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Developing a Kickstarter-funded game: a look from inside
by Alex Thomas on 03/04/13 03:36:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Kickstarter has been an incredible ride. For us at Stoic, we set out to make a turn-based strategy game called The Banner Saga that we thought might be pretty niche. We hoped to raise $100,000 (a rather modest sum for game development) for some outsourcing needs. Within 2 days of putting up the campaign we had made that, and by 30 days we had 20,000 backers who had donated over $720,000. Nobody was more surprised than we were. It looked like our dream would be coming true, and then some.

A fight is brewing

It has also been an extraordinary thing to manage, for what started as a three-person team of content developers.

When we began the company we spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to get people interested in the game. We had never run our own company before. We knew how to make a good game, but we didn't know how to get views or marketing, and from all the friends and mentors we talked to, we knew that'd be half the battle.

In particular, our friend Gordon Walton gave us some of the best advice: you can't go radio silent for two years while you develop a game. You can't release to no press, and no income and no marketing and expect to do well.

With this in mind, we put together some key points to our plan:

-We're making a story-driven, single player experience.
-As we develop the content, we'll make it playable for free so that people can actually try the game as it’s built, and generate news and excitement.
-We'll keep adding new content made for the single player, like combat, characters and AI until we ship the final game.

When we put together our campaign pitch we wanted people to be excited about getting playable content. The video states "we'll be rolling out a free multiplayer version of the game this summer on PC and Mac". The description on the campaign page included "Play online: Though the single-player campaign is our focus, The Banner Saga provides a deep multiplayer game; build a unique party of characters and battle friends and enemies in multiplayer combat." The game would be available on Steam. We plastered it on our website nearly a week before the Kickstarter campaign went live.

Multiplayer coming soon

Suddenly we had way more funding than we expected, and lots of people asking what we'd do with it. Even at this point, we got some unexpected responses. In surveys, “Don’t translate the game” was the highest voted option. On some forums we got massive backlash for promising to port the game to consoles, instead of keeping it exclusive to PC and Mac. People were already asking us if the game would be delayed. What did they want us to do with the extra funding? Pocket it?

We added stretch goals, and turned the game from something we could finish in half a year to the sort of big production we felt people expected, and frankly the kind of game we wanted to make.

Imagine an indie film being funded to become a feature film in theaters. We were thrilled! But with bigger scope comes longer production. That same 20-minute film does not take the same time to produce as a 2-hour movie, and the same applies to games. We wrote: “When do we plan to release? We originally estimated the end of the year... we do want to be honest that it could go past this year.”

We kept in close contact with our backers with monthly updates.

Our campaign ended in April. In May, we said: “We're back to real heads-down production as we continue to develop the combat for the game.” In June: "a first release is fast approaching." In July: "In the next few days we'll be pushing hard to get multiplayer up and running as well as expanding our content now that we've got most everything to gold standard." In September: "Beta is looming and you’re invited." In October: "Beta launches tomorrow!" In November: "Over 5 minutes of new footage and in-depth walkthroughs of combat, tactics, and character progression in The Banner Saga: Factions. Everything you see here is how combat is developing for the single player game!"

Production continued non-stop. We developed our riskiest (and most visible) system first: the combat, providing monthly updates not only with videos of our progress, but with a work-in-progress state of the game hosted on Steam, so backers could actually poke around the game itself and see how things were coming along. Hah, we thought! Success! Who else has done so much to involve players in production? Soon, the combat was almost ready for release.

Combat

That's when things took an unexpected turn.

We started getting responses from backers with comments like “What is this multiplayer crap?” We’d politely respond. We’d get more comments like “I didn’t fund this just so you could make some free mp garbage”.

Hmm. Alright, clearly some people missed the message. Suddenly backers we had never heard from before were calling us scammers and swindlers and things much less flattering. We decided to do a Q&A session where we laid everything out in a single update and apologized for missing our original deadline. That’s when things really hit the fan.

Some backers were incensed that production was taking longer than our original estimate, back when we hoped to make $100,000. Some were furious that the combat would be free, or that non-backers would get to play it. Some insisted that we had wasted their money by making multiplayer content, despite the assets, code and interface all being produced for the single player game. Many were fuming that the game must be “pay to win”, despite the fact that you only get matched against opponents with equal teams, regardless of how you earned them. Within the game itself, the term “pay to lose” had started to appear, since paying money would only serve to get you matched against players with vastly more play time under their belts.

We also had a lot of backers supporting us, asking the detractors one particular question: “Where have you guys been this whole time?” What we soon learned is that many of our backers never read any of the updates. They had never read the original campaign. According to Kickstarter metrics that went up after our campaign ended, only 30% of backers even watched our campaign video, and they felt very betrayed about all of this, to which we personally felt a resounding “What?”.

For us, it all culminated in an article that appeared on Gamasutra, in which an editor was expressing the opinion that he’ll never back another Kickstarter. In it, he states “the latest move by the development team (Stoic) most definitely goes against what I paid money for. The Banner Saga: Factions was released last week, a free-to-play multiplayer...”

He goes on to say, “For most of my backed projects I've turned email updates off... I honestly couldn't care less if you've put out a new podcast, or got some new concept art to show me -- I want real content! …Don't feel obliged to release an update if you have nothing decent to show me!”

I guess a playable version of the game you backed doesn’t count as “real content”.

We got that “what?” feeling all over again. Here’s a front-page article from a gaming journalist saying that he not only refuses to read any information about the games he supported, but that we had scammed him by doing what we said we’d be doing.

Ironically, if we had not released the free multiplayer game we had promised, there’s no doubt that we would be receiving equal, if not more vitriol. Now that I think of it, that would be actual fraud.

