Yesterday at PAX West 2017, Friday the 13th developers Gun Media hosted a panel on the pros and perils of Kickstarter, where they spoke about their first time with large-scale community management—a task that literally almost killed executive director Randy Greenback.
Early in the campaign, the team quickly realized they needed a community manager, and since Greenback wasn’t actively coding or animating, the job fell to him. “It was like three full-time jobs,” Greenback said. “It was 18 hour days a lot of the time, answering every email, and at the end of it all I think I got pneumonia.”
“Yeah, he almost died. It’s not a joke,” Friday the 13th: The Game co-creator Ronnie Hobbs said. “We underestimated how much work Kickstarter was, in terms of updating the community. So it was poor Randy who had to do all that. It’s a very easy thing to overlook. ‘Oh, we’ll deal with the Kickstarter messages later!’ That is the bulk of your time, we had no one to do it, and we were ill-prepared for that.”
With a community liaison in place and the initial funding goal achieved, the team learned they had to placate their backers with regular updates. These updates took the form of interviews with the development team and backer exclusive proof-of-concept videos, and seemed to play well with the game’s community. But when it came time to show off the alpha build, screenshots of the unfinished game were circulated to a less-than-enthusiastic reaction.
"[Game development] is kind of like making a pizza,” co-creator Wes Keltner said. “You’re in the kitchen, rolling the dough, putting stuff on it, and somebody walks in looking for a slice. And you’re telling them you still have to put it in the oven, but they take a bite anyway and then they tell you it tastes like shit.”
“Even when we can’t show the game, backers are gonna want to know what they’re gonna get,” Greenback said. “One of the ways we did it, we kind of did overviews—top-down overviews of gameplay moments we anticipated would be in our game as best as we could. We had the core of the game ready, but it didn’t look good. If we had shown what we had at the time, people would’ve just been upset and freaked out that the game wasn’t going to come together.”
Three months after launch, Gun Media still has communication issues with its community. According to community lead Ben Strauss, several backers misunderstood their chosen reward tier, and emailed the team looking for restitution. “There’s still confusion with some of our rewards to this day,” Strauss said. Apparently, “over 1000 backers” still haven’t received the codes they were promised in exchange for backing the game. “People who backed the game never contacted us, never followed up, never completed their surveys, and we really want to give them their stuff,” Greenback said. “They either don’t know they have a code waiting for them, they forgot, or they don’t know how to collect it.”
Although the team’s early brush with community management was more of a learning experience than anything else, Gun Media still found the feedback invaluable. “We had to figure out, do we change course or stay the same based on community feedback?” Hobbs said. “So be prepared for actual feedback and to put it in your game in some sort of way.”