Larian & Kickstarter

A couple of days ago, an extensive article appeared on buffed.de (a German RPG magazine & website) about Divinity: Original Sin. It was a pretty cool article for us because we showed the game for hours to the journalist and despite all the bugs that were apparent, he considered the presentation to be sufficiently convincing to write “shut up and take my money” in his conclusion.

It’s always cool to get quotes that we can rip totally out of context :)

At the same time, Jean-Marie Prival, a French independent journalist who visited Larian for jeuxvideo.com, wrote on his newly launched blog about his press trip to our offices and the words he used in his entry are actually quite flattering for Larian, something we’re obviously grateful for too.

But If both these things made me smile as I drove home, the thing that really made my weekend was getting the message that we were voted runner up for most anticipated RPG of 2013 at RPGWatch, receiving 22% of the votes. Major whistling because this is a site I visit daily to keep up to date on the antics of our fellow RPG developers. Being in their lists makes me feel pretty good, and tbh, even a bit smug because I had been dealing with quite some naysayers in the past about this game.

But because I learnt the hard way that “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” I figured over the weekend that it was important to find a counterbalance and therefore decided to visit another site this morning…(insert doomy music)

Could this be the secret meeting where Larian decided to go to Kickstarter… (Yes, the interface is stub and work in progress for those who’ve been mailing us about this :) )

THE RPGCODEX !!!

Specifically, the RpgCodex forums, your daily antidote to thinking you’re getting anywhere in the world of CRPGs, unless your name happens to be Chris Avellone.

And lo and behold, they didn’t disappoint ;)

For those not familiar with the RPGCodex, it’s where you go if you’re looking for a hefty dose of RPG critical analysis wrapped in imaginative language (often involving gastrointestinal issues). Now despite the occasionally interesting wording and tendency to rant about what makes a true RPG, I think that more than often the posters there represent the unvented opinion of a lot of players, and if you’re into making RPG’s, you can learn a lot by reading between the lines. In the same breath I have to add that you’ll also need a very thick hide, preferably made of dinosaur scales, especially if you already dared release a RPG that they played.  But together with the RPGWatch forums, you can get a lot of “market research” done by just spending some time there.

So the Buffed.de article referred to how Larian is financing its game projects, citing that the funding comes from a mix of our own money, investor money and Kickstarter money. Obviously somebody jumped on the Kickstarter part, and suddenly it started popping up on forums everywhere, including the RPGCodex where the phrase “partially funded through Kickstarter” was quickly translated into “Larian ran out of money” ;) The thread is here btw.

Now admittedly, the original article was in German, but clearly the guy who wrote that has another version of Google translate than me. Still, I have to say that the original quote in the article is actually not telling the entire story either, and it could do with a bit of nuance, so here goes.

Basically, Divinity:Original Sin is already funded. Larian, together with two minority investors, one for each game (Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Dragon Commander), put sufficient amounts of cash in both games to guarantee that they get done. We’re even reasonably assured that the games won’t be a financial disaster because we managed to get sufficient guarantees from our retail distributors to earn back large parts of our money and, we only need to sell a fraction of our previous sales to be in the black.

The reason we received these guarantees is that the concepts are solid, our previous games sold well enough and to talk about Divinity: Original Sin specifically, if you see Divinity:Original Sin in action and love RPGs, any doubts you may have will disappear on the spot. This game is just cool. Because words are but words and some posters on the Codex are rightfully wary of any rhetoric, I’ll happily extend an invitation to one of them to come to our offices so we can show the game. I’m serious btw guys , but you’ll have to agree on who you send as an emissary, the emissary obviously being the person who knows a real CRPG from a a mutated adventure (evil grin ;) )

So, the “Larian is out of money” story won’t fly on this one, though as I said, it’s true that we’re walking a tight line and that we’re burning a lot to ensure that what we release as good as we can get it. However,for over a decade we’ve been working with tight cash flows and publishers (not all, I’ve been getting complaints ;) ) that don’t pay us or pay late, so it’s not like we’re not used to this, and I actually think that we’ve proven in the past that we can do a lot with a constrained budget. I’m certainly not afraid to compare the budget of our productions to that of other RPGs of the same scope and age, anticipating to come out lower than most.