Meanwhile, we’ve gotten a lot of amazing response from people who are playing the free game, and not only that, they loved exactly what ticked off so many backers. Forbes reported that our game is a “tactical PVP Paradise” and goes on to say “If you’re a fan of competitive tactical titles this is an interesting little gem not to be missed. For those waiting for the larger project to launch, The Banner Saga: Factions provides a spicy taste.” That sounds exactly like what we were hoping would happen. The headline on a recent Kotaku article about us reads “More games should release their multiplayer as a standalone, like this indie game”. Apparently they found nothing surprising about our release.

Launch trailer


So what happened?

I could certainly argue that we could have talked more about what we were doing, and made it more clear to everyone involved. On the other hand, they didn’t even watch the campaign video. We talked about it every nearly every update. We discussed it on our forums and every comment thread we could find. And ultimately, the response to the multiplayer has been absolutely fantastic, and we’re having a great time working on the game as we continue toward our single player release. There are plenty of things we might have done better, I certainly won’t argue that, but I have to believe we’re doing pretty good for a indie developer. Did we stick to our plan all along? Yeah, we did.

At the end of the day, I think 20,000 emotionally invested backers is just... a lot of people. You’ve now got a monstrous publisher of epic bi-polar proportions, with 20,000 different wants and desires, 20,000 different ideas about what your game is, a huge gulf between those who care and don’t care about what you’re doing, and a lot of wildly different expectations to fill, some of which don’t make any sense at all.

Do I regret going with Kickstarter? Not one bit. If this is the new way to make games, there’s more than one thing “new” about it, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

It’s an incredible ride!

-Alex Thomas


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Comments


Ben Sly
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As another Banner Saga backer, I'm also personally disinterested in The Banner Saga: Factions. Online multiplayer just doesn't interest me much, nor has it for the past few years; having a full schedule is not helpful either.

But, I recognize the value in getting a playable version of the game out to interested people before the full release. It's good for both the developers who get feedback as to the combat system and for the players so that they can see how the game is developing (and perhaps even improve it for the better.) Indeed, one of the major reasons for me backing the project was that I'm working on a tactical RPG which also has a free large early release component to it, and there are enough similarities between Banner Saga and it that I'm quite curious how this will turn out.

I do agree with the course of action - playtesting is incredibly valuable for a game if it's handled well, and multiplayer is generally better at delving into the mechanical depth of a game than singleplayer. The only issue I have is in making the game free-to-play, but it's not something I'll begrudge the developers for (especially if I haven't personally experienced how the mechanics are incorporated.) In any case, you at least have my support.

Greg Lobanov
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I'm glad you guys had a chance to defend yourselves.

James Yee
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As a backer and someone who DID read all your updates I knew this was coming for weeks. Personally I had no interest in the Multiplayer from the word go so I just skimmed over those bits. I DID understand though that the multiplayer and single player combat was the same so I knew you were working on the game and it was all going to the right place so I was down with it. :)

Jeremy Reaban
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I'm not a backer, so not really my business.

But I am starting to think it's somewhat disingenuous to pitch two different games in one Kickstarter. Especially when one is single player and one is multiplayer, and the focus is claimed to be one (single player) and actually seems to be the latter.

Single player games seem to bring in more funding. Just look at Shadowrun Returns vs Shadowrun Online. One made $1.8 million, the other made $600k.

What if they had tried to combine them, like you did?

In that case, I was able to back the one I wanted (single player), and let the people who wanted to back a F2P muliplayer game back it. Everyone was happy. Well, maybe not the multiplayer devs who got less money, but at least their conscience is clear.

Jacob Germany
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It's the same game. Same engine, same resources. Just slightly different framing.

It's more reasonable to think of it like a demo you can keep playing and playing.

Michael Herring
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"Especially when one is single player and one is multiplayer, and the focus is claimed to be one (single player) and actually seems to be the latter."

Yeah, I heard about this [MP|SP] game called Halo, and apparently they spent a lot of money developing some [SP|MP] mode? Geez, wth is that all about? Reminds me of that similar scam, something called "StarCraft" that claimed to be [SP|MP] but actually to me the focus was on [MP|SP]. Travesty. Clearly, only one mode could really be the focus. Pick one!

Jacob Germany
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I'm a backer, I was interested in Factions, but never actually played it to date (far too busy). But I just wanted you to know that I not only read the updates enough to know the reasoning behind Factions, I think it's an industry-changing move that I would love for others to follow. Imagine games you really feel excited about polishing up a single system and releasing it to satisfy fans, keep up hype, and even receive valuable feedback to further polish the final game? Not to mention raising capital? Absolutely brilliant.

Congratulations, guys. Regardless of the haters, more creative reuse of engines and resources needs to be used in the industry. Wonderful decision, seriously

Johnathon Swift
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If you're reading this Alex, you're spending my money however you think is best, because I gave it to you to do just that.

I've no illusion that I was supposed to be in charge, but I think a lot of people that backed Kickstarter games get that in there heads. Like "I paid for this so it's my thing, I get to decide." I think that's really what they're buying into, that idea so many have that "wouldn't it be really cool if this game was made and I was in charge" but that so few have the time and/or skills and/or ambition to make it happen themselves.

So while such an attitude can be detrimental, especially when people don't even bother to know what it is they're actually buying into, it's also probably the reason you got so many backers to begin with. Good with the bad I suppose.

Alexander Symington
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(Disclosure: I'm not a backer of The Banner Saga.)

It sounds as if you were perfectly open about the multiplayer game from the beginning, and backers disappointed that resources have been allocated towards this component really should have reviewed the project more carefully before deciding to contribute. Moreover, I think developing and releasing the multiplayer first is a smart decision even for a single-player focused project like this. While I typically play games like Starcraft mainly or solely for the campaigns, I appreciate how their balance and depth have been intensively refined by harnessing metrics and feedback from multiplayer. That you have the opportunity to do the same I think bodes well for the main game.

