Most of this post originally appeared as an update to our supplementary Kickstarter funding campaign. Several backers requested I repeat it here. I’ve expanded portions and added more links to other Kickstarter games, as well as recent news and interviews.
Hero-U is now on Steam Greenlight at http://steamcommunity.com/
The Tower Garden
We had moved the Tower Garden to the optional “stretch goal” content list. At a major backer’s request, it has been restored to the “must have” game features. This is equivalent to the “Wings” and “Dungeon Lairs” we gave as premiums in the first campaign – the Tower Garden is sponsored by a backer.
Tower Garden at Night
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.
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 (non-Union): $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 (even below-market) salaries 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 $125K deficit):
- Design & Admin: $200K
- Programming: $70K
- Art & Animation: $70K
- Music & Audio: $30K
- Overhead & Misc: $45K
- KS & Amazon: $36.5K
- Rewards & Shipping: $73K
- TOTAL: $524,500
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 the 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 would have been manageable with loans.
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.
Should we have asked more than $400,000 in October 2012? The funding campaign would have failed, and we’d have gotten zero.
Then were we obligated to make a game under a $400K total budget? It turns out that none of the major games manage it. Star Citizen invested $2 million before coming to Kickstarter. Double Fine spent an estimated $2 million extra after exhausting their $3.3 million Kickstarter fund.
I just read an interview with Brian Fargo about the upcoming Bard’s Tale IV Kickstarter. They will be asking for $1.25 million and expect to spend at least that much from their own funding in addition. The only difference with us is that we are returning to Kickstarter to raise additional funding instead of looking for venture capital. Sorry, but we didn’t have $1.25 million or $125,000 in the bank.
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 (not Kickstarter funds):
- 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
If we get out of debt, we may start seeing actual profits:
- 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
Other Interesting Kickstarter Adventures
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.
Check out Unraveled at https://www.kickstarter.
Elsinore, a game based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, looks interesting. It has reached its Kickstarter goal, but as you can see from the above, all adventure game projects need more funding than the base goal. https://www.kickstarter.
There are six days left in the campaign for Herald (https://www.kickstarter.com/
These indie projects are helping to keep the flame of adventure gaming alive, and we hope you will support them.
In case you missed the link to our supplemental funding campaign, it is at https://www.kickstarter.
Interviews and News
Also check out the interviews Lori and I had with Don Parsons of TechRaptor at http://techraptor.net/content/
We also talked with Richard Cobbett of Rock Paper Shotgun on heroes in games. That interview is here: http://www.
We are doing a “live” forum chat, similar to a reddit Ask Me Anything, on Adventure-Treff on Tuesday (8 pm in Germany, 2 pm in U.S. East Coast, and 11 a.m. in California). Visit this page (https://www.adventure-treff.
Visit www.hero-u.com for Lori’s art and game development blog and other information about the game.
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.