Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success

By Rutskarn Posted Monday Jul 28, 2014

Filed under: Video Games 200 comments

Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success

by Adam “Rutskarn” DeCamp, Lead Writer

Lack of transparency is one of the ugliest trends in game development. Sometimes it's necessary, sometimes even legally required, but the standard of not talking about what's going on with development can't help but hurt old studios and new kids alike. There are a lot of pitfalls in this industry. It's a shame to see people falling into the same ones again and again.

There are people out there setting up Kickstarters who have no idea what they're doing or how they'll allocate the money. Sometimes these people get nothing â€" or sometimes they get hundreds of thousands of dollars. When these teams fail, their follow-ups tend to be face-saving PR statements or grave silence, depending on which is more fiscally advisable. And thus, the way is cleared for another generation of well-intentioned misappropriations.

When we at Pyrodactyl Games launched our Kickstarter last June, we promised that we'd give our backers and the general public a frank postmortem. Now, we never did get in over our heads. We made mistakes, and to some extent I think you can argue we were in over our heads to begin with, but we managed to deliver a game we're proud of. But we saw a lot of ways this project could have gone south, and part of what we're here to accomplish is to make sure future teams deliver as well. This report comes from thirteen months in the trenches; it is based on experience.

But this post isn't just for indie devs, and it's not just for our backers: it's for anyone who considers backing a game in the future. Before you support a project, it's important that you know what money does for indies and what making a game with a small studio looks like. This is something that even the press sometimes doesn't understand, if some of the questions we've gotten are any indication.

First warning: the content that follows may come off a little bittersweet. That's just what things are like for indie developers. Know before I continue that we are all personally, deeply, humbly grateful for each and every person who took a chance and backed Unrest. We loved making Unrest, we are all incredibly proud of it, and that we hope it will succeed. I don't know if I've ever worked on something I thought was so wonderful, different and rule-breaking. I'm deeply grateful to the people who made it possible.

Next warning: I am going to be talking about things that are almost always considered taboo. I will discuss my salary. I will discuss the salaries of other team members. I will discuss what my work situation was like and how we stand to fare in the future. I will do this because practically no-one else does, and it's a gaping hole in the discussion.

But firstâ€"let's talk about the biggest mistake you can make.


The Valve Model: It Doesn’t Work for Everyone

A lot of people (even members of the press) assume that independent studios have a lot more freedom than big studios. That's true and not true, but the major assumption is that small indie teams are free-wheeling democracies that get by on goodwill and mutual trust. Again; that's true and not true.

The real question is: did we have contracts, deadlines, lawyers, chains of commandâ€"all the stuff the squares in Triple-A need?

Yes. Just cheap versions, whenever applicable.

Arvind, our team lead, was very smart about this. The fact is that our team knew each other, liked each other, worked beautifully with each other. I promise you without hesitation that we didn't need any of the contracts, hard deadlines, soft deadlines, or formal/semi-formal hierarchies of direction that outlined our workload. We would have done it all perfectly anyway.

But we had all those things. We set up a system that would in extremis function exactly as coldly, efficiently, impersonally, and legally as the most cartoonish games-mill dev studio in world history.

Our freedom in being scrappy, independent underdogs was not that we didn't have contracts and deadlines and chains of command; our freedom was the ability to fudge, overlook, or slacken these bonds by mutual consent when it was good for the development process. That's one thing you can get away with when you have a personal and informal relationship with every member of your team that you can't get away with when you're running a big studio.

It was one of our greatest strengths, and we made damn sure it couldn't possibly become a weakness. If somebody had fallen asleep at the wheelâ€"or worse, taken the money and runâ€"we would have been able to tighten those bonds at a moment's notice. Our team lead was far from a domineering iron-fisted dictator, but with the contracts we signed and the systems in place he could have been any second if he'd needed to be. And I'm sincerely glad about that.

Valve is famous for structuring its company as a level playing field that lets people pursue projects driven purely by the need to create, without infrastructure or deadlines or executive meddling. That's great; we all want to work in an environment like that. But as a friendly message to the Kickstarter developers of the world: you are not Valve. You don't have an endless stream of cash, endless leisure, a huge team that can cover any sudden holes, and all the chances in the world to get something right. You have nothing but your small team and other peoples' money, and before you write one line of code, you need to cover your backs.


The Development Chest

Pyrodactyl Games' pre-Kickstarter budget was driven mostly by profits from its last game, the “sleeper hit” Will Fight for Food. What constitutes a “sleeper hit” for an indie developer like Arvind? About US $1000. That should set the tone for this section.

All told, our starting funds for making the game amounted to $1500. That was $500 dollars for me, the writer, $800 for Mikk, the artist, and $200 for Arvindâ€"the boss, the lead developer, the guy who was going to be spending all day of pretty much every day working on the game. We were buckled down for about two months of working on the game with that budget. So monthly salaries, adjusted for cash on hand:

Ruts: $250/month
Mikk: $400/month
Arvind: $100/month

How did we get by on that much? We didn't, really. I was a student, Mikk was taking in other work, Arvind lives in a place with low cost of living, and we were all just…not making very much. We worked on the game because we thought it needed to exist and because we hoped it'd do well and give us more money for next time. In other words, we were 99% of independent developers out there.

We knew our current vision would probably take longer than two months, and we knew we were all going to keep working on it until it was done (in fact we were contractually obligated to, which, full disclosure, might have been a problem if the lead developer had been anybody but Arvind and anything but fair). Those were things that would be true no matter how much money we had.

When we got it in our heads to do a Kickstarter, we knew we weren't going to get hundreds of thousandsâ€"you needed trust or at least recognition to do that well. So we set a goal for what we though we could achieve, which was about $3000. With $3000 we could pay for a little extra art and justify continuing to work for a few more months. We thought we'd be lucky to get that much. Some team members quietly “knew” we'd crash and burn.

When we ended up with over $35,000â€"well, that was a surprise, to say the least. I don't think any of us could have expected to do that well. It was a pretty great day for the team when we crossed the finish line, and a great headline for when the game would eventually release.

What it was not was a miracle. I am going to be very honest about where that money went and what it was capable of. Maybe even a little more honest than people would like.


Let’s Talk About Money

A little more than $5,000 was eaten up by Kickstarter fees, Amazon fees, wire transfers, and international taxes (to all individuals planning a Kickstarter: for the love of God, check whether your gains will be flagged as taxable income). The rest went to fund the next thirteen months of development, which was what we felt we needed to deliver the game we promisedâ€"the game backers paid for. Which meant paying existing team members and freelancers. But since we now had a magnificent pile of cash, that wouldn't be a problemâ€" right?

Before the Kickstarter, I was making about $250 a month and was on board for around two months of work. After the Kickstarter, we adjusted our schedule to make the best game we couldâ€"and by my final math, for the thirteen months of post-Kickstarter development, I was making $230 a month. Before taxes.

By the time this period of development began I was no longer a student. I spent a lot of time looking for work that would accommodate my script-writing duties. By that, I don't mean, “gave me lots and lots of time to sit in a breezy studio writing prose,” I mean legally allowed me to write for games at all.

Which discounted a surprising number of positions in unrelated industries. At least one tech writing job I made it to phone interviews with told me side work for any kind of writing-related industry was a no-go. From what I'm told, it's similar for most programmersâ€"you're a freelancer or you're salaried, and you can't be both.

So where did I end up working to supplement my $230 a monthâ€"which, incidentally, I agreed (out of mutual necessity) to be paid after the game's completion?

I was a sales associate at a home improvement store. For those unfamiliar with English professional terminology, sales associates are the ground-level employees that do stocking, customer service, and cleaning. It wasn't a bad job. Tiring, since my department handled all the stuff that wasn't quite heavy enough to justify using a power loader, but not bad. I worked an average of 20-30 hours a week and wrote the game on my days off or before going to a shift. Writing after a shift turned out to be pretty impossible.

My schedule at the store was pretty much wholly out of my hands if I wanted to get any hours. Sometimes, I'd have four or five days straight where the shifts were murderous and I couldn't get any decent game-writing done at all. I started working much harder when I did have the chance.

I left that job towards the end of Unrest's development due to the health of a family member and the demands of finishing the game. And now that our magnum opus has swept onto the indie scene like the majestic jewel-spangled dream ship it isâ€"I'll be reapplying to that same home improvement store. Because even though I get a very generous percentage of all sales (10% of our cut), sales are by no means guaranteed. Chances aren’t bad I'll be writing my next game in between shifts as well.

What am I getting at here? It's not “feel sorry for me,” because I'm sure a lot of you are in similar or worse situations. What I'm trying to communicate is that even when you're a “Kickstarter success,” these are the circumstances under which indie games are developed. It's a constant tension between scraping up what free time you can to make your game and needing to release it as soon as possible, so you can actually get paid and see a return on your investment. We make do on small budgets because we are untested and untriedâ€"rightfully, nobody has faith in us, so nobody's going to pay us to do what we do.

