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When we announced Pathfinder Online last December, we did so because we were going to be speaking to investors and doing presentations that would likely get publicity and, instead of the Pathfinder community hearing about the project via the rumor mill, we wanted you to be able to learn about it as it develops, directly from us.
Since then, we've been talking with potential investors, and have found that there's a gap between the money immediately available to us and the money we need to raise for the project. We can assemble enough money to start, but not enough to ensure that we can complete the first year of development. On the other hand, we're hearing from many potential partners that they love our vision and want to participate—they just don't want to jump into the deal until we have more concrete work to show them.
So we've been considering several alternatives. We could start now, and try to raise money in small amounts, basically running development month-to-month. That has the upside of letting us get working immediately, but the lack of long-term security would make it hard to attract top-flight talent to our team. We could seek out short-term contractors, but working with people who would be unlikely to become our actual full-time team isn't ideal, and having to teaching the ropes to new groups of developers on a frequent basis is inefficient and unappealing. Alternately, we could simply hold the project in reserve and work the investor community longer, hoping to find someone interested in getting in on the very ground floor—but the longer we wait, the more likely someone else is to come in to the fantasy sandbox market and create a competitive game with first-mover advantage.
We don't like any of those alternatives, so we've been working on a better option to move forward. Kickstarter is that option. With the community funding our demo through Kickstarter, we'll be able to show investors a playable demo of Pathfinder Online and demonstrate that we have an audience that's hungry for the game.
The idea of doing something with Kickstarter has been a topic of discussion since before there was a Pathfinder Online project to announce. Last summer my friend and former business partner Luke Peterschmidt did a Kickstarter for a deckbuilding game he designed, Miskatonic School for Girls. They had a great success, raising more than $60,000, and the game is now available at paizo.com and in game stores everywhere. At Gen Con in Indianapolis, I was on a panel with Wolf Baur, publisher of Kobold Quarterly, talking about the patronage model of financing he's been using for several of his recent works, especially the Midgard Campaign Setting. Last fall at GDC Online in Austin, I had a long lunch with Matt Forbeck and several other creative folks, and got the lowdown on Matt's "12 for '12" plan—a series of 12 book projects to be created over the course of 2012 for Brave New World and Shotguns & Sorcery.
Kickstarter solves a huge problem for creative projects. With Kickstarter, a creative team can ask their audience to show their support based on the idea and the team. Each person who backs the Kickstarter takes a little bit of risk, but not so much that they're likely to be hurt if the project doesn't come to fruition. Yet in aggregate, those supporters can generate enough money to make it possible to get the project past the point where investors can evaluate it on its own merits, while simultaneously demonstrating their desire for the finished product.
We were still skeptical of the ability to use Kickstarter for Pathfinder Online. Then the Double Fine and Order of the Stick projects transformed everyone's understanding of how much money was really available from the community. Double Fine got a tremendous launch with their Kickstarter project for an adventure game. They raised more than $3 million—an eye-popping sum. But for our purposes, we were actually more interested by the success of the recent Order of the Stick project, which raised more than $1 million. Rich Burlew's audience and the Pathfinder audience overlap quite a bit, so we had to start thinking seriously about going the Kickstarter route.
While we were working on our Kickstarter, several more games arrived to provide even more compelling evidence that Kickstarter is a great solution for us: Shadowrun Returns, Wasteland 2, and Rappan Athuk.
These successful Kickstarters are all connected to huge communities that are strongly engaged. They're run by people who have a lot of credibility with those communities. They're focusing on delivering content that won't get funded through "traditional" channels, so there isn't a lot of that type of content easily available. We see a lot of similarities between those successful Kickstarters and Pathfinder Online.
Our Kickstarter project just went live; please go here to read all the details! We hope you'll support it!
The first thing we had to do for our Kickstarter was figure out exactly what we wanted to pitch. Did we want to try to raise the full budget for the MMO? That would be an amount larger than any successful Kickstarter project has received to date—maybe too ambitious for this stage of the project. On the other hand, we wanted to make a real leap forward towards our goal—a small step really wouldn't be worth the effort.
In the end we had a stroke of luck that gave us the answers we were looking for.
We've been working since before the announcement of the project on selecting the middleware that will drive the game. This is the most critical decision that can be made at this point in the process. Middleware is a rapidly evolving part of the video game industry—games coming to market today are using middleware solutions their developers may have selected many years ago. What you see in many current games is not fully representative of what the underlying engines can do—the state of the art is moving constantly forward.
We've settled on what we think is the best option for us. That option happens to be the most complicated deal of all the options we considered, though, since it involves multiple parties, and getting it done has required a lot of layers of negotiation and careful legal work. We're still not quite finished, but we're close enough that we expect to make an announcement before our Kickstarter ends. (If not, we've got a good Plan B... and C, and D.)
A part of that work has brought us into contact with a great team of people who are going to come aboard and do the work on what we're now calling the Pathfinder Online Technology Demo. There's a good chance we'll be working with some—or all—of them long-term on the project. They've got a great history in this space and are very familiar with the middleware we're planning to use. It just makes sense for us all to work together and make this Kickstarter happen. We'll be announcing that team shortly—you'll hear about them and their prior work at about the same time we announce our middleware selection.
With a middleware deal worked out—on paper, at least—and a team assembled to implement the project, Mark, Lisa and I worked out a budget that we can believe in, one that is easily within reach of the Kickstarter community, and then we got buy-off on that plan from everyone who will make the dream come alive. And then we started preparing the actual Kickstarter project page itself.
