Warhorse On Kingdom Come’s Kickstarter, Episodic Plans

By Nathan Grayson on January 22nd, 2014 at 11:00 am.

If Mafia-director-led team Warhorse has its way, Kingdom Come: Deliverance will be gigantic. Like, hundreds of hours gigantic, when it’s all said and done. But this is a smaller team designing a colossal open world full of stories, NPCs, and – yes – warhorses. It was never going to be easy. So Warhorse is doing two things to stave off the monetary death siege banging down its doors: 1) slicing the main plot up into three episodic acts and, yes, 2) going to Kickstarter. But even a successful £300,000 crowdfunding drive won’t be enough to pull this cart over the figurative mountain. A mysterious outside benefactor will handle the rest, apparently. I spoke with director Daniel Vávra about how that will affect the game, if players will still influence development, and whether hacking such a cohesive world into pieces will hurt the final product. 

RPS: Why Kickstarter? Do you really think you’ll be able to make enough money to fund something this enormous?

Vávra: There was always a chance to self-publish the game. Our colleagues from Prague, Bohemia Interactive, do it successfully all the time. We were always thinking of that as a possibility. After long negotations, things always slowed down to a crawl with marketing and upper level executives at publishers. They were too afraid to take risks. People who played games liked it, but we couldn’t get things to go faster. So we decided to self-publish.

This isn’t a PR stunt or anything. It really is, if we don’t get the money, it’s game over.

But there is a trick. We have a very strong private investor, but he’s from outside the gaming industry [UPDATE: Turns out, it's Zdenek Bakala, one of the richest people in the entire Czech Republic]. He doesn’t understand games. It’s a little bit unusual, probably. But he would be willing to finance the whole game if he sees some commitment. So we agreed with him that if we go to Kickstarter and get just a fraction of the sum we need – which is about $500,000 – he will fund the rest of development.

RPS: How is that approach going to change the course of development, if at all? Are you going to do a backer alpha, Early Access, and all the other stuff basically everybody does in the year 2014?

Vávra: That’s why we’re announcing the game so early in development. We still have nearly two years ahead of us to go. But we’re going to do it like Chris Roberts on Star Citizen. We’re going to release smaller chunks of gameplay as soon as possible so people can test them. Modules, as he calls them [laughs]. We’ll update this build and then when we’re ready we’ll release [a more cohesive] Early Access beta. We’ve split the game which was originally going to be 100 hours, as big as Skyrim basically, into three chapters that will be released sooner than usual after each other. Like, eight months apart. So not two years or something.

RPS: Yikes. That sounds like it could really hack up a big, cohesive story like the one you’re trying to tell. Same with the world. I could see this ending really badly if not handled well. Why’d you decide to take this route?

Vávra: The good thing is that the story was written from the beginning as three chapters, so it makes sense to do it this way. Every chapter is placed on a new map, but if you’re on a quest in chapter two, you can come back and do quests in the chapter one location. But otherwise the new story takes place on a new map. So we decided this was ideal.

The first chapter still has nine square kilometers [of map size] and 30 hours of gameplay, so it’s not a small game. We will lower the price accordingly, though. It’s not going to be $60 per episode, but rather $35 or something. That’s our plan.

RPS: You’re using Kickstarter to attract an outside financier, which I suppose is more akin to Kickstarter’s stated purpose than, say, being a glorified pre-order platform, but your fans aren’t really as much of a factor. They’re just providing the initial push, a small burst of kinetic energy. How much does that change the way you approach crowdfunding?

Vávra: This is tricky, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The game will not happen if we don’t succeed on Kickstarter. This isn’t a PR stunt or anything. It’s really, if we don’t get the money, it’s game over. We’re not the investor. The investor is someone who, luckily for us, is still believing in the project somehow – but not enough to give us the money now. So it’s not some greedy PR stunt. It really can’t happen without the money. This isn’t just a way to promote the game for free or something.

RPS: How involved in development will players be as a result of the Kickstarter? 

Vávra: We’re planning to be similar to Star Citizen, so we’d like to get our first very early core feature modules out in the next six months or so. Very core features like interaction with the world, dialogues, and stuff. In a smaller environment. Then we’ll add new features over time. Small quests, horseback riding, bow shooting. When everything’s ready, we’ll release everything on Early Access.

So we definitely want to see how people react to that. What they think of mechanics, if everything runs fine, etc. For an RPG, I think this is especially valuable because RPGs are usually very buggy because they’re so complicated. So having people interact with us during development is great.

RPS: How much will you change the game as a result of feedback? Could we see, say, a detailed third-person view in additional to the (already somewhat controversial) first-person requirement?

Vávra: This is something we’re still arguing about. I’m totally against it. I know that some people have a problem with first-person view here, but I think we get much better immersion. At this point, we don’t plan to have third-person. However, if there are very large protests from people, we may change our mind [laughs]. But I think the immersion is worth it, especially with how we work with the camera. If you look down, you see your body and legs. If you interact with stuff, you see your hands.

