How to Kickstart your virtual project

I was recently a guest on Designing Worlds, discussing virtual projects that got real money from Kickstarter — or are trying to.

Fellow guests included  Zayn Till and Wynx Whiplash, Tinies from Raglan Shire, who just successfully raised $11,112 on Kickstarter for their JazzPaws project, handily exceeding their original goal of $8,500.

A Tinie in Raglan Shire.

Traditionally, people raise money from new businesses by borrowing it, or by giving up a chunk of the company to investors.

With Kickstarter, however, entrepreneurs get to keep all the money raised, and get to keep all the shares of their company. The money is a free gift to get them started — minus a commission to Kickstarter itself.

On average, around 45 percent of all Kickstarter projects get funded. The rest don’t reach their funding goals and get no money at all — folks who pledge money to a project are only charged if the project reaches its full funding goal.

Taping Designing Worlds.

Many projects exceed their goals, as well. For example, the Pebble smartwatch project raised more than $10 million — even though they were originally only shooting for $100,000.

Kickstarter is the most famous of the crowdfunding sites, but there are others as well.

For example, Karl Stiefvater — formerly Qarl Linden — raised $5,555 for his Mesh Clothing Parametric Deformer Project on IndieGoGo.

A mesh deformer would automatically shrink a mesh object around an avatar's body -- similar to shrink wrapping. (Image courtesy Maxwell Graf.)

What makes a successful crowdfunding project?

While Qarl and the Tinies met their funding goals, another Second Life-related project, Kirsten’s Viewer, failed to reach its goal of 25,000 UK pounds, or about US $38,000, on CrowdFunder. The goal of the project was to fund development of the viewer for a full year, by providing a salary to lead developer Lee Quick, known as Kirstenlee Cinquetti in-world.

Instead, only about a third of the money was raised, and Quick shut down the viewer.

The differences between Kirsten’s Viewer project, and the successful projects, are very informative for anyone looking to raise funding by this method.

Clear scope and goal

People give money to things that they can easily understand, and which offer clear and obvious benefits to either themselves, or some group or cause that they would like to support.

Qarl’s Mesh Deformer project had a very clear goal — to make mesh clothing wearable in Second Life. The benefits were obvious to both those who like to wear clothing, and those who creative mesh clothing for in-world sale.

The project had a well-defined and limited time frame.

The Tinies of Raglan Shire project also had a clear goal — to take intellectual property originally developed inside Second Life and make it accessible to a larger audience. The founders created a video that explained exactly how they were going to do this, and how the money would be used.

By comparison, the Kirsten’s Viewer project was very vague. The money raised would go towards paying for Quick’s time for a year, but it was never explained exactly what the results of this work would be.

In addition to having a tightly-focused scope, it also helps to have a shorter campaign. According to Kickstarter, projects with a deadline of 30 days of less have the highest success rates. This may seem counterintuitive — you’d think that you would be able to raise more money if you had more time. But shorter deadlines help get people motivated, and help the campaign maintain momentum. With a longer deadline, potential funders are tempted to put off their pledges. This, in turn, makes it look like nobody is pledging, which turns off other potential donors.

Give rewards

Sometimes, a successful project is a reward in and of itself, as was the case with Qarl’s Mesh Deformer. Other times, donors may need a little bit more incentive, such as T-shirts, copies of the finished product, or tote bags. Be careful not to spend too much on the rewards, since that wouldn’t leave you with much money to do the project itself. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reward your donors in meaningful ways that don’t have to break the bank.

Say, you are raising money for a new grid.

  • Digital goods are a great, low-cost way to reward your donors. This includes screensavers of images from your new grid. Clothing relevant to your grid — for example, if you have a role playing grid, you can give out costumes. Or simply T-shirts with the grid logo on them. You can also give out in-world tools, buildings, vehicles and many other types of objects. If you have original music created for your grid, you can distribute sound tracks. Kickstarter forbids coupons or discounts as rewards, so you probably can’t give out virtual currency if it’s redeemable, but a 100 percent fictional currency, like in-game gold coins, would probably work as a reward.
  • Creative artifacts. Do you have pen-and-pencil sketches of your builds or of in-game characters or monsters? Make a limited set of prints, and have them signed by the original artist.
  • Name recognition. Colleges have long ago learned to put the names of big donors on buildings. Your grid can do the same, naming key venues, buildings, regions, lakes and seas, or even continents after your biggest donors. You can also give out naming rights for in-game characters, quests, valuable items or monsters. And you can always put the donors’ names in the credits on your grid website, in the “About Land” section of your welcome region, or in your custom viewer. Give out titles — “Executive producer,” “Founder,” “Demigod.”
  • Participation. Let your donors participate in quest design meetings. Record their voices for in-game characters. Give them seats on the grid governing council.
  • Memberships. Does your grid have a premium membership? Give a free lifetime membership to your donors.
  • Powers. If you’re creating a role-playing grid, you can give special powers to your top donors, such as the ability to fly in no-fly areas, or to heal from damage twice as fast as anyone else.
  • Land. Depending on the size of the donation, you can give a free lifetime homestead parcel or even full region to your funder. When pricing this out, remember that land prices are dropping quickly — a land reward may seem like a big deal to a donor today, but will actually cost your company little over the long term as falling computing prices and on-demand hosting will soon bring land prices close to zero.

