First of all, I wanted to apologize for our unacceptable lack of communication. It's been two months since our last official announcement, and that's the kind of thing that frustrates everyone the most. The way we've been handling communication with our users is wrong, and that's totally my fault. No matter how much Asperger, social anxiety or shyness I throw as excuses, I should have found a better way to communicate with all of you (and I did! keep reading).
There's a lot we need to share with you. Let's go:
BETA release date (September?)
At our Indiegogo campaign page the expected BETA release is listed as "by September". September is gone, so how are things going?
In order for us to meet the expected schedule, we had to meet our original goal. The campaign was set as flexible because, even if we did not raise all of the $50,000 goal, we would still keep working on the game, but at a slower rate and with less features.
Delivering the game by September would only be possible if we could hire all the new programmers that the original goal would allow us to.
The thing is, even if we raised a smaller amount (which was what happened), the September release date still wasn't impossible (it would be hard to achieve, but not impossible). But we are much more late than we'd like. So what happened?
Problems. Lots of them
A key part of project management is risk management. Before the project starts, you have to identify, assess and mitigate possible (and improbable!) risks that could happen to the project. Some risks are more likely than others; and some are more dangerous than others.
We've had some problems on the past few months. All of them were already listed at a risk analysis I did last year, and I've been working actively to mitigate them.
The most dangerous risk on my list was the possibility of employees leaving. I've spent several months training all of them; they learned how to program on specific languages and frameworks (Erlang, Elixir, OTP) and had in-depth knowledge of the entire project. That was great. If any of them left, it would be a huge loss for me.
So I did all I could to create the best possible environment for a programmer. But that's quite hard when you don't have the resources, and impossible when personal problems strike on the employee's life.
It turns out both Charlotte and Allan had to leave the project. Charlotte left at July, 1st, and Allan exactly one month later, both for personal problems. It was a huge loss for me because replacing them wouldn't simply be a matter of hiring a new programmer, I would have to train a new programmer. I know it was also hard for both of them, because they wanted to keep working on the project they love, but simply couldn't.
Bureaucracy & tax problems
You know all the money we've raised at Indiegogo? I still am not able to spend it here in Brazil. We actually have more than what we raised (!) but can't use it.
I knew I would have problems with Brazil and its bureaucracy (and unreasonable taxes & laws), but I underestimated them.
Ok, part of the problem is my fault: I should've consulted a specialized lawyer and accountant with experience on international businesses (but how to do that with no money?). The (lack) of a proper legal company structure here in Brazil increased the expected taxes I would pay by five times.
In order to transfer the raised amount from the USA (under Neoart Labs, LLC) to Brazil, I would have to pay approximately 50% in taxes. So, from the ~$15,000 we raised, $7,500 would go to the Brazilian government. No way I'm doing that!
I had to keep Charlotte and Allan (for the time they were here) and bring a new hire with personal money. That's not a problem for me. The problem is how it impaired our development speed and progress.
I'm working actively with accountants and lawyers to solve this problem. I believe in up to two months everything should be OK (it takes a lot of time to open a company here). In the meantime, I have enough runway to keep our team working on the project, but not to bring more developers.
The main result from losing two key employees and still having no money to pay wages & bring more developers is that the development pace got severely impaired. Not only we are not nearly at the speed I'd like us to be, we are at a slower rate than before the Indiegogo campaign started.
Because of that, we are very late when compared to the expected, original schedule.
Sigh. Okay. Take a deep breath. Let's look at the positives.
The bright side
We still have an amazing project. We are still working full-time on it. And we still have an awesome community :)
Sales are going surprisingly well
I did not expect this. (One month) After the Indiegogo campaign finished, we started taking pre-orders on our website. Same perks, same price, different website.
I expected to sell a very small amount of perks mostly because, you know, the game isn't finished. But after almost two months of sales, we are earning an average of $2,000 per month. While not an insanely high amount, it's something that definitely helps us and have had a tremendous impact on motivation. It's really very motivating knowing that there is a big, anxious community striving to play the game we've proposed.
I'm being very transparent here because that's the least we can do for our early-adopter backers. They are the ones keeping us motivated and with the resources to keep doing it. Thanks a lot!
The money raised through these sales has the same problems with taxes. It still is something we can not spend here in Brazil (for now at least).
Interesting game mechanics discussions
That's the time for key game mechanics changes. We are having a lot of insightful discussions at our Development Center, and I invite all of you to weigh in with your ideas, opinions and feedback.
We are still not at the time to receive translation or code contributions, but if you'd like to help on this regard, please make sure to create an account at Let's Build a Game. This way, you can get notified when contributions start, with content tailored to your preferences.
Hacker Experience 2 is more awesome than expected
This is not a sales pitch. It turns out that the project we are working on is much more interesting than what we expected. The project took new directions on the past few months, with a greater care on creating an entire platform that we can build off of Hacker Experience 2. This is vital for the long-term maintenance of the project. We want to be a relevant and interesting game 10 years from now, and we are designing the game in a way to meet this requirement.
