2 May, 2012
Sometimes it astounds me to think about my development history. Most of my career I've just worked to make or maintain what I feel are cool games. Part of the reason I still blog even though most people have moved on to other forms of social media is that previous blog entries remind me a lot of where I've come from, what I've learned, and what I've considered important over the years. It's a bit like keeping a diary and using it to reminisce, without the fear of a sibling finding it to use as blackmail. (Although I guess prospective employers could try to hold something I've posted against me in the future.) But, usually when I post on a topic I like to do a quick search to see if I've posted about the topic and see how my perspectives might have changed over time.
So, I hope you understand this next line is said without intending to be cliché and without intending to be hyperbole: it has felt as if my career has build up to this singular point in time. We're taking Storybricks to Kickstarter.
Okay, hopefully that alone excites you, but read on for a bit more information and why you really need to support us.
Quite a few reasons. Storybricks was initially funded through traditional venture capital (VC). We found some investors that agreed with our vision and were willing to put small amounts of money up to help us build the company. We've got a working version of the Storybricks tool from that initial investment, but now we need money to grow. That means talking to other investors able to put up larger amounts of money. However, we have hit a roadblock; despite the enthusiastic reception from our alpha testers and people who have discussed the topic, we weren't able to find further investors who could get excited by our vision. The words "MMORPG" and "artificial intelligence" have made investors as skittish as we feared. But, we've gotten a lot of very positive feedback about Storybricks from the players over the time we've been developing it. From the demos at Gen Con last year, to postings on this blog, to demos we've given to other bloggers, to the version the alpha testers we've heard a lot of positive feedback. So, we weren't ready to give up on it yet.
Recent high-profile successes have made the choice to go on Kickstarter seem more obvious. Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, and Shadowrun Returns have demonstrated that a large group of passionate people are willing to support games for a significant amount. MMOs tend to be a bit more expensive to develop, so it wasn't until these projects came along that we really saw this as a truly viable option. (Personally, I've been watching Kickstarter for several months now, supported the Videogame History Museum last year, and have been hoping for this tipping point to happen.)
We also think this is a great way to see if we're living in our own little reality bubble or not. People have been saying nice things to our face about Storybricks, but it's time to see if people are willing to pull out their wallets to do so. Ultimately, we are running a business, and that's what matters to potential investors and our future as a viable company.
What we plan
Obviously our funding goal of $250,000 isn't quite going to be enough to let us build the fabled WoW-killer. We picked a goal we thought would be reasonable to at least continue toward our master plans. Meeting our Kickstarter goal will make it easier for us to go to those investors that previously turned us down and be willing to give us money. (Of course, I'd love it if we blew past our goal and raised an order of magnitude more money, that would keep us independent for much longer. I'm not going to hold my breath, but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.)
With this money we be able to work on Storybricks longer. With more money, we will be able to hire more people; we are currently a tiny team (2 full-time artists, 2 full-time engineers, 1 full-time designer right now), so we really need more people to do the project within a reasonable time frame.
Why this is important
I agree with a YouTube commenter on one of our dev diaries that Storybricks is "the most amazing thing in the history of? everything". I've poured my entire life into this project for over 18 months now, and every time I tackle a new problem or talk to someone I get a little bit more excited about the possibilities. But, let me try to explain why you should feel this way.
I think first and foremost for people who regularly read my blog is the fact that we are doing something so completely new in MMOs. For a long time, the RPG in MMORPG has seemed like a useless appendage to people used to things like tabletop games. Yes, we have "roleplaying" servers, but the game doesn't really react to you. If you watch the Kickstarter video (and I'll warn you, it is a little cheezy), Rodolfo tells a great story about how he killed Yogg-Saron, saving reality as Azeroth knows it, and still had to pay for drinks in town. I think that explains exactly the problem with storytelling in current MMOs. Not to say that newer offerings like TERA, Guild Wars 2, or The Secret World aren't great games, but they still mostly represent the old way of MMOs. They take the typical MMO structure and add only a little bit of newness on top. I believe Storybricks represents the first true re-examination of the core of MMOs and how we can imagine them in a whole new way while still retaining what makes an MMO an MMO.
Even if you don't care about storytelling, you might care about having more content in a game. Bad tools lead to crap content. Easier-to-use tools lead to more content. Better characters leads to new forms of gameplay. Imagine if faction weren't simply a bar you fill up by killing certain enemies, but a meaningful reflection of your relationship with a group. Imagine if you could do a favor for an NPC and then call in that favor later. Or, imagine if you could find out information like the fact that the queen is having an affair with a knight and you could communicate that to NPCs; would you blackmail the queen, report the dalliance to the king for honor or personal gain, confront the knight as a concerned friend? Want to finally get quests that are something beyond the bog standard kill ten rats (Great site, but a lousy quest template) or Fantasy FedEx? These are the things we are looking toward.
Want a game that combines the stunning beauty of Don Bluth's animation, the artistic and expressive prowess of Liz Danforth, the storytelling and tabletop RPG experience of Stéphane Bura, the indie sensibilities like the one behind the games Eversion and Meridian 59, the MMO prowess that I and another experienced engineer brings, all run as an actual business rather than a pipe dream fueled by wishes? How could you not be excited by all this if you care even a little bit about games?
What can you do?
We absolutely need your support now. A lot of press are hesitant to cover a new project. Some places have explicitly told us, "contact us when you have reached your funding goal." News sites are worried about being seen as giving too much support to an "unproven" project. So, if you talk about the our project and donate to it, you demonstrate to the world that this is something to take seriously. This is the make or break time for Storybricks.
Hopefully you agree that Storybricks is too important to languish and want to support us. The easiest thing to do is go back our project. Support with as much as you feel comfortable contributing. Don't have cash right now? Don't worry, I've been there myself; you can help us by getting the word out. Go check the @Storybricks on Twitter, follow the Storybricks page on Google+, or track us via our Facebook page. Share news with your friends so that they can help back us. Help us get the word out so that we can get more supporters. Finally, give us feedback! Take a look at what we've written and let us know if you have any questions. Let us know if you have ideas that would help us achieve our goals.
Ultimately, this is about you. We need your support for us to continue this exciting journey. Let's see where this story goes together!