Inside Vancouver's most successful local Kickstarters

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      “When we went to Kickstarter, people were starting to write articles that Kickstarter was dead,” said Chris Bourassa, cofounder and creative director of Red Hook Studios.

      He was speaking to the Georgia Straight by phone from his Vancouver office, where the Red Hook team is working on new downloadable content for their Kickstarter-backed game Darkest Dungeon.

      Bourassa and his business partner Tyler Sigman started the game’s crowdfunding campaign in February 2014. They were looking for $75,000, which they raised within 24 hours of launch.

      “If people are decrying the end of something, you can slip in and try to do it properly,” Bourassa said. “I have some fond memories of that time, but it was definitely really intense.”

      The game racked up 9,639 backers—the most of any Vancouver crowdfunded project.

      In all, successful Kickstarter campaigns have raised $22.4 million for Vancouver businesses. They vary from sketch-show web series to public-art displays and include kids’ books, kebab makers, and a man who raised $10 to make baby food.

      A data analysis of successfully funded and currently running Vancouver-based Kickstarter projects shows that games get the most backers of any category. Games racked up over 62,000 total supporters. Design campaigns counted almost 59,000 benefactors, while product design projects got more than 57,000 financers.

      Projects on Kickstarter can be listed in multiple categories, meaning a campaign labelled as “product design” and “design” would count its backers (or money earned) in both categories.

      Bourassa feels that the games industry has got a noticeable boost from Kickstarter. “I do think Kickstarter’s a great platform for smaller games studios, or even individuals who want to make something,” he said. “It’s wonderful for the game-development ecosystem, especially indie games.”

      The project on the site with the most backing is a card game named Exploding Kittens, which has more than 219,000 financers. Shenmue III holds the record for the most-supported (69,320 backers) and most-funded (US$6.3 million) video game on the platform, and it is also the seventh most-funded project ever.

      But having a lot of backers doesn’t necessarily correlate to making a huge profit. Darkest Dungeon, for instance, doesn’t even crack the 10 most-funded local projects, coming in at 14 with $313,337.

      Vessi Footwear’s waterproof shoes were the only local Kickstarter to earn more than $1 million—one of only 307 projects ever listed on the site—and they boasted the second-highest number of backers, with 7,654. But shoes are more expensive than a video game, meaning Vessi had a much higher average donation per supporter ($134.08) than Darkest Dungeon ($32.51).

      In total, Vancouver-based games have earned more than $3.2 million in donations, while design projects have raised over $7.9 million.

      Film and video projects are the most numerous local Kickstarters, with 281 campaigns and 125 successful projects listed. Design (115 successful fundraisers), product design (96), games (81), and music (77) follow close behind.

      Technology projects have some of the worst success rates: Vancouverites have listed 237 on Kickstarter since its inception, but only 48 reached their funding goals.

      In fact, the majority of Kickstarters fail. At the time of writing, only 776 local projects have succeeded (with 25 running) out of 2,037 listed on the site—a success rate of 38 percent. (Vancouver does slightly better than Kickstarter as a whole, where 36 percent of projects succeed.)

      Ansix Engineering has established three successful Kickstarter campaigns. The first two were for quick-change camera equipment (one listed as “camera equipment”, the other as “design” and “product design”), while the third was for a slim wallet.

      “The first two projects we started...we really did need Kickstarter, because we didn’t have that much money to produce a mould to create our product,” said Ron Chan, one of the three founders of Ansix, in a phone interview with the Straight.

      The camera projects each raised about $34,000. But the most recent, Fantom Wallet, attracted almost 6,000 backers and raised more than $614,000. It was the second most financially successful Vancouver project.

      Chan credits the campaign’s success to being further along in the development process. “It was basically ready to go. We were ready to sell these,” he said.

      He pointed out that Kickstarter brought more eyeballs to the page than the company could have reached otherwise. Chan also noted that the company spent about $10,000 on a marketing company to help increase visibility.  

      The Darkest Dungeon team didn’t employ any outside help but spent a long time preparing. Their game had been in development for eight months before the Kickstarter launched, and running the campaign became a full-time job for the duration of the fundraising.

      Both campaigns collected emails before the campaign so they had a large interest base before the launch, helping them meet initial funding goals quickly.

      Although these kinds of success stories may be uncommon, local companies continue to use the platform to fund their projects. Vancouverites’ Kickstarter dreams aren’t dead yet.


      This story has been updated from the print version to reflect recent changes in the data.