inXile and Unity and Kickstarter promises

12 May
May 12, 2012

inXile has revealed that they will be using Unity engine for Wasteland 2.

While people seem to be arguing what this means for how ‘AAA’ the game will look (hint : they don’t have the budget to afford the number of artists needed to make art for a AAA title, so it’s irrelevant), I have a different question :

Did they settle on Unity before or after their kickstarter campaign? And do they already have experienced Unity devs, or are they hiring them now that they’ve settled on the engine?

This is important in light of the features that have been promised during the kickstarter project. Unity doesn’t really support Linux right now, and while it might in the future, or you might be able to work out a way to port it, that’s a bit of a gamble. And if they didn’t have experienced Unity devs during the kickstarter campaign, how reliable are their time and feature predictions? Remember, time = money, quite literally. The majority of your money will be spent on salaries. When the money runs out, the game must ship.

I’ve had a fair amount of experience with managers promising clients things, then coming to the programming team and telling us that since they promised it, and promised it in a time-frame, you have to make it happen.

The kickstarter trend at the moment is interesting to watch, but I fear that the unbridled optimism we’re seeing while all these projects are still in the promise stage must at some point be tempered against a harsh reality. Kickstarter is not necessarily better than the traditional model, it’s different. Ideas that publishers might pooh-pooh will get funded, but the projects that get this funding have less oversight. Watching the documentary of DoubleFine’s Adventure Game is not the same as managerial oversight.

Publishers are so conservative not because they just hate creativity, but because they have a lot of experience with titles tanking, and tanking hard. And losing them money. It’s easy to be liberal with your money when you haven’t watched millions of your own dollars evaporate.

Right now, the public is like a brand new publisher, one that has never been burned by failure. We are not conservative, we’re backing all the neat sounding ideas! I wonder what will happen when the first one tanks? When the first dev reveals that they couldn’t actually fulfill the promises they made at the start of the endeavor, that maybe they overreached?

Will we be so quick to trust again?

11 replies
  1. Kimari says:

    “Publishers are so conservative not because they just hate creativity, but because they have a lot of experience with titles tanking, and tanking hard. And losing them money.”
    The problem is not whether or not the game makes money, the problem is if the developer can actually finish the game.

  2. gareth says:

    Well, an unfinished/bugged as hell game is gonna tank, isn’t it? 😉

  3. gareth says:

    Also, judging by comments Fargo made on Twitter, it seems pretty likely that they chose Unity after their kickstarter completed. So there’s that.

    • Evan Greenwood says:

      Well, some of the alternatives, like they choose to create their own engine, are far more likely to generate failure.

      Although I think you’re suggesting that the fact that they’re deciding on engines well after they propose the game is a sign to make one doubt their ability to produce… and I agree.

      I suspect that crowd-sourcing will generate fewer failures than tradition funding methods. The fact that interest in the game is proven before the production begins is a huge help in planning a project and searching for further investment… Plus crowd-funding encourages open development, which can help designers make better decisions. I guess I’m saying I think crowd-funding is a better system for small but ambitious developers.

      (I guess I’m a bit biased towards what benefits developers… I rarely see a Kick Starter project I would consider supporting as a consumer)

      Though like you I’m expecting the crowd-funding supporters to become more savvy as the process matures. And there will be some spectacular failures.

  4. dcfedor says:

    Huh, I didn’t realize Linux support was still incomplete for Unity3D. I guess I always figured that was one of the draws to the platform. Does the Flash port help with that at all?

    I hear what you’re saying about starting a new engine. Though I’m not Unity expert, I agree that feature development will likely be stunted a bit by inexperience doing things “the Unity way.” New engines always do that to a team.

    I was thinking, though, that they will at least be able to plug their art team into Unity with little resistance, won’t they? They seem to be already outfitted with the talent for 3D assets, and should be able to start creating materials for Unity with little retooling/training.

    As for the engine itself, their previous work seems to be quite a wide range of target platforms. Perhaps they have enough experience with new engines to know what their discovery rates are like? I.e. they have experience with inexperience?

    I definitely don’t have the answers, just playing the devil’s advocate, as usual 🙂

  5. gareth says:

    Compiling to Flash and releasing that as a desktop standalone was one of the ways I imagined they might tackle a Unity-Linux port, though I’m not sure the flash version has all the Unity features. But judging by Fargo’s comments on Twitter, the Unity guys have given them the engine source code to work on a Linux-specific port.

    They may or may not pull it off, I don’t know. I hope they do. But I am slightly concerned over what happens when the first of these big, exciting projects fails.

    “Put up a kickstarter!” is a comment I’ve seen on forums a lot recently, for anyone trying to figure out how to make a project work. And devs are certainly scrambling to put up their projects. There’s a sense from many that it’s a bit of a panacea.

    While it’s certainly nice to have the option there, I suspect that there will be an ugly episode at some point in the future and the enthusiasm will cool somewhat.

  6. dcfedor says:

    True. And even if there isn’t a major failure, there has already been an expression of fatigue among avid supporters. “Gotta stop kickstarting until some of these actually produce fruit” has been a sentiment I’ve seen a couple times.

  7. c. says:

    Fargo has like 30 years of experience and quite a number of completed projects on his resume. While it is perfectly reasonable to expect W2 to be completed in 24 rather 18 months(6 months slip up is nothing strange in software dev), all these “what will happen if fargo fails?” are, well, ridiculous. They are not coming from his peers.

  8. GhanBuriGhan says:

    Well, I think even now “the public” isn’t quite as blue-eyed as one might think, games that don’t look professional enough have failed to meet their funding goals (e.g. Tortured Hearts). So people already weigh the risk against potential payoff to some extent. I think it is already clear that a professionalisation is taking place when you look at kickstarter pitches, and this will continue. If projects fail, the focus of new pitches will quickly adjust to convincing the public of reliability and realistic project planning rather than just plain coolness of the idea… That process will happen, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    As to W2, I know too little to judge it’s chance of success. But it seems that it’s a good engine to get productive with quickly, and it seems that the unity guys are interested to work with inXile to get the unity support of the ground – which is on their agenda anyways, so having a high profile collaboration on this can only be good for their own PR. TL;DR: I am still hopeful 🙂

  9. gareth says:

    Ghan, I think you’re right.

    It’ll evolve. Right now, I think we’re all still very optimistic.

    But I think it will slow down in pace somewhat, even without any major disappointment, as people find themselves reluctant to support too many projects without some of them paying off first.

    And then yes, I suspect there will be at least one “big” letdown, after which the focus will shift more toward proving reliability and a proven track record from the developers. Until that happens, I think the focus will be more on marketting gimmicks.

    Look at Neal Stephenson’s new KS project. I think it’s cool, but it’s cool mostly because of background stuff with dudes sword fighting and Gabe Newell cameos. That’s just…theatrics.

    I think that’s why Vince has such an aversion. He loathes the theatrics. 😉


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