Phosphor On Project Awakened’s Life After Kickstarter

By Nathan Grayson on March 9th, 2013 at 10:00 am.

There are some things you can’t do, even with all the powers. Those things include healing a broken heart, parallel parking anything larger than a clown car, and evidently, solving the puzzle that is Kickstarter. Phosphor – whose crime-fighting slice of sky pie, Project Awakened, sadly went splat well before its Kickstarter crossed the finish line – knows that all too well. But it’s not ready to give up just yet.  So then, what’s the deal with its allegedly Greenbay-Packers-influenced “part owners” program? And, if crowdfunding failed to swoop in and save the day once, what makes Phosphor so sure it’ll respond to the giant dollar signal in the sky this time? Moreover, even if fans can muster the needed cash, what happens after a bunch of it goes into a robust prototype intended to get backers more involved in the development process? Where will more money come from? Use every power in your arsenal – yes, even smission – to get past the break for precious, precious answers from studio director Chip Sineni.

RPS: The Kickstarter fell slightly short of its goal, which is a shame. What do you think went wrong? Based on what you’ve now seen, how can you improve your campaign? Was a simple lack of wider-spread awareness to blame? Did it come down to not offering something playable? What were the biggest contributing factors?

Chip Sineni: We think there were a variety of factors, some we anticipated, some we didn’t.

We went into it without a famous or nostalgic brand of any kind.

We went into it without a famous or nostalgic brand of any kind – a well known designer of past hits, a studio with a history of success with a specific genre, or a direct or spiritual prequal to point to. It was a total ‘cold start’ for us in terms of building awareness. We expected that, and hoped we could have overcome that faster, but it took a while till the news really started to spread, and then the campaign was winding down. A lot of people from all sources said “we just heard of this a day or so ago, others need to know, please extend the campaign!” But you can’t on Kickstarter. This is one major reason we are trying this novel new idea – to see just how true it is that there was a bigger viral wave growing that hadn’t hit yet.

Something that was in our control to a point was how to describe the vision to someone with no exposure to it before. It’s a very unique concept, and that isn’t always easy to get across. We love crafting good stories, and there will be a compelling world and plot, but we didn’t have story content to show, we have all the proof of concept demo work to show, and that can come across as a tech demo with no ‘heart’ I suppose. We will try to remedy in the future, but until we start adding actual story progression to the game – which would mean we have the funding to really go full speed – that will be a challenge.

Something that we did not anticipate was all the people asking for paypal. We have had the ability to turn it on for a little while, but it’s a catch 22 because you let those people now pledge outside of Kickstarter, but if any of them could have pledged via Kickstarter, you actually just hurt your ability to get the rest of the Kickstarter funds if the campaign is close to the line. All the cries for Paypal is another one of the reasons we are trying this. If there are lot of people out there that would prefer that method, then they may come to pledge now. We’ll see!

RPS: You’re letting fans decide Awakened’s fate, which is noble, but is it almost a little unnecessary? I mean, they’re fans. They obviously love what you’re doing and have expressed as much in the past. Why not just launch the new site and get a move on funding again?

Chip Sineni: They are fans, and since most of them only found out about this a few weeks ago, we are staggered and humbled by just how supportive they are! But, we have always been very cautious about the idea of outright accepting people’s money before we know it will add up to a significant enough sum to really give them something of value for it. It’s easier, we suspect, for people to pledge to a Kickstarter knowing that if it doesn’t make its goal, their credit card is never charged.

Just as with the Kickstarter campaign, we are looking for funding to open a path forward to getting the game onto player’s hands sooner, but people may feel differently about pledging that same money without the Kickstarter safety net. If so, we totally understand and can’t fault them. We have been making this game for nearly seven years, and will keep making it, but everyone will feel different levels of security around that. So, we decided to be open and just ask them what they would do. That is the survey. We trust they will give us an honest answer, and they will then trust us that we’ll deliver if we move forward. We’re all in it together.

RPS: What happens to proposed stretch goals now? Will they still be part of this new funding plan? If you only get to around $350k again, what happens to, say, robust mod tools and things of the like?

Chip Sineni: The stretch goals are the same. If this new plan somehow sparks a fire and we go above $600K in the next six weeks or so, those stretch goals are all back in plan for the beta launch. If we don’t hit those totals, we just get to those features in the future with either more money we don’t know about now, or time spent after beta launch. We want those features SO BADLY, just like the fans, so we’ll do our best to figure it out!

