Illo – Birth Of The Cool Kickstarter developer diary, part two: leaping through flaming hoops

Illo - Birth Of The Cool developer diary, part two

Well, what an eventful week! Hurricane Sandy has wreaked havoc across the US East coast; the presidential election has been working up to its final week; Disney bought Lucasfilm so we get more Star Wars movies, and Illo – Birth Of The Cool launched on Kickstarter all at pretty much the same time. Our project’s been live for one week and (at the time of writing this) we’ve made the grand total of $690 in pledges, so only $269,310 to go! But hey, a big thanks to our backers so far – you obviously like what you see.

So, what have we learnt in our first week? Our first thoughts are to do with the awareness of the project. We know that social networking is pretty much at the top of generating awareness and pledges, but we only started doing this once the project went live on Kickstarter. In hindsight, maybe we should have started before and built up a ‘critical mass’ of followers beforehand. Also, we’ve been pushing the message out to the games and lifestyle press and while we’ve been getting some really good coverage, it’s not quite what we hoped. It could be that Illo is just a concept or that it’s not a big IP, but whatever the reason we’re doubling our efforts to get people talking about it. We were also confident that the Kickstarter editorial team would notice Illo, but when you’ve got major events going on inNew York, you kind of understand if they didn’t.

Then there’s the manner in which we presented Illo on the Kickstarter site. Firstly, some commentators feel that Kickstarter is there just to help ‘finish off’ game projects, not help start them. This we don’t agree with at all. We’re starting Illo from scratch here – we just have concept drawings and now the Intro trailer of the game rendered out – and we believe Kickstarter backers understand what we need to do and pledge accordingly. Secondly, in the main video on the Illo Kickstarter page (where Luca and Massi are walking through the beautiful streets of Rome) some people have pointed out that we should have shown something of the game earlier in the film.

Illo - Birth Of The Cool concept art

While criticism can sometimes be difficult to take,what we learned this week is that you need to continually react and reappraise your approach. Change things that don’t work, push as hard as you can on your social networks, spread the word early and try to build a big following before launch. And, if possible, try not to launch your project at the same time a massive hurricane hits theUS.

So, to continue where we left off last week: once the illo team had decided Kickstarter was the route we wanted, we began our research. In April, we looked at what was needed to set up the back end of the project – the financial process where projects get the money after a successful Kickstarter campaign has concluded. This was the first hurdle.

At the time, to have a project on Kickstarter you needed to be aUScitizen or have a bank account in the US which led to an Amazon account – the pledged money is processed by Amazon. Raylight is Italian, and our PR partners Character Communications is British, so we started to ask ourselves who we knew in the US who could open a bank account for us? The team spoke with everyone they knew in the US. From long lost girlfriends (not a good idea, as it turns out) to former colleagues, we tried every route we could think of. One idea was even to open a Raylight office in New York through Massi’s uncle who lives there.

We also looked at other Kickstarter projects conducted by non-US teams and approached them to find out how they did it. Some had used companies who, for a fee, would set up Amazon accounts for foreign Kickstarter projects – but these got closed down very quickly in the US. Some had simply had friends in the US who allowed them to use their bank accounts. In the end, Massi approached US publisher Maximum Games and asked them for help. Luckily, Maximum liked the concept very much and were prepared to help us out.

“We were getting to the point where it felt like less ‘Kickstarter’ and more non-starter, ” says Massi. “But when you believe in something so much, you find a way of pushing forward. Once Maximum Games confirmed they would help, we got moving faster.”

So, with the Amazon account up and running, the next research job was to look at what price figure we should pitch the project at, and looking at what we could give as rewards – another hoop for us to jump through.

Illo - Birth Of The Cool

Through our research we discovered that a lot of funded Kickstarter projects failed because they didn’t allocate enough money to cover the project production costs and the costs of the pledge rewards. It’s obvious now, but when you’re asking for a large sum of money for a project, it’s frightening how quickly costs can escalate if you forget you need to buy an iPad or pay for some flights for rewards. So, we started on the rewards first, and then worked out the production costs, and reached a final figure of $270,000 to make, produce and promote the game from concept to bringing the game to market.

Throughout the project, we wanted to make sure that all of our backers were reassured that we hadn’t plucked a figure out of the air about making Illo. This translated into how we would promote the game and how our first video production would look and feel – but how to produce a convincing video about an idea for a game, illustrate the uniqueness of the game and then compete with the other Kickstarter projects? More hoops; we were beginning to feel more like circus lions than game developers.

Next week, Raylight will explain how the Kickstarter page was assembled – how the team decided what to say to potential backers and, indeed the world. Pending any further natural disasters, of course. For more, visit the Illo – Birth Of The Cool project page on Kickstarter.