That said, from what I've read here and in Mike's article, I think backers do have legitimate cause for concern. I may be wrong here, but between the quotes in this article and skimming the original Kickstarter page, prior to receiving funding, the multiplayer game was only ever described as 'free'. However, Factions seems rather to use the Free 2 Play / freemium model, and not in a purely cosmetic way. Similar wording, yes, but these mean very, very different things. Regardless of whether paying micro transactions makes an individual player relatively stronger or weaker, or just exposes options faster, it's difficult to understand how incorporating this arbitrary factor could improve the balance and overall design of the game.

If you had no alternative sources of support, this could perhaps be justified as a financial necessity, but in this article you imply that your Kickstarter campaign produced so much funding that you almost ran short of productive ways of spending it to improve the game. So when the people who contributed this money, some of whom seem to have moral objections to P2W, find that it has gone towards building something with artificial design flaws due to monetisation - however small - they may feel disillusioned.

Glenn McMath
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You make a good point. While they were abundantly clear about the development of Factions both during and after the kickstarter (I'm a backer, so I've seen the post KS updates), they weren't too explicitly clear about the microtransactions. I was concerned about them at first, but after playing Factions, I can say that in my opinion they were implemented in a very unobtrusive and ethical way. Nothing is locked behind a paywall. The only things you can buy are moderate timesavers (XP boosters, or XP outright), and cosmetic changes for your characters.
You're right that they could've been more transparent about the microtransaction element in Factions, and it would have been a massive turn off if it was implemented poorly. However as far as I'm concerned it's become largely a non-issue due to the way that it's handled in the game. I've never felt at a disadvantage to paying players, and I've never felt compelled or coerced to spend money, or that my progress was being hamstrung like it is in most f2p games. The only reason I've even considered spending money in the game is to support Stoic for making an enjoyable game.

I'd encourage anyone who has their doubts about it to try it out for yourself. It's free, after all.

Mike Jenkins
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Mike Rose should be ashamed in earnest.

Jay Anne
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This brave new world of selling direct to customers was going to start requiring new skillsets from developers. Suddenly, PR and community management become crucial, especially with a customerbase full of entitled crowdsourcers. It's scary to think a tiny minority of angry customers can suddenly change your public image by merely posting on the Internet. The game is looking great BTW :-D

Radek Koncewicz
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It does sound like a tricky, exasperating situation. You guys received quite a bit of positive press upon the game's announcement, and something of a backlash now that the Factions component has been released. I don't think there was anything disingenuous about the Kickstarter campaign, although I can see how the series of events following it could have upset some people.

Based purely on conjecture, I imagine a lot of the contributors backed the project based on trailers and information gathered from various news sites, not explicit details of the Kickstarter itself. Upon hearing of the campaign's great success, they figured the game would simply be bigger and better than initially imagined, and happily left it at that.

Fast forward a few months, and their single-player, Nordic-inspired tactics game with a strong focus on story is nowhere to be found, but instead a multiplayer-only version with IAP's has surfaced. Granted none of this should have come as a great surprise, but to some it probably didn't sound like what they were eagerly anticipating.

It's tough as Kickstarter updates are clearly not enough to avoid such situations, but in hindsight maybe a few alteration to Factions could've made its launch smoother? I'm thinking mainly of the branding and positioning of the multiplayer game

Calling Factions a beta or a demo might've alleviated some of the perceived bitterness at the backers' funding being spent on what wasn't advertised as the focus of the Kickstarter campaign.

Furthermore -- as mentioned above -- microtransactions tend to leave a bad taste in many people's mouths, especially those who have already contributed money based solely on their interest in a story-driven game. The fact that the campaign was so successful probably only fostered feelings of being victims of money-grubbing tactics. After all, if there wasn't enough funding to cover server costs and the like (I noticed there have been some issues there the past few days), perhaps a smaller-scale multiplayer-beta should've been launched, or an alternative (ad-based?) source of extra revenue sought out? Either way, rewarding previous backers with free versions of the IAP bonuses could have smoothed things over.

Finally, as much work as must have been put into Factions, I don't think it was launched with much fanfare or new footage of the single-player game. Pairing the two together could've alleviated fears on the status of the single-player component and assured the original backers that the game they paid for was still in the works.

Hindsight is hindsight, though, so I digress.

Banner Saga is looking great, and I love the writing. I imagine that's largely been you, Alex? If so I have to say that the flavour-text of the Thrasher alone is fantastic!

E McNeill
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Excellent explanation. Thank you for posting this.

Samuel Green
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Good luck with the project guys, I'm a backer and I absolutely love what you've done with Factions (both releasing it early and the content of the game itself). You're using all the art and mechanics in both the single and multiplayer, but for single player you need to create a crap ton more text/art/sound/story content... so instead of delaying it for everyone, you released the multiplayer component. The majority of people complaining probably just can't see that Factions wouldn't significantly delay the single player game.

Smart move, I love it and this is the only kickstarter I honestly haven't regretted funding so far.

Michael Thornberg
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I am guessing here, but it seems to me that it is lack of proper communication that is behind this. Perhaps you should have been more clear about the roadmap from the very beginning. That said, I love the art direction of your game. I hope it succeeds.

Michel Desjardins
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Thank you for the explanations. It's much appreciated.

Kickstarter is a crowd funding organisation. Backers are not publishers in any means. They are technically not part of the decision making process if it's not in the contract with them (e.g. you pay 100$+ in exchange for voting rights).

On one hand, the studio has to use the money for what the "sales pitch" was for. Otherwise, it could be perceived as misrepresentation by some backers.

On the other hand, the studio received way more money than pitched for. It opened a Pandora box.

Kickstarter should consider the creation of governance policy on how studios (or else) should manage the overflow of funding.