A primary feature of any Kickstarter is the video that introduces the project and explains why people should back it. In the beginning of Kickstarter, most of these videos were pretty simple affairs, usually a talking head and maybe some pictures. But as we worked on our launch plans, and as Kickstarter got more and more visibility, the videos people were making got more and more sophisticated. By the time we were ready to actually start shooting footage, people were doing humorous skits, shooting with professional quality cameras and sound, and basically raising the game to the next level. We knew we had to do the same.
Mark and I went to the Paizo offices for a weekend of video production. Our idea was to interview a wide variety of people who will be involved with the project, including people from the Goblinworks development team and members of the Paizo staff. That video would be edited together to make a presentation about Pathfinder Online. We were lucky to be able to work with Ben Dobyns of Zombie Orpheus (JourneyQuest to get a great team of production people to help us: Director of Photography Shawn Anderson, Andy Dopieralski, and Chris Duerkopp.
Our production crew getting ready to shoot footage in Paizo's warehouse
The interviews went on throughout the weekend. I snapped this photo during a break in the action. (That's two high quality cameras, a boom mike, plus lights and a mixing console.)
Here's the other side of that room, with Lisa prepping her desk space to be the "on camera" environment for the shoot.
Once we finished the interviews, we moved on to the more ambitious phase of the production: Lisa had dreamed up a scenario where we could capture the flavor of our video, "Mission: Possible," by shooting an opening in homage to the classic TV show.
I had to dress up for the part.
No problem, except that the warehouse gets pretty darn hot when the sun is out. And the sun was out.
The focus of this shoot was a briefcase containing "instructions from the Secretary" about Pathfinder Online. Here's a shot of Lisa and the production crew getting it ready.
At the end of the video, the iPod in the briefcase "explodes." Obviously, we didn't want to use real pyrotechnics—imagine fireworks going off in a warehouse full of paper! Our stand-in? Dry ice!
At the appropriate time, I blow a puff of air down at the bowl containing the dry ice and water, and a nice puff of "smoke" billows out on cue! It's movie magic!
We copied all the digital video to portable hard drives and I took it back to Atlanta to do the post-production work. I thought that it would take a few days to assemble a rough cut, and then we'd get the help of some of our Hollywood friends to edit it down to the final video. That was the first week of April.
About a week later, we were of one mind: The interviews were great, but too "documentary style" to use for the Kickstarter. We needed something punchier that more directly addressed the project.
We came up with the idea that, instead of the interviews, viewers would get a "behind the scenes" briefing about the project directly from me. Of course, I was now in Atlanta, and our production crew was in Seattle. I had to transform my home office into a studio suitable for filming. Here's what it looked like.
When I started, I had a Mac Mini from 2007 running iMovie and Garage Band. By the third week of April, I had upgraded to a new Mac Mini, had acquired a wireless mic, mixing board, camera tripods, a 720p HD camera, several spot and area lights, and was doing the editing on Final Cut Pro X. Since I knew almost nothing about video editing, I was running up a steep learning curve.
I would spend my late April afternoons and evenings working on new takes and edits of the video, sending them to the rest of the team in Seattle to review the next morning. This was a frustrating process for everyone involved, but we slowly converged on material that made everyone happy.
The too-long video got shorter and shorter as we honed in on the key messages we wanted to present. With each take, I improved the lighting and sound quality, and I discovered all sorts of interesting things to do with FCPX. The video came alive with special effects and a soundtrack, and we even found a way to bring in all of the cool movies submitted by the community. Finally, at the beginning of May, we had a solid video ready to go.
(And all that great interview footage we didn't use? Don't worry—you'll get to see a lot of it as we create a series of documentaries on the making of the game!)
We've started with a very reasonable goal: raising $50,000. That's enough to ensure that we can accomplish our basic list of tasks for the Technology Demo, which need to be made on-spec and on-time. In fact, we've deliberately limited the higher-tier rewards so that we don't exceed our budget by too much—there will be other opportunities to raise funding for the full game in the future. But a big part of why we're doing a Kickstarter is to raise awareness—every potential investor that sees our project page is another person who may decide they'd like to come along for what promises to be an exciting ride, and every person who backs the project demonstrates to those investors that there is an audience for Pathfinder Online.
We'll keep doing our biweekly development blogs and interacting on the messageboards. But we're also going to devote a lot of resources to showing the love to the Kickstarter community, so join us there as well—we'd love to see some familiar faces!
You'll see some community members in the Kickstarter project video—those are folks who responded to our call for YouTube videos. We'd like to thank them for their help by announcing that they'll be the very first members of the Goblin Squad—key supporters of Pathfinder Online who will receive special alerts letting them know about new information first: announcements, blog posts, concept art, etc. We'll give special priority to Goblin Squad members throughout the development process, and we'll identify them with a special icon on the Goblinworks messageboards (eventually—that's not quite ready yet!). We'll have a number of opportunities to join the Goblin Squad; right now, people who pledge at least $30 in support of our Kickstarter will be invited to join the Squad!
Inaugural members of the Goblin Squad, in alphabetical order:
Without people like them—and you—helping us spread the word, we'd have no chance of success! Thank you all for all your help and support, and please let your friends know about the Pathfinder Online Kickstarter!
(Make sure you all check out the new Paizo blog, where Lisa Stevens talks about the Thornkeep book we're offering as part of the Kickstarter rewards package!)
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