Remember to give different reward to donors who donate at different tier levels, and have something for everybody.

According to Kickstarter, projects that don’t have a reward for donors who give less than $20 succeed only 35 percent of the time, while projects that do have a reward at that level succeed 54 percent of the time — a significant difference.

Strong promotion

Promoting a crowd funded project starts with a good video. According to Kickstarter, projects with videos succeed at a much higher rate than those without — 50 percent vs. 30 percent. The company even has some advice for how to make a good video.

Blogs, social networks, and in-world groups are also good channels for promoting a crowd funded projects. You can also buy online ads to promote your project, and get coverage in publications that your potential donors read. Throw a party, hold a press conference.

Give a behind-the-scenes tour of the project in its “under construction” phase. If you do give a tour, make it special — don’t just have people walk across empty regions while you say, ‘this will be here, and that will go there.” Put up sketches, architectural plans, building cranes. Have your guests wear hard hats. Have your artists and writers on-hand for introductions and to answer questions.

Don’t forget to ask your donors to help promote your project. They can blog about it, mention it on Facebook or Twitter, or send emails to friends. If they’re giving you money, after all, they must want your project to succeed.

And keep promoting. Post Facebook status updates and Tweets daily. Continue your outreach efforts to bloggers and in-world groups. Continue to hold events.

For more information about how to create a successful crowd funded project, visit the Kickstarter School.

Which platform is best for you?

Using a well-known crowd funding platform benefits you in two ways. First, it helps expose your project to a wider audience than might have heard about it otherwise. Second, it gives your donors the security of knowing that there’s a structure in place to ensure their money goes where it’s supposed to go.

But it does come at a price. Some companies choose to ask for donations directly on their websites, instead, as


  • Best name recognition.
  • If you don’t meet you funding goal, you don’t get any money.
  • Platform fee is 5% if you meet your goal, no charge if you fail. Plus additional credit card processing charges from Amazon, typically between 3% and 5%.
  • Campaigns can be any length from 1 to 60 days.


  • Originally started as a place to get independent films funded, and is still strongest in the creative categories — art, comics, fashion, music, film — but also funds video games, technology and small business projects.
  • “Flexible Funding” option allows you to keep the money raised, even if you don’t meet your goal. With “Fixed Funding” campaigns, you only get the funding if you meet your goal.
  • “Flexible Funding” campaigns can be anywhere between 1 and 120 days. “Fixed Funding” campaigns can be anywhere between 1 and 60 days.
  • Platform fee is 4% if you meet your goal, 9% if you fail to meet your goal, plus PayPal or wire transfer fees.
  • Popular with projects based in the U.K. and Europe.
  • If you don’t meet your funding goal, you don’t get any money.
  • Platform fee is 5% if you succeed, no charge if you fail to meet your goal.
  • Choice of 30, 45 or 60-day funding campaigns.

Asking for donations on your own website

  • No commission or fees to pay out
  • No minimum funding level to meet
  • No deadlines
  • But also, lowest chances of getting funding

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

8 Responses

  1. Do you think you have enough ads, Maria?  Huge banner at top, bottom and wide list on the right AND a full page in your face ad on login?  This is getting obnoxious.  

    • Sorry about the in-your-face ad. I’ve noticed them popping up once in a while but haven’t been able to figure out how to turn them off yet.

      The main goal with the ads is two-fold — one is to promote hypergrid businesses and events. We give away the ads for free to non-profits and conferences, for example, and all the ads on Hyperica are currently free, as well.

      The other is to bring in enough money to pay for hosting and freelance writers. 

      If you know anyone who wants to write for us, we pay between $5 and $25 an article (depending on folks’ experience, and article length). We don’t pay for contributed opinion columns, but if you see a news story or feature that isn’t under my name — a freelancer wrote that, and was paid for it.

      Unfortunately, we don’t have the money to hire an ad sales guy (not that there’s enough of a market on the hypergrid yet, anyway), so the default ads go in, which are the Google Ads that pay for themselves only when you have hundreds of thousands or millions of visitors. 

