Today we get a new president, the 10th in my lifetime and the third during the life of the blog. The state government here in California has declared itself opposed in all ways possible to the new president, which I find mildly amusing because the last governor of the state was Arnold Schwarzenegger and in the last election we not only failed ban the death penalty, most voters actually went for the ballot initiative that promised to speed up the process of killing. How very liberal we are.
Back on the video game front, it is a rainy Friday morning and I have a few small stories I want to mention but which are probably not worth a whole post. None of them, to my knowledge, involve the new president.
An article up over at Venture Beat gives the total 2016 revenue for Pokemon Go as $950 million. For a game that launched on July 6th of 2016, that is a pretty impressive take. To put that into MMO perspective, World of Warcraft was raking in over a billion dollars a year at its peak, but nowhere near double Pokemon Go’s six month total.
Now, of course, there are a lot of “buts” to that story. The earnings were very much front loaded, with the initial $600 million coming in the first 90 days before revenues began to taper off. This isn’t going to be a year over year Juggernaut like WoW. And, of course, revenue isn’t cash in the pocket. Apple takes their cut off the top, then Niantic takes theirs, after which they pay the Pokemon Company their licensing cut, from which eventually Nintendo gets some money.
But for the meager amount of effort Nintendo put in to the whole thing, it did pay mighty dividends, boosting sales of other Pokemon games and even of 3DS hardware. Even if everybody stops playing Pokemon Go tomorrow, Nintendo, Game Freak, and the Pokemon Company have done very well out of the deal.
Hero’s Song Refund
We heard the tale of the end of Hero’s Song late last month as Smed’s first post SOE/Daybreak gaming venture had to fold up its tents and call it a day. The game walked a troubled path, with a failed Kickstarter campaign and, later, an Indiegogo campaign that fell short of the funding target. But with Indiegogo you get to keep the money pledged, even if you don’t make your goal, so Pixelmage got some money out of the deal. It just wasn’t enough to carry on.
Then Pixelmage did the unexpected and said they would give people their money back. And they did. I got my refund via PayPal for the two licenses I bought.
Not every crowd-funded project is going to have the luxury of doing that, but it is nice to see one make the effort when they had the means.
So there I had $28 in my PayPal wallet, and I never carry a balance with PayPal, so I turned around and blew the whole lot on three games from Steam wish list. I grabbed Orwell (plus the soundtrack), Atlantic Fleet, and Death Ray Manta. So those, along with my Steam Winter Sale purchases, give me a small pile of games to work on.
Ruse of the Day
One of the things that Pandemic Legion does is put out invites to high profile players in other groups. Asher reports that he has three such invites to different corps in PL. Apparently gigX, the leader of Circle-of-Two, took one of those invites, joined ElitistOps, (which has been part of GoonSwarm, Band of Brothers, and Pandemic Legion) and then let his mates in CO2 blow up three of his capital ships (Moros, Apostle, and Revelation) just to mess with their kill board stats before rejoining CO2. Was it worth it?
New Eden Good News/Bad News
Elsewhere on the EVE Online front, we got a look into what is coming up in the game, which includes the ability to insure ships in citadels finally. On the down side, the game has been experiencing rubberbanding, latency, and desync issues since the last patch. CCP is working on that, but it isn’t fixed just yet.
So that is all I have. Back to the rains here. We only seem to have two settings in our part of the state; drought or deluge. At least during the deluge I can take a nice long shower.
Earlier today John Smedley announced that PixelMage games, his post-SOE/Daybreak venture, would be shutting down and that their game Hero’s Song was officially dead.
Hero’s must face turmoil, that is what makes them heroes, right?
The text from the announcement is as follows:
Hello Hero’s Song Players,
It’s with a heavy heart that I have to report that Pixelmage Games is going to be shutting down and we have ceased development on Hero’s Song. For the last year, our team has worked tirelessly to make the game we’ve dreamed about making, and with your support, and the support of our investors, we were able to get the game into Early Access. Unfortunately sales fell short of what we needed to continue development. We knew going in that most startups don’t make it, and as an indie game studio we hoped we would be the exception to that rule, but as it turned out we weren’t.
