Data Analysis: How does category influence Kickstarter project success?

“Wasteland 2” from InXile Entertainment made $2.9 million in Kickstarter contributions, but are games generally more likely to be funded than other projects? Image from incgamers.

As my semester in WVU’s Blogging and Interactive Journalism class is coming to an end, I am taking a break from the blog to concentrate on completing my master’s thesis. This will be my last post until the end of the school year in May.

A question I’ve often had in reading about Kickstarter is whether the category of a project influences how successful the project will be.

The games category has made the most money. Technology and film & video projects tend to be featured most prominently in the news (as far as Kickstarter campaigns go, anyway). Music on crowdfunding is popular enough to have its own site.

Does the prominence of these categories lead them to have more visibility in the Kickstarter world? Are fanbases stronger for these categories?

In September, Crowdfund Insider compiled a list of the top 50 campaigns that made the most money in pledges and grouped them into categories.

Note that this list does not use Kickstarter’s official category names, so some projects may have been in different categories when they were posted on Kickstarter.

I’ve arranged the data in the chart below. For purposes of simplicity, I combined “games” and “tabletop games” into one category.

Kickstarter Chart 1

As expected, due to their high total funds, the games projects had the greatest representation on the list, with video games holding 19 of the top 50 spots and tabletop games holding 10. Product design made the next best showing with eight, followed by technology with five. The remaining categories all had one or two projects featured on the list.

The chart below illustrates the prominence of games, which outnumbered the other categories combined by a margin of 29 to 21.

Kickstarter Chart 2

One can see, then, that the categories related to games and technological products are probably more likely to bring in a large amount of money.

To a large extent, this tendency is inherent in the nature of the projects. Developing a complex video game or a smartwatch is an expensive endeavor, so successful campaigns require large amounts in pledges.

In addition, Kickstarter has taken off as a widely used platform in some communities more than others.

Crowdlifted looked at Kickstarter’s statistics to determine the top five categories with the highest total numbers of projects (successful and unsuccessful). From most projects to fewest, the categories were film & video, music, publishing, art, and games.

Despite the prominence of Kickstarter in those communities, the greatest chances for successfully funding a Kickstarter project lie elsewhere.

SFGate compiled a list of every Kickstarter category’s percentage of projects that are successfully funded, as well as other statistics. The chart below shows each category’s success rate.

Kickstarter Chart 3

Dance, with 71 percent success, and theatre, with 64 percent, have the highest success rates by a considerable margin. Music is the only other category to have a success rate higher than 50 percent.

Again, cost is certainly a factor. The average successful dance project raises about $4,300, which is the smallest average of all the categories. Unsurprisingly, the category with the highest average is technology, which averages around $75,000.

Because dance requires less money, it has a greater chance of success. But cost is not the only factor.

The average prices for theatre, music, and art are not much higher than dance, yet dance has a considerably higher success rate than theatre, which has a considerably higher success rate than music and art.

The amount of competition is likely a factor. Though Kickstarter is not necessarily a market, anything people spend money on competes for that money.

Because dance and theatre are less popular categories, there are not as many projects posted to attract pledges, allowing the projects that are posted to receive more of the money backers have budgeted for supporting Kickstarter campaigns.

On a less “cold” economic note, dance and theatre projects are more likely to be tailored to one specific geographic location than most of the other categories, so the focus in local communities can bolster interest in a project.

Ultimately, it’s the interest in supporting a creative campaign that drives Kickstarter, but the volume of competition a project faces certainly plays a role.


Blizzard taps into collectible card game market with freemium “Hearthstone”

A few of the cards found in "Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft." Image from the "Hearthstone" official website.
A few of the cards found in “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.” Image from the “Hearthstone” official website.

In a departure from real time strategy games and MMORPGs, Blizzard Entertainment is expanding its Warcraft universe into an online collectible card game.

In Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, players will build decks of virtual cards to compete, in the vein of Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! or the Pokemon trading card game.

The game is currently in close beta for PC and Mac, with an open beta set to be released in December.

A version for iOS and Android is scheduled for the second half of 2014.

