To create a videogame is really hard. To create a videogame without any budget outside of your kitchen money is even harder; but to create a videogame without any budget in 4 years and then getting ripped off by a publisher who has your exclusive rights is devastating. CBE software was not the only one involved but also Amanita Design, Colibri Games and Daedalic Entertainment just to name a few.
This is the story of CBE Software and J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition.
In 2012 we released three games – J.U.L.I.A., J.U.L.I.A. Untold and Vampires! I was extremely enthusiastic because J.U.L.I.A had great feedback and I saw a bright future for CBE software. We invested a lot of time creating a full 3D adventure game prototype for another publisher and it looked like being funded for the first time was a very real possibility.
Then our bright future suddenly turned into a real nightmare.
It all started with my rather innocent request to obtain a belated royalty report from our publisher. After three months, it became more and more obvious that we had a problem. No money had been paid for J.U.L.I.A (which also included other games) and the publisher refused to come clean about what was going on. One week later, we heard from the 2nd publisher that they decided not to fund the other 3D adventure project we were working on.
As three months turned into ten, the J.U.L.I.A. deal soured. On top of that, sales for our new game Vampires! never really picked up.
It was rather disappointing and heartbreaking and with rising debts I was very close to slamming the game industry door shut once and forever.
Then back in February 2014, I got an email from Indiegogo. It was an invitation to small developers to try crowdfunding. At first I considered it and then shook that idea off. I thought to myself, we are unknown and there’s no way anyone would invest in us. Besides, it’s Indiegogo, not Kickstarter and so far, Kickstarter is only available to US, UK and Canadian residents. After spending a few hours going through IGG projects, I saw how developers struggled on that platform. So I decided funding a new game was entirely out of the question for me.
That same day I came home from work and my (then) four year old daughter wanted to play J.U.L.I.A. with me. While the story is a bit too complex for her, she loves the planets and traveling and she is really good at some of the puzzles. It had been almost a year from release and after we played for maybe an hour, I immediately knew how different the game would be if I was designing it today.
Then I started thinking – What if I could fix JULIA’s most obvious blunders? What if we tried to fund a little budget for an “Enhanced Edition”? Ideas started to bounce in my head faster than I could process them, I couldn’t sleep a single minute that night.
Preparing for the campaign
I started by studying existing failed and successful campaigns on IGG and Kickstarter. I didn’t want to underestimate anything as I knew that this could be our last chance for survival. After days of analyzing quite a few projects, I decided upon the key factors which in my opinion were essential to a successful campaign. Ultimately it came down to one question: Would I give money to this game? Distancing from my own experience was almost impossible, but it still helped me gain important perspective.
The factors I’ve decided upon were:
- Clear goals – I’ve seen many projects where funding distribution is not clear and when this happens I don’t feel like investing because the credibility of the project is immediately shattered. Also, the goal must be proportional to the budget so it feels right for the amount of money raised.
- Realistic Pledges and perks – I thought that placing wallpapers as $20 reward would just turn everyone off, I wouldn’t pay $20 for wallpapers. On the other hand, promising a live elephant would do the same or at least will be way out of our budget. Perks need to be accessible, appealing to everyone and distributed properly.
- Brief & comprehensive campaign information– I believe campaigns must be clear and to the point from the very beginning, so everyone gets the information right away. Don’t assume people will return to check up on information multiple times. You are lucky if they check it at all. You might have only one shot at each potential backer, use it wisely.
- Reasonable target – It would be great to get $3,000,000 for a game; but I decided to start small and make my goals more realistic. In the long run, a modest success story is much better than joining a huge and increasing crowd of failed projects.
- Fixed funding campaign – Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo has two campaign modes – fixed and flexible funding. The difference is simple: fixed funding campaign means that you get the money only if you reach the target while flexible funding will get you any money you raise. I immediately knew that while it might seem tempting, the flexible campaign is a big trap. If we got only $300 and our funding goal was 10,000; we would still be expected to deliver the $10k project but with only $300. I just wanted to make sure we could really deliver and make it right.
- Nice pitch video – While I could have just published a typical trailer, I knew that a personal message to our potential backers would communicate much better why we were doing this campaign. Whatever you do just be careful not to end up with something like this! 🙂
- Playable demo – In an age where tons of different game studios launch their Kickstarters, I wanted to stand out by including a playable demo so potential backers can see for themselves what they are investing their money into.
- Keeping the campaign alive – I knew that people are often driven off by not enough campaign activity. I thought I was prepared to invest a reasonable amount of time to communicate with the community and explain anything they might want to know. Well… I was NOT prepared but I survived.
After setting up a plan in my head I kept thinking, what actually IS a reasonable goal? This is the exact point where I weighed the pros and cons of various options. I felt like I was standing somewhere on a high ledge, preparing for my leap of faith. Still, I knew our financial situation couldn’t get much worse and in retrospect my thoughts on the IGG campaign were very optimistic.
