Many people have been asking questions about how we plan to finance the development of Dual Universe, which is an ambitious project and would seem to require some heavy funding. Even though we are in many ways fairly different from them, as I will explain below, we have sometimes been compared to some of the current very big budget productions, and asked to explain how we could compete. I thought it would be nice today to share more about our plans and strategy, while stressing the peculiarities of our game, so that we can start giving you a clearer picture of the financing side.
How much does a game like Dual Universe cost to produce? The first thing to notice is that, unlike non-MMO games, there almost never is a definite final version of the game. It is constantly evolving and so if you look at the total budget to produce such a game over several years, the number can be quite high. What we are really interested in is rather, for a MMO, how much does it cost to get to the point where the game is playable with enough value and fun in order for it to move from an “alpha/beta” to a “release” stage.
The other thing to notice is that what factors in most of the cost of producing a traditional video game revolves around creating content: 3D models of the environment, story content (quests, backstory, etc), and testing the balancing of all this to make sure that the content is neither too easy, nor too hard to play. This is actually a huge part of the cost of any ambitious video game today.
Our core gameplay approach is emergent gameplay: we believe that it can be incredibly fun and rewarding to let the players build their own stories, their own buildings, their own ships. We will of course bootstrap the process with a few of our own productions, but the whole point of the game is to empower people with the freedom to create their own world in a way they see fit. We also use procedural generation to create the landscape and environment. And it turns out that, as a side effect, this has a profound impact on the cost of the game. Instead of spending money to create content, we spend money to create the tools, the “laws of physics”, the community support.
So, where most other games, including those we are sometimes compared to, will need many millions of dollars to deliver, we believe we can make the game we dream of with less money, while still providing a great and convincing emergent experience. That being said, it is clear that we still need money to get this ball rolling: we still have to create 3D content (every active element in the game is a 3D mesh, like weapons, reactors, control units, etc), we obviously need to develop the innovative technology behind the planetary engine, the continuous single-shard cluster, the inner workings of the game design (how to create an organization, trade, fight, secure territory, etc). This is by no means cheap. But we believe it’s within the scope of an indie studio.
Currently, our funding is based on the money of private investors who support the concept of the game, including myself. We have enough cash to get the 20 people team to function properly until we reach the alpha stage, somewhere in 2016. The traditional way to move on from there is to go to a publisher with our alpha, who might be convinced to add a few more millions and … get more or less full control of the game. The problem is that we have a very innovative and disruptive concept in hand, and publishers rather tend to push their licenses towards more conventional grounds. My fear is that this option, if we have to get to this, might affect the evolution of Dual Universe in directions that neither me, nor you, the community, would really like.
The other option that is now available for small companies like us is to go for crowdfunding. The same process goes: you show up with your alpha and ask for support. But here, instead of a publisher, you might get the chance to finance the next stage of development entirely with the support of your community. More than money, what you also get is feedback, which is all the more relevant since we focus our design on emergent gameplay. There is no magic however, we know that the alpha has to be incredibly convincing, and that we have to deliver something to the community that shows that we know what we are doing. All the team is working hard with this in mind, and we are going to do the impossible to try and not disappoint.
Even if the crowdfunding might not bring as much money as what a publisher might be able to provide, we are much more in favor of this option. If the amount of money raised is modest and we cannot reach all our stretch goals, we might face a possibly slow ramp up of the amount of game features, centered on a small but active community, that will gradually (maybe over several years) get closer and closer to the ideal final game we dream of. We are ok with that.
The really amazing possibility with crowdfunding however, is that we may get the community so excited, as we are, that suddenly everything becomes possible, right here and right now. We could accelerate the development of the game, add more interactive elements and create the most beautiful emergent video game world ever made! We love games, we love the concept of Dual Universe. Ultimately, it is you, our community, that will decide whether we can press the “turbo” button, and remain free from publishing constraints at the same time. The sky’s the limit (or rather, interstellar space!).