Super Action Squad FAQ
This post is meant to clear up some information about our game, Super Action Squad (previously known as Super Retro Squad). I'll be addressing some common questions and misconceptions that people have about it. This information was originally written for our backers, but I decided to make it public in case other indie developers or anyone running a Kickstarter finds the information useful.
How are you spending the Kickstarter money?
Here's a chart showing how the Kickstarter money was and is being spent. To be clear, this is not a chart for the game's budget. It's specifically for the Kickstarter money.
The amount that it shows on the Kickstarter page is $53,509, but we actually received $48,007 because of fees and missed payments (I hadn't thought of it before experiencing it, but not all people that pledge actually pay). We ended up paying $8,599 in taxes, so the actual amount of useable money we got from Kickstarter was $39,408. That's 26% less than what it shows on the Kickstarter page, so keep that in mind. The taxes and fees are included in the chart.
I'm going to state that one more time for clarity. The amount of useable money we got from Kickstarter was $39,408. It was not $53,509, which is the number displayed on the Kickstarter page.
You used the Kickstarter money to buy a house.
You can't buy a house big enough for seven people with $39,408. If you're asking if we used it for the down payment, the answer is no. None of the Kickstarter money went into the down payment for the house. We were able to use a loan, and we wouldn't have gotten the loan if we didn't get the house, so it was an easy decision. By the way, I don't even own the majority of the house. Jessy and Catie do, so we actually get to live and work in the house while only paying for part of it. It has worked out really well both financially and in helping everyone to work together and get along better.
You used the Kickstarter money to work on Super Mario Bros. Crossover.
The opposite of this is actually true. We're using the money from Super Mario Bros. Crossover (SMBC) to work on Super Action Squad (SAS). Since the kickstarter money is not enough to pay seven people to work full-time, people have to work at other jobs in order to survive. One of those jobs is SMBC. If I had a part-time job at a grocery store, would you say I used the Kickstarter money to work at the grocery store? It makes no sense because I don't spend money to work at another job; I make money from it.
In addition to that, the main person that works on SMBC is a tester for SAS, so there isn't much for him to do on SAS during early development anyway. When we need him for SAS, he works part-time on SAS and part-time on SMBC. This way, we can keep making extra money and continue SAS development. I personally also have to work on SMBC sometimes because I originally wrote the code. There was a bit of an upfront time investment from me before releasing SMBC 3.0, but now I don't have to spend much time at all on that game and it will continue to be updated and bring more people to the site, which helps us to make more money through the ads on the site.
You claim that SMBC is a non-profit fan game, yet you're making money from it?
We don't make any money directly from SMBC. The money I'm speaking of is made from ads on our site and from backers for SAS. When we do an update for SMBC, a lot more people come to our site, so we get more money from our ads and more backers.
You got five times the amount you asked for, so you should never have any financial problems.
When I first came up with the amount for the Kickstarter, I knew nothing about how much it actually costs to make a game with a team. The only experience I had was making Super Mario Bros. Crossover, which is not a full game, and I also did a lot of that work by myself. I also underestimated how much work it would be to make the game. We were originally just going to port the SMBC engine to Unity, but it turns out that Unity's system was so different that we would have had to completely rewrite the engine instead of porting it. That is a lot more work. I also hadn't used a game engine much before, so I assumed it would make development way faster, but it didn't help as much as I thought because Unity was designed primarily for 3D games. (Keep in mind that Unity did not have a 2D mode at that point, so doing 2D sprite-based platformers was very hard. 2D support was announced recently and is currenty in beta. It should significantly improve development speed for us.)
It turns out that it's way harder to make a game from scratch than it is to make a fan-game because there is so much design and prototyping involved. On top of that, everyone on the team is inexperienced because I could not afford to pay people that had shipped a game before. We've had to spend a lot of time teaching ourselves how to do everything. With all of these things combined, on top of moving into a new house, everything took way longer than I expected, and our monthly expenses were also higher than I thought they would be.
