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DevBlog: Dual Universe Financing

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(Posted Friday 23rd of April 2014 on the DevBlog)

 


 

stylized-reversed-pig-moneybox.jpg?w=500

 

 


Many people have been asking questions about how we plan to finance the development of Dual Universe, which is an ambitious project and would seem to require some heavy funding. Even though we are in many ways fairly different from them, as I will explain below, we have sometimes been compared to some of the current very big budget productions, and asked to explain how we could compete. I thought it would be nice today to share more about our plans and strategy, while stressing the peculiarities of our game, so that we can start giving you a clearer picture of the financing side.

 

How much does a game like Dual Universe cost to produce? The first thing to notice is that, unlike non-MMO games, there almost never is a definite final version of the game. It is constantly evolving and so if you look at the total budget to produce such a game over several years, the number can be quite high. What we are really interested in is rather, for a MMO, how much does it cost to get to the point where the game is playable with enough value and fun in order for it to move from an ?alpha/beta? to a ?release? stage.

 

The other thing to notice is that what factors in most of the cost of producing a traditional video game revolves around creating content: 3D models of the environment, story content (quests, backstory, etc), and testing the balancing of all this to make sure that the content is neither too easy, nor too hard to play. This is actually a huge part of the cost of any ambitious video game today.

 

Our core gameplay approach is emergent gameplay: we believe that it can be incredibly fun and rewarding to let the players build their own stories, their own buildings, their own ships. We will of course bootstrap the process with a few of our own productions, but the whole point of the game is to empower people with the freedom to create their own world in a way they see fit. We also use procedural generation to create the landscape and environment. And it turns out that, as a side effect, this has a profound impact on the cost of the game. Instead of spending money to create content, we spend money to create the tools, the ?laws of physics?, the community support.

 

So, where most other games, including those we are sometimes compared to, will need many millions of dollars to deliver, we believe we can make the game we dream of with less money, while still providing a great and convincing emergent experience. That being said, it is clear that we still need money to get this ball rolling: we still have to create 3D content (every active element in the game is a 3D mesh, like weapons, reactors, control units, etc), we obviously need to develop the innovative technology behind the planetary engine, the continuous single-shard cluster, the inner workings of the game design (how to create an organization, trade, fight, secure territory, etc). This is by no means cheap. But we believe it?s within the scope of an indie studio.

 

Currently, our funding is based on the money of private investors who support the concept of the game, including myself. We have enough cash to get the 20 people team to function properly until we reach the alpha stage, somewhere in 2016. The traditional way to move on from there is to go to a publisher with our alpha, who might be convinced to add a few more millions and ? get more or less full control of the game. The problem is that we have a very innovative and disruptive concept in hand, and publishers rather tend to push their licenses towards more conventional grounds. My fear is that this option, if we have to get to this, might affect the evolution of Dual Universe in directions that neither me, nor you, the community, would really like.

 

The other option that is now available for small companies like us is to go for crowdfunding. The same process goes: you show up with your alpha and ask for support. But here, instead of a publisher, you might get the chance to finance the next stage of development entirely with the support of your community. More than money, what you also get is feedback, which is all the more relevant since we focus our design on emergent gameplay. There is no magic however, we know that the alpha has to be incredibly convincing, and that we have to deliver something to the community that shows that we know what we are doing. All the team is working hard with this in mind, and we are going to do the impossible to try and not disappoint.

 

Even if the crowdfunding might not bring as much money as what a publisher might be able to provide, we are much more in favor of this option. If the amount of money raised is modest and we cannot reach all our stretch goals, we might face a possibly slow ramp up of the amount of game features, centered on a small but active community, that will gradually (maybe over several years) get closer and closer to the ideal final game we dream of. We are ok with that.

 

The really amazing possibility with crowdfunding however, is that we may get the community so excited, as we are, that suddenly everything becomes possible, right here and right now. We could accelerate the development of the game, add more interactive elements and create the most beautiful emergent video game world ever made! We love games, we love the concept of Dual Universe. Ultimately, it is you, our community, that will decide whether we can press the ?turbo? button, and remain free from publishing constraints at the same time. The sky?s the limit (or rather, interstellar space!).

 

JC Baillie,

Project Lead

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I like the idea of crowdfunding.  Not only does it provide an initial cashflow, but it also makes people who are very interested feel bought into the product.  People who are invested in the idea will not only give their opinion, they are also more likely to actively promote the game.  This is a doubled edged sword however.  Once people "buy in" they have an expectation on two way dialog with Development.  This can be problematic since you are dealing with passionate people.  SOE/DBGC started off on the correct track with their Landmark Alpha vision, but slowly the people who purchased in for Alpha felt that their voice was less than those voices on Reddit or the Twittersphere.  That created some sparkling conversations  :)

 

Anyway, I like the crowdfunding concept.  

