Birth of a Hero(ic card game)
We are really happy that yesterday’s update has given Android players the opportunity to participate more fully in the Kickstarter, and judging by the response, you are too. Hello $51k!
Today’s update is not about looking forward, but instead looking back. We know there’s been some discussion about what it really takes to make a digital adaptation of a game like Sentinels, both in terms of effort and money, so we thought we would pull the curtain back a little and let you folks in on some Sentinels Digital history. Today’s update will only be about this look back, but stay tuned tomorrow for some more looking forward!
For context, we’ve decided to be a bit more open with you about our development costs so that potential backers can get an idea of the real dollars and cents of developing a game like Sentinels. We are very proud of the fact that it took us less than 7 months of full scale development to go from initial prototype to 1.0 product, but it was only possible due to the hard work of a team of 8 people (some full time and some contracting). To build the game took plenty of code, artwork, design, 3d modeling, texturing, shading, audio, music and more, not to mention the support from Greater Than Games.
Counting only development, not sales, marketing, or promotion (e.g. PAX, Gen Con, trailers, ads, etc), Sentinels Digital cost more than $150,000 to get from prototype to release. That $150k is what created the rules engine and user interface, built the environment backdrops, composed the music, and implemented the 10 heroes, 4 villains, and 4 environment decks that made up Version 1.0. 18 decks, no Variants, no multiplayer. Not to toot our own horn, but that is actually a pretty low budget for a game as complex as Sentinels. (toot, toot)
When it came time to begin working on expansion content, we estimated that each new deck might cost us between $3-4k to develop. As we have worked on Sentinels, we have streamlined our development process, learned some ways to do things more efficiently, and frankly, we’ve simply gotten better at what we do (however, we can thank Christopher Badell for making newer decks more complex over time, so it kinda evens out. Thanks Christopher!)
At this point, we estimate that creating a new deck from scratch, using only mechanics already existing in the game engine costs us around $2,000 per deck. Creating a deck involves much more than just programming; there’s music to make, environments to construct, graphics to create and optimize, lots and lots of testing, and more. Some decks are relatively straightforward, but others (like Kaargra Warfang most recently) cost quite a bit more. Sometimes they are just more complex (hi Guise), and sometimes they need additional UI work to support (hi Guise).
The mathematicians out there have probably already figured out that, all told, the 41 decks in Season 1 cost us at least $80,000 to create (and we’re still not quite done). While creating new content is always important, we have also spent at least as much time and money on adding new hero and villain variants (which includes character cards, unlock condition programming, music, etc.), new features (like online multiplayer and the Weekly One-Shot), bug fixes and optimizations (like the size reduction patch from a couple months back) and of course sales, marketing, and promotion.
This number leads us directly to our decision to Kickstart Season 2. At the time we began sales of Season Pass 1, we had developed only 3 expansion decks: Unity, Ambuscade and Silver Gulch. As such, we didn’t yet have a full understanding of what we could expect an average expansion deck to cost to develop. Looking back, we now know that the day we sold the first Season Pass, what we were actually doing was taking out a $150,000+ loan from our future selves while signing a contract with all of you that if you gave us $20 today, we would deliver you 41 new decks for your game at some point in the future. We were making a bet that we would sell at least enough copies of the game, the expansions, and the Season Pass each month to keep development moving until all the content was complete. It was a risky strategy.
Sales of Season Pass 1 were good, but the truth is, they were sometimes not good enough. More than once, the team had to tighten their belts, or simply go without salary. (I’m happy to say it was only myself that ever didn’t get paid. The price of being an Indie Game CEO is sometimes steep, but it’s one I pay out of love for what I do.)
We are happy with our investment in ourselves during Season 1 despite a few bumps in the road. But given what we know about our development cost for new decks, as well as what we expect it to cost to add new gameplay like villain teams and OblivAeon into the engine and UI, we looked at the numbers and decided that the self-funded Season Pass model is too risky if there is a better way.
Enter Kickstarter. If we had tried to Kickstart Season 1 for the actual cost of development, we likely would have failed. We were still a relatively new team, and as mentioned, we would have been essentially guessing with regards to cost. But our time working on Season 1 has given us the knowledge and experience to know what Season 2 will cost, which is why we feel confident in bringing this directly to you the fans.
In terms of risk & reward, Kickstarting Season 2 is just like buying a season pass, but with extra benefits for both parties. In both cases, you pay money up front in trade for a promise from us to deliver the whole thing. The Kickstarter benefit to you is that you get bonus content and have access to special rewards. The Kickstarter benefit to us is that we can be confident in having the financial resources in order to deliver what we promise.
This is exactly what Kickstarter is for - projects that would not happen without support. A great example comes right from Sentinels history - Rook City. It was the first major expansion for a successful game, and Greater Than Games’ first Kickstarter campaign. It wasn’t an overnight success, but it managed to fund and hit a small number of stretch goals too. Without the backing of fans like you, Sentinels of the Multiverse would have been a really great standalone card game and nothing more. Just like GTG did then (and several times since), we need to make sure we can afford to make the product before diving too far in.
By backing us for Season 2, together we will guarantee that Season 2 will be a reality, and hopefully a bit more if we can get to some stretch goals - tune in tomorrow for more information about that!
- Jeremy Handel, President of Handelabra Games