We sincerely value our customers. You’re our most important focus and have been from day one. We’re going to offer 100% refunds to all of the people who bought Hero’s Song.
For our Indiegogo customers, please email email@example.com with your name and information about which one of the packages you bought so we can make sure you get your money back. Our team will respond to confirm we received your email and we’ll make sure you get your refund quickly.
For players that purchased via Steam you will be able to claim your refund through the normal Steam refund process. Go to https://help.steampowered.com and you can get your refund right away.
Thank you for all the support you showed us. We’re sorry things worked out the way they did, but we feel strongly that we gave it our all and we’re proud of how far we came with the game. The fact that we weren’t able to finish the game is painful, but the journey of making Hero’s Song has been a great experience for us and we’re just sorry we couldn’t take it all the way.
The Hero’s Song team
Hero’s Song had something of a troubled time from the beginning, starting with Smed playing the “hardcore” card yet again. There was a cancelled Kickstarter campaign that had too many problems to overcome, the search for funding elsewhere, and the Indiegogo campaign that only got them $94K out of the $200K they were looking for to finance the development. Then there was the “money is tight” statement from earlier this month.
And then there was the game itself, which appeared on Steam in its early Alpha state and ended up with mixed review frankly because there wasn’t much “there” there at that point.
Still, it was an interesting idea, a retro-feel pixel graphic top down 2D open world Rogue-like adventure game where you could setup your own server, choose deities and tweak the rules to suit your own needs. I got in and played for a little bit early on, totalling up all of 90 minutes of play time, including the two minutes that got added when I launched the game today.
That’s all there will be
I took a few screen shots in Steam along the way, but that won’t leave much to remember the game by.
Welcome to the game
Out in a world
And I died
As noted above, if you bought the game on Steam you can get a refund via Valve, but if you contributed to the Indiegogo campaign (as I did) you have to send an email directly to PixelMage with your information and hope they get back to you. Right now the email address provided is replies with an automated response with a promise to be back in touch “very soon.”
You’d think a game dev of long standing would be wary of using the word “soon,” but we shall see. Where will Smed end up next?
You might remember Hero’s Song, the John Smedley/Pixelmage Games project in development, which launched a rather poorly thought out Kickstarter back in January of this year. The flaws in the campaign were manifold, and by the time I wrote a list of them up the campaign had been cancelled.
Hero’s must face turmoil, it is what makes them heroes, right?
The team found other funding and carried on development of Hero’s Song, which is currently described as:
Hero’s Song is an open world rogue-like fantasy game done in a beautiful 2D pixel art style. Create epic fantasy worlds uniquely shaped by your choices, the power of the gods, and thousands of years of history. Become a legendary hero in a dangerous and mysterious world of magic and monsters. Explore endless dungeons and ancient cities in long forgotten lands in search of knowledge, treasure and the power of the gods!
This time around they the goals are more modest, the pledge tiers are better, the details are expansive, Smed isn’t using the word “hardcore” all over the place, and there is a somewhat more realistic timeline for the project.
Dates quoted for truth… again
I still think that schedule is optimistic, but more than 25 years in software development has made that my knee jerk reaction to any schedule I suppose. Still, it is better than the last one (shown in this post), which had launch in October of this year… so I was right in calling it out on optimism that time at least.
Also different this time around is the platform they chose to run their campaign. Rather than going with the perennial favorite, Kickstarter, PixelMage chose to go with Indiegogo.
The choice of Indiegogo gives them at least one advantage; there is no minimum threshold to allow them to collect some money. Unlike with Kickstarter, where you have to make your goal to get paid, even if PixelMage does not make it $200,000 stated target, they get to keep any money pledged at the end of the campaign.
