Monday, January 20, 2014

The Repopulation, the Final Week

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I’m pleased to be talking about The Repopulation: A Sandbox MMORPG and its return to Kickstarter.  Thank you all  for talking to us today.  

Hello, and thanks for having us.

First off congrats on doubling your $50,000 goal this time around!  You guys are starting to make a habit of doubling your Kickstarter goals.  What is it about the Repopulation that you think generates that kind of support?

Thank you! Part of that key is probably setting reasonable goals. Sometimes Kickstarter projects aim a little too high in their initial goals and sometimes some good projects fall a little short as a result. We instead focused on setting a reasonably attainable goal and then providing a number of worthwhile stretch goals after it was reached. Kickstarter is certainly unpredictable. It’s probably better to trim down your initial goals to what you need,  and then build the extras using stretch goals.

The sandbox nature of the game probably helps. I think a lot of MMO players are looking for a change of pace, and we’re a bit different from the mainstream theme park titles. I think there are also probably a lot of fans out there who are looking for a sandbox to fill the void left behind when Star Wars Galaxies was shut down two years ago. It was one of our inspirations and I think maybe some of those players were drawn in by some similar features.
My wife and I are both MMO players, and we’ve both gotten pretty bored by the current crop of MMO’s.  What is different about the Repopulation that should get us interested in the genre once again?  
We’re trying to recapture the social aspects and open ended gameplay that were more common in earlier titles and blend that with more recent innovations, along with some truly unique features, such as our generated mission system.

The biggest key for us was to give players choice. In earlier titles like Ultima Online or Star Wars Galaxies players weren’t forced into combat. Most players participated in it. But if they wanted to make a living smithing armor, or lumberjacking, dancing in a cantina, taming animals, or any of a number of other career choices they were free to do so.  The point of the game wasn’t simply to max out your character. There were social aspects and non-combat options in most of the earlier games that bonded players together and allowed them to be unique. We wanted to get back to that style of gameplay rather than the combat-oriented experience on rails that has become popular in recent years.

We have a little bit of something for everyone. If you enjoy the quest grind we have an advanced generated mission system.  Guild Wars 2 fans will feel at home with our Engagement system. Trade Skills drive our economy and allow crafters to create highly customized items. PvP types will enjoy the three faction warfare including and sieges. There are housing and player created cities to keep creative types busy. Pet types can Tame, Genetically Engineer or create and control Robotic pets. If you prefer to entertain, play diplomatically, be an outdoorsman, or a rogue type there are skill lines catered specifically for that. RPG fans can play the game like an RPG, where First/Third Person Shooter fans can play in Action Mode.

How “casual friendly” is the Repopulation?  One of the things I disliked about EVE Online was that if I wasn’t basically treating it like a second job I wasn’t getting the most of it.  Will I have to dedicate huge blocks of time to the game or will I be able to come and go as my schedule permits and yet still be a productive member of my guild/town/group?  
One of our core design philosophies was to narrow the gap between newbie and veteran while still giving players plenty of reason to continue advancing their characters. So you don’t have the huge leap in raw power difference between a newbie and a veteran. A 1 day and a 1 year veteran will have the same base health and endurance, for example. Veteran players will have higher skills and thus more abilities, and be capable of using better equipment. They’ll still be able to defeat a new player without too much hardship, but a few of those players could give them problems.

This works based on how our skills system works. There are over 75 skills in The Repopulation, and if you had years of time on your hands you could technically master all 75 if we never raised the caps. But mastering numerous skills doesn’t necessarily make you more powerful than a player who has only mastered a couple. It simply gives you more choice by allowing you to switch to multiple roles. But there are rather harsh penalties for switching during combat in the form of a six second penalty for each piece of equipment you swap. At the minimum you’d need to swap out your weapon to switch combat roles, and that would eat up between 3-6 combat rounds depending on the weapon type you are using. You can switch roles instantly though when out of combat.
Things work similarly for crafters. Instead of your skill levels being the sole determination on the quality of items you can produce, you have different mastery levels for most recipe types. In order to create the highest quality components or items you would want to maximize your mastery of that recipe. It would be extremely time-consuming for anyone to master every recipe in a skill though. This system allows for players with less time to specialize in less recipes, but to still be able to produce the higher quality results.