Every time we release a game, we pray it does well enough that we can afford to make another. And here's the really hard, ugly truth that applies to almost all indie devs, even the ones that did “well” on Kickstarter: when you get down to the simple, honest mathematics, the same developer cannot make the same game in twelve months on an independent budget that he could have with a publisher's money. I wrote Unrest in between shifts loading and unloading bags of river rocks. I am more proud of Unrest's script than I have been of any other work I've done in my entire life, public or private, professional or amateurâ€"but if you're asking me if I could have done more if I'd spent my life-sustaining river-rock time writing the game instead, the only possible answer is, “Yes.” To give any other response would be delusional.

So as a member of a team that only asked for $3,000, what do I think when I see teams of established, trusted professionals asking for hundreds of thousands for a similar-sized team to make a game in the same window of time? Frankly, I think “good for them and good for their customers.” Our unknowns-making-a-cool-game Kickstarter yielded far more than we could have ever asked forâ€"and it was about half of a professional salary for one person for one year when we had five team members and thirteen months to spread it across.

Absolutely, positively be angry when a team of game developers takes hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money and delivers nothing in return. But don't be angry they asked that much in the first place. Believe me when I say that if we all would if we could, and assuming the game gets made, it would be the best thing for everybody.

It's not romantic, but it's true. Money is a powerful tool for making games better; it buys the time to make them and to make them better. Don't be afraid of giving it to developers; just make sure they're not going to waste it. Make sure up-front that actual legal processes are in place to make sure the team doesn't dissolve and the cash doesn't flap away to the four winds. That's the best thing you, and they, can do to secure the investment.


And Now, Questions from a Fictional Person

Q: Would you do a Kickstarter again? Would you prefer a publisher had picked you up?

A: Let me put it like this. If it's a choice between getting [X] amount of dollars from Kickstarter or [X] from a publisher– close call, but I think Kickstarter wins.

The advantages of a publisher are things that some people might take for grantedâ€"things like QA testing, proofreading, getting reviewers to notice you exist, and getting you on Steam might seem trivial if you haven't actually tried to do all those things while juggling game development duties and part-time work, but be assured they're not. So if we're assuming those are included along with the [X] amount of money, and not charged up-front out of sales (which in our experience, they usually are for devs like us), then those are valuable services.

But Kickstarter gives you freedomâ€"well, as much freedom as you can afford, anywayâ€"and that's a rare thing in any creative industry. So for indie devs just starting out, I'd say Kickstarter is a more favorable master.

The problem comes when a publisher offers more money than a Kickstarter could. Like, if for some reason a publisher had offered us a huge load of money and hadn't demanded changes to our fundamental creative vision? Perversely, that would have given us more freedom than having no boss at all. Economic freedom cannot be discounted. The leisure to make more significant changes and implement more sprawling plans is something most starving indie devs with the steadily-depressing-low-down-mind-messing-working-at-the-carwash-blues just don't have.

Now, would I do a Kickstarter for a different game tomorrow? Yes, probably. Even with a game selling copies and driving up revenue, I would go to Kickstarter for whatever we could get. Like I said: money makes games better. I know this team can deliver on backer promises, so any windfalls we can pick up mean fewer shifts with my old friends the river-rocks and more making games.

Q: Why didn't you just use the money to develop Unrest full-time for a few months instead of part-time for thirteen?

A: A lot of reasons. For one thing, several members of the team really did have to work pretty much non-stop. They got paid a little moreâ€"but not a lot more. It helped that rent is lower in some parts of the world than others.

For another thing, let's say the whole team's schedule revolved around my “ideal” scenario, where I get paid enough that I can spend eight hours a day writing the game and still cover my rent and the game gets launched the moment I personally finish. I'm groovy for the (generously) two months my salary would last for. Now the game is released, all of our money is spent, we have no guarantee of making enough to pay anybody's salary after that, I have no part-time work to fall back on, and…what was the point? If it was “during the two months I was salaried, I had a modest apartment,” great. Now it's month three and I've got a lease and no salary.

Even if doing otherwise were realistic, slow and steady's the only sustainable way to develop a game.

Q: Why did you make such an ambitious game in the first place? Why not just use the money you made to make something like in your original plan and take the windfall as salary?

A: Because that wouldn't be fair to the people who backed the game. We secured our additional funding by promising more. We have no regrets about doing that, and certainly no regrets about how Unrest turned out.

Q: You sound ungrateful. Are you ungrateful?

A: Of course not. This was a great project to work on and I'm glad to have been part of it. I knew exactly what I was getting into, I have no regrets, andâ€"I cannot stress this enoughâ€"I think the game we've made is fantastic.

Q: Would you have done anything differently?

A: Nothing significant, no. We pretty much did the best we could have. Make sure your team is solid and will be there tomorrow and you'll have no regrets.

Q: Do you hope Unrest does well enough that Pyrodactyl has the money to do this full-time?

A: I really, really do.

I want that because writing for games is one of the most rewarding things there is to do, and I'd like to do it every day instead of chipping away at a project between shifts. I want that because our team has done so well even under all of our burdens, and I know that without them, we could make something really amazing. I want to see the game Pyrodactyl makes after thirteen months of full-time, professional workâ€"especially after all the lessons we learned during Unrest's development.

And not least, I want the game to succeed because I think it deserves to. I think more people need to know a game like this can be made. I think it does something no other game does, and I don't just want it to succeedâ€"I want it to soar.

Q: Would you be so kind as to shamelessly link to the store page of your videogame?

A: Only since you asked.


From The Archives:

200 thoughts on “Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success

  1. Kizer says:

    Rutskarn –

    Thank you writing this. As someone who has backed several video game kickstarters (unfortunately, I missed yours somehow), I appreciate your window into how things work on the other side of the web page. Since you started talking about Unrest on Spoiler Warning and the Diecast, I have been eagerly hoping that it would get through development, and that I would have the opportunity to purchase it. Congratulations on your first game release, and I thoroughly look forward to playing this game that I have just purchased! :)

    Huh. In the 10 years I’ve been visiting this blog, this is the first time I’ve had the first comment. Weird.

    1. Rutskarn says:


      I really don’t want it to sound like our lives are super hard and everyone should feel bad for us. Honestly–if there’s one thing I want to get across, it’s that this environment for developing games is by no means atypical. I’d guess that for every studio that pays its employees a decent wage, there’s at least two teams of indies cranking stuff out under these circumstances.

      1. Tizzy says:

        I think you made your point very well. It did not come across to me as whining, just real talk. And it is not something people can guess without nside knowledge, and it is useful to know.

      2. Humanoid says:

        What amazed me most was probably that the $230pm was taxed at all. Then I looked up the US tax brackets, ouch. (Up to $18,200pa is tax-free here)

        1. silver Harloe says:

          $2760pa would be “taxed, but you get 100% refund” in the US, except that it is added to his sales associate earnings, which is what actually puts him in a tax bracket.

          1. Jay says:

            Assuming that Pyrodactyl didn’t pay payroll taxes for him, he may have to pay self-employment tax of 15.3% straight off the top, in addition to ordinary income tax.

          2. Jason Emery says:

            Would you go back and create a company to handle the funds and distribution?

            To try and change the taxes associated with this income.

            Also, with US tax law, if you ARE operating a small company you should have been able to declare almost the entire sum as expenses. And avoided paying taxes on it. Depending on the tax year timing / etc.

  2. Dev Null says:

    I also thank you for writing this. I’ll be honest and say that I had no idea you were involved in the project – I don’t often get the opportunity to watch the video content on this site, where I’m sure it’s managed to come up. If I had known, I’d have bought the game already – nearly did the other day, and just figured I’d wait til I had time to play it.

    Please add this to your hypothetical questions list: What is the best way to support the team by buying the game? I’ll assume you might not lose a cut to someone like GOG or Steam if you sell direct (do you sell direct? I haven’t gone over to look yet…) but it might help your longer-term industry standing to rack up sales on a third-party site… Or something. I don’t know; that’s why I’m asking.

    1. Arvind says:

      The best way is to buy the game from our Humble Widget, which gets us the highest share of revenue (and it gives you a free Steam key).

      Link to Humble Widget

      1. MadHiro says:


        Literally seconds after I purchased on Steam, I read this.

        I’ll get you next time Newell, next time!

        1. Humanoid says:

          Yeah, as far I understand it, Steam and GOG always take a 30% cut, I think Humble Store these days is 15% to Humble itself and 10% to charity. Used to be an even bigger gap, I think they started out only taking 5%. (Hopefully this isn’t outdated information) So I always choose to buy from Humble when available, even if I prefer the GOG website/library’s usability. 75% to the developers, 10% to charity and 15% to the platform owners sure beats 70% to the devs and 30% to the platform owners.

          Exceptions on the occasions where the Humble version is Steam only while GOG carries the DRM-free version – such was the case with Democracy 3 for instance – not sure why but some devs choose to only have one DRM-free platform. As for the Steam store, well I don’t buy from them at all these days.

