By Xav de Matos, Director of Editorial + Community | Follow @GamingInsiders on Twitter
Julian Gollop, original designer of the PC classic X-COM, returns to his roots with Chaos Reborn – a remake of his 1985 title Chaos: The Battle of Wizards. In a new interview with Gaming Insiders, we catch up with the industry luminary to discuss his experience with crowdfunding, why Chaos was the right project for his new team and new lessons learned from Steam Early Access.
Xav de Matos: What was involved in your decision to leave Ubisoft and establish an independent studio?
Julian Gollop: The main thing that I wanted to do was make the games I was interested in and have been known for. I believed there was still a community of players out there who were still interested in turn-based games in the style of Chaos. The other thing that excited me was the possibility of bootstrapping a studio through crowdfunding.
What was it about returning to the world of Chaos that made it the right project to launch Snapshot Games?
There is something unique and fascinating about the original Chaos. Despite its age, there really is no other game like it around today. I have received many requests for my permission to remake the game over the years, and there has been at least 30 remakes made publicly available. So it has some enduring appeal amongst these older games, and I also thought it would be a project of the right complexity for a new studio – although it ended up being more ambitious than my original vision.
Chaos Reborn was funded, at least in part, from a successful Kickstarter campaign and I wondered what your experience with crowdfunding was like in comparison to your previous experience in game development.
I have worked as an independent developer with publisher funding and also for Ubisoft as a game designer and producer in Sofia. The big publishers, like Ubisoft, certainly have sophisticated mechanisms to ensure the quality of their games, but it always seemed quite removed from the potential players. Crowdfunding is radically different, because you have to deal with your customers before you really have something to sell. It has been a great experience, but it is not easy to manage. The main advantage is that we were getting great feedback from the backers. Sometimes that feedback can be brutally honest, which is actually very helpful. Sometimes backers have unrealistic expectations, although looking back we could have improved this with better communication about the game intentions and scope. There was also the danger of listening to a few vocal backers to the exclusion of the potential interests of your future customers that you need to sell to.
The financial pressure has also been considerable. To a certain extent we have also been relying on income from our early access release on Steam, but this is not always easy to predict, and therefore makes planning a complex project very difficult. One solution that we have found works well is to have a core of full time developers with a number of freelance contributors.
Would you use Kickstarter to fund another project?
Yes, I would, and I am sure we can do it better next time. However, it is getting increasingly difficult to raise funds this way, with increasing numbers of game projects launched and more cautious and critical backers. It’s also fair to say that the quality of indie games has also been going up.
In our previous interview we asked about your experience with Steam Early Access. Going through that entire process, what did you learn?
We got through the greenlight process in lightning quick time, about a week. We launched the game on early access in December 2014 and it was reasonably successful, but we found that the only way to maintain sales on steam was to use the weekly discount option, which you can do once every eight weeks, coupled with a ‘visibility’ round which gets you presence on the steam store, but these are limited to 5 rounds for new titles. So we basically timed our major content releases around these events, and it proved to be a sustainable method of development.
Visibility is paramount on the steam store and getting the timing right for launch, updates and final release is not easy.
We also accumulated quite a large number of people with Chaos Reborn on their wishlists – it’s now over 75k, and it’s a number that just keeps going up, not down. I think they are waiting for deep discounts before even contemplating buying the game. We have now decided to launch a demo of the game which provides a substantial part of the multiplayer game for free, but we will see if this makes a difference. It’s certainly something we should have done in time for release.
Do you have plans to bring Chaos Reborn to other platforms beyond PC/Mac/Linux?
Not at the moment no. It would work very nicely on tablets, but we would need to redesign the art and figure out a way to monetize the game.
What does Snapshot Games focus on next?
We are evaluating a number of different ideas for our next project. We will be announcing something early next year, but let’s say that it is highly likely to be based on something I have done before.
Chaos Reborn is available now on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux from developer Snapshot Games
Disclosure: Gaming Insiders CEO David Kaye is acting President of Snapshot Games