And yes, we are so passionate about what we do that if we can fund a budget increase via Kickstarter, we’ll happily do so. If we indeed go to Kickstarter, it’ll be because the game deserves to get the maximum funding we can find, even if financially that’s not necessarily in our best interest (you’re essentially pre-selling a lot of games at a significant discount if you sell on Kickstarter, partially compensated because Amazon and Kickstarter take a lower cut than other digital distribution platforms).

Which may bring the question why we’re actually interested in increasing the budget at all ?

In short, it’s because it’ll allow us to put more things in, prevent us from having to take shortcuts because of some development mistakes we made, and in general give us a better chance of making that great RPG we know we can make if we can marshal the resources. It’ll also allow us to accommodate for some of the suggestions we received during development, not only from people who saw the game live but also from our fans. And it’ll allow us to put more stuff in the editor, which we expect great things of. How long has it been since somebody released a decent commercial level single– and multi-player RPG editor anyway?

So in a nutshell, that’s why we’re contemplating going to Kickstarter. All those things would increase the fun for our players and it won’t necessarily mean that the game will come out later because the things we’d like to do are all things that could be done next to what we’re doing already. We’ve been working on this game  long enough now to want to see it released , but we are sufficiently in love to want to do all the extras we can while development is ongoing.

Anyway, now that the cat is out of the bag – how about it. Do you think it makes sense for us to go to Kickstarter, having read all of the above? Or should we just focus on finishing the game with the budget we have and reserve all the things we think should be added for some future game? I personally think that if ever a Larian game deserved a budget increase, then this is the one. I’d very much like to to see multiplayer and cooperative dialogs and turn based combat as a new standard in party-based RPGs and this game becoming successful will certainly help that cause  :)

 

  • Ovocean

    The waters are perhaps a bit cold for big RPG crowdfunding these days (until the first big kickstarted RPGs come out) but I don’t really see the dangers in trying this smaller campaign. Since the game is going to be made anyway, you can set a very low goal which you’re absolutely sure to reach and hopefully you’ll get more.

    There will be naysayers, people who won’t understand why you ask money for a finished game (and won’t like that). But you’re one of the few very honest people and able to keep this honesty in front of the camera. If you feel that your request for more funds is legitimate and useful for the players (we all want better, deeper games), then you should go for it! Explain clearly why you ‘need’ this funding, the majority will support you. (Well… if what you’re asking money for is appealing to the crowd ;) )

    You’d better have some clearly defined goals, by the way.

    “it might send the message to people that “Larian is out of money” and that if the Kickstarter campaign fails for whatever reason, people will consider Divinity: Original Sin to be tainted.”

    It’s true, (some) people would have this kind of reasoning/feeling, but it’s silly to think that it would have such a negative impact on the game’s success. Journalists will still review it when it’s out and if it’s a great game, whatever happened with the kickstarter will be forgotten. It could even be positive: if you expect something to be half bad and it turns out good, you generally end up being more positive about it than if you expected something great but it’s only good.

  • Kein Zantezuken

    Well, I already expressed my concern in the thread on forums, I really don’t want the released ate pushed forward even more, but at the same time it would be nice to have more content… a DLC/expansion would be a nice solution but Kickstarter does no work hat way.

    Oh well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/felipe.pepe.58 Felipe Pepe

    Glad to know things are well, don’t go dying on me Larian! Also, would a very sucessfull kickstarter affects the plans for the very big RPG that will dwarf them all?

  • LightningLockey

    Judging at how successful the Divinity Anthology on Good Old Games (GOG) went, I think you’d be very successful at a Kickstarter for your next game. Btw I was never able to get that LMK demo, any chance it is still around somewhere to download?

  • JackDandy

    Hmmm.. I’ll have to second Ovocean’s thought.

    There are a LOT of big-name RPG that passed their Greenlight. I’m almost positive they “fished in” most of the RPG crowd. And they’ll probably want to see results before pleding to another KS.
    I’d donate but.. I don’t think it’s such a good idea to have a KS.

    But, it’s your choice in the end.