If you pledge it, they get it
There are, however, some downsides.
First of all, while Indiegogo isn’t exactly unknown, it still isn’t Kickstarter. Kickstarter is more famous and, I suspect, more trusted when it comes to giving them payment information. I mean, Kickstarter has been around a while, to the point that the verb “to kickstart” has practically acquired a new meaning largely associated with them.
Verb also used for motorcycles and energy drinks, which is pretty powerful
The second downside, for me at least, stems from one of the advantages, the fact that PixelMage gets the money pledged even if they do not make their stated goal.
I mean, that is GREAT… for PixelMage. But how great is it for those pledging money? If a company says they need a given amount to complete a project, and they only get, say, 25% of that amount, what does that mean to those who kicked in?
Now, in the case of PixelMage, I suspect that, at worst, it will mean some delay in the schedule. I have no doubt they will deliver the game whether they make their goal or not. But, in general, I guess I have become accustomed to the Kickstarter method where you only get your funding if you can raise the amount of money you said you needed for the project. There is a certain logic to that.
Finally, as something an adjunct to the previous item, the lack of a hard “must meet” funding goal also takes a bit of the edge off of the campaign. Not having an “all or nothing” goal mutes any sense of urgency. Let’s look at where the campaign stands today, a couple of days in:
September 9, 2016 – Morning status
The campaign is 23% of the way to its goal… which seems to be okay.
I have to say that among its disadvantages, Indiegogo doesn’t have the range of external trend and activity tracking tools that Kickstarter does, and also seems to be a bit coy with things like the actual end date.
Anyway, Hero’s Song seems to have made my rule-of-thumb metric for campaigns, which is that if you haven’t hit 20% of your goal in the first 48 hours, you aren’t going to make it. However, they are going to get that money whether or not they get to $200,000. The goal is just a line in the sand, more of a “we’d like” rather than a do-or-die proposition. You can’t really call for a last minute surge if they are short of their goal because they are still going to get something. And even the stretch goals seem like you might get them anyway, so why throw money down now?
Races and housing
But that might just be me. I am ever the cynic and/or critic.
Then again, Bree over at Massively OP put it this way in the comments of a post over there:
They get the money even if they don’t get to the soft target. They are plainly using Indiegogo as a preorder system and publicity stunt; there’s no way the “we need 200k more” thing is legit (plus they really want more than that for the hardcore housing feature).
And I think I am a cynic! The again, there is the “Smed factor” I mentioned when the Kickstarter campaign was going. He has a lot of history and not everybody likes him.
Anyway, the Indiegogo campaign is on and running for… a month… again, end date on that? You can check it out here if you are interested, pledge if you want to pre-order and get a T-shirt (or limit Smed’s diet), or wait until it hits Steam about this time next year. (My needlessly pessimistic prediction there.)
Or you can go to the PixelMage site and read up about the project itself.
Well crap, I just wrote this whole post last night and they cancelled it this morning literally as I went to check to see where it stood. But I am not wasting all these words! I will be validated, dammit! Most of this is still on point, and I am not re-writing it simply to tune it for what just happened.
“Whoa, whoa, hold on there Hoss!” I hear you say, “That Kickstarter campaign has like 22 days left to run. How can you say it failed?” Well, because of this:
But let’s just pretend that didn’t happen for the moment.
I must admit that this is true. There is a long stretch of time left, leaving the campaign plenty of time to recover and make its $800,000 goal, and maybe even a stretch goal or two. Hero’s Song might yet make its money. Stranger things have happened.
Nor am I trying to root this campaign into failure. I have no particular problem with it nor with Smed himself, who seems like a decent person, somebody you could have a beer with and talk about video games.
What I am running with for this post is what I shall declare here as “Wilhelm’s First Hypothesis on Video Game Kickstarter Behavior,” based on observations I have recorded on this blog, which indicates that if you don’t hit the 20% funding mark in the first 48 hours, the campaign is lost. I was on this two years ago.
