Crowdfunding is an important tool for game developers of all levels these days, but it’s usage definitely comes with caveats. Before a developer pins his hopes to a crowdfunding campaign, there’s some things they should keep in mind.
When Double Fine Adventure (later renamed as Broken Age) was announced on February 8, 2012 it changed the face of video gaming. While crowdfunding had been used before for video games, it was the most successful and prominent video game ever, raising $3.3 million dollars, having at the time the most backers and raising more money than any other Kickstarter project in history. While this made headlines, it’s harder for crowdfunding campaigns to break into the news cycle now.
Sir! I’d Like To Report A Bug! follows a QA tester on a quest to destroy bugs that have escaped into the real world after a new prototype tech goes crazy. This side-scrolling platform game was made by a three-man team who took a break from their own solo projects to come together and make this pixelated adventure. Ash Morgan, the man who worked on the design and coding of the game, talks about the experience.
It’s kind of hard to believe that a bunch of moving images and a bit of music coming from a thin lump of plastic and metal can fill you with such pride. It was a Thursday evening in late July, and I had just merged some newly-created art assets with a level I had built, and put in some music. It was that moment where Sir! I’d Like To Report A Bug! was no longer a prototype, but was now an actual game in development.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s rewind to this past April.
One Crazy Idea
I’m one of those people who is always thinking up of something for a game, be it a character and their backstory, a neat little idea for a mechanic, or how one could advertise their creation. That’s why it was no surprise when I thought up the premise of a guy going to and from work while the world around him changed and glitched out like bugs in a game. Instead of just having a laugh about it and continuing my walk home, I actually started to concept how the game would look and play in my head. Later that evening, I had Unity loaded up on one screen and a tutorial on how to make a 2D platformer on the other.
I really don’t see myself in anyway as a programmer or coder, I can’t draw to save my life, and a cat can compose better music then me. This was just a bit of an experiment to see if I could actually make something, and if that something could be fun. After a few evenings of tinkering, I had a prototype on my tablet. It was nothing fancy, just a side-scroller with basic controls and some ideas I had for bugs scattered throughout some levels. Everything was basic, and the character on screen was a Mario sprite I “borrowed” from the Internet, but it was a fun few minutes of jumping and laughing at the weirdness that appeared on screen.
A few more evenings went by and I had created more. It got me thinking, “I just got a Unity license for Android, and I know about getting apps onto Google Play. Why not turn this into something and see what happens?“
Dev Team Assemble!!
As I mentioned before, I’m useless at most parts of game development. If I was going to turn this into something people could actually download and play, I would need some talent. Thankfully, I knew a bunch of talented people thanks to my days at University. After a few emails, I was able to rope in the very talented Matthew Calvert and Adam Grant. We didn’t want to spend ages talking and debating about what kind of studio we would be and how we would market ourselves. We just wanted to focus on the task at hand and make something fun.
With new blood came new ideas for levels and bugs, so we got to work coding, mixing and drawing. Production boiled down mainly to myself prototyping an idea someone came up with, Adam doing a few tester assets, and then all three of us looking at if it worked or not via nightly builds. We didn’t focus on team meetings and using fancy progress tracking software. Instead, we just shouted at each other via Facebook or texts. That makes it sound like it was an unorganized mess (and to some degree, it was), but it worked for us. We rarely wasted time due to lack of communication, and everyone knew what they were doing. If anyone had an idea, we were quick to make a prototype and try it out.
Hold On Chaps, We’ve Got a Problem
It’s a commonly unwritten rule in game development that something will blow up badly. The longer nothing goes wrong, the bigger the problem, and yes, it happened to us.
It was just after I had that moment of pride where our game no longer seemed like a crazy idea and seemed like an actual game. Level layouts were done and all the bugs were working to a degree. Some music was missing, and there were no animations, but we had a beta to test and work upon. I decided to play the game from start to finish and record what defects I ran into, so that I could get to work fixing them the next day. There was just one problem though — I had finished all ten levels of the game in less than 15 minutes!
The game had no challenge. I had died a few times on the later levels, but was still able to blitz through at break-neck speed. You could argue that because I had designed the levels, I had a huge advantage, but after letting my brother play, I could tell the game was too short. We spent ages thinking up new ideas and levels, but they just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on what we had, and now it felt like we were bolting on content just because we had to.
Then came a crazy idea – let’s make the game as hard as retro games from the 80s and 90s! We swapped out a few assets to make the game look more pixelated and tweaked the difficulty. What followed was an afternoon of swearing and raging, but the game was still fun, and it took us a lot longer to beat. We decided it was our hook: a retro-looking game with a retro difficulty to boot!
And Now For Something Completely Different
The game was nearing completion, and we started thinking about how we were going to sell it. I had seen the horrors of new studios charging, so we wanted to stay away from charging, and we couldn’t bolt on in-app purchasing, as there was nothing to buy in-game. We were stuck with either offering a donation version of the game or just offering it for free.
We were ok with giving away the game, as we weren’t really in it for the money, but at the same time, we wanted some kind of reward for our efforts and to start building up some capital for future ideas. It was here we pondered about combining the concepts of donating with crowdfunding, and thus our system of “Post-Crowdfunding” was born.
We wanted to reward players that believed in us, as well as build a sense of community around the game, so we started to plan additional content and offer it if we hit certain funding goals, much like the stretch goals on KickStarter. The system was quite basic, as it was just a link from the app that pointed to a PayPal page where players could donate, but we were excited at the fact that no one had ever tried this before. If it actually works or not remains to be seen, but we have hope in our players and the future of our little creation.