          1. Dragomok says:

            Which makes it very unfortunate that it is such pain in the backside to use. No, you can’t make a one time purchase, you have to create an Amazon(*) or PayPal account, tie all your card’s details to the account, make a purchase, then wait some time and delete the card manually.
            Granted, the first step is done only once, but the rest is such a step down from system used by GOG or Steam, where – even though it requires setting up an account for the platform itself – you can opt out of having card details remembered longer and not worry about about somebody getting you by the short hairs just by providing a password or having your card data leaked out by the next Heartbleed all because it you forgot to manually delete it.

            (*) Also, Amazon doesn’t like the backwater debit cards from far, primitive wilderness of Poland.

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              I just visited the humble store and if you just look for the game (on special offer right now and for another day) and put it in your cart, there’s an option to “purchase via credit card” — I think that’ll be the easiest way that will involve the smallest amount of 3rd party involvement.

              1. Dragomok says:

                Oh, welp, that does seem to do the trick. Thank you so much.

                It’s kinda funny, though, how that payment option is completely unavaible when you’re buying without logging in, but when you log in, it’s the first and only immediately visible.

                1. Zak McKracken says:

                  Oh? I didn’t log in … interestingly enough, that option is not in the widget posted earlier, so … confusing.

        2. Bryan says:

          Do note that the linked humble widget page only gives you a steam key; there is no non-steam-download version that I’ve been able to find.

          If you don’t want to install — or don’t have installed — the steam client, I think the gog version is the only one that works. Unless I missed something…

          1. Humanoid says:

            I have the game on Humble via Kickstarter, not via purchase, so it might not be exactly the same, but I have a download link to a DRM-free version on Humble. But the store entry is marked with the DRM-free icon as well, so it’s probably the same. The link is on the bottom half of the page, below where the Steam key is provided.

            Bonus that it’s only a 700MB download, compared to Steam downloading 2.3GB for some reason (that seems a lot even if it includes bonus material like the FLAC soundtrack and whatnot).

            EDIT: Screenshot of the download page if it helps.

            1. Bryan says:

              Never saw that page for this game. (I *did* see it when buying NeonXSZ and/or GoneHome, can’t remember which, through Humble.)

              The paypal auth went right to the click-to-get-a-steam-key page, which (when clicked) dropped the three-sets-of-five-hex-digits key onto the page. I am *pretty* sure this is the page that you’d get when you hit the “click here for your steam key” link from that screenshot. At least, if I remember the last game where I did get that download page option. :-)

              I’m guessing it’s what green_knight said below though.

          2. green_knight says:

            Humble offers DRM free for Windows and Steam only for Mac/Linux.

            I’m on a Mac, I don’t do Steam thanks to their resource-grabbing behaviour. I notice Unrest before; now I *really* want to buy it…

            … when I have funds. Sigh.

            1. Bryan says:

              Ah, that probably explains it. Browser is running Linux, and I’d want the Linux binaries too, so guessing based on the user-agent (assuming that’s what Humble did…) worked out for them in this case.

              On the other hand, GoG *appears* to provide Linux binaries, also DRM-free, so … yeah. :-)

      2. Dovius says:

        Aaaaaaaaand there’s my cue to buy the game.

        1. Jonathan says:

          What’s the approximate length of a play-through of the game?

      3. Tuck says:

        Bought it. Not sure if I’ll play it any time soon, but whatever. :)

  3. Helios Apollo says:

    I’m surprised that the team lead got paid the least. It’s usually not like that anywhere else.

    Anyway, I wish you and your studio the best. I think you guys deserve it.

    1. Thearpox says:

      That just shows that Arvind is an amazing person.

      And I have to join everyone in thanking Rutscarn for writing this and wishing him the best.

    2. Neil W says:

      I don’t know the details, but it’s possible that he has a larger share of the profits. In any case as Team Lead it seems likely that he will benefit from an increase in profile and reputation from the successes of the game.

      In any case, the benefits come from a sccessful games so it seems as though he is taking on the greater share of the risk. It’s like most small business start ups in other words; the owner works harder and gets paid least on the assumption that they will gain when the operation is on it’s feet.

  4. MikhailBorg says:

    I may be Kickstarting a personal project in the upcoming months. Thank you for this incredibly useful information!

    1. Rutskarn says:

      No problem! You have any other questions, contact me at [email protected]. I’ll be happy to help

  5. Dragmire says:

    Interesting read, I enjoyed learning about your experience. Thanks for that.

    One question though, I remember you saying in one of the Skyrim episodes that you started referring to some characters by random and unrelated names. Did that continue all the way to the end of the game’s script and was it a pain to clean up with the proper names later?

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Nicknames were generally reserved for tertiary characters, like the soldier who hands out bread (who would otherwise be nameless). We tended to use proper names or just descriptions elsewhere.

      1. krellen says:

        As far as I’m concerned, the Bread Magician is the hero of the piece!

        1. Dragomok says:

          Hello, peasants.

          Look at yourself, now back to my basket, now back at you, now back to my basket. Sadly, you don’t have my big basket of bread. But if you stopped staring and asked me, you would get some.

          Look down, now back up, where are you? On a street with a basket of bread you wish you head. What’s in your hand? Back at my basket. It’s a loaf of bread you wanted to have. Look again – the loaf is now buns!

          Anything is possible when you’re a soldier with a big basket of bread.

          I’m on a bread duty.

          1. Cuthalion says:

            ^ Approve

  6. JackTheStripper says:

    I was reading the reviews on Steam to see how the game is being received and noticed this little gem:

    “It basically plays as a Bioware game (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, etc.) without the combat and item management elements.”

    Which made me realize that inventory management is a feature now. You guys cutting segments where Josh was managing his inventory in Skyrim effectively robbed us of the full game experience.

    1. Naota says:

      The irony is, we’ve actually got item management. Our items are just more archetypal to adventure games than they are to RPG’s, meaning the inventory is more a collection of plot devices and bits of flavour for the characters and world than it is a list of damage values to plug into a mechanical system for dude-shooting or face-punching.

      So… what we really needed was three times as many items and a weight system. It’s not a proper inventory if it doesn’t require constant managing!

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        You shouldve put in a one item carry limit,and have a storage place in some remote screen of every level that requires you trek through at least two more featureless(meaning nothing to interact with)screens.Thats how you do proper inventory for an adventure game.

        1. syal says:

          And a long-winded NPC you have to talk to in order to store/retrieve anything.

          1. Naota says:

            Bearer of-




            1. Kana says:

              Those five words make my blood boil. Why would you do this. ;~;

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                I had to search that to get the meaning.Now Im glad I havent played it.And people say that it doesnt punish you unfairly.Pha!

                1. Kana says:

                  The sequel-that-never-was completely subverts everything it’s predecessor was built on. Enemies freely and blatantly cheat, environmental instant deaths with zero warning,and tediously boring boss fights stacked against the player for the sake of shallow difficulty.

                  It is a good thing that Dark Souls never got a sequel. I mean, it sucks there is no more Souls, but maybe Bloodbourne will scratch that it.

    2. Humanoid says:

      My Divinity: Original Sin playthrough is kind of stopped dead in its tracks just past act 1, solely because of inventory management hell. I love most of what the game does, but that kind of busywork puts a serious dampener on things, particularly on days where I can only afford to devote an hour or so to gaming. Loved the way Shadowrun Returns did its inventory, by which I mean it barely did it at all.

  7. I spent a couple of months doing QA full time for Stoic, the indie studio that received over $700k from Kickstarter.

    Our office was literally a GOAT SHACK. It was part of a group of buildings located behind a bar that were part of a farmer’s market.

    It was me and 5 guys shoved into a building the size of a one-car garage, with NO HEAT, NO WATER, and a window AC unit that would periodically blow a fuse. One Monday we came into work to discover that over the weekend, someone leaving the bar had (drunkenly?) backed into the front of our shack, taking out our fuse box completely!

    After 3 months I was let go, told that the studio was running out of money and could not afford to pay me (I was making $15/hour).

    I often suspected that QA was sacrificed in order to pay for the game’s Oscar-winning composer, Austin Wintory.

    I’m not sure if spending a significant portion of the game’s budget on a high-profile music composer was the best choice for the game, but it was the choice they made.

    …Me and Team Stoic… (picture)

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Man, that really sucks. Thanks for weighing in.

      On the one hand, your story should make MOPRE sense to me given the circumstances our game was developed under.

      But on the other hand–700k and they couldn’t make that work? I’m trying to imagine how Pyrodactyl could possibly have that much money and not take care of our people, and it’s not coming. Maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to find out.

      People can’t do their best work when they’re also doing retail…but they can’t do their best work in a goat shack, either.

      1. Thearpox says:

        If you only have enough money to get a goat shack, why even bother having an office? Just put these six guys in a Cafe, or even have them work from home.

        I get that there is a huge advantage to face to face interaction, but I feel it kind of evaporates with bad working conditions. I mean, no heat, no AC? You’re better of talking through skype and meeting together couple times a week.

        1. Rutskarn says:

          If I had to guess, I’d say tax/liability reasons. But I’m not sure myself.

        2. Mersadeon says:

          As far as I understand he was in QA, or not? That means you pretty much have to be in a room the entire time.

          1. I’m a SHE. And yes, game QA is difficult to do remotely.

            1. “See? This here. THIS THING HERE!”