I knew that the most important thing for us to do was to get ourselves into a financially stable position, so that's when I came up with the strategy to release SMBC 3.0. Without too much work, I could put out an update that would both inform people about SAS and get us more money. My plan worked, and we're now making about 2.75 times the amount we were making before, and we're also getting a lot more publicity.
While I was doing the SMBC update, SAS was still being worked on by everyone else, as you can see in this video. Development was definitely a lot less efficient without my complete focus, but things were still getting done, and people were improving their skills. Financially, we're still just getting by, but we should be fine unless there is some big unexpected expense.
Anyway, I've been able to get a much more accurate idea of what the game will cost to make now. You can see it below.
The absolute lowest I can get the budget down to is $60,000, so that's what this chart represents. I don't know if taxes are supposed to be on the budget, but I put them there because I view it as a separate expense that needs to be planned for. I also have $10,000 planned for unexpected expenses because it seems that we always end up paying for things we don't expect to, like if someone's computer breaks or we need to consult an attorney to help us create a contract.
Keep in mind that this budget includes paying people barely anything. By the end of December, no one will be getting paid at all to work on SAS, so it's up to everyone to make enough money themselves to provide for their basic needs. On a normal game, most of the budget goes into paying people, so that's the reason why this one is so low. Also, I'm assuming that the budget will end up being higher than this because I've made conservative estimates, and things just generally seem to cost more than we plan for… but $60,000 is what the actual numbers show for now.
You should have just made the game with your team remotely instead of moving into a house.
It's pretty easy to get a rough estimate of how much higher the budget would be if we didn't move into the house. Basically, you'd just have to add rent and utilities for everyone and subtract out expenses related to the house.
The estimated budget includes development time for one year, so if everyone lived on their own, they'd have to pay 12 months of rent + utilities. Currently, 6 members of the team live at the house and one does not. If we use $500 as an average, for 6 people, that would be $36,000. I did better than that though, and I actually had everyone calculate the amount that they saved per month by moving into the house. The total ended up being $4,170 saved per month. If you work that into the current budget by removing all expenses related to the house, including one-time purchases and travel, then you have a total budget of about $85,000. If I remove the one-time expenses, I can estimate that we are saving approximately $29,640 per year by living and working together in the house, so the longer we are here, the more we save. And remember that in addition to having financial advantages, it also allows us to work together in person which is much more efficient.
By the way, one of our team members does not live in the house, and his living expenses are over $1,000 per month, so we'd be saving about $12,000 more if he were to move in with us also, but it's not possible at this time.
You ran out of money, and that's why you're asking for more.
If we ran out of money, the project would be canceled. We used the Kickstarter money to set ourselves up for long-term survival. The plan worked, and while we don't have a lot of money, we have a steady stream of income that should allow us to survive until the game is done as long as there are no gigantic unexpected expenses.
We're still offering rewards through Paypal, and we have been doing that since the day the Kickstarter ended, so nothing changed. We decided to make a focused effort to increase development speed by trying to get enough money for everyone to work full-time, and the video on the pledge page explains that. The majority of the money from Paypal goes into a savings account.
You haven't been working on the game.
If we haven't been working on the game, it wouldn't have been possible for us to make a video about it. It's true that work was done sporadically on the actual building of the game while we got ourselves financially secure, taught ourselves stuff, and established some solid workflows. Now that all that is taken care of, we can focus on the actual building of the game.
What state is the game currently in?
We scrapped all of the code that we were working on and started fresh in early August. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is that Unity announced that it's bringing 2D tools to its platform. Our code was built on a completely different physics engine and sprite workflow, and it was also written before we started prototyping things, so we decided to change some things in the game design anyway. The other main reason is that we're now financially stable enough for me to personally work full-time on the project. Now that I can focus completely on it, I can help to design our code so that each individual's code will work well together. Previously, programmers were kind of working on their own and the code was not integrating well.
