Rudy Marchant here, community manager of Precinct. We received some additional information on the Reddit AMA a couple of days ago and, while some questions were answered, clearly it didn't have a lot of impact on the pledges so far. There are still many open questions which need answering and I would hereby like to share my opinion on the information we have so far, both on the game and the new funding model, as well as what I am recommending to the development team to finally get Precinct going, and going strong like the other Sierra projects over the past year.
What did we learn about the game itself? It has been stressed several times throughout the AMA that Precinct will be an adventure game, driven by a story. It will include procedural aspects such as court hearings, briefings and so on, but also story-driven missions with action around the driving (Jim particularly enjoys the driving interface by the way) and occasional events where you're going to have to make split second decisions. The game is pretty linear in that the player needs to follow a trail of clues to solve the case, but is not as linear as the old Police Quest games in that the case can be solved in different ways, depending on the decisions the player makes. To further enhance the replayability, there will also be side-missions, which don't directly impact the story. It is not a sandbox game though, but a story-based game, like the old adventure games.
To me that certainly shed some light on what to expect from the game itself – a good mix of adventure and action, pretty much like the old Police Quest games but more modern and with more variety. I would like to get a bit of info on the story and protagonist itself, but I don't need to know in advance if there's going to be a diving scene, or an airport or such specifics (although Jim did reveal that a SWAT team will also be in the game). Maybe you guys would like to ask these kind of things, and you will be able (see below), but what matters the most to me is that at least it won't be some first-person shooter where all you do is race around the city and chase bad guys. It's a story-driven adventure and that should have been made clear from the very beginning of the project. But now we know, better late than never.
That brings us to the new funding system which, let's be honest here, is what keeps many backers from pledging again or at least pledge a lot less than during the Kickstarter campaign. Sure, the intention with this system is good, as stated during the AMA – "Our goal is to give people who pledge as little as $1 a copy of the game to reduce their financial risk and show progress early on. We really want to give the entire community a voice in the production and that's how we tailored the new campaign." That is all cool and I see their point, but without the time limit and non-refundability until either it gets charged when reaching the next stage or the developer decides to cancel the project (without specified conditions), many get the impression it is just a money grab with no obligation for the devs to commit themselves.
I would like to address several things here. First is the time limit. Many people seem to think they're going to have to wait forever before getting anything, if they ever get anything, and meanwhile their money is pledged. Even if it's 1 dollar, it just doesn't feel right. Well, first off there actually IS a time limit and that time limit is defined by how much longer the devs are willing to work for free. Keep in mind that money only gets charged when the stages are reached. With currently only a good $10K pledged and already several months of preparation for Precinct behind them, I can say the first stage of 25K better be reached very soon. Same counts for the other stages – there is probably more time to reach those of course, but those guys would still like to get a pay check every now and then so, no, development will not run into eternity. As for specific dates, I think it's pretty hard to set those – it's the gaming industry, not to mention crowdfunded, so it is near impossible to pinpoint exact dates. Besides, that's how you get Kickstarter projects that get entirely canceled despite missing the target by just a fraction. I know a date is set for the first stage though. I will for sure ask what timeframe they have in mind for the next stages. They should have an estimate about that.
Then there is the issue of pledging without having the guarantee to actually get the game if the 400K doesn't get reached. That's barely an issue in my opinion though. First off, there is no guarantee that through Kickstarter you'll get anything either. That has already happened many times, so obviously people are even more cautious about this new system. The difference is that with this staged crowd funding, the development team isn't asking the backers to pay everything up front and hope for the best before development even started. They do it piece by piece and the backers can follow progress, provide input and pledge as it progresses, or even simply wait at te sideline until they like what they see. So yes, it is in fact safer than Kickstarter.
Here's how I do it:
I usually back projects (Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded, Pinkerton Road, Hero-U, SpaceVenture) with around $100 (yeah, I'm a pretty big fan, lol). I will also do so for Precinct but in this case I split my pledge into parts according to what the stages are worth to me, going from small to big as development progresses. For example $5 until the prototype is reached, add $10 until the Vertical Slice is reached, another $15 until the Demo gets released and the final $60 for the whole game release. If at any point I dislike how development goes, I can chose not to pledge more and wouldn't be out as much money as I would paying $100 in one time as with a normal Kickstarter where I may get nothing at all. Here I would still have what I pledged for so far and possibly more since a one dollar pledge still entitles me to a copy of the game if the 400K gets reached. Of course if you want to be 100% sure to either get the game or not pledge anything, then that's possible by only pledging after the demo gets released, but if too many people do that then obviously it will be hard to get to that stage of development in the first place.
The last point, and probably the most important one, that I would like to make on the funding system, is the non-refundability. That is the one thing in my opinion where Kickstarter is better and it's a crucial point. Robert said during the Reddit that the non-refundability is implemented to prevent trolls from making fake bids. Sure, it keeps away trolls. It keeps away backers, too, and lots of them. Forget about the trolls, they come and go a few minutes later. But if we want to make our first target in time and actually get this project to effective completion, then what is needed is credibility so people can pledge with confidence. Confidence works both ways. Backers show they have confidence by pledging, Precinct needs to show it has confidence in its backers by allowing them to reduce their pledge or pull out entirely if they so desire. Get rid of the non-refundability – that's how you make this work. I had a long discussion about this with Robert yesterday. I believe that in the end I persuaded him that not only would it be good, but in fact necessary. If so, I would prefer that he tells that to you himself so it's official. The only thing here is that we can't just flip a switch to disable non-refundability. It takes a few days of programming and making sure it works with the payment methods. It's definitely on the table and I sure hope they will go for it.
Phew! And now the final part of this update (I tried to keep it short, really! lol). While I would love to see the project succeed, I do still have some questions myself both on the funding platform and the game itself. Questions related to things such as the stretch goals and the development time frame. I'm pretty sure that, after the Reddit AMA, many people still have other questions too, so let's get those answered once and for all. I would like to do this properly, so there's no doubt left about the game or pledging system. Please send any remaining questions (please try to stick to questions relating Precinct) to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be answered (my inbox will probably explode now, lol).
There, that's about it for now. I hope I shed some light on the pledging system and the game itself and that you feel a bit more comfortable about the project. I'm sure I don't just speak for myself when I say it would be a darn shame if Jim's project wouldn't get off the ground and even more so if even the prototype wouldn't be reached, so let's do this, guys. More updates coming soon.