              Some people need a finger tapping a screen, I’ve noticed. :)

            2. Alex says:

              Honestly to me development is better when everyone is in one room(or at least under one roof) anyway. It is easier to communicate ideas and to evaluate progress when everyone, that is relevant, is present. At least it works out that way for me as an artist.

            3. Mersadeon says:

              Sorry, didn’t look at the profile picture.

          2. Naota says:

            You could also have backwoods cold climate nation-dweller solidarity like Mikk and I, who basically comprised the Unrest QA team and only communicated through Steam the entire time. He would send bugs to a Google document and I would fix them (and fix them, and possibly fix them again).

            Of course, Mikk himself did something like 80% of the raw testing groundwork, and only survived the process on the fumes of bootleg vodka. His herculean effort is the sole reason Unrest doesn’t currently resemble Fallout New Vegas on release day.

            1. Rutskarn says:

              Yeah, I gotta say, in those final days Mikk=MVP.

    2. Cybron says:

      If the stories on The Trenches are anything to go by, that’s just the archetypal QA experience!

      1. HiEv says:

        For those who aren’t aware, Cybron is referring to “Tales from the Trenches” section of the (awful) “The Trenches” comic website, which is mostly horror stories sent in by people who worked in video game QA or related fields (with the occasional lame “it’s not always so bad” tale).

        If you’re ever planning on doing video game QA, reading through the archive there is a must.

        1. Eric says:

          Based on my wholly anecdotal experience, the quality of work environment varies dramatically depending on the company – like any other field. I’ve known people who worked for QA companies and had a great time of it. Shrug!

        2. Cybron says:

          It was pretty wise of them to include the Tales. I don’t even like the comic but I keep coming back every week for the stories.

          1. HiEv says:

            Ditto. Comic sucks (and everyone looks like they have a food item for a nose too), but the “Tales from the Trenches” part is usually pretty great.

    3. LC says:

      Maybe it’s just me, but I only became aware of the game because of Mr. Wintory’s involvement. I LOVE his work, and I consider it a huge part of what makes Journey and the Banner Saga worth playing.

      1. Humanoid says:

        And Monaco! Indeed it’s the only game soundtrack I’ve actually gone out of my way to purchase

      2. Austin Wintory’s work might be good, but he’s not a particularly good person.

        The Stoic team had lunch with him once. I sat right next to him.

        I might as well have been a houseplant.

        He was so self-involved, he would have never noticed the difference.

  8. Blake says:

    Thank you for writing this, I’ve not done any indie development, but I certainly think it’s something people need to understand better.

    I backed Unrest when you started all this, and look forward to actually getting around to playing it soon!

  9. DrMcCoy says:

    Ouch, that’s pretty sobering, to say the least…

  10. shamann says:

    I join in saying thanks for writing this, oddly inspiring in its sobering way. But contrary to the fictitious person’s question, I don’t think at any time did you sound ungrateful.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Completely agree. Mr or Ms F. Person sounds as dumb as a bag of river rocks.

  11. urs says:

    Yes. Thanks for an interesting read and for giving some publicity how f*king hard it is to survive in the creative industry when your heart is in it. (Becuase of this, I’m only downloading the demo for now, sigh;)(not really smiley face)

    (yeah, I had completely missed it & everything about it)

  12. arron says:

    Congratulations Rutskarn on completing your KS project and getting it out there. This is far better that a lot of projects that fail through running out of money or just failing out of poor project management.

    I look forward to getting a copy and giving it a go once the Doctorate is finished :)

  13. Cybron says:

    Very interesting read, thanks for sharing! It’s always cool to get some insight into the video games slaughterhouse :)

    Pretty much every story I’ve ever read about the video games industry portrays a mass of wonderful, creative people who have far more talent and passion than sense. As much as I love video games and game design, I don’t think I could ever hack it there.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Arvind’s greatest strength as a team lead is a basic, controlled pessimism. It’s kept us from getting burned more than once. Hell, at least one team member owes his job to that pessimism. Arguably even I do.

      1. Cybron says:

        Well, that certainly sounds like a powerful asset. Good on him!

      2. aldowyn says:

        sounds pretty useful in a producer/managerial type role, definitely

  14. Mersadeon says:

    Ruts, I really hope this article gets discussed everywhere. It’s valuable insight into the Kickstarter and Indie Development processes and I really liked reading it.
    But more than anything, I hope you write games for a living soon. I have loved reading your stuff for years by now, and someone with your writing style will make for magnificent games. Your writing style is pretty much what I would love to write if I had any talent.
    Unrest is an absolute must-buy for me the second I have the money – I have seen about ten minutes of it and then walked away to not get spoiled.

  15. Sicod says:

    I was a backer of this project (largely because I love twenty sided)…and understanding you have no money left over and such do you have any idea if/when it will be patched? Backgrounds are just something I cannot see…except in the very first room and it makes the game sort of unplayable. Thank you for your time and dedication to your project. Having written DnD Living Forgotten Realms mods and encounters while working full time I feel your pain.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Your issue is one we’re seeing with some people who have old Intel cards. Arvind’s been looking into this one.

      1. Humanoid says:

        Unrest is the new Crysis.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          There you go: featured review quote for the Steam page right there.

      2. silver Harloe says:

        It also affects random other people who own laptops. I have an Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS in my old laptop – not an Intel chip, but still no ‘large texture support’ – so I can play freaking Tomb Raider, but not Unrest. Is sad, but very understandable. They could spend a million on QA alone. Your resources are somewhat more… austere.

        1. Naota says:

          Yeah, the general issue is a lack of support for textures larger than 2048^2, even if the card in question has easily enough video RAM to hold said texture. It’s a weird edge requirement that 3D games don’t encounter because of the segmented nature of their assets (looping textures and UVW maps) and retro-style 2D games don’t approach with their sprite sheets (because their sprites are low-res).

          While stylized, Unrest is actually a very high-res 2D game that’s designed from the ground up to run at 1080p, so a number of our animated sprites end up on sheets larger than these cards can handle. It’s possible we can cut them down to numerous smaller textures, but obviously that’s more complicated to fix that a simple engine bug.

          1. Shamus says:

            If Arvind wants any help with this, let me know. I’m working on the same questions in my projects (what are the limits of the user’s machine, how can you tell if you’ve hit them, and if you do what steps can you take?) and I’d love to see a working example of the problem in action. I can’t promise a solution, but I wouldn’t ask any money, either. (All I’d want is the blessing to turn my findings into a blog post.)

            Arvind has my contect info if he’s interested. Either way, best of luck with it. :)

            1. Naota says:

              Sounds awesome to me. I’ll send the word along to Arvind next time I see him.

            2. Mephane says:

              So you get to see a real world example, they get the problem fixed (hopefully), we get to read about it all? Sounds like a Win-Win-Win scenario. :D

          2. silver Harloe says:

            I’m guessing a “720p option” would mean additional copies of all the artwork, and can’t-pull-from-a-file graphical bits like text and respect/fear bars would have to be able to do so in different places and sizes or something. and basically having to test everything again to make sure there aren’t weird issues.

            as much as I wish I had the skills to do game development, sometimes I’m glad I’m in web-app development — and not just for painful dealing with hardware issues; I’ve become accustomed to a certain level and regularity of compensation, and a certain regularity to my work schedule. though I do miss quite a lot of being able to fall in love with my creations.

          3. Derektheviking says:

            I didn’t realise large texture support was still such an issue. I mean, depending on what I want to do, I’m at the stage of just cutting loose phones that can’t handle 2048×2048. Phones, for goodness’ sake!

  16. Cuthalion says:

    Nice writeup! Comforting, even, in a way, as someone chugging away 4-ish hours a weekend on an unfunded game. Sounds like, aside from the sense of urgency, I’m not actually that far off. :D

    I hope it sells a billion copies and you make (70 1,050) million dollars.

    1. Humanoid says:

      I hope you’re not an accountant and wishing a $1.05b loss on him. :P

      1. lurkey says:

        I am an accountant and that was my first thought :D

        1. Cuthalion says:

          Ha! I am not. :P

          I was, as you might suspect, just adding in a parenthetical amount to the “I hope you make a million dollars”.

  17. Isaac says:

    I hope it does good

  18. Akri says:

    Fascinating writeup. Thanks for sharing all that.

    I’ve played through Unrest three times so far, and I’ve loved every minute of it. You guys did a fantastic job.

  19. Eric says:

    Thanks for sharing this Rutskarn. I have followed you and Shamus’ blog for years now and I think you’re a great guy with greater writing chops, and I’ll be checking out Unrest when I get the chance (already played the demo). I think what you guys did was really cool in the timeframe and budget you had, and that’s in no small part thanks to your incredible efforts (and good looks and charm, I’m sure). I’m happy you did – and were able to – write up this piece and share it with the community.

    (Disclosure: I work for another Kickstarter dev)

    1. Rutskarn says:

      If by “another company” you mean inExile, congratulations: you’re working on stuff most of the team would kill to. I know Brian Fargo is, like, Arvind’s personal hero. Not going to lie–kind of mine, too.

