Time for some straight talk: Release Raptor is being pulled and refunded.

First up: as promised, Alpha 16 is now out.  This includes fixes, improved and extended AI, a new robot, and a minimap.

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In A Nutshell, What’s Up?

I’m going to give all the customers of In Case of Emergency, Release Raptor a full refund and let them keep the game, then take the game off sale.  The game is selling extremely poorly, even below what happened with Starward Rogue.

Isn’t Part Of Early Access “Don’t Make A Game You Rely On EA Sales For?”

Yes, this is very true.  However, I stated upfront that our reason for doing EA with this game was partly as a market survey of sorts.  I felt like that would be a way of determining how big this game could get.  With Starward Rogue, and indeed some of our other past commercial failures, we put in everything and the kitchen sink and then there wasn’t a market there.

I never expected that one option even on the table with this one would be “actually don’t do it at all,” because the premise is incredibly exciting to me and seemed like something other people would also be very interested in.  But just from the concept alone, we have a lot of pushback from press; and despite some quite positive coverage from some reasonably biggish youtubers, that isn’t moving the needle at all.

We don’t need Release Raptor to be our sole source of income, or even our largest one.  However, if it’s going to be our largest expense it also has to vaguely earn its keep or at least show the promise that it will someday do so.  That’s what is missing here.

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Why Not Just Build Out A Stripped-Down Version 1.0 That Is Worth $5?

I honestly don’t think there’s any way that a lot of people wouldn’t be left grumbling at that.  I personally will also lose far more money trying to do that than I already am, and probably some of what little staff we have left would have to be released.  It’s just far, far too risky.  I’d rather be known for honorably pulling a game than slapping a 1.0 sticker on something — whether or not that experience is worth $5 or not, we both know the perception would be there.

So Are You Untrustworthy, Or What?

The immediate idea is probably to think “wow they delayed it a ton and then are possibly canceling it right after it comes into EA?”

My response to that is that this is exactly how you want a game company to comport itself.  I held back the game while I didn’t feel like there was enough there for other people to catch the vision I have for what it would turn into.  I’m not going to take anybody’s money and run; in fact, I’m going to eat a big fat loss out of it and you get a free game if you bought it.

You can certainly argue that I have overreached or have at least misjudged the market in several instances, but I’m not going to sell you a turd and call it ice cream.

1_MmSoda

Is Release Raptor A Bad Game?

I certainly don’t think so, in any form.  I play it, and it gives me a feeling of joy.  I just love going through and doing things with the raptor.  It has an elemental fun factor to it that myself and a number of other people have reacted well to.  I thought that it would be enough to provide this, and then the promise of more enemies and tactics and whatnot (sheesh that’s what we’re known for, people ought to have some faith in THAT bit if nothing else).

That said, people have different degrees of warm feelings toward the controls.  That doesn’t help.  People have different reactions to the environments.  Etc.

ConstructionSite

Was This Just Youtuber Bait?

No.  This is a project that I freaking love, and that is based around my favorite animal (velociraptors).  It’s something I very, very much wanted to see happen.

That said, I won’t deny that the idea of a game that appealed to a larger audience and more easily picked up video views was an attractive one.  I even considered calling this “Raptor Simulator,” to the dismay of my staff.

This was never intended to be like Goat Simulator (which I’ve never played, but my understanding is that it’s a silly bug-fest just centered around messing about and not doing anything).  I figured we might be able to pick up some of the Goat Simulator crowd since you CAN come in here and just mess about, but what I didn’t realize was that this would create a stigma that would lead people to then to think it’s more vapid than it is.

Which, launching with less content in terms of enemies and tactical situations than I would like, only reinforced that perception I suppose.  “There’s not enough to do” is probably the number one complaint, and I thought I had made that clear enough from the start.  And we’ve been managing daily updates with substantial new content, which I think is pretty darn impressive.

Then plan was to put out more content in a month than most other EA games put out in a year, and just keep on trucking with it.  We’ve done it before with other games, multiple times, and it’s something we were well geared-up to do this time, too.

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What Went Wrong?

I… am not entirely sure, honestly.  People’s perception of this was not matching up to what it was, partly.  Also I suppose I should have made more grandiose claims and been mysterious and vague instead of transparent and clear.  It’s way more exciting when you don’t know what’s going on and “it could be anything — it could be EVERYTHING!!”

