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Cult County Kickstarter: Funded Success or Public Failure?
by Jools Watsham on 04/17/14 01:05:00 pm   Expert Blogs   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.

 

So, we have this Kickstarter thing happening right now. Cult County for Wii U, 3DS, Steam, Xbox One, PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. Our minimum funding goal is $580,000. As of this moment, we have currently raised just over $39,000. Gregg (Renegade Kid co-founder and art director) and I have talked about the idea of putting one of our projects on KS ever since the Double Fine campaign kicked off in 2012. Their project had a minimum goal of $400,000, and they raised $3,336,371.

We have always been leery of turning to KS because when you put your project on KS, you’re really putting yourself out there. You don’t know what the response will be. You can try to think of every angle to appeal to the audience you’re aiming for, but pressing that “Launch” button to make your KS campaign go live is a scary thing.

Prior to our KS campaign going live we spent a great deal of time thinking about the KS video and the information and images we’d display on the main KS page. Based on where we were in production – having spent many months developing the story and characters for the game – we had some great concept images to share. The fact that our project pitch was to work with the fans to develop the game, we felt this would be enough to communicate our vision to potential backers.

The KS video is a tricky thing to create. There have been videos of two dudes sitting in front of a camera, or just gameplay footage, a combination of the two, and even skit-like videos like Double Fine’s. We decided to go with a video that communicated what we felt was the important message while having a scene play out in the background that connected with the theme of our game, Cult County - a survival horror experience set in a small, dusty west Texas town.

It was the combination of Gregg, Mark (from Dvelop.tv), and myself discussing ideas for the video that finally molded the idea. We wanted to capture a little bit of Twilight Zone with some disturbing hillbilly imagery in the hope that it would present something unique and help convey our passion for the project through the effort and production values of the video. All in all, I am very happy with the final results. Mark Zamora of Dvelop.TV and short film awesome dude, Matthew Cowling, did an outstanding job!

Crafting the KS page itself was very much inspired by Mighty No. 9, who opted for the approach to include the fans with the creation of the game itself, which I feel is exciting and appealing for potential backers. In addition to every backer having some voting power on content for the game, we added pledge tiers that enable folks to get deeper and more involved with the creation of the game, as enemy designers or even have their face and voice in the game as an NPC or enemy.

I feel that the concept images that Gregg created do a wonderful job of setting the atmosphere of the Cult County environment, as well as giving fans a glimpse of key components of the game with the main character, Gavin Mellick, some weaponry, a key enemy figure, and locations. I think having them all in concept form helps communicate that this is the beginning of development, where the final ideas are still being formed – and where the backers can help us take the game to the finish line with their creative input and financial support.

The first 24 hours after pressing the launch button went fairly well. Even though it is very unlikely, I think everyone hopes that they knock it out of the park and reach their minimum goal straight away so the rest of the month can be focused on the celebration of the project and how it can be made even better. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for us. A few days into the campaign, the pledges had slowed down to a crawl and we were finding it very difficult to gain extra momentum. To say it was a difficult and demoralizing time, would be an understatement.

I reached out to folk in an attempt to get the word out, but even with the amazing and appreciated support from Shuhei Yoshida – who announced his support of the project with a pledge and a tweet to his 120,000 followers, Gustavo Sorola - who retweeted it out to his 214,000 followers, and Anthony Padilla – who tweeted out his support to his 1.33M followers, it just didn’t seem to help gain new backers. And then, we needed to head off to PAX East in Boston to show off our warez.

I realized that we underestimated the need for gameplay footage. I had hoped that we would not need this, considering Double Fine and Mighty No. 9 did not, but in the end we are not Tim Schaefer or Keiji Inafune. So, we took our playable demo that we were working on in Unity and polished it up a bit and recorded footage. I think this helped a bit, but still, not enough. People at PAX East seemed to enjoy the video and had some great things to say about it, but getting the word out to folks is tricky. We will continue to push forward.