Here we are past day seven and the Hero’s Song campaign is sitting at 18%. It needs to bring in more than $27,000 a day to succeed, something it only did on day one. The average take per day is up to this point is just a little over $17K, according to the data at KickTraq. Unless there is a miracle in the offing, things look grim.
Kicktraq Status – Jan. 25
Miracles, however, tend to be thin on the ground here in reality, and while Massively OP is clearly in Smed’s corner on this one, even they seem to be running out of things to say.
So why didn’t Hero’s Song make that 20% mark? Why do I think it isn’t going to make its final goal, much less any stretch goals. Well, as usual, I have a list… a list of reasons that I think may have had a negative impact on the whole campaign.
I happened to see Smed’s Tweet about the campaign starting just as it went out and immediately went to see what was going on. Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t figure out what platform the game was even running on. I assumed it would be on Windows, but the screen shots looked like it might be slated for the Nintendo 3Ds.
That eventually got straightened out, but I am still sort of lost in what the game they are pitching actually is. It is hardcore, online, action RPG, so it seems in the Diablo vein perhaps, but then they say it is a Rogue-like at one point, and then it has so many classes and different magics and shared worlds and the ability to host it yourself and a bunch of races and too many classes and no main quest and… hrmm…
It isn’t like I am against all of that. I like a lot of it. But I am still not sure what to make out of it. It all sounds very MMORPG-ish. Is that right?
And I am somebody who has gone back and re-read sections of the description and even skimmed through Smed’s AMA on Reddit. What will somebody just passing by make of all of this. It just doesn’t have a simple hook. I mean, Lord British could say, “Remaking Ultima!” and Mark Jacobs could say, “Remaking DAoC!” and even Brad McQuaid could say, “Remaking EverQuest!” and you got what they were about.
I am not saying it has to be easily pigeon holed, but word of mouth is a lot easier if you can describe something simply and work from there. I don’t know how I would describe this fairly yet accurately. Graphical Rogue? Pixellated Diablo? 2D Ultima Online?
Another item that was wrong right out of the gate were the tiers. Or, to narrow it down, the base tier. You had a game that was going to go to retail for $19.99, but the minimum you could pay and get a copy was $25.
When you’re asking people to front you money for some software down the road, also asking them to pay more now than they would later is a bit of a punch in the gut.
Yes, they fixed that before the end of the first day, but how many people came, looked at the tiers, did the math, and said they would check back when it was done, never to return again?
Meanwhile, there isn’t a lot of compelling reasons to pay more than $15. The digital sound track… well, Syp is probably there for that. There is no discount for the Collector’s Edition, so no reason to jump on that. Wallpapers and strategy guides are non-starters while early access might rake in some hardcores who really, really want in, but that isn’t much of a mass draw.
They did throw in T-shirts and hoodies as an option, and that actually got a bit of a spike in the total on Sunday, but it seemed to be mostly from people going up a tier to get something, as the number of new backers was fairly small.
So far they have just over 3,000 backers, which is impressive. But the average pledge is just $45, which is even less impressive when you consider that somebody is in for that $10,000 tier. 70% of the backers are in for $25 or less.
Part of the problem here is that the price of the game is going to be $19.99. You have to sell a lot of units to get to $800K. Furthermore, I am a bit worried about how they plan to run servers and such with no cash shop or what not and just the base price to keep things going. I know he wants to keep away from the monetization tar baby, but I hope they have some additional revenue plan, like expansions.
Why did Smed have to run with this word? Seriously, I think if you’re in tune with the gaming news sufficiently to have even heard about the Hero’s Song Kickstarter campaign, you qualify at some level as hardcore.
But Smed’s been on this divisive “hardcore” kick before. Just last year he had that quip about those “disgusting PVE carebear servers” for H1Z1 which, while done in jest, still managed to annoy a fair share of people.
