PSYOP: Blog from David Sears - H-Hour: World's Elite
In my last blog I talked about wrapping up production on our proof of concept for H-Hour. At that point it was complete—scope-wise it more than met our intentions, i.e. to make fun happen in a classic gameplay style. We had completed almost every task for features and content that we had set out to achieve. That felt pretty good. What I didn’t really talk about was how that build, or one really close to it, was the build that would be used for video capture for our first gameplay trailer. The game was playing great which is the most important thing, so we tested the build and sent it to the guys at Platform. They went on to do an excellent job of capturing and editing footage for us. This video was instrumental in driving our recent very successful Steam Greenlight campaign and gave a lot of people their very first look at the game.
Of course, if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a game developer and we rarely, if ever, consider our work done. We make the best decisions we can along the way during production and then when we absolutely have to, we let it go. Obstinately and under protest, usually. In what was a highly unusual moment of fugue, I realized that I didn’t have to be done. Not just yet. There were a few things I really wanted us to address and surprisingly, the time was there. I mean, time, just sitting right there. And we took it.
Immediately I wanted to address the lighting issues with various props that was causing them to render blown out or orangey. This alone made a significant improvement in overall visual quality and revealed a lot of the detail that had been in the props all along. Then we moved on to the visual effects and greatly increased the resolution and fidelity of all the particle systems. Happily I was able to do this in a tiny fraction of the time creating the original emitters had taken—it’s amazing how much six months with an engine can teach you. Then there were areas of the map that felt empty so I “propped ‘em out.” This includes the mysterious “vampire grotto” which had previously been a dark, dark, empty room. Now it’s full of delicious coffins. And human remains.
At the same time Kevin decided that we need a much more robust Snatch & Grab gameplay mode. As of yesterday, he’d implemented the core design, fixed a bunch of quirks, and even got the “interrogate” functionality I’d been hoping for in place. He also completed the UI and fixed a number of lingering bugs.
Yeah, this time I can say it’s really done and I’ll capture new footage for a second gameplay trailer. Sure there’s more I’d love to do to/for it but it stands on its own as a proof of concept: fun, addictive, classic gameplay for a modern age.
So what the hell are we working on now?
This is the something different part. Apparently the game isn’t going to just sell itself, as much as I’d love for it to do that. No, we have to put it in front of publishers and investors, create and deliver PowerPoint presentations (something I hate more than anything in the industry, except for useless meetings—which coincidentally often contain PowerPoint presentations), and generally drum up the full production budget.
A lot of you guys have expressed incredulity that we aren’t funded already. I know I said that the game won’t just sell itself, but if you play it, it’s undeniably fun. Why shouldn’t it sell itself? Since we live in what I consider to be a broken universe, I am confident when I say this: fun is not enough.
Let that sink in for a moment. Fun. Is. Not. Enough.
Nor is our community’s irrepressible enthusiasm for this type of game. Nope. To get someone to pony up the dough to make the game, you’ve got to irrefutably prove that there is a market for the game and in most cases, that you’re innovative in some way.
We’ve got documentation that tracks your interest in H-Hour dating all the way back to the Kickstarter campaign and up-to-the-minute analytics on the buzz for the game in social media today. They are good numbers—ridiculously so—and we have you to thank for that. But it’s stunning to me how many publishers have not heard about the game yet. I realized this during the Steam Greenlight campaign when a producer at a major publisher contacted me to talk about the game. Where had he heard about H-Hour? The Steam Greenlight page? Our web site? Kickstarter? No. He’d heard about the game from a mutual friend in the industry.
This tells me a couple of things. First, while the “awareness numbers” are great, we have to keep pushing on that front. We are in a “Horton Hears a Who!” situation and only time and your continued effort will break through the clouds and broadcast the message to the enormous group of players that would love H-Hour but still haven’t heard about it.
Second, it tells me that we’re probably going to have to break down some doors. We have already been reaching out to publishers and private investors to convince them to let us showcase our work for them. And when we do get our foot in the door, we have to prove that there is interest in the game, that the budget is valid, and that not only are we bringing back a classic gameplay style but innovating as well.
Innovation. This happens with design such as the Analytics SergeantTM, extensive clan/community tools, and ludicrously customizable gameplay options. Innovation we have, and it’s not more epic kill streaks. Our innovations support a classic gameplay style that is grossly under represented these days. Balancing these two aspects of the game design and convincing publishers how sexy they are together is going to be a big part of our pitch.