So, here we are, with 14 days remaining on our KS campaign for Cult County and even though we have not lost hope, it seems highly improbable that Cult County will reach its minimum KS goal - unless a miracle happens. We are now trying to convince Akira Yamaoka to create a tune for the game… we’ll see if that comes to pass or not. How amazing would that be? It would be great, but whether even that would be enough to propel us closer to our minimum goal is unlikely, unfortunately.

At the end of this campaign, I will write another blog entry. Will it be a celebration or a commiseration? Only time will tell. If you are someone who has backed the project; thank you so much for believing in our vision for the game. You are amazing! Even if we don’t reach the minimum goal, we will pursue other avenues to try and get it done. However, expect it to take a lot longer than it would with a successfully funded KS campaign, unfortunately.

If you are someone who is unsure, or have decided that this project is not for you, I hope you can do us a small favor and look over our KS page one more time and learn more about the story, the team, and how you and other backers can help us make this a very special survival horror experience in a world where even Capcom have decided to neuter their survival horror franchise in an effort to appeal to the masses with muscle-bound and/or sexy action heroes.

Please help us make a special survival horror experience for you. You won’t be disappointed.

Thank you,

Jools


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Comments


Simon Ludgate
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While I don't want to discourage people from either making campaigns or supporting them, my personal criteria for Kickstarter is: "how likely is this going to turn out to be a game I want to play?" To ascertain that, I tend to look at two main factors: the team and the current product.

In cases of Double Fine, InXile, and Obsidian, I already trusted the team because I enjoyed their previous games. They had a concrete game idea that appealed to me (with sufficient details to grab my attention) and a solid team that had already proven itself with games I was very familiar with, so supporting them was an easy decision.

I have never heard of Renegade Kid. I Googled the company and saw their list of games, and I have never played any of those games. So I can't back your project on studio reputation alone.

In projects I've backed made by companies I was less familiar with, they were already sufficiently advanced to give a good sense of the final project. Battle Worlds Kronos comes to mind. I had never heard of King Art Games or played their games before, but their Kickstarter video included gameplay, and the gameplay included UI.

This is a bit of an aside, but whenever I look at screenshots or videos for games to evaluate them, I basically ignore the graphics part of the game and look at the UI. The graphics show you what the game's art is like, but the UI shows you what the gamePLAY is like. What systems are they using? How complex are those systems? How will the player interact with those systems? That's what I look for in UI.

A recent example of this is Grim Dawn. I saw the promo material when they had a one-day Steam sale. It showed lots of flashy in-game graphics and clearly conveyed a playable ARPG. But I was still very much uncertain about APRGs in general, especially after finding Torchlight 2 to be such a disappointment. It wasn't until I tried the game and saw the character progression UI (and made the connection to Titan Quest and the Iron Lore team, which I somehow missed the first time I looked at the material) that I backed the project by buying the Steam Early Access.

So, getting back to Cult County, there's no UI in your video. There's no content or gameplay at all. It's an FPS engine with a wrench. That's not a lot to go on. Maybe if this was a tech demo and you were selling an engine, but a game on just that?

Your videos say nothing interesting about your game: how will we be surviving the horror? Will there be weapons? Inventory? Limited ammo? Checkpoints? Limited save points? Are we going to evade enemies like Amnesia or fight them like Resident Evil? Is there character progression where you gain powers or skills or level up, like System Shock?

Your concept art lacks any substance: buildings, areas, figures; but no story, mechanics, or cohesion. There's no mock-up of how a level might be designed, how the player might navigate through different events, how anything interactive might play out.

To me, this pitch is: "We're a company you've never heard of that's made games you've never played, and we want to make a new game based on a very vague concept of survival horror and look so far we have an FPS engine with a wrench, so back us please?"

Maybe that's a bit harsh, but I'm trying to offer constructive criticism here :)

kirk johnston
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You've made some very valid points imo.

The instant I saw the Kickstarter for Cult County I made it known that I didn't think this game would achieve anywhere near it's target and it's for some of the exact reasons you mentioned and quite a few others.

It didn't look like a game but more like something that could be quickly put together in Unity in a couple of weeks by basically 90% of the random people using Unity.

At this point I think most Kickstarter backers are becoming a bit more wise to that kind of thing.