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I think the crowdfunding route is perfect. What PetDcat said is true about landmark. As long as you are able to communicate to your fan base you will be fine but if not then issues can stir.

 

One thing I have noticed about landmark is that a lot of people do not like the main communication to be on social media outside of the official forums. That makes sense, people come to official forums to get news updates etc, its a logical flow for the process. 

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I think the crowdfunding route is perfect. What PetDcat said is true about landmark. As long as you are able to communicate to your fan base you will be fine but if not then issues can stir.

 

One thing I have noticed about landmark is that a lot of people do not like the main communication to be on social media outside of the official forums. That makes sense, people come to official forums to get news updates etc, its a logical flow for the process. 

 

<Wave>

 

This is very true.  I think that they were experimenting with the whole social media thing and they ended up alienating their Alpha players.  The reached a good number of people with social media, it just wasn't the people who were willing to stick around for the long haul.

 

I would also be very careful about going the Steam route.  My experience is that if you go to Steam, you better have all your ducks in a row.  Steam users tend to try a game and if their first impression is not good, drop the game, and then are very vocal about how miserable their experience was  :)  You have everything in, robust, ready to go, then open the Steam gates.  From what I saw on "game x" opening closed Beta to Steam did not give the devs what they expected.

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Hi Kiklix and PetdCat,

Thanks for your feedback! 

 


Indeed communication is a tricky thing and should be constant, but should also be graduated according to the situation: it's important to listen to all feedback, but it's also important to bring extra attention and communication to those who back a game project. That's just common sense. Furthermore, social medias are good to attract people that might be interested by a project, but not the best way to discuss extensively about it. This is more a "one way communication": even if it is possible to discuss with the community on it, forums are more suited for long, detailed discussions. Social medias and forums are complementary. 

 

About putting the game on Steam: even if it's planned in the long run, that won't be before the Alpha version being polished (and therefore having a solid Beta version).

 

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I never used twitter prior to playing landmark and I just made a reddit account about 3 weeks ago due to a friends suggestion, I think I have visited the LM reddit area like 3 times. 

 

I almost think the key is to have a unified place for content, be it official forums, you tube, etc etc and use the other social media channelsto drive the traffic where you want it to go. The tricky part is reaching out to everyone and trying to not alienate some of the players (usually ones who do not use social media and stick to official forums). 

 

Also, its good to year your commentary on steam. That makes a lot of sense. And really...to touch on that, I think that is one of the most impressive things about you gals and guys, you really seem to think things out in the most logical manner and move forward with a solid plan. I was really impressed with the financing post and the transparency. 

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Gathering all the discussion in one place is indeed vital to avoid missing interesting ideas.

As you may have already realized, since the opening of the forum, each DevBlog post contains a button at the end redirecting to the forum.

The comments have been disabled on the DevBlog for the same reason: we want to centralize all comments, suggestions and critics on the forum :)

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I would avoid a publisher like the plague, the team here sounds like it has something called a dream.

 

Sarcastically, if you guys dont care about your vision or your souls, put some sniper rifles in - make sure you have no scoping, nuclear weapons - you hot drop on peoples faces, knives that can stab through titanium diamond kevlar durasteel and one shot the mechanical robotic pony dreadnoughts.

 

The community will grow and will back you up, a good PR campaign like the one you all have been pushing so far, I'm looking at you Nyzaltar, I know I'm not the only one that appreciates at least you respond to my crazy topics even if nobody else will.

 

I absolutely want you to be even more successful than even Star Citizen, but definitively not as greedy. If there was, or maybe there is and I don't know about it, a Donations page I would even be willing to subscribe right now as if the game was released and had a monthly sub.

 

Crowdfunding will be a good jump, many people will see what this is about, and go "Oh my gosh, How did i ever even without this in my life" and slap their wallets against their monitors with a confused look as to why the money isn't going into your pockets. I just reiterate that many people lose their minds when the money starts to roll in. They forget about the game and go swim in pools of Mt. Dew and Cheetos or something.. i just don't know. Hopefully the team is prepared mentally.

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Thanks a lot for the compliments and your encouraging words, Saffi!  :)

 

To be honest I may seem quite active on the forum for the time being but this is mainly because the number of participants is still quite small. As the community will grow, my participation will seem less visible, spread among all the topics posted on the forum (while my activity will remain the same). 

 

And yes, we have a dream to make Dual Universe unique:

As gamers we feel like something is currently missing in the MMO Field.

