Under Development: Lessons from Human Resources
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e’ve talked about Uber Entertainment’s Human Resources several times here on Cliqist; pieces ranging from excitement about what’s in store, to sad tales of what’s going wrong, and everything in-between. While I run the risk of beating a dead horse I felt it was important to take a look back at the Human Resources Kickstarter campaign and see what went wrong, and what lessons could be gleamed from it.
Issue: Planetary Annihilation
The Planetary Annihilation issue is something that Ahmed touched on shortly after the Human Resources launch. Let me recap for you in case you hate clicking things: a number of very important promised features were still missing from Planetary Annihilation even though it was officially ‘released.’ Obviously players and backers were a bit upset that not only was their game still incomplete in their eyes, but that the developers seemed to be moving on to other things already.
The single biggest issue with the Human Resources Kickstarter was Uber’s failure to rally the 44,000+ backers of Planetary Annihilation to the Human Resources cause. There was no rallying message telling backers that an exciting new project was coming, just a defensive “please don’t freak out, but…” update. It seems obvious that Uber was at least somewhat aware of what their existing backers had in store for them; so why not do more to get ahead of it? The issues with Planetary Annihilation were already well known at that point. Statements indicating that Human Resources was being created by a completely different team that Planetary Annihilation hold no water, at the end of the day both campaigns are created by Uber, that’s who they’re giving their money to.
Lesson: Have Your House In Order
Human Resources ended its campaign with just over 9,300 backers; which doesn’t sound bad. However, it’s horrible when compared to the 44,000+ that backed Planetary Annihilation. Uber needed to do more to address the already vocal complaints of their existing backers; this could have been done by addressing the offline play, DRM free, and AI concerns before Human Resources launched. Four days into the campaign is just too late; especially when your new campaign has a goal 50% higher than the original.
Where were the pre-campaign hype messages to backers? Where were the incentives to get Planetary Annihilation backers on board with Human Resources? Nothing was done to leverage the 44,000 people that had already given them money for a game sight-unseen; not to mention the ones that had purchased the game upon release.
There are now 905 comments in the Human Resources comments section. 12, or 1.32%, of those comments were from the creators. The first comments didn’t come until 2 days into the campaign. When the developers did start getting involved in the comments section it was very selective; ignoring questions and concerns in favor of a few hype messages. The creators’ comments from that point on are still full of opportunities. Here’s a breakdown:
- Oct 2 – Campaign launches
- Oct 4 – Four comments asking for suggestions (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Oct 7 – One comment addressing one of the many questions being thrown about
- Oct 8 – One comment addressing a crashing issue in Planetary Annihilation
- Oct 10 – One comment telling people the creature suggestions backers had been making are great
- Oct 15 – One comment directing people to check out that days update
- Oct 16 – Campaign update releasing new wallpapers, avatars, and gifs
- Oct 16 – One comment stating that the Planetary Annihilation and Human Resources teams are two different teams
- Oct 17 – Two campaign updates addressing the need for better daily funding and announcing a new unit (1, 2)
- Oct 18 – Campaign update indicating Oct 20th was the deadline for cancelling or continuing the campaign
- Oct 19 – Campaign update concerning the poor funding status
- Oct 18 – Three lengthy comments concerning the concerns that people had raised (1, 2, 3)
- Oct 20 – Campaign cancelled
Lesson: Get Engaged
I’m not saying that Uber should have responded to every message, but there are very few reasons for such little backer engagement. While it’s certainly possible that whoever was running the Human Resources campaign had a gag-order of sorts with regards to Planetary Annihilation, that doesn’t excuse going days without posting. They needed to get in the comments section early to drive the conversation in a more favorable way, to get people talking about the game. There were no calls to get people involved in social media, which is unusual considering how dead the Facebook and Twitter feeds were for much of the campaign.
Issue: It’s Not 2012
I’m cheating a bit here because this encapsulates several issues at once, but they all roll up to Ubers’ apparent lack of understanding concerning the current state of crowdfunding.
The Sept 2012 Planetary Annihilation campaign was a huge success for a number of reasons. The world was high on loving them some Kickstarter and were ready to back almost anything practically sight unseen. Uber jumped on Kickstarter bandwagon with a game that appeared to be a sequel to a beloved classic, a funding video that appeared to show lots of gameplay (or at least tangible concepts), a page that had tons of screenshots, and a $900k target that seemed very reasonable. The press response was massive and over joyous.
The 2014 Human Resources campaign came at a time when Kickstarting funding is in the middle of a dramatic downturn. Uber set a $1.4million funding goal for a new IP on a campaign that contained 2 to 3 screenshots or pieces of concept art, and a video that contained a few seconds of what could apologetically be called gameplay if you really stretched. The press responsive? Timid and space, not to mention that much of it was tainted with Planetary Annihilation talk.
Lesson: It’s 2014
It’s certainly possible to have an enormously successful Kickstarter in 2014, look no further than Kingdom Come: Deliverance to see that. However, doing so means having a solid understanding of the landscape. Very few developers can get away with asking for over a million bucks with nothing more than a smile anymore. Gameplay heavy funding videos, animated gifs, varied screenshots, a reasonable funding goal, and lots of press are the minimum level of entry for a campaign looking to raise more than $50k these days.
To top it off, while it’s one thing to run a campaign like its 2012, Uber ran a campaign that would have struggled to survive even in the golden days of just two years ago. $1.4million for some cut scenes, a couple mock-up screens, and near radio silence from the developers?
Although I’ve been beating up on Uber regarding Human Resources quite a bit, it’s not done out of a sick desire to see it fail. As someone that’s in love with crowdfunding it pains me to see a major campaign fail so completely, especially when it’s from a developer that has a track record of being able to deliver a quality product at the end of the day.
Although some will point to Human Resources as an example of how Kickstarter is in the middle of its death throes, it should be obvious from Uber’s missteps that the wrong lessons, if any, were learned from their original Kickstarter. With any luck we’ll see Uber back again next Spring with a more cohesive campaign for another great sounding game. I don’t think they’ll be talking to me any time soon, but that’s ok, it’s all about the games in the end.