Tim was one of the lucky ones that got away with showing basically nothing at all based on his reputation and legions of apparently extremely loyal fans but very few people/developers are able to take that same kind of approach.

I know of Renegade Kid and I've followed most of their games. I even played Dementium back in the day, it was ok imo, but there just wasn't enough of a GAME in the Kickstarter to go on and what was there looked basically like a very early prototype for an ex 3DS game running on Unity imo and harsh as this may sound; that's just not appealing to me and I imagine most gamers out there in the slightest.

People aren't going to throw their money at anyone to basically upscale an ok looking 3DS game and put it on Wii U.

This is why I said from day one that this should have stayed on 3DS all along because at least on that platform it looked half decent and stood out because it was an fps game which is a rare thing on 3DS.

The financial logistics and limitations of doing that, sticking to making it for 3DS only, are not my concern but that's just what I thought the second I saw the Kickstarter.

I've made five games myself now for iOS/Mac/PC/Android and in grand total they have made just under £400 in over 3 years, so trust me when I say I feel your pain, Jools. Probably a thousand fold.

Hopefully, some lessons have been learned at least.

Wendelin Reich
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Excellent analysis by Simon, to which I want to add one point. Given that you are neither a very widely known studio nor can show off a partially completed game, the fact that your KS has a 6-figure target displays - in my view - a severe lack of judgment. Such a sum communicates that you are/were unwilling to invest significantly into your game beforehand. This screams 'high-risk project', and makes people like myself extremely wary.

Again, harsh but hopefully constructive.

Benjy Davo
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I agree with all that has been said and would like to add something additional. It seems like Renegade Kid despite only being a 3 man operation has quite a few projects on at the minute, Moon Chronicles, Treasurenauts and potentially Cult County. Not only that but Cult County would be on many platforms. To an onlooker it looks like RK are taking on too many projects and not really being very focused. To put that into perspective Jonathan Blow ditched the Xbox sku of Witness due to not having time to develop for every platform and he has a bigger team than you and has been working solely on that project for 6 years.

It also smacked to me in the little video that Jools himself wasn't really that enthused, clearly that would not have been intentional but presentation is everything. Also whilst I have followed your videos Jools and I know you have a daft sense of humour, the bit where you were messing about with the shadows was the sort of thing everyone does when they get their hands on some new software tools. I can recall messing about just like that when I was modding for the first time back in the Team Fortress days in the late nineties. Whilst that is perfectly normal behaviour in your own spare time it looks a bit amateurish to some on a kickstarter video and I say this knowing you are very experienced in the business as an artist.

I hope that wasn't too harsh I actually do think the potential of a survival horror game set in a windy small town in the south has some potential. I just think you need to work out some more parameters about what sort of survival horror game you are actually making, focus on 1 or 2 platforms and maybe do another Kickstarter with a smaller amount of money.

Jools Watsham
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Excellent feedback, guys. Thank you!

Robert Boyd
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Some other notes:

Asking for half a million dollars when you're not a well known studio and you're not resurrecting some beloved old property is nuts. Not saying that it's impossible for unknowns to get that much (it happens) but if that's your bare minimum to get the project done, you need to find a publisher because Kickstarter isn't going to work. The reason is because people look at percentage funded before deciding to pledge so seeing a high goal scares a lot of people off.

Cult + Horror is so common that it's cliche. That this was your main pitch and not just a small detail in a bigger pitch was a huge turn-off for me. Plus, the fact that you used a cross symbol in the title makes me think that you're going to try to tie this cult into Christianity (unlike cults in games like Silent Hill & Siren which are mostly divorced from actual religions) so you risk offending people as well.

Likewise, pitching a game as season 1 of an episodic series is a major no-no. I want to feel like you're pitching a complete project; pitching an on-going project makes me think you don't realize what you're getting into.

Like Simon mentioned, having screenshots or footage that looks like an actual game with gameplay is a huge help. Partially because it helps us get a feel for what kind of game it's going to be and partially because it lets us know you're serious about making an actual game.

