We have recently interviewed Mike Bridavsky, the creator of the mobile game "Lil BUB's Hello Earth". A Kickstarter project that raised almost $150,000 a few years ago and, today, it still remains as one of the 5th top-funded mobile games in the crowdfunding platform.
Learn from Mike's experience How he became a top-funded mobile game developer on Kickstarter, and how he created a successful Kickstarter campaign and got to raise funds for his cat, Lil BUB, and other homeless pets by developing a mobile game.
APPODEAL: Mike, you have a lot of experience with Kickstarter, and you raised more than 100.000 dollars on your campaign, is that right?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: Yes. It was a few years ago, and it was around $140K or $150K.
APPODEAL: That’s Incredible! And how did you become so successful?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: (laughs) Well, the thing that sets our Kickstarter campaign apart from any other mobile games in Kickstarter, is that our videogame is centered around the story of a cat named Lil BUB.
Lil BUB was a real cat -was my cat- and she was one of the most famous cats on the planet at the time… maybe she still is. Therefore, most of the supporters of the game were really supporting Lil BUB. Also, most of the funds we raise are for charity, for other homeless pets, and this Kickstarter was a fundraiser too for them.
I always wanted to develop a videogame and I thought it would be fun to make it about Lil BUB. One of my friends, a musician, had a similar interest and did all the music for the game. And then we had other friends that had experience making games, and we did a Kickstarter, and it got funded. And part of the story is that BUBs also wanted to create a videogame.
But most of the funding, I believe, it was just to support BUBs. To support her in creating this videogame (Mike laughs again).
And part of what made us so successful, if you look back at our Kickstarter, is that we worked really hard to make really exciting rewards. I knew that most of BUBs fans probably didn’t care that much about the game itself, and they mostly cared about supporting us. But what they do care about is having merchandise, which is something we’ve been doing for a long time.
So, we made a lot of exclusive one-of-a-kind items that you could only get on Kickstarter. Since it was the only way to get these items, the people wanted to support us. And they knew that their money was going to help homeless pets. And that made a very successful Kickstarter.
The lesson to be learned is to figure out what your audience is looking for, what interest them and how to get them to support you. In my very specific situation, I knew exactly our fans.
We have a huge fan base, and Lil BUB has over 6 million followers. Over those, there’s, at least, 20.000 that are very invested in everything we do.
I knew, if we wanted to do this video game -obviously we would have to do a good job- it would be funded.
We were very fortunate that we had such strong fan base.
APPODEAL: You’re totally right. It is true that (one of the things) to become successful on Kickstarter, you have to build a big fan base or a big community.
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: Absolutely.
If I was just somebody who wanted to create a videogame and didn’t have six million fans or supporters, unless I got lucky, or someone (influencer) discovered my game and thought it was genius and told their supporters, I don’t know how well we would have done.
Being a part of a community or creating one is very important.
And also having something that stands out of that community too. There are lots of Kickstarter campaigns for mobile games, and they are competing against each other. I’m not part of the Mobile Gaming Industry in the same way that a lot of other people are. But I can say that you need to have something about your game that stands out from the others.
APPODEAL: Indeed. And (you said that) charity helped you to become successful. What (do you think would have happened) if your Kickstarter wouldn’t have the idea of charity?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: I think the idea of doing charity to become successful is the wrong way to think about it.
With Lil BUB, we were charitable from the beginning, that was the main thing we did. And that’s part of the reason why became so successful: we started the first national fund for special needs pets, we raised over $800.000 for animals in need in just the past six years. That’s a big part of what we do.
But obviously, if your main interest is making videogames, then probably charity isn’t your number one priority. If you have something you care or you are passionate about, then yeah, adding a charitable component is important, as long as you truly feel that is important to you.
It’s not a (marketing) trick. You’re not just trying to get people to give you money because they think it’s going to a good place. And then either you’re not going to do it or you’re not going to donate as much as people think you are.
Unless charities are part of your campaign, then don’t make it a very important part of it.
Now, I don’t know if rules have changed, but at the time, we weren’t allowed to donate funds directly from the Kickstarter (or you’re not allowed to say that funds from the Kickstarter are going to charity). You can say that you are going to make a personal contribution after the Kickstarter is paid out.
But again, I don’t know if they added a charitable component now. I haven’t looked at Kickstarter in a while.
APPODEAL: And you’re still in the Top Charts!
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: (laughs) Well, that’s news to me! I didn’t know that we were still in the top.
APPODEAL: And from your experience, if you still remember it, tell us a bit more where to start a Kickstarter campaign or how to run it?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: Well… when I started my campaign, I went on Kickstarter, did some research and looked at other successful campaigns and get inspiration from it.
I’m looking at my campaign page on Kickstarter right now and… How long ago did we do this? Wow! It was four years ago!
Well, part of that could also be that in the past four years are doing more Kickstarter campaigns, which means there’s less money to go around for everyone. But I’m surprised that we’re still in the Top 5.
And who is the number one?!
APPODEAL: (laughs) You would like to make another mobile game and become the number one?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: (laugh) No, no. I’m just curious I haven’t thought about this at all.
APPODEAL: Well, maybe you can tell me some tips and secrets? Something you have discovered that could help other developers with their Kickstarter campaigns? To become successful and earn money?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: Personally, I can only say what worked for us.
I knew exactly what would work for us, and a big part of the success of our campaign were the rewards. We had a lot of really nice merchandise rewards. Actual things that you receive in the mail. We were prepared to do that because I’ve been running an online store for about three of four years. We have been making t-shirts and mugs and all this stuff. And made art prints, pillows, pins with the art of the game.