As much as "problems happens", "projects get delayed" and the like, this whole situation is not something we'd like to have. In addition to my apology requests, I'd like to make a simple offer to make up for the delay.
We are giving extra perks to all backers on all tiers. I won't share what exactly those extra perks are, but let me assure you that they will make up for the (additional) wait.
This offer is valid to all pre-orders from Indiegogo and from our website. You don't need to do anything to claim it, you'll receive it by email, along with the instructions to activate your account, when the time comes.
We've published our refund policy at our website. Take a look here. Or, let me TL;DR for you: you have the right for a full refund, no questions asked, until you have played the game for one week. This policy also applies to Indiegogo backers.
Charlotte is back!
I'm very happy to announce that I managed to lure Charlotte back to the project :) After a little more than three months, she is back to help us create an awesome game. This is a huge win for the project, first because Charlotte is already familiar with the project and the technical stack behind it, but specially because she is the most productive programmer I've ever met. Seriously. If there really is a thing as a 10x programmer, Charlotte is it.
The "new guy" is good
Meet the newest member of our team, Christian Ferraz. Here's a brief introduction post he made some time ago (and I'm only publishing it now, sigh).
After about one and a half month of work, he's already quite familiar with our development tools and the project. He is also a "real" gamer (unlike me), and has a lot of experience with some really old games. This knowledge will definitely improve the overall game design of Hacker Experience 2.
A proper CEO on the horizon
For the past year I've been doing the work equivalent of a CEO, while I'm most suitable for a CTO-like role. The result? I've spent very little time working on the product itself, and wasted a very significant time with tasks that are not directly related to the game.
We must know what we are good at, and what are our limitations. I'm capable of guiding the technical development of Hacker Experience 2, but I'm definitely, certainly NOT able to run a company. Not only I'm really bad at it, I also hate most (or all) administrative tasks. And like it or not (I don't), the Hacker Experience franchise which I'm responsible for went from a simple side-project/game to a full-blown company.
So it's time to bring someone new, someone who can lead this project (and eventual ramifications of it) to a success. My definition of success is delivering a high-quality, entertaining and interesting product. This persons' definition of success should be figuring out how to use this product to keep itself relevant, year after year. And as much as I hate, this is a crucial aspect of the process, because without it, no matter how good of a game we have, we may not be able to maintain or extend it in the upcoming years.
(This person should ideally also not have social anxiety, because you know, constantly talking to others is a key part of her role).
In other words, this person is an entrepreneur. And it turns out I have already met him. He is undergoing an experimental training with me (so I can assess his qualities and skills) and soon he'll be presented to the community.
Some of the benefits you will have from this are:
- a better communication with the community, with faster feedback and responses;
- more ambitious goals for the entire project (beyond HE2!), which will ensure a great game for years;
- I will be able to focus 100% (OK, about 90%) of my time on the game itself. That's where I'm good at, and that's what I like to do;
- a decreased chance of the project failing, for whatever reason (good management is good).
And... what about the release date?
Oh, right. So, I really don't want to pinpoint any specific date because I've guessed wrong, like, 20 times. That said, we do have some realistic (shaped to our current reality) guesstimations.
I'm assuming we manage to bring at least part of the money until November 1st, so we can bring new people and speed things up.
We want to release the BETA by March. We could release something before, but we want the BETA to be at least playable and fun. Before that, possibly starting from the first week of 2017, we want to iteratively release an Alpha version. It's like the BETA of the BETA: it is lacking some key features, but you can at least get a gist of it, and some opinions.
Everyone with access to the BETA will have access to the Alpha. But I only recommend you to play the Alpha if you are really anxious about the game, because the difference from Alpha and BETA is exactly "being playable and fun".
We are anticipating the "final" (1.0) release of the game. At our original schedule, it would be at least three months after the BETA release. Instead, we'll try to make it one month after the BETA is released.
In order to do that we had to cut out some interesting (but not necessary) features. They will still eventually get into the game, maybe at version 1.1 or 1.2. No need to keep you waiting for something unnecessary.
The BETA test, though, is absolutely critical and must happen for at least one month. It is where we can best fine-tune some variables, both related to the game design and to the production environment. That's why I can't further anticipate the 1.0 release.
Why haven't you published any new trailer/videos of the game?
Because of the problems mentioned above, we couldn't bring the developer that would be focused on the game interface. That's okay; we decided to focus on the server-side development (where we process data and make the game mechanics' decisions). I believe the server-side weighs for about 70% of the development effort, while the game interface (which is what you actually see) is simply a visual interaction with the game server, and should weigh the remaining 30% of effort.
As such, very little progress was made on the game interface and there's very little we can actually show. I believe 2 to 3 months of work on the game interface should be enough to pair with the server-side progress.
Something I must say, though, is that the trailer interface is a simple mock-up, and the final interface should be very different (much better).
That's it. Thanks for reading this far, and thanks for the patience! Let's keep focused on building the game people want. The synergy provided by the interaction between collaborators and developers brings a lot of benefits to the project, and we'll try to make the most out of it.