To some people, it may seem like a bad decision to completely rewrite our code, but you'll just have to trust my judgement. I think everyone would be happier if they just consider August 2013 the start date of production and that everything leading up to it was a mix of pre-production, learning stuff, and getting ourselves financially stable. I'm sure some people will be upset by this, but I always think it's best to just tell the truth. So there it is.
And just to make it clear, we're only redoing the programming. We have done a lot of work on both art and game design, and we don't have any plans to scrap that, but we have had to modify the game design slightly to accommodate an episodic release. We're also still tinkering with some of the game mechanics because some of my original ideas didn't work as well as I thought they would once we started trying them out.
The game is way behind schedule. It was supposed to be done in March 2013.
In August of 2011, Kickstarter started a policy requiring all projects to set specific deadlines for rewards. This simple requirement has caused us so much grief, because if it was up to me, I never would have given a date. I knew it'd be impossible to predict how long things would take. I made the best guess I could at the time, and that was March 2013, and it was of course horribly wrong. I knew it was just a guess at the time, so near the bottom of the page in the FAQ, I wrote the following:
"When will the game be released? -> I would tell you if I knew... I put a tentative date of March 2013... but that is just a random guess."
We never set an official deadline for the game, and I've always done my best to communicate that. If people didn't read the information on the page, there isn't much I can do about it. It's still there if you want to read it now.
When I feel like I can make an estimate for when the game will be done, I'll announce an official release date. Until then, there is none.
The project is not going well due to poor project management.
I think you can only say the project isn't going well if you thought the release date was March 2013. This may come as a shock, but I'm really happy with how things are going, given our circumstances. The chances of everything we did succeeding were very low. I moved into a house with a bunch of people I never met and could barely afford to pay, and we're actually able to get along and work together without killing each other, and everyone was able to find part-time jobs so that they can now get by with me paying them nothing.
You change your mind all the time.
One of my strengths has always been my ability to adapt to changing circumstances. I always have a plan in my head of how to do things in the most intelligent and efficient way possible. When circumstances change or new ideas are discovered, I have to evaluate if changing the plan will result in a better outcome. Sometimes it's best to keep things how they are, and sometimes it isn't. When I announce a change, you don't have all of the information, so from your perspective, it may seem like I do it all the time and for no reason. This is not the case. Whenever I change something, I do it for a reason, and it's usually a good one. This doesn't mean I never reverse a decision. Sometimes I change something, and it ends up that it was better the original way, so I have to change it back. That's just how things go.
If a change seems random or unwarranted, I probably did not do a good job of explaining why I made the change, or the reasoning was misunderstood. I generally don't take a lot of time to explain things because I'm more of a "get things done" person than a "talking about getting things done" person. I guess I'm making up for that with this gigantic post.
The game you're making now is not what you said you'd make in the Kickstarter.
Keep in mind that everyone has a different idea in their head of what the game is. The reality is that no one, except for me, knows what I originally imagined it to be. From my perspective, the game has not changed much at all. The basic concept has always been to create a 2D retro platformer with multiple playable characters with different abilities, and that's what we're doing.
If we make any changes, it is usually because something in the original design didn't work. For example, in our testing, it is difficult to create a balanced game when the characters abilities are all so drastically different, so we've been experimenting with different control schemes and power-up systems that can help us to find the right balance between differences and similarities. If we don't find the right balance, some levels will be too hard, too easy, or too boring for some characters. I'm sure we'll have to change many things from what I originally imagined because I never tested my original design to see if it was fun.
Remember, this is our first time doing this, so it's a learning process for all of us.
Why are you releasing the game in parts?
Since everyone on the team has either part-time or full-time jobs, finishing the game we pitched for the original Kickstarter would take a very long time; possibly 2 or more years. We would be able to work much faster if everyone on the team could work full-time on the game, so it is better for us to complete part of the game first, then use the money we make from that to get everyone working full-time. Then we can make the rest of the parts faster and with better focus.
