Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Death of Deathfire?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 23, 2013

DeathfireCryptI’m saddened. Guido Henkel and the Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore have officially pulled the plug.

The Deathfire Team: Thanks you for all your support

This crap happens all the time, really. Games get canceled, for many reasons. But in this case – with the failure of the Kickstarter and the episodic alternative – the reason is kind of depressing:

Not enough people were interested in this kind of game to commit to providing the funding in advance.

This was, sadly, the kind of game I want to play. It was based on the same kinds of games that inspired Frayed Knights. I mean, sheesh, Guido created some of the games that inspired Frayed Knights, at least indirectly.

This really disappoints and worries me. Is there just not enough  potential audience large enough to support mid-budget game development (pretty much from $100k – $1m, in my book) for this style of RPG? Is it dead, Jim? After all, we’re talking about a game style (first-person perspective, party-based, cardinal-direction movement, turn-based combat RPG)  that had largely exhausted itself by the mid-90s. The audience was getting tired of the parade of low-quality, low-tech dungeon crawlers in that era, and even the giants like SSI were having serious problems. The audience was dwindling then, and I don’t suppose 20 years has done much to improve on that.

So… where does that leave us?

By one interpretation, a little bit up the creek. If the potential audience is small, static, and declining, then it’s game over. There’s nowhere to go but down.

Another interpretation is simply that the audience needs to be regrown. Maybe not quite from scratch, but definitely beyond the bounds of the faithful elite. This might suck for the faithful elite, because that means that games with higher production values will not be able to cater quite so directly to them. The games must serve two audiences. It’ll take a lot of work, luck, and marketing… and at least one moderate hit game.

I’m thinking about the success of The Legend of Grimrock. I know they didn’t get there exclusively by catering to the old Dungeon Master / Eye of the Beholder fans. If anything, we old-school fans were a little disappointed, as it was a little bit of a rehash of what we’d played before. I suspect it was a new experience to most players, however, and while extremely limited in scope, it had decent screenshot appeal, and was a nice, polished experience. It’s a good game, and while it has its roots in late 80s / early 90s RPGs, only the old vets might notice.

The bottom line seems to be that devs cannot focus exclusively on the old-school faithful. That part shouldn’t be too surprising. So while a Kickstarter campaign can say the right things to get us old-school fans excited, these days (now that KS fatigue has set in), there needs to be more there. Matt Barton talked about this a few weeks ago, in his article, “Matt’s Guide to Kickstarter Success.” Non-genre fans need to have a reason to get excited. When you say, “Thrilling turn-based combat” to me, I get excited. I think about tactics RPGs and X-Com and some great dice-and-paper combat sessions where our group worked like a team and complimented each others actions with our own. Somebody else, however, might think, “Slow and boring.” And yeah, I’ve had those too.

This goes beyond the fundraising pitch, and should include the design and marketing. This is a pain in the butt as a developer, because not only does it require a lot more work to appeal to two different audiences, but it also requires uncomfortable compromises. It also requires a unique selling point – a reason why someone should get excited about this one game instead of the flood of high-quality games (sometimes emulating a more recent “old-school” vintage) coming in the near future.

But for right now, I mourn. I really feel for Guido and his team right now – I know they poured their hearts into this. Guido talked about the obsession he had with this game at the beginning of the year, and I know how that is. I loved the ideas they had, and was really looking forward to seeing it all come together. I’m sad for what could have and should have been.


Filed Under: Biz, Production - Comments: 13 Comments to Read



  • Cuthalion said,

    Aww… this is sad to hear. I hope they’re able to keep going and make something that will keep them in business.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I dunno what is gonna happen. Guido mentioned archiving all the assets and cleaning off his hard drive, so I’m assuming that there is no current “Plan C” in the works. :(

    Serious suckage.

  • Matt said,

    Indeed, I’m sad for Guido and for true CRPG fans.

    I wonder how many great CRPGs would have been made if they’d had to depend on Kickstarter for funding. Can you imagine what their pitch videos and campaigns would’ve looked like?

  • Anon said,

    Welcome to reality!

    I don’t mean that as sarcastic as it sounds, though.
    In reality, products get ultimately streamlined to either appeal to literally everyone and become (potential) mega blockbusters or trimmed-down to be financially feasible.
    It happens everywhere – movies, tv-series, music (remember the “boy groups” with their varied “personnel”?) and even books – why should games be different?