RPS: So you’re planning to put resulting funds into an Unreal Engine 4 prototype, which you’ll then allow fans to play and provide feedback on. What happens after that, though? I imagine you’ll have used up quite a bit of your money. How will you get more to finish the game?

Chip Sineni: If we are able to move forward, yes, we will have a cool prototype later this year. We are still quickly evaluating if that should be in UE3 or UE4 to be honest. The closer delivery date of a build into users hands means UE4 will not be as mature, and we don’t know Epic’s full plans and timing for support, so we’ll have to make the call on engine choice if all this works out and we get the prototype going full speed in seven weeks. If we do go with UE3 for the prototype, it opens up lots of features that would be great like Mac and Linux support, command line MP, and modding via UDK. The players would get these features they wanted for beta, even sooner. So, lots to weigh.

As for money to move forward past prototype, unless we raise at least as much as we were asking for in the Kickstarter, we are pushing out closed beta launch to later next year, to make up for less money with more time. Which is, by the way, how the game has slowly made it this far. To be clear though, unless we see a path in the survey data to both doing the demo for late this year, and a closed beta for sometime next year, we won’t start taking people’s money. The demo doesn’t take away from the full beta launch, it’s a stop along the way that we want to clean up enough to share with people. It will in fact help the game to get players input and feedback sooner, and we are excited about it.

RPS: Can you explain how the Greenbay-Packers-like “part owners” system will work for Awakened? In real, tangible terms, how does that benefit backers? What do they get out of it? And how does it benefit you, the creators?

Chip Sineni: The way we see the gamers out there as having part ownership is in a significant creative influence over the core experience we build. We were going to have players in the closed beta really helping guide the game. Now, if we do this new plan, we will have them playing and helping even sooner, with that demo. That means even more influence on what direction the game takes, what abilities get made, how the tools shape up, what features we enable first, etc. They are becoming more and more a part of the design team. If we can make that demo later this year moddable – even more power for the players.

RPS: Will backers be making money off Awakened’s success? If so, will that amount vary based on how much they originally “invested”?

Chip Sineni: We don’t have a model that complicated in mind at the moment. If we can do this new plan, fans will get to influence the game vision as we mentioned, and they will get the rewards for their pledge tiers, but we don’t have any set plans to do any direct profit sharing.

But, in the future, who knows? We want to have a ton of player created content. Valve, with games like TF2, is showing how there is a whole new relationship evolving between a developer, a fan base, and members of the fan base that want to create and sell their own stuff. That model could be quite applicable to Project Awakened some day. Imagine if, instead of a TF2 hat, someone has lovingly crafted the coolest whole samurai outfit ever, or made some custom visual effect for your favorite special ability, or the perfect recreation of Times Square as multiplayer map, and now you can buy those creations from them. It would be a whole new world of player interaction and gaming, and we’d love to facilitate that some day.

We don’t have any set plans to do any direct profit sharing.

RPS: Kickstarters like yours and Death Inc failed in the same week Torment rocketed past its goal in six hours. Do you think large-scale success (read: multiple hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars) on Kickstarter requires some kind of pre-established brand at this point? I mean, devs like Phosphor, Ambient, Eerie Canal (Dreadline), and even Gas Powered Games found only middling reactions with original ideas.

Chip Sineni: As we mentioned, bringing some sort of known successful brand – a person, a game, a style of game you have success at, a historied studio – means the hard first part of people knowing and trusting you is over. We’ve been lucky to have a solid amount of critical acclaim and our first two games as a studio were nominated for Game Of The Year in their category by the Academy of Arts and Sciences. We’ve also been helping Epic build their Unreal Engine 4 and have done contract work on a number of triple-A titles, but we are still relatively unknown to the mainstream. A Kickstarter campaign is a pretty short time to get people to know you, help them understand your vision, and get them excited and trusting enough to give you money, starting from scratch like we did.

RPS: One last one, more on the subject of the game itself: the Unreal 3 videos you’ve released have displayed very third-person-shooter-esque viewpoints and mechanics. Do you plan to implement more specific combat systems for, say, melee attacks? Lock-on targeting, a different camera view, etc?

Chip Sineni: All the content in the vids is prototype. We’ve experimented with a lot of different things over the years, including cameras. We don’t have the final settings, but we can safely say we will definitely optimize the camera view for the different styles of play people want.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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23 Comments »

  1. Spacewalk says:

    I’m seeing four different settings but only one area in that first image.