RPS: Early Access on big single-player games like this kind of puts players in a tough spot. On one hand, they can try the game early and help with development, but on the other, spoilers abound. And they end up experiencing those moments in a non-optimal state. It can also be anticlimactic, as evidenced by everything from Divinity to even more “complete” games like Broken Age and The Banner Saga. 

Vávra: Well, we already built the location that should be in this module, and I think it will spoil the visuals of the area but nothing else. It will be more about seeing stuff, controls, doing basic core mechanics. There will only be one quest. We just need to find out if everything works. So I don’t think it will spoil the story or anything.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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43 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge RedViv says:

    Oh, a shadowy investor from outside gaming!
    Is it mysteriously rich genius Tommy Wiseau?

  2. frightlever says:

    ” I could see this ending really badly if not handled well. ”

    Jeeze, good point to make. Guess RPS are getting a little tougher on Kickstarters, despite JW’s earlier screed.

    • The Random One says:

      I wish RPS had been even harder, but the reason I come here is to see them respond to devs’ plans with stuff like “Yikes!”

  3. USER47 says:

    The mysterious investor actually isn’t mysterious at all…

    It’s Zdeněk Bakala, Czech coal-mining bilionaire.
    http://www.forbes.com/profile/zdenek-bakala/

  4. khomotso says:

    I don’t think I like this way of using Kickstarter at all: use it to demonstrate an audience, but undermine the accountability to the funding crowd by pinning your real hopes on an angel investor.

    • Branthog says:

      There should be a new service focused on crowd-funding the rescue of failing businesses so that they can be kept out of places like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Inevitably, they end up with payroll and staffing problems, use the raised funds to account for those expenses, then go tits-up.

    • Philomelle says:

      If you actually read the interview, this is as much about demonstrating an audience to someone else as it is about having it to themselves. Their ultimate interest in having backers is in being surrounded by people who are invested enough in their project to provide feedback and help them turn it into something amazing, as opposed to just good.

      I honestly kind of enjoy this. They’re the first Kickstarter since Massive Chalice who are interested in the backers’ participation in development, not just their money.

    • zhivik says:

      Actually, it’s one of the rare uses of Kickstarter according to its original concept. Kickstarter was always intended to serve as a platform for new businesses to find their starting capital. It was never intended to serve as a way to fund entire projects. What Warhorse is doing there is prove their project has potential. In fact, this project bears smaller risk, since they already have an investor waiting, unlike many other developers, who have to rely only on Kickstarter money. Besides, their goals seem realistic, even if ambitious. They may still fail, of course, but i get the imprssion that the approach is quite professional here.

  5. Premium User Badge Colonel J says:

    I’m not jumping on the back of this one until there’s a Stable version.

    • Sian says:

      Well, with only you and me, this is a shoddy pun-thread. I was expecting to be horse with laughter by now. But I’m glad you didn’t rein in you desire to start this.

      • mr.black says:

        Yeah, I don’t like people hoofing against pun threads.

        • SominiTheCommenter says:

          Again with the “hoofing” word in this horsing-around threads.
          Somebody rein in on this!

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Manure so funny!

  6. Seafort says:

    If they have an investor they don’t need any help from me and others like me on kickstarter. Good luck though.

    • USER47 says:

      Maybe next time you could actualy read the interview or watch the kickstarter video:).

    • Philomelle says:

      Are you seriously too stupid to finish reading a paragraph?

    • Lethys says:

      Well, obviously not. If they didn’t need help then they wouldn’t be doing this. Their investor isn’t willing to put forth more money without a better idea of the market. I think this is a perfectly reasonable and extremely common type of response for an investor to have, especially since the guy is apparently not intimately familiar with games. For games, Kickstarter seems like a perfect way to prove demand. That’s part of the functionality of Kickstarter. If your thing has no demand, then it won’t get funded and won’t be made.

      If there is no other way as easy and effective to prove demand, then are you really going to be upset that your funding didn’t constitute a majority of the game’s funding? Or will you be happy that the small amount you provided enabled the game to be made in a slightly less conventional way? Your money unlocks a lot more money, and that amount is probably based on the Kickstarter amount. More money means a better game. It seems a bit foolish for you to respond the way you did, unless you seem to think the guy is lying. I found it to be rather transparent of him to reveal what’s going on, which is refreshing.

    • GameCat says:

      It’s like:

      Devs: Hey, Investor, you see? These people want our product. No, they aren’t just saying. See these numbers? It’s all money! They actually PAID for it before it’s even released.
      Investor: OK guys, grab this $1 000 000 check and finish it. You will thank (and pay) me later. Cheers!

  7. Premium User Badge basilisk says:

    This is such a bizarre way to go about things. If you don’t have the money to make something as big as Skyrim, then why are you planning to make something as big as Skyrim?

    The combination of Kickstarter craze and Early Access craze is really becoming ridiculous.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The same way indie developers think they can make MMOs, I guess.

    • The Random One says:

      ” If you don’t have the money to make something as big as Skyrim, then why are you planning to make something as big as Skyrim?”

