Friday, June 28, 2013

Minerals! And Other Great Ideas

(This is one if those rare wholly positive posts. You heard it here first, folks!)

After launching the Greenlight page I knew I could expect some great feedback and ideas from the folks who pledged at Kickstarter. (Everything from survival to crafting has been adjusted based on Greenlight input, and they haven't even played the game yet! Who knows what will happen during beta testing?)

What I didn't expect was the wild diversity of professions and perspectives. It could just be an illusion caused by the format but the Greenlight camp always felt like a pretty narrow demographic. In contrast the game's Kickstarter backers have been all over the map, literally & figuratively.

Since launching the campaign I've been in touch with not just dozens of artists and musicians and writers but also geologists, linguists, historians and architects, all eager to help me shape the world into something that lives up to their own unique expectations.

Not that I ever could - to please them *all* the game would basically have to be a fantasy-themed Matrix. But I'm finding their input to be beneficial in unexpected ways.

For example: a geologist had a great deal to say about the shapes of the world's land masses, and based on his advice the world's realism factor will be bumped up a tad.

Now I can tell I'd have to work for years to make the world geologically consistent (and genuinely realistic landscapes trend to produce boring gameplay anyway) so I can only take this advice so far. But then he casually rattled off what kinds of natural minerals each region would have in abundance due to the formations & climates I had chosen for them.

Over the past few days I've used this information to upgrade the game world's economy. It already feels richer and more legitimate. I'll be honest, apart from the obvious stuff like diamonds and salt I hadn't given minerals etc much thought. But after just an hour of plugging in numbers everything from the motivations of major characters to the histories of entire regions has been improved. By minerals!

And this is just one example - there have been dozens of similar cases.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - the backers have already invested money in this project hoping they'll enjoy it - what's a few more minutes to write out an email if it boosts the quality that much more?

All the same I can't help feeling like I've won some bizarre lottery every time an amazing new suggestion lands in my inbox. It takes a bit of the pressure off knowing that when I have a down day it two and can't shake an idea out of the old noodle, my backers have my back.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Story of A Guy Who Discovered that IndieGoGo Isn't Good for Gaming Campaigns and Abandoned it For Kickstarter

Note: This story is biased but it isn't a hatchet job. IndieGoGo may have promised something they couldn't deliver, but everyone I dealt with was personable & pleasant to work with and I believe they did what they could to help the campaign succeed within the constraints of the platform. IGG a good platform for a lot of projects - just not gaming projects.

Decisions, Decisions

The trailer went live and I thought to myself, I believe this game has a chance. Time to crowdfund.

The question is which platform? Kickstarter, or IndieGoGo? I knew Kickstarter was the 'default' choice but I'd also contributed to successful gaming campaigns on IGG, like Ghost of a Tale and Darkwood. And I knew FRONTIERS had some global / casual appeal, which could make IGG a good option... hmm, decisions.

In one of those weird (not-so) coincidental moments, I got a phone call from IndieGoGo.

They'd seen the trailer and wanted to extend a helping hand. They made a pitch that involved IGG's Flexible Funding (which I opted not to use), and assured me that they'd help me one-on-one to tweak the campaign for success. That all sounded fine, but then they dropped this bomb - they would take a hands-on approach to helping my campaign get media exposure all over the world.

Exposure, you say? All over the world, you say?

Well, that sealed the deal for me. I'm a total outsider without any press contacts and very few supporters. A crowdfunding platform that provides some of that up front would give me a huge leg up even if the platform itself was less popular overall. FRONTIERS gets funded, IGG gets their cut - everybody wins. Right?

That's not to say I intended to sit on my rear while they did all the work for me - I've typed my fingers bloody sending out announcements and press releases. SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK. But I figured that a well-placed phone call or two on their part would help convince some of these contacts to actually read the materials I sent. (I don't envy editors who have to sift through emails from yet another first time developer announcing their campaign.)

IndieGoGo made good on their promise to help tweak my campaign at this stage. They were quick to respond to questions and made helpful suggestions. After agonizing over perks for a few days (too many? too few? too high? too low?) I launched! And things were going great!

