Sunday, February 10, 2013

SqueeDogs



Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by the Mother-Son team Cerise Jacobs and Elliot Pirate Epstein.  Thank you both for joining us today.  

Hi James.  We’re glad to be talking to you from snowy Brookline, MA!

So your project “SqueeDogs” is a facebook adventure game featuring a dog PI?  Can you give us the details of the project?

Yes.  You play as a puppy private investigator who romps through fantastical 3D worlds sniffing out clues, solving mysteries and rescuing lost puppies.  You’re pretty terrific, so you always get your pup!  And after you do, you reunite them with their families.  You get rewarded for completing each mission, and you also collect all kinds of doggy goodies during the mission.  The game really focuses on customization, so you get all sorts of little items to customize your doggy character, such as hats, booties, shirts, pants, etc. as well as items to customize your little doggy home.  If you beat the mission that took place in a logging area of a forest, you might receive a cool logging machine to replace the beat up old junker car in your driveway.



Why did you bring your project to Kickstarter?  Aren’t there plenty of Facebook game makers you could have brought this to?

We’re a small company starter by my mom, Cerise, and me, Pirate (oh yes, my real name is Pirate!).  We’re partnered with a small game studio, Infrared5, that is just down the road from us.  IR5 has unique expertise in the game engine we’re using - Unity.  And SqueeDogs is really pushing the limits of Facebook gaming with its fully 3D graphics and detailed, immersive environments.  I’m doubtful if any publisher would even give our game a glance, because it’s so different. Kickstarter is ideal for an Indie game developer like SqueePlay, with scarce resources and who wants a shot at raising money to launch its first game.  Publishers usually want to see the game before they back it and give you money, but you need money in order to make the game.  It’s a chicken and egg situation and Kickstarter is one way to solve this problem.

Why make a Facebook game? Why not an iOS or Android game?

We’ve given this a lot of thought, James.  We believe that Facebook is still the best way to reach the casual gaming audience with its 1 billion users, at least initially.  Plus, SqueeDogs has such complex graphics and environments that a small screen would simply not do it justice at this time and we’re focused right now on getting the Facebook launch right.  The Facebook audience is also much more accustomed to our game genre than iOS and Android players.  RPG style games where you invest time in creating a character are much more common on Facebook and the players are a bit more familiar with the more complex gameplay we are offering.

How many breeds of dogs are planned to be in the game at launch?  Are they all “dog dogs” not anthropomorphic dogs?

You’ll be able to create almost any kind of large breed dog at the time of the launch.  This is due to our Squee Editor (on which we have a patent pending) which lets you morph, in real time, the skeleton of your doggy character.  You can create “dog dogs” or fantastical dogs, because you can morph, e.g., a dog with loo-oo-ong ears, a button snout, and then color it any color you want, paint on it (sign its name on it), fix funny decals on it etc  Your imagination is the only limitation.  For those players who don’t want to create or customize their doggy character, we have many premade breeds that they can use.

How can a dog be a Private Investigator?  How does the game play?  

SqueeDogs is a RPG; instead of playing as a wizard or a barbarian, you play as a pup. A dog has a great sense of smell, ideal for a private investigator. And of course they’re loving, funny, eager to please, devoted and all that other good stuff.  We’ve capitalized on all the wonderful characteristics that make a dog a dog.  Of course, our puppy PI isn’t just a normal dog sniffing around though.  He reacts to things he finds just like a human would.  If he gets scared, he runs in circles on his hind legs while flailing his front legs and crying.  If he does something really good, like find a rare item or a lost puppy, he does a backflip or starts breakdancing.  There are lots of games where you have a dog character and have to do typical doggy things, like wash it, play fetch, etc.  We wanted to do fantastical things and move away from the standard dog stuff that everyone is used to.

Who’s idea was it to make a game about a Puppy PI?  