And since the fans wanted those items, they were happy to contribute on Kickstarter to get them. I would think that, for any sort of video game, a lot of people want the videogame but they also want all the other things that come with items: merchandise, a t-shirt or something like that.
That (producing merchandise) involves a lot of work and additional expenses.
We got funded for $150,000. That seems a lot of money, right? I can’t remember now but I believe that about $90,000 of that went just towards making the merchandise and shipping it up.
It is broken down in our page where the money goes and, for us, a huge part of it was just that. It has to be part of your plan so the other thing to be careful is if you get really excited about doing merchandise, pins, t-shirts, hats, whatever you want to do... don’t get too carried away because you’re going to have to pay for that stuff.
And if you get $150,000 and then it cost you $145,000 to make all your merchandise, then you’re only left with $5,000. And you can’t really make a game with that.
And in the end, our budget was very small to make a game of the size that we were making, and that was the big obstacle for us. We didn’t anticipate how much time and work it was actually going to take. And no one ended up getting paid. There was only five of us on the team.
My friend Matt who made the music; Drew who did all the artwork; Florian who was the developer and did all the programming; Ed, the project manager; and me, that came up with the idea.
We were working non-stop, and what we thought would take about a year, it took three years.
APPODEAL: Indeed, it was big. It was released on Google Play, on the Apple Store, on Windows, Linux… right?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: Yes, it was released for all the platforms.
For what I understand, a lot of these campaigns never end up getting finished. Based on my experience with this game I can see why some developers never make it to the end.
Once we started making the game, we realized, you know, we’ve got five people when we really need like 40 people working on it, just to do it the way we really want.
Considering that, I think the game turned out pretty cool.
APPODEAL: You're totally right! Still, there are some rumors that the mobile developers get about 30% of the funds on Kickstarter during the first 3 days… is that right?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: Not for us!
I have done two Kickstarter campaigns, by the way. The first one was for a book, also with Lil BUB, and the second campaign was this videogame. Both funded around $100,000 each, and for, at least the way I managed these campaigns, at least 50% of all of our funding came in the last 48 hours… in the very end.
And this happens because I pushed extra hard in the last 48 hours saying “hey, this is our last chance to meet the goal if you want this to happen”. And people see that the clock is ticking and they start telling their friends “hey, we really want this to happen and you fund do this too”.
And then we started adding stretch goals like “hey, if we can get to this amount, then we will do this, and if we get this other amount, we will do that”. People get really excited when there’s a deadline, like “time is running out! We gotta hurry up!”.
Because of that excitement, we got most of our funding in the last two days. Especially in the last three hours. We saw it jump like $20k to $30k bucks in the last few hours.
APPODEAL: So tell us, for all the mobile game developers who're listening, what would you recommend them to become as successful as you in Kickstarter?
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: To whoever is listening, I could be wrong, but in my experience with our game I can tell you what I prioritize as the most important things, as far as just the game goes.
Number one, for me was the story. Every good game has a story. I’m not a gamer anymore. I played games very aggressively from the years 1985 to 1993, and that is the extent of my videogame experience for the most part, other than scrabble here and there.
But I believe that story is the most important.
And number two, I would say are the graphics. Ever since I first got into video games, to me, the look of the game and the graphics were what would draw me in. When I was a kid when I would just see how cool a game looked, that made me want to play the game.
So, story, graphics… I do believe the music is very important. I am a musician and I own a recording studio so, to me, music is very important in general.
But some of the things that stick with me for my favorite games are the music. I feel like the music sorts of sets the mood. And the mood, the story and the visual aspect of the game are the three things that I think make a game very special.
Those are the three big things that we focused on: the story, the graphics and the music.
After that, I also wanted the game to be challenging. I would say, sort of comping up with a way for the game to not be too easy. For me it is important.
I discovered later after we made our game that it was too hard for what people expect from video games now. Also, there’s a term called “NES hard”, which means that games used to be much more difficult. When I played as a kid, there were games really hard to play. And now people want something that’s a little easier.
Maybe that’s where I went wrong and maybe why after we got funded the game didn’t become widely successful. Maybe it’s too hard to play.
But for me, it was important for the game to be very hard and have a lot of tricks, easter eggs… which makes the number four: the difficulty level. It is important whether you want it to be very easy or very hard.
And if you want five tips, I have to come up with one more… let me think about it because there is probably something very good there.
APPODEAL: (laugh) Don't worry, four tips are good enough.
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: No wait, I got it! The important thing in mobile gaming is to make people want to keep playing the game. Mobile games nowadays are experts at that. The most popular games are experts in retention mechanics. They make games that get you to keep coming back.
Mechanics such as, you know, you got a clock and then every hour you get this treasure chest, and every two hours you get this… and then you have mini-games that you play that add value to the overall user experience. There is always something to do to keep you engaged!
This is something that I did not consider whatsoever when making my game. However, I am now aware that create a good retention strategy is pretty important for mobile games.
APPODEAL: Indeed it is, Mike. We recently started an Accelerator Program, and we have a team of experts that help mobile developers to tune their monetization and game mechanics, launch their games... and a very common request we get from game developers is to help them tweaking and improving their Retention Metrics!
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: (laugh) Then you know better than me!
APPODEAL: (laugh) Anyway, thank you Mike for your time and telling us all about your experience with Kickstarter and your mobile game today. It's been a pleasure to have you here today!
MIKE BRIDAVSKY: The pleasure is all mine.