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Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox: A world ‘inside the imagination of a sentient sword’ (interview)

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
Editor's Note from Stephanie Carmichael:
Jody met up with indie creator Alex Norton in Brisbane, Australia, to talk about the development of Malevolence and how it went from scrap-paper beginnings to an explosively successful Kickstarter.

I said, “I make video games as a hobby, so why don’t I try making a video game of the card game and see if we can use that to raise the money that we need to push the card game?” And the computer game exploded like a penguin in a microwave. It’s been a phenomenal amount of support and community encouragement and interest in the video game, and it sort of eclipsed the card game.

We’re still going to do the card game, but Malevolence has already made about four times as much as we need to produce the card game, and it hasn’t even come out yet. When it comes out, we’re gonna do the card game as well, and instead of being a card game with a video game supplement, it’s going to be a video game with a card game supplement.

Farm3

Something for the deluxe rerelease maybe. It reminds me of Richard Garfield, when he wanted to design RoboRally — you know RoboRally?

Norton: Yes, I love RoboRally. I’ve got one of the original sets.

With the metal figurines?

Norton: Lead, before that was unsafe.

He wanted to make that game, but he found out it was going to be so expensive to get all of those lead figurines cast and all of the boards the way he wanted them. He decided to make another game first that would be easy to make, and he could sell at conventions and then take the money from that and make RoboRally. That’s how he made Magic: The Gathering.

Norton: Wow, I did not know that story. I play both of them.

He made slightly more off Magic: The Gathering than he ever made off RoboRally.

Norton: Little bit. Which is a shame because RoboRally is one of the best board games ever created. It’s beautifully chaotic. It’s the only way I can possibly describe it.

Outdoor3

On the subject of funding, when did you decide to turn to Kickstarter?

Norton: It got to the halfway point of the development — the development was broken into three years. The first year was building the engine, getting the technology working, making sure the infinite world would work properly. And then the second year was putting in the content and things like that. The third year was going to be put aside for polish. We realized that to make it have the polish level that we wanted, we would need to have a lot more artists producing art and textures and modelers making 3D models and sound designers and composers, that sort of thing, to bring it to a level — not quite triple-A-quality, but as close to that as an indie has any right to get. To hire all those people costs money. I was doing it from my day job. For the last two years I’ve been paying for it, I’ve got a mortgage and bills and I was paying for that, but I was saving all my spare money, eating nothing but baked beans and noodles — cheap food so I could afford to pay all these other people because the game meant that much to me. And [my wife] Nyssa was putting money into it as well.

I thought, “This is crazy, I wish I could use Kickstarter” because it was over there, but it was only available to Americans. I tried Indiegogo just to raise $8,000 because that’s what I’d budgeted out to pay for everybody to get the amount of polish I wanted. We went to Indiegogo and in a month got $1,300, and it failed. That was a little bit demoralizing. It was scary putting it up there because then people can put a monetary figure to something. I thought, “What does this mean? Does this mean people aren’t gonna want to buy it? If I release it, are people just going to ignore it because they didn’t put money towards the Indiegogo?”

I was a bit demoralized, but I thought it might just be a coincidence because Indiegogo doesn’t have much traffic. So I researched quite a bit into the psychology behind Kickstarter videos and the planning side of that and spent about a month doing that. I contacted my [American] composer, probably the team member that I’ve never met whom I trust the most because it is a big trust thing if it was to go well. And I said to him, “Look, if you help this out and make this go through your social security number and bank account and whatnot, I’ll give you 5 percent of whatever we raise to be able to do that for me.” And he goes, “Fine, doesn’t bother me.” All right, great, if he ends up running off with the money, then at least I haven’t lost anything.

That allowed us to go to Kickstarter. I used all of what I studied to make a new video and a very different approach. I just watched the number go up and up and up and up. The first week, we’d already made what we asked for, and it just kept going and going and going. All of a sudden, I woke up one morning to find it had spiked drastically because Penny-Arcade had mentioned it and Rock, Paper, Shotgun mentioned it. It just shot higher and higher, and every day I’d wake up — every time somebody pledged, I got a new email. My phone’s next to my bed. I sort of wake up, “Oh, 32 new emails.” Another day, 68 new emails. Oh God! It was blowing my mind. Then, finishing at $33,000 when we only asked for [$6,000] — because we asked for eight [thousand] last time, but in the month that had passed, I’d put another $2,000 of my own money into it, so we only asked for six — but then to get $33,506. And 17 cents!

Not only did it obviously help the game, the game’s now paid for. I don’t have to put any of my own money into it anymore — I can eat food! Normal food! I can take my wife to the movies, all this stuff that I’ve been forgoing because the game was more important for two-and-a-half years. If I need a piece of art done — paid for. I need a new musical piece — paid for. Just done, done, done, done.

Nicholas, our composer, pulled through and sent the money across, no problem, no delay. He made one joke about [stealing] it, but it was received so badly he went quiet, didn’t joke about it again. It was a very wild ride, but to have it pay off both emotionally and financially, it was validating more than anything. Because it was terrifying to put it up there again after failing and to say, “Here it is, world. If you like it, put money towards it. If you don’t think it’s worth it, don’t.” And they thought it was worth it.

Of everything, 78 percent of the pledges that came in were from people who were browsing Kickstarter — not linked from blogs, not linked from forums, just people who’ve gone to Kickstarter.com, were browsing around and found it and clicked on it, so that’s a first impression because they’d know nothing about the game beforehand. They judged it purely on what I had there. And they pledged 78 percent.

That’s incredible. I’ve never just gone to Kickstarter and started browsing, but I guess once you end up at the site, it’s easy enough to see things nearby.

Norton: We received so much traffic that Kickstarter put us as a staff pick, a favorite. And we were there for about a week and a half.

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