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    • abandonhope says:

      Those are just a few mods that the dev threw together to demonstrate what was possible using the framework that they’re building. Or something. I don’t think it really helped them sell the Kickstarter, and it kind of added to the sense that the campaign setting/story were either not particularly nailed down or generic or both. The mods all played more or less the same, and didn’t show a game world reacting to vastly different abilities and play styles. Some of their other videos did, but I don’t think they focused enough on their hook.

      I backed on the first day, but I lost interest as the campaign progressed. I went into detail in the comments on the last Awakened article, so I won’t repeat it here, but I used the word “aimless.” I would still like to see a game come out of this, because the core idea is great and the challenge of building a game around so much player freedom is interesting (and there really isn’t enough innovation on Kickstarter). However, I’m not comfortable throwing money at a project outside of the all-or-nothing model when it’s clear that money is so crucial for something of its scope. I voted no on their recent survey.

  2. rado_viden says:

    So he didn’t reply to you when you said “Thank you for your time.”
    Well, I never!

    • The Random One says:

      The only one I remember replying to that was Peter Molyneux, who waxed philosophical for a short while. (AND THEN HE CRIED) (it was before, actually)

  3. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    If he would have answered the first question correctly maybe I’d give the interview a read. I don’t know if it’s denial or EA level PR, but when asked why the KS failed he didn’t even mention anything to do with his pitch. It failed because this is a toolset pitched as the greatest game ever or something.
    We know what fish smell like.

    • Malfeas says:

      Yeah, I have to agree. There wasn’t even a hint of game concept besides “look how awesome these powers are!”. The answers here simply cement the view I’d gotten from reading their kickstarter page. They are in love with their idea and can’t see that it’s flawed.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I’m surprised they passed $300K for their pitch of $500k. They’ve put it down to not having a famous guy or nostalgia… so I would’ve thought they’d think about what game they could “squeeze” out of Kickstarter.

      Takedown (the highest backed FPS), back during the “hype” days of Kickstarter barely made it and they were aiming for $200k… at least that was attempting a specific type of game.

      Starless, nostalgia-less projects are lucky to pass $100k let alone $500k, so most of them aim for a game they came make for the lower end of things.

      Including “web celebs” (homestuck and yogscast) and pre-existing communities (Pathfinder, Clang/Neal Stephenson) the only video game kickstarters over $500k are Castle Story ($702k), Republique ($555k), and Ouya (though that’s actual hardware).

      I couldn’t see passed this project as “an unstructured FPS with powers and modding” (a-la prototype or infamous). A sort of Minecraft with no mining, no crafting, only shooter mechanics, and better graphics… just no idea what they were trying to do.

  4. LintMan says:

    This part concerns me a bit:

    “We love crafting good stories, and there will be a compelling world and plot, but we didn’t have story content to show, we have all the proof of concept demo work to show, and that can come across as a tech demo with no ‘heart’ I suppose. We will try to remedy in the future, but until we start adding actual story progression to the game – which would mean we have the funding to really go full speed – that will be a challenge.”

    You don’t need to be in full speed development to create and plan story content. That’s what pre-production is for, as elaborated in great detail in the Torment Kickstarter pitch. Sure, you might still be tweaking and reworking story details and not finalized until late in development, but it seems that leaving nearly all story development until full production is underway is an indicator it has very low priority and is a recipe for having a half-baked story that is contorted to fit the work that’s been done, rather than the other way around.

  5. roryok says:

    I’m trying to stay open minded, but the video just reminds me of those ambitious failed mod projects that you used to see every time a new game came out in the naughties. They don’t just quietly fold in on themselves anymore now that kickstarter is here to part naive people from their money.

  6. TsunamiWombat says:

    I am detecting high concentrations of trace elements of Hubris, Captain. This atmosphere is not safe for humans.

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  8. Wret says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s more important they have the ability to make all the powers and abilities they’re promising rather than having a book’s worth of story planned out? E.Y.E. had a story that read like a fortune cookie out of a crack pipe and I still loved it for the inane options it gave me (DRAGON DRAGON). In one video I see them summon burnable refuse, set it on fire with heat vision, then use the flamey bits to Michael Baynado dudes. Mix and match powers. That’s a hell lot farther along than “we have this neat awesome idea that’d be really great”. If anything I think their problem is trying to get this out on the Newest Shiniest All-The-Graphics engine. Let UE4 mature abit use UE3.

  9. Danda says:

    “The way we see the gamers out there as having part ownership is in a significant creative influence over the core experience we build. (…) We don’t have any set plans to do any direct profit sharing”

    If that’s the case, describing gamers as “part owners” is complete bullshit.

