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Suggestion For Future Crowd Funding

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@ KestrelPi - Broken Age's target was 200k, it got ten times that, then ended up funding only half of the game with sales of the first half being required to fund the second half. How is that not a misadventure in your books?

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Nope, you got quite a bit of that wrong I'm afraid. Firstly, the 400k (not 200) original target is utterly irrelevant. The 400k game never existed. It's not worth referring to. It's like if I had a budget of £200 to go on holiday, and then I won £2000, I wouldn't be going to the seaside anymore, my plans would change.

Incidentally, not that it matters, larger budgets are more difficult, not easier to manage, as they introduce a greater number of unknowns. But anyway, you were asking about why Broken Age wasn't a misadventure. Quite simply, it's because the evidence of the documentary and forum updates indicates very clearly that they knew the risks involved and acted accordingly at every step of the way. There's a chance you're not over-familiar with the development of Broken Age and how it was funded, judging by your post, so let me fill you in on a potted history:

* It became clear to them around 6 months into the project that to make the game they wanted to make, they’d need more money.

* They immediately set about supplementing with their own, by using Brutal Legend PC sales, Steam Sale Income and other things to invest in the game. This began happening way before the release of the game. This wasn't panic-funding, this was carefully considered.

* They realised that they still weren’t going to be able to entirely meet their ambitions with what was left, so they took the decision to split the game, which might be viewed as the 'high risk' part of their approach.

* But it obviously actually was done with a lot of care, because they made their Act 2 numbers after only a month of Act 1 sales (even though Act 1 sales were modest). This based on articles that went up to that effect about a month after the release. It may have been even less, I forget.

* The only plausible explanation for this was that the decision to split the game was only made once they were very confident that they could still finish Act 2 even with modest sales figures.

This doesn’t read to me like a company that couldn't take care of its budget. They knew exactly where they were with the budget at every stage, and took steps wherever necessary to sustain development, and do so by raising their own money, instead of making huge cuts to the game. Yes, the game cost considerably more than they anticipated initially, but they managed that cost.

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@Hobbes, you make my head hurt, too. For example, the figures I stated for PA come from the top of its Wikipedia article, the source of which is the PA site itself: "With over 337,700 copies sold, Prison Architect made over $10.7 million in pre-order sales for the alpha version." If you're going to say I'm wrong, at least do some research. Don't just make up BS.

Additionally, we know the DF-9 run rates are roughly $10k/dev/month, and that there were roughly 4 devs working on it for 10 months prior to the public release of the Alpha—that's your $400k investment right there, spent. When it launched on Early Access, they were at $0 left to spend on it, and all future development was planned to be paid for by a combination of DF funds and Early Access sales. Within 2 weeks they had earned the $400k they needed to pay back their investors, and since then have been developing on a combination of DF & EA funds, with (if I've understood everything correctly) a reduced staff of 3 developers.

So the run rate has been $30k/month for 1 year (from Alpha launch to v1.0 launch) means they've spent roughly $360,000 on development since launching the Alpha on EA. We know from Tim's statements that they passed the point where DF-9 development was losing money some time ago—we don't know how long ago, but long enough they've decided to pull the plug; I'd guess more than one month's worth of loss, possibly much more since Tim has stated the game may not reach profitability, even with final/retail sales. Which is to say: They've spent less than $800k on development, and have earned something between $400k and $750k from EA sales in the last 11 months.

I can further project that, at ~$30k/month for development from here on out, and including the initial 10 months of development in the hoped-for "five years of development", DF would only have needed to make another $1.2 million to fulfill their greatest hopes for DF-9. Which is what I said earlier. Less than a quarter of PA's sales.

---not that there's any point in arguing with you at all, since you've clearly stated you aren't actually interested in whether DF developed the game they said they were planning to develop, only whether they developed the game you hoped they would. I can't say for certain until I see that v1.0 build, but from the latest build and a careful look at their dev plan (something you refuse to do), DF have included the overwhelming majority of what they planned on including at the start. Certainly there is room for polish, or details, or fluff (a lot of people have been demanding more fluff), but most just seem to have wanted a game other than what DF described, and I believe you are among that cohort.

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@ Y001 - The onus is in you to prove that I am wrong.

The onus of proof is on the one making an extraordinary claim.

You are making a claim that the game doesn't live up to Startopia. I am claiming that Startopia was both:

A) Not their goal

B) Not a goal they should aspire to.

Your claim is the more extraordinary one. It's is essentially no different than me claiming: "But DF-9 isn't a Theme Park clone. I can't build amusement parks in it. I loved Theme Park."

It's totally possible that Startopia is a great game, I own it but haven't gotten around to playing it. However from evidence presented they weren't going for it. And it might not be financially wise for them to pursue it.

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They shouldn't have been projecting based on the prospects of a game which had a totally different development cycle. This is not to say DF-9 was a worse concept than PA's concept, just that it should have been apparent to a veteran game developer that their game was not comparable to those they were trying to emulate and thus a projection of success was highly speculative. When you are gambling with someone else's money it is reasonable to expect that you will think through your bets VERY VERY carefully and should be held to a very high standard. I don't think they did that here and I do think it was foreseeable given what they new at the time of Alpha 1's release. It wasn't just bad luck.

How about if they were projecting based on their own sales? We know the DF-9 earned enough in the first two weeks to pay for a year's worth of development. If they were hoping for (at most) "five years of development", they only needed a trickle of additional money, relative to their own game's initial sales, to meet that goal.

What they knew around the time of the Alpha 1's release was that DF-9 earned in 2 weeks enough money to cover a year's development. Does projecting from that level of response still seem inappropriate?

Additionally, even if sales dropped off within the first month—at what point should they have halted development, if not now, when they've ticked off the overwhelming majority of items on their initial dev plans? You can suggest that they should have sought additional outside investment, but it's pretty clear that the $400k they got was the absolute most any investors were willing to put towards a game of this nature, in this market, at this time—if there were more money available, absolutely they would have found it and poured it into development. (Plus: It may not have occurred to many people on these forums, but once the game was on EA, potential investors would have to have full access to EA sales numbers—and if they were disappointing enough that DF needed to seek out more money, no rational investor would have put down good money after bad.) Instead, they invested their own money (we don't yet know how much) to get the game to a state they considered acceptable, even though sales had dropped off and a sufficiently large community had never rallied around the game.

