Kinks in the Communication
“We've been very transparent from the beginning that $900k was all we needed from Kickstarter to get the game done, not that it's all we'd needed.”
I decided to go back to the beginning (of the CoE Kickstarter) to see if that was communicated. I carried 2 additional questions with me. Was Soulbound Studios aware they would need more funding beyond the Kickstarter? Did they communicate that? As a writer in the industry, a MMORPG fan and most importantly a Chronicles of Elyria backer what I found was, well, confusing.
“So, back in May we launched a Kickstarter to raise $900,000. That money continues to be used as our seed funding for the development of Chronicles of Elyria. For those unfamiliar with a seed round, that's when you raise enough money to put together a prototype for further investment rounds, such as a Series A.”
“That being said, the $900,000 we raised during Kickstarter isn't enough to finish Chronicles of Elyria. The reality is that Soulbound Studios is going to require another $2 Million more than that to get anywhere near completion. And with server hosting fees, QA work, etc., it would really be better if that was up around $3M instead.”
Those 3 quotes were from Chronicles of Elyria Update #44. If you are thinking “Prototype, I backed a game didn’t I?” you are not alone. If you are thinking “Yeah, as planned” you are also not alone. Let’s discuss but first a few more quotes, this from the Kickstarter start announcement.
“In the end, the approach we took was to solicit feedback from the community to cull the game down to its most basic form, what people considered to be the minimally viable game. We estimated the cost of development based on that and used that as our funding goal. We then took everything else and set them as stretch goals.
In this way, we're able to release what we and the community feel is a complete game, but also gives backers the opportunity to communicate with their support which features they want to see at launch. All that said, we'll be setting a funding goal of $900k, with a slew of cool and important stretch goals.”
Lastly this is from the May 13th Kickstarter update: “From the list of remaining features we calculated the engineering costs and art costs and came up with the $900k. It had been our plan all along to take any money we raised above and beyond our funding goal and use it toward helping us get those features back in for launch…”
Are those old Kickstarter quotes inferring 900k is for a complete game? If 900k was never enough how could there have ever been above and beyond? On top of that why is Soulbound using the store funds from now until November to fund stretch goals? If 900k isn’t enough to complete the base game wouldn’t it make more sense to use all additional funds to get the gap money amount lowered for that base game so you have to ask less of another investor? Soulbound was surprised backers were confused but in reviewing past statements I can see why they are.
Some of those backers now feel misled. They thought 900K meant as long as Soulbound kept on budget Elyria would be born. They aren’t happy with having to take an additional risk in finding an investor. That takes us back the Kickstarter being a step in the funding process, not the only step. The funding plan in question was basically friends and family investors first followed by the Kickstarter followed by the pursuit of angel/larger investors that would likely see the successful Kickstarter as a proven market test. We have seen other Kickstarted games employ this same strategy but they clearly communicated it and their backers went in knowing if they were funding a prototype etc.
Soulbound mentioned it in a few Kickstarter reply comments, a Reddit QnA and on the Chronicles of Elyria website. Unfortunately, if you didn’t go beyond the main Kickstarter content you were oblivious. Was it Soulbound’s responsibility to have that information focused on the Kickstarter page or was it the consumer’s responsibility to search beyond in order to make sure what they thought they were funding and what there were funding were the same thing?
From Soulbound’s point of view (and that of backers that read beyond the Kickstarter) the risk did not change because they always knew they had to raise more funds. And realistically, isn’t Kickstarter by its own nature a risk? Is another risk on top of that first one too much? I’d guess the majority of backers will say no.
If backers knew they were funding a prototype and not a full game would Soulbound have been able to reach their funding goal? Looking at how far beyond their goal the Kickstarter went and the other games that clearly communicated their fundraising steps again, I’d say yes.
So where does that leave us? It’s hard to fault backers for being confused when updates like the above were coming out during the Kickstarter campaign. My conclusion is Soulbound needs to take a long look at how they inform their backers. I don’t think this was some kind of diabolical plan. I think it’s the latest of what has been a series of communication failings. Communication has always been Soulbound’s Achilles’ heel and it just tripped up them again.
As for my questions, was Soulbound Studios aware they would need more funding beyond the Kickstarter? Yes, they said so in multiple places before or during the campaign. Did they communicate that? Yes, good off Kickstarter and terribly on Kickstarter. Lastly have they been very transparent from the beginning that $900k was all they needed from Kickstarter to get the game done, not that it's all they needed? Well, I suppose that depends on where you looked... or didn’t.