Gamesplanet Lab mixes Kickstarter and Steam by unifying funding, development, and sales
Gamesplanet Lab is an ambitious project that combines Gamesplanet, a European digital distribution service with over 600 titles in its catalog, with Ulule, a European crowdfunding platform more than 1,000 projects strong since its launch in late 2010. Equal parts Kickstarter and Steam, Gamesplanet Lab hopes to be a one-stop shop for all things games; from initial backing of a project and receiving bonuses for pledging support to early access, QA testing and, ultimately, distribution. Gamesplanet witnessed the success of Double Fine's Tim Schafer, and this set the wheels in motion. “We loved the concept. And at the same time, we swiftly felt that the honeymoon between crowdfunding and video game development could lead to some misunderstandings,” Pierre Forest, CEO and co-founder of Gamesplanet said. “Because the game industry is a risky business, because initial funding can’t be the only motive of this great move.” He knew how demanding the gamers would be, and his solution creates a system where everyone involved has clear, dedicated rules to follow.
The rules of the game
These rules aren't abstract notions to Forest. In fact, he refers to them as a sort of “recipe” for the platform. The 10 Commitments are the closest thing the company has to a secret sauce, even if it's not a secret. “Gamesplanet Lab’s aim is to create a platform where project creators get the necessary tools to manage exchanges with gamers, distribute demo and final games, etc. while reassuring backers that the games they’re backing will be of good quality in the end,” Forest told me. It's that strong focus on “good quality” that could set it apart. Kickstarter generated buzz thanks to <a data-cke-saved-href=“http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/how-a-film-crew-helped-begin-double-fines-kickstarter-revolution-the-story-” href=“http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/how-a-film-crew-helped-begin-double-fines-kickstarter-revolution-the-story-” “target=“_blank”>Tim Schafer and 2 Player Productions, but it had its share of problems. By late April, intrepid Internet investigators had noticed that the Kickstarter page for action game MYTHIC: The Story Of Gods And Men wasn't quite up to snuff. The listing, filled with stolen art and plagiarized writing, led to nearly five thousand dollars being raised before the Kickstarter page for MYTHIC was pulled, along with the home page for Little Monster Productions. That sort of thing may be trickier with more curation. “Gamesplanet Lab’s aim is to create a platform where project creators get the necessary tools to manage exchanges with gamers, distribute demo and final games, etc. while reassuring backers that the games they are backing will be of good quality in the end,” he explained. “This is possible with the commitment of Gamesplanet Lab to select every project carefully, proceed to quality control on delivery via a panel of players amongst backers of the project who grade the game publicly and, before the game is presented to backers, to engage in a contractual partnership with project holders.”
The first contract
Of course, all of the effort put into laying a stable foundation with Gamesplanet Lab would be for nothing if it didn't have the right clients. That's where 3AM Games comes in. As a spinoff from Frogwares, the studio behind Dracula: Origin and adventure game series Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 3AM is providing the system's first game. Magrunner: Dark Pulse is a first-person puzzler in which the player utilizes magnetism to solve puzzles, set against the backdrop of a cyberpunk-flavored Cthulhu mythos. Think Portal meets CthulhuTech. It sounds pleasantly strange. Olga Ryzhko, Business Developer for 3AM Games, is familiar with the comparison. “We would be lying if we tried to hide the influence of Portal here. I mean, after Half-Life 2 was released with physics puzzles, we were already shown the way to do dynamic puzzles inside games. Now, could a first-person game consist only of puzzles without the shooting mechanic? Portal was the answer, and it's true, probably the next fifteen FPP's will be called Portal-like, as the first FPS's for a few years were called Doom-like, or Quake-like.” Ryzhko explained that 3AM Games assured Gamesplanet Lab that not only would they adhere to the 10 Commitments Charter, but they would also actively seek out the thoughts of potential players. “NASA says five heads are better than one; we say five thousand heads are better than fifteen. When you are on a project every day and night, you will focus on your task, on your next task, on the whole project, and sometimes… you need to have someone looking at your work and saying, 'well, I don't like that and that, and that, too.'” 3AM Games considers this feedback crucial. It wants people to say when they don't like something, and they want to know they have the community's support. You'll be eligible for different rewards depending on your level of backing, and that includes the ability to help guide the game's creation. Magrunner is, on at least one level, its own reward; help fund the game and you can playtest it, gaining access to a VIP area where you can share thoughts with developers and answer surveys. These surveys will in turn be counted by Gamesplanet Lab and returned to 3AM Games, which won't distribute Magrunner until every category receives at least a rating of 4 out of 5. “Now if we get an overall 3.8 mark and that the sounds are at 3.2 while others criteria are above 4, it's a clear indication that sound need to be reworked. We will then look at feedback and read or listen to them carefully to know if it comes from voice over, effect sound or music. If it's music, we will have to redo it, and this time we will submit it to poll to players. If they accept it, we will redo a test with backers, and see what the mark is. We'll do it with new backers if possible, so they are not influenced much by the previous tests. 3.8 is not close enough. We’re aiming for 4.0 and above, nothing else,” Ryzhko explained.
“Put their bollocks on the table”
3AM Games is determined to put out a quality product, and from the measures they plan to institute, I can't see it being anything but. Gamesplanet Lab is just as determined to see 3AM Games succeed, taking genuine enthusiasm in their desire to please gamers. I asked if this meant that games produced from Gamesplanet Lab will end up being designed by committee. “It’s definitely not diluting the creative process. All the magic of crowdfunding is to restore the independence and freedom of developers. We spent a lot of long nights talking about this subject to find a relevant and pragmatic balance between all we can expect from the gamers’ feedback – and how it is useful to improve each game – and the fact that creativity control has to 100% remain with developers,” Forest stressed. “When we discussed this point with 3AM Games we were pleased to see that they wanted to go beyond the Charter and really 'put their bollocks on the table.'” So there they are. The cards – and bollocks – are on the table. Now we find out who picks them up. Gamesplanet Lab is launching on July 4, and on that date you should be able to give to the game and soon have your voice heard during the development process. When the game is finished, it will be sold though Gamesplanet's robust digital distribution platform. It's an end to end solution to funding, development, and sales. Right now these are just words, but we can expect more developers to become interested in this opportunity if the first game proves to be a success, both critically and commercially.