Crowdfunding the end of the world as we know it: The Long Dark video game case study

Originally published on Crowdfunding in a Canadian context.

In September 2013, Hinterland founder and creative director Raphael van Lierop, a 13-year veteran of the video game industry, unveiled Hinterland Studio—his independent game company focused on creating mature gaming experiences.

The Long Dark

Its first title, The Long Dark, is a first-person, post-disaster survival simulation that emphasizes exploration in the winter wilderness of the North. Players take control of bush pilot Will Mackenzie in the aftermath of a geo-magnetic disaster that renders all technology inert, and everyone must use their survival skills and make hard moral decisions in order to survive.

Also, no zombies…

The funding process

Hinterland received support from the Canada Media Fund’s Experimental Stream, which was enough to begin work on a prototype for The Long Dark. However, the company needed more to achieve its full ambition for the game, as outlined on the Kickstarter campaign page.

The 30-day campaign launched in mid-September 2013 raised CAN$256,217, over 25% more than the initial CAN$200,000 target. Equally integral to crowdfunding was building and establishing a community—a combined result of strong, consistent press interest throughout the campaign (the project was named Kickstarter’s Project of the Day) as well as an existing fan base for the Hinterland team’s extensive ludography. Interestingly, many backers expressed “zombie fatigue” as one of the reasons that drew them to The Long Dark, along with the fresh wintry and distinctly Canadian backdrop—quite the opposite of the ubiquitous deserted urban settings under which most post-apocalyptic games are played.

Hinterland has set up a microsite (www.intothelongdark.com) to continue its crowdfunding efforts. Also, the microsite supports PayPal to further stretch goals.

Lessons learned

  • Pacing the communication - Remember, you have to engage people for 30 days and Kickstarter functions on a curve: put some awesome stuff right at the beginning and save some awesome stuff for the end;
  • Kickstarter US Vs Canada - Hinterland was part of the first wave of companies with a campaign in Canada, but in retrospect, the producer admits he would have launched in the US instead;
  • Choosing your rewards – Most were successful with tiers under $50;
  • Community and Communication - If your team isn’t sitting in the comments section on Kickstarter, you’re missing something;
  • Partneships - Kicking off the campaign by announcing well known actors as part of the voice cast for The Long Dark early on helped build momentum and attract their extensive community and fan base.

Detailed explanations for each one of these lessons learned are available on Crowdfunding in a Canadian context, the Canada Media Fund crowdfunding online resource.

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