At the same time, I had some last minute hesitation seeing how many other Indiegogo campaigns had failed before. In the end I instinctively believed it was possible, that we could do it. I decided to be entirely transparent throughout the whole process, which was the one genuine thing I could personally guarantee to our backers. Complete honesty.
Finally, we decided to go for it and agreed on a target budget of $5,000. That would only cover Lukáš’s salary, but in my heart it was well worth it. So this is the moment that changed my life. And I decided to launch CBE’s first crowdfunding effort, the J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition Indiegogo campaign.
It took time to set up, prepare assets and a lot of constant hard work to get through the campaign. But the end result was amazingly unexpected. We ended up raising almost three times more than we had asked for. I felt humbled yet incredibly energized at the same time. In the end, people’s kindness allowed us to improve our game which is now absolutely incomparable with the original.
However, the money was far from the most important lesson from this rollercoaster process. As soon as the campaign ended, I truly understood how important community support is. Not only for our crowdfunding, but for indie developers in general. I’ve bonded with amazing friends, both old and new, who all gave an unbelievable amount of help and support. We are forever thankful to them for giving CBE a second chance.
I don’t think of myself as a “crowdfunding expert”. But as one indie who has gone through a very difficult process successfully and considering the kindness that was given to me; I can only hope that my experiences and lessons learned might be helpful to those out there hoping that crowdfunding can make their creative dreams come true.
It is very valuable to know what to prepare before the campaign, what to do at launch, the stamina and mental strength it takes to think on the go while you’re running one and especially how to end it. All these ideas need to be organized, planned and executed as a team. My opinions are only to highlight what worked for me and my genuine insights into the realities of crowdfunding.
Everything is important, take nothing for granted. I want to give back to the wonderful community that has given me so much so far and it is impossible to write all of this in just one blog. So I will be publishing different parts monthly, in hopes to cover as much information as I can regarding how to set up, run and survive crowdfunding.
I would like to invite you to follow my thoughts through “Surviving Indiegogo” updates. As I share my experiences I will openly discuss: setting clear and doable goals, designing perks, budget distribution, looking for help, promotionals and what I did to think outside of the box.
On closing I’d like to really thank you for reading my blog! Please, don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, feedback or anything I could do to help.
Reading this article was really made me feel really sad at first, but hopeful for your future, you guys went through something no studio should go through: A scamming publisher who basically stole all of your due royalties.
Most companies would have folded under a pressure like that but you pulled through! I can’t wait to play Julia: Enhanced Edition and I hope all goes well for the future CBE software.
I believe in you 🙂
I know how hard Lukas and you have worked to get through this hardship. I just wanted to let you know that I am VERY proud of your brave choice to stay in the industry and fight for what you care and believe for, instead of just giving up. I wish you nothing but the best, frand :3
Congrats on overcoming adversity, lesser development teams would have buckled under the pressure.
Looking forward to J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition, hopefully all the arduous work will pay off, and you’ll enjoy the praise of a legion of fans!
I’m happy to hear of your success and when doing my research for my own campaign, I remember studying your’s more than any other campaign. I took a lot of notes and your hard work has not just helped you but has also helped me as I prepare as well (and making sure I have everything right before I come out of the shadows). It is true that there is sooooo much hard work involved (and even more behind the scenes). I am doing everything I can to make sure we are ready and hope to join you with the badge of “successful crowdsourcing campaigns”. Only time will tell for sure but I will do my best to follow in your success.
Congratulations and here is to hoping for a great fan following!
Reading this, it’s unbelievable how much you guys went through. There are no words to describe how happy I am that you never gave up on your project. Hard work and determination always pay up in the end, and I am absolutely certain that J.U.L.I.A EE will get the love and recognition that it deserves, not only because it is a great game, but because you guys have put your heart into it too.
Keep up the excellent work Janfrand, great things are comming. 🙂
Dear Gonz, Say, Robert, NinRac and Annie!
Thank you so much for your amazing messages. I really appreciate your kindness which keeps me going. I really do believe in Enhanced Edition but even more I believe in this amazing friendly atmosphere which is so much more comfortable for our work than seeing endless negativity and skepticism.
I hope that not only through the game but also through those modest thoughts I can help pass the ball to new crowdfunders. In an age when traditional publishing models (eg. funding) are almost impossible to achieve, building a great community is our last chance. 🙂
I would also like to add that Say is a mastermind behind many things you see around the new redesigned sites.
Thank you, frand!!! Your infinite supply of awesome ideas makes all the difference!
There’s a saying, “if you’re going through hell, keep on going”. Clearly, you’ve been to hell and have come out the other side. I never played the original J.U.L.I.A.. I came across your Indigogo campaign because someone (and I don’t remember who now, unfortunately) saw it and remembered how great the original version of the game was and raved about how special the Enhanced Edition could be. I trust my friends….er, sorry, Say….frands and their recommendations. That was good enough for me to want to support J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition.