In the end, the word itself is mostly meaningless, serving only to divide players. Those that don’t see themselves in the mold of the hardcore will turn away from the project, while those who self-identify as hardcore are as like as not to question whether or not Hero’s Song is hardcore enough. Just having PvP doesn’t make something hardcore.
The Smed Factor
Smed has a name in the industry, people know him. But his name also comes with a lot of baggage. Not all of it is his fault, but he was the boss at SOE for a long stretch, and when you’re the boss, everything is your fault. Hacking in PlanetSide 2, broken raids in the Planes of Power expansion, the NGE, letting Vanguard stagnate and die, closing FreeRealms, the failure of The Agency, the confused state of EverQuest II at launch, holding SOE Live in Vegas so many years running, forgetting to pay for the domain name that one time, you name it, somebody will blame it on Smed.
That’s a lot of potential grudges smoldering out there.
And on top of that, while he has a reputation based on running SOE, the games that SOE created tend to be associated with other people. Brad McQuaid and the TorilMUD combo made EverQuest and he had Raph Koster there for Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest II, Scott Hartsman there to rescue EverQuest II, Holly Longdale there to CPR EverQuest and EverQuest II back to life yet again, plus a few other names in the mix. But I don’t really associate Smed himself with any particular game, except maybe PlanetSide, and only because he declared it his favorite at one point.
Which isn’t to deny that a lot of people, both inside and outside the industry, like him. I like him. And, to paraphrase Gag Halfrunt, Smed is just this guy, you know? His name will get attention for the project, but not all of it will be favorable.
Development Timeline Credibility
This is more a reaction to my own career and the way almost every video game related Kickstarter has played out, but I have serious doubts about their October 2016 launch. Another Kickstarter hypothesis I am working on is a standard multiplier for such timelines. I started with 2x, but I think that may too optimistic.
Anyway, this one may be more of a matter of previous campaigns poisoning the well for Hero’s Song, if it is a factor at all for people. I appreciate the detailed timeline, I just think that backers may have been burned too often on that front.
The Need Question
I’m not sure why they need my money up front. I know Smed has said they are in for a million so far and believe they need another $800K to finish the game up, but do they need it from this Kickstarter campaign? If they campaign fails, are they still going to make the game or are they going to fold up shop and go home? Are we going to get fewer classes, fewer features, no self-hosting? What is the downside of this campaign failing? What is the compelling case for supporting this game with money up front nearly a year in advance?
That part of the tale should be very clear, in writing, on the campaign page… and it isn’t.
No Pre-Campaign Ramp Up
This is the part that really grinds my gears. This was just plain dumb. Smed literally announced his new company and its Kickstarter on Twitter the morning it started.
Yes, he had a couple of gaming sites ready to cover the launch. But you know what would have been better than absolutely zero pre-launch news… literally ANY pre-launch news.
“Hey! Surprise!” is not the hallmark of a good marketing campaign.
Look at past successful campaigns. Lord British had his big count-down and announcement before the Shroud of the Avatar campaign. Mark Jacobs was talking about a Kickstarter campaign for Camelot Unchained weeks in advance. The Crowfall team was in the news and getting people hyped up weeks before their campaign launched.
This is what successful campaigns… two million dollar campaigns… look like:
Shroud of the Avatar – 55% in the first 48 hours
Camelot Unchained – 35% in the first 48 hours
I am too lazy to go get the Crowfall chart, but they made almost 80% of their goal in the first 48 hours. That is what success looks like. 17% at the seven day mark has the stink of failure all over it.
In my opinion what Smed should have done was have the big reveal and news stories and the AMA about two weeks before the campaign, during which time the team could gauge the feedback, clarify points of confusion, and generally get the word spread so that the opening day would be a big success. Because success begets success, and when a campaign opens up and gets a huge spike, people will jump on board even if they aren’t sure because everybody else is jumping on so there must be something there.