Possible contents (a.k.a. solutions to your drama) of such policy:
- adding an addendum to the sales pitch (extra game content to be made with the money)
- creating a round a consultation (ask the backers on their preferences)
- voting on multiple proposed scenarios (of what to do with the money)
- studio could cash it (put a strict rule that they can't cash it before delivering the goods - otherwise, it will bring chaos)
- Considering putting a cap to funding (they get what they asked and nothing more)(they would still be very happy with it.)
- Considering putting a overflow cap (e.g. 20% more than the requested funding)
- Etc. (feel free to add more solutions to the situation)

Without a clear governance policy about this, studio and kickstarter will most likely, one day, end up in court (e.g. class action lawsuit) against angry backers.

Bob Satori
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Rules rules rules.... and all built around the concept of games, as if that's all Kickstarter is for.

Why?

Making a game or other entertainment media is a gamble on finding an audience. Once in awhile you hit the jackpot, even though the time and labor that you put in is no more than so many other games, comics, films, etc.

I see it as generosity on the part of the developers here that they chose to invest the funds into expanding the project. That was not ever part of the deal, nor should it be an ethical obligation. Backers knew what rewards they were guaranteed, and should expect nothing more. If the project was so desired by so many that it generated 700% of the desired funding, that should really be viewed no differently than having a product sell 700% of expected volume.

Except it's not when it comes to game software for one paramount reason: the passionate game developer is almost always planning conservatively and actually wants to do more.

But if they don't? The backers still get exactly what they were pitched, and the developers are (rightly) rewarded for coming up with the chocolate covered sex of the moment.

Jack Matthewson
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Honestly I wouldn't know anything about your game if you hadn't released a multiplayer component. As it is I kind of like it. I think people that back Kickstarters don't always realise they're making an investment in an idea rather than a purchase with a list of guaranteed features.

Kyle Redd
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There's one concern from the backers that I would still like to see addressed: Assuming the multiplayer game does well financially, then after the single-player game is completed and released, the expectation is that you will abandon further development for that title and shift all your resources over to Factions.

I think that's where a lot of the frustration is coming from - A large portion of gamers are tired of the massive shift away from offline single-player games and towards "cash cows" like F2P, micro-transactions, and always-online titles over the last several years. Factions embodies all of that. Most people who backed the Banner Saga didn't care about the multiplayer portion of the project at all. They wanted a good strategy-RPG that they could enjoy solo, at their own pace.

So even though you haven't done anything 'wrong' with the project and have nothing to apologize for, I hope you at least understand their position.

Jacob Germany
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I don't understand it. The concern is an expectation people have contrived that focus will shift away from their main focus, after their main focus is finished, and onto a minor focus that's a tangential part of their main focus?

And this is their business, why? And this expectation is reasonable how?

Stoic has offered absolutely no reason to ever think that their next focus, after Banner Saga, wouldn't be similar. Nor is it at all relevant to the discussion on what they focus after Banner Saga is finished. Considering they have every right to focus on anything they choose after Banner Saga, and their Kickstarter responsibilities, are completed.

So, no, I, for one, don't understand where the concern is, or the frustration, or the controversy.

Kyle Redd
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If Stoic decides to use Kickstarter funds to work on the multiplayer game at the expense of the single-player, then it is definitely the backers' business.

Jacob Germany
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You said the worry was that they might focus on the multiplayer after the single player is finished. What they do after Banner Saga is done is not the donors' business.

And they've done nothing at the expense of the single-player, nor have they any way implied they will start.

Kyle Redd
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Of course it's the backers' business what Stoic does with the backers' money. If Stoic spends $300,000 developing the single-player game, releases it upon completion, then spends the remaining Kickstarter money on the F2P multiplayer game (which would have a pretty obvious impact on post-release support for the single-player game), you're suggesting that decision does not affect the backers at all? That's silly.

Jacob Germany
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Why would you assume they'd have "money left over" after the game is finished?

Even if they did, how would you know? You want an itemized budget report?

Even if you got it, and the product promised was delivered, and there was extra money left over, why would you, as the backer, get to dictate where the extra money was spent? Beyond even the campaign promises and stretch goals?

You say it's silly to say it's none of the backers' business, but it's a far sillier claim to say it is. If the backers get what was promised, how can you possibly say they're entitled to anything more? This isn't investment, backers aren't shareholders, and even if one considers fulfilling the promises "required" (morally or legally, whichever), no one has the slightest justification to claim that they deserve say in how the companies funds are spent *beyond* what was promised. That's what's silly in this scenario.

Kyle Redd
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I didn't suggest the backers should get to dictate to Stoic exactly how to spend the money, but neither are they merely passive observers now that the Kickstarter campaign is over. You're putting forward this idea that Stoic's attitude should be something like "Thanks for the money, guys... now piss off because we don't want to have to hear your complaints." And that would be totally o.k.

So to reiterate, it is absolutely the backers' business to know and have input on what Stoic does with the money the backers have given them. That does *not* mean they are in a position of authority, but they absolutely have the right to be involved and to have their concerns heard.

Also - an itemized budget report? That is an fantastic idea. In fact, that is one of the key requirements Kickstarter should implement to the whole process. They should mandate that all campaigns describe exactly how the target funding amount will be spent should it be received, and further require that campaigns submit expenditure reports to all the backers each month thereafter until every dollar is accounted for. That would add a lot of much-needed transparency and help to deter scam artists and other untrustworthy sorts from taking advantage of people.

Jacob Germany
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"So to reiterate, it is absolutely the backers' business to know and have input on what Stoic does with the money the backers have given them. "

You claimed the backers are worried that, even when the game is finished, they don't want Stoic to start focusing on the multiplayer. You did not mention why they might think that, why it's any business of theirs what Stoic does after Banner Saga, or why any of this is assumed to be done with "all the extra money".

Not only am I fairly certain the complaints are based off of the assumption that there was never supposed to be a m-p component (not that the s-p game can be released and Stoic might refocus efforts to the m-p), I'm absolutely positive no one has any legal, moral, ethical, or even cultural responsibility to Kickstarter backers once the original project is completed. I've never heard anyone, anywhere, even suggest such a thing. I'm still confused why you think this.