I didn’t know the backstory, the trials, tribulations, and downright dirtiness you were exposed to with the initial release until later. Learning of that made we want you to succeed even more. And, I’m so glad that you have; not just because I love science fiction and think that J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition looks spectacular – both artistically and thematically. It’s also because, having followed your campaign and everything that’s come after it, I see just how passionate, driven, and in love with J.U.L.I.A. you are. More than that, I see what a truly great person you are.
The new website looks fantastic. The new version of Rachel Manners looks great. The graphics for the Enhanced Edition are amazing. And, I’m happy to see that you not only got out of Hell, but are thriving and succeeding. I’m proud to have backed J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition and I can’t wait to see more from you and CBE Software. I suspect, no, I’m certain, there are big things ahead for you. Thanks for bringing me along for part of the ride!
Best wishes and sword fishes,
Thank you so much, Michael! Seeing how people care about us really means a lot to me. The thin line between staying in the industry as an indie and leaving once for all is very much dependent on the community around you. It’s really motivating to see such a big amount of support.
But of course, frand! #IndieSupport #IndieLove :3
Jan! Great read – you really nailed the finer points of crowdfunding for smaller indie groups. I’m really glad you didn’t pack it in, because I know you and CBE have a lot to offer the gaming world! Thanks for being a friend to me, as well – it’s been a pleasure to get to know you!
Steve! Having you as a friend is for me a great pleasure. Seeing how adventure game community sticks together is giving me a huge surge of optimism. Also! I can’t wait to play Infamous Quests so get on with it. 🙂 Let’s rock the indie world! It’s our games what counts, after all. Whenever I have a bad moment I keep thinking that for every successfully published game comes 100 failed projects. So let’s keep ourselves in the former category. 😀
This was a good read, Jan, and reminded once again how happy I am to have a chance to help you with J.U.L.I.A. E.E. You and Lukas worked so hard and your love for the game and making more games was very clear. I think this little feature will be quite informative; possibly even a useful resource for others looking at crowdfunding. When it’s done, maybe you should point it out to IndieGoGoo as a survivor’s story about what it will take to make a project work
My apologies for being one of the ones to drive you bonkers during the campaign, but your enthusiasm was infectious and I wasn’t going to let little things like your need for food, sleep, and time with your lovely and talented wife get in the way of fundraising. 😉
Now get back to work before I convince your adorable little girl that she wants a MOBOT plushie!
Thank you so much! Without you the campaign would have never been the same. 🙂 While I felt the urge to recapitulate certain chapters of CBE software’s past in the first part of this series, I plan to focus on practical view on crowdfunding through the humble eyes of our campaign. I would be really happy if it at the end helped someone with their upcoming campaigns. 🙂
I’ll pretend that first part is a compliment. 😉 Also, I would have loved if you’d included a sonata*! 😀
More seriously, I’ve seen many a first-time crowdfunding creator state that they’ve learned so much and encountered so many unforeseen issues with it, that having an interesting and detailed explanation of how one project’s process worked from start to finish could be invaluable. (Provided, of course, that they listen- there’s only so much you can do.)
One of the things I’ve admired about how the LMG issue has been handled is that you didn’t really dwell on it in the campaign. It was there, you were very honest about its effects on you and Lukas, but you didn’t use it as a crutch or bloody shirt to rally people to your cause. To me, that indicated that you were more focused on reforging J.U.L.I.A. V.A.N.I.L.L.A. into a greater game than just recouping lost money. that prioritizing is a not=insignificant part of the reason I backed and became such a vocal supporter.
*Music joke about the word “recapitulation.” If you don’t get it, go ask your local classical music geek after clearing an hour from your schedule.
It WAS a compliment. 😛
And about recapitulation in music – one day I’ll tell you a joke which accidentally happened while PhD. piano student from California was attending one of my composition classes. It would be too long for this comment, though. 🙂
Well, I’ve heard of your project at the time, but I was in a difficult situation and could not use my credit card at that moment. Anyway, its nice to see things are going well, and I’ve heard you were part of the Serena project. Hey, now that I noticed, some many games with female names! Anyway, I hope you made it available soon enough. Good luck.
I bought and played the game on Steam without knowing any of the backstory and drama around it. I should have known! Throughout playing the game, I was struck over and over again by the depth of thought and experience that was achieved in the minimalist format of a point and click adventure game. The game embraced ambiguity without losing focus, exploration without losing direction, and a quiet contemplative richly textured atmosphere. The puzzles were innovative, realistic, and generally challenging not because they were obscure or repetative, but because they pointed me in the direction of other areas of knowledge outside the game (such as Alphabetic Frequency Analysis) which I was able to integrate into my experience.
I had wondered how a game that so consistently defyed the tropes of corporate game design could come into being without a lot more commercial adulteration. This article explains a lot, and gives the game new meaning for me. I’m glad to see that the community exists to support thoughtful games like this, even if it takes several tries. I’m also really glad that you guys didn’t write off the loss, but instead decided to rework the game until it realized your vision more fully. The world is a better place because of it.
Avgusztyn, thank you for your extremely kind words! I am so glad that you enjoyed our game.