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@Hobbes, you make my head hurt, too. For example, the figures I stated for PA come from the top of its Wikipedia article, the source of which is the PA site itself: "With over 337,700 copies sold, Prison Architect made over $10.7 million in pre-order sales for the alpha version." If you're going to say I'm wrong, at least do some research. Don't just make up BS.

Additionally, we know the DF-9 run rates are roughly $10k/dev/month, and that there were roughly 4 devs working on it for 10 months prior to the public release of the Alpha—that's your $400k investment right there, spent. When it launched on Early Access, they were at $0 left to spend on it, and all future development was planned to be paid for by a combination of DF funds and Early Access sales. Within 2 weeks they had earned the $400k they needed to pay back their investors, and since then have been developing on a combination of DF & EA funds, with (if I've understood everything correctly) a reduced staff of 3 developers.

So the run rate has been $30k/month for 1 year (from Alpha launch to v1.0 launch) means they've spent roughly $360,000 on development since launching the Alpha on EA. We know from Tim's statements that they passed the point where DF-9 development was losing money some time ago—we don't know how long ago, but long enough they've decided to pull the plug; I'd guess more than one month's worth of loss, possibly much more since Tim has stated the game may not reach profitability, even with final/retail sales. Which is to say: They've spent less than $800k on development, and have earned something between $400k and $750k from EA sales in the last 11 months.

I can further project that, at ~$30k/month for development from here on out, and including the initial 10 months of development in the hoped-for "five years of development", DF would only have needed to make another $1.2 million to fulfill their greatest hopes for DF-9. Which is what I said earlier. Less than a quarter of PA's sales.

---not that there's any point in arguing with you at all, since you've clearly stated you aren't actually interested in whether DF developed the game they said they were planning to develop, only whether they developed the game you hoped they would. I can't say for certain until I see that v1.0 build, but from the latest build and a careful look at their dev plan (something you refuse to do), DF have included the overwhelming majority of what they planned on including at the start. Certainly there is room for polish, or details, or fluff (a lot of people have been demanding more fluff), but most just seem to have wanted a game other than what DF described, and I believe you are among that cohort.

My figures still hold up, revenues of 10 mil minus steam tax minus UK tax of various flavours (games are subject to VAT over here, introversion would be subject to either corporation tax or tax from the profits of their sales in other routes), that's going to bring the figures down sharply. The numbers quoted are always revenues and never the final profit figure because well, that never looks as lovely as the sales headline. The fact that sales and price point variations have been factored in doesn't change the overall picture dramatically.

You've now conceded the central plank of my argument - The investors were repaid first and foremost. Which means that the risk was shunted to the consumers. Investors assumed no risk but gained the reward, whereas the consumers assumed the risk and with very little reward unless the game -comes out- and comes out at a high enough quality bar.

I've said I'll look at the dev plan but not in this discussion because that's not the topic of this discussion. Take it elsewhere if you intend to do so.

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@Hobbes, you make my head hurt, too. For example, the figures I stated for PA come from the top of its Wikipedia article, the source of which is the PA site itself: "With over 337,700 copies sold, Prison Architect made over $10.7 million in pre-order sales for the alpha version." If you're going to say I'm wrong, at least do some research. Don't just make up BS.

Additionally, we know the DF-9 run rates are roughly $10k/dev/month, and that there were roughly 4 devs working on it for 10 months prior to the public release of the Alpha—that's your $400k investment right there, spent. When it launched on Early Access, they were at $0 left to spend on it, and all future development was planned to be paid for by a combination of DF funds and Early Access sales. Within 2 weeks they had earned the $400k they needed to pay back their investors, and since then have been developing on a combination of DF & EA funds, with (if I've understood everything correctly) a reduced staff of 3 developers.

So the run rate has been $30k/month for 1 year (from Alpha launch to v1.0 launch) means they've spent roughly $360,000 on development since launching the Alpha on EA. We know from Tim's statements that they passed the point where DF-9 development was losing money some time ago—we don't know how long ago, but long enough they've decided to pull the plug; I'd guess more than one month's worth of loss, possibly much more since Tim has stated the game may not reach profitability, even with final/retail sales. Which is to say: They've spent less than $800k on development, and have earned something between $400k and $750k from EA sales in the last 11 months.

I can further project that, at ~$30k/month for development from here on out, and including the initial 10 months of development in the hoped-for "five years of development", DF would only have needed to make another $1.2 million to fulfill their greatest hopes for DF-9. Which is what I said earlier. Less than a quarter of PA's sales.

---not that there's any point in arguing with you at all, since you've clearly stated you aren't actually interested in whether DF developed the game they said they were planning to develop, only whether they developed the game you hoped they would. I can't say for certain until I see that v1.0 build, but from the latest build and a careful look at their dev plan (something you refuse to do), DF have included the overwhelming majority of what they planned on including at the start. Certainly there is room for polish, or details, or fluff (a lot of people have been demanding more fluff), but most just seem to have wanted a game other than what DF described, and I believe you are among that cohort.

My figures still hold up, revenues of 10 mil minus steam tax minus UK tax of various flavours (games are subject to VAT over here, introversion would be subject to either corporation tax or tax from the profits of their sales in other routes), that's going to bring the figures down sharply. The numbers quoted are always revenues and never the final profit figure because well, that never looks as lovely as the sales headline. The fact that sales and price point variations have been factored in doesn't change the overall picture dramatically.

You've now conceded the central plank of my argument - The investors were repaid first and foremost. Which means that the risk was shunted to the consumers. Investors assumed no risk but gained the reward, whereas the consumers assumed the risk and with very little reward unless the game -comes out- and comes out at a high enough quality bar.

I've said I'll look at the dev plan but not in this discussion because that's not the topic of this discussion. Take it elsewhere if you intend to do so.

