Campaign Postmortem: Ashen Rift
By Brad Jones
For every Kickstarter project that finds its funding, there’s one that can’t quite get the support that it needs. Often, the reasons behind a failed Kickstarter campaign can be very obvious, but there are also times that the failure of a project is rather perplexing. Barry Collins’ Ashen Rift is one such project, seemingly doing everything right but still not managing to meet its funding goal.
Ashen Rift is a game about one man and his dog, pitched as a first-person survival horror game and a ‘new take on classic shooters’ in its extensive campaign blurb on Kickstarter. As well as a wealth of information on what the game would be like and how it would play, the project page for the game on Kickstarter is littered with animated gifs that show off the title’s visuals and some of its gameplay. Having this sort of tangible evidence of what the finished product will be like is crucial to a crowdfunded project, in particular one like this that isn’t a follow-up to an existing game.
Aside from in-game materials, industry experience counts for a lot with a Kickstarter campaign. While Barry Collins might not be a name that you recognize, he’s certainly got experience in droves—some fourteen years as a freelance video game artist. However, given that Collins is developing Ashen Rift as a one-man project, it could well be that it’s his lack of experience outside of an artistic role that meant that potential backers shied away from the project. You would think that the aforementioned animated gifs that showed off some of the work Collins had done in Unity to build a prototype game engine would assuage these fears, but it seems they were not enough.
All that being said, what Collins had to show of the game was enough to pique the interest of some very well known industry figures. Influential names were interested enough in Ashen Rift to mention it on social media and attempt to raise public awareness of the title.
However, even having taste-informers from a range of different circles talking about Ashen Rift wasn’t enough to make the man on the street sit up and take note. A thread about the project’s Kickstarter on all-encompassing video game forum NeoGAF could only muster a handful of replies. On paper, everything about Ashen Rift seemed right—but there was simply something about the project that didn’t quite take with the general public.
Postmortem Interview With Barry Collins
Cliqist : What are your feelings in the wake of the Kickstarter failing to reach its goal? Does the fact that more than a thousand people were willing to put down money to play your game cut through the disappointment at all?
Barry Collins : I was relieved it was all over, because damn, running a Kickstarter is hard!
Beyond that, it’s been super thrilling knowing that I can get maybe 40 ‘sales’ a day with such an early prototype—there was some major love from a lot of people about this game! I was most blown away by the feedback I got from guys like John Romero and Brian Fargo who I admire so much, among many others. I’m super happy with how the Kickstarter went, and yeah, like you said, over a thousand people in 32 days is staggering.
Cliqist : Could you tell me a little bit about the decision to use Kickstarter to fund the game? Coming from your background as a freelancer, does crowdfunding offer people in your position opportunities to go out on their own that they wouldn’t have otherwise?
Barry Collins : Does crowdfunding offer guys like me something we couldn’t have otherwise? Yeah, it does! It’s the best investment method around, in any other situation you’re giving up 65%? 75%? 90% of your ownership, rights, revenue etc. to investors or a publisher. With Kickstarter you skip that and you and your team get to own more of the business in the end. Nowadays there is more opportunity for indies (often guys with zero to five years experience) to make a game in their own spare time, and thanks to their hard work and dedication they can score a deal with Sony or whoever to finish the game—but the terms are nowhere near as favorable as Kickstarter funding.
Cliqist : I noticed a spike in your daily funding in the couple of days after GDC, were you showing the game at the event? If so, do you think that it was useful?
Barry Collins : I was indeed! I was being sneaky; I’d wait outside the press room and ambush media folks with free Ashen Rift swag, a pre-loaded video on my iPad and a speech about my Kickstarter. It landed me an article on Joystiq thanks to my chance encounter with Alexander Sliwinski in front of the press rooms. Beyond that, it was very reassuring having people go “oh you! The dude with the beard, you’re making that game… y’know, that game with the dog!”. Face time is important! You can’t be a name in the industry if you don’t participate. Even John Romero knew me by name right away. I’m sure I raked in more pledges than my flights/ticket to GDC cost, and got great exposure within the industry just by talking to everyone I could. The big spike came from Brian Fargo and his crew mentioning Ashen Rift for the second time, combined with Joystiq’s article and then possibly a little bit of me running around shaking hands.
Barry Collins : Wow, that’s tough! I learned so much. One of the most important things I learned regarding the video is that it should be action right away, and it should showcase the game at its best right away, then do the slower stuff. Press releases should go out to 50+ people in the media. As an artist my whole life I’d never done that stuff before, so a week in I became a press release champ—but I could have done much better. Financial transparency, Show where the money is going! I also hoped, like everyone, that my campaign would go gangbusters (200k?) and so I designed my pledge packages around that goal, even though I was asking for 45k. So if you ask for 45k, design the campaign around that, if you get more then great.
Cliqist : What’s the status of the project now? Are you planning a relaunch?
Barry Collins : The project is trucking along, it’s matured a lot in the meantime. The gameplay goals, the story, the design, all of it just feels one hundred times better. Right now, I’m in a big art-production push to have a really good showing at PAX Prime… Yup, I’m shooting to have a big playable demo for PAX! Soon after PAX, I do in fact plan on re-launching a Kickstarter for Ashen Rift.
Backers and well-wishers of Ashen Rift disappointed to hear about the initial campaign’s failure will certainly be encouraged by Collins’ seemingly endless enthusiasm. It’s clear that valuable lessons were learned from the game’s first attempt at cracking crowdfunding, and that sort of experience will be invaluable for the future of the title. An unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign can be heartbreaking for those involved—but as Barry Collins and Ashen Rift go to show, sometimes there’s nothing to be done but to dust yourself off and redouble your efforts.
You can read more of our Campaign Postmortems right here.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/brad1.jpg”]Brad Jones is a Yorkshire-born writer currently spending his time in Scotland and the Northeastern United States in roughly even measure. He likes to write about things like genre movies, pro wrestling and video games. You know, the stuff that will be considered fine art in thirty years but no one gives the time of day just now. You can find Brad on Twitter under the handle @radjonze.[/author]