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Square Enix Collective is a platform for indies to build a community. If a campaign succeeds, Square Enix will help developers seek crowd-funding via IndieGoGo.
For the past few years, games have sought financial support from crowd-funding websites. All they had to do was have an idea, some information and maybe a few screenshots. In return, they offered rewards at certain pledge level.
Sadly, there has been incidences where the game hasn’t come to market because the skills weren’t there, or the developers didn’t realize how much certain things would cost. Square Enix hopes to change this with their new platform, Square Enix Collective
Last month, they launched the pilot phase of Square Enix Collective. In this, they are testing the water with three different games. I managed to get interviews with representatives from Ruffian Games, Kitfox Games and also sent a few questions to Phil Elliot, Project Lead of Square Enix Collective.
If you haven’t heard of Square Enix Collective before now, I will allow Phil Elliot to explain:
“Well, the primary objective of the Collective platform is to enable a developer to gain traction for an idea ahead of taking that idea into crowd funding. There are, of course, a number of factors that can mean the difference between crowd-funding success and failure – but if you have community momentum going into a campaign, you’re more likely to hit your target. If you start cold, you’re more likely to fail.
We want to help developers generate that momentum, and we can do that with our scale – as a big publisher we have social network channels, media relationships and so on, that we can use to help spread the word.”
With crowd-funding campaigns, you normally are aiming to hit a financial target in a certain period of time. Square Enix Collective isn’t about raising funds, so how does it work?
“Firstly, the developer uploads a pitch to the Collective platform (for free), and once it’s live we help to drive awareness of that concept. If the developer is bringing their own IP, there’s nothing to tie developers in past that point – and they also retain that IP too. Overall, we think there’s a great value to being involved with Collective.
At the end of the 28-day feedback phase, if the community is behind a project we may offer to continue to support the concept through crowd funding. We have a partnership with world-leading platform IndieGoGo, and we can help with awareness of that funding campaign – though just to be clear, the developer doesn’t have to accept and is free to go in whatever direction they feel is best for them. If they do accept, the developer is the campaign owner, not us. That means that they receive the funds, and they direct the game’s development if the funding target is hit.
We ask for 5% of net crowd-funds raised if they are successful, to help cover platform costs – but we think that’s a reasonable request in exchange for helping to build a community around a project. If the funding campaign isn’t successful, we don’t ask for anything, of course.
Later, once development is under-way, we may offer to distribute the game as well – but again, it’s up to the developer if that’s something they’re interested in, or not.”
My first question to both the developers was their reasons for going with Square Enix Collective over straight-forward crowd-funding, like many other developers have done before them.
“My background is as a level/game designer; I’m not a trained market or business person. I’m creative. But when we founded Kitfox, we read up on all of the indie post-mortems and advice columns, regarding both game development and marketing. Marketing was one thing that was consistent. You need to somehow get people’s attention. Making a good game isn’t enough.
On the surface it appears that crowd-funding campaigns either builds up a community following OR spends a lot of money on traditional advertising, launch parties, press events, etc. If you don’t have the luxury of deciding between them (or combining them!), then you’re left with the former. The Square Enix Collective seemed to use like the best way to do that.”
– Tanya Short, Kitfox Games.
“Collective looks like a great stepping stone for people to try out new game ideas at a concept and pitch stage without the immediate commitment of running a crowd-funding campaign. We think that’s good because it helps to validate the core concept, find an audience for the game and gather feedback. It also gets a bit of momentum behind the game if and when it does start a crowd-funding campaign.”
– James Cope, Ruffian Games
With the main points for the Square Enix Collective platform being the feedback and community, I asked them whether this had actually happened over the first couple of weeks. Had they received a response which indicated that the platform was helping?
“Our newsletter for Moon Hunter has already gained more subscribers than our first game, Shattered Planet, despite the fact that we’ve been building the latter for 7 months longer.
We’ve gotten some good feedback from Collective community members about their priorities. Some are stressing the importance of the soundtrack, which we’re glad of, since we’ve lined up a pretty great composer. Some are probably holding their judgement until we announce more details about our mythology-building system, which is fair enough, since it’s our major innovation.”
– Tanya Short, Kitfox Games
“So far we’ve received only feedback on the concept and we’ve got a good mix of criticism of the game. We’re happy with that, there’s lots of positivity about the game and it’s core mechanics. Game of Glens is a new direction for us so we expected it to receive some negativity and we just have to take that on the chin. We’re not abandoning our console development for this, Game of Glens is just a small part of a longer term strategy of development for us.”
– James Cope, Ruffian Games
Kitfox Games are looking to raise support for their new project, Moon Hunters, and so far 81% people have said that they would be happy to back the project if it went to crowd-funding. Whereas, Ruffian Games are only on 40% at the time of writing. Why is this?
“We think a lot of the voting has been swayed because of early protest votes and as people understand more about the game we think the voting will be turned around. When people see the game in action we think that will alleviate some of the key criticisms of being a too casual looking game, we think of it much more like a side-on real time strategy game than anything else and it’s got a lot of potential for depth and breadth. We’ve still got a lot of people interested in the concept and that’s a promising start.”
– James Cope, Ruffian Games
Square Enix announced that they would also be opening up the opportunity for developers to create games for some of their older IPs through the Square Enix Collective but, as many people have learnt from games such as Warhammer, this can sometimes lead to some lower quality games which disappoint fans invested in the IP. I asked Phil how they would prevent this from happening.
“The process for using Square Enix IP is a little different than original IP. And to be clear, it’s really the older Eidos back-catalogue we’re looking at opening up over time, rather than the Japanese franchises. Right now, that’s Gex, Fear Effect and Anachronox, but we’ll add to that list over time.
First of all, at the point of submission we’ll check the concept to make sure it’s something we’re happy isn’t going to misrepresent that IP. For different products we’ll of course use different benchmarks, but we want to keep an open mind as far as possible. To that extent, if an interesting concept for a turn-based RPG set in the Gex universe came along, we wouldn’t dismiss it just because it wasn’t a platformer like the previous games – if it’s an interesting idea, we’ll consider it.
Then, if we do think the idea is interesting, we’ll open it up to the community via the feedback platform – and then it’s up to gamers to tell us what they think. If they like it, we’ll consider the next steps, which in this case would involve going through crowd-funding on our IndieGoGo campaign page.
But before that happens we’ll take a thorough look at the team to make sure they’re able to deliver what they say they want to, and (as the IP owner) we’d also have more active involvement about the game’s development on an ongoing process.
So we believe we can avoid a lot of issues through this process, and who knows what developers will come up with? It’s certainly going to be exciting to see.”
The real test for the Square Enix Collective is whether those projects that receive support from the community and are helped by Square Enix are more successful than those which don’t receive support from the community and choose to go it alone. I will be keeping an eye on this over the coming months as the games currently in the pilot seek crowd-funding.