There’s been something of an upturn in fortunes at Revolution Software. The veteran British developer found itself almost penniless a couple of years ago when publishing deals ensured the company made little money from its third and fourth Broken Sword titles. But then came the App Store, digital distribution and sales of over four million for remastered editions of Shadow of the Templar and The Smoking Mirror adventures on iOS. And then there was Kickstarter.
The Crowd-funding appeal for the next Broken Sword adventure, sub-titled Serpent’s Curse, ended a couple of weeks ago on over $800,000, doubling the target Revolution was among for. It’s something Charles Cecil, the co-founder of Revoltuion and designer of the Broken Sword titles, says he wasn’t expecting.
“There was enormous trepidation,” he says. “Everyone talks about the success of Double Fine, but they were very early – we came six months later and I didn’t think we could do it in the same way. What Tim Schafer said was, it might be very good, it might be very bad, but it will be a lot of fun. So he was promising absolutely nothing of substance – which was fantastic because the force of his personality meant that people bought into that”.
Revolution adopted a slightly more cautious philosophy. “Our approach was, we’ll wait until we have something to show,” says Cecil. “So instead of declaring, ‘we have this wild dream, come and share it!’ we said we’re really proud of what we’re making, this is what it’s called, this is when it’ll be ready, buy into that vision. It was a different approach”.
And it worked. With the extra funding, the team will be able to restore elements cut from the initial vision as well as add new locations in North Africa and the Middle East. However, Cecil says the money – although amazing – is only part of the success story. “There are many benefits to Kickstarter apart from the funding,” he says. “We now have 14,000 people who we can communicate with directly. From a marketing perspective, that’s extraordinary and it puts us in a great position. Kickstarter galvanised interest in Broken sword – if any old fans had forgotten about it, then they got caught up in the energy and enthusiasm that the project generated. Now we have a large group of fans who will give us valuable feedback”.
And apparently, they’re already doing that. “When the Kickstarter trailer was released, a few people came back and gave us some very positive criticism; they talked about George’s face not being quite right, and we took these comments very seriously. Clearly, we can’t super-serve the people who shout the loudest, but these were valuable criticisms. So we actually changed his face, we squared his jaw off slightly – and he does look more like George. It’s valuable because it gives us confidence that by the time we’ve finished the project we’ll have something that our fanbase wants to play.”
Cecil has also sought to address the criticisms the company received when it introduced a series of ‘stretch goals’ as they approached the $400,000 target. Revolution promised that if the kitty reached £1m, they would green light a sequel to classic cyberpunk adventure, Beneath a Steel Sky. Some saw this as emotional blackmail bordering on keeping the project hostage. Cecil says that was never the intention and that BASS 2 was always going to be made – but the target would mean it would go into immediate pre-production.
It says a little bit about the charmingly haphazard way the studio works. When we aske Cecil if the studio had planned these stretch goals from the beginning, just in case, he laughs before replying, “we focused on things just before they happened. That’s partially because we aren’t very well organised… Actually, it’s mostly because we aren’t very well organised”.
Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse is due out on iOS, Android, PC/Mac and Linux early next year.