The game operates on a freemium model. Players can earn booster packs of new cards by playing the game, or they can buy new cards with real money.

Hearthstone Lead Designer Eric Dodds said the game is designed to remove of the barriers of entry CCGs have and appeal to a wider audience.

Dodds has a good point. Magic is fairly complicated to learn and the volume of cards available for it can make deck building kind of daunting, especially for people who do not have a more experienced player to help them.

Richard Cobbett of EuroGamer echoed Dodds’s sentiment, saying, “…there’s a massive audience scared off by those concepts for whom something that can be picked up in an hour is a huge advantage—especially when the lore and major characters are familiar after so many years exploring World of Warcraft.”

Created in 1993, "Magic: The Gathering" was the first collectible card game. These four cards were packaged as part of a standard (60-card) deck, but players can customize decks to their liking by adding and removing cards. Image uploaded from my iPhone.
Created in 1993, “Magic: The Gathering” was the first collectible card game. These four cards were packaged as part of a standard (60-card) deck, but players can customize decks to their liking by adding and removing cards. Image uploaded from my iPhone.

The idea of a simpler, more new-player-friendly CCG is positive for players wanting to check out the genre and for CCG industry. Playing Hearthstone might be some fans’ first step to getting into one of the game’s more complex offline counterparts.

The bigger question is whether the freemium plan will work for the game.

My inclination is to say it will. After all, it’s worked for games without the kind of pre-existing fanbase that Warcraft has, and that kind of real-world branding goes a long way in strengthening the life cycle of a game.

Perhaps more importantly, paid content has proved viable for video games for several years. Game developers have made enough downloadable content to expand on PC, Mac, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 games that DLC has become ubiquitous in the video game market.

And that content was for games people had to buy.

For a free-to-play game, paid content is even more inviting because the initial cost of the game is eliminated.

Riot Games’s League of Legends, for example, brings in an estimated $200 million in revenue and has enough fans that the game’s official championship was held in Los Angeles’s Staples Center.

Blizzard will likely succeed in getting people to play and buy cards for the game, but it is less clear whether the game will reach the levels of fandom the rest of the Warcraft series has.

"Hearthstone," as seen on the iPad. Image from Polygon.
“Hearthstone,” as seen on the iPad. Image from Polygon.

With any form of digital media held entirely on a platform owned by its creator, there is a concern that people who buy the digital content will lose it if the platform goes under. That concern has not stopped the MMORPG genre from exploding in the last decade, but the possibility of financial loss is still there.

The financial restrictions within the game may be somewhat limiting too. There are no plans for Hearthstone to allow players to trade cards, and I would guess, then, that buying and selling cards between players is off the table as well.

For some players, these limits will make Hearthstone a less attractive CCG option than its tabletop counterparts, where players can trade, buy, and sell cards for $27,000 on eBay as they please.

Nevertheless, the game should be a good starting point for new CCG fans, and it can always be developing and expanding.

Fantagraphics funds 39-book “season” with Kickstarter campaign

Six of the books Fantagraphics is planning for its spring/summer 2014 season are shown in this image from the project's Kickstarter page.
Six of the books Fantagraphics is planning for its spring/summer 2014 season are shown in this image from the project’s Kickstarter page.

Alternative comics publisher Fantagraphics Books is on pace for a highly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a run of its books, set for release from April to August 2014.

The campaign reached its $150,000 funding goal in one week and has currently raised more than $168,000 with 19 days remaining.

Fantagraphics experienced financial troubles after the death of Editor and Co-Publisher Kim Thompson. According to the company’s Kickstarter page, 13 books Thompson was editing at the time of his death had to be postponed or canceled, causing the company to lose income from the revenue these books would have brought.

Founded in 1976 by Gary Groth and Mike Catron, Fantagraphics has made a name for itself as a publisher of bold and innovative comics of the cartoonist tradition.

It has published the work of iconic cartoonists of the last 30 years, such as Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, as well as historically important works like The Complete Peanuts. Fantagraphics also publishes The Comics Journal, a periodical dedicated to in-depth criticism of comics as literature.

