Interview: John Smedley on Hero’s Song crowdfunding and the future

Following the abrupt cancellation of the Kickstarter for Pixelmage Games’ sandboxy OARPG Hero’s Song, we chatted with studio CEO and MMORPG veteran John Smedley about the campaign, crowdfunding, and the way forward for the game. He’s even addressed some gamers’ argument that the game didn’t belong on Kickstarter at all. Read on for the whole chat!

Massively OP: I know you said you thought you made some mistakes in your Kickstarter. What would you do differently if you had it to do over again?

John Smedley: We made some mistakes with the Kickstarter that in hindsight should have been obvious. First off, we didn’t price the initial tiers right. We needed a $15 sku and it should have been there from day 1. Next, we didn’t have physical goods. That was also a mistake, although a well-intentioned one. We’ve seen physical goods be one of the biggest problems with people delivering what they say they are going to, and we wanted to be 100% sure we could deliver everything we said when we said it.

We also lacked enough interesting stuff for the higher tier structures. We did do quite a bit of research and talked to friends in the industry that had succeeded and some that had failed prior to launching it. It was a good learning experience. I also think in hindsight we probably asked for too much, although we asked for what we actually needed. I’ve been doing this a long time and didn’t want to promise we could deliver something on a budget that wouldn’t have allowed us to actually do it. Last, but certainly not least, I think we needed to show more gameplay to explain our game. It’s a pretty unique game in the way we’ve mixed Dwarf Fortress, Diablo III, and Ultima Online in a pixel art style. Showing more would have been smarter. My hindsight is 20/20… but I’d rather not try to spin it as anything other than avoidable mistakes because that’s all it was.

Are you planning another Kickstarter or are you just going to go forward with your investors and a custom pre-order sale on the website? And speaking of that, when do you think we’ll see those preorders/founder packs live?

We are considering a few options right now: Either pre-orders on our site or possibly going with something like indiegogo, which has a different funding option that might lend itself better to what we’re doing because they have an option that isn’t all or nothing. Either way we will be doing it, and likely in the next few months. We’re getting a great build together that will showcase our AI which is (I hope) really going to blow people away.

Does the cancellation of the Kickstarter have any impact on the game’s development timeline and anticipated launch this fall?

In terms of funding, we’re good. We secured the additional investment and we are full speed ahead for an October 5th, 2016 release. This didn’t slow us down at all, so we’re all good! We’ll start showing the game in the next month or so, and hopefully people will like what they see. We’re also going to be streaming design sessions with us and Patrick Rothfuss… those are so incredibly fun that it would be great for people to see how a brilliant creative mind works. He is one of a kind for sure and is just a blast to work with.

One thing our readers ask over and over is why a studio that can easily acquire outside funding would use Kickstarter — some folks see it as a sort of cheat because, as they see it, Kickstarter is meant for “indies.” And when they say “indie,” they seem to mean “two guys in a garage,” not the vast majority of indie studios in the zone between “two guys in a garage” and “Activision.” So what do you think about using Kickstarter to supplement smaller studios? What do you say to people who think Kickstarter isn’t meant for people with “connections”?

It’s very simple: We wanted to avoid taking money that came with strings beyond delivering a high-quality game. If we give up distribution rights, it usually means losing control of aspects of your game and frankly losing a large percentage of profit. If you give distribution rights to someone, you usually end up with 30% of the profit in that region instead of 70%. Steam is fantastic, but isn’t as widely used in some countries that can actually generate a lot of revenue. In addition to the money side, we also like the community building aspect of Kickstarter. It “kickstarts” a community of likeminded people in a way that’s super helpful to our kind of game. We want to be a super open developer and show our work as we go. Having a community of people that we’ve made promises to and that have expectations of us is a great thing IMO.

The arguments about what things should and shouldn’t be on Kickstarter are pointless IMO because it’s a self correcting thing. It works exactly as intended.

Thanks as always to Smed for answering our questions!

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carson63000
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carson63000

I thought the biggest problem with the Kickstarter was that there was no hype prior to the campaign opening. First I heard was the day it started, same with all the bloggers I follow.

You need to have people clamoring to throw money at you before the KS campaign opens. Day one momentum is so critical.

carson63000
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carson63000

KevinSmith11 Particularly when you combine “we don’t need your money” with the fact that the initial offerings were more expensive than just waiting for the game to launch and buying it then!

“We don’t need your money.. but if you want to pay us now, it’ll be discounted” flies better than that.

Archebius
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Archebius

ashfyn Bannex19  You actually can, they just hide it from you – it defaults to the updates page, but if you click “Campaign” it shows you everything, even who backed it at which tiers.

TimothyTierless
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TimothyTierless

vinicitur Bro its not like I named my cat “Star Wars Galaxies” and got a tramp stamp of my game box code…I named her “Chewbacctina” and I have the tattoo on my upper back, like a boss. I like to think of myself as the kind of fan that still yells at Mick Jagger to sing Satisfaction on stage. ;)

And I was joking in my first comment too :D 

no not really, 

ok yes I was 

(between us no I wasn’t)

PaganRites
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PaganRites

I’ll will back this game a second time as soon as I am able.  I loved the original project.

vinicitur
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vinicitur

TimothyTierless I think you need help man.   :)

ashfyn
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ashfyn

Bannex19  Is it?  Just curious.  Because when you do Google successful kickstarters, they don’t actually show you the tiers or the rewards.  And once a kickstarter is closed, you can no longer view the tiers or rewards, even if you contributed.

TimothyTierless
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TimothyTierless

Is it ok that I read the whole thing then purposely retained none of it so I can gleefully assume he said a bunch of stuff about a plan to make a true spiritual successor to SWG by hiring Raph? I think it is.

Xijit
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Xijit

Having trouble finding the source, but I am fairly certain that, as part of the Xbone development, they are going to be selling the regular Dayz sandbox/survival game plus an action/fps type thing with DayZ’s gameplay being given the Comsolitis treatment to turn it into a team based shooter.
… Maybe I am wrong though, since I can’t find the source for where I read it.

Ironweakness
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Ironweakness

Great interview, it was especially nice to see John’s thoughts on Kickstarter and why studios of different sizes might choose to use it. I don’t know that I’ll preorder this game but I’ll certainly be watching for its launch. It’s a unique idea and if it is executed well I think it will do well as a niche title.
And as a side note, John Smedley would make a terrible politician; that’s why I think I like him so much.