Project Temporary on Hold
tl;dr: This project is temporary on hold and we will be offering refunds. No, this project is not dead and no we are not bankrupt, however, due to some complications, we're sad to say we can no longer work on this full time.
The really long version: No excuses, I screwed up. It is very difficult writing this update as I've tried so hard (and still am) trying to come up with something, anything to make it up to you before I resorted to this. I kept putting off writing this because there was nothing worthwhile to write, just a lot of disappointment and excuses. I tried so many times, as early as October, but ended up disappointing and hating myself every time I did. We worked on so many little unfinished "gifts" to appease you, we're even working on something right now that was supposed to be done weeks ago (I'll get to that in a second) but I believe this is now the best course of action to keep everyone happy or at least not feel screwed over by all of this.
Before you go on a rampage (if you haven't already) please hear me out one last time. I know some of you probably already hate me, I don't expect you to forgive me, I don't expect your opinions to change after this but I'm hoping that you're willing to read this one last thing from me.
Here's our story:
Late last year, right after releasing the demo and opening our real, actual, non-virtual studio, we were living some of the best days of our short lives. Some even said we were "living the dream". For a short period of time, it felt like it. Day in and day out we had fun. Learning and creating cool stuff everyday. This, for some, is definitely a dream job. Make games, stories, art and animation and learn while having fun with amazing people and if you're lucky, make some money, feed your family and make a career out of it. There is nothing quite like it.
Unfortunately, reality eventually caught up and my primary concern, which at first was to make sure we shipped a good product, became "Oh my god, oh my god, I need money to feed dozens of people and their families for a few more months". You probably noticed the drop off in my communication and consistency the months leading up to our studio opening and our big move because of the immense pressure, self doubt, anxiety, excitement and everything else I felt and had to deal with. Logistics, looking at new apartments at places hundreds of miles away, relocating people while convincing our mothers and ourselves that yes, we can definitely make a living out of art and video games and this whole endeavour was worth it while we put on brave faces and dipped into our savings accounts. It was the most nerve-racking experience of my life. I can honestly say that the job became twice as hard and five times more expensive after we opened our studio, at least for me who pretty much did everything: from accounting, to directing, to programming, to lending a crying shoulder, keeping everyone sane, to janitorial work.
It was not an enjoyable experience. It was not what you or I imagined it would be (It never is). I was scared to death of failing these people who threw away careers, relationships and opportunities just to join me in a crazy adventure. I was deeply ashamed that it was taking longer than was promised, that I was not doing a good job and that I was failing everyone - I was failing you. I worked harder, and convinced myself that if we released a great game, all will be forgiven and I should just shut up for a while and finish the game. "A while" turned out longer than I wanted. Deadlines kept getting pushed, things kept coming up, one problem after another from all angles. It was insane. The personal ones - Living and working with people you've only known through Facebook profiles and Skype conversations hoping to god that none of them were serial killers, in a new city nonetheless. Leaving behind friends, families and comfort zones. Ending a relationship with someone who's been with you since high school. Meeting new people, learning to love, and regretably, hate some. Developing chronic health problems and malnutrition because of skipped meals and trips to the doctor. Hating yourself for not being there for your family when they need you the most: while your mother's at the operating table, you're hundreds of miles away trying to decide which shade of yellow works best for a sword slash particle effect. It's as ridiculous as it sounds and there was no quitting or taking personal breaks for me.
Not for the boss.
Living with people meant you've welcomed them and all their baggages into your life. If you're the boss, their problems are now your problems:
Someone's dad loses his job and suddenly that someone, a starving, arguably underpaid, artist, becomes the family breadwinner? It's now your problem.
Unexpected death in someone's family and they need help with funeral arrangements? You're now partly responsible.
Someone's relationship ends and it totally devastates him and he needs to take some time off even though you can't afford it because of an upcoming deadline? Deal with it.
