It's over a month since our campaign ended and we’ve been keeping a bit quiet. Everyone is probably curious what we’re up to now. So here I am to tell you what our plans are for the upcoming months.
I’ll start with what we did last month. Following a two-month sprint it was time to start dealing with all the stuff that got sidelined, particularly such personal issues as family and taxes. Obviously it was also necessary to reply to the tons of e-mails that had piled up in the inbox and respond to all the interviews we had no time to respond to during the campaign. Following the success of our campaign our doorbell hasn’t stopped ringing and we’ve had a whole series of visits from various newspapers and magazines (like Forbes, for example), as well as a few fellow developers.
There was quite a fundamental change in our position with regard to Microsoft and Sony. Apart from the fact that we finally have dev kits for both platforms, we also know a lot more about our options for publishing and distributing our game and how to get the console version to our backers. We even had a very pleasant and fruitful visit from Sony. Before going into more detail, it’s worth noting that the imminent future looks auspicious for indie developers, which is not something that can convincingly be said for publishers.
Our accountants and lawyers had, and still have, quite fundamental issues with finding out and dealing with how we’re supposed to pay taxes on the Kickstarter money and how much. That's the less fun and less positive side of things. Kickstarter campaign is something our Czech laws aren’t quite able to define. We managed, however, to minimize the problem thanks to the support of the great people from Kickstarter.
We have also been dealing with the launch of our new web store, where we want to continue with crowd funding and give a chance to people who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay by a credit card on Kickstarter. Unfortunately, it took a little longer than we expected. We had to change the platform the whole thing works on and sort out a whole bunch of peripheral stuff, like coming to an agreement with PayPal, for example. During preparations for launch we found out that, while everything was basically OK in terms of the holders’ platform with offering the console version on Kickstarter, there was a bit of an issue with doing the same on our own website, so until we get it sorted out, it will only be possible to order the PC/Mac/Linux versions. Why, you ask? Well, it seems that times are a-changing so quickly that the lawyers and producers can’t keep pace and get the conditions and contracts sorted out.
We’d like to get the store up and running in a matter of days, ideally in the first week of April, at first provisionally on a trial basis with limited stock and, when we see that everything is working as it should, we’ll add the rest of the rewards.
Seeing as it was just after both Kickstarter and the San Francisko GDC, the time was ripe for us to hook up with all the potential partners who had contacted us, i.e. primarily publishers, distributors and obviously agents of the various technologies we will be needing.
Judging by the queries we most often get, what most people are interested in is whether the publishers have wised up and are standing in line to sign us. Not entirely. If any of you thinks that Bobby Kottick caught the first flight to Prague with a bag of cash, sorry to burst your bubble. In the first place, it’s not entirely kosher to do a Kickstarter campaign and then sell the game to a big publisher. And secondly the big publishers are pretty much aware that a thing like that could end up like Facebook and Oculus Rift.
What is worth considering, though, is a distribution deal – one fine day we will need hundreds of thousands (one hopes) of actual boxes for the stores and for that we will need someone who knows what they’re doing, because it’s certainly not our thing. So cutting a deal with someone who will put the game out in their boxes and take a cut of the profits, leaving us with creative freedom, is quite a sensible option.
We’ve already had a whole bunch of meetings with such potential partners. We’ve also heard, of course, from publishers, though mostly just the ones who showed the greatest interest even before our campaign. The offers were a mixed bag and it can be said that the smaller the publisher, the more sensible the offer. It seems the big publishers have yet to grasp the concept that unless they offer serious money and accept a significant share of the risk, nobody actually needs them for anything anymore.
A funny thing happened, where a big publisher described the massive costs they intended investing in marketing, on account of which we would have to give them half our profits. Then a big, prestigious marketing agency told us they would do exactly the same thing for half the cost if we dealt directly with them. What would you do in a situation like that? A deal like that might be OK for someone who doesn't have a dime and really needs someone to pay their marketing costs. But if you do have the cash for that...?
It seems that the smaller publishers are much more sensible. I get the feeling they have a much better idea about the way the world is moving.
