The uncertain future of Project Awakened
For every remarkable Kickstarter success story like inXile’s Torment: Tides of Numenera, or Obsidian’s Project Eternity, there are so many more that fail to secure funding. It can happen for any number of reasons: not enough marketing, the game’s hard to describe, the goal is unrealistic — but the reality is that more often than not, the reason a Kickstarter fails is often pretty hard to pin down.
Recently the lovely looking Death Inc. failed to get the funding necessary, and it seemed exactly like the sort of thing Kickstarter exists for. An inventive but not ridiculously ambitious project made by a small team and an untested developer. But it seems like Kickstarter often ends up helping more established developers relive former glories, not that this is an awful thing.
Around the same time the Torment broke the record for length taken to secure $1 million, a title I was extremely excited about got left in the dust: Project Awakened. Phosphor games was asking for $500,000 for their everything and the kitchen sink super-powered, highly customisable, moddable, action game. They missed their goal by over $150,000. However, the team isn’t just scrapping the title they’ve already been working on, the game they left their old jobs to make, no, they have plans. An unnamed member of the team filled Eurogamer in, yesterday.
Pondering what Phosphor could have done differently, the unnamed admitted that communicating their vision was one of the greatest challenges. “One of the things we’ve learned is that even people who liked it weren’t sure quite what they were looking at, and the people who really weren’t sure? It made them hesitant to pledge. I could be cavalier about it and say, ‘Oh, how could you have described Minecraft before you saw Minecraft?’ That’s the dismissive way to look at it. The other way is to admit that we could have done and could continue to do a better job of communicating what the whole vision is, because it’s a very novel idea.”
Clearly, the focus for a developer is working on the game itself. Traditionally, it’s the publisher that has to worry about marketing the title and making potential consumer’s aware of its existence. Not so for the indie developer, however, and Phosphor found this out the hard way. “There are all these people who have not seen the game yet, and the Kickstarter’s about to end. That sentiment, true or not, was one of our motivators to figure out what to do next – because if it is true, trying to maintain the visibility of the title and to try something new and even go for extra funding might be that extra life we were told was needed.”
So what’s next? Phosphor isn’t packing it all in, and still has a vision for their dream game. “To be perfectly honest, things are a little up in the air, but we started thinking along these lines towards the end of the campaign: what could we try and do differently if this doesn’t work out? What we kept coming back to was the whole vision of Awakened over the past seven years has grown more into: we want to create a conversation with the players.”
The game clearly had its supporters, enough so that over $300,000 was pledged, and those supporters haven’t given up on the title either, according to Phosphor’s mystery-man. “We know we’re not going to stop making the game, we know that without funding we can’t afford to put a team on it yet. All these people on Kickstarter have said, ‘If I had PayPal I could help, I could tell more people if the campaign went longer.’” With that in mind, the studio is going to put the power in the hands of their fans. They intend to ask them if they should continue fundraising, and if they’d be willing to pledge what they did during the Kickstarter campaign. It won’t be enough for Phosphor to make the game they wanted to initially, not with all its features, instead they could make a prototype — one that draw even more supporters and funding. Their decisions will be based on what the community wants.
Phosphor are looking at how Minecraft succeeded, without the sort of organised crowd-funding of Kickstarter and the like. They are considering giving the tools to the players, letting people buy an early version of the game and have a meaningful effect on its development. “We’re not going to be doing what we did in Kickstarter and saying that if you can raise half a million we’ll get you to a closed beta at the end of next year. We’re saying we’ll take less than that and we’ll get you to a prototype by the end of this year. You’ll get something cool to mess around with sooner. We’ll get your feedback sooner. If we can pull it off we’ll make that prototype moddable too. You’ll be able to influence the game even sooner than we thought back on Kickstarter.”
I thought the concept was great, and I think that with its focus on modding and having an open dialogue with players it could see some success by following some of what Mojang did with Minecraft. Kickstarter is a great way to get a game off the ground, but indies were doing this long before the platform existed. Check out the full interview here, and keep an eye on Project Awakened, it’s not dead yet.