Kickstarter Sells Out

I’ve blogged a lot about Kickstarter, from the Kickstarter we ran at Phoenix Online for Cognition, to my submission for a Kickstarter panel at PAX East, to the incredible ride that was the Double Fine Kickstarter, the one that changed everything. I’ve overall found Kickstarter to be a fantastic thing, a great way for independent, creative projects to get their start, to get support, to make things happen for people & groups who otherwise might not be able to pursue these projects.

Which is why the Penny Arcade Kickstart to remove ads from their site pisses me right the hell off. Read more


DIY PR: Learn How to Write (Press Releases)

You know how to write! Of course you do! You can put letters in order and they form words others can read. Writing to get someone else interested in what you’re doing is more than that. It’s presentation, it’s word choice, it’s grammar and punctuation and spelling, it’s being descriptive while being succinct. And it’s important.

1. Spelling Counts. So Do Grammar and Punctuation. 

Thank God for the backspace key.

That means spell things correctly, have your commas and semi-colons in the right places and craft your words with careful thought and consideration. Don’t take shortcuts, and do have someone proofread. Have them do it twice. Then you should do it twice, no matter how smart you are, or how often you’ve done this, because you are not perfect. Case in point, I titled yesterday’s post DYI instead of DIY at first and didn’t notice until someone else pointed it out. Doh! Look at every word and dissect it to make certain it’s correct! Personally, I draft my important emails and press releases in a word doc program first — no chance of hitting send too soon!

Read more

Do-it-Yourself Public Relations (or, DIY PR)

This morning, I had a notion.

Publicity is important to any endeavor that seeks to make a profit. Regardless of the reason for that profit, whether it’s to sustain a creative endeavor, earn an income, bring attention to a cause, share a thing of interest, or something else entirely. But getting publicity is notoriously difficult. There’s a lot of competition for people’s attention out there, and in the past, only certain channels have had the power of broadcasting your endeavor to the masses.

That was the past. This is now. And now is a world where the eager masses can give $3 million to an idea that is presented well. Where social media can sustain revolutions. Where anyone can tell the world what they have to say, and the world can hear it.

I ended up doing PR in a weird way. Ten years ago, I joined Phoenix Online as a volunteer staff writer to make a video game. A pipe dream from my youth, something that sounded fun and creative while I was in the funk of temp jobs and living at home following graduating college in 2002 as an English major with a tacked on Philosophy minor. Over the years, I ended up one of the Directors of a fledgling company, and roughly two years ago, I inherited the job of running PR.

And I kind of freaking love it.

Here’s the thing: This isn’t what I studied. I had the work of those before me to build off of. I’ve had help learning how to write a press release and reach out to the press and getting contacts to build my own press list. I’m not the kind of person who can easily go and talk to just anyone out of the blue. I don’t even like calling people on the phone. The night before my first ever interviews at PAX East 2010 I hardly slept because I was so freaking nervous.

Bottom line? I’m no expert. But despite all that, and that I almost always feel like I’m winging it, I’m certainly doing alright, and more and more lately, I’ve felt I actually have enough knowledge on how this stuff works to be able to offer advice or help people out. If I got here in a non-traditional way, anyone can.

So I’m borrowing a page from my friend Cassandra, who has successfully adopted a schedule model to keep her posting regularly on her blog, and once a week I’m going to post about things I’ve learned about Public Relations. This is no college class, this is no formal education, this is just my experience and what I’ve learned from it, and hopefully it can prove useful to someone else.

Coming now and every week: Do-It-Yourself Public Relations!

Causalities of the Kickstarter Revolution?

An article from Kotaku talks about Double Fine’s Kickstarter (which ended at over $3 million), and now the new already-over-$1 million Kickstarter to make Wasteland 2 happen (a sequel to a 1980’s RPG), may already be changing the business. The rumor is that Obsidian, who floated some ideas about possibly going to Kickstarter with some ideas of their own, may have lost a deal with Microsoft because of it.