I’m all for enthusiasm, but hype is not something I really like.  We had a lot of hype for A Valley Without Wind, and that burned the company and myself in some fairly profound ways.  So I’m really wary of hype; that was our one game that had it, and it was distinctly unpleasant.  Well, okay: I guess there’s also hype around Stars Beyond Reach at the moment, which is another project of ours that I refuse to release yet because I don’t think it’s good enough yet.

Ultimately I don’t think it can be blamed on any one thing.  I do know that in the past — going back to 2014 with the release of The Last Federation, and then everything before it — we made almost all of our sales via Steam and people finding our stuff on Steam.  We’d see a bump in sales for a few hours after a Kotaku piece or a Total Biscuit video, and literally no other website or youtuber made any bump that we could discern.

Being on the front page of Steam was the big thing.  We’ve had one title in the past that have reached the #6 top seller spot on Steam as a whole (IIRC it was The Last Federation), and multiple titles that have hit the top 10 sellers on Steam as a whole (even A Valley Without Wind).

It used to be super concerning if we weren’t in the top 20 bestsellers on Steam for at least a day or two, and when we dropped down into the 60s on overall game sales it was basically game over until the next discount promotion.  Discount promotions, even as recently as 2015, had more weight behind them, too.  The lack of gamification of recent seasonal sales has been bad for the small developers, in my opinion.

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Overall the market is more crowded now, and gaining visibility is harder.  We tried advertising this time, but we literally spent more money today on advertising than the game made.  Win!!  So this is some sort of New Market now, anyhow, with something approaching the App Store effect that we’ve seen on Apple devices.  I was incredibly paranoid that would happen going all the way back to 2009, and then I gradually got less worried about it, and now here we are.  How many indie developers do you know of who have made more than one or two games at this point?  That’s a bit scary to think about.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the market, obviously: in some ways, opportunities are larger now than they ever were.  And it’s certainly a better market now than in mid-2009 when I first started out with AI War.  So it’s certainly not all market forces, and I don’t mean to imply that.

At the end of the day, for whatever combination of reasons, this doesn’t seem to be the right game at the right time.  Might we pick this project back up in the future?  I’d like to think so.  As I said, this is a personal passion of mine (raptors), not some Goat Simulator knockoff to me.  But such is life.

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What Next, Then?

One of my core conclusions from this, despite how much I have tried to defy this my entire career as a game developer, is that folks pretty much just want strategy games from me/us.  This is not all I want to do!  I want to make games where you shoot things, and games where you’re a raptor, and all sorts of other things!  I have varied interests and tastes, and I don’t want to do one thing for the rest of my life.

That said, given the choice between leaving the industry and making strategy games, the choice there is freaking obvious.  I absolutely love making games, despite the many negative sides to it.  So that’s what we’ll do: we’ll make you another strategy game.

Lab Two Reactor

Specifically, we’ll go back to the game that is still our top seller, AI War: Fleet Command, and we’re going to do a proper updated sequel.  But at this point I can’t afford to do half a year or a year of development “on spec” to then find out if you’re interested or not.  So we’ll likely run a Kickstarter for this, as much as I’ve avoided Kickstarters and never wanted to do one.  And if that doesn’t work out in a way that feels financially safe, then there are some other options on the table, too.

At any rate, people have been clamoring for this for years: an AI War sequel with a better UI, better performance, better networking, better graphics, moddability, and so on.  We’re now in a position where we know how to do all those things, and goodness knows we know how to make AI War better than we know how to make anything else under the sun.  That’s our freaking bread and butter right there.

I suppose there will be some people who are thinking “yay, end of the stupid raptor game, and we get the AI War sequel that has been quietly talked about for a year or so now!”  And if that’s how you feel, fine.  But you were going to get that anyway, and I just wish that I also got to make this raptor game to go along with it.

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Be Wary Of Knee-Jerk Reactions

It’s very tempting for me to blame the state of the market, or whatever other external forces.  Really it was a combination of things.  So I have to be pretty careful of not giving in to negative emotions on my side.

On the other end, as an outside observer I hope that you also look at this for what it really is, and not the knee-jerk reaction that you might have.  I am the Anti-Sean (cough).  I will treat you fairly, communicate clearly and often, release frequent substantial updates (just look at our history), and try to over-deliver.  This is what you want.

In an ideal world nobody ever makes a mistake.  In the actual world, we have to think about how we want people to behave when mistakes inevitably do happen.  I am sorry this had to happen, though.  I wish it would magically change, but we’re well past that point I think.  I want to take a moment to thank everyone that did support the project, though — it really meant a heck of a lot to me.

