LavaWIP.pngKitfox Games is working on their second game, Moon Hunters. Their first game, Shattered Planet, was a roguelike that got both a free to play mobile version and a premium PC version, but Moon Hunters is a totally different cup of tea. It's to be a 1-4 player RPG with a procedurally generated world and a focus on the player building a mythology around their hero. It was also one of the first games to go through the SquareEnix Collective platform, which is designed to allow developers to test out a prospective crowdfunding campaign before going forward with the real deal. Tanya Short of Kitfox Games has answered some questions for us about their experience with SquareEnix Collective and the following Kickstarter, which was successfully funded at $178,986 CAD (over three times its goal of $45,000 CAD).

When did you run your Square Enix Collective (SEC) and Kickstarter campaigns and how long did they last?

We started our Collective feedback phase in the very first batch, so January 2014. Our Kickstarter came seven months later in August 2014! Both lasted a month.

How did you find out about SEC? Why did you choose to use it?

I saw the Collective announcement on Gamasutra initially. It wasn't clear what it would be, or how it would go, but we were in the middle of Shattered Planet at the time and I knew we would want a bit of momentum going into our second project. So I figured - what could it hurt? The initial announcement didn't say they were looking for pitches or anything, but I knew they had to show something. So I sent Phil Elliott, the guy running it, an email asking if I could submit my game idea for consideration, and he said I could! So then we had to come up with a game idea!

How did the SEC campaign go?

It went really well! We had a high approval rating, and tons of interesting comments. We were able to see that people really liked the pixel-and-watercolor style mixed together, and that ancient Mesopotamian myth struck a chord with a lot of people. So we tried to explore that even more, as we continued developing the Moon Hunters idea. We also found a few points in the game description that clearly either confused people or gave them the wrong impression, so we were able to identify those and make them more informative, accurate, and interesting.

If the SEC campaign had gone differently, how might it have affected your plans for crowdfunding?

Well, it's always best to find out as soon as possible whether your game is going to have excited players or not when it launches. If not, then you have to adjust the idea or how you're talking about it or both. In our case, we definitely adjusted our expectations based on fan reactions - if the campaign had been unpopular, or certain key elements of our idea (mythology, co-op, etc) had just not received any enthusiasm, we would have had to wonder if we were going down the right road. I think we still would have crowdfunded, but we would always try to make a version of Moon Hunters that we felt both we and an audience could love.

worldmap.pngWhat differences and similarities are there between running an SEC campaign and an actual crowdfunding campaign?

Oh, the Collective campaign is much less like a campaign and more like a 'put it up and see what happens'. You respond to questions but updates don't get you much return, so it's mostly about listening, thinking, and really trying to understand what your potential fans are saying. Crowdfunding is a high-maintenance beast with clear goals, success, and failure. Whenever money gets involved, of course, everyone's stress levels go up - suddenly clear value is being discussed and your literal worth is being evaluated. And I don't think we've had any lingering maintenance costs in terms of the Collective - nobody expected us to keep updating that page. Nobody was that emotionally invested. Whereas we feel it's our responsibility to update our Kickstarter backers at least once a month, with substantial news and proof of Moon Hunters' progress.

How much do you think your SEC campaign affected the Kickstarter campaign and in what ways?

I think Moon Hunters was a really great fit for the Square Enix fanbase, the most vocal indie-loving minority of which would volunteer to help vote in the Collective. So I think we had a much better launch day than we could have otherwise, because we reached an additional million or so people who have a deep, abiding love of pixel-art action RPGs. Some people dismiss it as simple nostalgia, but I think it's more complex than that. Some parts of Secret of Mana don't hold up perfectly these 20 years later, but it is a truly remarkable work of art, as a joyful, co-operative mystical journey, and I hope Moon Hunters captures that spirit, which is timeless.

wolfgang.pngSquare Enix says that they will offer additional support if a game pitch performs well on SEC. Did you receive that support, and if so what kind of support did they offer?

Yes! Phil Elliott had our back, and continues to do so, even though he doesn't owe us anything. In exchange for giving back a percentage of our Kickstarter earnings, SEC sent an email announcing the campaign to all of their fans, as well as tweeting and Facebook-posting about it, more than once. It's impossible to measure exactly how much impact it had, but we had at least three backers explicitly tell us that that's where they heard about it, so presumably a large number more also found us that way. Every now and then we still get a kind re-tweet or press release mention, as a Collective alumnus project. Every little bit helps!

Is Square Enix transparent about the qualifications for receiving extra support during crowdfunding?

Yes and no. I'm not sure what the threshold is -- but I think it's a combination of factors. Square Enix evaluates not just the approval rating but also the comments, the pitch itself, and the team, to decide whether or not they feel confident in the project proposal. SEC isn't about profits and money at all, really, it's more about reaching out to find and help out smaller teams while also building the Square Enix indie identity, so it makes sense that they don't just leap into whatever crowdfunding that invites them. They don't want to risk putting their brand on someone who will disappoint their fans, after all.

camping3.pngTo whom would you recommend SEC? Who might not want to use it?

I really don't see any reason to not use at least the first part of SEC, the feedback round. Everyone wants to grow their community, right? And it's another chance for exposure. It's not a huge expenditure of resources to make a pitch page, and you don't have anything to lose besides a bit of pride. Maybe if your project is distinctly not in the Square Enix fan demographic at all, like you're making a match-3 mobile game or something, then... well, even then, Puzzle & Dragons proves me wrong, so who knows really.

I guess the only real reason I can think of is if your game's success or press coverage schedule depends on certain elements of mystery. Like, for some reason, you really need to keep key features secret until a few months before launch or something. But that's a super-dangerous strategy for an unknown indie team, so I hope you don't do that. Just go for it. Be brave. If your project is unpopular there and you decide it's because of an audience mismatch, then you still didn't lose anything.

What should a developer be prepared for if they decide to use SEC?

Oh, all the usual stuff that happens when you announce a game and someone actually notices. People will misunderstand, which will cause them to ask weird questions or say completely wrong things on your behalf. Read up on how to manage communities - how to warmly invite people to interact with you, how to deal with insults and in-fighting, the best way to elicit fan-art, etc. But most of all, be confident in why you love your game concept - remember that you should always be its number one fan, and it's about sharing that love with others.