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December 3, 2012

DMBA Capstone Team Revives a Classic Video Game

By Mary Ann Kurker

Every Kickstarter project needs a rainmaker. The return of Leisure Suit Larry got three: students in the MBA in Digital Media Management (DMBA) program helped launch one of the biggest comeback stories in video gaming. The St. Edward’s trio — Beverly Baker DMBA ’12, Kevin Kettler DMBA ’12, and Gabriel Maldonado DMBA ’12 — electrified a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.com, as part of their recent Capstone project. Their goal: help Austin-based Replay Games fund a high-definition remake of Leisure Suit Larry, the popular video adventure game franchise from 1987. The series follows the antics of Larry Laffer —a hapless disco dwelling romeo whose polyester fashion, trademark breath spray and cheesy banter made him a legend among lounge lizards.

In just 30 days, the campaign raised over $655,000 to bring Leisure Suit Larry into the 21st century, making it one of the top-funded gaming projects in the three-year history of Kickstarter.com.

“Due to the assistance of the students, we were able to surpass our ($500,000) goal,” says Paul Trowe, Founder and CEO of Replay Games. “It was definitely the direct result of their help, input and analysis.” The triumph casts Leisure Suit Larry’s return for March 2013 — this time with ultra-high resolution graphics, fully-voiced characters and a modern point-and-click interface that’s compatible with tablets and mobile devices, Trowe says.

14,000 BACKERS IN 30 DAYS

Racing against the clock, the DMBA students created buzz for the month-long campaign on five Twitter accounts and two Facebook pages. Rabid Leisure Suit Larry fans responded, posting 5,214 messages on Kickstarter while the project was live from April 2 to May 2. Donations came from all corners of the web, and the campaign wrapped with 14,081 backers.

“There’s a lot of die-hard fans to this franchise,” Kettler says.

When pledges began to lag, Baker drafted press releases that positioned Replay Games as a pioneer in the crowd-funding trend, which led to coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Maldonado helped manage social media and created banner designs for Replay Games online.  Campaign strategist Kettler tracked the spikes in pledges after each marketing outreach, and discovered that Kickstarter is a month-long party needing constant attention from its host.

“You push the snowball down the hill and it rolls and gets steam. That’s what we thought was going to happen, but it didn’t happen like that at all,” Kettler says. “There were thousands of things you have to think of to constantly drive interest in Kickstarter. It’s not just about donating, it’s the engagement.”

One strategy to keep the party going was reward tiers — the bonanza of perks, such as a digital copy of the game, for various levels of pledges. “We bounced ideas off each other, coming up with new tiers,” Kettler says. A few of the more outrageous: Two fans paid $5,000 to have their name and likeness inserted into the new game as disco patrons. Another gave $2,500 to have his pet dog immortalized as a game character. And one European fan donated $10,000, which earns him lunch with the creator of Leisure Suit Larry, Al Lowe.

SECRETS OF SUCCESS

The project is notable given that Kickstarter is an all or nothing funding model. If a project doesn’t meet its campaign goal by the deadline, it fails. Kickstarter claims a 44% project success rate, with most ideas raising less than $10,000.

“I think that the success of the (Capstone) project was, in part, due to the creativity and persistence of the team in constantly monitoring and adjusting the campaign,” says Russell Rains, director of the MBA in Digital Media Management program. “My experience has been that most Kickstarter projects begin with a strong showing of support and then taper off quickly,” he says. “The team realized this was a likely outcome and constantly shifted their strategy to create a sustained inflow of capital.”

Kettler’s success extends beyond graduation, as he accepted an offer to join Replay Games in May as director of Corporate Strategy. He credits the DMBA program at St. Edward’s for shaping his career.

“I was looking at MBA programs all over the country and when I saw this one, it was so different,” Kettler says. “It’s pretty innovative. I think a lot of typical MBA programs don’t necessarily want that artistic, creative side of you. They just want to hone you into a good businessman.”

“I wanted an MBA, but I also wanted to be entertained,” Kettler says, “And to do something I cared about. I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

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