The folks at Spicey Horse recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for their game Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, a free to play action RPG. Curious about what they were trying to get out of the Kickstarter (other than money) I reached out to the company and got the following response from American McGee, the CEO and Founder of Spicy Horse Games.
When you started in the industry did you ever think you would have access to something like Kickstarter? What do you think the biggest impact this has on the industry as a whole?
When I started in the industry there wasn’t even a “WWW” on the Internet! We had to search for stuff “online” using something called Archie. And when it snowed we wrapped barbed-wire around our bare feet for traction. But we did have something called “Shareware,” which allowed users to interact more directly with developers and their games. At that time, developers could distribute independently and earn a living on shareware related sales, which they handled directly. It was a kinder, happier time. Except for the barbwire feet; that pretty much sucked.
Kickstarter feels to me like a much more democratic method of raising awareness and funding for game projects. There’s not the “Top-10” funnel you have on places like the mobile app stores – and obviously no publisher control over what goes up or gets attention. It’s also allowed us a much closer form of communication with our audience.
If the trend continues (and I hope it does) I think it means more people can see their ideas brought to life without having to rely on bankers and investors. That’s great because in reality, bankers and investors don’t get behind speculative ventures – they want to put their money into things that already making money. That’s great if you’ve already managed to build something and want to make it grow faster, but not so great if you’re just starting or launching something.
Why did you choose to launch a Kickstarter for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters? Was this always planned?
It wasn’t always planned, but we’ve been watching and discussing Kickstarter for a while. For us the question was not when or if, but “what.” Having paid attention to other campaigns that have succeeded or failed – we felt it best to focus on something people couldn’t dismiss as vaporware, something solid and playable. Akaneiro made sense because, while development had come to its natural end, we still had a long list of features and ideas we felt would make it even better. Turning to the audience for backing on those things took the place of what we might normally have done – gone to our publisher for more funding. Being without a publisher is usually a blessing, but when it comes to the financial limitations forced upon us by being a small indie, not having a publisher can be a real pain.
Now that we’ve actually launched the campaign, I realize we were myopic in our understanding of the value it could bring. We’re seeing support from our audience, which is wonderful, but also benefiting from all the marketing exposure the campaign is generating. That exposure has translated into interest from publishers, financiers and a long list of potential partners. It’s got me thinking that this is the way ALL of our games should be launched!
You launched a Kickstarter to complete the game and “realize the most complete version of the game” - could you talk about exactly what this means in terms of actual features? What happens if you don’t get the full amount of the kickstarter?
It’s pretty simple. We finished the game per the schedule, design and budget that we originally set out with. During development we came up with a ton of additional ideas for making the game even better. We’ve put most of those up on the Kickstarter page – and we’re asking the audience to decide whether or not they’d like to see those things in the game. If we the campaign doesn’t fund, then those things could still appear in the game, but the timing will be different. With funding we can keep the entire development team focused on Akaneiro until those items are finished. Without it, we need to move some of the team onto new projects, which means work on Akaneiro will progress more slowly. This isn’t so much about “fund this or you’ll never see these features.” It’s more about, “fund this and we can make these features happen much faster!”
Could you talk about how you determined the amount of the Kickstarter request? Did you consider doing some kind of Founders program like MechWarrior Online did?
It’s based on the amount of time and number of developers we’re going to need in order to support implementation of those features – and I added to that a reasonable budget for additional marketing and community support. As with most development studios, about 90% of our burn-rate comes from paying salaries – from people. So this is simply the combined cost of all the people required to implement and support what’s listed in the campaign. As I mentioned previously, our planning (which has existed for 18+ months,) calls for those people to move onto a new project when they wrap major development on Akaneiro. Developing and releasing new content is critical – at least until we stumble on a life-sustaining hit.
As for a Founders program… we didn’t really think about other methods of fund raising.
Given the sheer number of gaming Kickstarters that are out there are you at all concerned about gamers being either mentally or financially burned out by them?
My biggest concern was that we present a high quality offering that would rise above the noise. We studied other campaigns that worked well and tried to emulate their best features. It’s a beauty pageant, but there’s also a huge amount of live interaction that must be maintained throughout. What I’m realizing now is that a campaign is only as effective as you drive it to be – it requires constant attention and feeding.
How did you come up with the various levels of the program? Did being a free to play game change how you determined your levels?
We covered a wall in ideas and threw ninja stars at it! Seriously, we based on it what we saw was successful with other campaigns. And we’re continuing to update on a daily basis, mainly in reaction to backer feedback. It’s been a very organic process.
We'd like to thank American for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Shannon for coordinating the interview.