Very Best,

Chris

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32 Responses to “Time for some straight talk: Release Raptor is being pulled and refunded.”

  1. Nargasse says:

    Pretty sad post for sure. I like all what you did, and even if AI war is probably one of my favourite game of all time, i really like all you did experimenting, and had fun with every one of your game (well, maybe not TLF, did’nt get the feeling with this one). Your post remember me one of Winter wolf, another company from wich i read the blog. And it’s pretty much the same thing : The guy explain that experimental games that he have fun making are not worth enough, and that he must come back to something more streamlined and safe to make a living. That make me sad, but anyway, i’ll keep following you anywhere. Still my favorite indie companie ever.
    Just never forget to have fun. :)

    • Chris Park says:

      Thank you! And I have been having a blast for the last month or two despite all the stress. This raptor game was seriously fun to make.

  2. Vinco says:

    Chris,

    I’m sorry to hear that the game isn’t going to work out. I’m one of the early people who grabbed the game and bounced off hard, not finding anything which jumped out to me as “fun”. However, I know how Arcen develops games, and was looking forward to checking it out again in a month or two to play a completely different game. I’m sad that won’t happen, but I’m very glad that the studio will survive this experiment.

    That being said, consider me in for a significant reward level in the AI War sequel kickstarter. Arcen’s one of my favorite studios, and I’m looking forward to getting the AI War sequel a bit earlier.

  3. I will admit, up front, that as a consumer I have never really been fully on board with this Raptor game. Yes, it definitely captures a sense of fun, but in terms of gameplay content – verbs by which the player can interact with the world – it is fairly limited. For games with very limited environments and intentionally limited play times, that can be a positive boon but coupled with procedural generation and theoretically unlimited play times you get into a situation where the game simply can’t support the attention from the player as the developer would like. Because of how early Raptor was released in the development cycle, that was going to hit sooner than it might otherwise.

    No matter how excited you as a developer get about a project, the truth is it has to hit at the right time for the market, at the right time for your development skills and art skills, at the right time regarding what everyone else is making to be a hit. Raptor is just not in the place for it. On the positive side, it has been very clear over the last 16 updates that you as a coder, an engineer, and an artist have come a long way and learned a lot of things from the project – so if it helps, you can recontextualize the money that you threw after the game as costs for training because that’s exactly what it’s been.

    For myself, I find it a lot easier to get excited about an update for AI War than it was for me to get excited about Raptor. Nobody is really doing anything like AI War. While there is a lot of development in space building games like Space Engineers, Dual Universe, etc., the specific twist on the 4X game that AIW provides is just untouched. The closest (and that’s being generous) experience available is in Stellaris – and that’s a very different, though equally excellent, game.

    Take all this new experience of UI, player focus, more polished environment and means by which the player interacts with the world and bring it back to AIW. For the folks who love the game, give us an interface that doesn’t look like it escaped from the early 90s, with graphics which have a little more ability to be distinguished in the heat of the moment, and the same focus on the scalable single player/multiplayer experience in an environment that very much responds to your actions and choices.

    That was always one of the things that stood out to me as a player when it came to AIW: it’s not a 4X where I am going out into the universe and changing it, and it lets me. In AIW, I am a part of a galactic ecology and what I’m really trying to do is nudge – just nudge – part of it at the time so that it creates a feedback loop with my actions and things get steered just a little bit more toward where I want to be. There is an active, almost stately feedback loop in the gameplay of AIW. It’s building to something, whether that be the eradication of the last of humanity or the eventual guaranteed survival of the species, or maybe just the next major exchange between humanity and alien species in the shadow of the AI threat. There’s a real narrative loop there, and I think that may be part of why it is such an enduring product from Arcen Games.

    Raptor can always be put on the shelf then brought back out when the time is right for it again. You’ve done the right thing by deciding that the project is currently nonviable and refunding the money involved. It’s one of the most selfless but correct actions I’ve seen a developer pursue in quite some time. Any creative knows, and every engineer knows, that one of the only ways to learn how to do something right is to fail early and often. You want a new idea to get shaken out and tested, but if it’s going to fail you want it to fail as early as possible so that you can put it away and start on the next project that itself might fail, but every time you learn something new.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready to learn the next new thing along with you.

  4. Jon Rose says:

    I’d like to add my two cents here, because I really care about your games.

