Reflections and Confessions for a New Year
Note: although most posts are written from the whole team’s perspective, once again the following post was written by Joe alone.
More often than not these days, I find myself in a difficult situation. For example, today I am going to make every effort to be direct and to the point in this post. However, I also must respect the privacy of the many people in my life that affect my decisions, so there are some things I just can’t talk about. As always, I’m going to do my best and hope that it’s enough.
It’s been a few months since the last update, which is hardly fair to the project or its backers. However, it is also true that this is the earliest that I could manage to write an update, for reasons that I will get into shortly. Realizing that I’m short in my duties to Unwritten Passage, and that I’m also doing the absolute best I can, has caused me to come to terms with the reality of the position I’m in. This also means that the project’s backers deserve to know the whole picture, without sugar coating or spin.
As I’ve alluded to in the past, my family has struggled with medical issues. However, what is only clear to those that are close to us, is that these problems have been far-reaching and long lasting. The past year (the year that I decided to go indie), has been particularly difficult in ways we never predicted. Although in many ways it would be easier to talk about by getting into specifics, I will have to leave it by simply saying that it has been hard, that a lot has been demanded of the entire family, that it has been getting harder each month, and that I have been failing to balance the load.
Every person in life has a limited amount of themselves to give. I have been striking a compromise between a project that has had its own troubles, a family in crisis (that I oftentimes couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize), and the regular demands of supporting my wife and daughter on my own. I am tenacious and hardworking, and I have been creative in addressing the problems that I see. But I have my limits, and sometimes tenacity can become willful blindness and stubbornness. And those qualities don’t honor the trust that my wife, my daughter, my backers, and my contributors put in me.
So here’s the situation right now, as simply as I can think to put it. We raised $75k (which became about $68k after various Kickstarter costs) to make a game in 6 months with the efforts of 3 people. At this stage we’re at the 9-10 month mark. I’ve stretched the budget hard, and for the last month and a half I’ve been doing contracting on the side to try and stay afloat and to give my family the stability to see the doctors we need in order to heal. To be blunt, this is not enough. It is not stable enough for my fragile personal life (due in part to how healthcare works in the U.S.). It is not enough to retain fulltime commitments from my contributors. And in the meantime, as I balance my roles between programmer, designer, writer, producer, contractor, husband, father, brother, and son, I am not doing a very good job.
This is difficult for me to admit, as I have a reputation in the industry for taking risks and for following through on that ambition. But it turns out I have my limits (as everyone does), and I am at my limit right now. But even though this is a bitter pill to swallow, Unwritten Passage and its backers have been very important to me this past year. You all deserve my best effort, even when that means admitting difficult truths.
So why did we fail to create a realistic budget and come in on time? I feel that I would need to write 3 full postmortems to address that question: one as an indie game developer, one as a small business owner, and one as a bit of flotsam swirling in the maelstrom of the U.S. health system. But in short two idioms apply: “hindsight is 20/20″, and “shit happens”. Although nobody was perfect in this process, I do feel that everybody did their best with the information we had. I am grateful to everyone that has helped us gather so much success so quickly, and despite it all I still feel lucky. I have learned a lot about myself and the people I love, and I want very much to be a better person moving forward.
OK, now the big question: is the game canceled or what? I have been thinking hard about what is the right thing to do. The stupendous work already put forth in Julian’s music and Lee’s art still sets my imagination on fire. And I see people come to life all the time when I describe the concept to them. However, my experience also says that we have lost momentum, we’re out of money, and it’s now a one-man project centered around a fulltime game developer with family baggage that needs better health insurance. And I’ve worked in the past on wonderful projects with real promise that have been canceled, so I know what that looks like. Sometimes it still takes a lot of luck to make a game.
But I’m not ready to completely call it quits and say that Unwritten Passage is dead forever. However, to say that the project as I pitched it is alive and well would be beyond naive. It would be dishonest. It lives on as my personal side project, something I hope to bring about on my own and through the help of talented friends when possible. And should it come to be I will do my best to deliver on my original promises… but I have to be honest. To many this is probably the end.
To all that have helped me, my contributors, and my family embark on this experiment, I thank you. I don’t have the words to express my sincerity and my appreciation. I will be leaving up the websites and will continue to update the backer pages as news develops, so if you are interested in staying in touch with the project I’ll keep you up to date. Finally, we have of course been using the campaign funds to best make good on our promises. However, there is a small fund left for pursuing future art costs for the game. If you are a backer and feel that we have violated your trust in us, please contact Roxlou Games via Kickstarter and I will do my best to give you a refund.
Thank you all.
Joe Houston - Roxlou Games
P.S. Anybody know any good jokes? Leave them in the comments to brighten this post up.