Someone you've shared laughs with suddenly starts questioning their self-worth and throwing around statements like "I'm scared I'll never amount to anything in this industry" and "suicide"? You reel them back in and keep them afloat when you yourself are barely doing just that.
Who helps the boss when he needs it? The boss is not allowed to show weakness and instability, it trickles down and makes everyone uncomfortable and hesitant. No, the boss soldiers on. I am not complaining, just stating facts. I am proud to have helped these people in whatever small way I did and I will continue doing so, but I'd like you to understand the things that contributed to my current state of being. Every time I tried writing an update here, I'm already emotionally and physically spent. I'm exhausted. I couldn't lie through my teeth, telling you that everything was fine and we're inches closer to being done when we're not because life wouldn't give us a break. I just wanted to finish the damn game.
And that's just some of the personal stuff, let's talk business.
This project has become very ambitious. It did not start this way. We are victims of feature and scope creep. The original plan was a fraction of what it is now. We were inexperienced and we overestimated our capabilities. We set our bar so high that we could no longer reach it, not with the resources we had. I underestimated the costs.
I started working on this, treating it like a REAL job, when I was 22 or 23. Here we are, 4 years later and I've poured in just a little over $240,000 into this. Not just into this project exclusively, but the company, the people in it, our other projects, and the infrastructure we needed. Equipment, utilities, appliances, furniture, food, transportation and entertainment for everyone - everything. We have no big investors and no crazy bank loans as I didn't want to be tied down. I just turned 27 a few months ago and I've blown through a quarter of a million dollars on a video game company. You'll be surprised at the number of people who find that hilarious and/or unacceptable. I thought my personal savings was enough to see the project through. You see, I was aiming for Vanillaware/Atlus' Odin Sphere, Muramasa or Dragon's Crown level quality - great games that didn't compromise on the art. If you tried out the demo, maybe you'll agree that it was getting there and it's actually improved a lot since then. At one point I even convinced myself that it was possible, even with our handicap. The reality is no, it's not. Not with our budget, which is a tiny fraction of theirs. Not with the number of people and collective experience (or inexperience) we had at hand.
People look at the $30,000 (We actually got way less - after Kickstarter/Amazon fees and credit cards that bounced) we got from our two Kickstarter campaigns and see a lot of money. During our earliest stages, with our original scope, it was actually enough to see it through. At one point, a lot of the game was already done, albeit not at the level I wanted, but it was done. It wasn't good enough and I got overambitious. If we were going to do this, we'd better do it right - this became our mantra. I kept pushing everyone to take it to another level and they answered. We worked our tails off. We live, eat and sleep in the studio. We scrapped a lot of finished work. We built our own tools that would normally cost a company tens of thousands of dollars in R&D. We built animation software and level design tools that suited our needs. We obsessed over getting that extra two frames per second on your 4 year old iPad 2. Our artists learned to be more efficient and dabbled in styles that were way outside their comfort zones. We trained each other. Programmers learned art. Artists got crash courses in computer science. Over and over we iterated. We're young, hopelessly idealistic and inexperienced, we don't have superstar developers coming from Konami, EA or Nintendo. The biggest thing any of us have ever worked on prior to this was a hidden object game from Big Fish or an educational app from Gameloft but we weren't going to use our lack of experience as an excuse. We studied, we got better. Rinse. Repeat. It was expensive, it was ridiculous, we couldn't afford it, but the results were glorious but the game, sadly, isn't done yet.
It pains me to see a lot of my friends and acquaintances in this industry result to releasing games just for the sake of releasing games. Riding trends and fads and hoping for a hit. We are not going to start releasing clones of Flappy Bird, Tiny Tower, Candy Crush or Whatever's The Flavour of the Month. There's enough people doing that. We play a lot of games, we note down the things we like. We know what we like. We made it a rule to only work on games that we liked, games that we could see ourselves playing even if we didn't make them. If you're a game developer and you're reading this, do yourself a favour, If you don't see yourself playing that game you're currently working on, don't waste your time. Never settle.