"Ghost World" by Daniel Clowes, released in 1997, is one of the company's better-known books. A film adaptation was made in 2001. Image from
“Ghost World” by Daniel Clowes, released in 1997, is one of the company’s better-known books. A film adaptation was made in 2001. Image from

With the success of the campaign, it is clear that there is a substantial fanbase for the company’s niche. Though I primarily read comics from the major publishers and big independents, I’m very happy Fantagraphics is around, because I want that kind of variety in the comics industry.

I’m also happy to see Fantagraphics offer quality rewards for its backer levels. It is common for books coming from publishing projects to cost more at the Kickstarter level than they will when released, but “markup” (for lack of a better term) here is reasonable. An extra $10 or so for a signed copy of a forthcoming book is an attractive reward for potential backers.

Fantagraphics’s campaign is different from most projects, in that it is funding a full “season” of 39 books rather than one project.

This difference from Kickstarter norms has led some to question whether the campaign is in the spirit of the platform.

San Francisco comic book retailer and Comic Book Resources columnist Brian Hibbs expressed concern over Fantagraphics’s pragmatism in conducting business.

“This is at least the third, and maybe the fourth, time that FBI has come to the market, hat-in-hand, needing a cash infusion to continue publishing,” Hibbs said. “This is a bad habit, and one that I very much want FBI (and almost all of their contemporaries) to avoid going forward.”

Despite his reservations, Hibbs also said he pledged $25 to the project.

"The Comics Journal" #302 was released in 2013 and featured an 80-page interview with renowned author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Image from
“The Comics Journal” #302 was released in 2013 and featured an 80-page interview with renowned author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Image from

Matt D. Wilson of Comics Alliance posed the question of whether Fantagraphics is setting a precedent for other publishers in financial trouble.

Wilson points out the criticism leveled at past campaigns that were designed to fund “an ongoing, successful concern,” such as Penny Arcade’s campaign to make its site ad-free.

Though Wilson wonders whether the campaign would be seen as appropriate if the immediate financial trouble weren’t so apparent, he concludes that because Fantagraphics is “more interested in the intrinsic value of art than profit,” its Kickstarter use is in the right spirit.

The argument that the validity of Kickstarter projects is ultimately up to the audience probably seems like a cop-out, but in this case, it applies.

Concerns over whether it is proper for a for-profit company to ask for money to continue operation are legitimate (the comments on this article from Robot 6 made some interesting points), but if people want to back companies that use Kickstarter this way, should they be prohibited from doing so?

The very concept of Kickstarter is based on audience participation, so shouldn’t the audience be the people who decide whether a campaign is worthwhile?

Fans Kickstart their own superhero successor with “City of Titans”

A group of fans of the now-defunct online game "City of Heroes" used Kickstarter to fund a new MMORPG, "City of Titans." Image from the "City of Titans" Kickstarter page.
A group of fans of the defunct online game “City of Heroes” used Kickstarter to fund a new MMORPG, “City of Titans.” Image from the “City of Titans” Kickstarter page.

Driven by a dedicated fanbase, superhero-based MMORPG City of Titans finished its Kickstarter campaign this week with about $678,000—more than twice its funding goal.

Developer Missing Worlds Media is a group of fans of City of Heroes, the first MMORPG to feature a superhero setting and characters, who wanted to fill the void in the genre after City of Heroes shut down in late 2012 with the closing of its developer, Paragon Studios.

For the eight-and-a-half years of its existence, City of Heroes had an enthusiastic fan following (as evidenced by this account of its final night) and persisted in a genre where many games struggle to maintain an audience.

City of Titans was conceived as a spiritual successor to City of Heroes, but the developers stress that it is a not a clone of the old favorite.

“We have an opportunity here to build a modern game, respectful of the play style, lessons, and fun of the old game, while taking advantage of the more than ten years of industry development since our spiritual predecessor started development,” said the project creators on their Kickstarter page.

Characters from "City of Heroes." Image from GameSpot.
Characters from “City of Heroes.” Image from GameSpot.

Missing Worlds Media is staffed entirely by volunteers, with more than 100 people working on the game.

