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Hard work paid off in Dreamfall Chapters' $1.5 million Kickstarter

Make no mistake, running a Kickstarter is a full-time job that shouldn't be taken lightly. Designer Ragnar Tornquist explains how Dreamfall Chapters made it past $1.5 million in pledges.
Ragnar Tornquist is best known for his time at Funcom, where he directed The Longest Journey, Dreamfall, and The Secret World. In 2012 he formed his own company, Red Thread Games, and funded a new chapter in the Dreamfall saga, Dreamfall Chapters, through Kickstarter. At the Digital Dragons festival in Krakow, Poland last week, Tornquist outlined some of the things that helped the game reach nearly twice its crowdfunding goal, with pledges over $1.5 million. "It's important as an indie developer to have a really strong focus, and know exactly what you're doing," he said. The company was formed just for the creation of Dreamfall Chapters, a project near and dear to his heart. "Kickstarter was planned from the beginning to be our main source of funding, and that's really, really scary, because there absolutely are no guarantees. "We spent four to five months, mostly me full time with other people helping, analyzing previous Kickstarters and deciding this one," he says. Their research involved creating spreadsheets detailing different scenarios, to figuring out rewards. "It really is a full-time job, and it's a combination of pitching a product to a publisher, and selling a product to your customers," he says. "It's a lot of fun to do it - it's almost like a game, you see your XP levels tick up, and you have your levels that you pass... but it really is a 24 hour per day job to run a Kickstarter." Though the campaign got broad coverage within its first 24 hours, Tornquist was not confident the game would make it. "I did a horribly un-motivating speech to the team before we went live, saying 'Okay guys, this is probably gonna go really badly, but we'll find a way to make this game anyway...'"

"It's not so much about making the thing that we want..."

With Kickstarter, he quickly realized how beholden he was to his fans. "We're making a sequel to games that people have expectations for," he noted. "We had a lot of things we really wanted to do, things that were completely nuts and would've taken forever - but as we approached the Kickstarter, we realized it's about giving people what they've been waiting for. It's not so much about making the thing that we want, and throwing in all these different ideas, it's really about giving the fans what they're looking for. "One of the things we talked about doing was having a lot of environmental navigation for the game, letting the characters climb and jump and things," he prompted. "But we realized that not only would it make the world-building more complicated, we realized that in an adventure game, people would say 'I like the game, but all this running and jumping really feels out of place.'" One thing he did want to add to the new game was meaningful choice. The prior games were perhaps too linear, he says. "[In Dreamfall Chapters] we're giving players a lot of choices, a lot of decisions," he says. "These are not moral questions, light path or dark path, it's about shades of grey, human decisions. Choices that might seem inconsequential but might have bigger consequences further down the line. Choices where people are going to hate us, or hate themselves for having made those choices." You'll be able to share these choices as well - though the game is single player, you'll be able to see what your friends have done, calling to mind Telltale's The Walking Dead.

"The old regime of publishers is coming to an end"

Kickstarter is great, says Tornquist, but he was quite worried that that was the extent of his audience. "When you do a Kickstarter you're sort of worried that everybody who's ever going to play this game has already paid for it through the Kickstarter," he says. "We have some fans, and they're really interested in the game, but they've already put their money down on that." So the process of going through community-driven Steam Greenlight, which the game had to do, gave them more confidence, as twice as many people gave it "yes" votes on Steam as Kickstarted the game. "If anybody had looked at our business case and our ideas up front, they would've told us to forget about it," he said. "You can't base your future on all these things going right - but we did, and I guess we got really lucky." "Crowdfunding changes the way games are made," Tornquist concluded. "The old regime of publishers is coming to an end, and the era of the developer is beginning. ... We want our games to be oftentimes strange, maybe they'll have rougher edges than the latest Call of Duty, but it'll feel like a game made by real people, for real people. It's not a product, it's something that's handcrafted, something that's personal. Something with soul."

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