      Hopefully we get Wasteland levels of funding on the next project, eh?

      1. evileeyore says:

        It’d be real nice if these other guys (Shadowrun Returns I’m looking at you) put as much heart into their works as you guys did.

        I’m still hopeful with Wasteland 2… mostly as you reference, because of Mr. Fargo.

        1. Humanoid says:

          Eh, I’m satisfied with what Shadowrun Returns, erm, returned in the end – i.e. post-Dragonfall. Certainly after the DRM-dramas with Microsoft were resolved amicably. And with the announcement of the upcoming Director’s Cut (in the manner of the Witcher games’ Enhanced Editions) with some extra content, I don’t regret for a moment my $100+ backing.

          1. Alex says:

            Yeah. While I didn’t back the game as heavily as you did, I feel like I got my moneys worth. The core game is “okay.” It is more promise than delivery. It seems like they made the core game the way it was just so that they can focus on Dragonfall. Overall I think they delivered what they said they would in a mostly on time fashion.

        2. krellen says:

          I’m curious why you think Shadowrun Returns lacks “heart” (whatever that means)?

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Ive checked,there isnt a single pickable item named “heart” in that game.

            1. Groboclown says:

              I think there’s a mod for that.

          2. LadyTL says:

            Oddly enough I feel the same way about Shadowrun Returns. The story is fine enough, gameplay is decent as well, graphics are fine too. For all intents and purposes you would think there was nothing wrong with the game. But after a few extended play sessions, I just stopped one day and never came back to it and honestly don’t really want to. I go back over and over to KOTOR2, Fallout 3 and New Vegas, been having a blast with Divinity: Original Sin, can’t wait for Wasteland 2 after dabbling in the beta and so on. There just is something vital missing from Shadowrun Returns and the only thing that seems to fit is a lack of spirit/heart/soul/vitality. It may have something to do with them wanting people to make their own campaigns perhaps?

  20. DTor says:

    Rutskarn, thank you for this and all the backer updates you wrote this past year. I just want to say that I also worked at a home improvement store this year, I loaded a few bags of river rock, and I think I understand what you’re going through.

  21. Eldiran says:

    Awesome writeup Ruts! I hope Unrest turns out really well for you guys, as it looks like it should. Nothing more to add than that : )

  22. Ithilanor says:

    Very interesting piece. Thanks for writing this, Rutskarn; it’s good to see more transparency in the game dev business, especially when it comes to Kickstarters. Looking forward to playing Unrest as soon as I have the money to get it!

  23. Felblood says:

    As an indy dev who works a full-time day job, and bangs out art assets and bug reports for a couple hours a week, when (if ever )the baby falls asleep early, this is actually kind of inspiring.

    Yeah, I’ll probably be dead of age related illness (I’m not old right now) before this thing sees a real release, but some of these things do see the light of day, and somehow that makes it better.

  24. BeamSplashX says:

    If you want some serious funding, Rutskarn, I’ve got three words for you:


    1. Muspel says:

      Needs a Scrolls in there, too.

      1. Hitch says:

        And rebellion.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          Unrest: A Candy Scrolls Rebellion Saga?

          1. Arvind says:

            Pshaw, this is why you guys aren’t all game developer multimillionares – you forgot the secret sauce.

            Unrestcraft : Candy Scrolls Rebellion Saga

            1. Akri says:

              I think you mean World of Unrestcraft: Candy Scrolls Rebellion Saga

              You can thank me later.

                1. 4th Dimension says:

                  PShaw, we can use subsubtitles.

                  World of Unrestcraft: The Candy Scrolls Saga: On The EDGE of Rebelion?

                  1. BeamSplashX says:

                    forget it, just call it gunbros and boobs

  25. Dreadjaws says:

    This was an amazing read. I look forward to playing the game (I will purchase a copy soon, but until I fix my darn PC I won’t be able to play it). I wish your team good luck with everything.

  26. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The real question now is:Will the sequel be made by ea,ubisoft or activision?And which one of them would you prefer to be owned by?

    1. Naota says:

      Dupe each of them into thinking we’re a successful, mysterious newcomer to the game development scene owned exclusively by them, while actually orchestrating an elaborate scheme to ruin them with the very misdeeds they’ve perpetrated to reach their positions of power.

      Unrest 2: The Account of Monte Cristo

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        That sounds like a comedy sitcom episode premise:

        Join us this week as the crew of Perodyctill tries to give a detailed status report in person to representatives of all three publishers at the same time (they all scheduled them on the same day on the same time) in the same office space.

      2. Kereminde says:

        I like how you think and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  27. Galad says:

    Hi guys,

    Yesterday I bought the special edition from the pyrodactyl site, and, er, what should I do to actually download the game and the other extras? I got the mail from amazon payments and all, I think the site bugged something though, the “get back to the site after buying” link was not working? Do I need to input the transaction id somewhere? (one of the two, anyways)

    Other than this, wow. I’m impressed people manage to make a game with this little financial backing. Thank you for the write up, Rutskarn, and I hope the sales numbers go well!

    Edit: nevermind, apparently the Humble Bundle email I was supposed to receive was on the other email. While I will be able to check
    later tonight when I get back home, all should be good now.

    1. Humanoid says:

      You should receive a Humble Bundle link that will give you a page with both your Steam key, the DRM-free direct download link, and any extras with the SE. If you didn’t receive the link, try using the Key Resender, which will email you all the Humble Bundle purchases you’ve made with your email address. If the purchase did succeed, then one of the links (or the only link, if you’ve never used them before) will be to your Unrest page.

      You can then ‘claim’ this page, linking it to your Humble Bundle account for future ease-of-use.

  28. Phrozenflame500 says:

    Excellent write-up!

    One of the unappreciated things the gaming community at large has learned through the whole Kickstarter explosion is how much money it actually requires to make a good video game. Even the biggest Kickstarter successes struggle to hit the same production values as mid to high tier traditionally funded games especially over the limited time period of a year or two.

    I guess it’s a bit to early to ask how Unrest is doing yet but I’ll be excited to try it when I get the chance.

  29. aunshi says:

    This piece was a real eye opener.

    I assumed Rutskarn was already a millionaire from Spoiler Warning.

  30. Robert says:

    the hindi title for the game, does it say “Ashanti” ?

    1. Humanoid says:

      OMG, Michael Caine is in Unrest? :D

  31. Akuma says:

    Bought the game right away and enjoyed my time with it. Though it does feel like I need to play through it a few times to really appreciate all the different paths you can take. I think my favorite part was the priest, because that was a hard choice (My cynical pragmatism got me in the end).

    I think transparency in any game development is hugely beneficial to any kind of developer, especially when it comes to money. These days it’s just not something discussed for various reasons, but it kind of helps dehumanize the whole process. Everyone has warped expectations of what games can deliver because without that transparency there’s not alot of difference in the customers eyes between an AAA developer and an indie one.

    I remember when Skullgirls went to crowd funding to add in extra characters and they said each character, just by itself, costs 200k to 250k. That’s a huge number that surprised a bunch of people because we’d never really gotten an idea how much a fighting game character actually costs to make.

    For your own work I hope it pays in dividends.

    1. Otters34 says:

      That is even worse than I thought it was. 2.5X more, that’s amazing…

  32. rofltehcat says:

    I preordered/bought the special edition on Fastspring in May 2013 and got emails about it back then, telling me I’d receive my codes once the game was near release. One email How/who should I contact support to get my key?

    1. Arvind says:

      Contact me at [email protected] , sorry for the trouble you’re having!

      1. rofltehcat says:

        Thanks for the quick reply!
        Not that big a problem, I was just wondering where it went, maybe got eaten by the spam filter or something.
        I’ll email you!

  33. Neko says:

    Just one question.

    What are river rocks?

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      He probably meand something like pebles, the rocks that have been rounded and smoothed by water erosion because they spent a lot of time on the water.

      1. Jonathan says:

        Yep. They come in 40-50 lb. bags, at a cost of $3.50-$6.00 at Lowe’s/Home Depot (assuming you want ~1″ rock). Not exactly easy to throw around all day.

  34. Zak McKracken says:

    Thanks not just for making the game and talking about it but also for writing this article here.
    Usually, whenever I decide during a project that it needs a postmortem of some kind, after the project I’m just in no mood to concern myself with it anymore, and then nothing gets done. At least for myself, it’d be an amazing feat to do this kind of thing. So respect for that.

  35. Zak McKracken says:

    The Humble store says that “Unrest is available for Windows, DRM-free and for Windows/Mac/Linux via Steam.” — does this mean there is no DRM-free version for Linux? I’ll take the Windows version as well but Linux would be nicer. Somehow the Humble Store doesn’t make quite clear which versions I can get before I actually commit to the purchase.

    … which means I’ll probably get the special edition from GOG … a little more expensive but I suppose that means you get more out of it, despite the higher fees.

    1. Arvind says:

      All versions of Unrest are DRM-free, even the ones on Steam. We don’t use steamworks DRM, you are free to back up your game installation and play it from anywhere.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        ohh, that’s nice! I wasn’t aware that Steam even lets you do that (shows how much I know…). Thanks for the info!
        … it still means I’d need Steam in order do get the game for Linux in the first place, wouldn’t it?