City of Titans is slated for release in November 2015. The plan is for the game to be sold through its website and other digital distribution platforms such as Steam. It will be free to play but will include “VIP” subscriptions with premium features.

The concept of a community-driven game is the kind of utopian idea Kickstarter champions. Though it does tend to have a store-like quality about its projects, Kickstarter wants to promote feelings of community between creators and backers.

I generally do not feel like Kickstarter facilitates all that much of a participatory culture between parties (did people feel like they were creating Cards Against Humanity, or did they just want a good deal on a cool-sounding game?), but fan influence on City of Titans seems exceptional.

An online multiplayer game made by a fan community of people each contributing their skills to an interactive whole? Henry Jenkins would lose sleep from all the excitement.

The game has its detractors, too, and they raise some compelling points (as seen in the comments sections of Polygon and Joystiq).

Missing Worlds Media's staff will be made up entirely of volunteers, as indicated in this image from the "City of TItans" Kickstarter page.
Missing Worlds Media’s staff will be made up entirely of volunteers, as indicated in this image from the “City of TItans” Kickstarter page.

Some wonder if the creators, having limited experience with the developer side of video games, will be able to create new in-game content at the same rate people play through it. Another concern is that operating costs will prohibit the game from being around very long.

How the game’s development plays out remains to be seen, but Missing Worlds Media appears to have thought things out well—its Kickstarter page features an extensive review of its budget and staff.

Also at issue is where the money will go if the game makes profits. Will the money be distributed to all the volunteers who work on the game? Will the game be able to sustain a volunteer-only means of operation?

If I were playing City of Titans, I would not be too concerned about the volunteer system. I doubt the game will make profits; it seems more likely that any money made beyond covering expenses would be used for more in-game content. And if some volunteers did not want to work on the game anymore, there is a fanbase in which to find new ones.

What do you think? Will a for-fans-by-fans game work?

Tabletop games news: Cheapass Games runs third successful Kickstarter project, “Get Lucky”

"Get Lucky" is the latest Kickstarter project from Cheapass Games. Image from the "Get Lucky" Kickstarter page.
“Get Lucky” is the latest Kickstarter project from Cheapass Games. Image from the “Get Lucky” Kickstarter page.

For the third time in 14 months, tabletop game company Cheapass Games has turned its “try it for free” business model into a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Cheapass Games (not to be confused with Cheap Ass Gamer, an online bulletin board for video game deals) is currently running a campaign for Get Lucky, a card game version of its 1996 board game, Kill Dr. Lucky.

As with its first two campaigns, Unexploded Cow and Deadwood Studios USA, the company is proving proficient at crowdfunding; the Get Lucky campaign has more than doubled its funding goal with 18 days still remaining.

The company originally formed in 1996 and released around 100 games through 2006. To produce and sell games at low prices, it printed only the essential, unique elements of its games, knowing that many players already had things like dice, pawns and play money or could buy them for little money.

The company's games are made on the premise that most people, like me, have dice and other basic game pieces lying around their homes. Image uploaded from my iPhone.
The company’s games are made on the premise that most people, like me, have dice and other basic game pieces lying around their homes. Image uploaded from my iPhone.

After a hiatus, the company reopened in 2011 with a new way of doing business—posting free, downloadable PDFs of its games on its website that players can print and assemble on their own.

The games vary in how difficult they are to assemble. Its most basic games require only PDFs (the instructions say players can go without printing them by putting the PDFs on their mobile devices), while more complex games require players to make cards and/or boards with the tools provided.

Players can donate to the site via PayPal. It even suggests the amount a player should give based on his or her enjoyment of a game and their job (as an estimate of their income).

President and game designer James Ernest has also created YouTube videos instructing players on how to play the company’s games and other tips for assembling the games at home.

In August 2012, Cheapass Games started using Kickstarter to produce “deluxe” (printed in full color and packaged with all necessary pieces) versions of its games.

A significant portion of Cheapass Games’s success is likely due to the generous nature of its business model. Essentially, the company offers its potential customers a trial version of its games, so they may become interested in supporting it with a donation or buying a deluxe version.

