Project Eternity Kickstarter Chat #7
Obsidian Entertainment's Project Eternity is bringing back old-school RPG fun thanks to Kickstarter, but what's it been like working with crowd-funding?
Published on Mar 4, 2013
Gaming has quickly found itself to be Kickstarter’s most popular category by quite some margin.
We have already seen it impact the gaming community and as more and more developers look to crowd funding as a viable means of financing their games, removing the publisher entirely, its success seems assured.
But, what do the studios working with Kickstarter think of the process? In a series of exclusive interviews, we ask the studios turning to Kickstarter and crowd funding what means to gaming and why it’s proving to be such a success…
Obsidian Entertainment has a rich heritage when it comes to RPGs, but Project Eternity is the first IP it has ever owned outright. Executive producer and lead programmer, Adam Brennecke, talks us through the Kickstarter process...
What stage is your game at?
We’re in pre-production right now. We’ve been in development for four months since September; I think we started around October doing real development and with Christmas and stuff, there’s been a week or two that we’ve been out of the office, but since the New Year we are right back into development and making great progress.
We have another month/month and a half left of pre-production before we go into production and that’s where we staff-up a little bit and we start really making the game for real. We have about a year of production and then a planned ‘Spring 2014’ release date.
Would your game exist if it wasn’t on Kickstarter?
No, it would not exist at all. It was always something we had wanted to do, to go back to our roots and a lot of the guys that work at Obsidian came from Black Isle Studios and they worked with BioWare on Balder’s Gate and internally developed Torment and Icewind Dale 1 & 2.
They really liked working on those games and we always wanted an opportunity to do one again and after Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2, we were ‘we’ve got to do this, it’s the right thing to do and we won’t find a publisher so lets try Kickstarter and see what happens’.
Did you try and find a publisher for Project Eternity?
Not for Project Eternity specifically. Just trying to sign other projects we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. A small budget game is something that publishers won’t even talk about to us.
And we love working on these types of games. We had an experience working on Neverwinter Nights 2, which was D&D-based. We love Dungeons & Dragons and a traditional RPG, with a big party is really going back to our roots.
We’ve had a lot of fun so far in the last five months working on the project and I think we made the right choice. Hopefully, we can make a really good game at the end of the day.
Have you made or anticipated any changes to the original pitch? If so, how did the community react?
So far we haven’t really changed much of anything. Since it’s a pretty clear project, the idea is very clear and I think that’s why it’s so successful. People understand what we were trying to pitch. And we’ve got a really good idea of how to make this game.
There are little details here and there, since it’s an RPG there are tons of little rules and other things here and there that, through development, somethings work and somethings don’t and we have to make those changes.
Since we’re pretty clear and honest with our backers they’re pretty cool about us having to make changes to stuff. As long as we explain it properly and explain why we’re making that change most people have been pretty cool.
How has Kickstarter funding changed the development process?
We try and do an update every week and it is a lot of work for us to do that, but we like sharing what we’re doing and discussing it with the community. The community has a lot of great ideas and they’re a good sounding board. Josh Sawyer might have an idea for combat and we can just get it out there and see what people think about it.
Then we can make adjustments as necessary. It’s very different to traditional game development where you have to do a lot of work behind closed doors. It’s great that we can be really open and get things out there as we make them. It’s been a lot of fun.
Will Kickstarter grow or diminish in importance during 2013?
I’m curious to see if [Kickstarter] games are still able to get a million dollars or more. I think there’s a little bit of Kickstarter fatigue right now, people are waiting to see if these games come out and are worth playing. I think, for us, we feel a lot of responsibility to make a good game because we want to keep this Kickstarter thing alive for the future; we think it’s a really good way of making games.
I’m not quite sure we’ll see a lot of big games, I think there’ll still be a lot of games up on Kickstarter, but I’m curious. I don’t know, I didn't know that you could raise over a million dollars on Kickstarter. You never know, it’s crazy.
Are you concerned the next generation of consoles will distract from Kickstarter?
I don’t think so. I think it’s a completely different space, it’s just a completely different platform. Most of the games are PC-based, I think there’s room for console games and Kickstarter games.
People do have to spend their money on consoles, so they’ll have to choose – ‘oh, I have to buy a $400 console this year, so I can’t spend $100 on crowd funding’, but I don’t know, I think they’re completely different.
How has Kickstarter funding changed the development process?
Yeah, I think it's one of the other great things about [Kickstarter]. Since we already have all our funding, we don’t really have milestones in the traditional sense. Normally, you set up milestone payments with the publisher and you have to meet deadlines, and it might be monthly or every six weeks, but you have to meet these deadlines to get the next round of money.
You’re always pushing for that next milestone and a lot of times you have to basically please the publisher to make sure they’re happy. So a lot of it is pleasing them and sometimes it can be detrimental to the process of making a game.
In our case we don’t have to please anyone but the people getting the game at the end of the day. It’s been nice since we don’t have to spend a lot of time doing what we call ‘the dog and pony show’. It’s kind of like a little circus at the end of the month just to please the publisher and we don’t have that. It’s been nice not having that big push at the end of a milestone to polish up some features that aren’t really that necessary.
We’ve been a lot more productive in our non-publisher funded model, which is great and I really enjoy it.
How did you work out your original goal total?
We looked at other Kickstarters to judge how much they were able to raise and then we asked ourselves ‘can we make a game with $1.1 million?’ We sat around the table then and thought ‘yeah, we could probably make something with that’.
It will probably be a lot smaller in scope than what we want to do, but we could probably do something. We didn’t know if we were going to get more than that, or just barely over it.
