Muse Games Interview: Kickstarter, Developing For Consoles & Project Planning
Muse Games have been one of the success stories of crowd funding. Their air ship competitive multiplayer game, Guns of Icarus online, was a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Muse Games have continued to use crowd funding as a means to expand upon Guns of Icarus Online universe. Their latest Kickstarter aims to fund a new PvE expansion addition that adds a whole new element to Guns of Icarus Online. We recently had the chance to have a Q & A with Jess Haskins, one of the lead designers at Muse Games, about Guns of Icarus, crowd funding and ‘Adventure Mode’.
Q: How did the concept of Guns of Icarus come about?
A: We really enjoyed the feel of getting on turrets or big guns in a lot of FPS games. Those moments were always powerful but short, scripted, and lacking in depth. So the idea of turret shooting started the creative process for us. We thought that an offensive element should be complemented with a defensive element as well, and we looked to casual time-management games like Diner Dash for inspiration of the repair game and centered the entire Engineer role around time-management, aiming to create a frantic and collaborative experience as enemies attack.
We are fans of steampunk, and there aren’t many steampunk games out there, so we really wanted to bring steampunk to life in the game. We also thought that a confined space is essential to drive team play and collaboration, so what better way to construct this space than onboard airships! We stretched the concept to include dieselpunk elements so we could have gas-powered engines for our high-octane airships.
Q: Adventure mode is quite the departure from the normal PvP side of Guns of Icarus, what was the reason for the change?
A: Adventure Mode has always been a big part of our long term vision for the game. We’ve wanted to make Adventure Mode a reality from the very beginning, but we didn’t have the resources to make it happen, so we did the best we could with what we had, and had to limit the scope. We decided to first build and improve on the core combat and hoped to expand on it, so we created and released Skirmish first.
Q: What does the future hold for Guns of Icarus?
A: Adventure Mode will add a persistent world context to the game, with a town-based economy, trade missions, and territorial politics based on six player factions. It’s not an MMO, but it does contain some “MMO-like” elements. Needless to say, we’re really excited about the prospect of expanding the combat core of the game so that your actions will be able to influence a living, breathing world.
Aside from everything Adventure Mode, we’re also always improving Skirmish and rolling out new content. What we do for each mode will flow into one another where it makes sense, and we’re constantly listening to our players’ feedback to hear what they’d like to see in the game and make sure we’re always improving.
Q: Does crowd funding allow for creative freedom and more opportunity to try new things in your games?
A: Compared to our experiences working with publishers, absolutely. Backers are incredibly supportive. They were in our alpha and suffered through all kinds of rough testing conditions that we put them through. They supported us from the very beginning, and gave us invaluable feedback as players. They are excited about what we create and are actively giving us ideas about how to spread the word. So, our Kickstarter backers not only allow us the creative freedom to pursue our vision, they are also a driving force behind a lot of the new things we try.
Q: Given that the funding is from the public, does this make the development process less stressful? e.g. no strict deadlines and the like.
A: For me, given that the funding is from the public, it actually makes the development process more stressful, because our backers are also our players and customers. We have even more of an obligation to not let them down and do everything we can to deliver something that they would be proud of.
Q: How did it feel the first time the Kickstarter goal had been reached, and how successful the kickstarter turned out to be?
A: The original Guns of Icarus Online Kickstarter came at an interesting time; in a lot of ways, it was the end of an era, although we were only just beginning to see it. That was the second Kickstarter we did, after a much smaller but also successful campaign for our previous game. First of all, we were obviously thrilled to see our Kickstarter finish with more than triple our funding goal. We saw a big spike in funding the last week of the campaign, which was when a little something called Double Fine Adventure happened to launch. We actually got quite a lot of overflow funding from the increased traffic because of that project, but then our time was up and we were done. Around that same time was news of the first Kickstarter project to reach $1M, then DFA topped $3M, and then everyone was off to the races.
We sometimes wonder how our campaign would have done if we’d launched it just one month later. But we are proud to have been one of the successful campaigns in those early days, and one of the first to actually complete and deliver our game.
Q: How long does the planning process take when it comes to launching a Kickstarter? What elements are taken into account?
A: A lot of thought goes into a successful Kickstarter campaign, and we learn a lot and are able to plan better with each one that we do. For this one, the planning process began several months before the campaign was ready to launch. Timing is key; one thing we’ve learned is that while the discovery process is nice, you have to bring a lot of your own audience to Kickstarter, and you can’t just press the “launch” button and then sit back and wait to make headlines. So we needed the launch to coincide with increased press attention, which for us, was the weekend we were exhibiting at PAX East as part of the Indie Megabooth.
The project video is one aspect of the campaign that obviously takes a lot of time and planning. It’s the first thing that potential backers see, and has a huge influence on how people perceive your team and your project. We made sure to leave a lot of time for scripting, shooting, and editing the video, finding the right team to work with us and make it look good without breaking the bank on production. If your video is too polished, it looks like you’re already rolling in it and maybe don’t need the money after all! On the other hand, you don’t want something that looks like it was recorded in five minutes on your iPhone, either, so you have to strike a balance.
The one part that always takes longer than you might think is the design of the project page and the tiers themselves. Our game itself is kind of unusual and has a lot of parts to explain, plus we had to break down our project pillars and explain our kind of unorthodox approach to structuring our base funding and stretch goals to minimize our risk. Finally, our reward tiers got a little crazy, since we love to create lots of swag and extras and interesting perks and content to reward our fans, and we tried to offer some flexibility so people could pledge at an amount they were comfortable with to get the cool rewards they were interested in. So organizing all that and presenting it in a way that was both informative and compelling to our potential backers actually took a lot of thought, and our page went through many, many revisions. The result may still have been a little overwhelming, but we’re happy to respond to feedback, talk to our backers, and keep answering questions until it makes sense!
Q: Will Kickstarter be used for any new projects away from Guns of Icarus?
A: As long as we continue to have success with our Kickstarter campaigns and are able to use it to engage with and serve our supporters and fans, Kickstarter will be an attractive platform for us to use. We don’t have anything else planned to go up yet, but Kickstarter has been good to us so far!
Q: Is this the best time to be a independent developer with the likes of Kickstarter, Indie GoGo and Steam Greenlight?
A: There are certainly a lot more possibilities for indie developers to connect directly with their audiences and get their game out there outside traditional publishing channels than there were even, say, two years ago when we were starting work on Guns of Icarus Online. When you start seeing big, established names turning to typically indie channels like Kickstarter or the Humble Bundle, you know there’s definitely been a shift in the landscape.
In terms of distribution, we’ve been pretty fortunate in being able to establish a relationship with Steam early on and get featuring in sales and good placement for our game, but it’s great to see Greenlight potentially opening the door to what’s traditionally been a pretty tough club to get into. In terms of publishing, we’ve always had an independent streak and been wary of the potential traps and pitfalls you can get into working with publishers — erosion of creative control, imposed production deadlines, withdrawal of funding, loss of IP — so any fundraising or distribution platform that helps us along on our own self-funded, self-published path is a boon.
Q: Is there any plans or desires to develop a game for any of the current, or next generation, consoles?
A: We would love to make Guns of Icarus Online truly multiplatform and extend it to consoles, and this is something that we’ve actually thought about a lot and looked into. We can’t announce anything definite, but this is an area we’re definitely interested in!