I'm even more confused why you think, once the project is done, the "single player is completed and released" like you said, that Stoic shouldn't just say "Thanks for the support, now we're off to do our own thing"? Why the backers should have say, or even have the entitlement to put forth their opinions and complaints, after the promises are kept? So, yes, I'm still confused on that point. Does that make sense?

Kyle Redd
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No, I honestly don't understand what you're trying to say anymore. If Stoic were to have taken $100,000 of the Kickstarter money, developed and released the game, then taken the remaining half a million bucks or so and spent it on sports cars, parties, and luxury vacations for themselves, I guess you would be a-ok with that? Because once they've made the game, they're obligations are now complete and they have no "legal, moral, ethical, or even cultural responsibility" to the backers anymore, right?

I'm done with this. I think we're extremely far apart in what we feel the rights of Kickstarter backers are and are never going to come close to an understanding.

Jacob Germany
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If Stoic could, by some miracle, complete their full game, and all stretch goals, and all Kickstarter rewards, and still come in under budget? Yeah, if they want, they can buy cars. They'd deserve it, since it was their previously-unheard-of business acumen that managed that feat. Or, God forbid, invest that extra money back into their indie business.

Let's distill these two perspectives down into their atomic forms, yes? I'm saying what matters are the promises. If the promises are kept, and all backers receive exactly what they expected not only in terms of rewards, but the final result of the project and all stretch goals, "extra funds" are a non-issue. It's no business of the backers, each donating a fraction, that the project just happened to have so many fans it received far more than it could spend.

You're saying the promises don't matter, even the stretch goals don't matter. What matters is the final tally of money the project receives. So if the stretch goals don't cost as much, and the project comes in far under budget, or the KS received far more than the company was asking, they are dutifully required (I assume by some moral or cultural requisite?) to keep working on that KS project until all funds are spent. And this, somehow, wouldn't anger backers because a project was delayed not months but years in the case of some surprisingly popular project that received far too much backing.

That's why I hold the perspective I do. Because one is morally obligated to fulfill promises, not to fabricate more promises, even beyond stretch goals, because they did a great job at managing their money or garnering surprising amounts of backing.


*edit: This is, of course, ignoring that the Banner Saga backers still have no cause or reason to assume that Stoic will have extra money once the final product is delivered. I still don't think this is what backers are angry concerning.

Greg Findlay
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Just as a note about your kickstarter campaign, you only mention the multiplayer in an offhand way on the actual kickstarter page (98% of the text and video is about singleplayer). Multiplayer is probably not what got people excited about the game. Essentially what your campaign sounded like was:
DANCING PANDA'S, DANCING PANDA'S, DANCING PANDA'S, tigers, DANCING PANDA'S, DANCING PANDA'S and then after a bunch of dev time you showed the tigers. Tigers are still cool but that's not what people were excited about.

Also as a PR note, this article is just going to polarize your audience more. You just told all the people who felt like they didn't get what they paid for you don't understand why their upset :(. I think they best thing you could have done was release an update about how well the single player campaign is coming along.

Adam Bishop
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They've released plenty of updates about how the single-player campaign is coming along.

Greg Findlay
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That's great and I'm sure people following the game appreciate those. Did they do one between now and when the other Gamasutra article came out though? Because that's what I was getting at.

I'm talking purely about image here, not about how much info they've given the community. The idea being to reinforce the fact that they've done a bunch of work on the single player and that multiplayer hasn't been the main focus for the team.

Even just a collection of the previous updates could work if they freshen them up a bit.

Jacob Germany
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No one has any right to feel they "didn't get what they paid for". The single player is coming along, the Factions release is a part of that. People upset because they didn't bother reading updates that have been consistent and plentiful are going to remain upset no matter what Stoic posts. Because they've shown they have no intention to read what they post.

Speaking from a purely practical perspective, is there any action/post/update Stoic could even perform to calm down the people who are upset?

Kyle Redd
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@Jacob

If Stoic were to assure their backers that no further money or resources will be spent developing new content for the multiplayer game, I'm guessing that would satisfy most of them.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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So I was not a backer and didn't even know this game existed until I saw it appear on Steam. Just going into the experience with no expectations and as a fan of tactics games, I am having a blast with it.

E Zachary Knight
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Thanks for the great update on the progress of the game. I look forward to your eventual port to Linux so that I can play Factions as well as buy the SP game. So hurry up with the port.

S D
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Well, not Factions because the update stated that it is not being ported, but the single-player game is, and certainly looks lovely enough!

Russ Clarke
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Good on you, Stoic. You're following a sound, community-led dev strategy and you're staying ambitious.

Your challenge is that you are producing two products, one of which carries a label (F2P) which many people irrationally hate. Those people feel strongly enough to withhold backing from something they want, if they think something with that label will benefit. It's like finding out your pension fund invests in arms exporters or something - you feel betrayed.

In the end, there's no point in resorting to rational arguments like "but we said we were going to do this". Some of your backers feel morally tainted by having funded a free to play product, and the fact that they put themselves in that position, by failing to pay attention, just infuriates them more.

Free to play is a polarising issue. Like every other developer of a free to play title, you will just have to grit your teeth and accept that. Stay strong!

Neal Nellans
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I was surprised by the initial editorial, and now that there is continued dissent in these comments now that you've explained why the multiplayer component was released first. It all makes pretty good sense to me, its a good strategy for PR and it allows you to get the most asset light component of the game out into the marketplace to generate some buzz and revenue while you polish the single player with more locations, cinematics and characters.

Considering that you were so over funded, I'm surprised that you did not hire on a dedicated PR manager since is sounds like none of you guys really want to deal with that aspect. Not to mention the time lost in production with a three man crew when having to respond in perpetuity to every troll who thinks a polished hand animated RPG should be completed in six months time.