You may be wondering how long does something like “funding” take to secure? This is a darkly mysterious process full of pitfalls and rituals to which the gaming public is rarely exposed. Even most developers are not directly exposed to this process, but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to walk through it, in the way that I see it.
We chose to build a demo so that we’d have something tangible to show investors, so there’s that time plus the time required to raise the proof of concept budget on Kickstarter. The demo took about six months to build, Kickstarter ran for one month, and the preparation for Kickstarter took another month. That’s a total of eight months which brings us up to today, and is, coincidentally, the last immutable data in the equation.
Now it’s time to apply considerations for future reality.
This is sort of quasi-algebraic, but I’ll try to make it painless. The total time spent preparing up to this point is known—8 months--and I’ll call the rest of the time required—conferencing calling, emailing, and negotiating with investors or publishers—X, representing the amount of time you think it should reasonably take to make a deal happen if nothing goes awry. If you’re an optimist, multiply that X by three. But if you’re a pessimist, you might choose a larger number. Pretty simple math so far and the funding process can be just as simple. Heck, sometimes funding can happen in much less time than your worst estimate but usually the negotiation process takes longer than you hope it will.
Now, to this calculation you have to add the wildcard Lovejoy variable. This could be that the producer in charge of evaluating your game is a huge fan of the original games/games that inspired it or just has money he absolutely needs to get rid of right now. The Lovejoy factor could speed the funding process along considerably, but not always. If you’re lucky, you can just divide the negotiation time by this variable. I’m going to represent it with a little heart because, you know, emoji.
When dealing with publishers or investors, you never know what requirements they’ll stipulate. Some make sense, others seem random and are unique to that one business contact. Let’s call this variable S for shenanigans. Examples of shenanigans could be “Oh no, we had a bad quarter and our company is bankrupt now! Let’s talk again in three months…” or “Thanks for spending the last month answering all our questions. Here are five hundred thousand new questions to answer. I’m going to Gamescom! Laters!” or “I like the design but can you take out all of the blood, bullets, and explosions? And make all the dudes chicks, and all the chicks dudes? Can you make them zombies? How long would that take? How much would that cost?” These guys definitely make you work for their money but they generally mean well. After all, before they put their jobs on the line by championing your game, they want to be absolutely sure it’s a good bet for them and their company. I think it’s fair. If you aren’t patient enough to walk a publisher or investor through every step of your business plan, you probably don’t deserve the money. Anyway, now the equation looks like this:
You might think this equation would give you at least some idea of how long this process might take, even allowing for the last wildcard factor. Unfortunately, this is the sort of equation that has to be lived and can only be valid after you have secured the funding. You simply cannot know how long it will take to *get* the money until you *already have* the money.
I did leave out one variable in the above equation and it’s the scariest variable of all. Think of it as attempting to divide by zero—a catastrophic impossibility in math—only worse, worse because it has a face. You may have gone through the entire funding process and at the last moment, some guy high up in the organization looks at the deal and nixes it. He might not understand the appeal of the game, maybe he intends to shift his company to a “pay to win” business model next year, maybe he thinks there aren’t enough unicorns in it, or maybe he’s just capricious. But he can axe the deal with just an instant message and all the months of work you’ve put into negotiations is flushed. I call it the “divide by douchebag” factor.
If this sounds discouraging, I agree. It does sound discouraging and in practice it can actually be exhausting. But that’s the job. If I wanted easy, I’d run for president. Fortunately it’s not always as difficult as the equation outlines. I’m hoping for easy but expecting to have to work for it.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, everything we do is a struggle in some way or another. That is, in part, what convinces me that we are attempting something worthwhile. We’re Tesla to the establishment’s Edison. (Yes, Tesla is a personal hero for me. Don’t get me started.) Well, we aren’t going to invent the AC motor or broadcast free electricity through the air, and I rarely hear disembodied voices from Venus, but we are setting out to make the game happen even if we end up taking paths not everyone has the fortitude to take. We aren’t pursuing just one line of funding, we’re pursuing all of them. There are many, many good publishers and a sea of smart investors out there. We just need to connect, talk, and do some persuading. And while I despise PowerPoint presentations, they’re a necessary evil—an evil I’ve learned to embrace and shockingly, become fairly accomplished at delivering. Behind so many of the games we’re playing today are teams who ran the same gauntlet we face and used the very same algebra to made something great with the solution. I did the math—our odds are favorable.
- David Sears