These days the game Interstellar Marines is making news. It’s an FPS that rivals top titles like Halo but it started out as a four-man project in 2006 and is entirely funded by the community. The game is available for free as chunk-size bites called chapters that can be played for free. And it’s being developed with Unity, probably the leading game development framework for indie developers.
Interstellar Marines – unbelievable but crowdfunded!
The successes seen by crowdfunded games have created a demand that several crowdfuning websites try to fill. The latest addition is GamesPlant, founded by game business experts where projects can be created in any currency and relies on the Paypal platform.
Other indie game crowdfunding platforms include 8-Bit Funding, the Indie Fund (only selected projects) and Playism (Japanese, english version in Q3 2011). Of course there are more general purpose platforms that have also worked for games, like Kickstarter (creative projects), RocketHub (creative projects), Pledgie (general purpose) and Indie GoGo (general purpose).
Should you aim for a crowdfund?
One indie developer nails it down to driving traffic. Obviously, just putting your game up on a crowdfunding platform and hoping for the best isn’t going to work. Hope is not a strategy. I cringe when someone uses the “hope” word in a sentence about the future of anything. If you have to rely on hope, you could as well start playing the lottery.
Driving traffic is the core issue, and I believe many developers seem to forget that. You have to have a website dedicated to your project and depending on where you are in your development cycle, it should be a seperate website apart from your personal blog and past projects.
You can have lots of “fans” of your project in someone else’s forum or website. But ultimately you want that traffic to go to your website. And once you have that, you can start thinking about funding your project. If you have a tight-knit community, then donations or pre-orders might work great for you. Or any of the other funding options. Or you could try crowdfunding as your primary option and simply direct your fans and drive your traffic to the crowdfunding website. It’s rarely going to be the other way around.
In any case, you will have to drive the traffic to the desired destination. Traffic does not come by itself, and without traffic there is no funding and no revenue. And for crowdfunding specifically, the more you have to show from your game the more likely it is that you are going to see a return in investment. It’s a constant give and take. Don’t expect to take first, then give sometime later. It’s the other way around, and this may be the ultimate misunderstanding of crowdfunding.
You do have to make payments in advance yourself. Without investing anything you won’t be getting anything back in return. That initial investment doesn’t have to be money though, it’ll be time and dedication that you’ll have to invest at a minimum. And you’ll have to show that with convincing screenshots, trailers, podcasts or vodcasts, frequent blog posts and so on. Convincing in two ways: one, you’ll be able to pull this off and show enough dedication for the project. Two, the game should promise to be fun and exciting and offer something new or refreshing.
Those are the ingredients for starting a game that can’t be completed without external financial support.
Prerequisites To (Crowd) Funding
I believe investments are often misunderstood by those who have never received an investment. To receive investment of any form, you first have to invest yourself. Quite literally: invest your time into the project, and if you can, your money. The more you do the more you show dedication. That’s step 1.
If you can’t possibly finance the whole game and you have to have an investment of some kind, your focus immediately has to shift from programming and creating game content to marketing. Only program and create content that you can show the world in some form or another. Anything that creates interest or buzz. A randomly generated world. A fun-to-watch teaser trailer. Anything you can make a story off of.
You will have to market something that doesn’t exist yet, except in your dreams and in your mind. I think this is giving some developers a bad stomach feeling, after all you’re taking money from others just on a promise. If you have that feeling, please re-consider your dedication for the project. If you don’t know whether you’ll be able to keep your promises and deliver, you may not be as invested in the project and convinced of yourself as you need to be. That’s what I mean by investing yourself.
Of course there will always be phases of doubts, so don’t stop on the first sign of doubt but know when you have to stop. Your best cure will be to keep on working. If needed work on something else that you’re not currently stuck on. I always have something else to work on, and some other website to post on, in order to be able to shift focus and just keep on working on something I feel like working on at the moment.
Make progress as often as you can – contrary to common project management wisdom what you work on does not always have to be goal-oriented or even useful. After all, we’re in a creative business, and creativity can not be had if you strictly follow instructions – whether they’re your own or someone else’s (your boss, your investor, your community). Just don’t piss them off too much. Quick bit of wisdom: it is much easier to apologize afterwards with something to show for than it is to ask for permission with only a promise and potential risks.
Finally, show that progress. That’s step 2. Rinse and repeat step 2 for as long as it gives you enough satisfaction. Notice that I said satisfaction, not revenue – unless your investor(s) call(s) for that. In which case you’ll have to be 100% ok with revenue generation being your central goal from the get-go. Don’t expect to be able to mix pleasure and business – it can happen but you can hardly ever plan for that, and business has a tendency to take away pleasure and fun from a project in the long run.
Luckily, in that regard you’re mostly off the hook if you use crowdfunding. And I believe that’s where its power lies – it requires a good connection between customers and developers from the start.
What’s The Best Investment Option?
Plain and simple: invest in yourself. Everything else follows from that.
Take a time-out if needed to focus on other things. Don’t feel bad about that. Continuing to work for the wrong reasons and despite growing discomfort will result in the ultimate failure – be aware of the warning signs!