Per the article, it’s all speculation — meaning, this may entirely not be the case. But the idea is an intriguing one, isn’t it? That a publisher may have pulled their backing for the mere possibility of a studio saying “Screw it, we don’t need you guys”? Gets you a little fired up inside, doesn’t it?

I love the idea that it might be true. I love what it represents, even if it’s not fact, in the end. Because the little guy has a voice and has power. But then, I’ve already gone on about that. Still — it’s an exciting time to be coming into the industry.

24 Hours, $1 Million: This Changes Everything

Yesterday something amazing happened.

The mere promise of an old school adventure game — the genre I love and work in, and the one that has been called “dead” uncountable times since it lost golden child status in the late 90’s — was launched on Kickstarter, and in under 24 hours, it raised $1 million.

To give you perspective on that, I offer not only Kickstarter’s blog post recounting the groundbreaking 24 hours, but my own breakdown of the facts:

Double Fine Adventures: actual overnight millionaires
  • The Kickstarter campaign, brought us by Double Fine Adventures, had a goal of $400,000. This in and of itself is almost four times the total amount of money raised by ANY video game project on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter we ran for Phoenix Online raised a little over $34,000, and is the 8th most funded video game project there right now (9th, once Double Fine’s campaign closes).
  • They reached that amount in 8 hours.
  • The highest amount ever raised, when this began, was $942,578 by the TikTok project, an iPod nano-compatible watch.
  • Yesterday, this total was surpassed by Elevation Dock, an iPhone dock, which was just finishing it’s run. This project also, yesterday, became the first project on Kickstarter to ever break $1 million.
  • Within hours, Double Fine also breaks $1 million.
  • Currently, Double Fine stands at over $1.3 million, is already the most successful Kickstarter ever, and may very well break $2 million before it’s done, since it has until March 13th. It also now holds the records for fastest growth and most backers.

There are a slew of obvious reasons why this is ridiculously amazing. The speed at which this happened, the incredible goal it has hit and continues to hit, the reach it has, all speak for themselves. What’s important to me about this? Four words.

Maniac Mansion: How do I get out of the dungeon? I still don't know!

Old. School. Adventure. Game.

This is the genre that, as the Double Fine video points out, publishers will laugh at. Dismiss as bound to fail. We got so few adventure games for so long because of this attitude. Great series’ died out ungraceful deaths because of this. And while the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years, it hasn’t been big like it once was, either. So the fact that an independent developer said they want to make one and within 24 hours raised $ 1 million and broke records left and right doing it is frakkin’ off the charts fantastic!

Some due background on Double Fine: the studio has produced some amazing and very popular games (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend), and the two big names working there and attached to this are Tim Schafer (Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango) and Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion). Their achievements back in the hey-day of adventure gaming were and are beloved classics and games loved almost universally by the fans. Monkey Island is the only adventure game franchise to see a successful and well-received commercial revival (from Telltale Games). So their reputations and achievements have a lot to do with this success; but hot damn if they didn’t also execute a well-oiled PR campaign to get this thing going.

The Secret of Monkey Island brought us the best and truest thing about pirates yet: Insult Sword Fighting.

Still, it’s just plain not possible for even a fantastic PR campaign to the media to account for this. Yes, there were posts and tweets from Kotaku. Joystiq, Gamasutra and more as this thing got on its legs and launched. But the thing that made this work, made it happen so fast, so well, so overwhelmingly above and beyond?

Fan word of mouth and social media.

Is it any surprise? Social media has shown how it’s changed the world already. Political protests, uprisings, petitions, news, bullying, emergency responses — good and bad (often depending on where you stand), social media has changed how the world works. It’s the next step in the evolving way in which communication directly affects how the world grows and changes. One voice, on its own, may not be heard by many. But when one voice becomes thousands in a matter of minutes, when one voice can be heard and amplified by peers, one voice is suddenly deafening. One voice becomes many, and many can change what happens. One change becomes many and…you get the idea. The point is, one voice has power, and that is undeniable.

