On the 24th of April we released our dark, emotional, and erotic visual novel Knife Sisters on Steam and Itch.io. In a series of posts, I will look into what happens when you approach the commercial markets with a game that explicitly aims to explore sex, power and consent.
Knife Sisters is set in a contemporary world, populated with believable characters, progressive values, and proudly represents people of different genders and sexualities. Players can explore emotions, consent, power and dependency in a safe setting, and test their own boundaries regarding sex, relationships, kinks and BDSM, to see what they are comfortable with, and not. The game contains erotic scenes, which aim to entice and arouse the players. Depending on their preferences, that might happen or not. (Read this review in Checkpoint to get the perspective from someone who enjoyed the game but wasn’t all that comfortable with the erotic/BDSM scenes.)
I have been part of the indie game scene for quite some time now, working in the games industry since 2006. During this time, an enormous shift has taken place in the discourse around games, that has encouraged me a lot. We have been discussing how games can be made more diverse, both in their content and mechanics, and how they can address experiences and topics outside of the norm. We have seen a movement of queer and autobiographical games, and events such as Lyst, Heartbeat and QGCon (among others) bringing up the topics of romance, love, queerness and sex in games.
But what happens when you take the plunge and actually approach the commercial markets with such a game?
The fact that I’m from Sweden, where we have a rather liberal view on sex, surely affected my views and expectations on this. I could never have imagined how the game would be seen from the outside. I have previously written novels and short stories that explores sex and sexuality in a similar manner, sometimes targeting teenagers and young adults, and that has never been questioned in any way. So I was rather taken aback when I, during the Kickstarter campaign for Knife Sisters, realized how differently a (predominantly text-based) game would be received, compared to written fiction, and how hard it would be to get exposure for the project. I wrote a little about that here.
Knife Sisters was always an experimental venture, and apart from the resulting game itself, one aspect of the project has become to explore boundaries in the outside world, to see how our society measures up to its alleged goals of inclusion, diversity and acceptance.
During this blog series I will make comparisons to see how sex as a topic is handled in different media. I will look into questions around how we are supposed to discuss consent and sexuality with young people, when those topics are banned from online platforms and hidden behind 18+ walls. I’ll comment on stores such as Steam and the age rating process by PEGI. I’ll also look into the fear of the unknown, and how people might want to distance themselves from topics that could result in shaming from others. I haven’t decided on everything yet, so let’s see where this leads!
In the next post I will look into Steam, and the divide between “adult content” and “regular content”. Stay tuned!
Knife Sisters was released on the 24th of April on Steam and Itch.io, and now we’re celebrating that the game has reached players all over the world – in countries where being queer is not as accepted as in Sweden.
Join us at DevHub, Torggatan 2 in Malmö, the 31st of May from 18.30.
We’ll provide drinks and snacks (but eat dinner before! 😉 )
During the evening, Bobbi will present the ideas and thoughts behind the game, and the team members Douglas (music), Niklas (sound design) and Pixie (programming), will provide the musical entertainment.
We’ll have a lottery where you can win Knife Sisters merch, and you can buy the tarot deck that was developed for the game.
💖 /Bobbi and the Knife Sisters team
Facebook Event here.
This game means a lot to me, since I see it as the essence of what I’ve been doing artistically since I was a teenager. I’ve been working in the games industry since 2005, and my aim has always been to explore what games are and could be, in different forms. Parallel to that, I’ve been writing and publishing stories about queer emo kids, or if you’d rather: about relationships, identity, sexuality, mental health and self expression.
In Knife Sisters,
the graphic expression from the punk fanzines I created as a teen,
the stories I made up back then about friends I didn’t have,
the queer kids I’ve been writing about in my novels,
and the games I’ve been making throughout my years in the industry
are all coming together.
I hope the game will do its job in reaching people who are lonely teens just as I was, people who live in countries where being LGBTQ is not as accepted as in Sweden, people who wants to see themselves represented in games, and people who just like a good story.
Knife Sisters is created by me (art, game design and story), Pixie Johan Anderson (programming), Niklas Ström (sound design), and Douglas Holmquist (music), with support from Kulturbryggan (The Swedish Arts Council), GaymerX, and our lovely Kickstarter backers. Without you, this game would never have been made. 🖤
Now, wish the game luck on its continued journey!
In november 2018 I did a Kickstarter campaign for the visual novel I’m working on, Knife Sisters. This was in part an impulse move, which I will get back to, and it was instigated by meeting a representative from Kickstarter at IndieCade in L.A. in October, who told me he thought the project could do well there. But it was also because I had the idea of doing a printed tarot deck for the game, and for that I would need some more funding. Those two things made me decide to give it a go.
