City of Titans Interview – Kickstarter stretch goals and beyond
After months and months of work Missing Worlds Media’s Kickstarter for the Phoenix Project, now called City of Titans, launched. In a matter of days the $320,000 funding goal was reached proving that there is demand for a new superhero MMO. So what now for the team? We caught up with key members of Missing Worlds Media which included lead developer Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, business manager DC “Terwyn” James, and Nate “Doctor Tyche” Downes, to find out their latest plans as stretch goal funding continues.
Congratulations on reaching the Kickstarter goal so quickly. You must be pretty excited?
Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, lead developer: It’s the odd combination of terror and awe you get when you suddenly realize that yes, you have a baby. It’s yours. No going back now.
DC “Terwyn” James, business manager: There has been copious amounts of screaming followed by small amounts of hiding, so Chris is pretty accurate in the assessment.
Looking back at the few months before the Kickstarter launched, was there any point where you thought it may not succeed or did you have any doubts about committing your time and resources into what was going to be a long-term project?
Chris: I refused to allow myself to have doubts.
There were those who did, but I could not let myself have them, if we were to succeed. I know, rationally, there is a long way to go, and we will face challenges, but I must be convinced we will surmount them all.
DC: Simply put, yes, but it is in the nature of the human mind to disagree with itself, so those doubts enhanced the trust I have with the rest of the team, rendering it a moot point.
What I cannot do on my own, we have been able to do as a team. Failing to succeed at one point is not so terrifying when you realize that losing a battle does not immediately end a war. It is a long-term project, and mistakes will be made. Those mistakes will be learned from.
The stretch goals are obviously the next phase of the Kickstarter and you have already reached the Android App stage with no problem at all. There are two more goals, the IOS port of the Avatar Builder and the MacOS version for launch, but what else could you be looking at to add?
Chris: We’re working on rolling those out. Keep an eye on the Kickstarter. It’s all about timing.
DC: What else, indeed. A kitchen sink, perhaps?
Nate “Doctor Tyche” Downes: By the time this goes up, more stretch goals should be up, more content, travel powers, the pets system, etc.
Now that the funding is in the bag, what are the team currently focusing on as far as the game development is concerned?
Chris: Well, it’s not in the bag till we hit the final day, the cheques are in the account, and we write our final thank you letters.
That being said, when we do have the funding in the bag, we’re going to be moving back to the Character Creator, and working on the infrastructure we need for it.
It will have more features than simply a paper doll device; we plan for it to have a number of authentication and network-based features. For example, unlocking the mind controlling beard for everyone who kickstarted with us, not to mention social media integration. We plan on costume contests from the very start, after all. As a result, the Character Creator project will move us on the way to being a functional Massively Multiplayer project, even if the rest of the world isn’t fully operational yet. By the time Titan City is up and running, we’ll have plenty of tests and real world information about how our system works.
DC: While I’m not actively involved on the production side of things, and instead make sure everything is functional on an organizational/administrative level, we’re focusing on delivering what we’ve said we’re going to deliver.
From a Missing Worlds Media perspective, what structural changes are you now undertaking?
Chris: We’ve been running for a year now, and we’ve had a long shakedown cruise. There’s some minor matters, as there always are, but by and large, we’re in the shape we’re going to be until we ramp up for deployment.
DC: Indeed. There will be some further bumps along the road, but as any rider can tell you, it’s what gives the journey its flavour.
Are you now looking to ramp up the development and management team?
Chris: Well, yes and no. We could use some specialized talents, but we’re operational and functional.
There will be a ramp-up, but it’s going to be, for example, speccing out costume designs to people to do piece-work. And it’ll be a bit later on. The actual core team seems to be at a manageable size given our structure.
I know most of you hold down full-time jobs as well as working on City of Titans, so are any of you now considering taking the plunge full-time?
Chris: If only we could. We’d need to be funded like the big boys to do that. And that won’t be for a while. We’ve got what we need for development, and that’s going to last for a bit.
DC: There are those who are already putting in full-time hours.
Nate: Like me.
Chris: I miss sleep. But the hallucinations just make me more creative.
When we last spoke we discussed the idea of bringing the team under one roof. At what point do you think that will be a necessity, if at all?
Chris: Ten years from now, when City of Titans has replaced WoW as the biggest MMO in history and we are all going to see the new Hollywood Blockbuster about Anthem, our patriotic heroine, I can say we will still be very welcoming of telecommuting.
That being said, our virtual nature means that coming together will incur serious moving expenses, and we’re not entirely sure it’s completely necessary to do it.
Face it, we’ve got a chance to experiment with all the most buzzword compliant ‘Business 2.0’ virtual company concepts, and – being the people we are – we plan on having some fun with it. Personally, though, I want an office building. With a Bat-Pole.
DC: While centralising under a single roof would be nice, at this point it would not be a cost-effective way of doing things.
Community feedback has played a massive role in the pre-Kickstarter phase but you can’t please everyone all of the time. You guys have a vision of what City of Titans should be so how are you filtering the feedback, addressing it and communicating with the fan-base?
Chris: I have to thank our PR team, Rae, VDG, and Zombie Man, of course. But we are the fan-base. Not all the fan-base, but we came together from diverse parts of it, so we still listen directly to our friends.
