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Tyrant

The Crowfall Budget Question

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Yesterday, I announced that we had unlocked another stretch goal, one that will let us better serve our European players. We've added a new stretch goal today that will follow the current additional graphics programmer stretch goal, localization of Crowfall in six additional languages. While this new stretch goal doesn't affect the majority of our audience, expanding our overseas audience helps the entire game in multiple ways. More on this below.

 

Talking about money brought something else to mind that I’d like to discuss. We've gotten this question several times about our project budget over the last few months (and we've answered it both on the forums and interviews, but never in a major update). So, let's have some straight talk about project financing.

 

Specifically, let's answer the core questions: How can you make Crowfall for less than $10m, and where is that money coming from?

 

After the Kickstarter and several achieved stretch goals (thank you backers!), our “core module” expanded what in essence is the “core game”! Our vision is bigger than the core game though, and we’ll continue to develop the game beyond the launch of the core game. But the budget we are talking about here is for that core game: the core module + the stretch goals we achieved during Kickstarter.  

 

Here are some of the reasons why Crowfall is going to be much more inexpensive to build:

 

1. We aren't making a Player versus Environment game. PvE games need hundreds of hours of handcrafted content. In our prior experience, it’s not unusual for PvE content costs to drive 70%+ of the overall cost (and time it takes to build) of an MMO project. As crazy as it sounds, it may take three to five people working for half a year to make a single zone -- which offers the players only a few hours of gameplay before they move on.

 

2. We’re using procedural generation to randomize our worlds out of pre-build pieces. Custom building a world means a TON of handcrafted content, and it takes both time and a lot of people to do this well. Building a world procedurally means that you create a library of assets, and then construct many, many worlds out of those pieces. Effectively, you're building a machine that produces worlds instead of building each world by hand.

 

3. Our archetypes approach means that we don't have to create a combinatory set of art. If you have 10 races and 10 classes, and each one can be combined, and you want to create 10 custom looks for each, that's (10x10x10=1000) custom characters that you have to make. The ongoing cost is even worse because it's effectively exponential -- every time you add a new race or class, the problem gets exponentially worse. With handcrafted archetypes, we've kept that cost linear  -- which also means that we can still have a high degree of customization for each archetype, and we can spend MORE time making each one look unique (and fantastic!) We can still achieve customization for each archetype. We can't stress enough how important this was to keeping our costs in check. Other MMOs spend TENS of millions of dollars on combinatory avatar systems.  

 

4. We acquired a backend MMO technology stack when we formed the company. One of our first employees (who previously worked on titles like ShadowbanePirates of the Burning Seas and Wizard101) had spent four years as an independent developer, building his own proprietary MMO backend technology base. We acquired a license to that technology (and hired him!) right at the beginning of our company. This alone cut our time to market by over a year and reduced our costs substantially.

 

5. We’re using a commercial engine (Unity 5) for our client, along with additional technologies like PhysX and Voxel Farm, which we are modifying and extending for our needs. This means we get the content pipelines built into Unity 5 as part of the package, and we get to focus our efforts on multiplayer, responsiveness and improving the visuals fidelity and performance.

 

6. We’re outsourcing some of our production work. We’re keeping our core team relatively small, filling with contractors as needed. We hate the idea of overstaffing and having to lay people off when the bulk of the content is done, so instead we will be working with a few quality outsourcing companies (like OMNOM workshop) to help us with much of our content work.  This isn't really about cost savings so much as it is a strategy for expanding our team's capacity when we need to do a lot of work in a short period of time.  Both Todd and I have lots of experience in utilizing outsourcing and know how to select and work with the best of the best.

 

Typically even a small MMO is going to take over $10 million to build (and probably closer to $20 million).  If the fully-loaded cost of an employee (once you add in the cost of office space, insurance, taxes, etc.) averages about $100k/year, which means a $10m project will buy you 100 man-years of work!  We’re doing a much smaller than normal MMO by choosing to be PvP-focused, doing algorithmic world generation, tight (but effective!) constraints on character customization and heavily reliance on off-the-shelf technologies. Our cost for the core game will be in the $6 million range. The full vision we are working toward will cost more, of course, as launch is never the "end game" when you make an MMO. It's only the beginning. Once we're up and running, and the game is generating revenue, we'll continue to expand it and grow it as long as our customers will support us!

 

Now where is the money coming from to make this game?

 

We've been clear that crowdfunding is only one piece of the funding puzzle, albeit the most important one! 

 

Our first source of funds was early investment.  We started with the founder's money, then did a minority equity sale to raise a total of $2.35 million. We used this money to start the company and to kick off pre-production on Crowfall. This is how we financed all of our efforts leading into the Kickstarter: the website, the forums, the videos and (of course!) the game. Many of you noticed that the Crowfall Kickstarter had a LOT more content and details than other similar Kickstarter campaigns. That's because we raised money and started working on the project more than a year before we presented it to you!

 

The second source of funds is crowdfunding, which started with our Kickstarter campaign. As you know, we raised almost $1.8 million dollars from that campaign, which is huge!  But it doesn't stop there. We will continue to crowdfund post-Kickstarter, as we think this funding is the purest we can get -- not only does it help make the game better, but it grows the community at the same time. We've already collected over $50,000 on our site since the Kickstarter ended. We don’t know how many more people will back us between now and the core game launch, or how much in total we’ll raise, but crowdfunding pledges make a big difference and we’ll spend every bit of it to make Crowfall as good as it can be!

 

Our third source of funding is licensing foreign rights. Distributing and supporting an MMO outside of your home market is both time-consuming and capital-intensive, far beyond the means of a company like ACE at this point. Based on the early data, we believe the game could also be very popular outside of English-speaking territories. Our business model works fine for the Western markets, and we've committed to having European servers for launch (either we’ll do it ourselves or do it with a partner).  Our design and business model may have to be modified to work outside of Western markets, which makes distribution more challenging for those markets. Typically, we can ask our partners to pay licensing fees for the overseas rights to our games, which means that we have another source of money that we can apply towards development. To this end, we are in active discussions with multiple parties already.  

 

As a fourth option, we can always bring in additional investment money (i.e. sell more equity). After our Kickstarter ended, we were approached by a number of people (ALL of them backers!) interested in investing in ArtCraft. We are currently considering taking a small investment from a few accredited investors (we call them player/angels!)  We like the idea of having backers as investors, as they are "pre-filtered" to believe in the Crowfall vision and won't want to change the design or the business model. We don't feel that we HAVE to raise this money, but we do feel like we could put it to good use to both reduce our risk and make the game better -- if we can find individuals who are a good fit. It would also put us in the best negotiating position for the overseas rights, meaning we can wait for the right partners and deals.  

 

So there you have it, our plans for building Crowfall and our plans for funding it, all out in the open and in one place!

 

We’re happy to entertain constructive discussion and questions in this thread, but please understand that we can’t go into details on our business development efforts without potentially harming those efforts.  Happy to engage, as long you guys realize that some questions might be answered with, "I'm afraid we can't talk about that!"  As always though, when we have anything that can be made known to our backers you’ll be the first to know!

 

Thanks again for your support! 
Gordon Walton

Executive Producer 

ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc


Gordon Walton, ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc.  [Rules of Conduct]

Follow us on Twitter @CrowfallGame | Like us on Facebook

 

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Honestly, as someone who works in an industry that cares about this stuff, you have done a good job outlining your business plan to your potenial investors and/or supporters. Thank you for the open communication about this, it does provide confidence in your product and vision, as well as show why you have made the decisions you have.

 

Now you just need to convince more folks. Don't worry though... we will try and help with that!

Edited by Adall

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Fingers crossed we can compare this to Rocky a decade from now. $1mil budget to $200+ mil revenue.

Basically the same underdog story, except major publishers are Apollo.


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I've always liked the way they've went about doing everything from the ground up. I imagine Gordon and J Todd had a very long lunch for that first discussion about ACE/Crowfall.

 

Here's a question: will you guys provide early access as a source of pre-launch funding? You guys have kept your eye on every facet of successful crowdfunding. I know some people are wary of Early Access games but players seem to eat that up just as much as they do kickstarter. And this is a proven development team that's going to be farther ahead in a year than most Early Access games will by the time they offer Early Access. Granted, you don't want to put Early Access players in front of the line as Beta 2 backers, but just curious.

 

It's an additional revenue stream. More cash benefits the game in the long run.

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I think another point you guy left out was one I touched on with Todd on Twitter a week or so ago. The idea of using scalable server architecture with Amazon Web Services (or similar providers) is another exciting cost saving point.

 

One of the common pitfalls of an MMO launch is the early hype. It happened in Warhammer Online, for an easy example, when they launched 50 servers (all physical machines at the time mind you). Due to some mismanagement on this side, what was left two months later were basically 50 virtual ghost towns. The populations had gone down to an unsustainable size. What this also meant for the Warhammer team was that they had buy or lease these machines, install server technology on them, pay staff to manage them, etc.

 

Crowfall will be utilizing what amounts to a virtual server, and can spin these up at will without requiring themselves to be tied down to server leases or purchases. One merely pays for a specific configuration of resources, and it shows up a few minutes later. With this technology they could probably scale a server down during off-hours and larger during major wars and events to accommodate a larger active online player base. Each time they save vast amounts of cash doing so.

 

I'm curious, really, what the limits of the server might be depending on how impressive the scalable aspect of the Crowfall code might be. If one could simply spin up more virtual servers to help power Campaign X, couldn't you in theory go crazy and support an insane amount of people (5000? 10000?). I suppose the client-side would be the limiting factor at that point, as you don't want to overwhelm some of the lesser client computers with too much visual processing needs.

 

I'm excited for this modern technology to be implemented in an MMO because I think it might help solve so many of the common problems that occur with an MMOs hyped launch and the inevitable fall off that occurs a month or so after.

Edited by scree

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That`s why i like this game each day more, nothing is hidden, they are playing safe with us  :)  I admire and enjoy that very much!  ^_^ 

I been reading some other Crowdfunded games forums (big ones) and there not a single one near this community and staff transparency!

 

 

Congratulations on this great job very well done!  :D

 

  :D  :D 

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Great, and thanks for the update. I hope we reach that 'new' stretch goal with day/night cycles, weather & lightning effects soon as possible.

And additional cost with PvE based on voice acting, professional writers, and it's pointless after you've run through the level mill and people move on

to the next 'new' thing.

However, it would be great to have some decent/interesting challenge by the AI and monsters, but I know it's just an entertaining distraction

for possible large scale PvP events. ^_^  

Edited by mythx

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Crowfall Game Client: https://www.crowfall.com/en/client/

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So right now, the game is floating around the 4mil out of 6mil mark. I think 2 million is definitely achievable in the next couple of years. Once the game goes into beta, you'll get an influx of new buyers and even more after release.

 

I definitely think licensing to other regions is the smart thing to do. If you get a following in China or Korea, you're set.

 

What's the word on region locking though? Will European players be locked to European servers unless they have a US key? I know there's a lot of legal differences between regions.

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I think another point you guy left out was one I touched on with Todd on Twitter a week or so ago. The idea of using scalable server architecture with Amazon Web Services (or similar providers) is another exciting cost saving point.

 

One of the common pitfalls of an MMO launch is the early hype. It happened in Warhammer Online, for an easy example, when they launched 50 servers (all physical machines at the time mind you). Due to some mismanagement on this side, what was left two months later were basically 50 virtual ghost towns. The populations had gone down to an unsustainable size. What this also meant for the Warhammer team was that they had buy or lease these machines, install server technology on them, pay staff to manage them, etc.

 

Crowfall will be utilizing what amounts to a virtual server, and can spin these up at will without requiring themselves to be tied down to server leases or purchases. One merely pays for a specific configuration of resources, and it shows up a few minutes later. With this technology they could probably scale a server down during off-hours and larger during major wars and events to accommodate a larger active online player base. Each time they save vast amounts of cash doing so.

 

I'm curious, really, what the limits of the server might be depending on how impressive the scalable aspect of the Crowfall code might be. If one could simply spin up more virtual servers to help power Campaign X, couldn't you in theory go crazy and support an insane amount of people (5000? 10000?). I suppose the client-side would be the limiting factor at that point, as you don't want to overwhelm some of the lesser client computers with too much visual processing needs.

 

I'm excited for this modern technology to be implemented in an MMO because I think it might help solve so many of the common problems that occur with an MMOs hyped launch and the inevitable fall off that occurs a month or so after.

 

Yes, we already run in the cloud on leased server instances.  We should have included that info for sure!


Gordon Walton, ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc.  [Rules of Conduct]

Follow us on Twitter @CrowfallGame | Like us on Facebook

 

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Thanks for the update! I am thinking the new store will surprise us all with funding for the game. I am looking forward to seeing the new stretch goals!

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So right now, the game is floating around the 4mil out of 6mil mark. I think 2 million is definitely achievable in the next couple of years. Once the game goes into beta, you'll get an influx of new buyers and even more after release.

 

I definitely think licensing to other regions is the smart thing to do. If you get a following in China or Korea, you're set.

 

What's the word on region locking though? Will European players be locked to European servers unless they have a US key? I know there's a lot of legal differences between regions.

 

We've already committed to cross-region play.  Historically only ~10% of most MMOs (that allow it) end up playing across the pond with each other though.  We just don't want to separate those that do want to play between North America and Europe.  We also committed that all early backers will always have access to our ArtCraft Crowfall service.


Gordon Walton, ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc.  [Rules of Conduct]

Follow us on Twitter @CrowfallGame | Like us on Facebook

 

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Yesterday, I announced that we had unlocked another stretch goal, one that will let us better serve our European players. We've added a new stretch goal today that will follow the current additional graphics programmer stretch goal, localization of Crowfall in six additional languages. While this new stretch goal doesn't affect the majority of our audience, expanding our overseas audience helps the entire game in multiple ways. More on this below.

 

Talking about money brought something else to mind that I’d like to discuss. We've gotten this question several times about our project budget over the last few months (and we've answered it both on the forums and interviews, but never in a major update). So, let's have some straight talk about project financing.

 

Specifically, let's answer the core questions: How can you make Crowfall for less than $10m, and where is that money coming from?

 

After the Kickstarter and several achieved stretch goals (thank you backers!), our “core module” expanded what in essence is the “core game”! Our vision is bigger than the core game though, and we’ll continue to develop the game beyond the launch of the core game. But the budget we are talking about here is for that core game: the core module + the stretch goals we achieved during Kickstarter.  

 

Here are some of the reasons why Crowfall is going to be much more inexpensive to build:

 

1. We aren't making a Player versus Environment game. PvE games need hundreds of hours of handcrafted content. In our prior experience, it’s not unusual for PvE content costs to drive 70%+ of the overall cost (and time it takes to build) of an MMO project. As crazy as it sounds, it may take three to five people working for half a year to make a single zone -- which offers the players only a few hours of gameplay before they move on.

 

2. We’re using procedural generation to randomize our worlds out of pre-build pieces. Custom building a world means a TON of handcrafted content, and it takes both time and a lot of people to do this well. Building a world procedurally means that you create a library of assets, and then construct many, many worlds out of those pieces. Effectively, you're building a machine that produces worlds instead of building each world by hand.

 

3. Our archetypes approach means that we don't have to create a combinatory set of art. If you have 10 races and 10 classes, and each one can be combined, and you want to create 10 custom looks for each, that's (10x10x10=1000) custom characters that you have to make. The ongoing cost is even worse because it's effectively exponential -- every time you add a new race or class, the problem gets exponentially worse. With handcrafted archetypes, we've kept that cost linear  -- which also means that we can still have a high degree of customization for each archetype, and we can spend MORE time making each one look unique (and fantastic!) We can still achieve customization for each archetype. We can't stress enough how important this was to keeping our costs in check. Other MMOs spend TENS of millions of dollars on combinatory avatar systems.  

 

4. We acquired a backend MMO technology stack when we formed the company. One of our first employees (who previously worked on titles like ShadowbanePirates of the Burning Seas and Wizard101) had spent four years as an independent developer, building his own proprietary MMO backend technology base. We acquired a license to that technology (and hired him!) right at the beginning of our company. This alone cut our time to market by over a year and reduced our costs substantially.

 

5. We’re using a commercial engine (Unity 5) for our client, along with additional technologies like PhysX and Voxel Farm, which we are modifying and extending for our needs. This means we get the content pipelines built into Unity 5 as part of the package, and we get to focus our efforts on multiplayer, responsiveness and improving the visuals fidelity and performance.

 

6. We’re outsourcing some of our production work. We’re keeping our core team relatively small, filling with contractors as needed. We hate the idea of overstaffing and having to lay people off when the bulk of the content is done, so instead we will be working with a few quality outsourcing companies (like OMNOM workshop) to help us with much of our content work.  This isn't really about cost savings so much as it is a strategy for expanding our team's capacity when we need to do a lot of work in a short period of time.  Both Todd and I have lots of experience in utilizing outsourcing and know how to select and work with the best of the best.