Also, as I've already mentioned, our financial position isn't the greatest. Sure, we're making enough to get by, but it's not wise to stay in this position for long. If we have a large unexpected expense, it could get to the point where we can't make ends meet financially, and the entire project would get canceled. The sooner we have a positive cash-flow, the better it is for us.
Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone on the team is making a lot of sacrifices to work on the game, and they can't keep sacrificing forever. We need to make something that we can realistically do with the amount of people and time we have. If we take too long, I expect that team members would grow uneasy and would eventually quit. There have already been cases of this happening to a minor degree, and I don't want to push it.
How are you going to break the game up into parts?
We haven't made any final decisions on this, but I can talk about what we are most likely going to do or some possible options. We think that doing an episodic release makes a lot of sense. Each game would be considered an episode, but it would also be a self-contained story with a beginning and end, kind of like an episode of a TV show. To play the episode, you'll open the Super Action Squad app. In the app, you'll see a list of all the episodes you currently have.
The episodes can be played individually, but we also plan for them to interact with each other. For example, let's say that the first episode is called Super Action Squad vs The Evil Spirit, and the second episode is called Super Action Squad vs The Ninja Pirates. Let's imagine that you buy the Evil Spirit episode, and it comes with four characters, so you can play through it with them only. Now, imagine that you buy the Ninja Pirates episode. That episode comes with five more characters, so now you can go back and play the Evil Spirit episode with five new characters, and you can play The Ninja Pirates with nine because you already own The Evil Spirit.
Now, let's say that you beat both episodes. There could be a secret set of worlds that only opens up if you own and beat both episodes, and it has the bad guy from The Evil Spirit team up with the bad guy from The Ninja Pirates. Personally, I think that sounds awesome. It allows us to break the game into smaller pieces, but the different pieces can talk to each other, so it creates a fun and unique experience.
I'm not saying that this is exactly what we're going to do, but it's definitely something we're considering, and I hope we can do something like it.
Also, the second title was completely made up, but we might actually use The Evil Spirit for the first game. Just putting that out there.
I think the name Super Retro Squad is better than Super Action Squad.
It's impossible to say which name is better for a game that hasn't been released yet. The motivation for the name change came once we started talking about an episodic release. We decided it was better to make the story simpler, and one of the ways we plan on doing that is to have the squad already formed. When I started to think about the squad, I wondered what they would call themselves, and calling themselves "Retro Squad" makes no sense.
I also decided to introduce more humor into the story since it's going to be less complicated, and I think going with a name that sounds a bit funny works better. The name Super Action Squad is supposed to have a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it, and I think it should work well for the tone I have planned for the game. If it doesn't end up working, then we'll just have to change it again, but I feel confident enough about the name to announce it publicly. The new logo, which you can see below, has the Saturday morning cartoon feel I'm talking about. You might also say it has a cheesy, 80's movie feel, and that is also in line with what I'm going for.
One other limitation with the name Super Retro Squad is that it implies that it's a retro game. The game we're making now is retro, but I don't want to always be limited to a retro style with future games in the series. Again, I want to reiterate that the game will still have a retro style because some people seemed confused about that.
Why did you change to 16-bit graphics?
We always said the game would have both 8-bit and 16-bit modes, and we decided it would be better for the 16-bit version to be the default. We wanted the game to have a retro feel without limiting ourselves so much, so we went with a slightly more detailed pixel art look. The 8-bit version will still be available as DLC, and it will be free for backers.
At this point, I don't care what the game is. Just release something.
This would be a very poor choice. I care a lot about Exploding Rabbit, and I have a certain level of quality that I will not go below. If we release a bad game, people would expect other games made by us to be bad, and that's not something I'm okay with. I'm not trying to create a perfect game, but I am trying to create a fun and memorable game. If a game is not worth remembering, it's not worth making.