  10. The Random One says:

    While I understand why not enough people wanted to back the project, (and their target was insanely high), it’s still a shame it didn’t go through. The game looked like Saints’ Row with superpowers. That won’t be the game to save gaming from itself, but still sounds like it’d be fun.

    Guess we’ll see maybe?

  11. KirbyEvan says:

    Why does everyone have to put giant quotes in their articles?

    RockPaperShotgun is(was?) pretty much the only video game journalism site that DOESN’T use the stereotypical giant quotes, and I know I shouldn’t be getting mad at it, but I just don’t understand the point.

    Is it simply tl;dr for the masses?

    • Citrus says:

      Giant quotes point out something REALLY interesting for the reader. Not to mention these can be great for mocking the interviewed person in the future if they go back on their quoted words.

      Also, makes the article look cool and sexy. Sex appeal for any interview/article is important, especially when I am using next-gen nVidia or AMD card with TressFX to read the article in full RGBBS.

  12. Todd_Bailey says:

    just as Theodore replied I didnt know that some people can get paid $9291 in 1 month on the computer. did you read this webpage… http://zapit.nu/2zm

  13. MeestaNob says:

    Wise man say, “game developer that promise everything promise nothing”.

    This game was like the ambition of Ultima Ascension multiplied my Peter Molyneux to the power of IGN.com.

    All the kickstarter showed was a spiffy MMO character builder, with little information on any game it might connect to.

  14. Citrus says:

    If these people had a good idea about their own game, they would have come back to Kickstarter after ironing out certain issues people had with their pitch in the first place (you know, like “what exactly is the gameplay, story, setting.. what what WHAT?”).

    But instead they decided that scamming people through Paypal is much easier and better in the end.

    Also, they are STILL debating whether they need Unreal 4 over Unreal 3? REALLY? Kinda obvious that these people are more interested in making a port for next-gen shitboxes instead of supporting Windows and Mac (which is supported in UE3). That’s why they need U4 engine, because it sure as hell isn’t their generic art style that needs it (not to mention that the U4 license will be expensive as hell and UDK4 will be cheaper when it is out.. but these guys want to sell on consoles ASAP).

    If these people were serious about making their dream game they would’ve started small and cheap, by making Windows and Mac version with something free like UDK instead of spending thousands of dollars licensing Unreal 4 that only works on Windows at the moment (and if you wanna count PS4).

    • Aldebaran says:

      This game is supposed to come out sometime in 2015 and you want it to use ue3?! Hell no! Cryngine , frostbite, red engine, id tech…java is better than that thing. Just imagine its 2015 or whenever this thing comes with all the new technologies like ddr4, 4k/8k resolution, new chips from Intel and AMD, new graphic cards and maybe even path tracing (finally) and what will this game have? State of the art…. ue3?! Really?! Hell NO!

      Don’t get me wrong ue3 was an amazing engine for its time. But in 2015?! Thanks, but no thanks and yes gameplay, story and bla bla bla is more important but I really, REALLY don’t want to play a ps3 game (port) in 2015 or later.

  15. SteelersFan says:

    “Do you think large-scale success (read: multiple hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars) on Kickstarter requires some kind of pre-established brand at this point? I mean, devs like Phosphor, Ambient, Eerie Canal (Dreadline), and even Gas Powered Games found only middling reactions with original ideas.”

    Not at all. If that’s what it required then devs like Phosphor, Ambient, Eerie Canal (Dreadline), and even Gas Powered Games could have successfully funded. They could have just said “Hey, we created hit game A, B, and C” and people would have just thrown piles of money at them. Much to their surprise, Kickstarter backers had detailed questions about the game to be made instead.

    You see, these well-known devs may be great at designing games, but it takes having the ability to properly market and publicize their idea on Kickstarter to make it a success. If their idea is unclear to potential backers, then people aren’t going to back it (or back it with as much money).

    Take Phosphor.

    Backers repeatedly posted comments for weeks asking about the STORY of the game and what the game was going to be about. But Phosphor just continued to pitch “Create A Player” and the future modding abilities.

    The problem is, a big chunk of potential backers are GAMERS — not people looking for cool mod tools. I’ve never used a mod tool in my life but I buy dozens of games every year because I’m always looking for great games to play, especially ones that have something resembling a good plot or storyline that can entertain me.

    IMHO, if Phosphor takes some time to regroup and relaunch a story-driven idea on Kickstarter with some proper PR and marketing for the entire campaign duration, then they could pull off a very successful Kickstarter.