    AI war and Last Fed are two of my favorite PC games in the last decade, and will likely end of up on my favorites of all time list. I have played many of your other games (I pretty much insta-bought most of the library on the strength of AI War alone.) I am going to be honest here: I really didn’t much care for the rest.

    Here is why:

    First, I am not primarily a strategy gamer, though I enjoy the genre greatly, so I do not think it is the fact that people (like myself) only want strategy games from you. Sure, AI War II will be amazing, and by all means make that game, I will buy it twice… but your other games did not fail financially because they are not strategy titles.

    They failed because they did not represent your what people have come to expect from you and Arcen games, which are four main things:

    1. Complexity, 2. Emergent Gameplay, 3. Originality, and 4. Depth.

    Both of your flagship strategy games do exactly this. They are bottomless wells of deep, thoughtful, intricate game play that could quite easily keep you playing for decades. No two games the same, nothing else like them really. A simple option tweak changes the entire experience. Both constantly surprise me. There are countless ways to succeed and fail. They are like the 4x equivalent of Dwarf Fortress.

    Your other games I found disappointing. Why? They were often original, charming, and clever mish-mashes of genres, but to a game they lacked the depth, replay-ability and intricate quality that AI War and Last Fed have in spades. They feel like they come from a different developer. They are not bad, many are fun in short bursts, but they do not draw me in the way the strategy games do. They were like swimming in a pool. AI War is being lost in an ocean.

    People buy games from the same developer because they are counting on getting from a new title what they expect from the brand. And your non-strategy titles (haven’t played Starward yet, but I have tried most of the rest) do not feel the same.

    All that intricacy, depth, and mind boggling complexity IS YOUR BRAND. Whether you realize it or not. Look at something like Dota 2. It’s an action rts multiplayer game, but it has incredible depth, and because of that, legions of fans. Same thing with 7 Days to Die, which is fugly, creaky and indie as anything on the market. Neither are traditional strategy titles, though they both can be tactical.

    So please, make AI War II. And then make something new, but make it as deep, expandable, unfathomable and unpredictable as AI War and Last Fed, even if it is a side project.

    Because it isn’t strategy that is the reason your games are successful. Your games scratch the same itch as Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft. Emergent game play and experience based on complex, underlying mechanics that work together and make unforgettable experiences that often surprise and amaze the player, even after months of play.

    Hope that helps.

    • Chris Park says:

      This is the most insightful thing I’ve read in quite a while, and it really does reshape how I think about things. I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head, in a way I’ve never been able to. Thank you for that, because this is extraordinarily helpful and gives me a lot of hope actually. This may come across as sarcastic, but I’m being 100% genuine.

      • Matt Begg says:

        Just wanted to say that i 100% agree with this comment. I couldnt have written it better and agree with everything said

        While i think it *could* be the genre, i do think its the style that people are expecting from Arcen (depth complexity etc). I could be wrong, but as soneone who has nearly all of the Arcen games, the ones that work feature these traits

        • Chris Park says:

          It’s a really refreshing view for me, and not one that I’d considered before. It makes me quite happy. :)

          • Jonathan Rose says:

            Glad it helped man, you make some extraordiary games. As a coder and someone who likes being creative as well, I know how frustrating feeling pigeon holed into one thing is. If I can help further, I am more than happy to. Nowhere near enough people making games of the kind of depth you are.

          • Chris Park says:

            Thank you again, it really was a very important way of re-framing things for me. And I am getting excited about AI War 2 quite a bit, after my initial disappointment. I still look back at the most recent trailer for Raptor and get this really overwhelmed feeling of loss to a degree, because I am still so proud of it. But AI War 2 is a unique beast unto itself, and it’s easy to get absorbed into. :)

  5. Tigris Callidus says:

    I do not want to be harsh, but it seams you are overestimating yourself!
    And this was shown in the past several times as well:

    1. You will most likely never have a smash hit again. You cant expect to reach top 20 on steam. With none of your games.
    2. Not many people know about you. And your reputation is only good for the people who know you. For all the others it is not that great since they will look at steam reviews etc. and get a mixed picture at best.
    3. You are not in a position to make gifts to people! In fact your gifts cut off some possible income. (This includes giving too big discounts on your games).

    I write this, because I fear that you will overestimate yourselfs again and try to make AI Wars 2 and will go bankrupt as the sales will be slower than expected.

    Also having said all the negative stuff above, I still think you can survive and are an interesting studio.

    You have games which can sell over time!
    As a friend said “these games do not get old, since they look bad from the beginning.”

