We know that there's a tendency in the independent game developer community to think that making games costs no money. But this only applies to people who make games in their spare time or who are supported by their families. We don't have any spare time, simply because we choose to make games that require a lot of work. And we do have families, but we're the ones supporting them, not the other way around. So we need funding to be able to do our work.
We had received support from the Flanders Audiovisual Fund before. So we knew how and when to submit proposals. And we had a good idea of the kinds of things they like. Our own focus tends to be on simply building a living and breathing world that feels nice. But there's very little understanding for this type of work in funding organizations.
We tend to be most successful when the cost of the project is low and the concept includes a little twist, a bit of irony, a tongue-in-cheek gesture. We often kid that we are doing these enormous amounts of hard work but we're only getting funding for telling a clever joke.
In The Graveyard, the twist was the added death feature in the full version and the fact that when the protagonist dies, she is still dead when you restart the game (in fact, we originally intended the game to require a re-install when that happened, but that didn't work on Mac OS which doesn't really use installers anymore). That added a kind of meta-narrative to the game that the people who decide on the funding seem to need.
It takes about a week to write and submit a proposal, so it's not trivial. But in the end we did get the funding quite easily, even if it was only a small amount of money. We actually liked that fact, because it forced us to keep the scale of the project small (after all we were still in the middle of the production of The Path).
Cover image of the project proposal: a simple outline of the entire game. We used the game's simplicity of design as a provocation
Not to be underestimated are the contributions of Laura Raines Smith, Gerry De Mol and Kris Force. We were able to just throw ideas at them and they would come up with a creative solution and beautiful assets. Without requiring any real management. We are not very authoritarian. We like it when people work independently and take initiative. But that only works if those people spontaneously produce work that fits with the project. We were very fortunate.
Exploring game design concepts
The Graveyard is the realization of a dream, in a way. We had been discussing and blogging about games without rules, games without goals, games that are about being rather than seeing. But we hadn't really finished a game design that explored this thoroughly. The Graveyard gave us an opportunity to do so and to understand the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach. Not only in terms of game design as an art form, but also in terms of reception by the public.
We were amazed by the response we got to The Graveyard, from the press as well as the audience. There will be details in the last chapter of this article, but we can already say that we are more than happy with the attention that the game received.
A lot of people really liked the experience. And many of those who weren't entirely convinced appreciated our efforts and expressed hope for the future. We got a lot less negative response to The Graveyard than we did to, say, The Endless Forest. I guess perhaps the hardcore gamers (who are very adamant about "criticizing" The Endless Forest), just shrugged and went elsewhere this time.
Demonstration leading up to The Path
Part of why The Graveyard was received so well is probably that we have been slowly but surely building a reputation for ourselves. The selection of The Path in the IGF and the double spread about the game in Edge magazine probably helped people to take our work a bit more seriously.
In a way, The Graveyard served as a sort of teaser for what people can expect from The Path. It deals with a similar theme and has a similar graphic style and gameplay. We also used it in this way, to get an idea of how people respond to this kind of concept, in the safe environment of an art project. Because when we release The Path, we will need people to be interested enough to buy it (or we face bankruptcy).
Selling a product
We did not sell enormous amounts of the full version of the game (details in the last chapter). But it was the first game we had released commercially.
We always like to receive emails from people who appreciate our work. But the silent flow of confirmations of purchase coming from PayPal was heartwarming in an unexpected way. Five dollars is not a lot of money. Nobody who owns a computer with internet access doesn't have five dollars to spare. But for people to actually spend that money on a downloadable bit of software is still not something that is as common as spending the same amount or more on a candy bar, cab fare, or a newspaper.
While we were setting up the whole thing for allowing people to pay with PayPal through Payloadz, we hadn't anticipated the emotional effect of people actually purchasing what we had made. Expressing their appreciation without knowing us or talking to us. It feels nice.
We took a risk by choosing to create The Graveyard with a new technology. But using Unity (and Mac OS in the case of Michaël) turned out to be a very pleasant experience. Well-designed software is such a joy to work with. We don't get that nearly enough on Windows.
The Graveyard was not intended to be a commercial game. Selling it was part of the artistic concept, not an attempt to make money. And it looks like the project is receiving the recognition we believe it deserves. It has already been selected for the Brazilian File festival and for the Indiecade showcase during E3 in Los Angeles. There's also interest from Mediamatic in the Netherlands to show the piece in an exhibition. And there will probably be more.
The Graveyard is not as easy to display in a social context as The Endless Forest is. But we think it can work.
Modeling the character in Blender