  • Paweł Fijałkowski

    I see the Kickstarter as yet another way to promote games. So, if you want to spread the word, Kickstarter is a good idea ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.hetherington Helen Hetherington

    I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again: Go on Kickstarter so I can throw money at you! :D

  • Vinay Shenoy

    I have just one thing to say.. Kickstart, kickstart, kickstart! :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Fen/100001343835655 Ben Fen

    I don’t mind as long you need the funding.

  • martin k.

    First thing that video up there reminded me is how awful the running animation is. This must be fixed if it’s not already (take World of Warcraft as a reference, the animation of running there is best I’ve seen in games).

    As for Kickstarter, If you create a lot of buzz about it and make a great presentation of DoS (and also toss in other games You released) I don’t see how it wont work. Don’t set your goal too big or too small, and above else, try to sound as honest as possible.

    Presentation is everything.

  • Tim

    The question is, why does it have to be *Kickstarter*? Games like Introversion’s Prison Architect, Project Zomboid, that racing sim I currently can’t remember the name of, Star Citizen, etc. all have demonstrated extremely well that you can show off a partially completed game and run a successful pre-order campaign for additional funding without Kickstarter. The advantage being that also avoid the typical Kickstarter-associated skepticism of “Why does an established company need a Kickstarter for a game that would be finished without a KS anyway”, etc.

  • AlexF

    I think that a Kickstarter campaign for Original Sin would be successful. You have a lot in your favor but there are also a few things you should be careful about.

    First of all the good things. The game will come out anyway and is sufficiently far along so that you show footage. It aliviates some of the risk for people investing in your campaign to be sure that they’ll get a finished product. Also it’s had it share of press so a good number of people people know about it already. Kickstarter campaigns often generate additional publicity for a game either by reports or word of mouth among backers and their friends so it may even offer some free marketing. On that point, the kickstarter updates are good platform to make sure you reach a lot of people with any news about the game.

    Now about what you should be careful about. This is a long list :)

    First of all is Kickstarter accessible for people in Europe? I remember there were some problems on that front. I’m guessing a good amount of your fans are european so you should check that point. There is always Indiegogo.com but I don’t think a campaign there would generate as much buzz as a kickstarter one.

    Next thing is that, as many developers have realised, maintaining a kickstarter campaign is a full time job. It’s not something that can be done on the side. You will need to divert some resources to it. It’s not something you can do half-heartedly either. If you decide to do it you should commit to it fully.

    Since it’s a kickstarter for a game that will come out either way and its late in the development phase you should make sure you communicate very clearly the reasons why you are using kickstarter. People like honesty and it can protect you from things like “Larian run out of money” being said. It’s much better to say “we will do this game anyway but we want to add more features” than “please help us or we won’t be able to finish it”. This is important because a lot of people will start questioning and criticizing on why you need a kickstarter on the first place.

    Set your goals low. Not too low or it wouldn’t make a difference to the development of the game. I’d say make an estimation and present people with a number that is the minimum amount of money you believe will make a significant difference in the quality of the final product. You can always get more than the requested ammount if people decide to support you but if you get less, you get nothing. Also all the time and resources that might have gone into the campain will have been wasted. Personally I think the Larian and Divinity names carry enough good will to go quite high but it’s better to be safe than sorry. There are a lot of anticipated RPG releases that have emerged from kickstarter campaigns. However none of the big ones have actually come out yet. Couple that with an emerging kickstarter fatigue, some people become weary to invest on kickstarter again.

    Something a lot of developers don’t take into account is the time and money needed to send the physical rewards for the higher tiers of the campaign. You should make sure something is profitable before you promise it and have a heavy focus on digital tiers. A lot of people want physical tiers but make sure that the digital ones offer a lot of incentives. If you believe most backers will be from the USA you could consider manufacturing the physical rewards stateside so you can cut on the postal cost.

    There are a lot of people who are already determined to get Original Sin. If you do a kickstarter now these people will get the game for a lower ammout than what they would normally pay. It’s good to get money up front and enhanced the quality of the game but you have to think hard if what kickstarter offers is good enough to warrant lower price for a couple of thousand units. On the other side it could always bring in more people.

    Many kickstarter campaigns like to include the backers to some of the design decisions, often using them as a focus group. Now even if you wanted to do that I don’t know if there is enough time. However if you find some decisions where backer feedback could be helpfull I’m sure people would like and appreciate to be involved. Also be certain that you’re gonna get a ton of Linux version requests so make sure and decide if such a version is possible before hand. It could be a stretch goal.