        Actually … forget about that, I just found out that GOG has a special edition with a plain Linux download. That should make you guys even more money than the Humble store version, and it’ll make me happy :)

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Yeah, there’s a wonderful list of all the DRM-free Steam games, which is incredibly handy.

          Unrest isn’t actually on there yet though…

          1. Humanoid says:

            It’s still of very questionable value having something as DRM if the distribution and patching is still wholly dependent on the Steam client.

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              I’m still not getting the Steam client, out of being subbornly against it. Still, in this scenario, the steam account would become a means of patching, managing installs and re-installing on a new computer, after hard drive failures etc., so that doesn’t sound too bad.

            2. Ringwraith says:

              Some of those games are available elsewhere, and even the ones that aren’t, you can just backup the installation and put it where-ever you like and it’ll still work.

  36. A to the BCD says:

    Another game added to the long list of games to play. Also, steam client’s install size is 400mB. What the phooey does it need 400mB for?

    1. Humanoid says:

      400 millibytes isn’t really all that much. It’s just a little over 3 bits of data. :D

      1. Trix2000 says:

        Even 400MB isn’t THAT much data anymore. It’s not insignificant, but in the days of several TB hard drives it starts to not look like much.

        …Now I’m curious what a millibyte would actually look like. >.<

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Just as long as you aren’t trying to surf the internet with something with a pB of memory; you’d have better luck using a tub of ice cream.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            hmmmm, Icecream! Who needs internet?

        2. Humanoid says:

          I guess there’s no incentive for them to get it slimmed down, yeah, but I’d have thought something like that could easily fit in less than 100MB. Similar rationale to optimising games I guess, why bother putting that much effort in when you can just throw more CPU cycles at it? Heck, I’ve gone SSD-only in my gaming desktop as of a few months ago (4x250GB SSDs), but still have no space issues.

          That said, for people reliant on expensive mobile internet or the like, every little saving in data usage counts.

          1. Ringwraith says:

            Internet here can be hilariously awful, to the point where mobile internet is better than wired in places.

            Anyway, even at 400MB, that’s about half an hour for me to download at full whack if it stays consistent (it doesn’t), and if I did so I wouldn’t be able to use the internet for much else at the same time.

    2. Kian says:

      Comments above mention issues with sprite sheets being larger than 2048×2048. For reference, an uncompressed 4-channel (RGBA) 2048×2048 image weighs around 16 MB. Lossless compression can lower that a bit, but the point is, it’s a high resolution 2D game, and high resolution images are expensive.

  37. Paul Spooner says:

    So, creative work in low-cost-of-living areas of the world. Worth it?

    If so, why did Rutskarn not move to such an area? I’ve considered it myself, but I’ve never gotten the funding to make it feasible. I mean, if you’re doing writing and/or internet related work all the time, why live in the US? There’s got to be somewhere with lower taxes, lower cost of living, and which still has decent internet access. But, of course, it costs money to get there. Where’s the break-even point?

    And, more importantly, what are the drawbacks? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, which I’m going to say indicates my profound ignorance on this topic. Maybe Shamus can weigh in here too, since he seems to be in a similar kind of “I could do this from anywhere” situation, but still lives in the States AFAIK.

    Thanks for the openness!

    1. Cineris says:

      I think this comes down to one of those cases where humans are determined to frustrate economists by not being money making optimizers. For some reason living in stable conditions in places where friends and family are accessible, and people around us speak the same language and have similar cultural values is important to us.

      For what it’s worth the option of going to live overseas is a lot more practical for Rutskarn than Shamus.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        I think that’ll need to wait until Del Taco start expanding internationally.

        1. Humanoid says:

          I’m not so sure selling “Sacred Taco” will go down so well with the Indian populace.

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        Perhaps these things are of primary importance for most people… but Shamus and family are far enough into alternative internet-culture that I suspect they have at least considered it. Judging from the article I’d wager Rutskarn’s association with his co-workers has brought the idea to mind more than once.

        I’m living in Japan where I don’t speak the language, am not a citizen (and thus have basically no legal rights), and have no family or friends within about four thousand miles (excluding my wife and four kids, who moved here with me or were birthed here), so I’ve already taken the plunge of moving somewhere foreign and uncomfortable for the monetary benefits.

        If I can do it with my family, I’ll bet Shamus could much more easily, since his kids are grown (mine are all under the age of five) and not in school (unschooling ftw!). Rutskarn might actually have more trouble if he has school loans to repay. Though I don’t know Shamus’ debt situation either. But that’s one of the reasons that no one discusses this kind of thing. Lots of personal “private” information gets exposed while trying to figure out if it makes sense. I hope such compunctions can be set aside (especially in the current context) but I completely understand if it’s too strange to consider.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          Is Japan actually less expensive then the States?

          I know a Japanese guy living in London who says he wouldn’t move back to Tokyo because it’s unbelievably expensive…
          (But then Japan consists of more than just Tokyo, so…)

          But then again again, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe but they have the highest wages, too, so people who live and work there are pretty well off…

          And lastly: Most people want to feel “at home” where they live, for whatever that means, so reducing this to purely monetary aspects is really not nice to people. If the majority of people actually were like that, we’d have incredibly huge amounts of global migration, legal and illegal.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            Also prices would stabilize across the board, since any cheap place would immediately shoot up in demand until prices rose back to normal levels to meet it. That is assuming price is the primary (read ‘only’) reason for people to move.

            I live in Silicon Valley, one of the more expensive places in the US, but I still have a very hard time convincing myself to move elsewhere – mostly due to familiarity and comfort (ignoring that a lot of jobs are here too).

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              I’m not sure whether they would stabilize or start to fluctuate terribly because between a low price going up in some place and people relising it’s gone up and reacting to that (by stopping to move to that place), there’ll be a delay.

          2. Paul Spooner says:

            You’re right. Japan is as or more expensive as/than the US. I moved here for a higher paying assignment, not for the low cost of living. But the principle applies. Now that I’ve done it once and it turned out alright, I’m thinking of moving somewhere cheap so I can do creative internet work full time.

        2. Humanoid says:

          Here, our equivalent of student loans are actually only payable with Australian income. So if I had moved overseas for work as soon as my annual income crossed the threshold of mandatory repayments (only have to start repaying once income hits about $50,000), I would have never had to pay off my debts. It seems kind of broken, but the thing is the payments are handled by the tax office here, not by banks, so they won’t pursue people with no taxable income.

          Ah well, it’s paid off now so too late for me to move. Not that I think I ever would have, all the places in the world I think are more desirable to live in than Australia have even higher costs of living and higher taxes.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            The “I’m already in the best place possible.” mindset prevails in the US as well. I don’t buy it (sound like propaganda to me) but finding alternatives is difficult. Here are a few I’ve come up with, but if anyone knows of better ones, please chime in.

            Tokelau. Extremely low cost of living, plus they make a lot of money doing tech work on the internet. Not sure about ease of immigration.

            Singapore. Low taxes, and possible low cost of living (depending on where and how you live). Very welcoming to small businesses. As long as you don’t mind the strict criminal laws, it’s an attractive possibility. Plus they speak English and welcome immigrants from “western” nations.

            Chile. Fairly modern country with fairly low cost of living. Again, not sure how eager they are to accept immigrants.

            I’d be glad to hear of other possibilities. Eritrea has come up before as an option. Anyone here on the 20 sided community operating out of an “ideal spot” for internet-based creative people?

            1. Humanoid says:

              Is it any greater than the “grass is greener” mindset though? At any rate I’d feel that only western continental Europe, and perhaps Canada, would provide me personally with a comparable/superior quality of life, and the liveability indexes that come out in the news every now and then certainly bear that out.

              I have a friend who moved to Singapore, but that’s because he was working for a Singaporean company, and he got the job through existing networking opportunities. Not so sure they’d be as keen to accept people who don’t have an employment arrangement in place: indeed I’m pretty sure you have to be directly sponsored by your employer to get your work visa, and the employment has to be in certain specified professional fields.

              That said, he’s happy overall with how it went. Hates the weather (and had to give up his cycling hobby as a result), but good money and pleased with the job (but then the latter point has little to do with the actual country). He’s either eligible, or very nearly eligible for citizenship I think, but the thing that gives him pause is that any kids he might have in the future would be subject to their laws pertaining to citizenship, particularly the mandatory military service.

              1. Zak McKracken says:

                Yep. Having to give up hobbies can have a serious impact on one’s quality of life…

                What about New Zealand? It’s on the opposite side of Earth from where I live but always looked kind of European to me …

                1. Humanoid says:

                  Fine if you’ve got job arrangements, but all the young New Zealanders have left for Australia to get jobs, so hardly a hotbed of opportunity.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      That isn’t really a feasible idea.

      Any country that has low enough cost of living to survive on a couple hundred dollars a month is also going to have a low standard of living.

      He’d also be moving to an area where he doesn’t have the support of friends and family, has a potentially less favorable legal status, and probably can’t speak the language.

