Red Baron Kickstarter Postmortem
By Brad Jones
Late last year, flight simulator legend Damon Slye returned to the genre with a Kickstarter campaign intended resurrect the dormant Red Baron series. The first game in the series, released in 1990, was widely regarded as one of the very best examples of the flight sim genre — in 1996, a list published by Computer Gaming World ranked it as the fourth best PC game of all time. In the years that followed, Red Baron continued to feature on Top 100 lists published by PCGamer, but its position slipped each time; 12th in 1997, 20th in 1998 and 24th in 1999.
Red Baron was a victim of the way that PC gaming flourished in the mid to late 90s. Seven years passed between the first Red Baron game and Red Baron II, a period that saw huge releases like Myst and Quake change the landscape of PC gaming. In addition, Damon Slye left the industry altogether. Many forgot about Red Baron, but when the Red Baron Kickstarter campaign launched on October 22nd people remembered.
I will throw money behind the Red Baron kickstarter soon. Spent so many hours in university shooting down Germans. Stupid Fokkers.
— Troy Goodfellow (@TroyGoodfellow) October 25, 2013
— Brian Fargo (@BrianFargo) October 22, 2013
Influential industry figures talking about the campaign on Twitter is never a bad thing, but it has to be said that it’s par for the course with any major Kickstarter at this point. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any buzz surrounding the campaigns launch; a point that’s made painfully clear in this Twitter exchange on the last day of the games’ campaign:
Sadly, the Red Baron remake didn't get funded. I think they screwed up their marketing: http://t.co/bTVJOpOfgf
— Julian Gollop (@julian_gollop) November 22, 2013
@julian_gollop I only knew about the campaign from your Twitter feed – nary a mention anywhere else from what I could tell.
— Jaco G (@Warpgate9) November 22, 2013
Looking at the all-important updates section of the campaign’s page on Kickstarter backs this up further. Eight updates were posted in the first week or so, but there were no further posts until the final day of the campaign. This lack of interaction with prospective backers is reflected in the daily pledge totals.
It really can’t be understated just how important regular updates are, particularly in the doldrums of the middle stretch of a campaign. However, with an older series like Red Baron, it’s even more vital to make an effort to continually interact with a new audience that might not be familiar with the original game but have been exposed to the campaign thanks to the aforementioned industry figures talking about it on Twitter.
All this being said, there was plenty that the Red Baron campaign did right. A well-produced, lengthy video packed with both gameplay footage and interviews with the team was the centrepiece to a comprehensive campaign pitch. This is the sort of content that got the game off to such a strong start, and it’s something that other developers should look to as an example of how to do a campaign video right. Similarly, very smartly chosen backer rewards offered compelling reasons for superfans to pitch in a little extra cash to get something rather special.
It’s a shame to see that Red Baron didn’t get funded on this occasion, but developers Mad Otter Games can certainly find solace in the fact that the game itself wasn’t the reason behind it. All of the content featured in the campaign was uniformly excellent — it’s just a shame that the content itself didn’t have as many eyes on it as it deserved to have.
Postmortem Interview with Damon Slye
Cliqist: I imagine deciding to abandon the campaign a week in was a difficult decision, could you tell me a bit about the thought process behind cutting it short?
Damon Slye: It was clear we would not reach the goal. I think you need to be at least half way to the goal within a week or you don’t have a chance. That’s based on watching other Kickstarter successes and failures. If we had been 25% of the way after a week, we would have kept going.
Cliqist: The four highest reward tiers didn’t manage to garner any backers, why do you think that was? Will you be making any changes to the sort of rewards that the highest tiers will secure when you restart the campaign?
Damon Slye: We did have one backer in the second highest tier, but they did not choose that reward tier. I think it’s fine to have the high reward tiers even if they aren’t filled. However, where we could have done better was to have more physical rewards, like a collector’s edition with a box and DVD/CD, maybe even with a manual and artwork. That kind of stuff is cool. As a gamer, it’s the kind of thing I would buy. We did pure digital because it’s less work, but I think physical rewards would have been worth it.
Cliqist: It seems that one of the biggest issues with the initial campaign was simply that not enough people saw the Kickstarter itself—since you had gameplay footage, expert involvement from yourself and others, sensible pricing etc. Was it frustrating to have ‘the goods’ but struggle to spread word about the campaign? How are you planning to address this?
Damon Slye: Our biggest mistake by far was not building up a community prior to launching the Kickstarter. We thought we’d only get one shot at press coverage, so we wanted to make sure the campaign was live so that people who read about in the press would have a place to donate. However, this is a mistake. Today, community is EVERYTHING. Press is secondary. You have to have a strong, energized group of players to help you spread the word. We should have announced the campaign well before — 3 months or more even — and built up the community. I had conflicting advice on this point of when to announce. I went the wrong way.
I should have known better. We are publishing another game, Villagers and Heroes — it’s also available through Steam and WildTangent. We have a strong and loyal community, and they are the key to the success of the game. They get the word out to new players, welcome new players to the game, help us keep the environment friendly and happy, and give us lots of great advice that we use to make the game better. It’s the players that bring the game to life.
Cliqist: What are your thoughts on the project, generally, given the failure of the first campaign and a second on the horizon? Any comments on your experience with crowdfunding or returning to the industry would be very interesting.
Damon Slye: I learned a lot from the campaign. Certainly the lesson about building community first, but also what the players are looking for in the product based on all the feedback during the campaign. We want to build a better prototype, build up the community, and then launch another Kickstarter. I think the second time around we can hit our goal.
Thanks to Damon for taking the time to answer our questions so candidly. Keep your eyes peeled for more Red Baron news in the future! Meanwhile you can take a look at the Red Baron Kickstarter page for what could have been.
You can read more of our Campaign Postmortems right here.