Road Rashed: 5 reasons why the Road Redemption Kickstarter failed to take off
Ben's note: Road Redemption, a spiritual successor to the console hit Road Rash, is $40,000 short of its Kickstarter goal, with only a few days before the campaign ends. Paul Fisch contacted me about running a post that described what he thought had gone wrong with the campaign. When I saw an early draft I was hooked. I hope others learn from this story.
When we decided to do a Kickstarter for our project, Road Redemption, we thought we were guaranteed to be an earth-shattering success.
Here we were, an experienced team, developing a game that happened to be a spiritual successor to a series that hit peak popularity in the mid 90’s, that hadn’t seen an update since 1999. It seemed like a match made in crowdfunding heaven.
Every day we were seeing similar titles rocket to the crowdfunding stratosphere. Games like Planetary Annihilation (spiritual successor to 1990’s hit Total Annihilation), Star Citizen (a callback to 1990’s hits such as Tie Fighter, Wing Commander, and Descent Freespace). Two separate Shadowrun successors each raised over $1,000,000.
We decided in September 2012 to get Road Redemption to the point where it would make a compelling Kickstarter. In that time, a single screenshot of Road Rash 64 got to the top of the front page on reddit. We knew the demand for a next-gen update to the series would be huge.
We launched on April 12th, with an opening video of game footage that we think really showed off Road Redemption’s selling points.
Our launch was covered on sites such as IGN.com, Joystiq, RockPaperShotgun, Eurogamer, Slashdot, basically by everybody.
But unlike projects such as the Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter, we did not get the opening surge that we expected. We got some respectable numbers, but not what we had been hoping for.
Since then, we’ve struggled to reach our goal of $160,000 – what it would take to finish Road Redemption in a reasonable amount of time.
So what went wrong? Why are we, at the time of this writing, $45,000 short of having enough to finish the Road Rash successor that’s been our dream project, with only 3 days left to do it?
What went wrong?
1. Picking the Wrong Launch Day
Launching our Kickstarter campaign on a Friday turned out to be a mistake.
We had delayed the launch a couple of times already, and we were all itching to get our game out there and to show the world what we have been working on. We also wanted to get the fundraising out of the way so we could get back to working on Road Redemption.
We pressed the launch button at 6am. We sent out press releases over the next hour. Coverage on major sites appeared mostly Friday afternoon and Friday evening.
Fundraising was steady for a few hours, but then we noticed the flood of new backers turned into a small stream around 5pm eastern time. By 5pm Pacific time, the stream had turned into a trickle.
People were getting off of work and arranging their weekend plans. We imagine there were plenty of potential backers saw the news story as they were walking out the door, made a mental note to pledge us, and by the time Monday came, they had already forgotten.
We should have taken a tip from other successful kickstarters like Torment: Tides of Numenera, Camelot Unchained, Elite: Dangerous, and the Ouya. All of these Kickstarter projects launched on a Tuesday or Wednesday and were able to maximize press coverage during those crucial first days.
To make matters worse, we released during one of the highest stress times of the year: the deadline for filing income taxes in the US. It’s usually not a time when people are liberal with their pocket books.
2. Kickstarter Oversaturation in the News
We had hoped that our Friday launch was a temporary setback, and that we’d have another chance to get peoples’ attention with subsequent updates.
We were wrong.
When we decided to do a Kickstarter for Road Redemption in fall of 2012, the concept of crowdfunding was new enough that small developments to a campaign, such as adding a stretch goal, were front page news.
Relatively modest projects such as Sir, You Are Being Hunted could expect weekly headlines, updating people of its progress.
Things sure have changed. Currently, there are 153 Kickstarter video game projects running, many of them promising, quality projects. It’s been like this for months.
It’s likely that a given video game media site receives hundreds of Kickstarter-related press releases per week, and it’s very hard to get through the haze.
Even when we released a 60 second video from our tech demo of Road Redemption using the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality helmet, it was only covered by a handful of sites.
When a post about our Kickstarter made it to the #2 top spot on the frontpage of reddit, it was quickly deleted by the mods because they don’t allow posts about Kickstarter projects.
Basically, if you want to get the message out, you have to make that initial announcement count.
3. The Wrong Game Genre
Despite all of the love out there for the Road Rash series, a spiritual successor might not be the right type of game for Kickstarter.
If you look at the big Kickstarter successes, they all fall into genres that are particular successful on the PC: adventure games, RPGs, strategy games, Minecraft-style games, and space sims.
Games like Castle Story, Stonehearth, and Star Citizen become huge Kickstarter successes, even without being immediately familiar the way Road Redemption is.
Similarly, all of the big remake successes, with few exceptions, have been remakes of PC games (Carmageddon, Leisure Suit Larry, Wasteland, Torment).
Meanwhile, console-style games such as the Adventures of Dash, Ecco: The Dolphin reboot, the Dizzy reboot, the Pitfall Reboot, have had a tougher go of it. Now each one of those Kickstarters has its share of issues, but the trend is clear.
4. No More Indie Love
When we decided to put Road Redemption on Kickstarter, there was a lot of goodwill in the gaming community to support indie projects.
People like Brian Fargo of the Wasteland remake and Tim Schafer of Double Fine were seen as circumventing the publisher system to deliver to fans something that publishers would never allow through the greenlight process.
“Had we taken this idea to a publisher, they would've turned us down cold since they think adventure games are dead.” – Al Lowe of the Make Leisure Suit Larry come again! Kickstarter campaign
The gaming community responded to this by giving young, scrappy game developers a chance to make the game of their dreams. Projects like Limit Theory, made by one guy, Josh Parnell, in his bedroom, received over $187,000.
Since then, the relentless barrage of Kickstarter’s from young, scrappy game developers in their bedrooms, has been overwhelming. If someone took it upon himself to pledge every indie game project, his funds would have run dry months ago.
At this point, Kickstarter is just another form of presales.
5. Other Kickstarters not Delivering
Two days before the Road Redemption Kickstarter launched, the Ouya, Kickstarter’s biggest success story, received a 3.5/10 review score from Gizmodo.
For their pledges, backers received Ouya systems with laggy controls, buttons that get stuck under the gamepad faceplate, and a miniscule selection of games.
Earlier, the Shadowrun Kickstarter revealed that, despite what they had promised, the game’s DLC actually would have DRM copy protection.
In October, Rick Dakan announced that their project Haunts: The Manse Macabre, which had raised $28,000, was indefinitely postponed because their only programmer was never actually committed to the project. This was a detail that the project creator failed to mention during the Kickstarter campaign itself.
Surely there have been Kickstarter successes, the Oculus Rift and FTL being two notable ones, but the failures have taken their toll.
We received many messages from backers letting us know that “This is the last Kickstarter” they were going to back because of how many times they got burned. We’ll never know how many potential backers had already backed their “last Kickstarter” before ours launched.
We are extremely grateful to our 3500 backers, and we’re still fully committed to finishing Road Redemption, even if we have to scrape together development funds from other sources.
Ultimately though, we hope that other developers can learn from our mistakes. Every day we see more campaigns launch with sky-high funding goals, whose creators clearly have no idea how treacherous the environment for new projects has become. Hopefully, after seeing this piece, they’ll launch their fundraising campaigns with their eyes open.
The Road Redemption Kickstarter is still going on, and it still has a slim chance of success. Consider giving as a virtual tip jar for this great article.