You are correct in that the figures will be pre tax and fees, and a lot of that 10 million will have gone on other things. (You can do the maths to see that 330k x 30 dollars comes to about 10 million, and they definitely didn't pocket that much of the sales revenue. However, even with a lot of that money lopped off, Spacebase would STILL only have had to achieved a fraction of the success of PA to get 5 years development. Heck, even if all it could get was 2 years of development, that would have been nicer.

So no matter how you slice it, the success that Double Fine were hoping for to make the project sustainable was, in fact, quite modest. We can mull over the failings of how they implemented their plan (especially in hindsight) but I think the idea that they went in with an over-ambitious plan is definitely a red herring.

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Well here's where I move from fact to speculation, and this is taking the plank of the argument, namely that DF-9 was prefunded by indiefund to the tune of four hundred thou and then proceeded to use Early Access to repay the investors on the basis of a prototype. It's become point blank clear Tim viewed the Early Access sales as critical to the length of time DF-9 would remain in development, but he must therefore have also known that a large slice of the funding was going to have to be repaid to IndieFund.

So he consequently must have known by Early Accessing when he did and trading on the prototype and DoubleFine's name - he was going to be banking on his reputation pretty much alone in order to fund sales and repay his investors. At what point does this move from "Hopeful but hopelessly optimistic" to "Outright shady manipulation of where the risk lays for game development" ?

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@modernevil - They actually only made enough to fund 7 months within 2 weeks ($400k), all of which has apparently gone back to Indie Fund. On top of that, they only made about another 7 months worth throughout the entire life of the game. So actually they should have known immediately that they were in serious trouble, because they clearly hadn't doubled there initial investment right from the get go and apparently they had committed to paying the initial investors out of early access consumers' payments. They started development March of 2013 with $400k funding. They released Alpha 1 7ish months later, in October of 2013. Within 2 weeks, they made $400k, so about 7ish months worth of development time. Although we don't know for certain, based on Indie fund's press release suggesting they "recouped" the investment and "this is an important milestone for us because the success of this experiment opens the door for us to support more projects of this magnitude in the future," it sounds like the initial $400k went back to Indie and other investors. Whether Double Fine paid out some form of dividends in additional to the investment itself is unclear, but to give them the benefit of the doubt I'll assume they were waiting on 1.0 to determine if the investors would get a profit.

Unless I am mistaken about the terms, the deal with Indie fund was still horrible. It's like having an angel investor give you $500k, raising $1m in an additional round of investment, and then paying back the angels, leaving you with $500k to keep growing. The subsequent investors have just absorbed all the risk of the project's failure. Or we could use another analogy: it's like using half of your Kickstarter money to fund the pre-pitch product. In this case, I don't recall hearing that Indie Fund would be getting paid before version 1.0 until their press release. Did the Early Access state that the funds would be used, first to pay Indie, then develop the game? Because my expectation was that my money was going towards FUTURE development and would not be cannibalized by initial investors.

The first mistake was to agree to an investment to be paid out of EA funds 7 months into the project for a project that they hoped to last 5 years. As I said, this cannibalizes funding for the project and shifts all the risk to the early consumers, who I'm pretty sure didn't know that they were absorbing as much risk as they were. I'll bet a lot of them felt the $25 investment was worth it because ALL of it was going towards future development, not just half.

The second mistake was to make such an art intensive game after they had embarked on such a risky strategy. To commit to an art style which created expensive assets for the type of game that requires an enormous amount of content to be successful is very risky because the project will be slower and more expensive than the successful games you want to emulate. If Double Fine knew that they were going to pay back investors from EA funds, then they knew the EA consumers were taking a big risk, and so they shouldn't have chosen a development model which was inherently risky.

So I suppose the mistakes came well before Alpha 1, but the incredibly low likelihood of success should have been apparent by Alpha 1 because (1) they only received double their seed funding, and they gave half of that back; (2) they knew their Alpha 1 was not very substantial, and early reviews actually warned people not to buy until the game had significantly more content; and (3) they knew that content was moving very slowly, so their prospects of enticing new buyers was not very likely in the time that the initial sales gave them.

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You are correct in that the figures will be pre tax and fees, and a lot of that 10 million will have gone on other things. (You can do the maths to see that 330k x 30 dollars comes to about 10 million, and they definitely didn't pocket that much of the sales revenue. However, even with a lot of that money lopped off, Spacebase would STILL only have had to achieved a fraction of the success of PA to get 5 years development. Heck, even if all it could get was 2 years of development, that would have been nicer.

So no matter how you slice it, the success that Double Fine were hoping for to make the project sustainable was, in fact, quite modest. We can mull over the failings of how they implemented their plan (especially in hindsight) but I think the idea that they went in with an over-ambitious plan is definitely a red herring.

I don't think it's a red herring at all. Your assumption that their forecast was modest is based on comparisons to PA. You cannot project even "a fraction of the success" of the game you are attempting to emulate if your game does not follow what made that game successful. The genre DF-9 was going into is extremely content heavy, and the EA funding model it wanted to use has only been proven successful when there is (1) lots of content at Alpha 1 and (2) lots of content in subsequent versions. PA hit both of those. DF-9 was built in such a way that it couldn't possibly hit either. So to say any projection at all was modest is speculative because they were in uncharted waters.

I'm sorry if this comes off as snarky, but do you really think that they made good early decisions on this project? That this was actually a good bet with only a small risk of failure, and ultimately it came down to bad luck and a bit of bad PR at the end, when things turned out poorly?

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You are correct in that the figures will be pre tax and fees, and a lot of that 10 million will have gone on other things. (You can do the maths to see that 330k x 30 dollars comes to about 10 million, and they definitely didn't pocket that much of the sales revenue. However, even with a lot of that money lopped off, Spacebase would STILL only have had to achieved a fraction of the success of PA to get 5 years development. Heck, even if all it could get was 2 years of development, that would have been nicer.

So no matter how you slice it, the success that Double Fine were hoping for to make the project sustainable was, in fact, quite modest. We can mull over the failings of how they implemented their plan (especially in hindsight) but I think the idea that they went in with an over-ambitious plan is definitely a red herring.

I don't think it's a red herring at all. Your assumption that their forecast was modest is based on comparisons to PA.