To be able to keep the deadline of releasing the game in spring 2019, I soon understood I had to do the campaign pretty much straight away. The tarot cards would be part of the game, and I needed time to implement them, after a potentially successful campaign. Doing a campaign in December wasn’t an option, and in January it would be too late, so I decided to go in November.
The campaign was launched on October 30, just about 2.5 weeks from when I decided to do it. This, my friends, was not a well thought through decision.
The campaign was successful, but not until the very last days, and it brought me a lot of headaches, stomach-aches and also many surprises. Below I’ll go through what I learned, and what I think is important to know and do before launching a campaign. Some of these things I managed to do well, some not that well, and some of them I didn’t do at all, but wish I had.
0. Don’t do a campaign on impulse
So, there, I said it. Just don’t do it! Crowdfunding campaigns are too complex to be done on impulse. You’ll see why below.
1. Do your research
And then I really, really mean: DO YOUR RESEARCH! I didn’t do enough. Partly because I had been part of two successful campaigns previously, so I thought I already had some insight into the workings of Kickstarter. But those campaigns were for other types of projects, and they were done in 2012 and 2015 – and since then, a lot has changed.
I did look into some campaigns for other visual novels before starting my own, but I didn’t do it enough. I did the mistake of looking mainly at successful campaigns, when I should have been (also) looking at those who didn’t succeed. If I had done that, I would have known to set my funding goal a little lower. Here are some interesting statistics about visual novels on Kickstarter, and here are some about games in general. The lesson learned is that it’s important to know the difference between different kinds of projects.
I’m not a forum person, but I should have forced myself to become active in the forums surrounding VN:s before starting the campaign, because just hanging out there made me learn a lot about campaigns for this specific medium. I started taking part in them only after I’d already launched – and at that point it was too late to change anything.
2. Plan as much as possible ahead
This I knew from having taken part in campaigns before. When doing the campaign for Words of Oz, me and my then business partner planned almost all of the content for the updates ahead, and I repeated that process for this campaign. I planned to update every third day, and this worked out well. I was generally pleased with the campaign page and everything around it – here I think my experiences from previous campaigns paid off.
The reason to plan updates, as well as all the other marketing and communication content and actions, in advance is that when the campaign launches, you will be completely absorbed by just doing everything (for example writing messages to everyone you know), and then doing creative things, such as creating interesting content, can be overwhelming.
3. Market in advance
With only 2.5 weeks between decision and realization, I had no time to market the campaign in advance. This was a mistake, and showed that I relied too much upon how Kickstarter had been working in the past. In 2012, pretty much the golden age of crowdfunding, you could do a campaign without marketing it in advance. You could also do a campaign without already having an audience. This is much harder today, and from what I know now, I wouldn’t recommend it. You need to have at least 2-3 months to market the project and the campaign beforehand.
If I would have done that, the hurdles I ran into while trying to market the campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (read more about that here) wouldn’t have come as a surprise. I did only try to buy ads for the campaign when the campaign had already started, and it turned out to be impossible, since the game includes adult content. This kind of game needs to be marketed differently, something I had too little knowledge about. Not being able to buy ads on social media I think affected the outreach of the project quite a bit, and if I had taken that into consideration, I might have lowered the funding goal.
I should also have contacted the press beforehand, trying to make sure to get some coverage. I put too little time into communicating with the press, both before and during the campaign, relying too much on social media, which I in the end couldn’t use as I’d expected.
4. Test your rewards
One thing I worked really hard on before launching was the rewards and the whole look and feel of the campaign. I was happy with the content, and we had some really nice rewards, especially the physical tarot deck, but they proved to be too expensive. People told me afterwards that they really wanted the tarot deck, but couldn’t afford it. I should have asked for feedback on the reward tiers before launching. Once again, this can’t be done if you’re in too much stress to launch, which I obviously was.
5. Don’t do it alone
Last, but not least: team up with someone that can help out with some of the actions that have to be done during the campaign. It’s very stressful to do all of it by yourself, especially if the campaign is not working out as intended. Share the work and the worries with someone, not least if it’s your first campaign. I did have help with some tasks, such as shooting the video, and I definitely had some good support from team members and people in my network, but if I’d go again, I’d try to share the workload even more.
Looking back, I still don’t regret doing it.
In the end, the campaign succeeded, despite me making some mistakes. The project has definitely benefited from everything that happened, and I learned many things that will be valuable when the game launches. The project reached new people and got some well-needed attention. But if I would do it again, I’d do a lot of things differently … and I’m not sure I ever will, because of how stressful it is.
But if I do, I won’t do it on impulse.
(Please, please, please brain, listen carefully now: don’t do it on impulse!)
The Kickstarter campaign for Knife Sisters is live!!! Check it out to pre-order the game at a lower price, get unique merch and more! 💥