Saturday, September 14, 2013

September Post

I was thinking about how rare it is to see a successful MMO that’s not built upon an existing IP.  Often these few that are original are based heavily on generic canon of their well established genres.  Fantasy games with dragons, elves, and dwarves, space exploration games with alien races, jump points, and warp drives, super hero games with mutants, criminal organizations, and mad scientists…. These can be successful, but they’re derivative.

Do gamers really want original IPs on a grand MMO scale or do they want to play something familiar?  I can point to MMOs with original IPs, and they're not very successful.  I think Ryzom is a big one that comes to mind.  City of Steam might be another.  Defiance?  Sort of original.  Tabula Rasa was one.  But yeah, none all that successful.  There are a few coming up that might change things: The Repopulation and Wildstar.  We’ll see.

So if gamers are tired of games of the same genre, and they don’t really want to try something they’re completely unfamiliar with, then it seems like there’s only one real path to go: build a new IP, and make an MMO out of that.  Age of Conan and Star Wars(despite William Shatner calling it derivative), are based on existing IP that are(or were when originally created) original.   Depending on your perspective, perhaps you could add The Secret World to this definition--not original ideas but rather existing conspiracy theories presented in game form in a new way.  The Secret World isn't massively successful, but it does ok.

Alright, cool.  So where does that leave Dawnshine?  Well, the goal is still to make a big huge MMO.  But making smaller games based on the Dawnshine IP first, will also make it easier to make the MMO.  I don’t normally like to give details as to what we’re up to in case we abandon something.  But I’ll come out and say I've decided to have the team start working on a Dawnshine collectible card game.  So far, this has been pretty helpful starting out really small scale and deciding big things about the lore.  Much easier.

I notice that card games tend to well on Kickstarter.  We don’t need a programmer for it and one of the guys on our marketing team is obsessed with card games and knows a lot of people in the community that plays them.  Another of our designers is a big Magic: The Gathering player.  I've only played it a couple times, and although this isn't all that similar, I've played a lot of Battle Systems (where you move cardboard squares around to represent your army) to supplement table top DnD game sessions.  Again, not that similar, but the idea of having physical props and designing rules around it is something I’m familiar with.

Anyways, I think this is a great first DS release.  How popular will it be?  I don’t think for a second that it’s going to be the least bit successful without a lot of hard work, and even then, it will be an uphill battle the whole way.  Convincing people to put down their Magic, Yugioh, and Pokemon cards and buy something new that they've never heard of?  Yeah, this won’t be easy at all.  But we’ll start off locally, play test a lot and try and get the local community playing it.

The plan after this project, is to start making shorter single player video games based in the Dawnshine world.  I certainly don’t want to try and make something on the scale of Skyrim.  It would be more about you play a specific character in DS lore and go through an adventure.  I’m thinking 20-50 hours of game play total, but the game would be a lot less expensive than the typical $50-60 dollar range for a PC game.  Once we get some of these mobile games done, we might just switch over to making these Dawnshine mini adventure type games.  I’m kicking around the design for one already.

Speaking of Kickstarter, so we've been talking about doing a KS campaign for one of our games for a month now.  Ouya announced a, now infamous, Free the Games Fund program deal where they will match dollar for dollar what a game developer raises on KS with two conditions: the game has to make at least $50k and it has to be exclusive on the Ouya for 6 months first.  What could possibly go wrong?

To be honest, it never occurred to me that people could use this as a scam.  Think about it this way.  You get a bunch of friends to donate a combination up to $50k dollars on the condition that you’ll give it right back to them,  Ouya matches those dollars, and then you take the free money Ouya gives you and fund your game with that.  You don’t get all the money up front, but again, it’s still free money.  So far, two games have successfully hit the $50k mark—both under heavy suspicion of exactly this happening.  One was shut down by Kickstarter themselves, though the reason why has never been given.  The other, fans have been mercilessly mocking, downgrading all their youtube videos like it’s Rebecca Black singing Friday.  It is really, really fishy.  They've raised $171k dollars, have only a couple dozen Facebook fans, only about 10 people following their 3 year old company on LinkedIn, and got most of their funding from only a few backers who created their KS accounts the same day.  Really, really sketchy.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading comments on Kickstarter and following related stories.  Fans are really, really sick of idiots that promise to do X, Y, and Z, realize they have no idea how to do what they promised, the money gets squandered, and the project never materializes.  I seriously don’t blame the KS peeps for harassing these amateur game developers.  And I’ll be honest and say I’m certainly worried about becoming one of those incompetent amateur game developers that think they’re prepared and end up screwing up.

Not to name names, but it looks like there’s now a third game to hit the $50+k limit.  They were at a couple thousand with only days left, and suddenly hit $50k more.  Um, huh?  The difference?  They’re openly admitting that they had friends and family push them to their goal at the last minute.  Now if they pay those friends their money back, as far as I know, that’s not illegal, though it’s pretty sketchy.  At that point, they’re abusing the rules of the contest, but again, if Ouya doesn't care--and they don’t seem to--then I guess it doesn't matter. 

It was encouraging to see a few indie studios actually succeed, and even more discouraging to see the reality is that the few roads to success for a start up game studio without funding or friends with money are even fewer than they appear.  We’ll get there though, one way or another.