Changing the Game: Evolving Dino Run and Crowdfunding


In 2010, Pixeljam raised $11,000 on Kickstarter for the game Glorkian Warrior. Five years later we delivered it. The long version of that story can be read HERE. The short version is that we rebuilt and re-imagined the game three times, went on a rollercoaster ride of expanding and diminishing goals, and emerged relatively unscathed but a bit cynical about crowdfunding in general.

That cynicism did not deter us from launching a second, much more ambitious Kickstarter campaign in 2013, before we had even delivered the first one. This campaign was for Dino Run 2, and its failure was one of the best things that has happened to our company.

But before we get to the fallout and aftermath of Dino Run 2, let’s rewind the clock a bit…

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In mid-2013 Pixeljam was at a crossroads with where to put its time and energy. Glorkian Warrior was far from done, but we didn’t have the funds to complete it the way we wanted. We also didn’t have any small game ideas we liked enough to pursue. A sequel to Dino Run was something we had always wanted to create, but we knew it would take large amounts of time and money to do it right.

Here’s a question: suppose it’s 2013… what do you do when you have a great idea that you know people will love, but don’t have enough money to complete it? Do you work on it little by little in your spare time until you have something to show people and get some buzz going about it, possibly attracting a publisher or private investor?

No, the correct (or at least popular) answer is that you put all of your time and money into a marketing spectacle for your idea, think for fifteen minutes about how much it will cost to complete, make a promo video with a budget that could probably fund the idea’s prototype, launch it on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and spend the next thirty days in a manic hybrid of excitement, depression, hope and exhaustion.

If you don’t make your goal, that whole effort is mostly wasted. You could have spent all of that time and money just working on your idea.

If you do make that goal, now you’ve got an even bigger problem: you have to actually produce what you said you would, within the budget you asked for, and deliver it by the time you estimated. And you’ve got a few thousand internet strangers who expect you to do just that.

UH OH.


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By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of articles about crowdfunding projects gone horribly wrong. If not, check out this, this or this. These of course are extreme cases… they’re rare, but they guide the current perception of crowdfunding: backer beware.

There are plenty of people out there with great ideas, and a lot of them are not prepared for the sudden opportunity and responsibility of a successful campaign. Their stories serve as warnings to others looking to do the same, but the allure of big money for a great idea is too attractive. And so, creators and developers continue to queue up to try their luck.

Reading through the comments of such articles, words like “scam” and “fraud” get thrown around a lot. We’d gamble to say that none of these folks intended to scam anyone out of money, they simply had no idea what they had signed up for, freaked when it came time to report to their backers, and didn’t manage expectations properly from the beginning.

And just how DO you manage expectations for a group of 1000+ people? Working with publishers and investors is a breeze compared to dealing with a faceless mob. Publishers are usually understanding and supportive because they’ve been down that road dozens of times with other people. They KNOW that software development is unpredictable, and it always takes much longer than you think it will. And often you just simply fail. Does the general crowdfunding public know that? Do they care? *Should* they care?

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Back to the story of Dino Run 2, and the decision to take on the risk of crowdfunding another game: we launched the campaign, it failed, we were bummed for a while, we got over it and moved on. Sobered from our unsuccessful gamble, we stopped dreaming big and got practical. We forged a new direction and focused on simply completing the work we had already taken on. First on our list was to release Glorkian Warrior and make good on what we promised so long ago. Next up was getting all of our existing games on new platforms. Surprisingly, it all paid off better than chasing dreams ever did.

Still, we couldn’t stop thinking about crowdfunding and wondering: why is it like this? Why did it produce so many spectacular wrecks? Why couldn’t anyone just get real in their campaign and announce to the world “We don’t know how much money we need and we don’t know how long it will take, but please give us money for this great idea.”

People can’t say that because it doesn’t sell. And you need to sell, right? You don’t have an actual product to sell yet so you have to sell your idea, and potential funders don’t want to hear about all the things that can go wrong while you are manifesting your idea into reality. But in reality things rarely go as planned, even for the seasoned creator.

The average person understands all of this to a degree, but the psychology changes when the average person gives you their money, no matter how much. Once real dollars get involved it all becomes much more personal and complicated. Success is no longer hoped for, but expected.

There are plenty of success stories in the crowdfunding storybook, but the general perception is that the current model too often leads to either disappointment or disaster.

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And now to the present day. Pixeljam has decided to launch yet another crowdfunding campaign, this time to make some updates to the original Dino Run. We *could* do another all-or-nothing campaign and go down that bumpy road again, or we could just roll our own and tailor it to be exactly how we need it. To do this, we need to ask ourselves…

Do we need a hyped-up story that sells everyone on our idea? No, we have something people can already play.

Do we need to create a sense of urgency with an all-or-nothing funding model and gamble that what we ask for is enough to complete the work? No, we’ll improve the game according to what we raise, no matter how large or small.

Are we going to spend the 30 days after launch in a feverish marketing haze promising things that we may not be able to deliver, coming up with stunt after stunt in a desperate attempt to reach a semi-arbitrary budget figure? No, we’ll just be working on the game, knowing as we go how much of our work is already funded.

Will our supporters wait in the dark until we decide to grace them with sporadic updates? No, we’ll supply a detailed roadmap of our development plan complete with task-by-task breakdowns of each milestone. Each task will have a time estimate and we’ll report how long they actually take as we complete them. If things take longer than we think, everyone will be able to see why… no excuses necessary.

So, let’s do it.

It’s inevitable that in any new endeavor things will not always go according to plan. That fact should not deter the public from funding creators to transform their ideas into reality. This campaign is about more than just funding updates to Dino Run… it’s about taking a small step towards transforming crowdfunding.


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by Miles Tilmann | Click to Comment