Maria Jayne
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As a none backer, I think I see the confusion.

- Dev asks for 100k, will make mt based multiplayer first to help pay bills as development continues on singelplayer.

- Dev gets seven times what they asked for.

- Backers wonder why priority is still as before when bills are covered.

Jeff Hamilton
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Even 700k will probably not cover "bills" - it will more than cover the scope of outsourcing that their initial request was for, but the game is going to cost far more than that to make, in all likelihood.

Jacob Germany
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- The multiplayer isn't a separate game.

- The multiplayer isn't meant only to "pay the bills". It's a "thank you" to the customer base, as well as a means of balancing the central facet of the single player.

- Why not release something that must be made by release of the full game anyhow, and that helps further the development of the full game? Even ignoring the capital it raises.

- How can stretch goals be accomplished if the extra money from KS goes to 'pay the bills'? If it goes to the stretch goals, don't the bills still need to be paid?

Kyle Redd
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Jacob, why do you believe that Factions is not a separate game? From everything that Stoic has said, it certainly seems like they intend it to be its own entity that will be developed and supported on its own, presumably even long after the single-player game is completed.

That is why the backers are upset; they believed then what you appear to believe now - that the multiplayer game was going to be a one-and-done venture, meant as a "preview" for the single-player portion, instead of a full F2P game complete with micro-transactions.

Jacob Germany
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Because they said so? I believe it's the same game because they have stated, multiple times, that the combat system from the full game is the system of the multiplayer, the resources in the smaller will be used in the larger, and this is meant, partly, as a means of playing a part of the game before the full game is available.

What reason do you have to believe that this game is entirely separate, requiring extensive unique resources or time or money? What about "microtransactions" implies that significant work/time/money was required that won't be used for the single-player game? I'm missing a very large piece of the angry puzzle, wherein there's some real justification for this controversy.

Yannos Soumis
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I find this article offensive.

I am not a backer but to me a business transaction (Kickstarter included) is very simple. You set a price to provide a product/service at a predetermined time. Backers are not publishers. They are customers who have pre-purchased the game. Fulfill your pitch promise and they will be happy.

The comment on poll-taking for the translation is a joke. It only proves that the majority of your audience is English-speaking, not that the translation is unneeded/useless. This is a business decision and YOU are running the business.

You really need a PR manager. That would be a good use of your extra funds. A business manager too.

Oh, and I am not touching Banner Saga after this article.

Jacob Germany
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Kickstarter is not Steam. Kickstarter is not a means of preordering a game. And Stoic has, to date, not failed to deliver their product as promised. The date has been pushed back, because significant stretch goals were applied, something that seems to happen with nearly every project that's overfunded.

If the backers are upset at the concept of "stretch goals", maybe they should vent their frustration in that direction. Currently, they are not.

Adam Bishop
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Kickstarter is not a business transaction (at least, it's not a purchase). Kickstarter is a way to donate money to something you think is worthwhile. People gave money to The Banner Saga because it looked like a game they wanted to see made. It's being made. Backers are getting exactly what they bargained for.

David Brown
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Hrm could not disagree more with Yannos. I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum that saw banner saga on kickstarter a long time ago, forgot about it, and am now really excited about it because I've seen the multiplayer game out.

I think these guys are being pretty honest and open... kickstarter isn't a pre-order option, it's a donation to support projects you feel should see the light of day succeed. I still don't understand the confusion though.... by releasing factions they can get a huge playerbase to test their primary game mechanic and smooth out all the lumps to put a really cool story layer on top. This should make the final Single-Player Banner Saga a far deeper game experience. In no way was anyone's kickstarter donation gifts cancelled right? Or am I misunderstanding something?

Yannos Soumis
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I think you are fixating on semantics. Yes, Kickstarter is a donation website. But when someone pays 10$ instead of 1$ with the reward being to receive the game when it is shipped, do you honestly feel it is substantially different than pre-ordering (substantially being the keyword here)?

If needed I can list at least 2 Kickstarter campaigns utilized for EXISTING products as an additional way of selling. You think these people should not be treated as customers as well?

Regarding the Banner Saga, what is the promise they made and did they keep it? It is simple as that!

Yannos Soumis
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Oh, and a disclaimer: I found BS cool but not enough to back it. I played Factions, thought it was a little shallow but got me excited for the game - I regretted not backing it.

But this article, claiming ignorance and partially trashing people who got upset with the team, instead of trying to identify the reason they are upset and address it. To me this was offensive as a business practice.

Jacob Germany
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They did identify the reason people are upset. They weren't reading their updates (or the original Kickstarter). If this sounds like "trashing" to you, it's probably because it was a silly mistake on the angry backers' part, and pointing out their mistake isn't a compliment. But the reason was identified, and I'm not sure anyone sees any reason to investigate further.

And yes, Stoic has, to date, kept their promises as long as one assumes that stretch goals and expanded scope, by definition, extend release dates. That understood, there's been no cause for concern or worry that Stoic is abandoning promises.

Yannos Soumis
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This article shows how they view the situation - it does not mean they are right. It is amazing that obvious things must be explained:

1. They say backers didn't watch the pitch video. It does not mean they didn't thoroughly read the Kickstarter page. It doesn't mean they were misinformed.

2. Article says angry backers only lashed out after Factions. This doesn't mean they weren't steadily building up steam.

3. Writing updates on why you delay isn't okay. Delivering on time is.

4. Getting more money is not necessarily a reason to delay. It could easily translate to more hands on the game or outsourcing to top talents that cost more money. Or additional work AFTER you have made good on your initial promise and timeframe (free DLC anyone?).

5. This article implies that the enraged backers are half-witted, impulsive buyers who did not know what they bargained for and it is all their fault. From what I can infer this is a considerable percentage of backers we are talking about. If you honestly think "attacking" them is better than trying hard to understand why a significant percentage of their backers is angry... there is no point in further discussing this.