"IndieGoGo BAD! Kickstarter GOOD!"

I immediately noticed something - people were wondering why I'd chosen IGG. They'd say things like Hey if this fails try Kickstarter! Not the kind of thing that inspires confidence.

I call opinions expressed by anonymous posters - as opposed to folks I'm acquainted with - The Rabble. No offense if you're an anonymous poster, it's just a survival strategy to avoid losing my mind in a rushing current of ideas.

I've belonged to the rabble myself a few times. The rabble always wants something folks can't deliver. The rabble says I need higher resolution textures, the rabble says it loves steering wheel support, the rabble says it hates game over screens. They're not wrong or right, they're just too many to please. So when the rabble said IGG bad, Kickstarter good! I shrugged it off and said that the platform doesn't matter, what matters is the support you can bring to it.

All the same I contacted IGG with these concerns and asked if it was a common problem, and if so what their strategy was for dealing with it.

Not common at all, was their response. A vocal minority.

Fair enough. I wasn't worried; in my back pocket I had IGG's yet-to-be-revealed media influence, which I expected would kick in once I'd conquered their merit-based ranking system and made it to the top of the games category. I was determined to do this in the first week even if it killed me. (SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK)

There were a few bumps along the way to the front page - IGG's comment and update system are unintuitive and resulted in a few gaffes, plus there was the (admittedly funny and ultimately harmless) instance of an IGG chat support guy deleting several of my perks in real time after I specifically told him not to. "Oh shoot," he said as we scrambled to recreate them (cue Benny Hill theme). But generally things were going well and I was having a good time. I figured that the 'vocal minority' would shrink.

The Rabble Mutates

It didn't shrink. It grew, and it mutated. They weren't anonymous any more, they were supporters; I had come to trust their opinions. Hmm. Time to consider this seriously, methinks.

I'm sensing a pattern...

Then I did some projections that chilled my blood. The campaign had flatlined. FRONTIERS has a group of core supporters that I knew I could count on in the early days - after that the campaign would live or die by the press. (Hence the allure of IGG's promise.) That core was tapped out, and press was still nowhere to be found.

I wrote to IGG again. I felt bad for dumping on them, but I needed to know if I was really on my own, or what:

Hey, [removed]

I've got some bad news - I'm actually considering abandoning the IGG campaign and relaunching on Kickstarter. It's not just the rabble shouting 'why aren't you on KS' any more - pros are telling me point blank to abandon the campaign immediately and relaunch on KS.

Also - now that I'm on the first page of IGG's games section, I got something like two contributors over the past 12 hours. If the site isn't capable of putting eyeballs on my project then I don't know what I'm doing here.

Just want to make it clear I don't feel entitled to exposure or success - I'm responsible for both, not IGG - and this issue obviously isn't personal. You're just my point of contact so you're the one who gets to hear it. (Lucky you, right?)

Any idea how to make this the story of "The industry outsider who ran a successful gaming campaign on IGG" and not "The guy who discovered that IGG isn't good for gaming campaigns and abandoned it for Kickstarter?" I'll do whatever needs to be done as long as you can meet me half way. I'm out of tricks and the campaign has flat-lined. I've got a referral contest planned but let's be real, it's going to take more than that.

- L

I didn't hear back from my point of contact for a few days (I later found out he was on the road/swamped with E3, which is understandable and for which he was genuinely apologetic) but someone else on the team let me know I was being featured in the weekly roundup, another merit-based promotion I'd been shooting for. Alright, maybe this would kick things off. Maybe this was the start of what they'd been promised! I decided to give it a bit and see what happened.

I've Made a Huge Mistake

So there we are, a week into the campaign. After a ton of hard work and lots of contributions and word-of-mouth publicity from core supporters the FRONTIERS campaign had bit and kicked and scratched its way to the front page of IGG's gaming section, and was featured in the weekly roundup. And then...

*crickets chirping*

Pretty much nothing. A half dozen contributions over the course of 24 hours, many of which I courted myself.

Oh, boy, I thought. If this is what they meant by helping the campaign get exposure, I am so hosed.

