How Impact Winter Turned Kickstarter Failure Into Steam Success
In October 2014, a little-known UK indie studio launched a Kickstarter campaign for Impact Winter, a survival RPG described as “Fallout meets Oregon Trail.” It was an ambitious project for the small development team, with the Kickstarter description touting “open-world gameplay with dynamic weather, haunting interiors and fearsome wildlife” on a relatively small budget of £95,000 (around $150,000). One month later, the campaign concluded with Mojo Bones reaching not even a quarter of its fund-raising goal, and that was the last we heard of Impact Winter… until last week, when the project reemerged on Steam Greenlight and was approved in under three days.
“Amazing, right?” Mojo Bones’ Stuart Ryall told me via email. “We didn’t know what to expect from the Greenlight process, but we wanted to treat it as a definitive answer to the question ‘do people want to see Impact Winter get released?’” The answer, apparently, was an overwhelming “yes,” though that didn’t seem to be the case just a few months ago. So if this game could create so much positive buzz on Steam in such a short amount of time, why wasn’t the Kickstarter anywhere near successful? This is a question that Mojo Bones has spent much time pondering.
“We’ve done an internal post-mortem on the Kickstarter and come to a couple of conclusions,” Ryall said. “We were unlucky with our timing… with Kickstarter, you aren’t able to see what other projects are approaching.” He lists The Flame in the Flood and The Black Glove, both by ex-BioShock developers, as high-profile projects in direct competition; both launched on Kickstarter the same month as Impact Winter. “Being a relatively unknown team put us at a disadvantage here, as press becomes even harder to come by,” Ryall admitted. “We didn’t receive a lot of mainstream exposure on Impact Winter… It wasn’t through lack of trying… but the competition was pretty fierce.”
An unexpected factor in Impact Winter’s crowd-funding failure was the pricing: not the £95,000 goal itself, but the fact that it was being funded in GBP, or British pounds. Perhaps dollars would have been easier for American gamers to wrap their heads around—it’s hard to pledge money when you’re not exactly sure how much you’re giving—but “unfortunately, that’s not something [Mojo Bones] could control, or work around."
Being aware of how crowded the Kickstarter gaming market has become—last fall and winter were particularly competitive, as Ryall mentioned—I couldn’t help but wonder if Kickstarter oversaturation is hurting campaigns’ potential success. A few years ago, a heavily covered game getting its budget from crowd-funding was a huge deal; today, it’s become commonplace. While Ryall acknowledges how crowded the Kickstarter scene is, and that “perhaps there could be tighter quality control on what gets accepted,” he and Mojo Bones still stand by Kickstarter as a platform. “There are some incredible projects available… Plus, Kickstarter does a good job of highlighting projects via their Staff Picks, which helps guide people towards the stronger presentations.”
Even though Impact Winter received the coveted Staff’s Pick designation, the campaign closed on November 11, 2014 having raised only £21,270. Still, the “limited but strong” response pushed Mojo Bones to continue forward. “Feedback is… crucial and you should never be scared to take it on-board and make changes,” Ryall said. “One of our biggest lessons… is to try and distance ourselves from what we’re working on. It’s important to try and get perspective and a true opinion on our work.” And the Kickstarter indeed is full of positive comments from backers disappointed by the inability of Impact Winter to meet its goal, with one noting he was “still hurting from this one failing” weeks after it ended.
“If something’s not working—or feeling right—we’re never too scared to push it to one side,” Ryall said. Because of this, the developers are already making some major changes from the original concept for Impact Winter, changing it from a 2D view to a 3D environment. “We’ve been very careful to retain our original art style, as we felt it was a big part of the game’s identity, but moving to 3D has given us a lot more freedom.” That freedom makes things like lighting, camera control, and a sense of scale “much more achievable” for Mojo Bones, “and we feel we’ve managed to retain everything from our original pitch in the translation to 3D. In fact, things like snow… are a lot more effective.” As a game in which the world is literally buried in snow, that sounds like a positive.
And it appears that its fans and supporters agree, too. In its short time on Steam Greenlight, Impact Winter has already garnered more comments than the month-long Kickstarter campaign did, many of them supportive. Some were Kickstarter backers that gladly followed the project to its new home, others were just discovering it for the first time. “Steam is similar [to Kickstarter] in the respect that it allows you to reach new fans and build a community,” Ryall said. “But it’s primarily a platform for release. Your game might still require funding, but with Steam, you obviously have the benefit of things like Early Access, which can help studios during the development process.”
Steam Greenlight and Early Access may be a gift for struggling developers, but the platform has also garnered plenty of criticism. Gamers have complained about Steam being flooded with “unfinished” games and having to pay for a version of a game that may still be in alpha. More recently, debate over Greenlit game Hatred focused on what titles should and shouldn’t be allowed to go through the process. For Mojo Bones, however, Steam is a second chance at life for the studio’s passion project--a game that, even in its early stages, stands out against waves of Kickstarter and Greenlight pitches.
Despite the setbacks and drastic development changes, Mojo Bones insists that Impact Winter is still the same experience at its heart: “a survival game that revolves around teamwork.” While Ryall couldn’t be too specific about next steps now that Impact Winter is officially moving forward, he did say that it was pushed back to early next year to account for the Kickstarter setback. “Obviously we plan to keep everyone involved during development and we’re keen on working with our growing Steam and Kickstarter community to get feedback throughout the year.”
Naturally, initial Greenlight success isn’t a guarantee that Impact Winter will deliver the experience its supporters are looking for, but for Mojo Bones it’s a second chance to make something special.