    Now as I said the base ammount that you ask for should be enough to make a difference in the game. However the way to increase that money is stretch goals. You should set some of them before starting the campain and they should be important and well described. Also make room for stretch goals that may be features requested by the backers and community.

    During the kickstarter campaign you will have to realese information about the game. Most devs who go kickstarter are a lot more open about development than those working under the traditional model. Of course Larian has a tradition on that with frequent blog posts like this one. In fact this blog is one of the more honest and refreshing in the industry. However a kickstarter campaign lasts a month so you need to have a plan for information revealing. At the start of the campaign you need to divulge enough information so that fans become hooked. That includes showing gameplay. You should also have a good stream of information during the campaign, revealing things with update videos every couple of days. Don’t make too many updates (I’ve seen kickstarter campaigns with 30 updates in 30 days, basically begging for money) but make them regular and interesting. Game information isn’t the only thing you can include there. You can give a video tour of the studio, introduce people like designers, artists etc who can talk about their vision of the game. Also I think you would be remiss not to include some of those goofy funny Larian antics. After all one of the largest selling point of your games is humour.

    That’s my 2 cents. I hope I didn’t bore you. If you do decide to start a kickstarter campaign I wish you the best of luck.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      Well, you definitely didn’t bore me! I’m very appreciative of this post – it contains plenty of good advice and it fits pretty well with what we are thinking, so it’s good to see that confirmed. I think that if we good ahead with it, you can expect me to come here more than a few times looking for feedback ;)

  • Filip

    You really shouldn’t be asking us that. If YOU think you can measurebly add to the gaming experience, then go for it. Noone in their right mind will complain about the possibilty of more content. Personally, I’d hate for you to cut anything. I’ve had a blast with every game you’ve made, and the main fault of all of them was that I had to eventually finish them xD

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      Well, that makes two of us who hate cutting something ;)

  • Lethial

    What about offering up pre-orders of the game (including different editions) on your website or GoG? While it might not pull as much money in as kickstarter, but it would probably require less work/headache on your end and less overhead cost?

    I, for one, have been waiting for a preorder button to appear as soon as Original Sin and Dragon Commander has been announced…

  • http://www.facebook.com/aschokking Arjan Schokking

    Kickstarter for europe shouldn’t be a problem, It’s only annoying if you don’t have a credit card I think. I have a couple of hundred bucks in various projects and never had any problem’s, well except for customs slapping on another 21% occasionally with stuff being sent from the us. This ofcourse does not apply with digital only, But must own a Big box of wasteland 2 goodness ofcourse. It would be good to mention though, the last stuff i got had me paying another 35 euro’s on a 100 dollar kickstarter for the reward package. ouch.

  • Illusive Man

    Running a Kickstarter in order to add more content to a nearly finished game would certainly be a good idea.
    You’ll (finally) show more of what you’ve done so far, and explain what you could do with more funds and it will succeed. Because I’m absolutely sure you already have dissected a lot of successful campaigns and have come up with a Plan.

    So go ahead. Along with more funds you’ll see how people (a.k.a. the crowd) react to DOS otherwise than through some biased journalist’ illustrated preview. To quote RPS, we’ll be “voting with our wallets”.

  • Black

    Codex remembers.

  • Steve Townsend

    I’ve been hoping you would announce pre-orders for both DC and OS so Kickstarter would be a plus for me

  • Ethan Sherr-Ziarko

    Ironically, you are actually one of the more well-liked developers on the Codex. Or at least, less loathed than most.

  • Paul

    I am for a kickstarter, I would just basically preorder the game there. I want to buy it anyway, so the sooner I can give you money and with less going to third parties, the better.

  • IOPLA

    I also think that Kickstarter can be a very good idea :)

  • Chefbot

    I would definitely be interested in pledging. I’ve been keeping my eye out for pre-orders for Commander and Original SIn anyway, so kickstarter would do the same job for me.

    If you do go ahead with a kickstarter, please don’t feel too beholden to pledgers. If you go and look at suggestion threads, in other kickstarter’s forums, you see some fucking ridiculous stuff. We’re interested in Larian’s game.

    Can’t wait to play!