There is literally no penalty for grouping up in the game, and a variety of bonuses. It’s optional but by default the game will automatically group you with nearby players when you enter into an active engagement area to make it easier for shy players to find groups. There is no reason that players shouldn’t group up. And the game is designed so that a newbie character can group with a veteran and still be productive. They won’t be as productive as if a veteran was in their place, but they will still be able to contribute to the group and the group receives a bonus for them being in the group. It would be preferable for the veterans to fill the group up with a new player rather than leave slots open. Grouping isn’t forced, and soloing is completely viable. But we encourage grouping by making it easy to do and giving you little reason not to. 

Your campaign mentions not having to be forced into combat roles, how true is that?  Will I be able to make a character who can’t fight at all?  Will I be able to make someone who fights as a hobby or a bit of self-defense when out gathering resources?   Would my wife and I be able to totally focus on combat with one our toons, and the other as pure crafting and just constantly wander the world together and still be effective?  

We use a skills system that is most similar to Ultima Online’s, in that you gain skills by using their abilities. So you can increase your Entertainment, Diplomacy, Harvesting, or Trade Skills completely separately of combat. It would be difficult to completely avoid combat though, as you’re bound to get jumped while out gathering resources or traveling from time to time, and sometimes it’s easier to stop and fight, rather than run.  But you won’t need to go out and hunt mobs to advance unless you’re trying to advance your combat skills.
There are also missions and engagements which are targeted at various skill types. You can filter the type of missions you want generated to only include a certain type of mission such as Crafting, Harvesting, Diplomatic, or Any Non-Combat mission if that’s your preference.

What kind of economy are you building into the game?  Will everything be player made with only raw materials dropping from combat?  Or will combat-only characters be able to never interact with player crafted items?  

It’s a crafter-centric economy. Mobs will drop the occasional weapon or armor shell, or fitting. But the bulk of what you’ll receive from mobs are raw materials, collectible items, readable books, mission starting items, and the like. Instead of receiving some amazing weapon from a boss, you’ll more often receive some amazing materials which can be used to create that weapon.

Because crafting is such a key part of the economy we also created what we call the Work Order system. This is like a reverse auction. Instead of players selling items and setting a price, the work order system allows you to submit requests for what you need and what grade they must be, and to specify how much you’re willing to pay. Other players can browse the Work Orders and if they think your price is fair they can fulfill it by creating or giving you the items that someone else created.

As we head into the final week of your campaign what do you say to those on the fence about your game?  It is a free to play game so why should they back you now when they can just play for free when you launch later this year or early next?  
For players who aren’t comfortable with Kickstarting a title, we can understand. All we can ask is that you give the game a try post-launch, you won’t have anything to lose then. We, of course, would love to your pledge now though, as it helps us to make a better game by providing extra layers of features and polish at launch.

While you’ll be able to purchase the same membership options that you can receive through Kickstarter post-launch, your receiving a much better deal during the Kickstarter. You’re not only receiving the memberships but also receiving store credit, unique pre-order tokens and early access as our way of saying thank you for supporting us pre-launch. And perhaps best of all, your helping us to make a better game with your pledges. And that benefits all of our players.

As I mentioned before this isn’t your first trip to Kickstarter, what made you decide to come back for a second round of funding for the same game?   Would you have been able to finish the game even without this second round of funding?  
We would have finished the game regardless, but an increased budget certainly helps us to deliver more polish and content, which is what his game lacks at this point.

The primary purpose of this second Kickstarter campaign though, was for the stretch goals. We have had a large number of requests for certain features that we agreed would improve the game, but we simply didn’t have the budget to allot to them. So our stance on those features was generally to acknowledge that they would be good for the game, and to try to squeeze them into launch if time permitted, and otherwise to work on getting them into the game post-launch.

