Off The Deep End

Sep
01

Off The Deep End

The past year and a half have been a blur of long weekends, sleepless nights, and a never-ending push towards melding the various elements of the Saga of Lucimia together. From the art to the music to the lore to the character development, skill systems, mechanics, programming, and beyond.

There are literally thousands of little pieces that go into making all of this work. As first-time developers, we’ve had our work cut out for us: while everyone on the project is a working professional who blends their day job talents with what they are working for on the game, this is still our first time working together as a team, and building an MMORPG is no small feat.

Since we started, we’ve grown to several thousand followers around the web, 30+ million views on our G+ page, 1,300 registered users on our website, 300+ users on our newsletter, and our new forum are rolling along. We’re just around the corner from opening up the official alpha and kicking off Early Access, and the recent flurry of press has seen a massive outpouring of support from a community who previously weren’t aware that we were even building our game.

All with nothing more than pre-alpha screenshots and videos and our constant Q&As to keep you guys and girls in the loop with what we’ve been working on.

It’s been nothing but assholes and elbows from us for the past year and a half. Those of you who have been with us from the beginning have been out there sharing your passion for our project, and it’s because of you that the recent round of interviews and publicity have come about.

Between you sharing our screenshots and videos out there on the social airwaves, to pestering folks at places like mmorpg.com to run an article on us, or the guys at Theory Forge to have me on the show, or the guys over at WASD Radio, or any of the other interviews we’ve done in the past few months, your shared passion for the game is mightily evident.

Pre Alpha17

But while we’ve worked hard up until this point, we’re about to cross a major threshold: the point of no return. While we’ve been quietly building up until this point, the forming of Stormhaven Studios was just the beginning. The true turning point comes when we open up the pre-order store and turn on the Early Access. Once that happens, we go from simply building a game as a passion, to having an obligation to produce on what we’ve promised.

With all of the press we’ve received in recent weeks, one theme has stood out from the naysayers: are we qualified to pull this off? And it’s a fair question. After all, in recent years there have been a slew of games helmed by industry veterans which completely bombed. Kickstarters who, two years in, go bankrupt and leave backers up the creek with nothing but dried shit on their hands. CEOs taking massive paychecks. Companies pushing deadlines back by two or three years.

Will we face the same issues as far as deadlines go? Absolutely. But I think the one area where our team has done a great job up until this point, is keeping things in scope. We know we are a small team. We only work part-time hours. And while we’ve had some really massive ideas, we’ve also had to scale back in some areas; there is a huge difference between ideas on paper and actually bringing those ideas to life as functioning mechanics within a game.

We’ve already seen a few things crop up. I went to Spain for three months with my day job. While I was there, my social media shares went from daily to once a week at most, and there was a couple of weeks when I was completely without Internet, and another 10 days or so when I was busy with a press tour + the TBEX convention where I was speaking on long-term social media campaigns.

Joey, John, and Joseph have all had babies (well, technically, their WIVES had the babies!) during the course of development, dropping them out of commission for weeks at a time. Alex got married and had his honeymoon. Giovanni had to go through training for a new project at work. Tim Schoonover had a five month extra workload pushed on him at his day job. Emma just had to go through an emergency move that was completely unexpected.

These are our realities. And yet through it all, the team still finds time to work on the game in every spare moment, even when there are real life issues that crop up. Because for us, it’s not a matter of “if”, it’s simply a matter of “when”.

windmill

At the end of the day, most of the early MMORPGs were started by teams of people who were nothing more than avid gamers who were also programmers, artists, and writers in their day jobs, and then transitioned over into using those same skills on building an MMORPG.

These days it’s a little more rare, because so many MMO companies come and go every year and have people on the team who come from other game companies who themselves were formed by people who developed games from the first generation of MMORPGs. I mean, we’re on like fourth or fifth generation by this point, aren’t we, since EverQuest and UO?

There are a few teams these days who are doing it without being AAA previous developers. The guys at Das Tal, if I’m not mistaken. And even Crowfall and Pantheon have people on their team without any previous titles under their belt, albeit with a few veterans on board to round things out.

Our favorite examples (regardless of what they’ve done since then, or where they are today, a decade or more beyond), were some of the original teams for EverQuest and Darkfall. Just regular folks who were programmers, writers, and artists in their day jobs, who decided to pursue their passion and turn it into something. In both cases, 4 – 7 years of work were involved in getting their projects off the ground, and in both cases, the games expanded exponentially over time to go from a handful of guys working on the project to teams of 40 – 50 and beyond, with content updates over time that enhanced game features and built their titles into something much, much more than what was originally launched.

We aren’t afraid of the work. We’re all using our day-job skills to build the game. But will we stumble along the way, suffer setbacks, have to rewrite code, have delays on deadlines? Absofrakinglutely. But even VETERAN companies have these issues. They are not unique to first-timers.

Will we also have times when we BEAT our deadlines, hit things out of the ballpark the first time, or make something work with less effort than previously anticipated? Absolutely. Again, not unique to first-timers. We’re all using our day job experience to build this game, which means we aren’t just a bunch of clueless newbz who had an idea and decided to run with it.