No, it's not. I wasn't even the first one to bring up PA, I just think that it's a useful example because the price points were similar and the type of game is comparable in some ways. But it's not the only successful Alpha Funded game out there. It's far from the most successful.

And I'm not even saying that mistakes weren't made in development that led to it not doing as well. I'm merely saying that it seems plausible that at the outset, they were looking at games LIKE Prison Architect, saying 'I think that a studio with our profile could probably make a game that was a fraction as successful as that and keep going for a few years' and they likely crunched some numbers around that and at the time it seemed really sensible and doable and the projections were sound.

Sure, misjudgements likely happened after that, but it's very easy to say 'they should have done x or shouldn't have done y' -now-. That's the benefit of hindsight. It doesn't make it any less disappointing, sure, and I do wish we'd been made aware about how badly the game was doing more in advance.

But just personally I find it hard to imagine they haven't learned from the experience and so I can't help but be sorta... chilled about the whole thing? Particularly because I haven't played since Alpha 1 and I'm super looking forward to 1.0 because of it. I'm not saying everyone should be chilled about it, but there is at least one advantage: I'm still looking forward to a game :)

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I don't think it's a red herring at all. Your assumption that their forecast was modest is based on comparisons to PA.

No, it's not. I wasn't even the first one to bring up PA, I just think that it's a useful example because the price points were similar and the type of game is comparable in some ways. But it's not the only successful Alpha Funded game out there. It's far from the most successful.

And I'm not even saying that mistakes weren't made in development that led to it not doing as well. I'm merely saying that it seems plausible that at the outset, they were looking at games LIKE Prison Architect, saying 'I think that a studio with our profile could probably make a game that was a fraction as successful as that and keep going for a few years' and they likely crunched some numbers around that and at the time it seemed really sensible and doable and the projections were sound.

Sure, misjudgements likely happened after that, but it's very easy to say 'they should have done x or shouldn't have done y' -now-. That's the benefit of hindsight. It doesn't make it any less disappointing, sure, and I do wish we'd been made aware about how badly the game was doing more in advance.

But just personally I find it hard to imagine they haven't learned from the experience and so I can't help but be sorta... chilled about the whole thing? Particularly because I haven't played since Alpha 1 and I'm super looking forward to 1.0 because of it. I'm not saying everyone should be chilled about it, but there is at least one advantage: I'm still looking forward to a game :)

Your point about the VERY initial projections is reasonable, but when they started comparing to games like Prison Architect (among others, as you say) they should have thought deeply about what made those games successful. It's not about hindsight, it's about foresight. They should have thought very hard about how to create a system where the marginal costs of creating new content were as low as possible. This is particularly true because they chose a funding model which placed enormous risk on the EA consumers, in fact more than most EA games which (I hope) do not cannibalize EA sales to pay for prior Alpha 1 development. I say this out of love, because I want to know that at the very least they acknowledge that they made errors and have emerged a much smarter company. When I hear things like "criticism of DF-9 is based on the benefit of hindsight" I get very frightened that Double Fine actually believes this too. That they have convinced themselves that they made reasonable decisions which simply didn't pay off. Because if that is the case, people are absolutely correct when they say Double Fine should not be trusted with any more early access funds and people should only buy finished products. If they don't think they failed to properly plan this game based on their knowledge at the time, I worry about how they will make decisions in the future. I'm not saying they are or were stupid, I'm saying they made a serious mistake based on bad judgment. If this causes them to change the way they set parameters for game development in the future, I think it's in some sense worth it because Double Fine will be a stronger company with a better grasp of how to successfully plan for a game when there is no producer ready to give extra money if the game goes over budget.

Tim once said he used to feel as though the publisher relationship was like a parent child relationship. I'm speculating, but it seems to me that he "grew up" with the publisher model, where you always go over budget and it's (usually) OK so long as you end up with a good game. There is some level of safety in that, where the developer doesn't worry too much about the budget since there will probably be more money if needed. "Don't worry, it always goes this way." But Double Fine has moved on to projects that really have to fit their budget, so this systemic way of thinking needs to be changed. From what I've heard, Lee Petty ran a tight ship and planned Stacking very well. Brad is doing the same right now with Massive Chalice. So clearly Double Fine is moving in the right direction, and I hope DF-9 prompts them even further.

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@Acheron; In one respect, yes, my math was off: I had somehow misremembered the pre-Alpha development time as 10 months, rather than 7-7.5. If we more accurately calculate off the 7 months figure we get: 4 devs x ~$10k/dev/month x 7 months = ~$280k of the initial $400k investment, meaning they had ~$120k remaining for development at the time of the EA/Alpha 1 launch. Since they also reduced the team size at that time down to 3 devs, that's 4 months worth of funds remaining before dipping in to EA sales money—which would have been around mid-February, 2014.

We don't know what the EA sales of DF-9 have been, except that in the first two weeks it earned enough to cover the initial $400k investment. (We don't know the terms of that, either, but for ease of calculation, it's best to assume DF is working from the assumption that it will have to have been paid back with revenue from sales (EA+retail) of the game, one way or another, or they'd never get investment like that again.) What we do know is that whatever DF's take of the sales is, between 2 weeks after release of alpha and mid-September (i.e. the announcement of v1.0 coming in October) they had not earned enough money to cover development costs, and had been covering those costs out of DF's other available funds (i.e.: sales of other games in their back-catalog). Development costs from mid-February to mid-September is another 7 months x 3 devs @ ~$10k/dev/month = $210k.

So we know that DF's total take from DF-9 EA sales is somewhere between $400k and $610k, and we know that at least 2/3 of that is in the first two weeks, with less than $210k in additional income over the following 46 weeks. (i.e.: Over the last 46 weeks they have averaged to net somewhat less than $4,500/month from EA sales while spending ~$30,000/month on development.)

We can also project that DF-9 would need to have earned on the order of $1 million more net income (pretending that they are secretly quite near break-even for the project, not significantly at a loss) to reach the "5 years" of hoped-for development, based on all the above numbers. But since they earned less than ~$200k in the last 46 weeks, another $1 million seems doubtful. Do you disagree? How long should they have carried on development, in your opinion, at a loss?