We had a setback during alpha testing though, which required us to regrid most of the areas in the game for scalability and performance. And we found ourselves in a position where most if not all of those extra features would have all been pushed to post-launch. Our number one priority right now is getting the game finished and getting it out the door this year. At the same time we felt all of these features would improve the game significantly if we could get them in, but we didn’t want to push a launch date back in order to squeeze them in.

So we came up with the idea of a second Kickstarter campaign which focused on those features. We set the amounts at a level where we could bring on additional help to allow those features to made simultaneously with us completing the rest of the game. We could have done this using an on-site store as has become common among most post-Kickstarter MMOs, but what we really liked about Kickstarter was the shorter window, and Amazon payments are preferable to PayPal for some users. So this campaign allowed us to set some specific goals, and if we could meet them within the Kickstarter campaign it left us enough time that we could guarantee they all make it into launch, without affecting the games launch date.

The campaign states the money will mostly go “directly to development” and the majority will go “directly to developers.”  Do you mean you’ll be hiring more people, paying for more overtime, or what?  
A portion would go to licensing costs and outsourced artwork. The majority would go to bringing on additional team members, or in some cases contracting existing team members.
One thing that is common with Indie teams is that you often rely on volunteers. Many of these are professionals who help out in their spare time in between contracts or jobs.  Unfortunately, they also need to make ends meet so they spend the bulk of their time on paying contracts. This makes for somewhat erratic work schedules from them. It’s not uncommon to have one of your better contributors disappear for months at a time because they got a contract with a no-compete agreement.

Having some additional funds aids a lot in that regard. You can hire them those members and keep them active on your project rather than someone elses. Our team all believes strongly in this project, and for those reasons they work for well under market value. This has allowed us to be very efficient cost-wise. But it does require some disposable funds to maintain time efficiency.
How did you discover Kickstarter?

We actually had very little knowledge of it up until a couple months before our initial campaign. We had been funding the project out of our own pockets, but our funds were pretty limited. We were making due the best we could there.

Kickstarter came as a recommendation from some of our forum members after some other projects had some success with it. We were wary at first as it was still pretty new for MMOs to use it and we were still learning about crowd funding. But after some research we eventually warmed up to the idea.
We couldn’t be happier with the decision in retrospect. It drew a lot of attention to the project, and gave us enough budget to hire some key members in important areas. The game has grown a lot over the past 19 months, and Kickstarter helped make that possible.
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?

We’ve tried to keep ourselves in the gaming news as often as we can, with a number of public Q&A sessions. We realize that many of the current backers or potential backers may not have known much about the game previously so they may have some questions.
We came into the campaign with a rough outline of things that we wanted to do. Of course new things pop up, and we’ve probably done more live interviews than we anticipated, which has pushed some other things back. I don’t want to promise anything specific in the event that we wind up shuffling things around and something gets missed, but we’ll be trying to cram in as much as we can in the final week. It should be a lot of fun.
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 ran a successful Steam Greenlight campaign simultaneously with the Kickstarter campaign which I think helped quite a bit. And we’ve also been in contact with many gaming related web sites, who have been helpful in keeping us in the online news, and I think that is very helpful. We also update Facebook and Twitter quite often. We also used a paid press release service in the early going to try to reach some media that we wouldn’t have reached otherwise.
I don’t know how much time we’ve spent clicking Kicktraq before it’s even had a chance to update it’s hourly update. It’s a very useful resource though, I’d recommend any Kickstarter project monitor it during their campaigns.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

I’d say the biggest thing is unless your project has a bottom line that you need to get it done, try not to set your goals too high. We’ve seen so many quality projects fail just short of their goals just because they overestimated the market for their project. That’s hard to recover from. We’d recommend setting a moderate goal that will cover what you absolutely need done, and then use stretch goals to try to get all the other things that you’d really like to get done on top of that.
Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

I’d just like to give give a big thanks for everyone who has supported this project, backers and non-backers alike. Kickstarter is helping to open doors for a lot of projects that would have never been able to get off the ground before, but none of that would be possible without people out there willing to pledge and help those visions become reality. I think this is only the beginning for crowdfunding. There will be some bumps in the road, but it’s changing the industry in so many ways.
Thank you for your time.
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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