    You just need some patience! (This includes not expecting good fast sales, not giving early and big discounts and not to give potential customers of your games these games for free!)

    Don’t refund this game. Rather take the money you safe by doing this (should be worth 2-5 days) and spend 50-90% of them knowing “this will be the “final version” for some months”.
    Write about the development hiatus on the Steam page. And go for your next project.
    (Also include several achievements like destroying each robot 500 times winning 30 times and finish without being hit, + some steam cards (robots, the base level assets and the raptor), to get some buys from collectors etc.)

    You said you had fun doing this, so use this as small hobby project (not doing 2 projects in parallel doing 1 full and this only for fun / to experiment).

    Will this game be good?
    No. But it will not be too bad for your reputations on the people knowing you (the others looking only at steam pages have no good memories of you anyway) and it could generate some money at least and later when you have time and money to develop it further, you already have some kind of player base and fanbase!

    About stars beyond reach:

    When you reach the point where you know “in 1 month we have to shut this project down”. Make it such that it can be releasable (it runs in steam you can play it.”

    Maybe you think it is crap, but maybe some people will love it!
    Better having a bad game released than none at all…

    Do not be too proud!
    You are known for releasing experimental, unusual, unpolished (sometimes crappy) games (which look bad) anyway!

    That is fine for us! We much rather have such a game from you than none at all!

    • Chris Park says:

      Thanks for the pep talk. ;)

      And no your comment wasn’t deleted or anything, but there is approval set on the comments since spam bots otherwise run amok. I approve all the actual comments that come, though, even if I really disagree with them (as one may guess from this one).

      In general I don’t think that we have an avenue for meaningful discourse at this time. I have accepted many hard truths in my life, but I’m not looking to join Fight Club at this time. I also do believe in the inherent morality of actions regardless of who notices, as well as the fact that developers gain reputations regardless of whatever else is going on. There is a much wider ecosystem in gaming beyond just steam reviews that I think you are missing — and even in steam reviews, people going “this developer is a scam artist” is something I see plenty of times for certain devs who comport themselves poorly.

      More to the point, we all have to take part in making the world the way we want to live in. Hate Electronic Arts and various unscrupulous indies and so on? Well, if you’re ever given the chance to act like them, I hope you choose not to. That is the choice I make.

      • Tigris Callidus says:

        Hmm the strange thing was the other comments about “being deleted” were showing as “waiting approval” but this comment was just gone in total.

        Maybe you understood me a bit wrong, but I am not saying you should try to become a scam artist, but rather that you should stop being too nice, since being too nice leads also to appolegetic posts, which is also not good for reputation. (And as long as you are honest, it is ok if you be a bit “selfish”(for the company and the people in it) as well.)

        I wouldnt see it as a scam if you would say “this is on hiatus”. I mean this is what will happen, since you plan on further developing the game!

        Also the people from the press who research you, know your story and I do not think that leaving a unfinished game on steam (with the plan to finish it when you can afford it) will leave a bad impression there. (Not worse than just pulling it off).

        The releasing your next game in a “unfinished state” is also not to trick people, but rather about different oppinions.
        As I said your other games are also known for being unpolished, and even if you may think the game is not great other may like it, as long as it shows your special quirks (which I am sure it will!).

        You do not have to make perfect games! We do not expect that. Of course we like the games as good as possible on release, but I rather have Stars Beyond Reach released in a month in a state you do not like, than having it not released at all.

        ESPECIALLY since you guys often make a lot of patches etc. and sometimes you may just need some feedback from people who are farther away from the product, so having it released could actualy help you see what exactly is not working.

        I can understand you want to be nice, but don’t be too nice! Your familie and other people are depending on you.
        Also let us fans have the possibility to be nice to you! (You developed Valley 2 for the fans more or less, but they couldn’t even buy it since you gave it to them.)

        We also do not need to be protected from buying an unfinished game;)

        • Chris Park says:

          Cheers, no worries. And you are correct, I was being far too nice with Valley 2. I learned my lesson with that. I stand by my decision not to release SBR in the state it was in, though, and to pull Raptor. In the case of Raptor, I do not want to commit myself to years of potential work and have that hanging over me with a “hey no progress in 3 months??” sort of thing coming up all the time. I feel that it would be much more ripe to potentially make this game in the future when I can avoid EA. At least that’s the hope.