Burnout can happen everywhere, not just in big corporations!
A few days ago, I received an email from an Indie developer who are about to release their game. They were looking for ways to promote their game. So far, nothing special.
Except: their game is! Made with Game Maker, in development since 2006, featuring Online-Coop-Action in a game that on first sight looks like Diablo-gameplay meeting Asian RPG art. You might want to watch the game trailer before we proceed (and to know why I suggested to them on Twitter to call the game a “Diablo-Killer” in order to increase their chances of getting noticed) …
Wanderlust: Rebirth Trailer
I talked with (well, email-interviewed) Jason Gordy and Matthew Griffin of Team Wanderlust, two of the four developers of the online action RPG game Wanderlust: Rebirth. Together they provide intruiging behind-the-scenes details about the game’s development.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Wanderlust, and why did that happen specifically on a Xmas Eve in 2006?
[JASON]: In September of 2006, we were messing around with the idea of creating a Nintendo DS game, which is why you now see that we have “two screens” in the final game. Shortly after starting this “DS project”, we decided to make it a PC game. This decision was made on Christmas Eve, 2006.
Q: The game’s subtitle is Rebirth, was there a “regular” Wanderlust and what happened to that?
[MATT]: The primary reason for the “Rebirth” subtitle is that this game is a re-design (from scratch) of our original Wanderlust title, “Wanderlust: The Online Adventure”. There are even Youtube videos of our original game on Jason’s Youtube account (d2king10). (see: Wanderlust videos dating back to 2006: 1, 2, 3)
Other reasons for the subtitle include:
- Re-forming of Team Wanderlust (Jason Gordy and Matthew Griffin) after a brief breakup to pursue other ideas.
- A consideration that we may, later on, do more Wanderlust games set in a different time period or with a different story, yet in the same ‘world’; we wanted to have the potential to build a “brand” (i.e. Final Fantasy or Dungeons & Dragons).
- ‘Rebirth’ has subtle connections with elements of the game’s story
Hacking and slashing in a dungeon
(more screenshots of Wanderlust: Rebirth)
Q: Did you have any game development experience prior to Wanderlust?
[JASON]: We both had years of experience working on games, just not on any professional, published titles.
[MATT]: This is an interesting question for me. As Jason said, we both had worked on our own indie projects prior to working on “Rebirth”. I released a couple simple games called “Puckbang” and “Moon Turret” (both of which can be downloaded using the Wanderlust updater). I also worked within the Game Maker Community to release libraries that would help other members create online games easier.
Jason and I have tried to get our “foot in the door” in the game industry, but we are always shot down because we have “no experience”. Unfortunately for us, we’re stuck in some sort of, game-designer-experience paradox as a result: there is no way for someone to get their first job in the game industry while already having experience! It is a logical contradiction (I have a Philosophy B.A. so I know about these kinds of things)! We decided, long ago, that we make the games that we wanted to make, and eventually decided to sell them, too. Wanderlust is our first major release as a team.
Q: Did you develop the game in your free time?
[JASON]: We both did. I was still in High School when we started working on it. Now, I have a B.F.A. in Animation. I missed a few days of school due to lack of sleep from working on the game the night before, but it was worth it!
[MATT]: When we started on the game, I had just gone back to college. I already had a Programming A.S. but I wanted a B.A.. You can accomplish a lot in 4.5 years! Essentially, we both earned our degrees and created a video game in our spare time!
“Let’s Play” Wanderlust: Rebirth with the Developers playing coop mode
Q: Why did you choose to use Game Maker?
[JASON]: Six or seven years ago, this was the program of choice for a lot of young 2D-Gaming developers. Plus, Matt and I met through Game Maker in one of his projects (an online, 2D MMO). I bug him every day to try 3D programming, though!
[MATT]: I have always had great interest in online game programming, but my Programming Degree was for Windows Applications only; I don’t have the background to work with DirectX (which was my only other option back then, really). Basically, I’m dependent on an object-oriented development environment, so Game Maker and I were made for each other.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to address a stigma about Game Maker. People who play Wanderlust: Rebirth are often skeptical that we used Game Maker to create it, because the perception of Game Maker is that it cannot produce high-quality titles like Wanderlust. Well, I am here to say that if you “know what you are doing” (and I’m not even the most technically apt Game Maker user), you can still accomplish a lot with it! The greatness of the game depends on the the developer, not the engine (or even platform) being used to create the game!
Q: Would you work on updates and future games full-time if the revenue allows it?
[BOTH]: OH HECK YEAH!
[JASON]: We’ve already been tossing around some ideas for our next project. Additionally, if Wanderlust is popular enough, or if the support is there, we’d love to continue the Wanderlust franchise!
[MATT]: As an indie developer, we have to generate income outside of our game. However, we’d love nothing more than to be able to take a break from our day-jobs and work on Wanderlust (or other titles) full-time. I can honestly say that money has never been a driving force in the development of Wanderlust, though we welcome the prospect of earning a living off of our video games!
