How One Unknown Mobile Game Studio Raised Over $50,000 through Crowdfunding

Developer Stories

May 4, 2015


min read

Crowdfunding is a multi-billion dollar industry and ? because it allows content creators to raise money while maintaining complete creative freedom ? is an attractive option for indie mobile game developers.That doesn't mean it's a slam dunk, though. Kickstarter is the industry-leading crowdfunding site, but fewer than 40 percent of its projects actually get funded, while around 20 percent of all submissions are rejected before they even go live.I reached out to Acid Wizard Studio ? a previously unknown three-person team from Poland ? to find out how it raised more than $57,000 by crowdfunding the top-down survival horror game, Darkwood.

acid wizard studio

?image via Acid Wizard Studio

Setting a budget

Darkwood was an after-hours passion project before the team decided to make it their full-time gig. Crowdfunding was the only way they could think of to fund an estimated year's worth of work while maintaining artistic control. They opted to use platform Indiegogo since Kickstarter is only open to projects from certain countries. (Poland isn't one of them.)The trio based their $40,000 funding target on paying themselves minimum wage, renting their studio and paying for software licenses. It's easy to underestimate costs, though, especially when taxes and extended development time come into play.Luckily, the team raised more than their basic target by setting realistic stretch goals, which they adjusted after listening to backer feedback.?It's a good thing we reached more money than our main goal, as the taxes we had to pay ate up almost half of the funds we gathered," says Acid Wizard programmer Gustaw Stachaszewski.


image via Acid Wizard Studio

Getting press

You can't just assume that people will just stumble upon your crowdfunding campaign. You need to work hard to get attention ? and you need to do this before you launch. Acid Wizard Studio raised awareness around Darkwood months before it started the crowdfunding drive.As an unknown studio with zero marketing budget, they sent out a press release with their first trailer to YouTubers and gaming websites, personalizing the emails where they could. They also worked hard to get contact details from fellow developers, YouTube accounts and website contact pages.This aggressive approach ? which didn't come easy to a team of marketing novices ? paid off, resulting in coverage on gaming outlets like Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Kotaku. It also raised awareness in the Let's Play Community on YouTube, which proved vital down the line.

Leveraging YouTube

A playable demo of Darkwood was ready before the crowdfunding campaign went live, which led to YouTubers sharing their own Let's Play videos of the tense, horror-filled game. That's the kind of community-driven marketing that money can't buy.?The first two trailers were a major factor in getting the word out and eventually making the campaign a success," says Stachaszewski. ?Streams from YouTubers were also very helpful for getting the word out, so a playable demo during crowdfunding is a very good thing to have."

darkwood gameplay

image via Acid Wizard Studio

Timing releases

I meet a lot of indie developers and hear the same crowdfunding stories time and again: The early phase is great ? with initial press coverage bolstered by support from friends and family ? but then everything goes quiet.?To be honest, the middle of the campaign was a nightmare," Stachaszewski admits. ?The first few days were nice, but after that we hit a plateau and it didn't look good. We worked pretty much nonstop to get the word out, but I guess we had too little new content to show to make headlines. It was exhausting, and I was seriously on the verge of a nervous breakdown."Successful campaigns often need something to help pull them across the line, and for Acid Wizard Studio it was the release of a second, killer gameplay trailer. ?It didn't look like we were going to make it," Stachaszewski recalls. ?Then we fired our secret weapon ? the second trailer ? and we reached our main goal in two days!"

"Then we fired our secret weapon ? the second trailer ? and we reached our main goal in two days!"

Rewarding backers

Darkwood had a variety of backer reward tiers as part of its Indiegogo campaign, but every tier below $100 involved digital-only content. It was a conscious move to avoid offering physical rewards, which can be tough for small studios to deliver.?Yeah, we were very cautious," says Stachaszewski, ?and we were even close to not offering any physical rewards whatsoever. We've heard horror stories of people having huge success in crowdfunding, only to then be crushed under the logistics of [fulfilling] physical rewards. If you want to offer things that need to be produced and then sent to the backers, you need to be 200 percent sure about the costs and time it takes to complete them."Two years on, Darkwood is now part of Steam's Early Access sales program and is getting positive community reviews. It's a crowdfunding success story and offers hope to other under-the-radar developers with a big idea but no budget to see it through.