Kickstarter has a very checkered history, leading many to look at crowdfunded games  with extreme scrutiny. Between projects that never reach completion, titles demanding further funding beyond their initial campaign, and not to mention games that simply fail to live up to their backers’ lofty expectations, it’s easy to see why people might be soured on the whole concept of directly funding games themselves.

Shovel Knight exists as the perfect example of how Kickstarter can help bring into reality a game that not only treats their backers and fans with respect, but also fully realize the promise of bringing previously dormant genres of games back to the forefront and directly to the people who demand it.

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Developed by newly formed studio Yacht Club Games, Shovel Knight is an action-platformer that evokes classic 8-bit titles like Mega Man and Ducktales. Traversing a pixelated fantasy world, the titular trowel wielding warrior sets out to set things right and defeat the team of baddies who hurt his best friend years ago. Shovel Knight combines design concepts from a plethora of much beloved titles, including a quest system similar to Zelda II and a check point/reward system inspired by Dark Souls.


Fans of the titles that inspired it were hungry for more, and as Capcom continues to neglect the Mega Man franchise, and at the time few other indies are approaching the action-platformer in such a direct way. Launching their Kickstarter campaign in early 2013, Yacht Club Games managed to reach well beyond their modest $75,000 goal. Despite an unfortunate delay, Shovel Knight launched on PC, 3DS and WiiU with a majority of the promised stretch goal features intact (including extra playable characters and multiplayer modes). It has been such a critical and commercial success that it’s spawned multiple ports to Sony and Microsoft platforms, as well as copious amounts of plushes, t-shirts, and other merchandise.


Shovel Knight exists as a perfect example of how to successfully crowdfund a game: pitch a concept that is sorely lacking in the current market, yet isn’t overly ambitious. Follow with a budget that is properly researched and modest yet enough to realize the scope of the game. Toss in some stretch goals that are enticing but still modest and attainable in the allotted development time. Wrap all that up with some smart marketing, including reaching out to YouTube channels to help spread the word, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

One of the biggest issue crowdfunded games face is managing backer expectations. It is far too easy to oversell the final product and set backers up for disappointment in an attempt to generate enthusiasm for a project. Yacht Club Games managed to balance backer expectations while still keeping them excited about the game by following through with their promises in a relatively timely fashion. The game itself lived up to peoples’ expectations, and as a result it became a critical darling and landing on many Game of the Year lists.

While clearly it was a series of factors that led to the success of this game, from concept to thoughtful design, to intelligent and strategic marketing, there are lessons to be learned for any studio looking to attain funding for their project from the consumer directly. Think long and hard about how you communicate with your audience, because in many cases it’s better to undersell your game than risk building up impossible standards, resulting in a title that pleases no one.