24 Hours, $1 Million: This Changes Everything

Yesterday something amazing happened.

The mere promise of an old school adventure game — the genre I love and work in, and the one that has been called “dead” uncountable times since it lost golden child status in the late 90’s — was launched on Kickstarter, and in under 24 hours, it raised $1 million.

To give you perspective on that, I offer not only Kickstarter’s blog post recounting the groundbreaking 24 hours, but my own breakdown of the facts:

Double Fine Adventures: actual overnight millionaires
  • The Kickstarter campaign, brought us by Double Fine Adventures, had a goal of $400,000. This in and of itself is almost four times the total amount of money raised by ANY video game project on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter we ran for Phoenix Online raised a little over $34,000, and is the 8th most funded video game project there right now (9th, once Double Fine’s campaign closes).
  • They reached that amount in 8 hours.
  • The highest amount ever raised, when this began, was $942,578 by the TikTok project, an iPod nano-compatible watch.
  • Yesterday, this total was surpassed by Elevation Dock, an iPhone dock, which was just finishing it’s run. This project also, yesterday, became the first project on Kickstarter to ever break $1 million.
  • Within hours, Double Fine also breaks $1 million.
  • Currently, Double Fine stands at over $1.3 million, is already the most successful Kickstarter ever, and may very well break $2 million before it’s done, since it has until March 13th. It also now holds the records for fastest growth and most backers.

There are a slew of obvious reasons why this is ridiculously amazing. The speed at which this happened, the incredible goal it has hit and continues to hit, the reach it has, all speak for themselves. What’s important to me about this? Four words.

Maniac Mansion: How do I get out of the dungeon? I still don't know!

Old. School. Adventure. Game.

This is the genre that, as the Double Fine video points out, publishers will laugh at. Dismiss as bound to fail. We got so few adventure games for so long because of this attitude. Great series’ died out ungraceful deaths because of this. And while the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years, it hasn’t been big like it once was, either. So the fact that an independent developer said they want to make one and within 24 hours raised $ 1 million and broke records left and right doing it is frakkin’ off the charts fantastic!

Some due background on Double Fine: the studio has produced some amazing and very popular games (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend), and the two big names working there and attached to this are Tim Schafer (Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango) and Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion). Their achievements back in the hey-day of adventure gaming were and are beloved classics and games loved almost universally by the fans. Monkey Island is the only adventure game franchise to see a successful and well-received commercial revival (from Telltale Games). So their reputations and achievements have a lot to do with this success; but hot damn if they didn’t also execute a well-oiled PR campaign to get this thing going.

The Secret of Monkey Island brought us the best and truest thing about pirates yet: Insult Sword Fighting.

Still, it’s just plain not possible for even a fantastic PR campaign to the media to account for this. Yes, there were posts and tweets from Kotaku. Joystiq, Gamasutra and more as this thing got on its legs and launched. But the thing that made this work, made it happen so fast, so well, so overwhelmingly above and beyond?

Fan word of mouth and social media.

Is it any surprise? Social media has shown how it’s changed the world already. Political protests, uprisings, petitions, news, bullying, emergency responses — good and bad (often depending on where you stand), social media has changed how the world works. It’s the next step in the evolving way in which communication directly affects how the world grows and changes. One voice, on its own, may not be heard by many. But when one voice becomes thousands in a matter of minutes, when one voice can be heard and amplified by peers, one voice is suddenly deafening. One voice becomes many, and many can change what happens. One change becomes many and…you get the idea. The point is, one voice has power, and that is undeniable.

This seems like just one game. It’ll be fun, it’s a great story of triumph, the little guy won, huzzah. And it is that, but that’s not all it is. It’s a moment we can point to. Where it became clear that things were different, that things can be different. On the gaming business side of this moment, this development, this is something that won’t and can’t be ignored, not by the wannabes, not by the independent developers, and not by the publishers. Will the industry change over night? No. But the relationship is changing, and those of us who only had one voice know we’re being heard. What’s more, everyone else hears it now, too — and everyone knows it.


Choose Your Own Adventure

My favorite ending was the one where I turned into a unicorn. This should not be a surprise.

How great are these books? Someone in my writing group did a Choose Your Own Adventure-style submission this week, and it was so much fun to read. Took me right back to being a kid again!

I loved these books any old time, but they were my go-to for when I was home sick from school. I’d sit down on the couch in the TV room with a pile of Choose Your Own Adventures next to me and read them all day long. Some were the standard ‘CYOA’ brand, but others were a Dungeons & Dragons collection. I think we had others that actually had a character sheet involved, but those were far too complicated for my tastes at the time. And would be now, really–if I want an RPG, I’ll play an RPG. CYOA is the time for making arbitrary choices and finding out where they took me.

What better way to make yourself feel better than getting lost in the life of someone else? Saving villages, kingdoms, friends and family! Traveling through time and dark forests! Keeping your fingers in the last few pages you make decisions from because you want to go back easily if you die; and seeing the totally unrelated

I never got into Hero of Washington Square. I blame the lack of dragons on its cover.

development on the opposite page from yours and desperately wanting to figure out how to get to that one!

