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Harmonix's  Amplitude  struggles highlight Kickstarter challenges
Harmonix's Amplitude struggles highlight Kickstarter challenges
May 14, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

"... Without this Kickstarter, there’s no clear path to getting Amplitude made or a clear scenario where we can afford to fund the team ourselves and release it. It’s not a ploy – with the current landscape, without your support, this game won’t exist."
- John Drake, Harmonix's director of publishing and PR

Earlier this month, Harmonix (Rock Band, Dance Central) launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $775,000 to fund a sequel to Amplitude, its 2003 cult-hit PlayStation 2 music game.

The campaign is faltering. With just nine days left, it still needs over $500,000 to make its goal, as Harmonix encounters a rather special crowdfunding challenge: Some people think the studio is too successful to need a Kickstarter.

Today, John Drake, Harmonix's director of publishing and PR, put up a blog post clarifying questions potential backers have had about why the studio needs this much money to make the game.

It dismisses the ideas that Harmonix could seek publisher funding or that it has enough money from Rock Band sales -- or the studio's 2006 sale to media giant Viacom -- to self-fund the project. Drake also reveals that "the $775,000 of this Kickstarter is less than half of the project budget for the game."

"Even in the scenario where we raise the $800,000 or so on Kickstarter, we’ll be risking more of Harmonix’s money than we probably should -- all because we want to make this game so badly," Drake writes.

Most notably, Drake explains that the major money paid out by major media corporation Viacom to purchase Harmonix didn't end up in the company coffers. The company's early investors, not the studio itself, "were the primary recipients of 'all that Rock Band money' -- as well they should have been -- not the business of Harmonix that is trying to make this game," Drake writes.

Viacom snagged Harmonix in 2006 but sold off the studio for next to nothing after the plastic music instrument fad crashed. Viacom ultimately was ordered to pay $299 million to Harmonix investors thanks to a lawsuit between the companies over the original purchase deal.

The post highlights the difficulties many developers have been encountering with Kickstarter campaigns of late. Renegade Kid's Cult County struggled and ultimately failed to make its goal, while X-Com creator Julian Gollop's Chaos Reborn came close to missing its goal before ultimately succeeding -- surprising even its developer.

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Ian Fisch
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Their success has nothing to do with it. It's a PS4/PS3 only release that's a sequel to a very niche game. $700,000 was never gonna happen.

Kyle Redd
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Better for them to forget the "Amplitude" name and make a spiritual follow-up instead, so they can at least make a PC release. Trying to fund a Kickstarter game that is legally bound to Sony platforms is a bizarre decision.

Tyler King
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The fact that they already raised over $250,000 shows that there is interest for the game, but doing a console exclusive for that much money is going to be a very difficult amount to raise. I would like to play the game and would have donated, but do not own a PS4.

Simon Ludgate
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Exactly, "success" has nothing to do with it. Snubbing PC users was a suicidal move. "Early Access" and crowdfunding thrives in the PC environment where supporters can follow - and play along with - progress in games. PC is where the proverbial venture capitalists are, where the gamers looking for quirky and interesting projects to back lurk, where you find people willing to risk on an iffy game but not quite ready to pay retail price either.

Consoles appeal to a completely different crowd: gamers who pay for finished, polished, technically certified products, done and ready to play the instant they pop the disk in their machine. To be sure, there are those that own both systems, but there are many more who don't and have been willing to back the project if they could play it on their PC (such as me with my PS3 controller salvaged from my burnt out PS3, ironically).

I see that they've changed their tune slightly, now they're blaming Sony's rights on the original games as the reason they "have" to make the new game Playstation-exclusive. Excuse me while I *cough*bullshit*cough*. Face it, this isn't the first time a studio lost their IP and it won't be the last, but maybe they should do like all the other studios and fudge the name around a bit so they can make their game without stepping on legal toes.

Jeff Leigh
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From the blog - "We’re hoping to walk through the budget and where it goes in greater clarity with you." They are about as sincere as Emperor Palpatine explaining "I'm afraid the death star will be quite operational."

After three weeks if they really wanted to provide transparency and walk through an honest, original copy of the budget they would have. That stuff is available on day one. If they didn't have a rock-solid budget for $775k+Internal Funds on day one - they are incompetent to begin with.

That they instead patronize potential backers with their "hope" to one day provide a budget is one of many red flags for this project.

Justin Kovac
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A simple pie chart telling what KS funds will be put into along with what they expect to put into it would have been nice on day one.

Also the KS campaign is only 18 days and started 10 days ago. Bit different length than your typical 31 day KS.

andreas grontved
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It's a grand studio, they ask for alot. No body wants to see them fail, neither succeed. Everybody wants to see "the little man" succeed. Therefor smaller studios might seem to have more and quicker attach rates.

Such as superhot lavished with 100.000 in one day, and other examples.

Their game is niche, very niche. And the scope is quite limited, but they are the little guy. It goes to show that many factors are indeed playing together/against each other.

Studio size
$ Requested
Game potential
Prior attitude
Prior successes
Prior failures

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Is it safe to say that AAA games cannot be Kickstarted? It seems that anything asking for over $250,000.00 USD just doesn't make it.

Colin Sullivan
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I think there is a bit of a slowdown this year because of two issues. People are more careful about what they back generally because of failures and delays, and specifically for large projects because there are a number of them that were funded in 2012 that are just now starting to be delivered.

The first issue will just take time for best practices to be established. It is possible that this is also a correction to the market and we will see lower amounts of money being pledged going forward, but I am optimistic that it will grow again at some point.

As for the second issue, I think that once all of the massively funded 2012 games are released, hopefully to good reviews, we will see more of a willingness to back big projects again.