It is difficult to come up with that number because you don’t want to set it too high and you don’t want to set it too low. We thought that was a good middle-range number.
Would you use Kickstarter again?
Yeah, of course; it was a really fun thing to do and the party at the end was a lot of fun and a crazy experience. That was probably the craziest day I have had in the games industry: the first day and the last day of the Kickstarter. Just the rush and the out-pouring of the fans and the money coming in, it was just amazing.
Really, as a game developer, you don’t get many days like that very often. Even when you ship a big game like Fallout: New Vegas, you kind of have that rush a month before the game comes out because you’re rushing to get the game out the door. But, then it’s on store shelves and you're just ‘oh, I can go and pick up the game at GameStop’, but it’s not really that exciting.
With Kickstarter, it’s all on us and it was a great feeling and if Project Eternity is successful and it comes out and people like it we can look at using it again, depending on how much money we make. We’re looking at options, but I’d definitely use Kickstarter again.
How do you feel about projects that don't meet their funding targets?
It’s tough; I guess it’s a good way of seeing if you’re idea is good enough to even follow through with. You can always go back to the drawing board, I know it’s tough for larger companies like Gas Powered Games. That’s got to be the worse feeling in the world.
And we were kind of expecting that, too. We were preparing ourselves if it just completely fizzled out on the first day, but it’s a crazy ride. A couple of years ago I had never even thought of having this kind of opportunity. It’s interesting; the game’s industry is definitely changing.
Is there a way of ensuring you give your project the best opportunity to succeed?
That was something that we definitely had to figure out with our pitch, so that it wasn't going too far out there. That’s why we based a lot of our ideas in our world on traditional fantasy stuff.
A lot of people, and even internally, are sick of traditional fantasy and want to do something that’s more out there, however it might be alienating to a lot of our fans and it’s a really tough balance that you have to get.
We’ve tried to figure out the best way that we can find a good balance between traditional fantasy and more out there stuff for our IP and that’s not easy.
Have you decided on an actual name yet?
No, we haven’t decided on a name yet, but it’s something that will come out of development. I think if the name ‘Eternity’ sticks that’s something we can use, but we didn’t want to come up with a name before we started work on the project.
That would kind of be dumb, to do that. You don’t really want to go public with a name that you’ve spent two weeks thinking about. That’s why we said ‘working title’.
Is that something the community and backers can help with?
Oh, yeah, totally. I think people like ‘Eternity’ and it definitely fits with the world. I think that’s why we chose it in the first place, it has a lot of different meanings for us. It fits with the lore of world and it’s a cool name that touches on the Infinity engine, too.
Has funding a game through Kickstarter allowed you to experiment with moral choices and reputation systems?
We have some new ideas that we want to try out with Project Eternity, however, since it’s such a small budget, it’s hard to try out new things because we don’t have a lot of time to try say, a new reputation system.
So we do have some ideas and I think they’ll work but it’s… I don’t want to say too much because it’s early on in development. But we are going to have some cool stuff based on choice and reactivity.
Will this be different from previous Obsidian games?
It will be slightly different. We always try and do something new in every one of our games. If you look back at Knights Of The Old Republic 2, we had a reputation system based on your companions and you could make them go to the Dark side or the Light side.
In Fallout: New Vegas we had a world reputation system where you had different reputations with different factions. We’re experimenting with a slightly new take on it, it’s going to be familiar but also a little bit different and new.
Are you considering bringing Project Eternity to other platforms?
We’re definitely considering it; we’re focusing on the PC version first and foremost. We’ve talked about a touch version of the game, but that’s currently not in development. I think we’ll see if the project’s successful and then look at porting it to other platforms.
What about consoles?
It would be very tough to put [Project Eternity] on a console, just because of the control scheme. It’s very much like an RTS game and there are a few RTS games that work on consoles, but the control scheme is very mouse-driven.
It could work with a touch pad, but it would be very difficult to get [Project Eternity] working on a console. That’s not really in the cards right now, but who knows. You might see another game in the Project Eternity world on a console, but I don’t think this game will ever make it to consoles.
So, you're really thinking of Project Eternity as a big franchise then?
Oh, yeah, and that’s the one great thing about Kickstarter, this is our IP, we own it now and this is our first chance as a studio to own an IP. In traditional models you never get a chance to own any of the work and now that’s all up to us. We can make a sequel if we want to. On other titles we never had a choice of making a sequel because it was up to the publisher.
It’s all up to us now; if the project’s successful we’ll make a sequel or another game based in the same universe. It’s great that we own this now and we can do whatever we want with it.
Have you supported any Kickstarters?
I have some friends working on Wasteland over with InXile, Planetary Annihilation… the game’s industry is really small so it’s great to help out. We talk to each other a lot; I’ve been talking to Kevin Saunders who is working on the new Torment game they’re planning on Kickstarting, so we do try to help each other out.
We like seeing other companies succeed and it’s a great experience and it’s nice that we’re all friendly and we like seeing the game’s industry change.
When will players get a chance to play Project Eternity?
We have plans for a semi-public beta, which will be public to the backers. It won’t be the full game because we don’t want to spoil the story.
A lot of people have been asking about the story and the characters and that’s one thing we’re keeping under wraps, that’s one thing people enjoy about our games so we don’t want to leak that stuff. People won’t know anything about the story until we release the game.
Have you had a chance to play South Park: The Stick Of Truth?
I can’t really say anything about South Park. It’s probably the funniest game I’ve ever played, but that’s all I can say. It’s fun being able to play the builds and see how much progress has been made, but it’s always laugh-out-loud funny. I’m really looking forward to it.
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