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Is crowdfunding right for you? Tales from the trenches

By Dennis Clemente

Is crowdfunding right for you? For some people, the thought of sharing their business idea online to get funding is like giving it away but not unless your idea gets funded faster. Maybe you’re not comfortable with the idea of getting in front of a camera, but there’s a way to overcome that, too.

At the meetup “In the Trenches: Best Practices for Crowdfunding” at a Microsoft office last June 4, the panel of speakers came from gamers who went through crowdfunding and lived to tell the tale. They were Melissa Marie Fassetta of FPS Russia, Joshua DeBonis of Meriweather and Mark McCorkle of Luna Nova.

There was no hesitation on Fassetta’s part. She said she went to Kickstarter right way with her idea. That proved to be a good move, as she helped raise $55,000 to fund FPS Russia: The Game http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fpsrussia/fps-russia-the-game-0, coordinating with the popular YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/FPSRussia. Fassetta is a game development and social media project manager for a digital creative agency in NYC.

She has also been involved in a Kickstarter project that was not funded, and is happy to share her experience in what works (and what doesn’t) in running a successful Kickstarter campaign. “Set a lower money level. We set it at $51,000. We got $55,000.”

Reaching that amount is not as easy. “Kickstarter is powerful but you can’t just rely on it. Have writers or bloggers write about you,” she said with others nodding in agreement. DeBonis ran a successful Kickstarter for a computer role-playing game about the Lewis and Clark Expedition called Meriwether http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/meriwether/meriwether-an-american-epic.

“We talked about our game using Google Hangout and did cross-promotions with others seeking funds on Kickstarter,” DeBonis said, who is particularly interested in exploring ways to integrate history and music with games, the procedural generation of game content, and games that provide a deep experience. DeBonis raised $35,000, still way less than the cost of the game but it’s a good start. As of press time, he has raised over $44,000.

It helps if you have the credentials for people to believe in you. DeBonis is an award-winning game designer and the Director of Sortasoft LLC, an independent studio based in Brooklyn, NY. He has taught game design and development at Parsons The New School for Design, is co-founder and organizer of the New York Board Game Designers playtest group, and recently co-founded the experimental collective Brooklyn Game Ensemble.

Over the past year, McCorkle has been working on various browser and cross-platform technologies, finally settling on a framework that will allow his game, “Luna Nova,” to reach as many platforms and players as possible.

The purpose of building the game is not just to entertain, but also to give McCorkle and the other creative people on his team a venue to communicate a rich sci-fi story. Kickstarter will allow him to get his indie game into people’s hands by winter of 2013.

Since this is McCorkle’s second Kickstarter campaign, he gives one great tip about how to use your Facebook log-in. “Create a Facebook page specific to your crowdfunding campaign, so when you need people to promote or collaborate with you, it’s easier.”

“This is my second Kickstarter project,” the animated McCorkle said. He started his game geek life writing small games on his Atari 800XL. After years of being a game consumer and building infrastructure for everything from ISPs to travel companies, he worked with a small team to develop a browser-based MMO.

The panel was moderated by Emma Larkins who works for a tech startup called Knodes that helps people build communities around their projects. She’s passionate about the crowdfunding industry, and recently Kickstarted her first science fiction novel, Mechalarum http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/emmalarkins/mechalarum-a-science-fiction-novel.

For people to consider funding your idea, handing out rewards or incentives is also important, but
what’s even more important is to know how to handle it without making it a bigger headache than your idea.

The panel said a physical item/reward can be problematic. It can be a pain to ship a thousand items plus you have to deal with customs. They also advised that you make sure you know where you are shipping your item—domestically or internationally.

As a crowdfunding site, not everybody gave Kickstarter a resounding endorsement. The panel offered some suggestions (and misgivings) on how the site has still room for improvement:

• Writing and editing fields could be improved (no copy-paste option)
• Fortunately, there is a preview mode now
• No interaction during and after posting with Kickstarter
• When the campaign ends, you can’t edit your posting anymore
• It has no data unlike Indiegogo, so you don’t know who’s clicking on your posting
• Indiegogo has no transaction fees
• You don’t need approval on Indiegogo

The more important benefit of crowdfunding is building a rich community of people who want you to succeed. But is crowdfunding for everyone? The panel was unanimous in saying some ideas “just have no audience,” with McCorkle adding that “if you failed the first time, it’s harder the second time.”

To raise your level of success, the panel was unanimous in saying that having a well-scripted video is essential. In the beginning, they admitted to trying an off-the-cuff, impromptu video to appear authentic, but it didn’t work.

Still, the question remains: Is there a full-proof way of getting your idea funded? You’ll learn from first-hand experience.