###

Now, you are clearly unhappy with the business model of the project. The very idea that development costs after a mere few months of EA would be expected to be paid for by EA sales—it upsets you. That's fine. Be upset. I can't empathize, since that has been my understanding of what the Early Access program is based on, for years now, but it's fine that you're upset that they used the EA program in the same way I've been seeing developers use Early Access since the first time I saw a paid alpha (before it was even called EA). Have your feelings, but don't think it was DF's mistake—the mistake was yours, for failing to comprehend the Early Access business model. Clearly, your opinion is that developers should only use EA to raise funds if they don't need those funds. (You remind me of big banks, who think people should only be lent money if they can prove they don't need it.) Many developers and many gamers willing to support those developers disagree—we believe that the point of EA is to help fund projects we believe in, projects which would not be able to be developed without our support.

Realistically, the only alternative to satisfy your worldview is for Double Fine, upon learning that they could only raise $400k in investment and somehow intuiting that the EA community would not support Spacebase DF-9 with even a small fraction of the financial support earned by other games in the space (since the game JP envisioned is clearly not satisfactory to that audience, in terms of delivered gameplay & affordances), to decide not to take the investment and not attempt to develop the game at all. The investors weren't there to cover the full cost of development, the market isn't there for EA support of a game with DF-9's development arc; they should not attempt to make a $2 million+ version of DF-9—at least according to your worldview.

Me, I'd much rather have the $650k version of DF-9 they're delivering next month than merely the 2-week AF prototype they delivered in 2012. Sure, a $2 million+ version would have been nicer, but I'm okay with DF making only as much game as the market would bear—and I'm pretty sure that the sort of players who are saying the core gameplay of DF-9 isn't fun wouldn't have found the $2 million+ version much fun, either.

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This is particularly true because they chose a funding model which placed enormous risk on the EA consumers, in fact more than most EA games which (I hope) do not cannibalize EA sales to pay for prior Alpha 1 development.

...where do you imagine the money to cover the cost of pre-EA development comes from, then? Are you just imagining that, despite having EA money coming in, developers should just carry the debt of the pre-EA development (inevitably paying interest, one way or another) until after EA is over and the game is released? Certainly that would motivate them to make the EA period as brief as possible—you would never get multi-year EA developments, which seem pretty common to me.

I don't think you've ever had to deal with the financial side of running a business.

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I don't think it's a red herring at all. Your assumption that their forecast was modest is based on comparisons to PA.

No, it's not. I wasn't even the first one to bring up PA, I just think that it's a useful example because the price points were similar and the type of game is comparable in some ways. But it's not the only successful Alpha Funded game out there. It's far from the most successful.

And I'm not even saying that mistakes weren't made in development that led to it not doing as well. I'm merely saying that it seems plausible that at the outset, they were looking at games LIKE Prison Architect, saying 'I think that a studio with our profile could probably make a game that was a fraction as successful as that and keep going for a few years' and they likely crunched some numbers around that and at the time it seemed really sensible and doable and the projections were sound.

Sure, misjudgements likely happened after that, but it's very easy to say 'they should have done x or shouldn't have done y' -now-. That's the benefit of hindsight. It doesn't make it any less disappointing, sure, and I do wish we'd been made aware about how badly the game was doing more in advance.

But just personally I find it hard to imagine they haven't learned from the experience and so I can't help but be sorta... chilled about the whole thing? Particularly because I haven't played since Alpha 1 and I'm super looking forward to 1.0 because of it. I'm not saying everyone should be chilled about it, but there is at least one advantage: I'm still looking forward to a game :)

Your point about the VERY initial projections is reasonable, but when they started comparing to games like Prison Architect (among others, as you say) they should have thought deeply about what made those games successful. It's not about hindsight, it's about foresight. They should have thought very hard about how to create a system where the marginal costs of creating new content were as low as possible. This is particularly true because they chose a funding model which placed enormous risk on the EA consumers, in fact more than most EA games which (I hope) do not cannibalize EA sales to pay for prior Alpha 1 development. I say this out of love, because I want to know that at the very least they acknowledge that they made errors and have emerged a much smarter company. When I hear things like "criticism of DF-9 is based on the benefit of hindsight" I get very frightened that Double Fine actually believes this too. That they have convinced themselves that they made reasonable decisions which simply didn't pay off. Because if that is the case, people are absolutely correct when they say Double Fine should not be trusted with any more early access funds and people should only buy finished products. If they don't think they failed to properly plan this game based on their knowledge at the time, I worry about how they will make decisions in the future. I'm not saying they are or were stupid, I'm saying they made a serious mistake based on bad judgment. If this causes them to change the way they set parameters for game development in the future, I think it's in some sense worth it because Double Fine will be a stronger company with a better grasp of how to successfully plan for a game when there is no producer ready to give extra money if the game goes over budget.

Tim once said he used to feel as though the publisher relationship was like a parent child relationship. I'm speculating, but it seems to me that he "grew up" with the publisher model, where you always go over budget and it's (usually) OK so long as you end up with a good game. There is some level of safety in that, where the developer doesn't worry too much about the budget since there will probably be more money if needed. "Don't worry, it always goes this way." But Double Fine has moved on to projects that really have to fit their budget, so this systemic way of thinking needs to be changed. From what I've heard, Lee Petty ran a tight ship and planned Stacking very well. Brad is doing the same right now with Massive Chalice. So clearly Double Fine is moving in the right direction, and I hope DF-9 prompts them even further.

Okay, I gotta go to bed, but just quickly let me be clear about what I mean when I talk about hindsight. It's indisputable that mistakes become clearer with hindsight, which is why I find it very difficult to get mad at DF if they made mistakes which now seem pretty clear.

But that doesn't mean that they didn't make mistakes. A number of posts ago (actually it might have been in one of the other threads) I listed 3 areas where I think mistakes were probably made (aside from the communication stuff), broadly in line with your view, essentially 1) Price, perhaps 2) development of early concept and 3) frequency of updates to keep momentum.

All of these are of course, critiquable. I just find them difficult to be angry about, because it just IS much easier to see, in hindsight. It just is. But that doesn't mean there aren't lessons here, and I very much doubt DF will come away without learning some good ones.

