / traction with US gamers / market
What Went Right
1. Submission to Oculus Share – Thankfully we didn’t have any issues with our submission to Oculus Share, the primary source of hosting the files for the single player demo during the Kickstarter campaign. However, because of it being a beta and still early days, there isn’t really a formal procedure for app submission, like with Apple for example, so we were unable to control when the app went live. What we were able to do was liaise with Cybereality, Oculus VR Community Manager and life-saver, to check on progress of the submission and agree a specific date that the demo would be published. We wanted the demo to be available at the same time as the launch of the Kickstarter and Cybereality was able to do this for us. In fact, the demo went up a few hours before the launch of the Kickstarter but it was fine. We had also uploaded the demo files to other, alternative download locations as backup just in case there were any delays to the Oculus Share publish.
2. Off to a great start – Within the first few hours and at the end of the first day, we had received a healthy number of pledges from keen backers and were well on our way to reach 20% funded within the first few days. We had been told that reaching this percentage of funding, based on statistical data of previous Kickstarter campaigns, was a good yard stick measure of success.
3. High download numbers and great ratings – Last time we checked (5 minutes ago) the single player demo had been downloaded 3,500+ times from Oculus Share with an average score rating of 4.3/5 (82%) and comfort rating of “A very comfortable VR experience”. We don’t have stats from the other sites we hosted the demo files on but know that we exceeded the Dropbox bandwidth allocation. This was a great number of potential backers and way to drive traffic to the Kickstarter.
4. Overwhelmingly positive response to the demo – Nearly every single person we saw play the demo at events was hugely enthusiastic and positive about the game and the VR integration. We appreciate that not everyone likes the racing genre but even those who weren’t fans still appreciated what we were trying to achieve. This was reflected in all the online coverage and mostly within the comments following the articles about the demo.
5. Amazing coverage and PR response – Although it’s fairly obvious that a strong product sells itself, which we were confident of having, we couldn’t have hoped for better traction and coverage across a variety of websites. Managing to get coverage on Polygon, Kotaku, CVG & PC Gamer really gave us a confidence boost and a surge in backers as each article went live. It made it feel as if we were legitimate and making a game people were excited about. On the VR specialist websites, it was a crazy roller-coaster ride of confusion, admiration and outright fandom with lots of attention focused on why didn’t the game mechanic make people feel sick, what had we done to reduce this and generally who are these upstarts coming out of nowhere to take the VR community by storm? We’ve actually lost count but we have contributed and worked with journalists on at least 60 unique articles in just one month covering previews, reviews, interviews, dev Q&As, podcasts, VR design breakdown and much more.
6. Develop in Brighton expo – We had initially applied to be included in the Unity3D sponsored Indie Showcase that was a central feature of the Develop in Brighton expo but were not selected from the 175+ applications they received. They did then offer us a cheap “Indie Demo Area” booth for a fairly low price, which we jumped at the chance to do. However when we arrived to setup the day before the expo opened to the public, we found ourselves in the main expo area as only one other indie developer had also booked out an indie booth (of the 12 available), meaning that we had been upgraded for free to a much larger space. This was no bad thing, in no shape or form what-so-ever but it did mean we had only a few hours to ensure we had enough assets to fill the increased space with. After a quick code update, we were then able to take down with us x3 PCs to run our LAN networked two-player Vs version of the demo plus the trackside camera version outputting to a large HDTV screen, to help with drawing attention to the booth. We had a great two days at Develop expo, especially with the Sony Morpheus being present publicly for the first time in EU as their team were present and we learned a few things about the Morpheus and the attention we had received within.
Of course the highlight of the event was having Shuhei Yoshida come to the booth, play the game and offer assistance with a PS4 dev kit and Morpheus headset in order to accelerate our plans to bring the game to PS4 in future.
7. Not making players feel sick – So whilst there will always be a few people who will feel ill from using VR or fast-paced games, the majority we spoke to said that they felt absolutely fine playing the demo with no nausea, or if they did experience it, it was fleeting until their brain adapted. We’ve covered many times elsewhere through our press coverage the specific design considerations made to reduce simulator sickness but it was great to see our choices being confirmed by real gamers with less VR experience, or “VR legs” than us. Proof is in the pudding and we’ve tracked some players who have completed over 700 laps of the single player demo in VR.
8. The /r/Oculus community – We spent a lot of time with the reddit Oculus subreddit community discussing the game demo, design and Kickstarter. We were really made to feel welcome and at home with the members there, with a lot of passion for what we were trying to achieve and deliver. Despite being involved in VR & simulation for years, we hadn’t really participated a great deal in online communities before the launch of the Kickstarter so it was refreshing to be accepted so openly. However I think this came from a) having a strong, exciting concept that was a playable game and b) being a human being within the community, discussing with honesty and transparency rather than some marketing / PR robot just trying to sell and push messages down throats. Reddit formed our largest source of Kickstarter backers (259/978 – 13.5% total pledges) and we will continue to interact and be part of the community moving forwards. Seeing Cymatic Bruce, one of the most visible and respected online VR personas, covering the game demo on his regular Sunday live stream and going bananas with excitement over it will remain one of the highlights for us.
9. Racing up the ranks on Steam Greenlight – We created our Steam Greenlight submission / page a week before the Kickstarter campaign and were amazed at the initial response we received and statistics coming from the profile. Talking other developers who had submitted their games to Steam Greenlight, we were pleasantly surprised to discover what we thought were average statistics were in fact really very good. We spent a good couple of weeks with over 65% yes votes and were steadily increasing our ranking up to and into the Top 100 within a very short space of time. There were a great number of positive comments and feedback, with growing excitement to see the game make it through and be available on the Steam platform.
10. VIP backers and influencers – Not only did we meet Shuhei Yoshida and begin discussions about PS4 dev kits and Morpheus hardware, he tweeted, retweeted and publicly pledged his support for the game to his large follower base. We were also able to connect and talk to Palmer Luckey who tweeted and posted about the game and Kickstarter. We also managed to bring a number of other high profile game industry professionals on side, such as Ben Kurcher and Stephen “Rockjaw” Reid, who were publicly happy to show support and help spread the word through their large follower base (as well as create great coverage through a positive article on Polygon). Furthermore, tweets and promotion from the three main companies we were working with (in relation to using their hardware and software) were happy to tweet, retweet and promote the campaign. For this we are thankful to Sony, Oculus VR and Unity3D.