I gave your studio $20 to Kickstart this game and now you’re telling us that you’re making another game at the same time? And you need to Kickstart that one too? You suck! Stop working on other projects! You have an obligation to finish the game you started! Oh, and why are you selling the alpha on Steam early access? Those people shouldn’t get the same deal the Kickstarter pledges did! I’ll never trust Kickstarter, early access, or your company again! Please send me some free swag.
After the jump, what happens when regular Joes see how game companies actually work?
One of the more interesting aspects of the new early access indie crowd-funded industry norm is the two-way communication that this kind of relationship requires. People agree to fund projects for a peek into the “sausage factory” of game development, perhaps getting a chance to influence the direction of the game, and developers agree to take feedback and be more transparent with their processes. Both parties hope to eventually get a finished game out of the deal.
Unfortunately, this open communication sometimes results in animosity rather than strengthening ties. Normal events that were once handled behind closed doors like adjusting aspects of gameplay, drastic balance changes, and even project restarts, are now out in the open for everyone to see. With good communication, early access players can “buy in” on these developments by supplying feedback and seeing their input discussed. But even the most careful messaging from studios is apt to be misinterpreted by zealous fans as dire signs of a project in trouble. These sentiments can leak out into the general public causing a ripple effect on potential customers of the finished project.
Rust has already had its share of setbacks. The open-world survival game needed to be restarted and now Facepunch Studios has announced that they have begun working on another game. Riftlight, a space shooter with action roleplaying loot elements, was revealed and the reaction from Rust players has not been pleasant. Fans have expressed disappointment that Rust, already in need of work, is seemingly being set aside in favor of another project that will suck resources away from a product the players have paid for via Steam early access. Studio head Garry Newman tried to dismiss these concerns with rhetorical questions.
Are we crazy? Are we doing it wrong? Should every person in the company be working on the same thing? Should HBO make one TV show at a time? Should Warner Brothers make one movie at a time?
Newman explained that Rust is being worked on daily, updates are reported on Twitter, and that Riftlight is not taking resources away from any other project. He then clarified his position on early access.
Some commenters have expressed their feelings that they ‘funded’ Rust and we’re running off with the money. None of this sentence is true. We funded Rust for 1-2 years before it eventually became what it is. You bought early access to it. When you buy a pizza you aren’t funding Dominos, you’re just buying a pizza.
People were quick to point out that Dominos is a much larger operation than Facepunch, and that buying pizza from them does actually “fund” the company through the profits. Newman commented to Eurogamer that only 0.04% of revenue from Rust went to fund other projects in development at Facepunch, including Riftlight. Some purchasers of Rust have taken to social media to protest the recent notes by Newman, and aren’t content with his explanations. Demands include ceasing work on all other projects and going back to Rust exclusively.
Another studio that’s been criticized for working on more than one early access game at a time is Double Fine Productions. Tim Schafer’s studio held the record for the most successful Kickstarter for a long time with their Broken Age crowd-funding effort. At the same time, Double Fine is working on early access game Space Base DF-9, a Kickstarter for Massive Chalice, and Hack ‘n’ Slash which is also available on Steam early access.
But what happened to Broken Age? The first half of the point & click adventure was released in January 2014, but the second half’s development seems to have halted while these other projects get attention. Despite having a documentary series on the development made as part of the initial Broken Age crowd-funding promise, and saying Act 2 of the game was already funded thanks to sales of Act 1, not much else has been heard since the half-launch.
“We’ve made enough that we can make the second half of the game for sure.”
Double Fine is likely in a good spot financially. They recently confirmed indie hit Costume Quest 2 for current systems, last-gen consoles, and PCs. The studio’s publishing arm, Double Fine Presents, already inked deals for Mountain and Escape Goat 2, despite having been announced in May.
Fans anxious to get back to the dual realities of Broken Age will have to wait until Double Fine gives more information. Although the developer did post a small update at the beginning of July, and another a few days ago, grumblings from impatient gamers have been vocal and spirited.
Another company that’s been accused of divided priorities is inXile Entertainment. The company has two large high-profile roleplaying games in development. Torment: Tides of Numenera, based on a pen and paper roleplaying game by Monte Cook, and Wasteland 2, a sequel to the 1988 original PC game, are both being developed at the same time. Unfortunately, for gamers looking to hack and slash their way through Numenera, they’ll have to wait for wasteland bandits to get their fun first. The release date for Torment was pushed back to fourth quarter 2015, in favor of working on Wasteland 2.
So, where are we on Torment then? During the last week of our Kickstarter, we had adjusted our target launch date to the first half of 2015. And last December, in Update 27, I mentioned that timeline was still feasible, but that Torment’s schedule remained in flux until all became clear with Wasteland 2. Wasteland 2’s success in Early Access allowed us to spend more time improving it, which also meant we had more time in preproduction on Torment. We’ve had more time to prototype, improve tools, iterate on our processes, etc. before entering full production. This has been a great thing for everything… except for our release date.
Fans eager to explore Numenera have been partially placated by the news that the extra development time will be used to improve the game and share technology with studio partner Obsidian and their crowd-funded RGP, Pillars of Eternity. Still, the news of the delay came as a bitter pill to many that have seen other Kickstarter projects flounder.
Speaking of floundering, Yogventures!, the crowd-funded game sponsored by popular Youtube channel Yogscast, has been scuttled and all pledges will be transferred to another game. The developer of the failed game, Winterkewl Studios, has admitted that development was marred by inept business practices, missed deadlines, and a deteriorating relationship to Yogscast, but they claim all the Kickstarter money was spent on development – except for $150,000 that was sent directly to the Yogscast partners for a contractual payment.
“I wish more than anything I would have had this fore-knowledge before we ever began this project. If we would have limited the scope and made a solid plan for working more closely with the Yogscast I have every faith this project would have been a real stand-out achievement in the Indie Game world. However, if you promise the world and don’t take into account the amount of time and resources you really need to make good on those promises you find yourself in a position where you can’t move forward without more funds but you can’t generate more funds without moving forward.”
At this point, donators have been left in the lurch while Winterkewl and Yogscast point fingers at each other. The backer reaction has been brutal. TUG, the proposed replacement early access game, seems to be in better shape than Yogventures! ever was, but the fact remains that backers of the initial project aren’t getting what they pledged to support. TUG may turn out to be a better game in the end. Certainly, the influx of new players will be able to supply more feedback during development, but as we’ve seen, it can be a double-edged sword to have more people playing your game while you try to run a studio.
Indie game companies are learning what larger publisher-backed studios have known for years. Fans can be your greatest boon and your worst enemies. Open communication can be the best way to get feedback to adjust gameplay, but that very openness can result in negativity. This is especially true when laymen misunderstand how businesses work and what the realities of game development can look like. It turns out that people avoid looking too closely at sausage-making because it can be a bit off-putting to the appetite.