What do you do when your crowd funding campaign fails? You make it anyway. At least, you do if you're Membraine Studios (that's us).
Membraine Studios had been running as a hobby business since 2009, but we took it to the next level last year when jobs were quit and we started making games full-time.
One of the game concepts we were able to develop early last year -- having already put a huge amount of time into the game design in previous years before getting anywhere near code and art -- was the 3D turn-based strategy game that would ultimately become the sci-fi wargame Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire.
Of course, everything is more expensive than you hope, and Fractured Empire was not a project we could seriously contemplate taking on. Or was it? Crowd funding had come into its own, seemingly promising rivers of gold to indies everywhere, and so we ran a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo for Fractured Empire through June of last year. The project would take off thanks to the altruism and generosity of the crowd! YAY! ... Yay?
No Yay. As it turned out, we were naive thinking crowd funding might be the panacea we wanted it to be. (We were so young then.) Whether it was because of our choice of platform (we selected Indiegogo because Kickstarter was available to US citizens only at the time -- it still isn't available to Australians as I write this), the type of campaign we ran (which was Indiegogo's Flexible Funding instead of a Kickstarter-style Fixed Funding campaign, something we later discovered the crowd found less appealing), or our status as a very small indie developer (just three people), the grim reality was that we achieved less than a quarter of our target for Fractured Empire development, coming in just shy of $7,500 of the $35,000 goal. Even the most generous critic would have to call that a failure. Yes, we only saw traffic of around 20,000 unique visitors, about half of whom viewed our pitch video. And yes, given such low traffic numbers, it's impressive that we achieved as much of our target as we did. Even so, many teams would have given up the ghost in the face of such failure.
Not Membraine, though -- we were far too stupid to give up yet.
We persevered with Fractured Empire in the background, slowly-but-steadily progressing the game toward a playable state, squeezing in development time wherever we could find it, between the cracks of higher priority (read: revenue-producing) activities, such as our casual iOS games and consulting work for business customers. It became clear that we could not sustain such development long-term, however. Some difficult choices needed to be made if we were to ever deliver Fractured Empire to gamers.
After a lot of navel-gazing and debate, the team agreed upon adopting what we'll call a "Minecraftian" go-to-market strategy of releasing non-final-but-playable builds for sale, where earlier adopters would receive distinctly greater discounts than later adopters (currently just over 66% off the eventual US$30 pricetag). Alphafunding approaches like this are no longer uncommon thanks to the success of games like Minecraft, not to mention online distribution services like Desura and Steam treating Alphafunding campaigns respectfully.
We have recently seen our efforts and strategy pay off. Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire was provided to our Indiegogo contributors and saw a great response, and we later made the game available for pre-order on FracturedEmpire.net -- with purchasers immediately eligible to download the current playable build (currently Alpha) in the Minecraft style.
And so it is that Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire, the subject of a failed crowd funding campaign, has made it to market after all here on IndieDB. The moment we released the first playable build to gamers, we felt like we had redeemed ourselves, in our own eyes at least; time will tell if we will also get to experience validation thanks to good unit sales numbers (and, dare we say it, vindication), but we certainly have high hopes that a community will grow around Fractured Empire that sees the game (and Membraine) succeed.
Like any pre-release game, it won't yet be the game Fractured Empire will ultimately become -- especially while it's still at Alpha, being very early in the development cycle -- but the vision for the game is now so close to realisation that our pride in what we have achieved as a team is undiminished
by the game's early state.
We have the beginnings of a great game on our hands and we're building a great community around it. That's enough for now.