      We get between 10,000 and 15,000 unique visitors a month — probably a big chunk of the entire active user base of OpenSim land owners and grid operators. 

      It’s still not enough to cover operating costs, but I’m hoping that, at some point, OpenSim’s population will grow to the point where the advertising revenues allow us to hire dedicated people to write news and features, to copyedit, to add listings to the directory, and to expand the monthly grid surveys.

      Meanwhile, if anyone sees a particularly annoying ad — one that immediately starts playing music, or does something else to get in your face — please email me at maria .com and I’ll complain to the ad network, or switch ad networks.

  2. At first, when I read the comment here about the ads on Hypergrid Business, I thought it was out of place and off-topic. Then I realized it speaks to the very issue of the article, which is funding for goods and services.

    As a reminder, the homepage of Hypergrid Business has a $5 donation button.
    This gives most of us an opportunity to support this publication directly. Donations come across as a “thank you” for the work that is done to provide this resource, and help with its monetary expenses.

    As it turns out, however, readers of HB do not make sufficient donations to make an ad-free publication possible. Nonetheless, Maria keeps the publication active and fresh. The ads are a necessity (and apparently even they do not cover all of the operating expenses).

    This is a common plight of small service providers without a large market to advertise to.  For example, I listen to an ambient music Internet radio station that has conveyed that less than 10% of its listeners subscribe, which is optional, even though subscription levels start as low as $1 a month.

    If ads are designed and placed to be easy to ignore, they also fail to do their job, and no longer function as revenue producers, taking us back to square one. Donations rarely provide sufficient funding. Since even the major news organizations are in economic crisis mode, it is no surprise small publications are utilizing every affordance they can leverage to survive.

    Personally, I do not like ads either. I agree with Serendipity that ads are intrusive. However, given that ads are a ubiquitous solution to a very real funding challenge, I would just add that on most news sites, like, there are nearly always ads along the right side (of stories), often a banner ad at the top and sometimes an additional banner ad at the bottom. Other kinds of information sites, like (a traffic reporting site), have a top banner ad, a left side series of ads, and a truly annoying pop-up that appears right over the map. Worst of all, many sites place ads that appear to be part of a story and I click only to find I’m being hustled – I truly resent that.  So, all in all, I find that Hypergrid Business seems to be in line with reasonable industry practices.

    • Ener Hax says:

      “The ads are a necessity” this is not true for all online endeavors. 

      Maria is a journalist by profession, therefore ads are an important part of her online presence (and I do not find them obtrusive at all, even the ones that overlay and need to be dismissed, i can certainly click an ad away to read her content without being annoyed).I keep content fresh as well for both a blog and an actual tangible product and have no need for ads – your comment is correct for commercial ventures but not for a great many number of sites and softwares that are shared purely by enthusiasts.

      • Ener, Lawrence —

        Thanks for your kind words! Yes, I do write for a living, but so far HB is purely a labor of enthusiasm. I don’t expect to see that change in the near future, however — any revenues do come in, go directly towards freelance writers, copyeditors, and researchers. 

        I really believe in the long-term potential of the hypergrid, and that it will dramatically change the way we work, play, and socialize. I believe the coming changes will dwarf what we’ve seen so far with the Web and with mobile computing.

        And I really love being in at the start of it — it’s a fantastic opportunity for a technology journalist. 

      • If I had written or implied that ads are a necessity for all online endeavors, that would have been an inaccurate generalization. As it stands, however, I wrote that ads are a necessity in the context of the paragraph where I am clearly referring to Maria’s situation at Hypergrid Business. 

    • Ener Hax says:

      “The ads are a necessity” this is not true for all online endeavors. 

      Maria is a journalist by profession, therefore ads are an important part of her online presence (and I do not find them obtrusive at all, even the ones that overlay and need to be dismissed, i can certainly click an ad away to read her content without being annoyed).I keep content fresh as well for both a blog and an actual tangible product and have no need for ads – your comment is correct for commercial ventures but not for a great many number of sites and softwares that are shared purely by enthusiasts.

  3.' Vincent Lowe says:

    Y’know, two things. This is a blog about BUSINESS and the presence of ads is not an affront in that context.

    Secondly, the value in this article is pretty darn high, and the payoff is far higher than the irritation that advertising might present.

    A lot of us who create information and entertainment depend on advertising to sustain us when we don’t withhold what we have to offer until after you’ve paid a subscription fee, a cover charge or a tip.

    To me, when someone shares this caliber of insight without insisting that i pay first, I can easily deal with the possibility of associated advertising.  I really like it when people around me who contribute value are able to eat well.

    Just sayin’…