Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter is a place where dreams take flight and soar, or on the flip side, crash and burn.
For Singaporean game studio and publisher Capital Gains Studio, they’ve experienced both.
Made up of 4 Singaporeans of pretty diverse backgrounds – Xeo Lye (Wealth Manager, blogger and author), Sam Chang (IT Project Manager), Ashley Woo (Senior Manager turned entrepreneur and trainer), and Yvonne Lai (Real Estate consultant).
Founded in 2013, the studio is best known for their Wongamania series, a competitive board game which teaches players about personal finance and some basics about economics.
There are currently 3 games published under the series – Classic Edition, Banana Economy and the Malaysia Edition.
While their games have since found their way into classrooms, offices, and gaming conventions, the journey getting there wasn’t as easy as a roll of the dice.
For example, their latest game, Debtzilla, was a failed Kickstarter campaign before it successfully and swiftly hit its funding goal on second try.
I spoke to Capital Gains Studio co-founder Xeo Lye to find out more about their journey so far, and their advice for aspiring Kickstarter creators.
Wongamania: Helping Students And Working Adults Understand Finance
The team’s first brush with crowdfunding wasn’t with Kickstarter, but StarHub-launched platform (now defunct) Crowdtivate.
However, the concept of crowdfunding in Singapore was relatively new back in 2014, and the team struggled to find the traffic and attention that they needed to successfully launch Wongamania: Classic.
Quipped Xeo, “We found ourselves spending more time explaining to people what is crowdfunding as opposed to sharing the benefits of the product!”
Eventually, they turned to Kickstarter, and thanks to a better understanding of how to run a crowdfunding campaign under their belt, and also a wider audience, the game did “pretty well”.
However, what really launched them into board game stardom was the second iteration of their game – Wongamania: Banana Economy.
Raising AU$15,210 (~S$15,583) at the end of the campaign, the studio successfully attracted a more than decent 373 backers.
But success on Kickstarter wasn’t the endgame for the startup, and they looked to stock their game at retail outlets.
“We did a lot of door-knockings.”
As a relatively unknown startup with no credibility, we had to demonstrate to the distributors that there will be a lot of marketing support to help push the product.
“One of the assumptions that product creators have is that their job ends once the product hits the retail shops – this is the biggest mistake that a game publisher can make.”
Soon, it wasn’t just retail stores that were convinced of their unique way of teaching financial literacy.
Wongamania: Classic soon made its way into classrooms and companies.
From teaching students about some principles of economics, to helping employees of financial institutions, players fell in love with the cute graphics and how the game made information that is usually ‘dry’ more interesting.
The Birth Of Debtzilla
Spurred on by the success of Wongamania: Banana Economy, the team also noticed that one of the characters in the game, Debtzilla, was “well-received” among players.
Many people asked us, ‘Why is Debtzilla only represented by a card in the game? We want to fight Debtzilla!’
Like its name suggests, Debtzilla was inspired by Godzilla, the “fearsome kaiju that feeds on nuclear power and destroys both friends and foes”.
For the team, the concept of debt was similar – “it has a double-edged sword effect like nuclear power and hence Debtzilla is born as a representation of the destructive power of the growing debt problem around the world”.
“We hope that the board game will raise awareness of debt management and the repercussion of debt in today’s society.”
A Gamble That Didn’t Pay Off
As pretty seasoned Kickstarter creators, the team fully expected to go through the usual process of running a campaign – running marketing and promotion campaigns, hitting their funding goal, then eventually sending out the game to backers.
However, just days before the launch date, they were hit with their first hurdle.
Shared Xeo, “The contractor which we hired for the Kickstarter video production was unable to deliver the video and stopped communicating with us.”
“Instead of working to create a pre-campaign buzz and honing on the campaign pitch and positioning, the team was busy putting together a new video. I also decided not to pull the plug, despite being rattled by the series of screw-ups.”
But the damage was done. With mental balance off, we were unable to harness the potential of our marketing campaign.
In spite of having interviews and reviews for Debtzilla already pat down, Xeo admits that while he’s thankful for the support he got from the media, the problem lay with their campaign itself.
“No amount of media coverage would help if the backers are not sure of what they are pledging for.”
As the campaign quickly came to a sombre standstill, the team decided to pull the plug on the campaign and “embrace failure”.
Bouncing Back, And Succeeding
For the first round, we were so focused on pitching to the media that we neglected the most important people – our backers.
“We changed our priorities from pitching to the media to talking directly to our backers.”
The backers were also an invaluable source of feedback, and Xeo reveals that they “implemented most of the backers’ comments”.
“Given that we only had a short 2 month timeframe between the previous campaign and the re-launch, our backers were extremely pleased to see us taking [their suggestions] seriously.”
They also decided to expand their target audience – by adding in a set of family-friendly rules.
“Kids love superheroes and it’ll be a pity if the game mechanics was a barrier to the game which they could play with their parents!”
This new approach worked, and they successfully hit their funding goal of $10,888 in just 30 hours.
Take care of your customers first and the media will eventually notice the good testimonials – then the coverage will come.
With just 3 days to go till the end of the campaign, they’ve raised over $18k from 279 backers so far – a resounding success.
“Just Do It, And Embrace Failure When It Turns Up”
When asked about their advice to fellow Singaporean Kickstarter creators, Xeo has a lot to share.
There are many creators who fret about designing the perfect Kickstarter campaign. Don’t do that.
“So, ‘Just do it’ and embrace failure when it shows up. From there, learn from the mistakes and construct a better product and campaign and you will see the results.”
As for clinching interviews and attention from the media, Xeo states that having a “compelling story” is key to a successful pitch.
“Running a Kickstarter is hard and no doubt there will be many failures and set-backs. Share these with the media, instead of trying to portray an easy road to success.”
Interested in Debtzilla? Check it out on Kickstarter here!