How Superhot's playable prototype led to Kickstarter success in one day

Superhot burst onto the scene last summer, making waves out of the 7DFPS (Seven-Day First-Person Shooter) game jam with a browser-based prototype featuring a simple, unique mechanic: It's a shooter in which time moves only when you do.

The developers, seeing a groundswell of interest around the prototype and a Steam Greenlight campaign, decided to expand what they had into a full game. They launched a $100,000 Kickstarter campaign last week and blew through their funding goal in a day, and they believe the most important factor in that success was all the work they put in before the campaign.

"I've personally been kind of fearing that it's been eight months since we've been on Steam Greenlight and since we've shown the first prototype," said Luke Spierewka, a programmer for Superhot and its public relations representative, in a recent phone interview with Polygon. "So we haven't been actually sure that this sort of fame will actually magically convert into money until we've launched the campaign, and we're very happy that people remember — that they still want the game."

"we're very happy that people remember — that they still want the game"

According to Spierewka, the developers at Superhot Team spent a lot of time planning their next steps after the initial attention their project received. They put the game on Steam Greenlight in September, and fans voted it through within five days — then the shortest time frame in Greenlight history.

At that point, they knew they had an audience. But they realized that before they could decide on a funding plan, whether it was to go with an independent publisher, become a platform-exclusive title or try Kickstarter, they had to figure out how they would expand their 10-minute prototype into a game approaching the two- to three-hour length of Portal.

Spierewka said Superhot's lead designer and creative director, Piotr Iwanicki, was "really fixated" on introducing a katana that would allow players to both kill enemies and slice incoming bullets in half. The other developers were skeptical, but the weapon turned out to be a fun, exciting addition, and you can see it in the new trailer that debuted alongside the Kickstarter campaign last week.

"When we released it on Greenlight at the end of September, we wanted to make a Kickstarter campaign about three months after that, and just mostly [...] show the stuff from the prototype and maybe some new screenshots," said Spierewka. However, the team ran into some issues at first with launching a Kickstarter drive — they're based in Poland, a country in which Kickstarter is not officially available — and when they were "semi-ready" to go, they chose to hold off instead.

"We then decided that how the game looks right now is sort of not good enough, that we should give it a little more polish, that we should push it a bit more, so that when people see the Kickstarter campaign for the first time, they will be like, 'Wow, the game looks sort of the same but totally different. It looks much better.' And we've been able to deliver that," Spierewka explained. During that time, the developers implemented the katana and tweaked Superhot's art style to make it somewhat less abstract.

Spierewka told Polygon that the developers really did their homework, looking at many other Kickstarter campaigns to determine "best practices." The campaign ends June 14, and Superhot is currently set for release in June 2015. But having a prototype that is playable by just about anyone — all you need is a browser with the Unity plugin installed — was the key.

"It's not just selling a cat in a bag"

"It's not just selling a cat in a bag. It's not like we just go on Kickstarter and then we say that we have this cool idea for a game, but we haven't even tried it yet, but here's some example screens and you could donate money for the game if you like the idea. We've sort of proven that we have a thing that is really fun to play, because we have this prototype that you can play within your browser," said Spierewka. "I think that having this has helped us with both the Greenlight campaign and the Kickstarter campaign."

Spierewka noted that he didn't mean to disparage other Kickstarter hopefuls. Superhot Team basically spent the time between the Greenlight campaign and the Kickstarter launch working full-time on Superhot, and Spierewka is well aware that not everyone has the ability to do that.

Superhot_gif4

"It's not been without sacrifices," he pointed out. When Superhot hit it big on Steam Greenlight, he was contemplating whether to go back to school for his third year of college. He persuaded his parents that he had a huge opportunity to advance his career with Superhot, and they've been helping to support him while he's been working on the game.

"Thanks to all these sacrifices, we've been allowed to work on the game full-time for the last eight months," he said.

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