Karl Schmidt
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Wow, pretty harsh commentary. I've heard of Renegade Kid (played a bit of Dementium for DS, and still want to play Moon), and follow Jools on Twitter. I'm not really into survival horror games in general though. This is also the first time I've heard of this KS campaign, but it's easy to miss stuff on Twitter.

KS is getting tougher and tougher to have success with - unfortunately studios like DF set an unrealistic precedent. They have incredible PR, surprisingly large and loyal fanbase, and despite a history of titles and previous publishing deals, nobody ever questions them going to KS for funding. Even with a working and available vertical slice, your KS can easily fail. IMHO unless you are an indie darling, it takes a huge PR effort and a lot of luck to get anywhere near 6 figures, unfortunately.

Best of luck to Renegade Kid for this project, I admire you guys a lot.

Jools Watsham
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Thank you for your kind words and support, Karl!

Christopher Jennewein
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Jools, I'd be interested to know why you waited until the launch of the Kickstarter to even mention Cult County. Why not build up hype for it during GDC at least?
The Kickstarter did get quite a bit of press on day one, but I could see merit in drumming up press beforehand and going even bigger on launch day.

Tom Davies
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To be perfectly honest, I do not look much into the company or look at the figures they are asking for and make judgements based on them. The only thing that matters to me is the pitch itself. And the pitch's central point, the video that is embedded under the banner saying "What is Cult County?", shows a very small level with a church, some ok effects and no gameplay whatsoever. From a pitch video I want to know how it will feel like to play the game, what is it that I'm I going to be doing. What that video showed was simply not very engaging.

Ettore Luigi Gislon
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I concur with most of the comments made, especially with what Christopher said about hyping the ks BEFORE it has started. You want people to get hyped and have something to look forward too I guess, also to prepare some money for it in advance.

I also believe that the fact that the game is not on PC is a big factor.

All the most successful videogame ks projects were on pc. Computer gaming is where the hardcore and/or grognards are imho, and they are the ones ready to pledge for a non-existing game.

James Yee
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*Puts on his KS Conversations Reviewer Hat*

Okay let me see here.... You didn't fall fully into my usual list of "The Same Mistakes Every Time." (http://www.kickstarter-conversations.com/2014/02/the-same-mistake
s-every-time.html)

I liked your main video as it is thematic and gets the basic point across, it wasn't a boring slog to go through as so many videos I see are. You also do a decent job of providing your bonifides. While to most you are nobodies (no offense), you do have a resume of results even if they require hunting them down.

Now you do totally fail at providing a good reason for the $580,000. This is a big one I complain about in all Kickstarter projects and that's the budget breakdown. I mean look at Tabletop's Indiegogo campaign they are asking for $500,000 for a webshow and they immediately had to explain WHY (and they did a good job) but if they had put more effort into that ahead of time and on the campaign page itself I think they would have less of a flurry at first. (Then again all the discussion might have also helped them in their case. YMMV)

Your art works for a basic "settings" POV but other than that it's not very evocative.

I think you may have wanted to describe a bit more of what YOU mean by "Survival Horror" genre as that genre has been changing in recent years. It also would add to your own description of the game.

I remember looking at your campaign a few weeks back when I was looking for my next round of interview requests and I passed for two reasons: 1. Not my genre. I honestly do NOT like horror games of any kind and that's fine. At the same time I feel my dislike of things shows in my questions and writing on a project and adding a negative voice to the conversation isn't a good thing. 2. Not enough there for the goal. Honestly $580,000 may actually be the minimum you need for the fan involvement you want (i.e. you needed to start early in development to get the people involved) but at the same time there's not enough there for people to latch on to either in your previous work or in this campaign.

I hope you'll come back to Kickstarter in a year or so if you're still working on Cult County when you have an Alpha version to help pay for polish/art/music what have you. I think your project would work well at a later stage but a game like this is a hard sale at such an early dev stage. If you come back hit me up and I'll write you return story or at least give you a blurb but at this point I'm afraid you're not hitting your goal on this time around.

Dave Hoskins
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99.999% of people backing Kickstarter projects are NOT developers.
I have no idea if that's true, but it's worth thinking about isn't it?


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