This seems like just one game. It’ll be fun, it’s a great story of triumph, the little guy won, huzzah. And it is that, but that’s not all it is. It’s a moment we can point to. Where it became clear that things were different, that things can be different. On the gaming business side of this moment, this development, this is something that won’t and can’t be ignored, not by the wannabes, not by the independent developers, and not by the publishers. Will the industry change over night? No. But the relationship is changing, and those of us who only had one voice know we’re being heard. What’s more, everyone else hears it now, too — and everyone knows it.

What Do You Want to Know About Kickstarter?

As I’ve posted about before, Phoenix Online ran a Kickstarter campaign for our upcoming game, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. It was a fantastic success–we not only hit our $25,000 goal, we raised $34,247, and we’re now the 8th most successful video game project on Kickstarter, ever.

This April, the Penny Arcade Expo will be having it’s Boston-area event, aka PAX East, and I intend to attend the convention. I went in 2010 and it was a lot of fun, myself and another director did some interviews that were key in saving The Silver Lining, plus it was just really interesting! (Linkapalooza today, aren’t I?) There’s a huge area of booths for companies to showcase their games and other products, panels on all kinds of topics relevant to gamers, from gaming culture to Q&A with game creators, to dramatic presentations to suggestions for raising your geek toddler. They truly run the gammit, and quality will vary, but they are all of interest to the gaming community.

I’ll be honest–I did the majority of the work running our Kickstarter campaign. I managed our page, set it up, replied to emails, sent a thank you message to every single person who donated, posted the updates, tweeted, Facebook’d, emailed friends & family to ask for their support, I was all over that thing. I won’t pretend it was ALL me, but I was the person mainly driving that thing. And I really loved doing it! Kickstarter’s great, and I know there are others out there who are interested in and would like to use it to get their own projects going.

So, I’m looking to put together a panel proposal for PAX East. Right now I’m trying to decide what

Rich and I at PAX East 2010

sort of format I want to go with: one that’s purely about Phoenix Online’s experience with Kickstarter, or approach other successful gaming-related projects and try to get a panel of people together to talk about all our experiences. Both set-ups would involved plenty of audience Q&A, but I’d like to get a chance to talk about the experience before launching into pure Q&A as well. A panel of a number of people would cut down on both time available to talk about that as well as Q&A time. But, it offers a wider variety of experiences and answers for people as well, and that can only help since no one’s going to have the exact same experience.

Panels, of note, run about an hour.

So, readers, what do YOU want to know about Kickstarter? What format sounds better to you? What kind of information do you want, what questions would you have? I’d love to get some great feedback on this, and soon so I can submit the proposal. Thanks in advance for your help!

For the Thrill of It

I love this.

The last week has been fantastic. Busy, cramped, a ton to do and a ton going on, but dammit I love it. Everything’s in the moment and happening fast and it’s fantastic.

We launched our Cognition Kickstarter six days ago with a $25,000 goal. Right now we have $14,045 pledged to us already. Already! We have 36 more days yet to go! We’ve been blown away by how fast that number has risen and how high. While we picked our goal amount with care, going for something significant, ambitious, but that we were confident was possible, this has still been an unexpected show of generosity and support that just warms the heart and feels…well, yeah, fantastic!

So, y’know, there’s that. 🙂

On top of that, we’re releasing Episode 4 of The Silver Lining on Sunday and there’s a lot to be done. The game to finalize and polish and test, but that’s not my role. Mine, right now, is Public Relations. And damned if I don’t love it during release week and the weeks that follow. The fast pace, emails flying in and out, talking with press contacts, arranging interviews, doing interviews, answering questions, posting to the websites, it’s thrilling and I’m good at it. And that feels fantastic, too.

If I ever doubt it, times like this reaffirm for me that yes, yes this is what I want to do. Create things, tell a story, put my heart into it, and tell the world about it.