          • Tigris Callidus says:

            Not releasing SBR last year is ok! I meant your comment about maybe never releasing it! (And before it comes to shutting down the project for good just release it please ;) )
            I also like the midle way you can take making it simply free to play!

          • Chris Park says:

            Yep, just having something die a silent death and never see release at all is not my favorite way to handle anything.

  6. David Becker says:

    I just got a mail from Steam saying the game is now 10% off, that sounds weird if you intend to refund everybody. Was that an error?

    • Chris Park says:

      That is some sort of strange error on the Steam side, yeah. I have some news upcoming on how all the refund stuff will work, but I’m waiting on Valve to finalize things on their end. I think that must have been some sort of automatically-generated email that happened as they switched stuff around.

  7. Greg says:

    This really wasn’t a fun post to read. I can’t even imagine how hard it must’ve been to write…

    One thing I wanted to comment on was branding, but it looks like another commenter hit part of that nail for me. I don’t think games like RR are off the table, though. From a branding perspective, Arcen Games represents games like AI Wars – super deep, intricate, interactive games just like Jon was talking about. AI Wars is the flagship title. Deviating from that is always going to be a losing battle, as the association of “Arcen Games = AI Wars” is too finely embedded. Once you’re back on your feet enough to financially consider it, though, to churn up another brand (Arcen Skunkworks? I have no idea) to use to sell your more experimental games. That would sidestep that association. Granted, I have no idea what’s necessary to do that, but I suspect the hoops aren’t too great.

    Then after that, I’m going to butt in with my unrequested two cents on Kickstarters, as someone who likes to back them and avidly follow along. You likely know most of these – especially if you also back.

    First, Kickstarters aren’t free money. You’re basically mortgaging your reputation, and failing to follow through on a funded kickstarter, or following through with unexpected deviations, can end just as badly as falling through on an actual mortgage. Obvious example being Tim Schafer and Double Fine, via Double Fine Adventures and their handful of next Kickstarters.

    Second, proper and regular communication is key. I suspect that won’t be a problem for you. Only slight catch being that people who back on Kickstarter tend to like their updates to be *on kickstarter*. Directing people elsewhere for in-depth/meatier updates is generally fine, but not recapping on Kickstarter every so often just creates grumpy backers. As for regular, keeping a consistent schedule can buy you goodwill in spades. I’ve got a backed kickstarter that’s ran into troubles after troubles, but because he regularly and consistently updates us there’s been no complaints (he also has relatively few backers, which helps…). Once a month seems to be the sweet spot on the effort vs goodwill curve, but setting a standard and then keeping to it is more important, as will having reasonably helpful updates and communicating issues and setbacks.

    Third, the deadlines are relatively fluid. People will always be grumpy when one’s missed, but the goodwill earned from proper communication goes very, very far in easing the pains from missing a deadline. As long as it’s clear work’s being done and effort is being made. Counterpoint: Once a deadline is missed, *don’t provide another one unless you’re absolutely sure, or it’s suitably vague*. This will annoy people, but it’s better than the alternative, and it’s also something you can actually get away with for some period of time. It’s almost the default state for Kickstarters, honestly. Continually setting then missing deadlines at best teaches people to ignore all deadlines and puts the project in a mental state of “someday, maybe?”. At worst it tosses that goodwill into a bonfire your backers then use to light their torches.

    Fourth, stretch goals. They’re great for marketing, but if you’re going to have them, be very clear about how they’ll impact timelines and be reasonable about plans and fulfillment of them. Unrealistic stretch goals seem to sink projects faster than anything else. See That Which Sleeps (which you might have been taking a jab at with your Anti-Sean comment, in which case you actually meant Anti-Josh – Josh is the dev, Sean is just a community moderator with no formal ties).

    Probably all things you knew and didn’t need rehashed again. Ah well.

    • Chris Park says:

      Thank you for the kind words, and for the advice. Kickstarter is new to us as a studio doing them, although I’ve been a backer of a variety of game and non-game projects. I’ve backed 20 successful projects, and 6 unsuccessful ones. A few of them have burned me in a variety of ways, and most of them I was decently happy with (although timeframes were pretty fluid).

      To your points:

      1. Very much understood about mortgaging one’s reputation. It’s why I’ve never wanted to do a KS before, and I’ve talked about this and other related perils in many podcasts and interviews over the years. That said, AI War is a relatively safe one (insofar as anything is), since this is a very known property to us. Doing a KS for Stars Beyond Reach would have been a disaster, though.

