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Kickstarter game projects: Where does the money go?

April 17, 2012, 8:30 AM — A couple of weeks back I wrote about Kickstarter and how the system seems to be injecting some much needed energy into the gaming industry. Since then all of the projects I mentioned have made their targets and most are still growing.

Wasteland 2 just closed after more than tripling their $900,000 goal. Shadowrun has plenty of time to go and left its $400,000 goal in the dust long ago. Last time I checked it was at $1.1 million. The Banner Saga, with a few days to go, is at 5 times their $100,000 goal. Probably the lowest profile project I mentioned, The Dead Linger, is at about $90,000, half again as much as their goal of $60,000.

So it’s all good, right? But what happens next?

For these projects, what happens next remains to be seen, but the developers of Star Command, an upcoming game for iOS and Android, closed their Kickstarter project last October and have been living their post-funding lives. In their case they raised $36,967, almost twice their $20,000 goal, so you’d think they’d be feeling quite comfortable.

But that’s not exactly the case. Warballoon, the team developing Star Command, posted an update showing where that money has gone since the fund closed. Kickstarter and Amazon took $3,000 in fees and $2,000 was lost to bad transactions (people pledged but didn’t have the funds to cover it). That’s part of the cost of doing business, I suppose.

But they spent $10,000 on prize fullfillment. In other words, having the posters, stickers and t-shirts made and then delivered. Wow! If you look at their breakdown of backers, about 1,000 ($25 pledges) got stickers, and 100 ($100+ pledges) got a t-shirt, poster and the stickers.

So lesson #1 for potential Kickstarter project owners: price out your giveaways, including the cost of packaging and shipping, before you figure out your Pledge Levels. Lean heavily on digital perks, though even those are going to cost in terms of design.

Interestingly that $10K didn’t even include the poster art, which is listed as an additional $2,000 fee.

Warballoon also spent $4,000 on attorneys, CPAs and start-up fees, and they say if they had to do it all over again they would’ve left the attorneys out of the process and drawn up their own agreements.

In the end they wound up with just $4,000 of that $36,000 left, and in terms of developing the game, $6,000 was spent on music, $3,000 on attending PAX East (so marketing, basically) and the rest just went to what is essentially overhead and taxes.

I’m not writing this post to suggest that Kickstarter isn’t a great way to fund a game; I still think it is. But before you set things up you might want to do some bean-counting and figure out how much everything is going to cost.

Warballoon has provided the Kickstarter gaming community an invaluable service in sharing these numbers; my thanks go out to them.

Now, with those ominous words of warning out of the way, I can’t help but share a few more interesting projects that I’ve decided to pledge towards.

Gravitaz is a high-speed combat-racing game featuring hover-vehicles. If you’ve played the Wipeout series on Playstation, it’s the same kind of idea, only with an emphasis on more strategic weapons and better track design. Plus instead of being a Playstation title it’ll be for Windows, OS X and Linux. Developer Glass Bottom Games is looking for $25,000 to fund this one. Their tech is basically finished but they need funding to pay their artists so that the game can look incredible. This is my favorite of today’s bunch and I really hope they make it.

Next up is Nekro, an action RPG in which you play the bad guy. The style is whimsical and yet kind of gross (in a good way), the world is randomly generated for replayability and they’ve got video of gameplay over on the Kickstarter site. Developer DarkForge needs $100,000 to bring the game to Windows, OS X and Linux. The game looks really fun but they need help. They’ve got 17 days to go and haven’t yet hit $20K. Not sure why this one isn’t resonating with gamers. Let’s help them make their goal!

Last is Starlight Inception, a space combat game. Developer Escape Hatch Entertainment is headed up by Garry M. Gaber who worked at LucasArts Entertainment on titles like Star Wars Rebel Assault 2 and Star Wars: Force Commander. He’s looking for $150,000 to bring the game to Windows and the Playstation Vita.

By Peter Smith

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