Ruins

That being said, selling pre-orders is jumping off the deep end. We have to set an official publication date, and while there is wiggle room on deadlines, it’s a far cry from simply doing what we can in our spare time. Which is why we are relying so much on the ongoing support of you, our fans.

In the spirit of ongoing transparency with our community, here’s how we’re dealing with the incoming funds from pre-orders. Also, for the sake of transparency, all pre-orders at the $500 level and above have direct access to our internal Google financial spreadsheets for income/spending reports. These are the same ones our accountant has access to.

  • 25% set aside for taxes
  • The remaining funds are split down the middle
  • 50% is set aside for convention attendance (booth registration, plane tickets, hotel rooms, food for team members) and marketing/advertising
  • The remaining is again split down the middle
  • 50% is set aside of operational costs (lawyer, accountant, server costs, website costs, software costs, hardware costs)
  • The final 50% is split evenly among the team members

As you can see, there is little room for profit on our part. This is a passion project for us. Pre-orders are helping us mitigate the costs of many of the operational and marketing aspects related to the ongoing development of the game, and almost none of that money is going towards salaries.

Most Kickstarters ask for several million dollars because the developers are asking you to back an idea and fund their salaries for the two or four years they will be working on the game. And if you want to get technical about it, we’ve already racked up about 1.5 million USD in salaries since we started this project. But since we are all putting in sweat equity and working for free against the hopes of future salaries, that’s neither here nor there.

I wanted to share the numbers with you so you can understand just how much of an undertaking it is, and so that you can see that our team is working on this project for next to nothing. I want you to get an idea of just how much money we would need to bring in before our team members actually start seeing a profit, because we are doing things almost exactly the opposite of most crowdfunded games.

Let’s say that we have 10,000 USD a month coming in. That’s 250 pre-order sales at 40 dollars, by the way. A fairly sizeable chunk of people. Right off the bat, 2500 of that goes towards taxes. That leaves us with 7500. Split that in half for convention attendance. We’ve got 3750 left over. Split that in half again, and put 1875 aside for the accountant, lawyer, server costs, website, licenses, and other operational costs.

That leaves 1875 to be split between 12 members (as of this writing). A whopping $156.25 for each team member out of $10,000, and that goes towards an average work week of 10-15 hours of time. Let’s assume a monthly average of around 50 hours per month of work. That means the team members are working for just over 3 dollars an hour.

In short, we’re not getting rich from the pre-orders. When we ran our Indiegogo earlier this year, we did about 4,000 USD of funds. 15% of that went to PayPal and Indiegogo. The rest was split between assets at the Unity store, and the lawyer fees to form Stormhaven Studios.

Sunset 2 - copia

We’re not fooling ourselves. It’s going to be a long, hard, tiring climb to get to the point where we have enough income coming in that we can have even a mere 1,000 USD per month, per team member, to spread around. And even when we get to our target goal of 5,000 paying subscribers, that’s only 75,000 USD a month of income.

Granted, by the time we launch we won’t be putting half the money aside for convention attendance, and the ratio will change to around 25% for taxes, 25% for operational costs, and the remaining 50% for salaries. Which will only come out to $3125 per month, per team member, if we stay at just 12 members.

While some of us can go full-time on that amount of cash, we have about half the team who need significantly more per month to realistically support their families and match existing 401k, insurance, and stable jobs.

10k paying subscribers would be our dream goal, and would give us more than enough money for all the team members to go full-time and expand our team. But we’re a long way from having 10k paying members at this point in time. We’re literally just getting started, and we’ve got a lot to prove to a jaded gaming community who have been burned far too many times by developers with big promises and even bigger gaming resumes, who have gone on to crash and burn, or flat-out steal the money and run.

So, we’re about to jump off into the deep end, without any life vests, and it’s time to sink or swim.

The Road To Whitehall

That’s where you come in. The community who has come with us this far has been incredibly supportive, and without your help we wouldn’t be where we are today.

This is where we turn it up to 11. It’s time to rock out with our cocks out, and jam out with our clams out.

Every single person moves us closer to our goals. And we can’t do it without your help. We aren’t an investor-backed company with a million-dollar marketing budget that can reach out to and convert 100,000 pre-orders. We’re an independent studio with a grassroots marketing campaign, and it’s all word of mouth at this point. As we increase the amount of pre-orders we bring in, we can afford to start hitting up the conventions and marketing our game and working on spreading the word about what we’re working on.

As we start getting you guys and girls into the Early Access program, don’t be shy. Share screenshots, stream your sessions, blog about it, go crazy on social media, get involved at our forums and get to know your fellow gamers. Build friendships. Create guilds. Immerse yourself in the community.

Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi might not crave these things, but we sure as hell do! We’ve still got a couple of years ahead of us, and with your help we’ll hit every goal.

Bear in mind that all numbers mentioned in this blog post are based on estimations only for the purposes of helping our community, and the public at large, understand just how massive of an undertaking this is, and to show exactly where the income from pre-orders is going. Also understand that these numbers can and probably will change as we continue to evolve over the course of our development.

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