News and Numbers
Welcome to the second Hero-U project update of our 2015 Kickstarter campaign. This one has some news on the campaign, an article on the cost of developing a premium adventure game, and a little more news down at the bottom.
We are doing very well despite someone who apparently hacked a Kickstarter account and made a false $10,000 pledge. That has been revoked by Kickstarter, but we are back up to almost $49,000. The rule of thumb is that any project that gets 30% of its goal within the first week is likely to be fully funded. We did that on the first day. Thank you so much for your support!
Please help us get the word out so that more players can see the progress we’ve made on Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Click the "Share this project" button (above this article) to share Hero-U with your social networks and tell your friends to check out our campaign.
New Reward Tier, Add-Ons, and Stretch Goals
Several backers have requested a high-level reward tier not quite so lofty as the $10,000. After much consideration, we are adding a $5,000 “Sponsor” reward. This ties into some proposed stretch goals that Lori has posted at http://hero-u.com/kickstarter-stretch-goals/. You don't need to be a sponsor to check them out and talk about them in the Comments tab!
Sponsor-level and higher backers will be able to pick their favorite stretch goal and give it high priority. We will move those goals to the top of the list and include them in the game if at all possible. In addition, Sponsors will receive prominent in-game mention, including their in-game painting or statue, in the sponsored area.
A sponsor can also request sponsorship of an existing game area or suggest a game feature. We will do our best to accommodate any reasonable request.
Our first $10K backer has already laid claim to the Tower Garden, so we will definitely add that back into Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.
At another backer’s suggestion, we are adding a new low cost add-on - The Bestiary. This digital book features custom drawings by JP Selwood of all of the monsters in Hero-U, along with descriptions and strategy tips by Lori and me. You may add the Bestiary to any reward by adding $20 to your pledge.
I've also lowered the prices of the Varsity Patch (to $25) and the Hero-Unicorn key chain (to $15). Please check your pledge if you have already chosen either of those add-ons. At a backer request, the key chain is now actually two key chains - The rectangular Team Meep key chain we created for the first Kickstarter, and they new round Hero-Unicorn key chain.
What Is the Real Cost of an Adventure Game?
Games such as Hero-U, SpaceVenture, Moebius, and Underworld Ascendant are in a tricky position. We are making games to professional standards, and paying professionals to help make them, but we don’t have large teams at a big company to do them. A game in the $500K to $1M budget range is expected to compete with AAA titles that have budgets in the $10M+ range.
Alternatively, we are compared with fan and student projects with budgets under $50K. Players reasonably ask, “If great games like Quest for Infamy, the Blackwell Epiphany, or Oak Island can be made for $30K, and Heroine's Quest is free, why do you need so much funding to make Hero-U?”
Part of the answer may be that we have higher production standards (graphics, music, etc.), but the real answer comes down to, “Are you paying your team?” Those small games are not really made for $30K; their real cost is a combination of the base expense along with the value of the time spent making them. If three people work on a game for two years, there is a real cost to that time, at least $300K in that case.
Trigger Warning - Numbers Ahead! Skip down to the bottom if you hate spreadsheets. :-)
Looking Back - a 1990’s Game Budget
In the mid-90’s, Lori and I set up a company to make a game for a publisher. The experience was similar to making Hero-U, and our basis for this project. Here’s what the budget looked like:
- Design and Programming (three programmers): $170K
- Art and animation (22 artists - 8 on staff, 14 doing piecework): $270K
- Music and sound effects: $25K
- Voice direction and acting: $25K
- Equipment, software, overhead, travel: $65K
- TOTAL: $555K in 1995 dollars ($855K in 2015 dollars)
That actually understates the cost. We used the publisher's adventure game scripting system, and four programmers at the publisher did some work on the game. It also does not include the cost of manufacturing and shipping the boxed games.
I include this budget mostly to show that $400K is not a large adventure game budget when team members are being paid for their work.
First Pass On the Hero-U Budget
We worked out a series of budgets for Hero-U based on possible fundraising amounts. The “sweet spot” was at $800K, which would give us $650K towards game development. The catch was that we knew we could not ask $800K, so we looked at what we could do with $400K. That budget looked like this (with a planned $20K deficit):
- Design & Admin: $200K
- Programming: $70K
- Art & Animation: $70K
- Music & Audio: $30K
- Overhead & Misc: $45K
- KS & Amazon: $36.5K
- Rewards & Shipping: $73K
Back then, we planned to modify an existing game to create the framework for Hero-U. The art would be minimal - cartoony top-down characters and very simple top-down rooms.
We had a slight communication breakdown here, in the he lead programmer normally made almost double the programming budget, and we had four artists on the team who would have overwhelmed the art budget. The rest was reasonable, but we would have gone over budget by about $150K between the art and programming. That’s manageable.
Incidentally, my original project completion estimate of Oct. 2013 was based on this estimate - We could not afford to spend any more time on development without running over the budget. At the time, I was new to Kickstarter and did not realize we could seek additional funding afterwards, as in fact every other major adventure game project has done. I apologize for the wildly unrealistic date estimate; I based it on bad information.
The Revised Full Project Budget
- Design & Admin: 200K
- Programming: 150K
- Art & Animation: 270K
- Music/SFX: 30K
- Misc/Overhead: 30K
- Kickstarter/Amazon: 50K
- Rewards/Shipping: 80K
- TOTAL: 810K. Funding to Date: 435K, Deficit $375K.
Obviously we still can’t cover the entire deficit from a $100K Kickstarter goal, but we don’t have to - the object is to complete and release the game, not to make a profit from crowdfunding.
We are deferring costs in two areas: Lori and I aren’t paying ourselves, and some team members are deferring their pay until after release. These deferrals make a big difference in the project's cash flow.
- Deferred Expenses: $250K
- Kickstarter Goal: $100K
- Adjusted Deficit: $25K
We can carry a $25K deficit plus our personal debt until the end of the project. Of course, it will be helpful to our piece of mind if the Kickstarter overfunds enough to reduce or eliminate the remaining deficit.
Why is it ok to go $150,000 or more in debt (the result of not taking any salary) making a game? It's because our backers are funding this project, not our personal lives. The current Kickstarter campaign will give us the time to complete Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, and the rest will be up to us.
In theory, if the game is successful, we can recover that debt from game sales. If it isn't successful, the game isn't as good as we think it is. Here is how we plan to use the first income from game sales:
- First we pay our contractors their deferred fees
- Next we allocate 50% of income to our back pay, i.e. getting out of personal debt
- Any remainder funds continuing operations, i.e. Hero-U 2 development
- A portion will go into a revenue pool to reward our contractors
- A portion will pay royalties 5% will go into Kicking It Forward pledges to other crowdfunding projects
- We will start getting a salary, keeping the IRS happy
- Anything left will be used to fund continuing operations
Another Interesting Kickstarter Adventure
If you're still with us (whew!), the developers of the Visionaire adventure game development system are Kickstarting their mystery game, Oak Island, at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/visionaire-studio/oak-island-some-treasures-are-best-left-buried. Currently the project has over 75% of its 15,000 Euro goal., and it looks interesting.
Also check out the interviews Lori and I had with Don Parsons of TechRaptor at http://techraptor.net/content/indie-interview-corey-lori-cole-hero-u and with Cliquist at http://cliqist.com/2015/05/13/class-back-session-hero-u-returns-kickstarter/.
Thanks for staying with me on an article that probably belongs in a museum rather than a Kickstarter update. Feel free to ask questions in the comments if anything was unclear.