I’m confident that I never found every path in these books, despite reading them over and over again. Though I’d try to find new ones each time, there were some favorite paths that I couldn’t resist taking a second, third, or fourth time. They were as much a comfort as the chicken soup, my mom, and my blanky. Having been reminded of them, I’m tempted to dig around in my parents’ attic until I find again now in anticipation of my next sick day!

Really, is it any wonder I grew up to love role-playing games, computer adventure games, or that I’m a writer? That I love the idea of branching storylines and endings? (I just finished Heavy Rain, which has numerous possible endings. It’s amazing. And I want to go back and get all the other endings now, too!)

Phoenix Online Party!

Hello friends who read this blog! In a fun act of shameless self promotion (and it’s my blog, so damn right I’ve got no shame about it!), here’s the news:

Phoenix Online is having a party, and you’re all invited!

To celebrate the upcoming release–and to reveal some HUGE news–we’re having a live pre-release chat party next weekend! As The Silver Lining builds to its dramatic climax and the Phoenix Online team turns our attention to the future, we wanted to put together something extra special for the fans who have supported us during this long, exciting journey.

So mark your calendars for October 29th at 2:00 PM Eastern. You’ll see the Episode 4 trailer, hear new details about the episode (including the exact date of the early November release date–it’s so close we can taste it!), and be one of the very first people to hear about the commercial game we’ll be announcing on Halloween! That’s right, we’ll be spilling the beans to you–the fans–at the party, before we send out the press release!

Even better: Jane Jensen herself will be there!

We’ll also have special guests Fable Foundry to talk about The Art of Sierra and some other great new projects, and Romano Molenaar, comic artist with prominent work on X-Men, Tomb Raider, and The Darkness–find out at the party how he’s involved with us!

We hope you’ll set aside some time for this once-in-a-lifetime event and join us at the Pre-Release Party, October 29th, 11:00 AM PDT / 2:00 PM EDT/ 8:00 PM GMT/ 9:00 CET on Ustream! We hope we see you there!

Your time zone isn’t listed? Find out what time the party is where you are here!

Goals in 2011 & Aspiration: Game Designer

I found a post I’d made on my previous online journal about goals for the year 2011. I’ve done okay with these, but not 100%. Some are a little beyond my direct control, but most of them aren’t. But, there are also 4 big fat months of 2011 left yet, so I can make good on as much as possible!

One of these was to finish writing Ghostlight. This I have not yet done, but if I push myself, it’s possible. Now we’re talking first draft business here, not a remotely finished product, but the first draft feels like the hardest part. And though I’m considering changes that range from cutting or adding minor characters to snipping out notions I no longer want in there to wondering about rewriting the whole damn thing in 3rd person instead of 1st person, when I can at least have a final draft completed, start to finish, that’ll be huge for me. In short, this one is still on the docket, and I’m going to work at making it happen!

One of my other goals was to get some chunk of a proposed game script done, of which just about nothing has gotten done, but the game designer landscape is a constantly changing one for me. That game is no longer first or even second or third in the docket behind other potential projects. And that’s a good enough place to talk about another aspiration of mine, game design.

When I was a kid, I discovered Sierra games. Adventure games where you took on the role of a person–a space-age janitor, a spunky princess, a prince-turned-slave, etc–and walked around a world, looking at things, collecting a ton of inventory items, solving puzzles with logic and not with force of arms. I LOVED these games. It was like a storybook come to life, and I loved me some storybooks. Pretty much from then on, a pipe dream of mine was to create adventure games.

Fast forward to 2002, and I’ve just graduated college with an English major, basically meaning I’ve got no job and very few prospects. It was a shitty time for graduating, moreso with a liberal arts degree. I find a website for a fanmade, unofficial, King’s Quest 9, a sequel to the Sierra series that built itself upon myths, fairy tales, and folklore, that I had adored most of my life. They were looking for a staff writer among other things. So hell yes I signed myself up for that! I submitted an application, a trial piece of writing, and over the next few years I was the co-writer on a script that was insanely large and impossible to turn into a game, not that we knew that, because none of us knew anything about creating computer games back then. But between temp jobs and other obstacles in my life at the time, it was a dream come true.

After two cease-and-desists that fans fought vehemently to get reversed for us, last summer, we at Phoenix Online Studios at long last released The Silver Lining, Episode 1 (of 5)*. The dream was reality. We had made a computer game (well, part of one), and we were making it happen. We were game designers, dammit! We’ve released three full Episodes now, and are working on the final two, while also working on turning this non-commercial company into a commercial one. I’m a designer and the PR Director, and I love it. It’s unquestionably a passion for me.

It’s hard to say how much getting this game released meant to me. I can use words, and I will, but the swell of pride, accomplishment, being part of something bigger than myself…it’s beyond just words. If you’ve felt it, you know it. Something we worked on for eight years, something that was almost taken away from us by “the Man” not once but twice, something that enough other people believed in to make the effort to fight for it, for us…it’s something that will always make me smile. I hope this group goes much further and does much more, but knowing we’ve done this much already is kind of astounding to me. I–we–have gotten this far, and that absolutely counts for something.


*Details and shameless promotion! The Silver Lining is a family-friendly adventure game based on the best-selling King’s Quest games made by Sierra in the 80’s and 90’s. It is also FREE! Yes, free! You can play the whole dang thing at no charge. It is only playable for the PC right now, although we plan to have a Mac version eventually, and we have released so far 3 out of 5 planned episodes.