Mercenary Kings: Crowdfunding as a Tool to Increase the Visibility of a Game

The greatest benefit of a crowdfunding campaign is not always financial in nature. This is what discovered Tribute Games when they launched a campaign for Mercenary Kings.

  • Project name: Mercenary Kings
  • Production/project type: video game (PC, PS4)
  • Financing period: from August 14 to September 13, 2012
  • Funds requested: US$75,000
  • Funds raised: over US$116,000
  • Number of contributors: 3,880
  • Average contribution: $30
  • Company: Tribute Games

The project

Tribute Games is an independent video game studio located in Montréal. The team composed of former Ubisoft, Gameloft and Eidos studio developers creates retro-looking games inspired from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

After launching Wizorb in 2011, the start-up began developing Mercenary Kings, a 2D action game in which up to four players embody a team of mercenaries who have a huge arsenal at their disposal to free a tropical island.

The funding campaign

Tribute Games’ initial intention was to be self-sufficient through the investment of personal savings and a few subsidies. The success experienced by the Double Fine studio on Kickstarter, a platform that was still new at the time, however convinced the team to try its luck with crowdfunding.

“We are developers and financing was therefore not our forte,” recalls Jean-François Major, vice-president and cofounder of Tribute Games. The Mercenary Kings campaign nevertheless enabled the company to raise $116,000, well more than the initial goal set at $75,000.

“That was a good amount but it wasn’t enough to pay me a decent salary,” states the cofounder. The studio however had access to more funding once it had launched its game on the Steam Early Access platform.

“It enabled us not only to start selling the game even though it was only 60% complete, but also to offer something to our Kickstarter investors close to the dates that we had promised,” adds the VP.

Putting the gains back into perspective

Although $116,000 represented a hefty sum, Tribute Games realized that it quickly racked up the expenses. “Kickstarter takes a share, so does Amazon, there are taxes to pay and rewards to issue,” explains Mr. Major.

The team had had the foresight to put some money aside by limiting the offer of physical rewards to major investors only, but the operation nevertheless required time and money. “We had also underestimated our delivery costs,” points out the developer.

Being discovered by Sony through crowdfunding

However, the greatest benefit of the crowdfunding campaign was not financial in nature.

“During the Kickstarter campaign, we were approached by Sony, who was really interested in our games,” explains Mr. Major.

“At the time, the PlayStation 4 console had not even yet been announced and they asked us if we wanted to offer Mercenary Kings on it. We were even provided with a PlayStation 4 development kit. It was a great display of confidence on their part,” he adds.

The crowdfunding campaign enabled Mercenary Kings to become one of the top titles available through Sony’s new console and the Japanese company even invited the studio to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles and present its game during a press conference.

“It’s the best form of visibility that we could be offered,” claims Jean-François Major. The timing of this visibility was perfect seeing that, at the time, the studio had just made the decision to cut down on its marketing expenses to focus on producing a quality game.

Things to consider for a future campaign

Tribute Games has since launched two other titles without however resorting to crowdfunding. “They were smaller games and we were less comfortable with the idea of running a campaign to fund them,” acknowledges Mr. Major. “Also, Mercenary Kings had experienced a great deal of success and we therefore didn’t need to resort to external funding.”

Tribute Games’ cofounder is however not closed to the idea of eventually running a new campaign. “Kickstarter is a fantastic platform for testing the market,” he claims. “Instead of running the risk of spending two years developing a game, you can prepare a small-scale prototype and quickly launch a campaign. If people are not interested and things don’t work out, you haven’t invested a whole lot of money to find out,” estimates the developer.

He contends that a funding campaign also represents a good form of marketing. The studio has the opportunity to talk about its game and investors in turn become brand ambassadors.

Among the things that Tribute Games would like to focus on during a future campaign, Jean-François Major points out the importance of effectively managing investors’ expectations by conveying a clear and honest message as well as carefully thought out ideas.

Industry & Market Trends | Veille stratégique
The Industry and Market Trends team is composed of Director Catherine Mathys, analysts Pierre Tanguay and Sabrina Dubé-Morneau, as well as editorial coordinator Laurianne Désormiers. Once a year, the team publishes a Trends Report that draws a portrait of the macro trends that are shaping today’s screen-based industries.
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