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We can also project that DF-9 would need to have earned on the order of $1 million more net income (pretending that they are secretly quite near break-even for the project, not significantly at a loss) to reach the "5 years" of hoped-for development, based on all the above numbers. But since they earned less than ~$200k in the last 46 weeks, another $1 million seems doubtful. Do you disagree? How long should they have carried on development, in your opinion, at a loss?

I do not disagree and I never said they should have carried on development. As I replied to your earlier post, discussing projections based on DF-9's initial sales, I think the initial sales should have clued them to the idea that they were in serious funding trouble. This is because of mistakes they had already made in funding and planning the game.

First, I don't think it was a good idea to agree to pay back Indie all at once from EA sales (as you and I have both said, we don't know how much and when Indie was paid, but based on public releases it sounds like it happened fairly quickly). That created the possibility, which actually occurred, that EA funds could not both pay back Indie and successfully fund a complete game. The deal should have been that Indie got perhaps a small partial recoupment at EA, and then additional recoupments once the team passed certain milestones. That way Indie took on some of the risk and only got paid back if the project was really a success. Perhaps you will say, "you could never get funding with that deal!" In response, I will say that you should never take a deal where the initial investor pays for 20% of your game for a virtually risk-free investment which has to be paid back before you know whether you are able to fund the other 80% of your game.

Second, I don't think it was a good idea to use expensive art assets, as I've already mentioned.

Third, I think they should have realized just prior to Alpha 1 release that it was too shallow to likely to get that remaining 80%, and if in fact they only got another 20%, the people buying based on trust and goodwill would end up investing a solid amount of money for an unfinished game. Maybe they did, and maybe they tried to get more money or change the terms of the Indie deal, but at the end of the day they sold a very speculative and risky prospect with pretty optimistic language and without much discussion of the risks. You say that potential investors wouldn't have given more money to the project if initial sales were bad, but I also think lots of early access buyers wouldn't have gotten the game if they knew about the Indie arrangement and particularly once they knew sales were unlikely to generate a finished product. If Double Fine thought they needed to somehow obfuscate the situation in order for people to start and continue buying... I think that's pretty solid evidence that they knew they had gotten themselves in a bad situation.

This is particularly true because they chose a funding model which placed enormous risk on the EA consumers, in fact more than most EA games which (I hope) do not cannibalize EA sales to pay for prior Alpha 1 development.

...where do you imagine the money to cover the cost of pre-EA development comes from, then? Are you just imagining that, despite having EA money coming in, developers should just carry the debt of the pre-EA development (inevitably paying interest, one way or another) until after EA is over and the game is released? Certainly that would motivate them to make the EA period as brief as possible—you would never get multi-year EA developments, which seem pretty common to me.

I don't think you've ever had to deal with the financial side of running a business.

I have not had to deal with running the financial side of a business. My understanding was that pre-EA was like pre-Kickstarter, you figure out how to pay for development prior to getting EA or Kickstarter money (or at the very least explain how much raised money will go towards paying off old debt). My understanding was that lots of indie devs spend their own time/money to build a game to the point where they can get additional funding via Kickstarter or EA, and the funds raised go towards future development unless otherwise specified. Double Fine is a different company than lots of the developers using EA, but then again, that's why so many people said they shouldn't have gotten involved in it in the first place.

Realistically, the only alternative to satisfy your worldview is for Double Fine, upon learning that they could only raise $400k in investment and somehow intuiting that the EA community would not support Spacebase DF-9 with even a small fraction of the financial support earned by other games in the space (since the game JP envisioned is clearly not satisfactory to that audience, in terms of delivered gameplay & affordances), to decide not to take the investment and not attempt to develop the game at all. The investors weren't there to cover the full cost of development, the market isn't there for EA support of a game with DF-9's development arc; they should not attempt to make a $2 million+ version of DF-9—at least according to your worldview.

Me, I'd much rather have the $650k version of DF-9 they're delivering next month than merely the 2-week AF prototype they delivered in 2012. Sure, a $2 million+ version would have been nicer, but I'm okay with DF making only as much game as the market would bear—and I'm pretty sure that the sort of players who are saying the core gameplay of DF-9 isn't fun wouldn't have found the $2 million+ version much fun, either.

If you cannot fund your game without EA, and you cannot get to EA without an investment to be paid out of EA funds, you probably shouldn't try to fund your game unless you are so confident in your plan that you can fully disclose the risks to EA buyers without fearing that they will (justifiably) run away once they know the whole story. Broken Age, for example, laid out their funding needs and explained that the whole project could crash and burn regardless. People knew the plan and the risks and then they backed. If Double Fine explained with DF-9 that "hey, we got a $400k investment to get the game to this point, we need help recouping that investment and then additional funds to fund the game hopefully for years, or at least a few more months" then people could make a more informed choice. If enough people have your worldview, the game will be funded to some extent and EA buyers will at least get something, as is the case here. But as you have seen, lots of people were under the impression that this project was much less risky than it actually was. You seem to think that's all their fault and caveat emptor. I think Double Fine had non-public information relevant to whether DF-9 was a good buy and should have shared that information with EA customers before asking for money.

EDIT: And I don't think $650k was what the market would bear, if Double Fine built 1.0 in obscurity and released it today, would it make $650k? A significant portion of the $650k funding came from people who bought based on trust that they could expect the full version, or at least felt based on what they were being told that there was a good chance that would occur. I don't think there was a good chance of that occurring by the time Alpha 1 was released, and by that time Double Fine should have known it.

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I'm in two minds. On the one hand I think it'd be a nice gesture for the people that supported DF-9. On the other hand, they still have a game to release, one that they have acknowledged didn't get the development time they were hoping for, but are still sticking by. I think, if they lean too heavily on 'compensating' people for DF-9, it would undermine the point they are making that actually there IS a game here.

You're aware that that boils down to "don't apologize or it'll look like you did something wrong?" DF have been making it rather clear they're ashamed of what's happened, they've already admitted fault. Their last concern should be making a point that there is technically a game here. Providing a small compensation at least shows effort to make things right and would help mitigate the damage to Double Fine's reputation.

