Planetary Annihilation brought in $2.2 million in Kickstarter funding for Uber Entertainment, and the full game has now been released after a two-year development cycle.
This is one of the largest Kickstarter campaigns in gaming, and the team seems to have had fun experimenting with the world of both crowdfunding and Early Access.
One such experiment is already paying off, for both the company and those that backed the game at the higher levels. The players who helped to create custom units in the game are now seeing their units sold in the game’s storefront, and they’re making money from the transactions. Some backers have actually recouped the entirety of their $1,000 backing level, and are now making a profit.
How did this happen?
The original plan was much more basic. "Working with you, we'll design and conceive of the ideal commander to best represent you on the field of battle. You send us some source inspiration and we’ll make it look cool," the $1,000 backing level stated on the original campaign.
Ninety-one people backed at this level, and that meant 91 custom units had to be made. The team needed to plan ahead, and so they created three basic designs for the Commander character, each one with a specific look and skeleton. The backers would then pick one they liked, fill out a survey, and send in any sketches or source material they wanted the artist to use for inspiration.
There were a few people who ignored the basic instructions, but overall the process went smoothly. "Almost everyone got it," Adam Overton, the executive producer of the game told Polygon. "They would sketch things, and with a little feedback they would be in good shape."
Here's an example of the source material sent in by one backer, using a free 3D program and an iPad. It's rough, but it gives you some idea of what they were going for.
The artists at Uber Entertainment took that inspiration and designed a unit. They sent the backer a wireframe model first for their approval, and then moved ahead with the final textures and animation. This is the final unit:
So during development the units were created, and they looked great. The team was happy, the artists were happy and the backers got to say they helped create a unit for a major video game. Now the team at Uber had piles of interesting, custom characters that would be added to the game. Maybe they could sell them to other fans?
The backers are cut in
"We didn’t do it on purpose. It was never our plan to do this thing," Overton explained. "We just got to the point where we thought the Commanders were pretty nice, and we could sell them."
"We did have people sign a contract, because it wasn’t part of the initial deal," he continued. "We actually asked permission. We said would you like us to sell your commander, and we’ll give you a portion of the proceeds?" Almost everyone said yes.
"We don’t really know how to price these things, actually"
So the units were put for sale, with some going for as little as $5 to $10 for a limited time, and others for $10 to $15. Some really good-looking units were sold for as much as $25. These characters are cosmetic, and don't give any other bonuses to the purchaser.
"We don’t really know how to price these things, actually," Overton said. "We just kind of threw some numbers up like ‘I really like this one, I would pay this much for that! Bam!’ That’s kind of how we did it. We didn’t think about it too hard."
The team wouldn’t confirm the percentage split between Uber and each Kickstarter backer, but Polygon was told the backer received a "substantial" amount of the sale price of each unit sold.
"We have people who have gotten four digit recoup already. We’ve already passed that. We had people who passed that four digit mark before the game was officially launched," Overton said. In other words, some backers have already made back their $1,000, and are now making a profit on their backing of the game.
The backers are paid quarterly, and at least $300 must be made before a check is cut. If it’s under that amount, it simply rolls over until $300 is made. The most popular units inspired by the designs of each backer will earn that backer checks as long as the game is supported. Kickstarter is never an investment, but in this particular situation there are some backers who will see a healthy return on their $1,000 support.
And that's what's been guided these decision at Uber. "We want to make sure the backers feel good. That’s super-important," Overton said. "The backers should feel great."