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Losing money and reputation to build Heavy Gear Assault

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When Stompy Bot Productions kicked off its Kickstarter campaign for Heavy Gear Assault in May 2013, it was already raising money from fans on its own website.

"Being an independent games publisher, we are not interested in helping the rich get richer," Producer Vince McMullin tells Joystiq – but, while crowdfunding was working, it seemed slower compared with the attention and traction that developers on Kickstarter received. So Stompy Bot took Heavy Gear Assault to Kickstarter in a campaign seeking $800,000.

"We knew we could deliver the game faster to the game fans if all the funding we needed was available to us at once," McMullin says. "This was where we made a critical mistake which cost us, not only financially, but also in terms of our reputation."

Stompy Bot canceled the Heavy Gear Assault Kickstarter in June 2013, about one week before it was due to end – it had raised $44,981 of its $800,000 goal.

"We assumed Kickstarter would work because of its exposure," McMullin says. "We were already reaching thousands of Heavy Gear fans via our own website; therefore, we assumed, we would be able to reach many more fans using Kickstarter. Unfortunately, this never happened. And this brings me to our second mistake."

Gallery: Heavy Gear Assault | 11 Photos

Stompy Bot had hired a California-based public relations agency to advise developers on when to run the campaign, seeking maximum exposure. At the agency's advice, the Heavy Gear Assault Kickstarter went live on May 22, one day after Microsoft revealed the Xbox One.

"Our media blasts were drowned out almost immediately," McMullin says.

Heavy Gear Assault is still in development, and today Stompy Bot reveals its first-ever gameplay video, showing alpha footage of mech battles in a sandy, arid landscape. The canceled Kickstarter did serve a few purposes, McMullin says – it helped focus the team, and they realized players wanted a single-player campaign, open battles and immersion. The Kickstarter helped other people see the potential in Heavy Gear Assault, too, he says.

"It's kind of funny, when I think about the irony in the fact that our canceled Kickstarter gave us more exposure than our live Kickstarter. After we canceled the Kickstarter, we had a number of individuals reach out to us offering to help fund Heavy Gear Assault. Publishers, angel investors, equity investors, the list goes on and on. We made the decision to go underground with the project to turn things around the right way."

For months, Stompy Bot developers worked as consultants on several Unreal Engine projects and picked up contract jobs, while still developing Heavy Gear Assault with diminished resources. The team announced the alpha for Heavy Gear Assault in June this year.

"All of those challenging months paid off," McMullin says. "Funding began to come in at an accelerated pace from our community jumping at the chance to get their hands on the game early."

McMullin stops short of disclosing how much money Stompy Bot's independent crowdfunding efforts have brought in, but he offers the following insight about development costs and that big Kickstarter goal:

"I'm thankful now that we didn't try to develop and market Heavy Gear Assault with just $800,000. We have a team of 25 full-time people and several external resources working with us on the production of Heavy Gear Assault, and we are still expanding. While I won't tell you our team's salaries, I can tell you that it costs a lot more than $800,000 to develop a game like Heavy Gear Assault.

"There are many games that cost several orders of magnitude more to build than what we asked for on Kickstarter. I don't believe we were ever asking for a lofty sum, considering what we set out to build. We only asked for the absolute minimum we thought we needed to develop Heavy Gear Assault. Sure, we could have low-balled our funding goals, but that is something we were not willing to do. We didn't want to be in a situation some developers found themselves in, whereby they succeeded their Kickstarter by a huge margin but still didn't have enough funds to finish their project."

He does some math to put the numbers in perspective: If one independent developer makes $3,500 a month for $42,000 a year ("Well below standards for a skilled position in this industry"), salaries for 25 people add up to $1.05 million per year.

"Without being able to offer competitive wages, it is difficult to attract talented and skilled developers," he says. "And these are just development costs. These numbers don't include marketing and other production costs or overhead. 3D Games are expensive to build."

Going forward, Stompy Bot pictures Heavy Gear Assault as a new entry in "the nascent eSports phenomenon."

"Our hope is to show gamers that, even in today's world of expensive AAA titles with massive production budgets, a small team of hardworking individuals willing to drip sweat, blood and tears can produce a AAA title and gain attention for the fruits of their labor," McMullin says. "We want to show that there is life after Kickstarter and that the future can be bright for those willing to persevere to realize a dream."

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