Q: With almost five years in development, where did you get the motivation to keep working on the game? Did you ever feel like giving up?
[JASON]: I can say, for myself, there were times when I thought Wanderlust wouldn’t “see the light of day”, but I have a very supportive family and girlfriend; every time I mentioned the game, they’d motivate me to continue. Also, being a part of the development process is itself a huge motivation. As an artist, it’s really interesting to see my creations come to life when Matt codes them in. And last but certainly not least, the fans motivate me! We have some people who have been following our game for more than three years now! Clearly, our fans (at Reflectgames.com) are crazy, but if it wasn’t for them I don’t think Wanderlust would have come as far as it has.
[MATT]: Personally, I always knew that this game would be finished, especially after Jason completed all the artwork (late 2009). I knew it was just a matter of time; I just wasn’t sure when. The primary motivation, for me, has always been to finally play a great co-op RPG; one that would require players to work together, and where the success of the group is dependent on the skill of the player (and not the strength of the character). On the surface, Wanderlust seems like a “Diablo-clone”, but in reality, Wanderlust is truly unique in the RPG genre. When Jason and I want to play a co-op RPG, we don’t play Too Human. We don’t play Borderlands. We don’t play Secret of Mana. We don’t play Diablo… we play Wanderlust: Rebirth!
Criticals couldn’t be more critical!
Q: Tell me about the most exciting moment during development. What made it so exciting?
[JASON]: Mine is RIGHT NOW. With the marketing of the game, Wanderlust could be successful or it could fly under the radar. And there’s a huge luck factor! Pretty much, it’s the idea of waking up every morning and checking my email to see if a new site has covered our game, or wants to do an interview for us, etc. I was really excited to see an email from indiepinion.com this morning!
[MATT]: It is an exciting time for all indie-game developers and the indie-community as a whole; there’s a lot more attention being paid to indie games due to the success of titles like Minecraft and Terraria. We hope we can add to the growing list of quality indie titles this year with our game!
Q: What was really, really hard or time-consuming to get right or working?
[JASON]: [LAUGHS] All of it! Specifically for me, the Final Boss was a pain! First, I created and animated a 3D model. Then I created the 2D sprite frames on top of the rendering of the 3D model! I doubt anyone will believe me, but the vast majority of my sprite-work was done in Microsoft Paint! That is probably why I have aching hands and fingers, now!
[MATT]: Working with Jason… [LAUGHS] Besides that, most things only took me a couple days to code in the engine. Other than debugging (which has probably left a permanent hand-print on my forehead by now), the only thing I can think of that took longer and required a larger amount of testing would be the Final Boss. It is, by far, the most complicated entity in our game. Plus, making an online game only complicates things further.
Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to today’s boss fight!
Q: What went wrong during development and what would you do differently looking back?
[JASON]: Development has been pretty smooth other than some hiccups in our personal lives interfering with it. After working on the original Wanderlust: Online Adventure, we took a look at what went wrong with that game and did things differently for Wanderlust: Rebirth.
[MATT]: Looking back at the past couple of months, when I finished coding chapters 5-10, I’m a bit shocked at how “little” was left to be completed in the game! I could have had this game done a year ago if I had known I could get the last half of the game done so quickly. There’s also the matter of how we went about soliciting help from outside sources. Since we weren’t getting paid to work on the game, we couldn’t really afford to pay our contributors, but I would say the ways I dealt with our contributors (without getting into the gory details) could have been better. With that said, I believe they all know that we are grateful for their support, and everyone who has put work into making our dream a reality will receive proper credit and support from us in their future endeavors.
Q: Likewise, what went right?
[MATT]: So many thing need to “go right” in order for any game to see a release. I mean, look at Duke Nukem Forever, Alien’s: Colonial Marines, True Fantasy Live Online… These are professional titles that have struggled to be released! Releasing a game is challenging, at any level.
Additionally, working in teams can be tricky. Unfortunately in gaming, it’s all but mandatory (with very few exceptions). A lot of young game-design-hopefuls believe that they have the ‘greatest idea ever‘ and that they’ll be a lone-wolf and become a multi-millionaire by using Game Maker to create their dream game; I know, I was there once, as well. An important part of becoming successful is having some sort of humbling experience, where you realize that by yourself, you’ll never be able to create that dream title. Jason and I, despite having our differences at times, make a really effective team because of our skillsets and work ethic. To create a game like Wanderlust by oneself… I can’t even imagine it.
Don’t pay the ferryman … but consider paying the developers!
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
The development of Wanderlust: Rebirth has been largely community-oriented. We love when our fans get involved and give us feedback! Consequently, a great number of their suggestions have influenced the final product you’ll be playing on June 1st! Help us finish the game by participating in the Open Beta, by visiting our website www.wanderlustgame.com this coming Wednesday, June 1st! We’ll see you all online!
Thank you, Indiepinion, for giving us this opportunity to speak about our game and its development. We hope everyone loves the game as much as we do!
You’re welcome and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! If you like to support the Wanderlust team and help them promote their game, you should check out the “4 the win” competition.