This is no longer just a job for us, it's a way of life. Unfortunately we're all human. We're anchored down by responsibilities, some more than others. That means while working on this, we had to take on commissions. We need money. We can't feed our families on hopes and dreams. We took on a lot of jobs. We bit off more than we could chew. Normally, a number of us would be delegated to work on commissions while the rest of us would work on RT.
Then we started taking on big contracts.
Though we're unproven, we're fortunate enough to never run out of exciting offers. We've received numerous buy-out offers from gaming companies, one of which is a household name. We've receive job offers from car companies, oil companies, charitable agencies and government branches from different countries. We've worked on a huge traffic safety ad campaign. We're working with a trailblazing new studio that's bringing amazing new content previously unheard of in a continent starving for original creative content. Suddenly, we're an animation studio. Although our numbers doubled and at one point tripled, it still wasn't enough and some of us got pulled into doing two or three jobs at a time. Things never turn out as expected. We ran into complications that we weren't prepared for and suddenly, no one was left working on RT for months. We worked through Christmas. We spent Christmas and New Year's eve in the studio. Our last big project, something we've been working on for a year, was just finished two weeks ago. We just started working on another job today and have a couple more on the way.
For me, it has become a necessity. I cannot stop. Within the span of a few months, I'm suddenly responsible for the lives and careers of dozens of people and their families.
A few weeks from now we'll be releasing "The Puppetmasters", a small prequel to Rival Threads. It is done. A small number of us worked on it in our spare time between projects also known as time that should be spent sleeping (hah). As Melissa mentioned in the comments section, we debuted the game at a small venue a few weeks ago and are now currently working out the kinks and improving the areas that we felt people had trouble with. Everyone of you will receive a copy of the game on the platform of your choice. It is a full game based on The Puppetmaster shorts we did for Rival Threads. Based on initial feedback, people found it a fun little distraction and we received a lot of praises for the visuals. Although it's a small game, compared to Rival Threads, it is still a full game with a complete story, professional voice acting, fast-pace gameplay, animation - the works. It will be released on iPads first and other platforms shortly after. We were supposed to be done with it weeks ago but again, things didn't go as expected. Our attention was needed elsewhere as another deadline sneaked up on us like a ninja and delayed the game's release.
I know that this is not the game you paid for. I am not asking you to accept this as a compromise. It will take a while for me to put together the amount, but I will refund you the money you funded us with later this year or the first half of next year. We will STILL credit you in our games as a sign of our gratitude and you will STILL receive copies of Rival Threads once it's done. Can I put together that money? Yes, definitely, we have active jobs and incoming jobs that ensures just that, but you'll have to give me some time to close a number of projects and contracts and we'll slowly, but surely, make our way there. According to Kickstarter rules, I am not obligated to do this, I've supported and heard of projects that never delivered or under delivered but I will not abandon you and betray your trust any further like I have. I did not ask for your money with the sole intention of creating a company that worked on projects other than the one you paid for. There was no way for me to foresee that the studio would turn into this. I was not prepared of being responsible for the welfare of dozens of people so soon. I just wanted to make a game. A good game. I feel like I'm doing things that I'm not even supposed to be doing, at least not this early in my career.
I read each and every comment and I've spoken to a number of you on Skype, Facebook and Twitter and it pains me to see people think we've given up on RT. Understandable, because of my silence. I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. Exhausted in every way, and only now have I finally found some breathing room and the courage to write this. For you, it definitely felt like half a year has passed but for me, with all the crazy stuff that's happened, time passed by in the blink of an eye. I got caught up in my own personal hell and I failed you.
We will finish Rival Threads. You will get the game you paid for. You will get your money back.
It's a sad thought but we are victims of our own success.
Thank you so much for everything you've done for me and my team. Whether you pledged $1 or $500, some of us, myself included, literally owe you our lives. Thank you so much for the opportunities and doors you helped open for us.