The SOE Curse
I’m not sure if this is really a factor, but I find it amusing to trot out.
You see, almost exactly two years ago another well known SOE name launched a Kickstarter with very little warm-up, had a confused yet ambitious sort of “it will do everything” message, appealed to the hardcore, and was asking for $800K. Yes, we are at the two year anniversary of Brad McQuaid and his Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign.
Okay, the parallels are not exact and a bit silly, but it is one of those things that makes you go, “Hmmm…” We shall see if Hero’s Song can match Pantheon’s take. Brad
So I think the campaign is a forlorn hope at this point. So what? What should Smed and his team do now?
Well, they should either go for that double-secret backup publicity plan that will send pledges through the roof or they should fold up their tents and go home for now.
And I since I doubt they have such a secret plan, I will focus on folding.
There is a HUGE reluctance to call it quits in such a situation. I have seen campaigns literally 99% shy of their goal ride it out to the bitter end in some sort of hope over reason play that the word will get out at the last minute and the campaign will be saved.
That isn’t going to happen. The first day of any campaign is almost always the biggest day. If it isn’t, then you’ve really done something wrong.
This is reluctance seems to be especially true if there is some response and you get some pledges. How can you just walk away from $136K?
Except, of course, if you don’t make your goal you get nothing at all, so you aren’t walking away from anything because it was never yours. And you cannot cut your funding goal once the campaign has begun, so there is no way to just get the money.
So in my limited perspective, amateur Monday morning quarterback point of view, Smed and company should just pull the plug. They should get together a nice explanation of their shortcomings on the campaign, admit fault where it is true, and announce that they will be back for another run once they have addressed their issues.
There is no winning in letting this run out to the bitter end and letting people see just how far short the campaign ended up. And there is no shame in admitting mistakes and coming back for another run. I mean Project: Gorgon had to have three Kickstarter campaigns to get its extra funding.
Anyway, that is where I stand. But just to be even more of a nuisance, I am going to make two polls to finish up this post. (Also, AdBlock seems to remove polls, so if you don’t see them, that might be why. Or it might just be FireFox.)
The first is what factor do you think has most hurt the Hero’s Song campaign the most?
And then, of course, what do you think the Hero’s Song team should have done this point?
We shall see what happens.
Okay, we saw what happened… so I suppose we’ll see what comes of it.
John Smedley, formerly of SOE and Daybreak, went public with his new company and their first project. The company name is Pixelmage (according to the trademark application), which is “Pixel Mage” and not “Pixe Image,” something that could be sorted out with a space or a capital “M” in the middle. Or, just look at their logo.
Pixel Mage Games
And, in announcing this he has also pointed at the company’s first project which will, of course, be financed via a Kickstarter Campaign. Pixelmage wants $800,000 minimum for their game Hero’s Song which is described as follows:
Sing this Hero!
Basically a 2D retro-pixellated multiplayer action adventure RPG game thing… for the hardcore!
Hardcore action RPG for Hardcore Gamers!
It is a sign of my age I suppose that my brain always links the word “hardcore” with the word “porn,” which always makes this sort of discussion just that much more amusing.
Missing from the Kickstarter page at the moment is the platform it will run on, but I guess we can all assume Windows 64-bit will be required, though maybe it will run on the Nintendo 3DS. It certainly looks like it could.
There are all the usual hallmarks of such a Kickstarter campaign, including dev bios, stretch goals, a range of backer options, some grand sweeping statements, and an overly optimistic time line.
Dates quoted for truth…
Give the standard Kickstarter multiplier for multiplayer software video game projects, this ought to launch in late 2017 or early 2018.
Anyway, Smed and his new company are off to the races. You can see the Kickstarter campaign here. We shall see how things develop. Pledge now ($25 minimum) or wait until it comes out and get it for $20.
The press embargo appears to have lifted so deeper coverage is available at: