Monochroma Reviews and Game Update for June 12

One week before the Steam release of the game, we were packing the collector’s editions, sending review copies to the press and we were excited waiting for the wonderful reviews we were going to get as it we received great comments on each preview, showcase and exhibitions we brought the game with us.

In a few days all our dreams collapsed and we have been devastated after the first bunch of reviews coming. We witnessed hours of silence in the studio, smashing the refresh button of google searchs to find some good reviews appreciating the game. Well, at least, there were some good ones but not that much.

After some quick rounds of anger, denial and depression we came to the acceptance state and we noted down each problem spotted in the reviews. Surprisingly all of the bad reviews had one common idea: Bad, clunky, unresponsive,frustrating controls. How could that be? Our most talented programmers spent years to perfectionize the controls and the transition of the animation states. The reviewers should be out of their minds to say something bad about the controls. We thought we had the best controls (air control, adjustable jumps, IK, very close simulation to real world physics) of all platformer games.

We are a self-funded indie studio and we had to release the game without any quality assurance except our own efforts. It was a mistake but we were financially forced to it after 31 months of development. While our features for the controls were good, they weren’t tested enough.

Later on, we e-mailed to most of them asking specific questions about the control problems. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it turned out that it was all our fault.

Gamepad problems:

Our testers played it with a keyboard but it turned out that the character can’t get hold to inclined surfaces with a gamepad and the response time is a bit lower than the keyboard. (i.e it continues to run even if stop pressing forward for half a second)

Solution:

First we removed the gamepad support and with the new update, we’re re-enabling it free of problems.

Performance problems:

We didn’t have time to optimize the game well enough. But it’s a real problem when FPS drops to 15-20 even on a powerful machine. Eventually it causes to low response rates as in most games and leading to death.

Solution:

We optimized each problematic scene by closing nearby sectors, turning dynamic lights to baked lights and clearing off a few little bugs bothering the game-engine. Right now the game is playable on max settings with the recommended system settings and it’s playable with lower resolutions for less powerful machines.

Sliding jumps:

Monochroma has adjustable jumps (aka if the player keeps pressing jump key the character jumps higher) and air control (if the player keeps pressing forward the character jumps further) but as it turned out, when sliding people don’t use the forward key as the character is already moving on its own.

Solution:

We removed the air control for the sliding state and fixed the jump distance to max

Loss of 3D perception:

As seen in the below picture, character is trying to jump from the edge of the platform. When the player hits the jump button at the edge, the character is already on the air and falling.

Monochroma 2014-06-01 20-01-12-21

 

Solution:

Fixing the camera angles or the position of the character on z-depth.

 

Frustrating Puzzles:

Although not directly related to control problems, this was something else adding into the frustration of the players. Pixel jumps after completing a puzzle, puzzles in which the player understands what to do in a second but can’t implement it well or repetitive sequences where the player has to perform perfectly to complete were damaging the flaw of the game.

Solution:

We polished the level and puzzle designs in order to have a more fluent game. In the end Monochroma is our way of telling a story and not a game that should challenge the player by requiring perfect timings and teaching them by death.

Minor Flaws and Adjustments:

While we were trying to imitate real world phsyics, there were some scenes defying them and looking unnatural such as boxes floating on liquids or their unexpected behavior when pushed from the edge of a platform. We polished them to look and act more natural.

We implemented an auto-climb feature to obstacles and platforms where we can’t hold on to and stay.

We also shortened the duration of recovery time when the character falls from a distance. Some players thought of it as a bug but it was the result of realism concerns.

We hope that the updates brought in this version of the game will end the negative comments about the controls and we will be able to turn the focus to the story and the universal message of the game as we first aimed for. Be sure to check out for more in our blog, facebook and twitter pages. Also don’t forget to drop your comments on discussion boards!

 

 

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Control Society and Games

The agency of interactivity, called as player, are indispensable part of the video games. Games are meant to play and unlike any other medium, games can tell their stories via physical interactivity based on non-linear actions of player. In some ways, it is possible to interpret games as mirrors. All the actions of player are reflected on the virtual environment inside the frame of screen. Inevitably, the way player interacts with virtual world is interpreted through the semiotic structure of game. The control of player over screen is therefore represented by allegories. Although this is what Deleuze might have analyzed under his concept ‘action-image’, we will examine another theory of him, Socities of Control in relation to games. In this blog post, we wanted to show another aspect of video games in the age of computation and how they serve within a sociological point-of-view.

MGS2-3

In Postscript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze talks about three different types of society. Inspired by Foucault, he explains what a society of sovereignty, a disciplinary society and a control society are. Very briefly, a society of sovereignty is what he calls the political structure for medieval ages and on the other hand, disciplinary society is the period where radical politic changes occur after industrial revolution and gives Napoléon and Nazi periods as examples. Our primary concern is, however, societies of control and Deleuze declares that nowadays a system is being established where everything is manipulated for keeping the society under control. He then states highways as an instance. Think about them for a moment. Back then, it was possible for  drivers to create their own route, but now, even though highways seem to make the road experience more comfortable, they are also limiting the path alternatives. Deleuze says this might not have been thought directly, but reflects the result they want to establish.

In essence, the development of games theory, system theory and all similar mathematical theories in the mid-20 century aimed to reduce human equation into statistical data and geometrical models and created a metaphorical ‘cage’ for the society. Now in the post-industrial era, the corporation has replaced factory in which every individual is considered as employees or units rather than factory workers. Deleuze expands his concept:“If the most idiotic television game shows are so successful, it’s because they express the corporate situation with great precision.” Just as there is a competitive challenge between corporations, there is also a motivation that enforces individuals to oppose each other and compete against, dividing them as a result.

In the age of computation, human became nothing more than pure data and fleshless code. It is now possible to track your every movement on the net (unless you use Ghostery plug-in) and corporations like Google and Twitter are storing them to create profiles of human entities, then transform these statistics into meta products and sell them to third party companies with high amount of money in return. Every data you produce is used against you, not only to track but also to modify your thoughts and make you become an integrated part of system.

Civilization-IV-Gameplay-Screenshot-2

Alexander Galloway draws a similar picture and says that in ideological/traditional allegory, emblematic medium was cinema and the political expression was class struggle. Now in control allegory, the emblematic medium becomes video games and at present, political expression is information control. Likewise, he said “While it may appear liberating or utopian, don’t be fooled; flexibility is one of the founding principles of global informatic control. It is to the control society what discipline was to a previous one. Just as medieval scholars used the existence of contradiction in a text as an indication of existence of allegory, so Civilization game has within its many contradictions that suggest such an allegorical interpretation.” That’s why he called Civilization game as an ‘allegorithm’. Flexibility and allegory, supported by vicarious kinaesthesia, create a representational independence in games. Many games take the ‘critical approach’ away. And as Mathieu Triclot said “Video games are small dust of dream by which the big sleep of capitalism is shaken, things that are dreams connected to the numerical machines.”

Only a few games like Metal Gear Solid 2 takes a one step further and tells you to “Turn Off the Game Console Right Now! ”

References:

1) Deleuze, Gilles. Postscript on the Societies of Control (1992)

2) Galloway, Alexander. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006)

3) Triclot, Mathieu. La Philosophie des Jeux Vidéo (2011)

4) Deleuze, Guattari: Societies of Control and Antipsychiatry (URL) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=720Kx3NdDig

 

Notes from GDC Play 2014

This was our second year in GDC Play and again, it was a great experience for us. We appreciate all your support, it is very crucial to motivate our team! Here we share some press coverage for Monochroma: 

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Gamespot: Monochroma’s Unique Approach to the Crowded Puzzle-Platformer Genre

Destructoid: Monochroma will remind you of Limbo, and that’s an amazing thing!

Revision3: Monochroma: An Exceedingly Dark Story? Tara Long’s Hands-On impressions 

Jeux Video

Venture Beat

Beer and Joysticks

Expressionism in Video Games

A few weeks ago I was in Amsterdam, I have been to the Modern Arts Museum and Van Gogh Museum where I had the chance to have a deeper understanding of what the term “expressionist” means. I don’t want to act like an art guru, as an economist with a love of systems and balances I have little to say about arts yet it disturbs me to see nothing has been said about the expressionism in video games.

Let us start with a definition of the term. Expressionism is a term used to denote the use of distortion and exaggeration for emotional effect, which first surfaced in the art literature of the early twentieth century. When applied in a stylistic sense, with reference in particular to the use of intense colour, agitated brushstrokes, and disjointed space. Rather than a single style, it was a climate that affected not only the fine arts but also dance, cinema, literature and the theatre.And apperently video games as well.

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EDVARD MUNCH (1863-1944)
‘The Scream’, 1893 (oil, tempera and pastel on board)

Munch’s painting of ‘The Scream’ (1893) was equally influential. It provides us with a psychological blueprint for Expressionist art: distorted shapes and exaggerated colors that amplify a sense of anxiety and alienation. ‘The Scream’ is Munch’s own voice crying in the wilderness, a prophetic voice that declares the Expressionist message, fifteen years before the term was invented.2

As an art movement, expressionism influenced many painters in the beginning of 20th century and derived into other movements such as abstract expressionism, neo-expressionism and mostly viewed in cinema, german expressionism.

According to many sources Weimar Culture was a peak of intellectual production between the first world war and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. And German expressionism is believed to form its language during that era:

  • external representation of the emotion, with colours, forms and acting.
  • exaggerated shadows and objects
  • use of striking colours, twisted forms, architecture
  • painted, false backgrounds
  • evil/insane characters
  • urban setting

A list of movies shown as examples of German Expressionism:

  • ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – 1920
  • Metropolis – 1927
  • Nosferatu – 1979
  • Edward Scissorshands – 1990

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  • The City of Lost Children – 1995

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  • Sin City -2000

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Video games are far from beeing seen as a form of art.  Kellee Santiago in her speech at TED stated them as art yet there are many others that strongly reject that idea. Whereas I don’t want to dive deep into that debate, we as Nowhere Studios believe that games need to find their own language as cinematography uses different camera movement, lighting, scene cuts or as sculpture is manipulating forms. Games need to develop their own area of specialization rather than using techniques and the language of another form of art, in order to be recognized. Although they are able to evoke emotions in players, in their current status, games might be viewed as an applied medium of cinematography, music and literature. If one day, games can proove that they can use interactivity, games mechanics and system design -things that are unique to games- in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, emotions and intellect then no one will dare not to consider games as art.

Let us try to move out of this debate and find out which games in their applied form of cinematography can be considered expressionist. I found the following games adapted all the unwritten rules of German Expressionism ingame and especially in their cut-scenes.

Twisted Metal

In twisted metal we have an insane character, we see the world in his eyes and there are exaggerated colours and forms everywhere in the game. Main character’s head is burning, what else to say.

Batman : Arkham City and Arkham Asylum

Not a big surprise since most Batman movies are considered expressionist, especially the ones filmed by Tim Burton. We see architecture, shadows and colors deformed in order to give the player according emotions.

The Dark Eye

This old game, with its animations made of clay and deformed objects and characters with unusual colours to reflect the different moods it’s a very beatiful example of German Expressionism in video games.

This beatifully written article from Kris Ligman discusses the expressionism in Limbo and Braid. Altough her ideas about arts and games are very similar to mines, I believe sho could have picked better examples for showing the german expressionism. She does not clearly states why she thinks of Limbo as expressionist. For me, the usage of light, the effects and the forms are used externally to adress the emotions of the player, yet the environment is very dreamlike to think that is derived from reality. So in this aspect, Limbo and Braid seem like to be derived from imagination rather than a distorted view of reality except the city images in the backround of Limbo in later chapters and the different rooms in Braid which seem like gates to the imaginary world. Limbo is more like film noir with its chiaroscuro “the claire-obscure” effect and steamy backgrounds although german expressionism and film noir are often called together. Braid is even far from Limbo to be called expressionist by my understanding of expressionism.

Yet, I can hold myself to think of Braid as a true art game because of its mechanic of taking back the time. This is the step forward that I’m expecting from games, evoking emotions by the unique language of games, interactivity and game mechanics. Such examples I have seen recently exists in indie games here and there. A good example is the indie platformer All that Matters, game is designed so that mom is only able to move away from dad, while dad can only move to the direction of mom. This mechanic has a spirit and gives you references which evantually evokes emotions.  Without using game mechanics and interactivity to improve the narration, games would just be an applied form of art like a movie would be a slide show using photohraphy if there were no cinematography.

1http://www.artmovements.co.uk/expressionism.htm

2http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/expressionism.htm

Monochroma Press Kit

Description

 

Monochroma is a cinematic puzzle platformer developed in Istanbul. It’s a game about being a kid, growing up with a little brother that needs your help, facing obstacles, and solving unique puzzles in an industrial-alchemic world set in the 1950’s. Monochroma has been described as Limbo meets Ico. However, Monochroma is much more than a skilled mix of two great games: It is a deeply visual, intellectual, and emotional experience. There are no written or spoken words used in Monochroma, which therefore requires the player to be actively involved to understand the narrative. The story itself becomes part of the puzzle.

The Gameplay

The 6 hour long gameplay builds upon the relationship and unspoken sacrifice between two brothers. Early on, your little brother injures his leg—so you must carry him on piggyback to continue further. You can’t run fast or jump high while carrying your brother. Furthermore, you must put your brother down temporarily in order to solve most of the puzzles—but you can only do this where it’s bright. Like most small children, he is afraid of the dark—and you can’t leave him behind. This is just one of the elements that makes Monochroma unique and engaging. Both brothers must survive for the player to win the game. However, if one dies during the process, don’t worry: Monochroma has a player-friendly, ultra-fast checkpoint system.

The Team & Collaborators

  • Burak Tezateşer – Executive Producer
  • Orçun Nişli – Creative Director / Game Designer
  • Metin Arıca – Lead Programmer
  • Emre Serdar Akinci – Gameplay Programmer
  • Erkan Ertürk – Art Director / Concept Artist
  • Emek Can Özben – 3D Artist
  • Erçin Gündüz – 3D Artist  / Character Modeller
  • Aygün Kaplan – 3D Artist / Texture Artist
  • Alpan Aytekin – Sound Director
  • Istvan Erdos – Character Animator
  • Refik Toksoy – Coordinator
  • LOV B&D – 2D Art and animations
  • Gevende – Music

About Nowhere Studios

Nowhere Studios was established in 2010 Istanbul, Turkey with the goal of bringing games made with passion and skill to players all around the world. We seek to infuse the spirit of classic games into all of our next-gen titles to make games FUN once again.

Assets

Kickstarter video

YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ivdl20BQ5S4
Download https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9186800/Monochroma_Kickstarter_video.zip

Teaser trailer

YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSEk7_o2Pns
Download (.mp4) https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9186800/Monochroma_teaser.zip

Screenshots

IMGUR http://imgur.com/a/OTE4v
Download https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9186800/Monochroma_screenshots.zip

Concept Arts:

IMGUR http://imgur.com/a/WQvpt

Game Demo Download Page:

Monochroma Website http://www.monochromagame.com/Monochroma/redirectdownloaddemo.html

Social Media

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/MonochromaGame

Twitter
https://twitter.com/MonochromaGame

YouTube
http://www.youtube.com/user/NowhereStudiosDotCom

Blog
https://monochromagame.wordpress.com/

Recognition

Monochroma has been Kickstarted and Greenlit in the summer of 2013:

Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/445804219/monochroma

Greenlight page: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=156723130

Monochroma has won “The Best Indie Game award” in GameX 2013

Kellee Santiago, producer of Journey said : “I can’t wait to get lost in the shadows and the rain of Monochroma”

Vander Caballero, creative director of Papo & Yo said: “An astonishing game that challenge even the top indie developers from the west”

Kevin Saunders – Project Lead of Tides of Numenera said “A great example of artistry in game design”

Selected Articles, Reviews and Interviews:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yTmd0q_s5c
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/07/16/magnificently-moody-monochroma/
http://www.inquisitr.com/591467/monochroma-spiritual-successor-to-limbo/
http://www.gameinformer.com/games/monochroma/b/pc/archive/2013/03/27/nowhere-studios-39-puzzle-platformer-feels-like-the-next-limbo.aspx

http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2013/08/monochroma_hits_funding_target_to_confirm_multi_platform_release_including_wii_u
http://www.nerdzy.com/2013/03/27/monochroma-by-nowhere-studios/
http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/finding-shades-of-grey-in-monochromas-black-white-world/
http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2013/04/the-10-best-games-at-gdc-2013.html
http://videogamewriters.com/monochroma-an-insight-into-62994

Contact

Burak Tezateser, Producer
burak.tezateser(at)nowherestudios.com
www.monochromagame.com

A Retrospective on the Kickstarter Success

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As the producer of Monochroma, for a while after our Kickstarter campaign I have been asked at least 2 times a day how did we succeed. I’m gonna tell how, and also how it could be better.

How did we decide to go on Kickstarter:

We have been to GDC San Francisco and our booth attracted a lot of visitors. People kept telling us that they would like to support the game if it was on Kickstarter. We hesitated in the beginning because we were an unknown studio from a country which has no reference of game development except a few titles. Our other hesitation was that a platformer is not a genre that have a strong niche. There are millions of platform game players yet for so few of them it’s their favorite game genre.

After GDC, lots of big sites covered Monochroma with positive reviews. We had a few talks with Vander Caballero, the creative director of “Papo & Yo” and he told us that the best way to increase awareness about Monochroma would be a Kickstarter project. We started to think that we have a chance and it could have been our only chance so we it was time to give it a try.

I tried to understand what are the motivators and demotivators for people while backing a Kickstarter project and came up with the following:

Motivators:

  • They want to be part of a unique piece of art/craft.
  • They want that specific project to be created.
  • They want to satisfy themselves by helping a project that deserves their help

Demotivators:

  • The fear that nobody else supports the project so it doesn’t get funded
  • The fear that the project final quality is poor and doesn’t meet the expectations
  • The fear that the project owner is unable to deliver a final or the project is a total fraud

There is also a survey about them on a Gamasutra article :http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/176839/

Starting from these motivators/demotivators, I categorize Kickstarter campaigns into 3.

  1.  Celebrity Projects

Projects from Tim Schaffer or Brian Fargo fall under this category.  They made legendary games in the past and they have a huge fanbase already. The moment their project starts, they are able to collect millions. They have almost no demotivators as everybody is expecting a great game from them.

    2.   Studios / indie devs with a produced game or developers from an old legendary game.

Satellite Reign for example is one of them. The developers are from the old well known title “Syndicate Wars”,  or “Battle Worlds: Kronos” which is being developed by King Art Games, they have developed other games in the past, they’re not as ambitious as their Kickstarter title but enough to prove that they are able to deliver a final product. People have little demotivators while backing such projects.

    3.   Developers with no backgrounds

We as Nowhere Studios are falling under this category. Luckily in recent years many indie developers have delivered great games so people know that there is a chance for an unknown developer to create a hit but this kind of projects have lots of demotivators as well. Our job is to minimize these fears.

For the rest of this article I’m gonna tell you what we have done to minimize these fears and increase the number of our backers during our campaign.

 Finding a fanbase:

We are a studio from Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey is not a country with a game development culture. The only famous game made is “Mount & Blade” by Taleworlds. Turkey’s inner demand for games is high but piracy is higher. From earlier Kickstarter Postmortems I learned the importance of your social network. For people to get rid of the fear that the project gets unfunded you need your social circle and your outer circle (friends of your friends)to back the project especially in the beginning phase of the campaign.

In this very nice article developer of Tetrapulse talks about the importance of your family and friends:http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/PeterSheff/20131015/202334/Tetrapulse_Kickstarter_Postmortem_Part_1.php

In Turkey gamers are usually young males playing fps or moba games online. Not much people are interested with indie games. Whereas all against the turkish reality, we’re making a game targeted to people that is seeking an intellectual satisfaction from games. Monochroma is trying to engage people emotionally and intellectually.

Therefore we looked for a fanbase elsewhere, but also realized how hard it is to find a fanbase unrelated to your social network. One mistake we have done as an unknown studio was to start our PR campaign along with the Kickstarter process. It should have been started a few weeks ago but we neutralized this mistake by making a 45 day long campaign. We hired a PR agency from US as we didn’t know anybody from game press and expected them to get our game covered by all the big sites. It was another mistake. We also worked with a local PR company in Turkey.

I don’t think PR people doesn’t help you on your way but you still have to make the most of the work yourself and many journalist are expecting you to contact them directly as a developer. We couldn’t manage to be covered as much as the time we have been in GDC. So I guess a good strategy would be to combine a nice exhibition with your campaign.

One of the best things we have done was to give a demo, it was crucial to tell the backers that we were able to finish the game. Our game is almost ready we just need to make new chapters/puzzles and polish our game a little bit more. It was also important that we started the Kickstarter campaign 6 months before our expected release date and also after 18 months of development. I believe it’s a big mistake to create a campaign during the concept phase of the production. I know many projects with unsuccessful funding because of that.

We’ve also put in some efforts for a professional looking Kickstarter video. Our video has been shown 40,536 times and 16% of it has been completed.

The start of the campaign:

The campaign started great as almost all of our friends was waiting for backing it. The first two days we made $8500 with the help of our Facebook posts and their virality. We were expecting it to speed up with the help of coverages on big sites. Except Rock, Paper, Shotgun we didn’t manage to be covered by a big site.

We didn’t manage to create the hype we were looking for internationally yet in Turkey we were being covered by almost every game site/magazine and even on IT, economics and general news sites, we even have been televised a few times.

During the first 15 days of the project:

-We created an indiedb account. Indiedb covered its front page with Monochroma for a few days. But no direct traffic came from there on Kickstarter.

-We prepared a nice looking website reflecting the atmosphere of the game.
Later on we applied to awwwards and we passed the first step in the elimination

-We have been very active on Twitter and Facebook accounts sharing about the status of the campaign

The average pledge was around $30

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The Death Plateau

I heard about this in earlier postmortems but I never thought we would have the same because we were still counting on the press coverages that didn’t happen. Looking at the Kicktraq graph we really needed to do something. Even our backers were telling us to do something or we are going to fail.

We were having nice comments for our demo but people were complaining about the lack of nice reward categories in higher ranks and the scarcity of Kickstarter updates. I have also been told that $30 average pledge was too low.

I created a new to-do list including the followings, I believe if I haven’t done these we would fail:

-Opening a Facebook group called “Monochroma to 80000 on Kickstarter”, I was going to share screens, notes and even some trivia about the game for people to feel themselves having exclusive knowledge about the game, I also asked people to invite their friends, the group reached to 850 people in a week.

-Starting to make updates and sharing some content in them. Asked the team to create a few concept arts about each chapter and started to tease the story of them in the updates.

-Establising a team of evangelists from our friends. We had around 5-6 friends which were really involved with the project so we called them evangelists during the campaign. We asked them to increase the awareness of the campaign in their social reach, encourage people to support the game, help them opening a Kickstarter account, Amazon payment account. Also we prepared e-mail templates for them to share in the groups they belonged such as school, work or hobby e-mail groups. They were also told to share each Facebook and Twitter post.

-Implementing a new reward category “t-shirt and co-producer title” for $100 and more. This helped incredibly, at the end of the project our average back amount increased to $55

-Starting to be even more active on Facebook and Twitter and forums, replying to each question and joining in discussions related to Monochroma.

-Asking our initial backer to increase their pledge, which helped incredibly again. I made this call around $40000 and I told our backers if they all double up their pledge today, we will be funded. Some of them did and it helped a lot.

-Spotting rich guys in my outer social circle (cause I don’t have them in my inner circle) and asking for their help with an exclusive e-mail, phone call etc.. I think this was kind of an extreme thing to do, but it worked and became the turning point of the campaign.

-A freeform video contest on Youtube, each contestant with more than 1000 viewers would get a free copy of the game and the first three would be invited to our launch party and receive a collector’s edition of the game. This didn’t have a huge impact but youtube videos are one of the best ways to reach new people.

Making a Reddit IAMA that didn’t have a big impact but I had the opportunity of answering a few questions.

The turning point:

We had an incredible amount of support from the Turkish game development community and also family and friends. I didn’t think we had such a nice relation with them and sometimes I was afraid that they would see us as their competitors but no, they proved me wrong and enabled this game with their help on Kickstarter.

The end of death plateau came after the efforts of calling out wealthy people to support the project. One of them made a pledge of $5000 and a few days later another $5000 came from unknown backer. The second one, from Japan, was not related to any of us or our friends.

I believe around 60% of the support came from Turkey and most of them were families, friends and friends of friends somehow. Some would ask if it was worth the effort and I say definitely yes. Because I don’t think a successful Kickstarter campaign is only about the money collected.

It gives you:

-A fanbase even before the launch of your game, backers are emotionally connected to your project and they will be your evangelists when your product launches successfully.

-An opportunity to receive feedback.

-A solid marketing argument for your title: “it has been Kickstarted”

Ethics, Economics and Crowdfunding

From early arcade games to today’s console, PC and mobile games, the economics of development play a very large role in the kinds of games that get developed and released in the marketplace. Capital, as in all other industries, fuels those who know how to amass a large profit. These gains allow the industry to indulge in ballooning budgets following on the heels of successful (and formulaic) hits. In today’s world, it’s impossible to secure an investor without mentioning “free to play,” “online co-op,” “retention numbers,” and “virality.” This is disappointing because it goes against everything the arcade industry taught us.