6. If they don't want them as backers why don't they offer a refund? If they were brave enough to do this I would applaud. Say that these are the new terms, we will refund those who did not sign up for this and lets see what happens. But no, they treasure their money, just not their voice.


Regarding your last point, I don't assume anything. What was their initial projection? What was the posted date when they were taking all these money? You cannot assume you will delay/change tactics (for whatever reason) and the other party will be okay with that simply because you sent an update. You cannot assume that. You cannot.

This incident proves just that.

Jacob Germany
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1. If they didn't know about the multiplayer, yes, it means they didn't read the KS page.

2. Building up steam over... what? Can you name anything before Factions that anyone had a problem with?

3. Who said they delayed anything? You're confusing the initial $100k release date being pushed back *during* the campaign with delays after.

4. In this case, they were very upfront and honest about what their extra funding would be put into. Read the Kickstarter if you're confused. Yes, extra funding *could* be put into hiring talent to release the exact same game even quicker (within reason, there are bottlenecks that giant teams can't circumvent). But it wasn't, nor was it ever promised or even hinted that this would happen.

5. Where are you getting the information that a "significant" portion of the backers are upset over this?

6. Now you're clearly not even being serious. You want them to offer refunds for something that wasn't a purchase, on the basis that the donors have second thoughts about the project to which they donated? All because the donors are upset over a facet of the game that was always planned, consistently mentioned during and after (and even before) the Kickstarter?

Was this a preorder, I would be inclined to agree. It wasn't. It was a donation to help Stoic make a game they wanted to make. All is well, the project is going smoothly, and they even released a mix between a standalone game and a demo so you can see for yourself how the game is going. So, what's the problem?


"You cannot assume you will delay/change tactics (for whatever reason) and the other party will be okay with that simply because you sent an update. You cannot assume that. You cannot."

It was clear to anyone paying even the slightest attention that a game with many large scope-increasing stretch goals that received 700% of its original goal would take longer to make. What you cannot assume is that a donation to Kickstarter entitles you to rage (or a refund) over reasonable delays. If you want to purchase preorders for games, Gamestop and others are more than happy to take your money.

Roderick Hossack
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As someone who plays fighting games, I can understand the value of getting your combat system out in the wild as soon as possible. Street Fighter X Tekken had infinite combos discovered within 4 days of its release.

Thanks to the Factions, broken tactics won't be an issue in The Banner Saga.

Kevin Reese
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I think a large level of the grumbles are coming from what Kyle Redd said: whether warranted or not, the majority of people who sponsored this game did so because of the dearth of quality single-player strategy / tactical-RPG games out on the market today. A F2P game like Factions is the opposite kind of game that they intended to sponsor.

I've been following the Kickstarter fairly closely and I do not think the possibility of a F2P game like Factions was ever effectively communicated. Although Factions make logical sense from a design and monetary standpoint (especially after reading this article) I can nonetheless understand why many are upset (even if wrongly).

I have a feeling just a bit more canny, careful PR could have framed Faction's release in a different light entirely, leading it to be better embraced by the game's Kickstarters.

David Stark
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I'm a backer. I watched the video before backing but didn't remember that Factions was going to be released as a F2P game before the single player experience. That being said, when I started hearing about it in the updates I skimmed, I thought it was a good idea.

When I backed this game, I backed it because I genuinely wanted it to be made. I thought the story and the art style were amazing and I figured kickstarter was the only way to make it a reality. Do I care that there is a F2P multiplayer portion that anyone can play? No, because it will help make the single player game that much better. Do I care that other people now have access to something I funded? No. I'm a gamer, I funded this project so it would be made, and I want everyone to experience it.

Yes, the Banner Saga team releases a lot of updates. I generally skim them since I don't have time to read them in depth. But, I'm glad they are keeping me updated. Just getting an update every month lets me know the project is still going and they are progressing.

Brad Venable
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The fact that you are using the development time to create a demonstration of your combat system in a multiplayer environment in parallel to your single-player project is a genius move. It's a move that more devs should be taking nowadays, considering that it helps you make a more robust single-player experience, while still being able to evaluate what's working and what's not.

As for the campaign, communication is bi-directional, and if anyone gets mad over something unexpected, yet chose not to receive the message you broadcast, the onus is on them for any miscommunication. Sure, your word choice weighed heavier to the single player game, but really. The situation seems more like people are plugging their ears and complaining, when they should manage their expectations better.

The fact that you have a plan and are executing that plan is going to be lost on those that are looking at this from a purely consumer-based mindset. You did the best thing you could do in posting a response here, where those that ignored your updates might actually see the progress. The fact still remains that you can't make everyone happy when it comes to crowdfunding.

Filip Lizanna
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Wow. Hopefully the original writer issues some sort of an apology....I applaud Stoic for the way they handled this situation. Responding back on the same site was pretty cool as well.

Brad Venable
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Apologies never happen in reporting. When they are, they're more like, "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Diego Leao
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My opinion (I'm not a backer): you released what seems to be the "least important" aspect of your game (to your _backers_, I mean), and then included microtransactions in it... Isn't that the case?

Have you released a demo of the singleplayer and then launched the multiplayer, you would be fine. People are probably worried that the money might run out when you "get to work" on the campaign.

You talk about the assets being used in both campaigns, but it is safe to say that finishing a multiplayer product is more about code, and your backers know it.

You don't seem to understand what your backers expect of you, and if you don't find a way to understand them, you are probably going to struggle until the game is done (and people realize that what they backed is what they got).

Simon Cooper
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> My opinion (I'm not a backer): you released what seems to be the "least important"
> aspect of your game (to your _backers_, I mean), and then included microtransactions
> in it... Isn't that the case?

Could you elaborate for me, if possible, how the turn-based tactical combat system is the "least important" aspect of a turn-based tactical combat game? I'm honestly confused.

