Original blog post on alpha-funding and Spacebase DF-9 here.
You can’t seriously expect a company to relocate somewhere cheaper and still retain their staff!
Well… no, probably not. That said, if that’s what it takes to produce an alpha-funded game in terms of “money it’ll likely (not hopefully) make” to “money it will definitely cost”, then that’s what it takes. Companies move, people move with them. This stuff happens in industries all the time and to expect the games industry to be any different on the basis that it’s not really very pleasant having to relocate is naive. But the point is not that you should have to move to a cost-effective area in order to run an alpha-funded project, but simply if you are not based in a cost-effective area then alpha-funding is probably not an appropriate development model for your business.
What business is it of yours, where a company is based or how their business is run?
None. But alpha funded games rely on consumer trust. How much do they trust you to finish the game you’re selling? And there are three factors primarily in play:
1) The game idea (obviously)
2) Reputation of the company developing it
When an established developer is working on the game, this counts an awful lot on the “trust” gauge. This is why the most successful Kickstarter campaigns tend to be from the likes of Chris Avellone <3, Brian Fargo, Tim Schafer, David Braben, Chris Roberts. All people with tremendous games to their credit - what could go wrong? These guys know how to make games and know how to run studios, right? Right. Except, while on paper you'd be correct to trust established devs what isn't so transparent is the immense gulf in development costs compared to the more bedroom codey indie developers. So yeah, the experience these people have counts hugely in their favour in terms of trust, if you change the question and instead think in terms of this:
“Which developers are the most likely to continue developing their project in the event it performs very badly in terms of sales?”
Now you can see that the larger established developers with the large running costs are the least likely to be able to see through the project if things don’t go according to plan. So it’s not quite the simple proposition as established == better. It’s swings and roundabouts. There will be circumstances when the bedroom coder is a safer bet than the company with AAA games in its softography.
So it does matter how much of the revenue is going to be swallowed by running costs. Right now (and despite the inevitable “mixed” Steam user reviews) Spacebase DF-9 is the 58th best selling Early Access game on Steam, out of 265. That’s in the top quarter of all currently available Early Access games. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a failure. But because those running costs are so high, the top quarter is not sufficient – I wonder what would be? Top ten percent? Top ten? Would have been nice to know this given that continued development depended on it.
Of course Kickstarter is different – those high running costs are factored into the amount asked for. So for Kickstarter you would be right to trust established developers in general. But with alpha-funding those costs are intimately entwined with the project’s chance of success and this is why alpha-funding is not a simple “alternative” to other funding models.
Why no mention of the burglary? You don’t exactly have a flawless track-record either. People in glass houses etc.
That’s a fair point and I didn’t mention it partially because I didn’t really intend to write that much about us in my blog post – just enough to put things in context. But yeah, we screwed up there and were heavily criticised for it at the time (and still occassionally to this day). But I’d argue that the event actually proves my point. Our running costs were low enough that despite that happening, and despite the inevitable plummet in sales that went with it, we were able to carry on regardless – and we’re still here years later. That is the advantage with low cost developers.
With all this in mind, we updated the information on our Store page to include some pertinent information regarding costs associated with where we are based. Frustratingly, I can’t just link directly to it so you’d have to click the “read more” button on the big blue ‘Early Access Game’ panel: here.
Finally in conclusion, here’s m’colleague Lemmy on price points, etc
The cost is very much a big factor in our issues with some Early Access games these days. Consumers are meant to be compensated for buying an incomplete game with risks associated with it. The price is that agreement between dev and customer ‘I know it’s a bit cheeky me asking for money for this, but I just need a financial hand getting it done. So how about I only charge you a fiver? You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You get a game much more ambitious than I could fund normally, and at a super cheap price, and in return I get to make money from this game while I make it.’
With the normalization of Early Access a lot of devs seem to have forgotten that this is a rather unorthodox and contentious thing to do, and instead of being thankful and humble in being permitted to conduct business in this unorthodox way, or remembering that this inherently puts them in a situation where they are more beholden to their customers wants and expectations than in traditional funding models. Instead many have accepted it as the norm, and started to creep the initial alpha prices up to release value (or sometimes, bewilderingly and sickeningly, ABOVE the release price) and the acceptability of releasing earlier and earlier more broken or lacking in gameplay builds to the point where it all becomes very problematic.
If DF-9 was $8 I doubt there would be 1/100th of the backlash. Of course if $8 was a completely impossible price point then this again goes to point out that the location the devs operate in is a BIG factor in the game’s failure and needs to be noted.