I’m still listening to The Cape, after all. So we hear things. Not everything, but we hear and communicate, and that’s a step there. But we have to trust our hearts. At the end of the day, we have to make the decision, we have to make art. And the strongest art is encouraged by the community, but it comes from within.
When I interviewed you last I asked if you had received any interest from traditional publishers to which you replied no. It’s early days but – should one come along – how do you think you’d respond now, knowing that the community want to make this the best game possible?
Chris: We, and I mean the entire group of players, were burned pretty badly once. We don’t want that to happen again. But we are open, and we are listening. On the other hand, there are publishers we won’t listen to. Publishers have to be businesses, but we want to be heroes, too. Ethics matter.
DC: It would honestly depend on the nature of the interactions.
Nate: After all this work was done, and then just handed over to someone, it could create resentment, if not anger. Look no further than what is happening with Mechwarrior Online right now.
The company behind it mistook enthusiasm for the property for enthusiasm for itself. Our community wants a spiritual successor, one worthy of that term. They don’t want a traditional MMO in spandex, which is what a traditional publishing route could turn into.
As a result, if we took the traditional publishing or venture capital route, it could very easily backfire. Any publisher we would work with would have to be the right fit, they would need to understand the nature of the effort, of the community. That would be a challenge for anyone. The door is open for any who wish to take up the challenge.
Now that you’re a stage further forward, have you had more discussions on the monetisation model? Have you got a more solid idea on how it’s going to work?
Chris: Yes, we have, but we want to spend some time discussing it and running market research studies before we make a final say.
We also want to observe the performance of new games like WildStar and Final Fantasy, before coming to a conclusion. There are two pillars we are going to stand behind, though. 1: No Pay To Win. 2: Value For Money. You pay us real cash, you get real value.
DC: As the person who is responsible for making sure the model is effectively implemented, I can admit that we’ve been experimenting with quite a few hypotheticals, with some potentially innovative solutions to the attendant problems.
Chris is quite right in saying that every dollar someone spends on the game is going to give them as much value as we are capable of giving.
Nate: The rush to Free-to-Play has resulted in a glut of same strategies being employed throughout the field. From lockboxes to locked content, the result winds up the same, player resentment.
This is something we aim to avoid. Instead of using the gambling impulse (the box may have that one piece of gear I need, and it is only $2) our aim is for value for the gaming dollar. After all, in gambling, the odds are always in favor of the house.
For instance, the idea to have an up-front cost to the game instead of freely downloaded. This puts an immediate cost to play, reducing the too common gold farmer spam accounts. But then we put in multiple months of subscription equal to that up-front cost, value added to the point the initial sale is free. But then, that subscription includes a cash shop monthly stipend which is of higher value than if you just purchased from the cash shop directly, a greater value. This then produces a value for the player as they are introduced to the use of the cash shop up front instead of messing with it later on. I cannot name the games which made it difficult to purchase anything through their front-end. Not because their stores were difficult, but because they were not introduced properly.
The shop then becomes a stopping point for a myriad of goods, from vanity costumes to deluxe animations. All of which in turn supports the games continuing operation. And by operating in this manner, the players would have direct and regular feedback for us, allowing us to adjust development to meet what they want. Our development then becomes regular, not once-a-year releases, but once-a-month incremental updates, fed by the players direct engagement in the system.
Chris Well, regarding the box, we mean that once you account for the subscription plus overhead, the initial sale is almost free.
Steam, for example, adds some overhead, so if we sell through Steam, we’ll have to add some cost to the box to pay the guys at Valve. I don’t think anyone can really object to paying Valve for their fantastic service. We might have to raise the price of the box everywhere to pay for that, as Steam may say you can’t charge less for it anywhere else, but that’s all details. I’d have to check the agreement to be sure. And, of course, an incremental update a month is our goal. There will be times we don’t make it. And sometimes times we choose not to make it, in order to make a much bigger update the next month. But it’s a goal we’re aiming for”
There may be MMO gamers out there who never took the plunge with City of Heroes so here’s your chance to sell the game to any prospective new players. Why should they be helping fund the game’s Kickstarter and what can they look forward to when it does launch?
Chris: I could talk about the cutting edge experiments we’re trying in storytelling. I could talk about the guy with a PhD in Computational Intelligence that we’re working with. I could talk about the fact that our game system is going to be designed by someone with decades of experience designing for White Wolf, Green Ronin and WotC. But that’s not the point.
The point is… you’re gonna feel like a hero when you play this game. Or a villain. We’re not making a game where you’re chosen to be the special one. We’re making a game where you get to make yourself the special one, and you’ll feel you’ve earned it. You’ve seen the movies. You’ve read the comics; you’ve played the games. Live it now.
Also, there’s gonna be really kick-ass explosions.
Most of you felt pretty let-down when NCsoft closed City of Heroes. Have you a special message for them now?
Chris: I wish WildStar the best of luck, and I hope their future is bright.
DC: I forgive you all.
Nate: Laying of blame is pointless. Instead I have to look to the future. I wish NCsoft good fortune, and if they ever wish to talk to us about anything, our door is always open.
City of Titans crowd funding continues on Kickstarter, and due to the speed at which funds have come in, the stretch goals now reach $2m USD.