      And then, if his creative work dries up (which, for an indie, is a constant threat), he’s got nothing. All of his other best opportunities are in the States.

      Your best bet in doing freelance creative work is to find a steady, decent-paying job and do the creative stuff on the side until you make it big enough for it to be your primary career.

      1. syal says:

        Also there’s a time investment to find cheaper places that could be spent on more direct money-making.

        Also there are cultural differences you would need to learn so you don’t end up accidentally flipping off everyone on main street for half an hour.

        Also dysentary.

        1. Humanoid says:

          And it’s not just a matter of you adapting, because there’s also the issue of how the locals perceive you. Head over to a developing country and you won’t get the same cheap rent as they would, you’ll get the premium foreigner rate. In many other transactions you might be stuck with something close to the tourist rate for goods or services. And that’s just the less overt discrimination: we talk about the problem of racism in the developed world, expect worse in the less-developed countries.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            There’s a surprising amount of pessimism and fear-mongering going on here.

            You may be afraid of the locals, but the locals are afraid of you too, and both fears are unfounded. You have something to offer them (technological wizardry and outside income) and they have something to offer you (inexpensive food and housing). Because you are both working in the best interests of everyone, it’s going to turn out okay.

            The whole point is moot, though, since Rutskarn attests that there are people developing games in just such areas. What I’m asking is:
            *Where do I go to live like this?
            *At what point is it worth doing?
            *What are the drawbacks?
            *Why didn’t the rest of the team at Pyrodactyl do it?

            1. Humanoid says:

              Eh, we’re not talking tiny little communities where everyone knows each other. We’re talking big cities of millions, tens of millions. The average person certainly won’t be thinking of you as “technological wizardry and outside income” (particularly the former, it’s quite likely they’d have the same expertise already), just a slightly unusual face.

            2. Naota says:

              Arvind (or maybe Mikk) are the people to ask those first three questions; I know for a fact that the cost living in India is relatively low, and anywhere in Estonia is likely less than a big city in the US or Canada.

              But as for the fourth? At one point during the game’s development we showed off a build at EGX Rezzed – a convention in the UK. Arvind, Ian, and Mikk met up there and good times were had.

              It would have cost me three Unrests in combined wages simply to move myself (and I do mean just my person) from here in Toronto, Ontario to an airport near the convention centre. And then I would have had to pay for food, convention tickets, and a hotel room.

              But even assuming I had the sort of money (or would be expecting the sort of discount) that a trip to some place with a low cost of living would make me, I would be leaving behind everyone I’ve ever met to live in a place with laws, culture, and likely a language that I don’t understand. A place where I have no support network or existing relationships beyond myself. That’s no small commitment to make, especially on the security of a tenuous job like indie game development.

              Plus, familiarity counts for a lot in a living space. I know the people here, the streets, the food, the social norms. I know Toronto. I don’t doubt I could make somewhere else feel like home given time, but I also don’t doubt I would miss this city in the long span between now and then.

              In short, rent in Canada isn’t so bad that it’s worth upending my life over. We’ve got good social services here and a culture that embraces just about everyone. Before even considering emigrating I’d look for options closer to home (say, London ON or Montreal).

      2. Paul Spooner says:

        I’d be happy to put up with a lower standard of living if it meant I could get by on less. As I said above, I’ve already done this, and while it is more difficult, it is by no means prohibitive.

        Your last point, however, is invalid. If I could get by on $200/mo, then I wouldn’t need more than a commission every couple months. That’s an order of magnitude less than in the States. Sure, if I had no self control and spent all my money as soon as I earned it, I’d be sunk if work dried up, but with some foresight, the lower cost of living would result in a much more workable situation as the savings from occasional jobs would tide me over for months at a time.

        Your last statement is actually very interesting in this context. “…until you make it big enough for it to be your primary career.” is a relative measure. Like I said, I would need to make it ten times bigger in the US than in Hypothetistan to clear this threshhold. An order of magnitude of success is nothing to sneeze at.

        1. Humanoid says:

          Sort of implied earlier, but countries who are accepting of foreign workforces can’t be assumed to be nearly so keen on accepting of freelancers. Frequently the only reason the work visas are granted at all are to fill in gaps in professional fields, not just people who want to enjoy the cheaper living arrangements while doing odd jobs.

          That may have sounded insulting for people in that kind of profession, and that’s not my intention, I’m just trying to highlight the fact that the job and the work visa are usually extremely tightly coupled.

    3. fyrbaul says:

      well, one drawback if you’re American is that you still have to pay US income tax while potentially also paying income tax in whatever country you reside

  38. WILL says:

    Thing is, 35000$ is not a kickstarter miracle. It really feels like a twenty sided tale funded kind of deal – as in the money correlates directly with how popular this blog is. You’re being very humble but the fact is you made a game on a shoestring budget, even for kickstarter.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Agree on the shoestring, but it is a teensy bit miraculous in that they asked for $3,000, and went over that by more than an order of magnitude.

      Also, I remember Unrest featuring on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, where it garnered plenty of interested comments. I’m sure the nice 20-sided folks indeed played their part, but were just one factor among many!

      1. Humanoid says:

        Yeah, not sure you can say it’s mostly Twenty-siders exactly: Shamus’ Patreon numbers (backers, not amount raised) might be instructive here. Just over 300 Patreon backers, and say 2000 Kickstarter backers (rounding up to allow for late backers).

    2. Arvind says:

      The reason we refer to it as a miracle is that there have been comments (and a journalist from a big Indian TV channel) who compared our game’s art unfavorably to Bastion and Child of Light. The tone is always “I saw your Kickstarter, and you had the money to do it”.

      Our budget was indeed very shoestring, but you’d be amazed at what people think games cost to make.

      P.S. the two games I mentioned above almost certainly have better looking art, but you can bet they had at least 10x (maybe even 100x) the amount of money we spent on art.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Also, regardless of cost, what matters more with art is its consistency and direction, gorgeous individual pieces don’t mean squat to the game if they don’t tie together or are amid a pile of confused pieces.

      2. Humanoid says:

        And to balance it out, Rutskarn is probably 10-100x better at wordplay than whoever did the rhymes for Child of Light. :P

  39. Hoffenbach says:

    Hey Ruts, just wanted to say thanks for all the free entertainment you’ve provided over he years with Spoiler Warning and Chocolate Hammer. I look forward to playing Unrest, and I hope it is very successful. Congratulations on launching your game!

  40. Katherine says:

    I have a question. Are you going to add more content?

    I didn’t back Unrest, but I bought it on Steam at launch because it was discounted and promised to have Heavy Rain style decisions. I was expecting something with a story and decisions that mattered, and then it just cut off after only two hours. I mean, you didn’t even give us a brief, 2-3 sentence paragraph telling us what happened to the characters like Konami did with the Suikoden games and like Nintendo sometimes does with the Fire Emblem games.

    I understand you had a lot of work to do on an ambitious project and you didn’t get much money, but are you going to ever finish Unrest’s story?

    1. Retsam says:

      Disclaimer; I haven’t actually played the game yet, but I’ve been following the discussions of it here and on the Diecast, and I’ve heard no indication that the game’s story is “unfinished”. Even the above post mortem seems to indicate pretty well that the game as it stands is more or less the story they wanted to tell.

      Yes, it’s short, and sometimes stories don’t tie up all the loose ends in a neat little bow for you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily unfinished.

      1. Naota says:

        It’s also a tricky thing to talk about – I like the idea of a little extra slide reel that follows up on what happened to each character (I adore the Fire Emblem games), but the story is ultimately Rutskarn’s baby, and Arvind calls the shots. We’re still working out where to go from here, so it’s hard to give a definite answer at the moment. About the only fair thing I can do is acknowledge that I’m listening.

        I will say I’m a bit perplexed by the requests to “finish” the story, considering where it ends currently. With no sarcasm or ill-will; what did you (Katherine) envision as the ending that you didn’t receive? More closure for the characters who met ambiguous ends? For the writing and mood to ease into an ending less abruptly? For the plot to resolve more of Bhimra’s problems? The individual characters’ problems? Just more plot after the conclusion of Asha’s arc in the sixth chapter?

        Some of those demands are totally untenable for us, some could be changed but won’t be (obviously we won’t add an ending where Asha solves every problem for the city), others I completely agree with and would gladly advocate for.

        I don’t mean to ask leading questions or insinuate anything – I’m just curious about where the story stopped working for you and if it’s something we can work on.

        1. krellen says:

          I have no idea how anything worked out for Tanya (at all), I have no idea if Bhagwan survived (was he the priest beaten to death? I DON’T KNOW), I don’t know what happens to Shaym (unless it’s the obvious), and the two endings I’ve seen don’t even answer the question of whether or not the monsoons ever return.

          I’m normally a fan of open endings, but there’s an attempt to close things up that completely fails to answer any questions at all.

          1. Naota says:

            That seems fair enough – those could be answered quite succinctly in a summary of what happened to the major players in the story.

