The Hero-U Report
One year has passed since we posted the Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption Kickstarter project. Ten months since we received the proceeds. Originally we listed Oct. 2013 as the Estimated Delivery date. I'd like to talk a little about the scheduling and budget process and bring everyone up to date on the Hero-U project.
Before I dig into the details, here is the "too long, didn't read" version: Lori and I remain 100% committed to delivering Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption to all of our backers and to the market. The game development is far behind schedule, but we are completely confident that we can and will finish it. Hero-U will look outstanding and will be as fun to play as we can make it. Based on past fan feedback, I think most of you will find that to be very fun, indeed.
More What You'd Call "Guidelines"
This Update is partially a response to a project comment that said, "I assume the project's not going to hit the October deadline..." Quite correct, up until the last word. The phrase on Kickstarter means exactly what it says, "Estimated delivery." It's more of a guideline than a deadline. However, the comment makes a good point – It's time for a full Hero-U status update.
Based on what we knew at the time of the Kickstarter, October 2013 seemed like a reasonable estimate. There were actually four reasons for an October shipment date:
- Lori and I love Hallowe'en, so we would have loved a Hallowe'en themed launch.
- Releasing the game in October is a great time for people looking for Christmas presents.
- At our minimum $400,000 goal, we expected to run out of money around October.
- The date seemed achievable based on a small RPG built on the MacGuffin's Curse engine. We planned to complete design in January, have a demo by April, combat working in June, Beta test in September, and release at the end of October. Ambitious, but possible.
Our Current Plan and Progress
- Hallowe'en is still awesome. It's a great chance for everyone to go to a party or trick or treating, since you won't be locked in your room playing Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.
- We are shipping the Meep toys, t-shirts, and Hero-U baseball caps over the next few weeks. All of them make amazing Christmas presents (especially the Meeps).
- Our development model with a mostly part-time team has slowed development considerably, but it has also slowed our "burn rate". As a result, we still have a substantial bank balance. This is good – We will need it. More on that below.
- The schedule that seemed achievable last year for a modest RPG was completely unrealistic for a full-scale adventure RPG. Our new target dates are playable demo next week (it is complete and ready to go), combat test around the end of the year, Beta in April, and release in June 2014. And yes, it is very possible we will need to extend that as well.
The Money Game
Planning a Kickstarter-based project is hard. You have to guess where to set the goal and what you will actually receive. Lori and I started working on Hero-U in July of 2013. Based on our past projects and those of Brawsome, I came up with a pretty good estimate of the project's cost. There was only one problem – It came out to $550,000 and we knew it would be very hard to raise that much on Kickstarter. We instead set our goal at $400,000 and successfully closed at $409,150. This makes us #81 on the list of "Top 100 Crowdfunded Companies" according to Entrepreneur Magazine, but it is a fraction of the budget of any of our previous games. We added another $23,000 via PayPal.
After funding costs and rewards we've promised to backers, $275,000 of the $432,000 gross became available for the actual game development. Coincidentally, that's almost exactly one-half of my original estimate. At a full burn, we would have run out of money about four months ago, and we would have about one-quarter of the game complete.
I chose a different route, developing the game more slowly while we worked out the technology, visual look, and the game design. There were many bumps along the way, but we now have a clear vision of how we will develop the rest of the game.
Following the Vision
We have promised our backers a great game, and we will deliver it. We take our commitments and our craft very seriously. But how could we do that with half our planned budget?
Step one was to realize that we did not have to live within the Kickstarter budget – It is a "starter", not an upper bound. I spent a great deal of time working with one of our backers on a possible "media investor" deal, but the numbers were impossible. The game would have to become an indie bestseller to make enough to continue the Hero-U series, and nobody can predict a bestseller.
Instead, Lori and I decided to self-fund the game by means of a personal home-equity loan. We will use that to pay our living expenses so we no longer need a salary, and we will fund other costs out of our "pocket". Some say this is a big risk – We might lose our home. We see it as much less of a risk than promising a bestseller that we can't guarantee.
Several of our developers have also agreed to defer some or all of their contract income until after we release Hero-U. They are equally committed to making sure that we complete the game and that it meets our high standards. We love our current team and are very excited about the work we are now seeing from them.
We are still short of the original $550K budget, but we are buying a lot of time this way, time we will use to create the combat test, much more art, and a substantial part of the game. If we need funding at that point, we will have many more options because we will have more to show. We can offer Humble Store pre-orders and Steam Early Access, apply for a small business loan, do a supplemental crowdfunding campaign, etc.
The Bottom Line
We have had many unexpected challenges with the Hero-U project, and not all of our development decisions have turned out well. However, none of those problems were disastrous, and we are now making good progress. Lori and I are just as committed to making a great game as when we first proposed Hero-U. We are now in solid financial shape and we have a much clearer road map towards completing the game. We hope that all of you will remain understanding about the incredible challenges of independently developing a high-quality game.