The difference between Cheapass Games and most companies is that its trial versions can be enjoyed just the same as their paid counterparts, in contrast to more common models like having a limited free version of a mobile game with a handful of levels.

By giving away the “cheap” editions of its games, the company becomes a brand that gamers genuinely like; not just one that makes products they like.

This sense of personal support and community is a large part of what drives Kickstarter; so naturally, the company has found repeated success through crowdfunding.

The gaming community in general seems likely to get the developers they love. Of the $500 million given to Kickstarter campaigns so far, $100 million have gone to projects in the “games” category (which includes both video and tabletop games).

These numbers show how a creative game developer can build an audience and cater to its enthusiasm. Cheapass Games is an exemplar for any tabletop company thinking about crowdfunding.

Veteran punks Stiff Little Fingers return with benefits of PledgeMusic

Stiff Little Fingers performing live in March 2013. Image from The Upcoming.
Stiff Little Fingers performing live in March 2013. Image from The Upcoming.

Influential punk band Stiff Little Fingers has turned to an emerging music-funding platform to release their first album in a decade.

The Irish band is using PledgeMusic as a platform to offer fans pre-orders of the album, which is slated for an early 2014 release, along with items and experiences exclusive to PledgeMusic, ranging from a signed copy of the album to the opportunity to perform the band’s debut 1979 single “Suspect Device” with them at a concert.

These Kickstarter-esque rewards are featured on all PledgeMusic projects. PledgeMusic is also like Kickstarter in that it gives supporters of the projects (appropriately called “pledgers”) the chance to follow an album’s production more closely through updates from the artists.

However, the site has several differences from Kickstarter that could have greater benefits for artists and fans.

It only hosts music projects, so artists do not have to worry about their campaigns being lost in the shuffle of Kickstarter’s many projects.

Because PledgeMusic makes projects more visible, viewers can more easily come across projects they might want to support by browsing.

For a relatively obscure band like Stiff Little Fingers, the ease of browsing could be a notable benefit.

Though an important part of the early UK punk scene, the band was not as popular or iconic as contemporaries like The Clash and The Sex Pistols. So while people like me, who read punk news websites regularly, are familiar with their music and influence on later bands, more casual punk fans may be discovering the group for the first time on PledgeMusic.

PledgeMusic also allows many more genre tags than Kickstarter, so users can search specifically for “punk rock,” which is not among the genres listed on Kickstarter.

The "rock" category on PledgeMusic's genres page features many subgenres visitors can use for searches.
The “rock” category on PledgeMusic’s genres page features many subgenres visitors can use for searches. Ben Folds Five used PledgeMusic to help fund their 2012 album, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind.” 

The sites allows artists to set their campaigns up as “direct-to-fan,” which is like a standard crowdfunding campaign, and “preorder,” which is more like a traditional commercial transaction.

Preorder campaigns are for artists who have already been completed an album but want to use the site as a way to market it and offer exclusives to fans. Preorder campaigns can accept pledges up until the release date of the album, while direct-to-fan campaigns have a 90-day limit.

Fans might appreciate the clearly stated difference between project types. It’s always possible that people could dubiously use crowdfunding platforms to sell products that might already be complete, so simply classifying the campaigns differently gives pledgers a degree of transparency.

Fans are even more likely to appreciate another big difference between the two platforms—PledgeMusic has a more clearly defined accountability policy than Kickstarter, which takes a more hands-off approach. Most significantly, PledgeMusic offers refunds to its pledgers when an artist is not able to complete a project.

I don’t think many creators are going to default on their Kickstarter projects, but the fact that PledgeMusic takes more responsibility if one does is a little more reassuring than Kickstarter’s policy.

For all PledgeMusic’s benefits, Kickstarter has two important advantages over it.

First, Kickstarter takes only 5 percent of its projects funds, while PledgeMusic takes 15 percent. For bands with less money or smaller funding goals, Kickstarter may be a better option because it allows them to keep more of the funds necessary for completing their recordings.

Second, Kickstarter is a bigger brand name in crowdfunding, so its greater site traffic could bring more people to its projects than PledgeMusic.

However, the number of pledges has tended to increase with every project, and the number of artists and labels working with PledgeMusic has increased significantly since the site launched in 2009.

