The good ship Skullgirls has run into more icebergs than your average Apple Maps-equipped polar bear, but its fans refused to let it die. Lab Zero Games boss Peter Bartholow talks crowdfunding and gratitude.
“It really comes down to listening to our community, answering their questions, being honest, and implementing the gameplay features they want to see. Being small, we can actually do all that and react. What we lack in brute force character production capacity, I think we more than make up with our nimble development and openness.”
The team behind Skullgirls has had a heck of a rough time. Laid off en masse from Reverge Labs almost as soon as the game shipped, the crew reformed as a new company, Lab Zero Games, and was lucky enough to be welcomed with open arms by Skullgirls publisher Autumn Games, and put to work finalising a much-requested patch.
Unfortunately, while it made noises about a sequel, Autumn Games didn’t have the money to fund the team’s dreams – international release, a PC port, and DLC, something planned right from the get go.
So on one side of the divide we had a talented, experienced and proven development team, and on the other, an eager audience clamouring for new content – but no way to make the dreams of both sides come true – until Lab Zero took to Indiegogo, promising the moon in DLC form and getting a whole solar system in return.
“It was a difficult and frustrating eight months, and we would have preferred to be working that entire time,” CEO Peter Bartholow said. “The outpouring of support we’ve received certainly has made it a lot better, though. ”
Many companies would have simply given up, and taken whatever job work came along in order to keep the money coming in. But while Lab Zero continued to search for other work, Bartholow said the team always intended to come back to Skullgirls.
“We’ve been pitching other projects for the last few months, but I wouldn’t characterize is as giving up on Skullgirls. To get the new studio going we needed stable employment, and at the time Skullgirls wasn’t providing it. But once things stabilized, we hoped to be able to continue working on Skullgirls, too,” he said.
But in the end, it was Skullgirls – or rather, the staunch support of its fan community – which has turned things around for Lab Zero.
“We’re extremely involved with our community, and I think that’s the sole reason the Indiegogo campaign has turned into such a runaway success,” the executive said.
“Autumn gave us unprecedented freedom when it came to community interaction, and we made the most of it. It really comes down to listening to our community, answering their questions, being honest, and implementing the gameplay features they want to see. Being small, we can actually do all that and react. What we lack in brute force character production capacity, I think we more than make up with our nimble development and openness.”
The incredible outpouring of financial and moral support hasn’t yet attracted the notice of major publishers, who have been known to cast lures at independents after a successful crowdfunding campaign, but Bartholow said the partners Lab Zero had already been in touch with have noticed and offered congratulations.
One such partner is Cyberfront, which published the fighter in Japan, and is “really pleased” with sales to day, Bartholow revealed.
“In the first two weeks of release, it more or less met their lifetime sales estimates, and they’re looking to expand it further from there,” he said.
“Because the response from Japan has been so good, we took the unusual step of localizing our Indiegogo campaign into Japanese. Judging from the comment on there and on Twitter, it seems to have generated a solid amount of Japanese financial support.”
Japanese support could be critical while Lab Zero and Autumn Games continue negotiations with Marvellous AQL for the publication of a PC port.
“The deal is almost finalized, and we’re really excited to get moving on the PC release. We expect to be in beta in June, and we’re adding lobbies and other new multiplayer features, as well as making the game play in higher resolutions,” Bartholow enthused.
“We don’t have official PC specs, but the game is actually pretty lightweight and should run on most laptops produced in the last few years, making it great for playing on the go.”
In mid-2012, Skullgirls seemed to have no future. Players loved it, but the enthusiasm which carried the project from a hardcore fan product to a commercial release ran face-first into the industry’s apathy, leaving a good group of people unemployed, and promised features and ports in limbo. It’s testament to the effort and sacrifice of both developers and fans that we’re looking at a very different situation today.
At time of writing, Lab Zero Games has attracted over $330,000 through its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The developer requested just $150,000 and has 20 days remaining to gather more funds; it has set a number of stretch goals and is offering a variety of physical and digital rewards.