To... the future!
I think it's obvious to everyone at this point that this kickstarter isn't going to fund unless there is some sort of unexpected deus ex machina that comes out of left field.
That's okay: this kickstarter was a long-shot in some ways from the start, because not many games fund at this level. Only 1% even pass the $50k funding mark, but we did (and then some!), so we have a lot to be proud of.
Quick Kickstarter Notes For Those New
First of all: for those of you not familiar with kickstarter, please don't feel like you need to alter your pledges or cancel them! And if you have not backed but were considering it, feel free to pledge a dollar so that you get future updates about what is going on. You won't be charged in any fashion for a kickstarter that doesn't completely fund.
That's the beauty of kickstarter: unless a project gets all of its baseline funds, it doesn't take money from backers at all. The creator doesn't have enough funds to actually MAKE the thing that was backed, so to take enough money to do part of it... well, nobody would get what they want or expected in that scenario. What a disaster that would be.
Anyway, so please do leave your pledges at the level you were planning to back, because that will help show off the level of support we received on this first kickstarter, and inform our decisions as we move to a re-launch. If everyone pulls pledges at the last second, that doesn't do anything for you, but makes things look markedly different on our side.
For the moment we're leaving this campaign alive for another couple of days at least, because why not -- there's always some chance of an unexpected deus ex machina, even if that chance is vanishingly small -- and it also gives us more time to talk with you about future plans and reach some final backers who we can then tell about the re-launch.
The Re-Launch, And Its Differences
This first kickstarter was about trying to maintain the status quo at Arcen in terms of staffing, AND making everything at once (within reason) for the 1.0 scope. For a re-launched campaign, we'll be cutting things far back to what we can do with only a portion of the budget (1/4 of our original goal, or even as low as 1/5th).
There will then be stretch goals that will let us build back up to our previous design goals, and in the future we would use either kickstarter or patreon to build up even further. This first kickstarter was always first and foremost about building a platform to see future expansion, and the re-launch will carry over that spirit. We'll still have a big game at launch, but without quite so many bells and whistles.
The simple fact of the matter is that AI War is HUGE, and so if we're going to build it from smaller individual funding chunks, we're going to have to cut scope. That... actually ought to be familiar to folks who were around for Classic, actually. It wasn't like those SIX expansions to the game didn't add stuff to the game. ;) With this original kickstarter, we were trying to hit as close to the content of AI War Classic PLUS six expansions PLUS new stuff, and that just turned out to be untenable since we were only able to reach a fraction of our audience.
Ultimately that's okay: this first kickstarter raised a lot of awareness, and has also helped us identify what is most important to people out of the vision we have for the game, and has helped us to gauge the amount of financial support that we can reasonably expect to muster.
Now Keith and I have a lot of discussion needed in order to figure out exactly what to cut and what to retain in order to stay as close to the original as possible while working within a new and slimmer budget.
Arcen itself is undergoing a change at this point, and it's a rather fundamental one. For my personal life it's a hugely positive thing, because I can finally have a better work/life balance. I have been living in a very unhealthy way in terms of how much I work versus how much I see my family for quite some time.
For Arcen in general, it is also a positive thing because we'll finally be living within our means. I've always been trying to reeeeach just a little farther to get the company to the next level and support a certain amount of staff, etc. In the current market, where there are indies and AAA studios flaming out and disappearing left and right, that's just clearly not tenable.
But for us, it means a reconfiguration. There will be a core team of just Blue and myself from now on, and our existing residuals are enough to pay for us. That puts a lot less time pressure on things, and we can approach projects with more polish.
We can't rely on those residuals staying at this level forever, but at the same time we won't be reliant on each new game being a massive addition to it; with just Blue and myself as expenses, we could have kept developing In Case of Emergency, Release Raptor, despite its poor performance, for instance. We also could have skipped early access for it, or at the very least released it with more content from the start, and the project as a whole likely would have succeeded. In the older form of Arcen, we simply had too many expenses for that to work.
Erik has been working with us on a royalties-only basis ever since the layoffs this January following Starward Rogue, and that will continue; that fits quite nicely for us, and he's launched his own company since then and it's working out well for him, too. So that's been a mutually positive thing in the end, and I hope that will also be the case with more of the folks here after this reconfiguration.