If you would like to find participate in the Post-Crowdfunding, check out their website, and find out more about the game through their Facebook.
Crowdfunding has shaken-up the games industry. Before its attendance, the main way to get the funds to make your idea was either via investors or a publisher – and both often had strong ideas about what would and would not work. Then crowdfunding burst onto the scene, with notable projects such as Double Fine Adventure and Star Citizen generating well over their asking amounts to spotlight the increasingly exciting role the player is now playing in game development. What the players are willing to fund has often turned out to be different from what publishers and investors are looking for. However, this is no route to easy money – setting up and running a successful crowdfunding operation is a major undertaking and the more being asked, the more work needs to be done to convince people to back you. In this session recorded at the Nine Worlds Geekfest 2013 in the UK, two successful Kickstarter veterans Jan Wagner (who raised over $500,000 for Shadowrun Online) and Alex Harvey (who raised over $40,000 for Tangiers, the surrealist stealth game) talk about the methods, approaches and more of their experience of crowdfunding their games.
Since its inception in 2009, the crowdfunding site Kickstarter has seen successful funding of hundreds of game-related projects. From modest one-man projects requiring only a few hundred dollars to over $8,000,000 raised by the microconsole innovator, OUYA, little doubt remains that crowdfunding, and Kickstarter in particular, is a non-trivial force in the creation of new video game content.
Big Viking Games Taps Kickstarter
London, Ontario-based Big Viking Games hopes to soon join the growing ranks of game companies that have found creative independence, funding, and community support on Kickstarter with their new project, Tiny Kingdoms – kicking off today, September 12, 2013. Founded in 2011 by Albert Lai and Greg Thomson, each individually successful social games industry innovators responsible for products like YoVille and Kontagent, Big Viking Games is “A passionate group of artists, designers, and engineers that love making great games as a part of a great team.” Big Viking pursues success through cross platform mobile and social game experiences based on HTML5. For more information about HTML5, make sure to check out Chris Shankland’s talk on The Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development from Casual Connect USA in San Francisco.
So in the crowded world of crowdfunding, what makes Tiny Kingdoms stand out? First – a clear focus on User Generated Content as value of the community experience that comes with any good Kickstarter program. The campaign promises future backers that, “Through this Kickstarter campaign, you will not just be helping to fund this project, you will be helping us create it! We want to reinvent the game design process, and change what it means to be a funder. You will receive game updates, dev diaries and partake in polls which will determine the nature of future game assets.”
The message is further re-enforced by the company’s press messaging which states,”…what really makes this game different from any other is the way players will be able to influence the development of the game, with unprecedented access to the game creation process. When players become backers in this campaign, they will help craft the vision and direction of the game, along with the developers at Big Viking. They will be given the opportunity to offer ideas and feedback on characters, environments, items, features and tactical gameplay modes. Big Viking sees the backers becoming part of a tight knit development team, as they experience rare insight into the development process. To facilitate this process, Big Viking will host live chats, provide designer diary updates and conduct polls throughout development. This feedback will begin when the game reaches beta and will continue through and after launch as the game evolves.”
Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking, sees this as a unique opportunity for players to leave their mark on the game and build the game they really want to play, saying, “We want our fans to go beyond just pledging their dollars to also lend their ideas and creativity. The ultimate goal will be to re-imagine the way players interact with game developers, through both Kickstarter and collaborative online platforms.”
Second – a very modest initial funding goal of $50,000 coupled with the wide variety and professional polish of the assets developed to kick off the Kickstarter campaign suggests that while Big Viking Games could potentially bring this game to market on their own, they genuinely see value in letting consumers behind the curtain to become a part of the creative process. While a few thousand extra CAD isn’t anything a successful games industry indie is likely to turn away, it’s clear to anyone familiar with the genre Tiny Kingdoms occupies that both Albert and Greg conceive of a game that is far, far bigger than $50k will buy. In a super-savvy move, the founders of Big Viking appear to tap the passion of the games crowdfunding community to guide their offering AND build their foundational community at the same time. The low funding threshold also virtually guarantees funding success while compelling stretch goals like free new characters, Co-Op and PvP Multiplayer functionality give ample ammunition for convincing their backers to pony up to the next level for those popular features.
Third – virality is built in from the very beginning. Tapping into the natural social component of today’s games, the RPG genre, and the crowdfunding community, Big Viking has built in social benefits even before the game is available by rewarding backers with bonus “buddy” rewards to share with friends. Clearly, the folks at Big Viking understand that gamers, especially midcore online and mobile gamers, want to share the love with their gamer friends, and in doing so, promote the Kickstarter campaign to the exact market most likely to find value in it. With this core understanding of the power of virality and the gamer’s social networks, Greg, Al, and their team can surely expect to build strong social features into the game as well, completing and perpetuating social positive-feedback loops that enhance Tiny Kingdoms’ growth.
More about Tiny Kingdoms
Tiny Kingdoms is a free-to-play, RPG adventure game for mobile and social platforms. In this game, players take on the role of adventurers on a quest to prove their worthiness to become the next ruler of the kingdom. To do this they must defeat deadly creatures through hundreds of strategic battles as they conquer the most insurmountable odds. They will have to choose a tactical team, craft items and weapons and find the loot that will strengthen their warriors. The powerful enemies in this gameplay can only be defeated through tactical strategy, item and weapon crafting and obtaining the amazing loot. The game is built using HTML5, which allows player to seamlessly play across different platforms, such as Facebook and their mobile devices.
To learn more or to contribute to the campaign, visit Kickstarter. To learn more about Big Viking games, visit their website.