If they're ashamed of DF-9, they shouldn't release 1.0 and they should take whatever compensatory measures they can. If they're happy to call time on 1.0 and release it as is, I'm wary of them doing anything to undermine that message further.

Being ashamed of its state shouldn't matter, though, as the money simply isn't there to continue development. Not releasing 1.0 isn't going to make things any better, it's the only thing they can really do to avoid massive calls for refunds. They're NOT happy to call time on the game as it is, and they shouldn't be worried about saving face at the expense of making things right.

If there's a good financial reason they can't provide some token form of compensation, that's more understandable, but it seems like a free copy of Psychonauts or Grim Fandango would probably result in a negligible amount of lost sales and earn back a considerable amount of trust.

As someone who is looking forward to 1.0, I want to see it get a fair shake. I'd like to see some reactions to it from people who weren't heavily invested in the Early Access, when it comes out, and while I doubt it will be regarded as one of the better DF games, I hope that at least it won't become 'that game we don't talk about'

There are two things relevant to people who've already played the game: objectives and the possibility of mods. The latter won't come for a while and DF deserves no credit for what they accomplish (though releasing the source is commendable), the former brings no new content to a content-starved game and while a possible welcome addition it's simply not going to redeem the game.

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I'm in two minds. On the one hand I think it'd be a nice gesture for the people that supported DF-9. On the other hand, they still have a game to release, one that they have acknowledged didn't get the development time they were hoping for, but are still sticking by. I think, if they lean too heavily on 'compensating' people for DF-9, it would undermine the point they are making that actually there IS a game here.

You're aware that that boils down to "don't apologize or it'll look like you did something wrong?" DF have been making it rather clear they're ashamed of what's happened, they've already admitted fault. Their last concern should be making a point that there is technically a game here. Providing a small compensation at least shows effort to make things right and would help mitigate the damage to Double Fine's reputation.

If they're ashamed of DF-9, they shouldn't release 1.0 and they should take whatever compensatory measures they can. If they're happy to call time on 1.0 and release it as is, I'm wary of them doing anything to undermine that message further.

Being ashamed of its state shouldn't matter, though, as the money simply isn't there to continue development. Not releasing 1.0 isn't going to make things any better, it's the only thing they can really do to avoid massive calls for refunds. They're NOT happy to call time on the game as it is, and they shouldn't be worried about saving face at the expense of making things right.

If there's a good financial reason they can't provide some token form of compensation, that's more understandable, but it seems like a free copy of Psychonauts or Grim Fandango would probably result in a negligible amount of lost sales and earn back a considerable amount of trust.

As someone who is looking forward to 1.0, I want to see it get a fair shake. I'd like to see some reactions to it from people who weren't heavily invested in the Early Access, when it comes out, and while I doubt it will be regarded as one of the better DF games, I hope that at least it won't become 'that game we don't talk about'

There are two things relevant to people who've already played the game: objectives and the possibility of mods. The latter won't come for a while and DF deserves no credit for what they accomplish (though releasing the source is commendable), the former brings no new content to a content-starved game and while a possible welcome addition it's simply not going to redeem the game.

Jeez, I explained my thinking, and DF have explained theirs, which it seems to me you have misrepresented in the above. If you please, I'll continue looking forward to 1.0.

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This is my reply from the Steam Forums, and it's pretty much the nail on the head as regards to what happened and well, why DoubleFine have "poisoned the well" for Early Access -

Early Access is not for pitching prototypes, and it's most definitely not for using as a market study to figure out if a prototype is going to sell or not. If a developer is using Early Access for that, they're abusing the EA model and Valve frankly should ban them from placing any further games into Early Access from that point forward.

SpaceBase DF-9 for all intents and purposes was placed into the Early Access system as a market study, as it was patently clear that the money provided in the initial round of funding was never going to result in a finished game, but simply a prototype. That is -not- what Early Access is designed for and DoubleFine should damn well know this. Tim should know this.

It's not for putting your game concepts onto Steam to figure out if enough people will buy into it to make development feasible. Work out if development is feasible -first-, get to the point where the game is fully playable and functional end to end at a basic level and not a prototype, then put it into Early Access.

This is where the root of the problem lies, this is why everyone is angry.

Valve seems to disagree with your idea of what the "EA model" is for:

http://store.steampowered.com/earlyaccessfaq/?snr=1_200_200_Early+Access

They even state that some games may never actually be finished.

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That was added very recently though (personally, I'd always seen it that way, but if it wasn't there before, then it's valid for people to believe that that's not how it was intended at the time they purchased Spacebase).

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Okay, I gotta go to bed, but just quickly let me be clear about what I mean when I talk about hindsight. It's indisputable that mistakes become clearer with hindsight, which is why I find it very difficult to get mad at DF if they made mistakes which now seem pretty clear.

But that doesn't mean that they didn't make mistakes. A number of posts ago (actually it might have been in one of the other threads) I listed 3 areas where I think mistakes were probably made (aside from the communication stuff), broadly in line with your view, essentially 1) Price, perhaps 2) development of early concept and 3) frequency of updates to keep momentum.

All of these are of course, critiquable. I just find them difficult to be angry about, because it just IS much easier to see, in hindsight. It just is. But that doesn't mean there aren't lessons here, and I very much doubt DF will come away without learning some good ones.

You are right, it is much clearer in hindsight. And while I'm still a bit upset, I do feel bad kicking the team while they are down after they had great intentions, did a solid job with what they had, and certainly are taking these lessons pretty hard right now.

WHY IS EVERYONE WRITING SO MUCH? AAAAAAAAAAAARGHHHH!!!!

Sorry for my part in that, I got carried away. I'll keep posts shorter in the future.

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WHY IS EVERYONE WRITING SO MUCH? AAAAAAAAAAAARGHHHH!!!!

Sorry for my part in that, I got carried away. I'll keep posts shorter in the future.

Thanks, dude :lol:

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Aww, long posts are welcome too <3

You have too much time in your life!!! xD

Ha ha, I think I've only managed to sleep every second night in about a week or so. I definitely don't have enough time in my life.