There have been a few articles along the way, but I strongly doubt IGG was directly involved with any of them. A Kotaku article that ran during the campaign was a follow up to one that ran before IGG ever contacted me. Other articles coming out this week were due to the press contacting me, or me contacting them. Polygon reached out before the campaign as well. An indiestatic article released this week could have come about thanks to IGG, but I've got to imagine they would tell me if they'd actually landed something, just to shut me up if nothing else.

I'm not saying IGG didn't try - I believe they did. But not trying and not succeeding both have the same outcome for the campaign.

So, what now?


After crunching some numbers and confirming that yes, reaching the 80k goal at IndieGoGo is a virtual impossibility, I decided to shut it down and relaunch at Kickstarter as soon as possible. E3 is right around the corner, which makes the timing of this decision awkward, but I figure about a week will give me enough time to make it through their approval process. If all goes well it'll launch just as the E3 dust begins to settle. And if the people who supported the campaign the first time around are kind enough to revisit it, there's a chance we can pick up where we left off within a few days.

Will moving to Kickstarter ensure success?

Not at all, but at least I won't be handicapped by the apparent lack of gaming interest over at IGG. As I said, I'm ultimately the one responsible for the exposure and success of my campaign. I'm going to try just as hard to bite and kick and scratch my way to Kickstarter's front page. The difference is that once I'm there I can at least expect some gamers to frickin see the campaign.

I will also be revamping the campaign a bit before the relaunch, especially the perks. People have already made a lot of suggestions for improving them.

Ultimately this whole debacle was my own fault for leaping at IGG's pitch to begin with. I was desperate for help and in that desperation eager to believe they could work a miracle. (Feel free to call me a naive in the comments.) Oh well, lesson learned. In the end, this will just be another speed bump.

TL;DR: IndieGoGo enticed me with promises of exposure for the campaign, and I believed them - but the platform doesn't have a substantive gaming audience, plain and simple.

Oh, and to everyone I shrugged off for saying IGG bad, Kickstarter good?

You right, me wrong. :P

I'll close this with a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported the campaign so far. I will do everything in my power to make this transition as painless as possible. And if you're not up for contributing all over again no worries, I'll understand. Stay tuned for more info.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lego Big!

The one question I get asked more often than Can you build structures in game* is How can you make a game this big by yourself? Or, if phrased less diplomatically, Dude there's NO WAY you can make a game this big by yourself. Crash and burrrrrrn, that's all I'm sayin!

Part of the reason I'm running the crowdfunding campaign is because, frankly, they're right - I need to outsource some art and writing and possibly programming tasks to get this thing done by January. (Thank goodness the game is modular enough to permit this.)

But in another sense they're wrong, not because I'm somehow doing the impossible but because the game isn't 'big' like they think it is.

Oh the scale of the world is big - I've said so repeatedly - and there's a lot of stuff to find, and I've already talked about the structures, etc. But the game is 'big' in the sense that a basement-sized miniature medieval town made of Legos is big. The size is imposing and it's not something you see every day - you'll have a ball peering into all the little windows and down all the streets and marvel at what an obsessive freak (er, I mean hardworking artist) the creator must have been to put so much detail into the all the little buildings. And holy crap that's a lot of Legos. But there's no trick there. No special engineering knowledge or exotic materials. It's just a lot of Legos and a lot more free time. Any impressive qualities boil down to persistence.

Compare this to Skyrim. Skyrim isn't just 'big,' it's BIG in the way a full scale medieval town painstakingly recreated at Renaissance fair is BIG. On top of knowing the historical details you've got to know carpentry and roof thatching and glass blowing, plus costume design and weapon design if you've got live actors, plus backstage coordination and animal wrangling and food preparation... it is literally impossible for one person to make something like that on their own.

So when people tell me there's no way I immediately know I've done a bad job of explaining what it is I'm doing. You're not going to play this game and constantly wonder how did he do this the way one does with Skyrim. You'll know how I did it - it's Legos all the way down.

*No, you can't. But you can do other fun stuff.