      2. I agree with you on the frustration on being directed elsewhere for backer updates. I want them in my email only (which the KS updates do), so that I don’t have to click to some stupid website. Making me register on some forum elsewhere is the mother of all sins for me with KS games, heh. There are some games that also contact me TOO frequently, like Popup Dungeon and Apartment: A Separated Place, which is mildly annoying on the other end. I’ll probably aim for weekly at first, then biweekly, and then see from there.

      3. Good advice on not providing another deadline if one is missed. I had not considered this one at all, but you are absolutely right in your analysis on how I feel about this with projects I back. I think they have 100% missed their deadlines except for maybe LESS: Like Chess But Less (can’t remember if Walls made it or not). I haven’t been annoyed with any of them, except maybe Eco.

      4. Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. In a lot of postmortems it’s the big sinking factor. For a lot of these things I feel like the stretch goals need to become further apart as time goes on and the money gets higher (a 200k different rather than a 100k one, for instance, on the upper end when things are crazy with a KS). My Anti-Sean jab was at No Man’s Sky; I’m not familiar with That Which Sleeps.

      Anyhow, it’s always good to check, and your point #3 was not something I’d considered before. So thanks!

      • Greg says:

        Glad to have been mildly helpful, at least. I got maybe 3/4 of the way through writing that when the feeling that I was the inexperienced dummy telling someone how to do their job crept in, and I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to be received.

        And yeah, I agree that AI Wars 2 is a perfect fit for Kickstarter.

        That Which Sleeps started out with a big, grandiose idea, but with enough support that they knew what they were doing so they got a large chunk of backers. They then promptly took that list I churned out as “how *not* to run a kickstarter”.

        Right out the gate, they pulled a significant number of stretch goals from their “ideas we wanted to implement but left on the floor for funding/time reasons”, and then added them without much thought as to how to implement them. Those goals were then met.

        So right out of the gate they had a pile of promises bordering on the unrealistic to fulfill, with no implementation schedule or even a plan. So they went from a claimed-functional-but-needs-polished engine and game, straight back to square 1 as what they had couldn’t accommodate what they promised. The next 9 months were spent rebuilding everything.

        Around this time, they went from monthly updates and communication on the kickstarter, and massive Q&A sessions with the dev on the forums, to the dev leaving the forums, and Kickstarter updates dwindling.

        At that point, and a bit before, the kickstarter updates got significantly less meaty, with significantly more deadlines. That got passed.

        Then the updates stopped, and Sean – the heavily-invested community mod – took it on himself to email the dev every week or so as a Q&A to try to get information. That lasted a few months, then everyone got shut out from all information. Then the public forums were shuttered, leaving only the forums for the $45+ backers and absolutely no one has a solid idea what’s going on.

        The best guess we have is that some of the promises were untenable, and instead of acknowledging that the dev has been in the constant flux of “fixing this breaks that in increasingly stranger ways…” due to the level of reactivity he wanted. It’s a trainwreck all around, everyone’s mad, people began doubting it ever existed a long time ago… it’s basically worst-worst-case. I backed for $10, and I’ve probably had that value met in sheer entertainment from the drama, and I’m not the only one who feels that way. That should give you an idea of just how bad it’s gotten.

        https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingdinosaurgames/that-which-sleeps/description

        • Chris Park says:

          Holy smokes, that sounds like a train wreck and a half, for sure.

        • I’ve written a lot about Kickstarter and how developers generally misunderstand the underlying mechanisms of crowdfunding, but I will do a very, very short recap here:

          The number one with a bullet idea that so many miss runs thus, Kickstarter backers are not preorderers. Kickstarter backers are venture capitalists who should be seen as investing their money with you as a risk, gambling on the fact that you may produce something of greater value than their initial investment to hand back to them. That means that you need to prorate their risk, to ask for less funding individually from them then you will ask from those who invest after your initial offering – that is, after the release of the game.

          Taken from that perspective it’s obvious why so many projects die hideously because of the weight of their stretch goals. Though stretch goals don’t effectively encourage people to invest at the earliest. They incentivize waiting until the last moment to invest in order to try and maximize the amount of reward that the investor gets for any given dollar. That’s bad enough, but that means if everyone waits to the last minute then everyone is given the impression that no one is investing and that none of the stretch goals will be met. Then they don’t even make the initial investment. Then you have a failed Kickstarter.