      Becaaaaause they believe they can get that money?

      I don’t see how that’s strange. That’s how things work in creative industries. A “creative” has an idea, and seeks investors to fund that idea. Even book writers do that. The only difference is that in this instance they’re seeking funding partially from the public at large.

      • Premium User Badge basilisk says:

        Well, certainly, but it’s a negotiation, isn’t it? Making the decisions on scope and funding should go hand in hand. If I can’t find anyone who’d sponsor my humongous and overambitious project, doesn’t it make more sense to try cutting it down a bit?

        • Ultra Superior says:

          That was their original plan – what you propose is a reasonable last resort, however they don’t need to curb their ambitions just yet, since there’s a prospect of self-publishing with private massive investment. Great deal for any dev, though in this case it depends on KS success.

          Which is a smart direction – it tests the real public demand, and if it succeeds, it creates hype, press, dedicated following etc.

          (I 100% agree on the ridiculousness of the early access craze, those endless alpha/beta versions ruin the experience for people in them, whilst prolonging the development time for all who wait for the 1.0 release)

        • The Random One says:

          Certainly. If their Kickstarter fails, it would be foolish to continue without, at least, reducing the game’s scope.

          €: This was in response to basilisk. A pox upon this labyrinthine comment system!

  8. Kadayi says:

    Looks great. M&B on steroids. Digital Knight seems like the most reasonable tier. Backed.

  9. Wulfram says:

    Bakala, he’s been throwing his weight around in Cycling a bit.

  10. Grzegorz Dalek says:

    This is pretty weird idea. What’s wrong with doing a survey or getting enough signatures so investor can see the interest in the game? In example I would totally get this game if it was finished and released, but I’m not funding incomplete games. So it’s not showing my interest in potential game even if there is one.

    • Hanban says:

      I guess investor types feel willingness to part with money talks more than willingness to sing a petition.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Honestly, this is the only logical thing to do.

      You would be sad to know how many great games never saw the light of day thanks to publishers having their way (usually they’re all blindly following one currently successful trend and refusing anything else).

      This game is amazing in its ambition and these guys should be applauded for the scope they’re willing and able to tackle.

      If there are enough hardcore enthusiasts willing to muster 500 000 USD upfront – it’s very likely the game will be successful, hence it will be a sensible investment for Bakala (and a lesson for Publishers who refused this project)

      Speaking for myself, I want to play this game really bad so I went for the DUKE reward tier and I am willing to upgrade if they add one more price tier between 125 and 300.

    • tormos says:

      Survey would be difficult to reach people/target audience with. I guess you could do a focus group but since the target audience is probably not Czechs (or at least not exclusively Czechs) your overhead/logistics get pretty complicated. A petition is pretty easy to just get around with bots, and doesn’t necessarily give you a 1:1 crossover of people who sign:people who buy the game (like if you sign the petition but are an anti 1st person nut and didn’t actually read the promotional material for the game so decide not to buy it once you realize it’s in 1st person). Both methods have the aforementioned problem of reaching people. Meanwhile, Kickstarter has a wide user base, gets a lot of attention, is harder to fake, and gives you some guarantee that people are in fact interested in buying this game.

  11. DarkFenix says:

    This project has me sooooooo skeptical. It looks really damn good, but at the same time the business end of things looks like it’s held together with a mixture duct tape and hope.

    My brain is telling me “don’t back this, they’ll never finish it”, the rest of me is saying “Mount & Blade was awesome, this already looks better, back it!”

    So screw you brain, I really want this game to exist and that’s really how KS works isn’t it; if enough people want it, that desire really can materialise into a game. Consider me a believer (and a backer).

  12. Jimbo says:

    This sounds all kinds of shady and I wouldn’t give it any consideration at all if not for Vavra being behind it.

    What happens to the $500k if/when the target is met and the ‘investor’ has a change of heart anyway? Is there already a contract in place between the developer and investor, or has the funding just been promised verbally?

    This could definitely go badly if it doesn’t go well. Or it could be somewhere in the middle.

  13. XhomeB says:

    What they’ve shown is simply fantastic and feels fresh, but the combat reeks of “QTE-watch an animation-repeat”. I might be mistaken of course, but it judging from these short clips, something feels a bit off.
    Will pledge anyway.

  14. mwoody says:

    Hrm, I can’t decide if I want to back this one. The price is REALLY high for a Kickstarter project ($25+ to get the game), and it only gets you “Act 1″. If you want the whole game, you have to pay nearly $500. Meanwhile, their answer to if it supports the Rift is that Cryengine supports the rift so they do; that’s NOT all there is to making the game playable in VR!

    Oddly enough I have no problem with their mysterious benefactor. While I echo other considerations about the problem if he backs out, I see it as I can pay my money for a 300k euro game, or I can pay the same amount for a 10mill euro game.

  15. sepposmies says:

    The ingame footage looks a tad fake. Someone please confirm that my eyes are not just rotted to all hell.