If you haven’t heard of The Mandate or aren’t one of the 15000+ people who funded it, then you should take a look at its Kickstarter page. This Unity3D science fiction role playing game is being made by a team of industry veterans, and their campaign has been tremendously successful – resulting in funding for more than $650,000 of their project costs. Their campaign is also one of the best documented, most transparent, and has been amazingly responsive to backer requests for more rewards and more ways to get involved. What happens after the campaign though? As for my perspective and biases, you should know I am an excited backer who upgraded my pledge on the last day because they gave me tons of incentives to do so. Now, I will try to examine and summarize the information they provide on their Kickstarter page and try to poke holes in their project plan and objectives as an exercise in game design pre-production. Hopefully, this article can serve as a starting point for a continued description as their production continues, but that depends entirely on their willingness to keep being as transparent as they have been.
Looking at this diagram, the first question is scope – can they deliver a project that will be a satisfying experience for the 13 backers who pledged more than $1000? (Nb. One $10000 backer dropped out as soon as the project got funded) This project will be completed in 16 months by a team of 3 designers, 4 coders, and 6 artists. First of all, simple math shows that does not add up to 15 people as shown in the total personnel row even when you include the audio designer. The team provided the following explanations to how their team of 14 can develop a project that aims to be a revolutionary AAA RPG experience with 40 hours of gameplay and 6-player co-operative modes while accommodating for a high level of risk.
“The ships of The Mandate are modular designs, allowing us – and you – to manually mix and match various parts, or to randomly generate any number of designs for the game world.
One of the themes of The Mandate is that ships are home to many of the world’s inhabitants. Space stations and ships will be our cities. They are naturally much smaller than lunar structures – however, there will be many of them.
Whilst much of space in The Mandate is hand crafted, there are also procedurally generated areas to keep things fresh and offer replayability and interesting battle options in multiplayer. This allows us to offload some of the work to a complex world building algorithm.
Most importantly, we have experience building massive worlds. Many of our team hail from some of the most successful MMO projects ever created.
We’re careful – using several middlewares to streamline development and reduce risk, increase efficiency, and most importantly, avoid wasting time. Unity3D is a great tool for this.”
They are also counting on high-funding backers to use modular assets to build the majority of the space stations as well as naming NPCs and customizing a lot of elements. This is a new idea that presents with a high amount of risk, therefore, they must have plans in place to spend their own time designing these vital assets in case a large portion of backers do not meet the deadlines.
We do not have the data to look at their milestones yet, but they are vowing to send out a playable alpha in December 2014, and their beta in the following month. In my opinion providing the alpha so soon seems risky, as backers who have already funded the project over $75 to get alpha access may lose excitement if the alpha has not developed to the point of being fun. Remember they are counting on these backers to promote their future sales.
As Kickstarter projects get delayed, the enthusiasm of supporters diminishes. Even die-hard gamers can be fickle, and devote their attention to the next Kickstarter or AAA game that catches their eye. Since they are not budgeting for the AAA level of advertising, this enthusiasm is crucial to making money after the project’s release. One way they can maintain enthusiasm is by staggering the release of content that they promised to their backers. They have promised enough to be slowly released over the course of production, and used a similar strategy of straggering content release during their Kickstarter.
If they can effectively plan this delivery schedule, then they can offset the problems caused by, in my opinion, inevitable delays to this project. They have done an amazing job of creating a community throughout their campaign, and maintaining that community with online events like the online just-for-fun “court martial” of the “Lord High Admiral” level backer who pulled their $10000 pledge as soon as the project was funded. I hope that the team focuses on making their game awesome and taking the time they need to do it, but maybe they should hire whoever ran their Kickstarter campaign as the 15th member of the team so the rest are not totally distracted by promoting the continued engagement of their community.
Jim Dodge is a soon-to-be alumni of the Game Design program at VFS