On topic though, it will definitely be interesting to see how things unfold from here. That Double Fine learned to be more open (as seen with Massive Chalice) instead of closing up in the wake of the information leak/misconception issues that Broken Age faced gives me hope that they'll continue to put faith in their community (which I hope will in turn re-earn the trust of fans who feel upset right now).

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Aww, long posts are welcome too <3

You have too much time in your life!!! xD

Ha ha, I think I've only managed to sleep every second night in about a week or so. I definitely don't have enough time in my life.

On topic though, it will definitely be interesting to see how things unfold from here. That Double Fine learned to be more open (as seen with Massive Chalice) instead of closing up in the wake of the information leak/misconception issues that Broken Age faced gives me hope that they'll continue to put faith in their community (which I hope will in turn re-earn the trust of fans who feel upset right now).

Agreed. Also, I think Massive Chalice will be a big success, Broken Age will make people happy, and Costume Quest 2 will be great. All within a pretty short window. Even DF-9 will eventually be seen as a fun small game once enough time goes by that they can price it accordingly. They are the best company you could ever follow so I have no doubt they'll be back on top in no time with the community.

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Valve seems to disagree with your idea of what the "EA model" is for:

http://store.steampowered.com/earlyaccessfaq/?snr=1_200_200_Early+Access

They even state that some games may never actually be finished.

Less cherrypicking ;) That's Tim's job. Not yours. Follow the conversation through to see where we are at. Though I'll respond to your initial post this time. Your argument fails in two specific places - Firstly, DoubleFine were a well respected publisher, therefore the chances of them "failing" to create a fully feature complete, high quality product should have been next to none. Secondly, as we've already pointed out between myself and Acheron, there's been a very clear reshuffling of where the risk lay in the initial development of the prototype and the sales pitch. Ordinarily investors would handle the sales pitch, but what's happened here is that investors have borne none of the risk and all of the reward, and effectively DoubleFine have moved the risk element entirely onto the backs of those who bought in from Early Access without informing them that this would be the case. This piece of information would be somewhat critical since $400k of the development pool going back to the investors would have a significant impact on how long DF would be able to continue development on DF-9 and the final quality of the product.

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I predict that this situation will happen a lot more in the coming years. It seems like there are a lot more sandbox-type games that are at only an alpha or pre-alpha level on Early Access and are using this funding model than people realize. I think it's almost a certainty that some of these games will fail to bring in enough revenue to continue development.

I think it's interesting how some of us view Early Access as basically the same thing as Kickstarter/crowd funding and some of us view it as something very different. I've read most of what Hobbes had to say about shifting the risk to consumers and it's somewhat ironic because that is precisely the POINT of Kickstarter. Get money from the backers, have them be the investors who take the risk on a game. So, I don't think it can be argued that asking the consumers to take the risk is immoral or terribly unusual. It's all about expectations.

I want to point out that it's not entirely correct to say that DoubleFine shifted ALL the risk to the Early Access purchasers. When IndieFund put in their seed money they didn't get anything in return for it at the time. Nothing. Early Access purchasers were compensated at least in part because they got the game in whatever state it was in right away. I know a lot of folks think that what they're likely to end up with won't be worth their $25 (and I'm not saying they're wrong), but on the theory that one should only purchase an EA game when one is satisfied that the game as it exists at the time is worth the purchase price then the EA purchasers are being compensated in full. So, what I'm saying is I can understand why at DoubleFine they took a much less negative view of this risk-shifting than some folks here.

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I predict that this situation will happen a lot more in the coming years. It seems like there are a lot more sandbox-type games that are at only an alpha or pre-alpha level on Early Access and are using this funding model than people realize. I think it's almost a certainty that some of these games will fail to bring in enough revenue to continue development.

I think it's interesting how some of us view Early Access as basically the same thing as Kickstarter/crowd funding and some of us view it as something very different. I've read most of what Hobbes had to say about shifting the risk to consumers and it's somewhat ironic because that is precisely the POINT of Kickstarter. Get money from the backers, have them be the investors who take the risk on a game. So, I don't think it can be argued that asking the consumers to take the risk is immoral or terribly unusual. It's all about expectations.

I want to point out that it's not entirely correct to say that DoubleFine shifted ALL the risk to the Early Access purchasers. When IndieFund put in their seed money they didn't get anything in return for it at the time. Nothing. Early Access purchasers were compensated at least in part because they got the game in whatever state it was in right away. I know a lot of folks think that what they're likely to end up with won't be worth their $25 (and I'm not saying they're wrong), but on the theory that one should only purchase an EA game when one is satisfied that the game as it exists at the time is worth the purchase price then the EA purchasers are being compensated in full. So, what I'm saying is I can understand why at DoubleFine they took a much less negative view of this risk-shifting than some folks here.

Maybe in the future Early Access should me more like Kickstarter, where the developers try to explain how much they want to do and how they plan to spend money for a series of benchmarks. As in, "it costs us roughly $X per month to stay in business: over the next 2 months we plan to get Alpha 2, which we plan to implement these features, then Alpha 3 within the following 2 months, with these features, etc." That way people have some idea what a game funded for 6 months would look like versus a game funded for 2 years. As you say, it's about expectations, and by setting up expectations appropriately developers could garner additional trust. I'm not saying this should be mandated or anything, just that it might help avoid misperception.

From what we know, Indie invested $400k for a <1 year development cycle and planned to take the first $400k out of early access. They probably figured that Double Fine's track record was good enough to make that a very safe bet. Indie apparently took on zero risk that the game would ultimately be a failure past Alpha 1 and the initial EA enthusiasm, leaving them no downside and some upside if the game was a hit. That's such a good deal from an investment perspective, it's not nothing.

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But what I'm saying is that if they have at least the next 6 months planned out, they can give some detail as to what would get done in each of those months, so people can say "even if it only lasts 5 months, I'm pretty excited for those features." Maybe you're right and it's too risky to plan at all, but if you can't even set some kind of conservative estimate in the short term, why should people trust you? I guess the alternative solution is to frontload alpha 1 so that no one could ever say that it wasn't worth the investment even if nothing else ever happens.

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