There have been a few questions over the course of the campaign regarding our goal amount and funding in general, I think the answers might be interesting to people so I thought it deserved an update.
There's a saying that goes; “You can have it fast, cheap, or good. Pick only two.” The implications of this statement are painfully true.
To address the 'why so much money?' question succinctly, I could say 'because that’s how much it costs'. While accurate, that isn't a very good answer. It’s actually kind of interesting looking at that question from a bird’s eye view. On our end we view this cost as unprecedentedly low for a game such as this, while some view it as unreasonably high. Whether or not a fledgling studio can actually garner that kind of money through a system such as Kickstarter is a different question, which each project answers on its own in due course.
How do you determine your goal amount? People determine cost in many different ways and it depends, not only on how you look at the crowd funding model, but your particular monetary situation as well. Some people or companies look at crowd funding as an end-to-end risk mitigation technique. They may be able to afford to create a game partially or entirely on past earnings, but turn to crowd funding in order to reduce or completely remove their own direct risk. It allows them to take on tasks which aren't generally viewed as viable by others or even themselves.
Some others use it as a partial funding or as a kick off to their funding search. It’s another way to mitigate risk; investors are more likely to jump on the wagon after it has been partially secured by crowd funds.
It is suggested by some analysts that asking for less than you need and hoping you far exceed your stated goal is the way to go. This approach is the most risky and I feel quite unfair to those who trust you with their money. There is always the possibility of just barely meeting your goal. If that happens, you are in the distasteful position of not being able to follow through on your promises to your backers.
Still others use this system as direct funding and do not intend to seek further funding outside of the goal they set here on Kickstarter. It's these projects that either tend to be smaller, or as in our case, more expensive. They seem more expensive because you are seeing what it actually costs to make a game like this through crowd funding. People outside of the game industry, and even sometimes inside the industry, no doubt raise an eyebrow at these cost figures; at a glance they can seem quite excessive. Especially when considering them against some of the other approaches described above.
Doubt over the cost accuracy is different than doubt over the ability to garner the funds through crowd sourcing. I am addressing the former. The latter in the end, is immaterial. If something truly costs a certain amount to make, then that is how much it costs. There is no use in saying it should be cheaper instead.
So what do things cost?
Well let’s imagine you are making a game similar to Blackspace. You have a budget determined. You know end-to-end what the game will cost to make. Is that the figure you set as your goal? There have been stories on Gamasutra
and elsewhere that describe the perils of this approach. The first thing to recognize is that the goal price isn't the game development cost. It is the game cost plus the cost of raising money in this 'Kickstarter' fashion.
Say you planned ahead and set your goal to be 350k. Kickstarter and Amazon take 10% if the project succeeds as a service fee. This reduces your 350k to 315K.
Since Kickstarter funding is not considered a liability, it is generously taxed. You can now remove an additional ~30% of what is left. This brings you to about $220K.
Now, though we love our backers dearly, there are the costs associated to having backers as well, especially in physical goods. Not every dollar for each pledge level goes directly to funding the game, most of the extras are not free. Pretty much the only level that goes 100% to game funding is the purchase of the game only. The rest, physical or not, has a cost. It is either a creation time cost (which translates to money) or direct monetary cost. This cost can be roughly calculated up front as well and typically constitutes about ~5% per tier if you average across all tiers. It is your responsibility to make sure that those who contribute to higher tiers do indeed help the game even further along to its goal, since normally that is the intention of the more generous backers aside from getting cool stuff.
All this leaves you with 203k to create your game. Woo hoo! 203k to shower yourself with while you work! Not so fast. Now assuming you don’t have a adequately sized team of people willing to work simply for food, you have to hire people. The other option is to do all the work yourself, but if you’re making a game like Blackspace with two people, it will take you an unacceptably long period of time and the costs compound as tech ages. Here come our two choices again; fast, good, or cheap.
So, on to hiring! Who do you hire? Well for starters you will need content creators. This can mean artists, designers, and musicians/sound designers among others. You have to make lots of 3d models, textures, physics models, particle effects, upgrades and load outs, environments etc. You need to build levels, make data driven scenarios, create story driven events and refine procedural parameters. There’s music, sound effects and story. You'll need menus, a compelling front end UI, an informative in-game UI and detailed end game statistics. Speaking of stats collection, there’s server communication and maintenance as well. The list goes on.
Programming is needed as well. Luckily in your case, since your project is so similar to Blackspace, you spent the last 9 months intensively creating systems that will handle the content and have created many of the main game systems. Now you can focus on the remaining, smaller, but plentiful and diverse, systems that make a game complete. For that you will need a bit of programming help.
To keep it simple; let’s say all you really need is roughly 5 people, for the next 8-9 months, artists, programmers etc. Keep in mind, developer’s jobs aren't over the day the game ships. For an idea of what it costs to hire game industry professionals I would direct you Gamasutra’s 2011 Game Industry Salary Survey Results. None of this accounts for marketing, server fees, licensing, and many of the other costs associated with making a game.
All in all making games is a pretty pricey and risky business, even more so if it’s in any way different or new. The question of whether or not you will be able to raise the money you need is based on many things: How ambitious is your game? How revolutionary? Who are you? Is your timing right? Is your pitch right? Is the game type popular? Is the game type’s market saturated? Do you have the money to market it? How many people do you already have in your corner? Have you given yourself the amount of time you need to raise your money? This list could continue for quite a while.
We have received tons of feedback on this campaign throughout this time. We've been told that we have among the strongest most complete and well-polished pitches. We've been told that we don’t have enough to show and we need to polish our work more. We've been told we are asking for ridiculously too much money. We've been asked how we can make a game like this with so little money. Whether they approve or disapprove of our approach, it’s really interesting seeing this journey through the eyes of so many different people.
Hopefully this sheds a bit of light on costs and the less than obvious expenses that are all part of a project like Blackspace.
Though the Kickstarter isn’t over, I have looked back over this campaign. The one thing I would change is to spend even more time building a community outside Kickstarter. I am gratified that we found backers with the foresight to see the value in Blackspace. It may simply be that Kickstarter is not a viable platform for us. If we find that this attempt fails there are other options for us, one of which is to find some funding and try again, we don’t plan to abandon this game. We can see from platforms like this and Steam, that there is a real interest in this game. It may however take a good deal longer to bring to you through other means. Regardless of the outcome, be sure to keep up with us on www.pixelfoundrygames.com.
Thanks for all your support and encouragement, no matter what happens with the campaign, it has been an enjoyable and enlightening experience for us.