            I’m not sure about the monsoons, though. They’re an unpredictable act of god over which nobody has control, and as such it seems a little trite to end with “and then the monsoons came back and everyone was happy again,” when the point of the game was that this couldn’t be counted on to solve everyone’s problems. It’s the very reason Asha’s parents were killed – they were holding the course, banking on the monsoons to return and relieve them of the ugly decisions they had dangerously postponed out of blind hope. Definitely a question for Ruts.

            As a random aside, the priest who was beaten is Prabal – you can see him (and kinda see why) in Chapter 2, then again as Bhagwan in a room inside the temple. Bhagwan is his replacement, as the older priest standing near the stairs is quick to point out. The thug you meet in the alley alludes to the beating as well.

            1. krellen says:

              I know about Prabal, but he’s not dead. In Shaym’s chapter there’s references to a priest who was beat to death; I assumed this was after Bhagwan’s story and not referencing Prabal.

              1. Naota says:

                Ah, I see. Definitely a question for Rutskarn in that case.

  41. Otters34 says:

    Mr. DeCamp, thanks so much for laying this out in the open. It reminds me of how, a while back, the Skullgirls devs outlined why a fighting game character could cost $100,000 or some absurd number.(EDIT: Akuma sets it at $200-250K, aaaaaaaaaaaaa…) Stuff like this is vital for plebeians like myself to understand why things in the video game world are the way they are.

    Bought the game from your site, and as soon as I can I hope to savor what’s taken you and the rest of the team at Pyrodactyl so much time and effort and stress to create. Once the price goes back up I’ll get the Special Edition, show it to my folks so they get an idea of what else there is to vidya games besides mindless death and airy-fairyness.

    Thank you, Rutskarn, Arvind, Naota, and everyone else involved for taking this risk and making this possible.

  42. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I remember one of the early Diecasts where you were beating yourself up for not updating your blog regularly. I’ll bet that seems silly now that you’ve finished a video game.

    Congratulations Rutskarn. Awesome accomplishment.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      I’m pretty much back to beating myself up for not updating my blog regularly, actually.

      1. Humanoid says:

        It is interesting that this blog post is up everywhere except the author’s own blog, yes. But then we wouldn’t have had this massive comment thread, so that justifies it I guess.

      2. MichaelGC says:

        Thing is, it’s not a binary thing, but tripartite (trinary?) and the midpoint is – and should be seen as – neutral.

        What the hell does that mean? Well, if you update your blog, that’s obviously good. But if you don’t update it, that’s not bad, it’s neutral. If you updated it with, I dunno, scads of offensive content peppered with discriminatory epithets, that would be bad.

        As you’ve mentioned, the beating-up is really the problem, as it’s incorrect on the facts (treating neutral as bad) and so can’t really be reasoned with. It’s also massively unhelpful both to the goal of updating, and to the goal of enjoying goofing off. (Which is an admirable goal! It’s useful to recharge batteries, and it can provide one of the main sources of “working capital” for a writer: i.e. experiences. Cat videos on YouTube are experiences. What? They are! Loooook! Look at his widdle face…)

        This, I think, is what the great philosopher meant by the timeless maxim: “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try'”: if one finds oneself goofing off, it’s important to own it!! “Today, my aim is to achieve precisely nothing. Once more unto the Escapist comment section, dear friends, once more! Let bugger-all be done, though the heavens fall! Here I slouch; I can do no other.”

        (We might also note the slight irony of me talking about “goofing off” at the bottom of a 3,500 word post which inter alia discusses the expenditure of enormous amounts of strenuous effort…)

        Anyway, I don’t know if any of this is useful or helpful – I suspect it’s either preaching to the choir, or missing the point. Possibly both. But if someone was beating up on you and was unjustified in doing so, I’d want to say something, even if the someone was, you know, also you.

  43. River Birch says:

    Hey Rutskarn. I just wanted to say thank you for being a part of this wonderful game and writing this to help educate others about the process of how Kickstarter fund’s were deligated.

    I wish you all the best when it comes to this game’s success, and I can’t say that enough.

    I just recently saw Jesse Cox, a youtuber of Polaris do a video looking at Unrest, similar to I guess what WTF is *blahblahtotalbiscutblah* does, and he seems to enjoy what the game had, Ended up making the peasant (forgive me for not remembering the name) be rather sassy, thanks for writin that option path I guess in. So I hope what publicity in that respect does point others in the direction of Unrest. Whether it does well I wouldn’t really know.

    In short, Thank you, and I hope others see it for what good it’s worth.

  44. MIKE says:

    Thanks for this article, it was quite an enjoyable read. You were quite candid, honest, and objective. Your game looks great, and bravo to you and your team for the hardwork and sacrifice.

  45. Domochevsky says:

    So, Ruts, as someone who is also indie-developing a game in his free time and plans on selling it at some point, I have to ask:

    What retailers did you consider selling your game at, which did you discard (and why) and which are mutually exclusive due to whatever reason?
    I know that Unrest is up on GOG and Steam, at the very least. (Both of which seem like good choices.)

    Additionally: What is the expense of getting on either of these services? Do you have to phone people for weeks on end and hassle them? do you just shoot them an email and a link to a copy of your game for them to check out? Do they take cuts and processing fees of each sale? If so, how high is it? And where does the money actually go afterwards once the revenue from the sales comes in? (A paypal account? I hope not.) In the same vein: How long will it take for you as a company to see your first cent after the dust settles?

    Bonus bonus: How do taxes fit into all of this? (This is a tricky one, I know. Different countries and all that. >_> )

    Unrelated: Shamus, is it intended that the background of the site just stops after a certain length and goes over into raw blackness?

    1. Humanoid says:

      I had the background image cutting off issue only back when work had yet to upgrade from IE6/7 as the mandatory browser (ugh).

  46. AR+ says:

    Your points about the value of economic freedom, reminds me of some advice I heard from somewhere I can’t remember, though the advice was certainly memorable.

    It was something like, “If you want to pursue your passion instead of being a slave to money, become a well-paid professional and pursue your passion during your leisure time. The surest way to stay a slave to money is to not have enough of it.”

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, that’s my current approach. It seems to be working out alright, except for the part where I’m still a slave to my job instead of my craft.
      Currently pondering moving somewhere where “enough” money is significantly less than in the USA (see comments above).

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The problem with those other places,however,is that salaries are also less.

        If you really want to slash your cost of living,Ive found that moving away from big cities is the way to go.For example,the differences in prices of food alone in my country are up to 15% bigger for the capital compared to smaller towns.Rent has even worse skyrocketing.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      The problem with well-paid professionals these days is that they too often don’t have any leisure time for what they actually want to do. And also that the well-paid jobs too often require a certain amount of dedication, i.e. if you don’t actually like the job, you’ll have a hard time doing it well enough.
      “become rich, and then everything will be trivial” is not really something the average person will be able to do, although it’s certainly nice if it works.

      I’d rephrase it somewhat less eloquently: If your passion is unlikely to bring you income, go and find a job that takes as little time and devotion as possible (or that you can muster some interest in) and gives as much money as you need to do what you actually want to, plus some, hopefully.
      If you think your passion can make you some money, it’s still safer to start doing it in your spare time rather than dumping your job before finding out it’s not quite enough after all…

  47. The_Zoobler says:

    Just wanted to say, congrats Rutskarn! I bought the game and am eagerly awaiting its installation now.

    I did this for two reasons.

    A) The demo was great and the game looks great and I want it.

    B) As an aspiring writer who loves video games, their analysis, and Spoiler Warning/The Diecast I am so glad I got to support one of my heroes! (hopefully peers, one day soon)

    Watch out Shamus, your Patreon is next. The instant my personal financials get straightened out.

    Can’t wait to see the full game >:D. Thank you for the excellent work Ruts and the Ruts-Development-Co-Conspirators.

  48. Just saw Jim Sterling do a “Squirty play” of Unrest.
    I’m also looking at Jesse Cox.

    Six things I noticed so far are…

    1. Jim points out that you have to walk near a character and then you get the dialog icon, and that it would be better to be able to just click on a character and have the player character walk over automatically and then start the dialog.

    2. I noticed that while Jim did click on the Traits icons and see the extra text Jesse did not and remains unware of this. My own suggestion is to change that trait window to show smaller icons left adjusted and then have the trait description text to the right of it and make the whole thing a scrollable list instead. That way the player do not need to click on a icon to understand what a particular trait is.

    3. The post-treaty signing “wrap up” dialog box would probably be better served with a different background (it kind of marks the end of a chapter right?) or some other way to distinguish it from the “normal” boxes. Same with the “start of chapter” box that introduces the next character, he background should be different rather than just a faded game area as is currently seen. The box could even be shown while the next area of the game is loading.

    4. Player/NPC dialog switching can be confusing (before you get to now the characters), having the player character “icon” shown in the upper left all the time (during dialogs) may reduce this confusion, while walking around that icon do not need to be displayed.

    5. In Jesse Cox video at the 25:02 mark I see “2. So what, I’m supposed to thank you for betrothing me to most unliked boy in village?” seems to miss the “the” in-between “to the most”

    6. The trait window should probably have a “Back” button at the bottom right in addition to the small X in the top right.

  49. Barts says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your story. More people need to understand in what conditions indie games are made.

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