That's why the team is making a game we can't play anywhere else... and a game we definitely want to play!  :)

 

We are also aware that incredibly successful Kickstarter might overwhelm some people and make them do some mistakes about how to manage the money they get from backers. We have seen some sad examples, and we know that because of these examples, backers are becoming more careful, sometimes even suspicious (and it's perfectly understandable, especially when they participated in a successful kickstarter that went wrong). Traps coming with euphoria due to success have been noted. So we're preparing ourselves to many scenarios, even the least expected that comes to our mind, in order to stay cool-headed as much as possible regardless what the future has in store for us. And no planned scenario includes swimming in pools of Mt. Dew, that's a promise!   ;)

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To be honest, after supporting Elite, SC and now Battlescape, I am a bit weary of handing over more cash, mostly because SC and No Man's Sky seem to have sucked all the sci-fi gaming support out of the universe. And now there is so much competition out there - eventually some will undoubtedly go under. Star Citizen uses CryEngine and they are paying dearly for that decision: getting 50 people on without the engine crashing or lagging is a virtual miracle. Elite is closer to the mark but has over expanded without considering practical gameplay (billions of systems with nothing to do and not a player to be found); of course Elite isn't a true MMO and doesn't have first person characters so it is severely limited. Battlescape is an amazing Engine and warrants much more support than it has so far garnered. Unfortunately, the DEVs insulated themselves and rarely kept everyone up to date so they lost a lot of momentum, which they are still paying for to this day. As for No Man's sky, it is directed towards a single player experience so not an MMO competitor.

 

Which brings me back to Dual Universe. DU appears to expand far beyond SC with its millions of players in a single universe and that is a good thing - no a great thing! But don't get caught up in size like Elite did and end up with 95% of the galaxy being wasted space. And if Dual keeps updating supporters and actively continues to generate enthusiasm....I can see galactic, unprecedented success! So I guess I'll find the cash somewhere - even if it means cancelling my subscriptions to EVE.  

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I think you might be surprised when you play DU...

 

The beginning of the game will be only on the starter planet Alioth until players 'reseach or can afford' to build spaceship, and Nyz has said this could take the first few people a month + to get done... then you have the whole FTL issue and how long that will take... and then you have the StarGates..

 

I don't worry for DU as I did for Elite/NMS with players being to spread out and not seeing another player ever..

 

Or even worrying about not being able to find your friends, like I did for my brief play of elite.. spent the whole 2 hours trying to find friends and still didn't manage it.

 

All this will be solved with the arkship on Alioth, many people I think will set up base and have around the arkship and it will become a HUB... as well that the arkship is the only known non-pvp area too.. so the player density will be revolved around Alioth and not scattered around the universe like NMS and Elite...

 

Some people might not even leave Alioth and Nyz has said that's a completely acceptable way to play DU if you want to..

 

The only places where you'll be likely to find no people are the places you expand outward to from Alioth by choice :)

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@Novaquark and Nyzaltar, have you considered allowing the fanbase to invest directly?

 

Equity crowdfunding is becoming a thing. I don't mean to intrude into the affairs of the company but I think you all have begun such an initiative already, are you only looking for angel investors with large amounts of money until you do a kickstarter and get donations?

 

I'm probably not the only one that can see that this game has major potential. Perhaps many of us aren't qualified to join the team in coding, office management, marketing strategies, or lack some other element to join the team.

Possibly you think it would be a bad idea to intermix investors and players as people might believe they are entitled to special treatment.

 

Anyway, some of us might be interested in making investments, and also kickstarter donations.

I haven't invested in anything in the past, simply from being too far down the social and economic scale and a lack of interest. Now I have a project I believe in even if I don't have 3 million, I might have a few thousand.

I didn't understand the website I happened across with NQ listed, I wont name it directly since you haven't named it. Could us poorer people, not versed in the ways of venture capitalism and equity, that might be able to invest a few thousand, invest you there? However definitely less than 100,000 which more traditional and wealthy investors may be capable of or is it a big boys club / closed / private deal?

 

Please consider, I think there may be many people out there that would be willing to invest; willing to invest without the fuss of a big presentation.

 

On behalf of everyone of the forums, we thank you for self funding the project thus far. I hope, and believe the project will be a financial success, for you, and an enjoyable gaming experience, for all.

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I'm all for the idea of investing into novaquark/DU, if I had the cash I'd be offering it up myself alongside with your idea saffi. However even though I don't have the funds I would be open to non-return donations when I'm able.

 

That being said, I think all of this would 'need' to be behind closed doors, because like you said it might go to people's heads giving them the idea the are a 'investor' and have more say/power over others.

 

Idea I like.. public knowledge I don't like.. but I would certainly give all I can willingly to DU.

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