Phosphor Games

Project Awakened goes for broke with independent crowdfunding after failed Kickstarter

Project Awakened goes for broke with independent crowdfunding after failed Kickstarter

You can't kill a superhero. Somehow they always come back, and so too has Project Awakened, an ambitious create-your-own hero game from ex-Midway developers, Phosphor Games. We first reported on Project Awakened back in early February, when the game launched its $500,000 Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter has since failed, but Phosphor Games is taking one more crack at crowd-funding by attempting to raise funds via their own site and a founders program.

Why do we fall, Bruce?

“We weren't devastated, because we knew it was kind of a long shot,” Justin Corcoran, CEO of Phosphor Games, said when I asked about the team's feelings about the failed Kickstarter. And how did the team feel now? “Cautious,” he said.

Corcoran said there were two major problems with the Kickstarter campaign: One internal, one external. “The external one is that we really did start pretty much… we started from scratch is a good way to put it, in terms of just presence as a studio on PC, presence as an IP, presence as a designer in terms of Chip Sineni as the visible face of the company. We didn't come into Kickstarter like a lot of folks who go for numbers as big as ours with a known brand or a spiritual sequel or direct sequel or famous designer or studio that had a long history on PC. It was a novel idea.”

Communication with players was also a concern. “The internal factor was, we'd been dealing with this so long ourselves, we felt like we had a very clear vision of what it was and we felt like we were convveying that. We got a lot of questions about… 'What is this game? Is it a game? Is it just a mod toolkit? Does it have a story? Is it going to be anything but Garry's Mod but UE3? Do you guys actually have a vision and can you pull this off?'”

Corcoran said he and the team have tried to take that skepticism and confusion as a lesson and make this version of Project Awakened more understandable.

For example, the new founders program breaks down each of the game's financial goals and details what players will get. At the minimum goal, $250,000, Project Awakened will release the Danger Room in November of this year. The Danger Room is a simple test environment where users will be able to create a character and play with abilities. There's no story, no world, but players will be able to get a sense of what's to come when Phosphor releases a single-player campaign near the end of 2014. You can see what the Danger Room looks like below:

Corcoran said he hoped that getting the game into people's hands would help reduce some of the anxiety surrounding Awakened. “I think people are more willing to see something that's rougher knowing that they have more power and control of it,” he said. Depending on support, more and more features would roll out over time, similar to how Minecraft and games which are in seemingly-eternal beta like Path of Exile operate. Players, Corcoran said, would help steer Awakened from there.

Corcoran told me that just as players should be able to feel their impact in-game, so too should they feel their impact in shaping its overall vision. “Really, the community has already spoken, and they've already modified our vision of the game,” he said. “That, to me, is the biggest benefit from the Kickstarter, is just getting that whole process going.”

“You look at leaders like Valve and what they have been saying over the past couple months about there being thousands of end users and only a couple dozen of you on the team, and they're just as smart, if not smarter, and just as talented, if not more talented, so why not let them help you shape something?”

Trust issues

Corcoran reiterated several times that he and the Project Awakened team were trusting players by asking them to help shape the game's development. In many ways, Corcoran said, they already have. When the Kickstarter failed, Phosphor put out a survey asking players what they should do. Four thousand people responded saying they wanted Awakened to have another shot, while the Kickstarter provided useful criticism.

“They said, 'We don't like this, we don't like that, what's the story, why's the scope like this, why are you focusing on these things vs those things,' and we made real changes in our vision of what the game is and when we were gonna launch it,” Corcoran said. Breaking down Project Awakened into the Danger Room and a single-player campaign, which will come at a later date, is their way of letting players dictate which direction the IP will go.

I asked Corcoran to assume for a moment that Project Awakened would fail again to meet its goal. Would he be less willing to trust the audience in the future? “It's hard to say right now. I think we would still believe in what they'd be capable of once we got the game into their hands if we had something physical or virtual… something they could actually play, give feedback on, fall in love with, and want to shape and change with us,” he told me.

“I don't think that we'd necessarily think something more abstract like a survey or comment string on YouTube or Kickstarter would have the weight we had hoped it would, but I think we would still believe in the vision.”

“We wanted to find a new model of making games and new experiences, and we're already having it. We had it during Kickstarter, we're having it now. In some ways the game exists in spirit, we're just hoping it will exist in reality.” Corcoran said that if the game should fail to meet funding this time, it would be shelved until a significant investment could be made, but whether or not the game pans out, the experience has been a valuable one to Phosphor Games.

“We are getting what we asked for,” Corcoran said.