What do you do when your crowd funding campaign fails? You make it anyway. At least, you do if you're Membraine Studios and your passion for your project overcomes good business sense.
It's been a while since my last blog entry, so I thought it high time we posted an update.
Some of you may remember the Indiegogo crowd funding campaign we ran back in the middle of last year. While that campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, the Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire story did not end there, and today we find ourselves with both Steam Greenlight and Desura alphafunding campaigns.
Let me tell a story...
Membraine Studios had been running as a hobby business since 2009, but we took it to the next level last year when jobs were quit and we started making games full-time.
One of the game concepts we had been working on off-and-on since 2009 was Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire, a turn-based strategy wargame set in the sci-fi Exodus Wars universe. Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire was an ambitious project for a small, three-person team, however, and we were working it in parallel with our mobile games as it was not a project we could really afford to dedicate ourselves to solely...or was it? Crowd funding had recently come into its own, seemingly promising rivers of gold to indies everywhere, and so we ran a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo for Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire through June of 2012. The project would happen thanks to the altruism and generosity of the crowd. YAY! ... Yay?
No Yay. As it turned out, we were niaive thinking crowd funding might be the panacea we wanted it to be. (We were so young then.) Whether it was because of our choice of platform (we selected Indiegogo because Kickstarter was available to US citizens only at the time), the type of campaign we ran (which was Indiegogo's Flexible Funding instead of a Kickstarter-style Fixed Funding campaign, something we later discovered the crowd found less appealing), or our status as a very small indie developer (just three people), the grim reality was that we achieved less than a quarter of our target for Fractured Empire development, coming in just shy of $7,500 of the $35,000 goal. Even the most generous critic would have to call that a failure. Yes, we only saw traffic of around 20,000 unique visitors, about half of whom viewed our pitch video. And yes, given such low traffic numbers, it's impressive that we achieved as much of our target as we did. Even so, many teams would have given up the ghost in the face of such failure.
Not Membraine—we were far too stupid to give up there.
As I recall, the conversation went pretty much like this: "Dudes. Our crowd funding failed...so let's make it anyway!" To which the dudes responded, "Niccce!" Or it went something like that, anyway.
We persevered with Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire in the background, slowly-but-steadily progressing the game toward a playable state, squeezing in development time wherever we could find it, between the cracks of higher priority (read: revenue-producing) activities, such as our casual iOS games and consulting work for business customers. It became clear that we could not sustain such development long-term, however. Some difficult choices needed to be made if we were to ever deliver Fractured Empire to gamers.
After a lot of navel-gazing and debate, the team agreed upon adopting what we'll call a "Minecraftian" go-to-market strategy of releasing non-final-but-playable builds for sale, where earlier adopters would receive distinctly greater discounts than later adopters (currently just over 66% off the eventual US$30 pricetag). Alphafunding approaches like this are no longer uncommon thanks to the success of games like Minecraft, not to mention online distribution services like Desura and Steam treating Alphafunding campaigns respectfully.
We have recently seen our efforts and strategy pay off. Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire was provided to our Indiegogo contributors and saw a great response, and we later made the game available for pre-order on FracturedEmpire.net—with purchasers immediately eligible to download the current playable build (currently Alpha) in the Minecraft style.
And so it is that Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire, the subject of a failed crowd funding campaign, will make it to market after all, alphafunding on FracturedEmpire.net and now on Desura, and with luck we will be greenlit for Steam as well. (We of course hope you'll vote for us!)
The moment we released the first playable build to gamers, we felt like we had redeemed ourselves, in our own eyes at least; time will tell if we will also get to experience validation thanks to good unit sales numbers (and, dare we say it, vindication), but we certainly have high hopes that a community will grow around Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire that sees the game (and Membraine) succeed.
Like any pre-release game, it won't yet be the game Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire will ulimately become—especially while it's still at Alpha, being very early in the development cycle—but the vision for the game is now so close to realisation that our pride in what we have acheived as a team is undiminished by the game's early state.
We have the beginnings of a great game on our hands and we're building a great community around it. That’s enough for now.