 

Typically even a small MMO is going to take over $10 million to build (and probably closer to $20 million).  If the fully-loaded cost of an employee (once you add in the cost of office space, insurance, taxes, etc.) averages about $100k/year, which means a $10m project will buy you 100 man-years of work!  We’re doing a much smaller than normal MMO by choosing to be PvP-focused, doing algorithmic world generation, tight (but effective!) constraints on character customization and heavily reliance on off-the-shelf technologies. Our cost for the core game will be in the $6 million range. The full vision we are working toward will cost more, of course, as launch is never the "end game" when you make an MMO. It's only the beginning. Once we're up and running, and the game is generating revenue, we'll continue to expand it and grow it as long as our customers will support us!

 

Now where is the money coming from to make this game?

 

We've been clear that crowdfunding is only one piece of the funding puzzle, albeit the most important one! 

 

Our first source of funds was early investment.  We started with the founder's money, then did a minority equity sale to raise a total of $2.35 million. We used this money to start the company and to kick off pre-production on Crowfall. This is how we financed all of our efforts leading into the Kickstarter: the website, the forums, the videos and (of course!) the game. Many of you noticed that the Crowfall Kickstarter had a LOT more content and details than other similar Kickstarter campaigns. That's because we raised money and started working on the project more than a year before we presented it to you!

 

The second source of funds is crowdfunding, which started with our Kickstarter campaign. As you know, we raised almost $1.8 million dollars from that campaign, which is huge!  But it doesn't stop there. We will continue to crowdfund post-Kickstarter, as we think this funding is the purest we can get -- not only does it help make the game better, but it grows the community at the same time. We've already collected over $50,000 on our site since the Kickstarter ended. We don’t know how many more people will back us between now and the core game launch, or how much in total we’ll raise, but crowdfunding pledges make a big difference and we’ll spend every bit of it to make Crowfall as good as it can be!

 

Our third source of funding is licensing foreign rights. Distributing and supporting an MMO outside of your home market is both time-consuming and capital-intensive, far beyond the means of a company like ACE at this point. Based on the early data, we believe the game could also be very popular outside of English-speaking territories. Our business model works fine for the Western markets, and we've committed to having European servers for launch (either we’ll do it ourselves or do it with a partner).  Our design and business model may have to be modified to work outside of Western markets, which makes distribution more challenging for those markets. Typically, we can ask our partners to pay licensing fees for the overseas rights to our games, which means that we have another source of money that we can apply towards development. To this end, we are in active discussions with multiple parties already.  

 

As a fourth option, we can always bring in additional investment money (i.e. sell more equity). After our Kickstarter ended, we were approached by a number of people (ALL of them backers!) interested in investing in ArtCraft. We are currently considering taking a small investment from a few accredited investors (we call them player/angels!)  We like the idea of having backers as investors, as they are "pre-filtered" to believe in the Crowfall vision and won't want to change the design or the business model. We don't feel that we HAVE to raise this money, but we do feel like we could put it to good use to both reduce our risk and make the game better -- if we can find individuals who are a good fit. It would also put us in the best negotiating position for the overseas rights, meaning we can wait for the right partners and deals.  

 

So there you have it, our plans for building Crowfall and our plans for funding it, all out in the open and in one place!

 

We’re happy to entertain constructive discussion and questions in this thread, but please understand that we can’t go into details on our business development efforts without potentially harming those efforts.  Happy to engage, as long you guys realize that some questions might be answered with, "I'm afraid we can't talk about that!"  As always though, when we have anything that can be made known to our backers you’ll be the first to know!

 

Thanks again for your support! 

Gordon Walton

Executive Producer 

ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc

 

Question off the top of my head:

 

Will early-access players be under NDA? Or are you going to allow streaming and content sharing to promote your product that early in development? I recall Trion managing to develop quite a bit of hype and backer revenue due to streamer exposure early in ArcheAge's translation cycle.

Edited by Makeshyft

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Question off the top of my head:

 

Will early-access players be under NDA? Or are you going to allow streaming and content sharing to promote your product that early in development? I recall Trion managing to develop quite a bit of hype and backer revenue due to streamer exposure early in ArcheAge's translation cycle.

There is no NDA in early-access. They want you to stream away.  :)

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