Support Bolt Riley – A Reggae Adventure Game
You may have wondered why Lori and I decided to make a new game 15 years after Quest for Glory V. A lot of the credit for that belongs to Oded Sharon of Adventure Mob in Israel. Late in 2011, Oded talked to Noah Falstein about helping him find an experienced adventure game design consultant. Noah introduced us to Oded and we started work on the game that became Bolt Riley. We helped with the overall design structure and wrote the puzzles and dialogue for about one-third of the full game.
Bolt Riley is the story of a young man growing up in a very poor section of Kingston, Jamaica. He loves music, especially the Reggae sound, and wants to become a singer. In the game, you will play Bolt and help him discover the inspiration he needs to write great songs and put together a talented group of musicians.
Alas, Adventure Mob's publisher deal for Bolt Riley fell through, and they had to suspend development on the game. They were also very busy at that point with another project – The prototype that Replay Games used to launch the Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded Kickstarter. Lightning struck a second time when Replay cancelled the deal with Adventure Mob, and the company went on hold for a year.
Oded also worked hard to convince Lori and me that we should run a Kickstarter. He helped us understand how crowdfunding campaigns work. Oded also introduced us to Chris Pope of the SpaceVenture project. Between them, they convinced us that it was time to throw our hats back into the ring and make a new game.
Back in 2012, Kickstarter only allowed U.S. companies to create funding projects. Now that they have opened their doors to more of the world, Oded Sharon and Adventure Mob are able to seek the additional funding they need to complete Bolt Riley, including Lori's and my section of the game.
Oded is looking for $120,000 to finish the game development. With a substantial portion of the art, programming, and music for the game already complete, this seems realistic. Lori and I hope that many of our backers will check out Bolt Riley and help support the project. We're especially hoping that someone will choose the $10,000 tier that will result in us getting to visit Israel for the first time.
You can find the Bolt Riley adventure game project at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/soundguy/bolt-riley-a-reggae-adventure-game.
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Friend: Thank you for your support! Your name will be added to the Hero list on www.hero-u.net/leadersroll.php, a small first step towards immortality.Estimated delivery:
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Freshman: You will receive a DRM-free digital game download, access to discussion forums to help us improve the game, and your name will appear on the Hero list.Estimated delivery:
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Sophomore: Digital Reward 2: Receive everything from the Freshman level, the downloadable Hero-U Soundtrack, and the gorgeous Hero-U Art Book in PDF form. The art book contains production sketches, final art, and insider commentary on the making of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.Estimated delivery:
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Junior: Get a head start on your education by playing one of the development team's previous award-winning games. You will receive all of the Sophomore class benefits plus a digital key to your choice of MacGuffin's Curse, Jolly Rover, or the complete Quest for Glory collection.Estimated delivery:
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Beta Tau Initiate: All-Digital reward. Everything in the Junior package, including your choice of one game key. PLUS you get early access to the Hero-U Beta and Combat-Balancing tests. Help us shape and tune the game the way YOU want it!Estimated delivery:
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Senior: Get physical with a high-quality boxed copy of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption containing the game on DVD and a printed game manual. You will also receive all of the Sophomore benefits (including an additional digital copy of the game). While you wait for your box, enjoy a preview with early access to our Beta and Combat Balancing Tests. All Seniors may add any of the Junior-level previous games at $15 each.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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Big Man On Campus: (Super Digital Rewards) You're special, and everyone should know it. Your name (or your favorite character's name) will appear in the in-game DIGITAL YEARBOOK along with a brief statement of your/their accomplishments. We will also email you the Secret Thieves' Guild Password. (Other players will need to discover this in the game.) You will also receive everything from the Sophomore level as well as early access to our Beta and Combat Balance tests. (NOTE: This tier does not include any physical rewards. It's highly International-Supporter-friendly.)Estimated delivery:
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Frat Rat: Halloween Special – You love Meeps, and that's why you will get your very own Toy Meep along with your boxed copy of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. That's on top of all of the Senior-level physical and digital rewards and eligibility for add-ons. You will also receive your own entry in the in-game DIGITAL YEARBOOK. International Customers please add $15 for shipping costs.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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Graduate Edition: Unique Kickstarter-Graduate-only Collector’s Edition Box containing the game DVD, manual, a Music Soundtrack CD, your own Varsity Letter, Hero-U button, and everything in the Big Man On Campus digital reward tier including your very own entry in the in-game DIGITAL YEARBOOK.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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Exchange Student: The *ultimate* all-digital package, perfect for international backers. You will start with everything in the Big Man on Campus edition. Then you will have the chance to follow the development of Hero-U with insider access to developer discussions and Alpha tests. To give you more insight into our games, you will receive digital keys to ALL EIGHT of our currently available previous games (Quest for Glory 1: So You Want to Be a Hero EGA and VGA versions, Quest for Glory 2: Trial by Fire, Quest for Glory 3: Wages of War, Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness, Quest for Glory 5: Dragon Fire, MacGuffin's Curse, AND Jolly Rover). NOTE: The previous game keys are part of this tier only; we are not adding them to the higher physical tiers.Estimated delivery:
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Research Assistant: You're practically a team member, so you will receive a very-limited-edition Team Meep Hat plus insider access to developer discussions and Alpha tests. You will also receive everything in the Graduate Edition, and your chosen picture (subject to team approval) will appear in the in-game digital yearbook.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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126 backers Limited (674 left of 800)
Alumnus: As a proud Hero-U Alumnus, your chosen name, preferred photo (or other image of your choice, subject to team approval) will appear in the Very Limited Edition physical Hero-U Yearbook. Of course, alumni like to collect signatures from their University friends, so Lori and Corey Cole will autograph your yearbook and Graduate Edition premium game box. You will also receive Research Assistant privileges and a Team Meep hat.Estimated delivery:Add $15 USD to ship outside the US
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33 backers Limited (167 left of 200)
Master Rogue: The rewards of your advanced education include a limited-edition art print of the school on Canvas, everything in the Alumnus package including the autographed premium game box and autographed yearbook. You will also receive a Limited Edition Kickstarter Superfan T-Shirt, and digital keys to ALL THREE previous games – the Quest for Glory Collection, MacGuffin's Curse, and Jolly Rover.Estimated delivery:Add $25 USD to ship outside the US
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PhD: You will be immortalized. Not only will you receive all of the benefits of a Master Rogue, your chosen name, hero biography, and picture will appear prominently in-game as well as in the yearbook. Your canvas art print will be supersized, and you will be one of the proud few to complete a graduate school education at Hero-U. We'll also provide you with the secret location and key to the Faculty Lounge. (Other players will be able to break in later in the game.)Estimated delivery:Add $40 USD to ship outside the US
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19 backers Limited (6 left of 25)
DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts): You will be featured on an in-game painting. When players click on it, they will see your chosen name, image (this could be you, a favorite character, pet, or other approved image, converted by our artists to look like other in-game portraits), and humorous description. You also receive all of the benefits of a Master Rogue, You will have a listing including your chosen image in the yearbook, and of course will receive an autographed copy of the physical edition. We will send you a canvas art print of your in-game "portrait" in addition to the school art print, and you will be one of the proud few to complete a graduate school education at Hero-U. We'll also provide you with the secret location and key to the Faculty Lounge. (Other players will be able to break in later in the game.)Estimated delivery:Add $40 USD to ship outside the US
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Art Collector: In this extremely-limited reward tier, we will send you an original, one-of-a-kind production painting that was used to create a Quest for Glory game. We only have a few of these paintings available. You will also receive all DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts) benefits, including having your picture and biography immortalized in-game. The Quest for Glory artwork will be shipped separately in January or February.Estimated delivery:Add $80 USD to ship outside the US
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Benefactor: As one of the top alumni contributors to Hero-U, we will name one wing of the University after you or a loved one. The name you choose (with team approval) will be prominently displayed when any student enters your wing. We will send you a customized architectural drawing of your wing. If you send us a suitable video clip, it will appear in the launch video for your wing. You will also receive all benefits of the PhD reward tier. Free shipping worldwide!Estimated delivery:
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Monster Lair: You are so diabolical, you are the master of a dungeon den. We will collaborate with you on designing your own custom monster lair, likely including a sculpted image of yourself or a friend. Your lair, complete with the monsters and traps you select, will be placed somewhere in the catacombs. You will also receive all benefits of the PhD reward tier. Free shipping worldwide!Estimated delivery:
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High-Roller: You're a serious role-player, or just really want to support our game at a high level. In addition to all of the PhD-level rewards, Corey and/or Lori will run a D&D game for you and friends at a convention anywhere in North America. Or add $1,000 for our additional travel expenses, and we'll join you anywhere in the world. Does not include the Benefactor reward – The school doesn’t have enough wings. Instead, you’ll have a large statue in the main wing celebrating your or your hero's accomplishments.Estimated delivery:
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Philanthropist: You really care! And we care about you too! Spend a day visiting Yosemite Park and touring Sierra landmarks in Oakhurst with Lori and Corey Cole. We'll share a nice meal or two and discuss game design or anything else you want. You'll also receive all the rewards of the PhD level and we'll find a prominent place in-game to thank you for your awesome support. We will cover a one-night hotel stay, but you are responsible for transportation to and from Oakhurst, California.Estimated delivery:
- (32 days)