    Big games also need big budgets to pay a lot of people creating high-quality assets and including stuff like motion capturing, orchestrated music etc.
    Big games must cater to a big audience to be profitable – and this isn’t exactly a recent development.
    We all know big games – and Deathfire wasn’t planned as one.

    Niche products on the other hand must be either realized with lower budgets or they die before somebody even moves a finger.
    Deathfire wasn’t big budget but also not super low-cost, it fell somewhere in between (Plan B sounded quite low-cost to me, though).

    Problem is, Guido is a professional developer and industry veteran who thinks very hard about what he can accept and what he can’t. He isn’t a newcomer like Joe New-Indie-Developer who risks his existence on such a (kickstarter) project – he’ll likely spend his time on more worthwhile projects/endeavors.
    And he probably doesn’t need a breakthrough product – he seems to be well established and relaxed. Deathfire seemed more like a project dear to his heart – which makes this even more sad.

    Tim Schafer also wouldn’t let Double Fine work on their new game unless it gets financed (= meets the Kickstarter goal). Now that it easily surpassed that goal they not only implement it but also include more stuff.
    Tim and the gamers got lucky, Guido not so much. He got bitten by the fact that even Kickstarter can’t limitlessly attract people to put money into it.
    One can endlessly speculate why that is but my best guess is that most people don’t even know him (despite the most valiant efforts by media people like Matt and even yourself, Jay) and therefore Guido only gets a limited nostalgia bonus.
    “He was the blue guy on the whats-the-title? RPG box!” simply doesn’t suffice.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I imagine reality was foremost on their minds when they pulled the plug. Again, this happens a lot, and Guido and at least some of his team (by the sounds of it) are industry veterans for whom this is nowhere near their first rodeo. Game development may be about passion, but running a projection requires money and good business sense. It’s clear they looked at the numbers and realized they weren’t going to add up. Whatever the underlying reason, they weren’t attracting the necessary audience willing to fund it. While their could be alternative methods of funding, it speaks to a rougher reality down the road: If they can’t attract the audience now, wouldn’t they still have problems attracting an audience once it ships?

    It makes it no less disappointing, of course. It looked like a great addition to the great new RPGs coming out of small and mid-sized shops now.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Matt – I imagine Might & Magic would have never gotten off the ground. And I remember reading a review (in CGW) complaining – kinda – about Ultima 7 – about being so tired of adventuring in the same old series. Little would the author suspect that years later, he’d only WISH he could still adventure in Ultima’s Britannia again…

  • David W said,

    Maybe I’m just a Scrooge, but I see this as more about Kickstarter than about the games. I’ve funded exactly one project on Kickstarter, which was literally raising money to reprint a book that had already been out before. Very straightforward, put the money in, get the book out. And even that project faced delays!

    It’s one thing for me to pay money for a game, it’s another to pay money for the hope of a game, if everything works out as planned.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I think that’s a very legitimate attitude. Not Scroogey at all. While I have funded quite a few Kickstarters, they have all been for people I consider “known quantities” – either friends or people who I know can produce, whether indie, formerly mainstream, or are doing something non-game related (like buying books in development).

    I appreciate KS as an alternative funding source, but I worry that too many projects by people who don’t know what they are doing are going to poison that particular well.

  • Gökhan Halil Düzgün said,

    I was one of those backers who pledge above his limits in order to see Deathfire come to existence and really I don’t recall being sad about a cancellation news this much before this. Actually there is a market for these kind of games, but not as much as isometric RPGs it seems. A project can collect max 200.000 $ in Kickstarter I think. There are so many factors for Kickstarter failure. Kickstarter fatique, uninterest by the media because of new console attention, bad time of year and such. There is a great example for these kind of games and it’s Wizardry 8. An RPG with same mechanics but new graphics has a potential to attract much more player. 9.000 yes votes in Steam Greenlit for Deatfire also indicates this. So there is no need to become desperate.

  • Masta De Gumbo said,

    Okay,

    There is something that needs to be said about this whole Deathfire affair that no one has yet mentioned: Mr. Henkel and co. mishandled the campaign at multiple junctures.

    First of all, the amount of money they were asking for in the KS was a big miscalculation. Considering they were able to raise over 200k, they were definitely on the right track and people were actively interesting in getting behind the project (backed up further by all the Greenlight support), but the magic number they were trying to hit was untenable and I think the devs had an inflated sense of what they could raise.

