The Kickstarter campaign for Sportsfriends, a compilation of local multiplayer-focused indie games, seemed unlikely to meet its lofty $150,000 goal for a majority of its duration.
As late as Friday, Dec. 7, the drive was a few thousand dollars short of cresting the $100,000 mark. The odds of the campaign earning one-third of its targeted funding in three days seemed impossible; though a sudden burst of new donors came out of the woodworks over the weekend, culminating in the project hitting its goal with just nine hours to spare. In the hours that followed, the total rose even further, bringing the total even above $160,000.
Then, that number started to go down, and fast.
Douglas Wilson, the creator of Johann Sebastian Joust — one of Sportsfriends' bundled games — told Polygon that the fact that the project had met its goal at all was a thrill for the package's constituent developers.
"Really, the best part for me was just seeing that groundswell of support, and how much these games matter to people," Wilson said. "This is going to sound really hippie-ish, but even if we failed, I think I'd be satisfied to some degree, because it's really heartwarming or whatever to see that kind of groundswell. Of course, even better than that we also got funded, but to me that's really the takeaway."
"I went into it with a mentality of 'Okay, I need to be prepared for this to fail.'"
For most of the pledge drive's span, that success didn't seem in the cards. On Nov. 23, the halfway point for the month-long campaign, the project had raised just over $50,000. Donations didn't pick up in the following week. The project was trending towards a disappointing finish; a fact that Wilson said didn't bother him.
"To be honest, I was pretty zen about the whole thing, I think," Wilson said. "I went into this like, 'I think it's possible to make 150K,' we kind of knew that was the upper limit of what we could make. We went in knowing, listen, we might make it, we might not, we want to try, we want to run the experiment. We didn't have a Plan B in place. But we were like, if it fails, we'll try something else.
"I went into it with a mentality of 'Okay, I need to be prepared for this to fail,'" Wilson added.
It didn't fail. Donors came out in droves this past weekend, spurned on, Wilson believes, by a popular Reddit AMA thread and traction on social networks. On Dec. 8, 311 new backers pledged generously, adding more than $25K to the pot. The day after that, 597 new backers added over $21K more. Today, in the final hours of the campaign, 776 last-minute donors added more than $12K to the total. The total reached the project's $150,000 goal. It continued climbing as more donations trickled in. It pushed over the $160,000 mark.
Then, $10,000 disappeared.
And then $3,000 more disappeared.
Donors at the very, very highest level were pulling their funding from the project with just a little over 60 minutes left on the clock.
"I don't want to linger too much on it, because obviously, we're fucking thrilled as shit to have made it," Wilson said. "But the end was a little weird."
"My sense is that they probably could have afforded it, but didn't really want to."
Wilson said he doesn't know who these high-level donors were, or exactly why they pulled their support in the campaign's final moments. The $10,000 donor had given their money on Dec. 8, the campaign's single-biggest day of donations. They had likely pledged the money that brought the game over the $100,000 mark — only to pull that funding two days later.
"Bennett [Foddy, developer of Sportsfriends title Super Pole Riders]'s take is actually that, he thinks it's flattering because — and I think this is true to some extent — it meant that these people, these superfans that were really invested in seeing it happen, gave more than they really wanted to or were prepared to to see us to the finish line," Wilson said. "Then, when their donations weren't needed, they kind of dialed it back."
However, these donors' overreaching support was something of a risky maneuver. Kickstarter doesn't allow donors to pull their funding in a project's final 24 hours if it would drop the project below its targeted total. As a result, Sportsfriends was never in danger after meeting its $150,000 goal this morning; however, if the total hadn't surpassed that total by at least $10,000, the donor wouldn't have been able to cancel their sizable payment.
"My sense is that they probably could have afforded it, but didn't really want to," Wilson said.
Of course, the developers behind Sportsfriends came up with other, less reasonable conspiracy theories of why the number fluctuated as much as it did in the campaign's final moments.
"We coined this term, 'Kicktrolling,' before we knew the rule about how you couldn't pull out," Wilson said. "We thought that someone was trying to, like, get back at Bennett for all those hours against QWOP or something. We thought that, just maybe, someone was trying to QWOP us back."