As the site grows, its benefits could attract more artists away from Kickstarter, increasing its prominence and strengthening its brand to a point where the title of “best funding site for musicians” is up for grabs.

The state of comiXology part 2: Digital publishing makes new opportunities for readers and creators

This post is the second in a two-part series on comiXology’s impact on the comics industry in light of its 200 millionth digital comic download.

As I discussed yesterday, digital comics seller comiXology has established itself as a major player in comics distribution.

It offers new and old readers opportunities to discover new comics without needing to have access to a comic book store.

Just as importantly, comiXology makes digital reading its own unique experience.

In anticipation of last week’s New York Comic Con, comiXology announced it was releasing a number of new Guided View Native comics that utilized the app’s design for panel-to-panel viewing.

"Batman '66" uses comiXology's Guided View technology in its weekly installments. Art by Michael Allred. Image from Comic Book Resources.
“Batman ’66” uses comiXology’s Guided View technology in its weekly installments. Art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred. Image from Comic Book Resources.

Guided View technology makes comics easier to view on a mobile device. Rather than displaying an entire page of a comic at a time (as comiXology’s standard view does), Guided View mode displays one or a few panels at a time, as though it were following a reader’s eye movement.

Although I prefer the standard page view for reading on a tablet because I want to see the full layout of every page, but in my limited experience with Guided View, I have found it very well designed.

I never thought reading a comic on a phone would be anything less than a chore, but the Guided View mode makes it possible and even enjoyable.

Guided View Native comics use Guided View technology to give comics an animated quality.

For example, DC’s Batman ’66, inspired by the 1960s Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, uses Guided View to make the comic feel more like the show by adding movement to its transitions from panel to panel.

The most similar experience I can think of to reading a Guided View Native comic is seeing an animated storyboard for a movie or TV show.

For an explanation of how a Guided View Native comic works, watch this video review of Batman ’66 #1 from Comicbook Time.

Digital issues of Batman ’66 are released every Wednesday. Every four digital issues are released in one print issue.

With Guided View Native issues, comiXology has made digital comics a distinctly different reading experience than print. Rather than being a substitute for print comics, these digital comics are a largely different product.

In addition to creating a new experience for readers, the digital-first comics market has made self-publishing much more accessible for comic creators.

ComiXology CEO David Steinberger and CTO John D. Roberts, along with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Joe Infurnari, creators of the digital comic series The Bunker, held a panel discussion at New York Comic Con about the company’s comiXology Submit program. Submit, launched in March, allows creators to pitch comics directly to the company to be reviewed for publication and sale on the site.

The Bunker is among the comics published through Submit. The program is non-exclusive, so it allows creators to sell their work through other platforms in addition to comiXology.

"The Bunker" is among the series published through comiXology Submit. In keeping with Submit's non-exclusivity policy, issues of "The Bunker" is also sold on the book's official website. Art by Joe Infurnani. Image from IGN.
“The Bunker” is among the series published through comiXology Submit. In keeping with Submit’s non-exclusivity policy, issues of “The Bunker” is also sold on the book’s official website. Art by Joe Infurnani. Image from IGN.

Submit allows creators to bypass traditional publishing channels and the financial risks that come with self-publishing one’s issues and books.

“While digital-first is somewhat new, the kind of process we’re going through, this is the future,” said Fialkov. “This is how things are going to be. The floppy comic model is becoming unfeasible. It’s really hard to make money. When I ran a small press, I only made money through relationships and knowing publishers. Now you don’t have to worry about that stuff.”

Digital-first publishing also allows creators to spend less time between finishing a work and publishing it because costs of printing and distribution are decreased.

Infurnani said the time frame for comic creation, which can take up to two years, can be shortened to give creators “instant gratification.”

Submit has succeeded in attracting creators. Roberts informed the panel audience that Submit is the 10th largest publisher on comiXology with 330 series and new ones being released every week.

Many writers and artists dream of working in comics, and with the relative ease of digital publishing, many more will be able to than before.

And getting new creative voices into the comics world is every bit as important as getting new readers.