I say reconfiguration because this is overall less of a layoff. It's not meant to be a corporate-sounding euphemism. Yes, we are losing some contractors, but in terms of the core four of us: Blue, Pablo, Keith, and myself -- we're still going to be working in the same group, just in a different fashion.
The re-launched kickstarter will mostly be for funding Keith, who is the core programmer on this anyway. He designed and programmed the last 3 expansions for AI War Classic himself, and a lot of people's favorite features are in there. I'll still be quite involved, but I'll get less input than I otherwise would have unless we start hitting stretch goals in the re-launch. Blue and I will still be tag-teaming various aspects of the art, for instance, but Keith will be taking over the interface work instead of me, etc. That way he actually... well, still has a job, and can work on other things related to the game, too.
For Pablo, we'll be announcing both a kickstarter campaign and a patreon for him, and he'll thus be funding his music more separately from the main thing. The hope is that then his music budget can grow and exist on its own, and he's not so dependent on our core successes or failures with the games that we create. There's a whole huge soundtrack for Stars Beyond Reach that he did that almost nobody has heard, for instance, because I couldn't get the game design worked out there.
This new arrangement should work better in terms of giving him a steady income regardless of what is going on with Arcen, as well as giving people a way to get Moar Pablo (and more vocal tracks by his wife, Hunter, I imagine), which I know a lot of people have really been wanting.
Why Tell People All This?
The first thing that someone might think is: isn't this going to undermine confidence in Arcen as a company, and our ability to deliver things in the future?
Well... you tell me. My belief is that the people backing this sort of project for Arcen are fundamentally rational, and also place a high premium on honesty and transparency.
If you folks were to start seeing a fundamental shift in tone where I was suddenly dodgy and evasive, that would raise quite a few eyebrows, wouldn't it? And with a re-launched project with a massively cut budget, I think you'd immediately have some questions about what the heck is changed that lets us do that.
Rather than beat around the bush or try to save face or whatever people do, I figure it's best just to be upfront with you. My hope is that your confidence in the next kickstarter will be just as high as your confidence in this one was: the only thing that can stop us, in either case, is not meeting our funding goal. We won't set a goal that we can't hit [edit for clarity: referring here to our ability to do the work in the stated budget, not our ability to raise that amount of funding in a kickstarter], because that would be unfair to us and you.
- We will re-launch, but please do keep your pledges here or feel free to back, because you never know what might happen and you won't be charged if this fails or cancels.
- We are losing a number of contractors, which is something I take very hard, but which was inevitable if this kickstarter did not succeed.
- Blue and myself will remain as the core staff, and we will be financially stable finally (for the first time in 7 years, in terms of not needing windfalls to leap between).
- Keith and Pablo will gain their income from crowdfunding for these projects, and thus the core 4 stay together as much as possible.
- Erik remains in his existing royalties-only capacity, which works well for everyone involved.
- We are extremely grateful and proud of what this kickstarter has accomplished so far, because only 1% of KS projects even make it to $50k, apparently. At the time of this writing we're at $84k. I wonder if we can break $90k! That would be pretty freaking awesome as a note to end on before we re-launch.
- We're going to be talking to folks a lot as we prepare for the re-launch, so you'll know what's up as we move forward into that.
Overall this isn't the outcome that we wanted, obviously, but it underscores some changes in Arcen that needed to happen. We haven't been financially stable on our own for quite some time simply because of being staff-heavy (I believe in paying people fair wages for the work they do), and so since this first kickstarter wasn't able to solve that issue, we instead need to reconfigure and move forward under a different methodology.
Arcen isn't going anywhere, and AI War 2 is still going to be awesome. But you guys deserved an update rather than radio silence, so here I am.
Probably all of our upcoming discussions will be in comments on this project for now, and so our next update will be details with a more concrete plan. I'm not going to pretend this doesn't hurt, because I think that would make me a sociopath of some variety, but we stuck our old approach out as long as we could and made it really far, so I'm very proud of that. Our new approach is stable and sane, and has a variety of benefits for you as well as those of us that remain, so there are doors opening even as the old ones close.
Any questions, of course please let me know. You guys all continue to amaze us!
P.S. -- Doing a publisher deal is pretty much not in the cards. It just wasn't a fit from either side, at least for AI War 2. Wouldn't have been good for you either, or the future of the franchise.