    Guido Henkel, great as he is as a designer with pedigree, lacked marquee value that a dev like, Chris Avellone, Jane Jensen, or Brian Fargo brings to the table. No one really cares if he was the model for the Torment dude. Mr Henkel hadn’t been involved in game development since FlipIt! and Planescape and that was 9-15 years ago and thus, he should have scaled his expectations as a marquee draw to the game. Realms of Arkania is a great series for its time, but it comparatively lacks the traction of the Fallouts or the Obsidian games.

    The prototypes that Henkel was showing off were not as far along as they should have been, unfortunately. They weren’t blatantly thrown together like, say, Shaker’s illustrations, but there was no core gameplay systems being shown, just static shots of the interface, rough run-throughs of the dungeons and a lot of static art. Attractive enough, but without gameplay interactions on display, you can’t really justify asking for the amount of money they did, unless your Richard Garriott. RPGs like Balrum and even Frontiers showed more actual gameplay and asked for less money – that is in part why they were successful.

    Also, Kickstarter can’t be funded from certain countries, which cuts off economic viability. Seeing as RoA was a huge hit in Germany, it’s frustrating to think that they were willingly keeping out a whole potential backer group from the KS equation, simply by hoping the American market would jump on the RoA reboot concept, rather than the Germans, where the roots of the RoA fandom really existed. Not having a PayPal system *alongside* the Kickstarter was a big missed opportunity.

    With the KS funding unsuccessful, things simply went straight downhill. Henkel decided he would just appeal to the ‘core’ group and that would cover it, doing the game episodically for 50k based solely on DONATIONs. I’m not a business or psych major, but not many people, even ones enthusiastic about a given project, want to operate a donation-based model, without the fan interaction, accountability and feeling of being a part of ‘something greater’ that Kickstarter as a service provides. Again, running a PayPal donation system alongside the KS campaign would have at least felt like all channels to fund this project were open.

    Finally, the model they were proposing, a 50k upfront cost to fund episodes of the RPG was, honestly, a savvy idea that should have been there from the get-go. Why couldn’t they have just done this in the beginining on Kickstarter? It would have been a sure-bet for everyone involved and a very smart way of growing the project more carefully and organically over time. Say the first episode got released and it was awesome, it would be a deserved hit, get coverage for its quality (not just potential) and the fans would want more and already be voting with their wallets.

    Finally, basically giving up on the funding when they were literally almost towards their goal was the final nail in the coffin – they literally ran out of gas. If they had hung in a little longer and worked their PR contacts one more time, post holidays, they probably would have gotten a nice little windfall and crossed the 50k threshold. Instead, they just quit.

    oh well.

    Bottom line, I know a lot of people like to wring hands at ‘the flaky fanbase’ or the ‘dwindling audience’, or the ‘fickle RPG market,’ but there’s no denying a passionate group of gamers exist for these games and they’re willing to vote with their wallets and their actions. With all due respect to Mr. Henkel and co, they mishandled the campaign.

    -g

  • Bargeral said,

    A lot of my hesitation to back Deathfire came from the Thorvalla kickstarter. It was a concept not a game. and it looked like a bandwagon money grab – barely developed and high dollar goal. I never expected that one to fly, even if it made the goal. Deathfire had to overcome that impression, and for my part it never really did. I only eventually backed it because it is just the kind of game I’d like to see and because I can afford to lose the twenty bucks. Really I never expected to see a game out of it. So it’s not all about the genre – at least in my case the genre was strong enough to overcome my concerns.

    I wish them luck, honestly. But they need to come back with a “90% done, we will release with or without Kickstarter” campaign designed around adding content on well considered stretch goals. As far is kickstarter is concerned that track record means they are done.

  • Gökhan Halil Düzgün said,

    I think the reason they abandoned the plan B was the production of first episode is way higher than following episodes. In order to make E1 you have to make lot’s of game systems completely. This means more time, more work, more resources and of course more money. If they start a 200.000 $ goal at the beginning with Kickstarter they could have make Chapter 1 (even 2 or 3) with this money and take off from that with early access and greenlit. So I’m totally agree with that miscalculation.

  • Darklord said,

    I’ve backed 60 Projects including this one, I also backed it direct on the website to.

    Wish more others had, or that it hadn’t been put on Kickstarter at Xmas. (not a great idea eh?) Or that it had been designed as 50K episodic game from the start, any of those options would have saved this game. Real shame.

    I think games needs a personality behind them to do REALLY well, no offence to Guido Henkel, but he just isn’t a character in the way Tim Schafer, Brian Fargo, Chris Avellone etc are.

    If you don’t have the character or the huge game to make a homage to, you need to start extra small.

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