Well, as a game designer, people approach me all the time with “great game ideas”.  My mom was no exception.  Years ago she asked me if I could make a game featuring her dog Mencius as the main character.  I of course dismissed her and thought she was nuts haha!  Then, after years of asking about this idea, I finally gave in and we started talking about what we could do.  I’ve worked on Xbox/PS3/PC games so I know how complex creating a video game can be.  We started thinking about really simple ideas, like a Facebook for pets, then a “hot or not” type website for pets.  We then started discussing features like maybe having a virtual pet on the site that looked like your real pet.  Before we knew what happened, we dropped the website part of the idea and started focusing on the pet game idea and what we could do to make it really fun and different from what we’ve seen.  We wanted our doggy character to go on adventures and explore crazy worlds.  We didn’t want to do the standard dog game that revolves around grooming and maintenance.  We had a ton of wacky ideas for little adventures and the puppy PI theme just matched our ideas for exploration and adventuring perfectly.

What’s it like going into a project like this as a mother/son team?

It was pretty weird at first, but now we’re getting the hang of it.  Cerise has a unique skill set - she’s wacky and over-the-top.  She used to be a trial partner at a major NE law firm, then created a new opera (Madame White Snake) when she retired.  It won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music!  I, however, am a tried and true gamer who’s lucky enough to make/design games for a living.  When Cerise steps into my office, she’s learned to take off her “mom” hat.  I review her wacky ideas, reject most (graciously) and accept and tweak the gems so they are technically possible and within budget.  I think we complement each other quite well.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is pretty well known in the gaming industry.  It’s impossible not to hear about the crazy stories about people raising millions of dollars like Double Fine.  I’ve also had a few friends do small Kickstarter projects for small games they were making.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Well, we only have a few more days left on our project, so all of our plans have already been implemented.  We did all the normal things Kickstarter projects do.  The video, the rewards, the project info, etc.  We’ve released a few updates as well featuring 1 of our little dogs in each to let people know how we’re doing or how things are changing.  We wish we had more time to do things like additional interviews and stories, but it’s really hard to find the time right now.  We have our Beta going live in a few weeks and everyone is just in crazy crunch mode right now.  


SqueeDogs: Be a Puppy PI! Adventure, Customize and Share! -- Kicktraq Mini

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

We’ve had a terrific response to our project.  We were chosen by Boston.com as one of the top 3 Kickstarter projects in Boston [http://bo.st/14aEoDg], scored a mention in Boston Business Journal [http://bit.ly/WQxz40] and were interviewed by the Boston Herald [http://bit.ly/WOeuBU].  The TAB, our hometown newspaper is coming out next week with a feature on us.  We’re on Facebook [www.facebook.com/SqueePlay], twitter [@MrSqueezey], you tube [www.youtube.com/SqueePlay] and we have our own web site [http://SqueePlay.com].  Our SqueePlay mascot, Mr. Squeezey, sends out updates on all things technology and pet related as well as updates on our game.  We’re currently looking into more ways to rise above the noise and get people to notice our game.  This is probably the hardest thing for a small company to do nowadays with all the games that are being released.  We’ve looked at Kicktraq a bit but found that Kickstarter’s great array of tools gave us most of the information we were looking for.


Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Yes.  One of the most important tips is to work hard to rally your supporters.  This is just as important as developing the product.  You’ve got to bring the “crowd” to crowdfunding.  People have this idea that there are people on Kickstarter just waiting to give their money to a new project.  You have to work really hard to convince people that you are worth even $1.  Everyday you need to think about how you are going to get more people to look at your project and how you are going to convince those people that it is worth their money.  Our project has been much harder to pitch to people on Kickstarter since it will be on Facebook and free to play (we use our own version of the freemium model).  Most people donate on Kickstarter as a way to prepay for the product they are interested in.  Donating is equivalent to purchasing the item.  Since our game will be free, we have to come up with other ways to reward our Kickstarter contributors, such as early access to Beta releases or unique in game items.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

We’re over 75% to our $15,000 goal with 5 days to go.  Thanks to all who’ve taken us this far, and to those still holding off on pressing that GREEN button, just do it!  Help us get the rest of the way!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!