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The Crowfall School of Business

Red Thomas Posted:
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Gordon Walton knows the business of making games.  The industry is full of creative people who make really cool games, but there aren’t nearly as many that understand the business side of what they’re doing well enough to make that success as consistent as Gordon Walton has managed.  Unlike many of the other business-types that run game projects, Walton has done his tours as a developer, as well.  That tends to give him a depth of understanding that I suspect many in his role lack.

The pace of business development at ArtCraft demonstrates a solid understanding of what it’ll take to reach their development goals, and more importantly to you readers, they are showing above par concern for you in how they’re going about it.  It’s still early to be waving any victory flags, but I think there are some very good choices being made with Crowfall, and other studios would do well to pay attention.

But why should fans care?  You guys should be concerned if for no other reason than just keeping the project financially healthy means a more solid product.  What the folks at ArtCraft have done to this point also gives great indicators of what you should expect moving forward.  Frankly, it’s also very telling when it comes to how they think about you, and part of a pattern of putting backers in a position of priority when it comes to decision-making.

Staying Healthy

We’re barely past the Kickstarter campaign and the team has announced they’ve solicited investments.  I’ve heard a few concerned voices, but I really don’t believe this to be a problem.  In fact, I find it a really good sign because it means someone on the team is paying close attention to the numbers.  Which isn’t to say they were running short, but rather that with additional funding, they can get a lot more done and much more quickly.  Gordon’s recent post on the Crowfall website hit on that point without calling much specific attention to it, but that’s precisely what’s happening.

Crowfall is a great idea that a large number of folks want to see done badly enough that they donated a sizable chunk of cash to kick it off during the crowdfunding campaign.  Selling the idea, as good as it is, isn’t where the real money for this game is going to come from, though.  The real revenue will start once players can get in and start spending cash on usable items via the cash shop.  These guys are smart enough to recognize that, and so they want to get the game out and playable as soon as possible.

“Our operating philosophy is that earlier backers must get better deals and this is just a natural extension of that.” - Gordon Walton

All the funding up to this point has mostly been seed money to get the project into full swing, and it’s done well at demonstrating a strong desire for something like Crowfall in the marketplace.  That makes it a much more stable investment opportunity for venture capitalists, and thus allows the team at ArtCraft to be much more selective in who they allow to participate in the venture.  That’s a great place to be from a business standpoint, and that’s what games are, businesses.

We players tend to lose sight of the fact that companies need to be successful and make money in order to continue doing what they do.  You look at blockbuster games and sometimes those number look too insane to really be fair, but you have to realize that it’s the success of games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, PlanetSide, and Ultima Online that’s allowing the guys on this team to step as far outside the box and try something cool and a little divergent from the main stream.  Plus, it’s keeping the company healthy that allows them to keep the game up and add more to it over time.

Open to Backers

It’s not just their financial decisions that’s keeping Crowfall healthy, though.  They’re also keeping the lines of communication wide open with backers.  The team didn’t have to tell us about their opening options up to venture capitalists, but they did.  Gordon Walton has been completely frank from the start of this project about where they thought their funding would likely be found, and about the fact that the crowdfunding was likely to be just a fraction of what they’d need in total to realize their vision.

There aren’t many projects that would let even Alpha testers play grey-boxed maps.

Unlike other projects, the folks on this one have been very specific from the start about what their options and preferences would be with respect to financing their idea.  I think that promotes a much more solid foundation for the game to grow on, because backers can feel more comfortable and unlikely to find surprises as things progress.  Additionally, it suggests we’re dealing with a group of folks who are very methodical and calculating with how they spend the money they’ve raised.  Considering the money we give them is effectively a donation, that’s precisely what I want to see in projects that I’m backing.

Few games, even crowdfunded ones, are really all that open with their fans about where money for the game really comes from, and very few can afford to do much on just what they raise from the crowd.  I’ve seen plenty of campaigns that don’t really ask for anything near what it would cost to do what they promise, leaving some sort of investment or selling of intellectual property to make up the obvious delta.  The openness we’ve seen to this point with Crowfall would seem to suggest we can expect much more transparency in other areas, as well.  After all, if they’ll let us in on the financial conversation, everything else is pretty small in comparison.

Backers First

Yeah, I know this seems pretty dry, but it’s incredibly important if we’re to understand what we can expect moving forward.  Plus, it says a lot about what you can expect as you become involved with the project and the game starts taking shape.  If nothing else, it’s further indication that the guys at ArtCraft are putting backers first in nearly everything they do.  That customer-centric attitude is one of the main reasons I enjoy writing about Crowfall when I think about it.

With only three archetypes in the early combat testing, I’m really glad the Roman-inspired Centaurs are among them.

I expect some people would tend to whip out the new policy on limiting the ability of non-backers to engage on the forums as an example of anti-consumerism.  Well, they’re not exactly backers, and conversely, I see this being a very pro-backer move on the team’s part.  Sure, leaving the forums more open could potentially attract a few more customers, and it’s possible it might lead to a little more cash in the short term.  The problem is that a fair number of people with no skin in the game, to borrow a phrase, have been trolling the forums and engaging in generally obnoxious behavior.

Rather than ignore it as many companies would do, ArtCraft wanted to demonstrate their commitment to their backers by creating a more constructive atmosphere of mutual collaboration.  They give new signups thirty days of forum access before cutting them off, and then you regain access for a $5 pittance, so it’s hardly a draconian measure.  Trolls are inherently lazy, though.  Thus, it’s a move that should really make a solidly good difference for the forums from now on.

It’s also not just this really small gesture that demonstrates their loyalty to those who’ve chosen to contribute to the project, though.  You see it in the way they engage with the community and how they express information when they release it.  The comfort in their tone of voice and how they explain details like why they’re limiting the initial combat testing to just three archetypes.

When you’re trying to pump people for money, you make something that’s a potential negative like that sound exciting, and like it’s an awesome choice for everyone.  The wording you get from these guys in conversations about that sort of thing is different, though.  It’s a rational explanation of the decision and how the community can best help with what they’re trying to accomplish in the move.  No salesmanship.  No half-talk.  Just the facts delivered in a tone that demonstrates their attitude towards their community better than any article I could write.

That’s precisely why Gordon Walton’s posts about the business of making the game, while pretty boring to most folks, is actually really worth taking note of.  It’s a definitive example of how the team building Crowfall considers their backers a connected part of the project, and not just another source of early revenue.  If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you’ll read Gordon’s posts in a slightly different light and possibly appreciate the team’s business acumen as much as their creativity.  It takes both to make a really awesome game, after all.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.