You should increase the rewards of the initial backers because you changed or canceled some of the rewards.
I agree. Originally we were talking about increasing everyone's reward level, but that wouldn't be fair for the higher tiers because then we'd start having hundreds of names written in coins in the game. Instead, we decided to make a special room in the game that will be dedicated to all backers before July 31, 2013, which is when we released the Inside Look video. You guys helped us to get this project started, so we want to show our appreciation and that's how we plan on doing it. Sorry I didn't tell you that before, but it was actually decided a few months ago.
You haven't kept up with updates.
We haven't been able to keep up with all the updates I promised, but we have been consistent with monthly updates, and I plan to continue to do that. I'm sorry that we haven't kept up with the bi-weekly updates. There hasn't been much information to share, and it's hard to find time for everything, but we've been talking about some different update methods to try. I'm personally leaning towards having an ER tumblr account that the whole team will have access to. Does anyone else have a better idea, or should we try the tumblr thing? If we do go the tumblr route, I'm concerned about deciding which updates should be public and which should be for backers only, but I still think it's worth considering.
Why did you make changes to the team?
Back when I did the Kickstarter, I thought that the more people I had on my team, the faster we could make the game. This did not turn out to be true. Chief among the related setbacks were some members having difficulty adapting to the numerous changes and iterations that take place during game development, and others not having enough time to continue working on the game due to personal financial obligations. Though we put a lot of time and effort into overcoming these problems, their failure to become resolved ultimately resulted in a decision to let go of some of the team members, for the good of the project.
Now that that's taken care of, the team is much more focused and efficient. Jessy, Catie, and I are now the team, and Jean-Marc will still be helping with music. I am amazed at how quickly we can go from idea to execution with this smaller and focused team. Having a large team full of too many different people was one of the major things slowing down development. There isn't any single person to blame for the situation, but now that it's resolved, development feels more like a continuous flow than it ever has before.
You seemed negative in one of your videos.
For my whole life, people have always told me that I don't smile enough, or I don't ever seem excited. That's just the way that I am, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm someone else on video. Also, a small piece of bad news is not the end of the world. It seems like if I ever say anything that could be interpreted as negative, backers think that I have no hope for the project or that I hate working on it or something. It is completely baffling to me.
I'm an honest person. If you don't want honesty, then don't read the updates. If things are bad, I will tell you. If they're good, I'll tell you that too. I have an obligation to update you once a month on the project, and that's what I will do, no matter what's going on. That's what I want for projects that I've backed, so that's what I do for people that backed my project.
Also, things change. If things aren't going well at a certain point in time, you can bet that I'm doing everything possible to make it better as soon as possible.
I'm a backer, and I want a refund.
I really don't think it makes sense to ask for a refund right now. Refunds are for when a project cannot be completed, and that's not the case for us. On Kickstarter's FAQ, it says the following about requesting refunds:
"We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill."
If you don't think we've made a good faith effort, then I think there's been a misunderstanding somewhere, because I can't think of a bigger effort than moving across the country to live with people you don't know and working at other jobs that you don't like so that you can make enough money to complete the project.
You never wanted to make a game and only started this project as an act of fraud.
If I was trying to commit fraud, I wouldn't take the time to respond when people are unhappy. If I was going to take the money and run, I would have done it by now.
I just have a few things of my own to say. Sometimes it seems like people forget that the team and I are human and that we do make mistakes, despite trying our best. I'm sorry if things haven't gone the way you expected, but it doesn't mean you should assume that things are going poorly. I've learned more than I could have imagined from this process, and I'm always applying what I've learned to do a better job. I'm open to feedback, especially when it's not rude, so feel free to tell me what you think.
My focus is and always has been on making the game, and I also have a bunch of other stuff to do, so it is hard for me to always keep people informed of what I'm doing. It could be helpful if the rest of the team participates in the update process, so we're working on that now. Feel free to give us suggestions. Thanks for reading!