We talk with Tala's creator about crowdfunding pitfalls and how to launch an indie game.
Have you heard of Tala? It’s one of those games that I’ve seen on my Twitter feed for ages, and is filed in my head alongside cute artsy titles like Ooblets, Witchbrook, and Mineko’s Night Market. Designed by Matthew Petrak, Tala combines photographs and sketches to create a unique artstyle that conjures a special, tiny world that the eponymous forest spirit can explore. It’s all about adorable puzzles, and I’m here for it.
The project was first launched on Kickstarter in March 2018 with plenty of graphics, beautiful hand-crafted pledge rewards, and a functioning demo. But sadly, by April it only raised three-quarters of its goal (which is unusually high for a failed Kickstarter). There’s a clear indication that people are willing to support this game with their money and time, but this story is also a reminder that crowdfunding is not a foolproof approach to launching an indie title, even when you have an absolutely gorgeous Kickstarter page.
Now, Tala is back on Kickstarter for a second attempt and I chatted with Matthew about the lessons he’s learned along the way, and why he’s hoping things will be different this time around.
This one might sound obvious, but Matthew told me that it’s important to be prepared when you launch a crowdfunding campaign. There’s a knack to creating good reward tiers and add-ons that appeal to your audience, and sometimes it’s hard to learn exactly what the tricks are until you’ve started. ‘Reward tiers were a mess and I ended up trying to hack in an add-on solution that didn’t really work,’ Matthew said about his first attempt with Kickstarter. The campaign looks a little different this time around, with physical gifts spread across more tiers and several earlybird options available to backers.
Crowdfunding is all about timing. Tala is being developed in Australia, and despite having been marketed well prior to the launch of the first campaign, many of the local game developers who would have thrown their money at the title were in America at the time, instead throwing their money at conferences and conventions. ‘It hit both GDC and PAX, so a lot of people who would’ve supported locally didn’t have the means because of the expensive trip,’ Matthew revealed. It’s important to know your audience, and have an understanding of what they’re doing when you launch your campaign if you want them to be able to support you.
Exposure is everything
Twitter is a great place to start appealing to an audience, but it’s not everything. Mainstream media needs to get excited about your game if you are going to reach a broad enough range of people to support a crowdfunding campaign. ‘It never really hit the critical mass in terms of exposure that it could have,’ Matthew said. ‘It got onto Venture Beat and Rock Paper Shotgun AFTER the campaign had failed.’ Appealing to media outlets before or during a crowdfunding campaign is vital; there’s only so much an article can do when it’s a reflection on a failed Kickstarter.
Are you feeling lucky?
It’s also important to remember that you can’t prepare for everything. ‘Kickstarter pretty much mirrors the state of the indie game scene,’ Matthew said. ‘There’s the overwhelmingly big successes, a lot of projects that aren’t quite up to scratch and need more work before being sold as a commercial product, and then the games in the middle whose success can feel like it’s up to the flip of a coin.’ There are certain actions you can take to push the odds in your favour—improved reward tiers, add-ons, timing, and exposure can certainly help with this—but at the end of the day, audiences can be fickle and part of crowdfunding will always be left up to chance.
Self-care is vital
When considering crowdfunding, it’s not only important to focus on the success of your project; it’s also important to consider the success of yourself. One of the big lessons Matthew learned during Tala’s first Kickstarter was self-care. ‘Crowdfunding in general is super stressful and one of the biggest lessons I learned last time was to take frequent breaks from staring at it all the time,’ he said. It’s like watching a pot boil; it doesn’t move any faster just because you’re looking at it! Taking breaks means that you have the energy to return to the campaign and its associated marketing, social media, and so on.
Matthew sounds confident going into a new campaign with Tala—not necessarily in its success, but in his own. It’s evident that he has learned a lot from the first experience about looking after himself, and I hope that he is rewarded for that hard work with a successful crowdfunding campaign. If you want to support Tala, you can find the Kickstarter relaunch here.