Looking Back

How did we get here? And how did crowd-funding services like Kickstarter enter the picture? I’m placing my bets that it all happened as a reaction to the endless cycle of first-person shooters and other easily replicated console and “casual” games.

In the early 1980s, video games were pure—created to “entertain,” and nothing else. Arcade machines were dreamlike, much like a magic show at a party. Kids were enthralled and lost in wonderment, while adults were bewildered. Back then, none of us predicted that games would quickly become a massive industry. Arcade games had invented the compulsion cycle; I call it the “Climax Effect.”

Before closing your browser window, consider this: Every arcade and handheld console game begins with slow pacing and deliberate, rising tension. As the difficulty level increases, players push themselves to prevent an early “game over” screen. If game over is unavoidable, most games will still celebrate the player’s performance with a massive fireworks display accompanied by the classic “high score” table. The relationship between game design and climax-inspired mechanics resulted in a heavily involved (and sometimes addicted) player base made primarily of young male teenagers.

Money for Nothing

In the late 1990s, investors recognized the profit potential of games in various areas:

  • Advertising (franchises based on sporting associations like FIFA, NBA, NFL)
  • Stickiness  (MMOs)
  • Transmedia (leveraging a franchise to sell products in a number of different media)
  • Propaganda (using games for political benefit – such as first-person shooters that demonize nationalities other than North American and/or European)

The arrival of investors resulted in a decrease of developers with moral sensitivities. The industry became riddled with games displaying gratuitous violence, excessive gore, and blatant sexism. Jon Shafer recently stated in his “Ethics in Game Design” Gamasutra article:

“Games exist to entertain people, and that should be the driving force behind their creation. Find effective ways to provide players with experiences they value and you’ll make money.”

He later says that he is trying to draw a line somewhere. I believe it was easy for investors to forget about that line because there isn’t a sole person in a large game development studio or publisher who is fully responsible for an entire game—which makes it easy to blame others.

Another Gamasutra article by Charles Cox (“Why I’ll Never Work on First-Person Shooters Again”) led many in the industry to question themselves.

Modern Times

In 2001, video games became the most alluring sector for those who wanted to make quick money. Publishers rose and conquered. They created their cash cow IPs by spending millions and earning billions. Today, AAA sequels are still battling each other to the death until there are no survivors.

By 2008, as the Internet spread through most of the developed world, a new genre known as “casual games” was invented. A mixture of the climax effect of 1980s arcade games, egocentric MMOs such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft, and slot machines, casual games soon became the next big thing.

It was the time of “whale hunts”: Tadhg Kelly wrote a priceless article on Gamasutra about the compulsive nature of casual games called “Ethical Design: Are Most Social Games Just Virtual Slot Machines?”

As a game studio, we created and monetized a social game and we also realized the ethical problems on the road. Casual games are bloody, and unethical by their nature – just like real whale hunting. Many non-gamers have become “customers”: unassuming minnows, sly catfish, and imposing whales. Facebook dominated the social network wars with casual games and smartphones soon after—going from “tools for business” to questionable “free-to-play slot/arcade machines.” New publishers arose and old publishers bought small previously indie studios. Nothing changed.

The opposite side of the coin was also boosted by connected technologies such as digital distribution. Here was a way to distribute games bypassing all those greedy publishers! It led to a few indie game developers who are now seeking to learn from the last 30 years of gaming to (finally!) explore the true language of interactivity.

In my opinion, this is the only honest thing done by the industry . . . ever.

Enter Kickstarter

Crowd-funding is making games that had been turned down by publishers a reality. It’s giving originality a second chance. Individual players, each with their own aesthetic sensibilities, are helping developers make their “dream games.” Without services like Kickstarter, we would be stuck in a never-ending hell of sequels and licensed games. I believe we have finally democratized the game industry, and it’s a beautiful thing.

I want to end with a note about our game, Monochroma. In it, we’re trying to ask a serious question: How does it feel to be a consumer? We believe we’re telling a dramatic story that makes players question the ethics of economic realities they face every day as consumers. A publisher would laugh at us if we said this in a meeting; I guess it’s good that we don’t have one 🙂

If you need proof, please visit our Kickstarter page and download the demo for Monochroma!

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