All of this needs to be in place (much like the engine, physics etc of an FPS game) long before you start trying to put levels, AI and story/scripted sequences together within that system. The resources between the MP and SP aspects of the game are pretty much 90% shared with a much greater workload present on the singleplayer side. Multiplayer is literally half of a singleplayer game with players acting out the role that will be assigned to the AI in the SP portion, minus plot and a significant amount of level/NPC design.

As a fellow non-backer, I take no qualms in saying this backlash is both unwarranted and ridiculous given that they've been clear from the outset and through continued updates that this was the plan.

Bart Stewart
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1. Although there's some overlap, I strongly suspect that people who really like multiplayer games and people who really like single-player games are not the same people. Those two styles attract vocal constituencies who want "their" game made.

Delivering a multiplayer version before single-player, or the other way around, will inevitably frustrate one of these constituencies. The moment you show your game in one of these two styles, that's what everyone will assume the full game is going to be, regardless of any words published by anyone anywhere. The constituency who like that style will exult, and the other will complain.

And the volume will double (at least) if both groups funded development, because now you have not only interest but a feeling of ownership.

Based on all that, I'd say (to any developer) stop trying to do both single-player and multiplayer, even if you can. Pick one, and do it well to be perceived as fully serving the constituency you attracted.

2. Another factor here may be that some backers don't look at any of the Kickstarter content at all. They read a glowing description on a third-party blog/website, which may or may not accurately and fully describe the developer's intentions, then race to the KS page and whack one of the backer options.

That's no one's fault, exactly... but to the extent that it happens, it can lead to backers feeling the developer didn't deliver the exact experience promised by the third-party web site. How's a developer supposed to deal with that?

Jacob Germany
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2. How it is no one's fault that one party donated money to another without reading the words describing the cause to which they were donating? Seems pretty clear cut that it's the donor's fault, just as it would be in any other situation where you pay money to someone without bothering to understand on what it is you're paying.

Bart Stewart
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Jacob, do you know every detail of everything you buy?

I suspect that, like most everyone, you take some things on faith -- you trust what you know about a product or vendor enough to give someone your money without performing a complete assessment.

If that's a "fault," it's not restricted to people who back a KS project based on external recommendations.

That said, of course I agree that if you didn't research something before paying for it, you have less right to complain that you didn't get exactly what you expected. (Although even I draw the line at extending _caveat emptor_ to cover deliberate fraud. But we're assuming for KS projects that that's not the case.)

But people are still going to trust third-party sites for KS project recommendations. If those sites, while believing that they're helpfully alerting readers to good games, don't accurately and completely describe the developer's intentions, how can a developer minimize mismatched expectations from backers?

Jacob Germany
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Of course everyone does that. But if I purchase something blindly, realize my mistake, I (hope I don't at least) don't attack the otherwise-completely-honest vendor for my own mistake. I see the backers as doing just that.

I agree it's a problem, and I agree it must be (unfortunately) dealt with, but the blame is very obviously on one party. I just hope that the potential for this strategy isn't ignored because of the PR attacks Stoic is receiving. I hope these backers, who didn't pay attention to what is happening, aren't creating so much of a stir that future developers don't consider this strategy as an option. "No, no, I'm not going down that road. Did you see how badly it went for Stoic?"

Lou Hayt
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I'm a backer, I watched the video and read some of the early updates... I didn't realize a free MP version was up on stream though - grabbing it now!

It makes *perfect* sense to release a free MP version! That screen shot somewhat reminds me of the most excellent Betrayal at Krondor, I'm excited to play it! Separating the combat from the "overworld" is a great concept (e.g. Star Control).

As far as item biz model - LOL is the single best e.g. and they only sell cosmetic skins (and to a lesser extent some buff configuration items called "runes") so take note! If you don't want your users to feel that they are forced to pay into the VIP lounge... then don't make one.

It's cool that you care a lot about backers comments, however I'm not sure these comments are relevant until they see the final product - simply because you can't expect them to be able to imagine the missing parts. It may come easy for professionals, but most people (clients, investors, backers) don't have that trained eye.

Peter Smith
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I too am a backer of The Banner Saga and I'm one of those disenfranchised by the course this project has run.

I realized most of you have circled the wagons around one of your own and that's fine, but the fact is backing a project is volunteerism. You can mock those of us who're disappointed in The Banner Saga if you like; it just reinforces the idea that Kickstarter isn't a good fit for us.

In my case, if I never see anything for my $50 (though in truth I already got a poster) it certainly won't be the end of the world, but frankly I would've rather seen Stoic take the extra money and buy themselves fancy cars with it, and deliver the small single player game that I was hoping to be playing last December rather than extending this process to build something that might interest me next Fall.

My own new Kickstarter policy is this: when I see a project that looks interesting I used Kickstarter's "Remind Me" feature so I get pinged at about the time the campaign is going to end. If the campaign is in danger of failing I'll back it. It it has made its goal, I move on. I do NOT want to do anything that might enable 'stretch goals.'

Mr Thomas is really delivering an edited version of what happened with The Banner Saga, making himself look good and this other author look like he's making stuff up. But for the record I feel the same as the original author. I read "Though the single-player campaign is our focus" and to me that doesn't say "We're going to deliver a microtransaction based competitive game a few months after when we're promising you'll get the game you're backing, and then 9 months or so later we'll deliver a single player game...unless plans change."

Certainly Stoic did send out updates announcing their evolving plans, but that was after they already had our money and we were all along for the ride. The initial pitch downplayed MP and spoke of it as a definite side-show.

So now you guys can mock me and point out where I'm 'wrong' but the fact is, we're dealing with ~feelings~ here. My experience with The Banner Saga has caused me to be wary about Kickstarter projects (and I have friends...also your customers...who feel the same way). Mostly I'm wary about stretch goals and projects that become over-funded. I know you developers naturally want to build the biggest, most elaborate game you can, but we players are sometimes looking for something short and simple.


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