          If you think about your Kickstarter backers as investors and treat them as if they were investors into your company – which is exactly what they are – you’ll go a long way. You will feel compelled to provide them regular updates on what you’re doing with their money, because you will see everything that you do pushing that project forward as being done with your investors’ money. You will look at what is worth delivering as a stretch goal, keeping in mind that the people that only come on board thanks to a stretch goal have already assessed that your product is not worth investing in at your original asking price; you have to think whether you want to encourage people to jump on board, because adding stretch goals is effectively lowering your project take sell-price. For example, if the base entry cost for AI War 2: Rise from the Ashes for digital distribution is tagged at $15 because you expect to sell the final game at $20, adding a stretch goal that you consider to be effectively worth $3 of additional content, meaning that the original cost would be $18 for backers and $25 at retail, you’ve just made the decision to accept $12 from your backers for $18 of content.

          Cast in those terms, it’s easy to see why Kickstarters often crash and burn on stretch goal content.

          In a real sense, stretch goal should never be introduced until after the main project goal value has been met and exceeded by a significant amount, and should be chosen such that even if not another backer joined in before the end of the project, all the current backers could receive that stretch goal without eating in to the base project creation costs. Yes, I know that’s a really, really harsh limit, but it’s the most sensible one.

          I could go on for a lot longer, but I’m not going to – because no one needs to suffer that much eye glazing. Again, I am down with Arcen Games and I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys have to put on the table.

          • Chris Park says:

            I’ve got a lot of experience with kickstarter as a backer (20 projects that I backed that funded, 6 that didn’t), and have followed this for years from the point of view of what-if and from talking to other devs.

            Still, this is new territory to me when you get right down to it, so I’ll take all the advice I can get, whether I knew it or not already. So if I mention I already knew something, I’m not complaining. It’s more of a “whew, okay, that’s one thing I was aware of, that’s good.” ;)

            I understand about kickstarters being venture capitalists and not preorderers. The idea of prorating their risk seems like the opposite of the proper advice at first, but then I read further and it makes more sense. I think that part of prorating the risk is making it so that there are ample funds and proper buffer for mistakes, versus trying to skate by on minimums and then have crazy feature creep.

            I’m not sure I quite agree on the backer levels versus stretch goals that you’re discussing there. I think that in a lot of respects KS represents a way for people to invest more than they otherwise would ($50 instead of $20) to get something that otherwise might not exist at all. So you actually wind up with early adopters paying a premium, to some extent (early bird tiers aside).

            I think that the big mistake that a lot of Kickstarters run into, which you’re basically also getting at from a bit of a different angle, is that they try to raise the total amount of money as much as possible via stretch goals. Aka, “we’ve hit 300% of our funding goal, but let’s see how much MOAR we can get!!!!” That’s something I want to stay away from, because there is where things spiral out of control. The healthiest KSs have a bit of an excess above their base asking amount, but not some 1000% funded rate, it seems to me.

            Overall I think we’re on the same page on most things, and it’s good food for thought you have there. Thanks!

    • Nick says:

      Chris,

      Regarding Kickstarter, what ever you do, don’t do physical rewards for less than $500. I’ve read horror stories of companies spending weeks of dev time dealing with mailing T-shirts or getting some junk chotchkies made in China correctly and deliverd less than a month late.

      • Chris Park says:

        Oh yeah, I completely agree. I really want to avoid doing any physical rewards whatsoever for exactly those reasons. We just in no way are set up to handle physical goods. We don’t even have a central office, and aren’t even in the same states as one another, so it would all fall to one person to handle (ugh).

  8. Michael says:

    Chris,

    I wish you all the best. I cannot wait to hurl money at an AI War 2 Kickstarter. Keep up the good work.

  9. Josh W says:

    Chris! Donation fund this game!

    As in dwarf fortress style; release it for free and improve or bug fix it as people give you money.

    Ok, you can’t actually do it dwarf fortress style if you’re not already getting enough cashflow to support it, but you could have a weird pseudo-kickstarter where you put in some more serious work on the game whenever you get enough money in one go, and impress on people the idea that they’re sort of chucking money into a black hole to incentivise you to finish the game.

    You can be like “our other games are finished, this one isn’t, it’s a fun experiment we’ll keep fiddling with as you give us money”.

    • Chris Park says:

      It could be a really cool thing to do via Patreon, potentially. Right now I can only focus on one thing at a time or my brain just kind of explodes, and the smart money is on AI War 2. But doing it in the fashion you mention via a Patreon campaign in the future is a really good idea, actually.

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