I’ve been telling everyone from the very start of the company that it would probably be best for us to put the game out ourselves (if we had the cash for it, of course). Following all the meetings, the rest of our GDC delegation also came to a similar conclusion, including our investor’s representative. We can easily put out the digital version of the game for PC and console and share with smaller distributors, who have been much more forthcoming than the big guys, on the boxed game. In the past you needed a publisher as a go-between for a whole range of services that developers didn't have access to, but today the only thing they have going for them is money, and if they don't want to spread it round or you don't need it, then they're basically good for nothing.
Apart from that, we also investigated at the GDC what kind of things we were capable of doing in-house and for how much – motion capture, recording, marketing, localization and other such services. We were pleasantly surprised how all of these things are developing. Only a year ago, if you wanted to do mo-cap of a face, you had to pay a company a lot of money for every second of processed film, which in our case would have meant a five figure sum in dollars, whereas today (finally) the same company will sell you the cameras and the software for a few thousand to do it yourself. Of course, you can also buy a Kinect and software from another firm and somewhat surprisingly achieve very similar results. Anyhow, this is stuff we will not have to deal with for another few months. For now, it’s enough to get an idea of prices and what’s on offer.
So, what’s happening in the studio? How is the game progressing? Well, we have finally been able to afford to recruit some new people and our team has grown practically overnight from 30 people to 50 and next month there will be 60 of us. Truth be told, we weren’t expecting it to go so quickly, but given the delay caused by the whole “we don’t have a publisher” affair, that’s fine. We originally planned to have 50 people last summer already, so we have some catching up to do.
Who has been added to our ranks? Obviously a few experienced commandos from the now defunct 2K Czech Prague studio, whose experience makes them a valuable addition: the senior character artist and concept guy Mikuláš; Martin, who handled the car models in Mafia, and others. In addition, we have lots of new scripters, five concept artists and, most importantly, there are now eight of us designers. On the other hand, our bid for one programmer was upped by WETA in New Zealand, who are unfortunately still in a different league.
With the arrival of the new recruits, space started getting a little tight and our offices started to look like the main railway station in Paris when it snows – shoulder to shoulder. Our graphic artists, for example, are now obliged to sit in the open space editorial office of one of the biggest Czech dailies, which is based in a neighboring building, because we simply had nowhere to put them. So we are also anticipating a move to bigger premises, which is naturally very fraught too.
The new designers working directly with me have the disadvantage that I can’t yet give them my full attention until we deal with such “trivialities” as a long-term plan, offices and our web store. From our collaboration so far, though, I have to say it’s an enormous relief not having to struggle alone for days with every idea, but being able to talk it over with like-minded people and tweak it over lunch, which so far is working out pretty well. For example, the mechanisms we came up with for playing the bard are awesome. But we’ll come back to that later.
Which leads me to what’s coming next and how our communication with you will progress. Obviously, blogs like this one will continue, where we will update you roughly once a month on how development is progressing, what we’re doing and what’s new.
We will also be communicating on the forums. I admit I was concerned how it would look with the forums and whether we might have a problem with over-anticipation and some extreme ideas and reactions, but so far I'm delighted with the forums. The debates are very cultivated and to the point and lots of good ideas are coming out of them, as well as advice from history buffs who know some things better than we do. To give just two examples out of many: who would have known that among our fans there would actually be two experts on animal husbandry to advise us on sheep AI, or that someone would know what medieval hens looked like? Naturally we will make use of the forums to get feedback from you. I hope that the creative, friendly atmosphere there continues and I’ll try to read it religiously, because up to now I really haven’t had much time for it.
From time to time we will try to shoot the odd video update, in which we will show new stuff in the game. How regularly we will be able to do that remains to be seen. All these things take quite a bit of time, after all. On the other hand, though, they help us get valuable feedback. If and when this happens, we shall post about it on our Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
And obviously in around six months there will be the 'Alpha Access", i.e. a piece of the game that we will gradually (around once every two months) add new features to for you to try out and give feedback on so we can tweak them into an ideal state if at all possible. As soon as the Alpha is out there, we’re planning a lot of discussion with fans about what they like or don’t like, although, of course, there are things that we, as the authors, regard as sacrosanct and it could happen that we won't back down whatever the objections.
Dan Vávra, Creative Director