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AutoDuel becomes MotorGun, picks up Gears of War’s Lee Perry, launches Kickstarter

July 16, 2013 — by AJ Glasser

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Indie developer Pixelbionic has a lot going on this week: Its game gets a name change, a new designer behind the wheel, and a just-launched Kickstarter campaign seeking $650,000 in funding in the next 31 days.

Pixelbionic’s game started life earlier this year as Autoduel, an online combat car game that sounds like a cross between Twisted Metal, Interstate ’76, and Guild Wars. Players customize cars and form teams to do battle and complete other objectives to earn more customization options and materials. Co-founders Mike Arkin and Maxx Kaufman were later joined by Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe and Interstate ’76 creator Zack Norman, for an extra dose of authentic car battle game DNA.

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Now renamed MotorGun, Pixelbionic’s team picks up Gears of War and Unreal Tournament Lead Designer Lee Perry to uphold the creative direction of the game and bolster its battlegrounds. Perry plans to design an exclusive battleground for backers as part of the campaign’s stretch goals.

photo_mikeNavigating Kickstarter for a first-time developer isn’t easy, but Pixelbionic has a wealth of successful games campaigns to learn from. Co-founder Arkin (pictured, right) told Gamesauce that the team even received personal mentoring from Wasteland 2‘s Brian Fargo (which closed with over $2.9 million in funding on a $900,000 goal) and HEX’s Cory Jones (closed at over $2.2 million on a $300,000 goal).

“We are very lucky that there have been some great Kickstarters before us,” Arkin said. “We’re trying very hard to take all the lessons that those people have communicated to us and use the advice wisely.”

Over the last eight months, Arkin and his team have planned out goals and rewards for its Kickstarter campaign. Aside from Perry’s exclusive battlegrounds for backers, the upper tiers of funding grant backers exclusive cars as well as access to the beta and even the alpha version of MotorGun. Lower tiers get access to the game when it launches and an MP3 of the game’s soundtrack.

The stumbling block many first-timers encounter is pledging more than they can deliver either in content or physical rewards. Arkin says the team is aware of this obstacle and that he and Kaufman have done the math to avoid it.

“Max and I are experienced developers and we’ve planned the project and budgeted very carefully,” he said. “We’ve been conservative about the features that we’re promising and the stretch goals where we can announce new features we’ve already planned.”

MotorGun is targeting an October 2014 release. After the Kickstarter campaign closes, players can still pay for the game or make donations on Pixelbionic’s site.

“Once it launches, we plan to add content – more battlegrounds, more vehicles, more parts, more game modes,” Arkin said. “We plan to keep adding things… until we stop.”

Look for Arkin at Casual Connect this month during the Day 3 Free 2 Play track and on the floor of the Indie Prize Showcase.

BusinessDevelopmentExclusive InterviewsGame Development

SGN’s Jill Schneiderman on Battle of the Work for Hire Studios

July 2, 2013 — by AJ Glasser

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Game developers Plexonic, Joju Games, and Large Animal Games shoot for something new at Casual Connect this year with the “Battle of the Work For Hire Studios” session. Through friendly competition and a tight 10-minute pitch to panel organizer SGN, the three studios hope to illustrate the challenges faced and rewards earned by work-for-hire studios in the casual games industry.

To begin, each studio received a game description from SGN for a fictional game called Space Penguins. The specifications listed include platform (mobile/tablet), game genre (a tower-stacker), some win conditions (stack towers to a certain height without falling over), and a back story on why penguins need large towers of ice constructed for them. Each panelist will present their pitch for this game during the 1 p.m. panel on Aug. 1.

One of the main challenges work-for-hire studios face is finding clients with projects that the third party developer can be passionate about.

Speaking to Gamesauce, SGN Vice President of Games Jill Schneiderman (pictured) explained that the pitch outline is a bit of a “cartoonized” version of what a real company might ask of a third party work-for-hire studio. “We don’t really send out our [specifications] in writing,” she said. “We’ll say that we want to make a game on mobile that has an HD version on tablet and that we want it to be a tower stacking game with penguins. Then we want to hear what they’d do with it.”

The process of finding a work-for-hire studio is like a two-way interview, according to Schneiderman. As much as SGN interviewed Joju Games to develop its Bingo Blingo game or Plexonic for Panda Jam (pictured), Joju and Plexonic were interviewing SGN to see if their aspirations in game design aligned. One of the main challenges work-for-hire studios face is finding clients with projects that the third party developer can be passionate about. This is more important than ever, now that most casual games are launched as ongoing services; third party studios need to have enough passion to keep building for the game months after launch.

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Another challenge work-for-hire studios face is balancing time spent on personal projects versus on contract work. Many studios have a “one for them, one for us” mentality, Schneiderman explained, where they’ll take a contract to bring in money which can be spent on developing an in-house game. Not all work-for-hire studios take this approach to financing in-house development, but the steady income a work-for-hire project can provide certainly does pay the bills for many developers.

As for what Schneiderman is looking for in her panelists’ pitches, we’ll have to wait and see what the studios come up with. A year ago at Casual Connect Hamburg, Schneiderman hosted a similar panel for marketing executives crafting campaigns around a fictional game — and some of the campaigns turned out to be fairly extreme with one marketing representative wearing a zebra stripe suit out on the streets of Hamburg as part of the campaign and another convincing someone on her team to make a working prototype of the non-existent game.

If nothing else, Schneiderman hopes that the audience learns what it takes to craft a successful pitch for a company like SGN. She feels that with less money coming in to the games space from investors, work-for-hire may be a route that many developers explore toward securing funding and this panel will be a valuable business development opportunity for panelists Plexonic, Joju Games, and Large Animal Games.

“Watching the audience’s reaction is going to be the most beneficial part,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see what resonates with people.”

Find out more about Casual Connect’s lectures and sessions here.

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