The Collective Follow Up: Q&A With Square-Enix’s Phil Elliott

After publishing this article on Square-Enix’s crowd-funding programme, Phil Elliott, who is heading up the programme reached out to me to see if we could discuss it further. I had a few key questions to put to him, which he has kindly replied to.

What assurances do you offer consumers that they will receive a finished game that matches how it is described in the pitch?

So it’s worth explaining the process in a bit more detail, because hopefully the reason we’re doing this – and why we’ve set it up in specifically this way – will become a lot clearer.

Collective has a couple of phases. Firstly, the feedback phase, which is now live – this is where anybody can present an idea in the form of a pitch. At this point, there are some submission criteria that need to be adhered to, but the point here is to allow the community to decide which ideas they like the sound of – there’s no crowdfunding at this point.

At the end of this phase (which for each pitch is around 28 days), if the community shows a strong liking for the concept, we may offer to continue to support that pitch through crowdfunding via our Indiegogo partnership. The developer may decide to walk away – if they do, there are no strings attached, and they won’t owe us anything, nor do we take anything if that happens.

If they accept, then we conduct a team assessment in the form of a questionnaire that dives into the detail around the team’s experience and expertise, previous shipped games (together and individually), tools/software they have access to, engine, pipelines, etc; plus then those things which they anticipate needing for development, such as additional headcount, outsourced services, additional licenses, etc. This also includes potential pledge tier details, total budget and expected dev timeframe.

Once they complete and return that, one of our senior dev directors will then go through it with them on a call (or in person if they’re near one of our studios). They’ll use that opportunity to sense check the plans, get a better feeling of who the devs are, whether the plans are feasible, expectations realistic, etc. Off the back of that they’ll compile a report that summarises the key elements, and we then share that with the dev team.

They need to agree that report, and it will then form part of the crowdfund phase pitch – so potential backers can get a better sense of who they’re funding. If the dev team doesn’t agree with the report, then the process will stop there (assuming that further discussions aren’t able to find consensus). We would then have no further involvement with the pitch, and the developer can choose what path to take next.

It’s really important to note that this team assessment and resulting report means that we’re happy with what we’ve seen, and that we would endorse that team via our Indiegogo campaign page. However, this endorsement isn’t a guarantee. The campaign owner is the developer, and they are responsible for providing what they say they will. It’s their IP, and they keep total control of that. Collective is intended to mitigate the risk to backers to a certain degree, in that we are able to ask questions from a qualified perspective that backers themselves might not be able to. But we can’t make assurances on something that’s not ours.

Collective isn’t a crowdfunding platform; it’s a place for developers to showcase their ideas, and the community to decide which ones deserve support.

That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that most creative processes undergo some changes (and other a lot of changes) between concept and release. We believe that particularly with crowdfunded games that developers should be open about challenges that arise, and seek feedback from backers on significant changes in direction.

What will you do in the event that no game is shipped? Will customers be refunded?

Any funds raised from a successful crowdfunding campaign go direct to the developer; they don’t come to us first. All transactions take place via the Indiegogo site and are subject to Indiegogo terms and conditions. So we won’t be able to refund any money pledged.

If, however, we distribute the finished game (which is something we may offer to a developer that is funded via the Indiegogo/Collective partnership… although again it’s up to them if they accept), then we would expect anybody purchasing the finished game to be entitled to a refund in the normal way via the specific digital distribution platform, eg Steam.

What fraud protection will you be offering consumers?

That’s a question that would need to be addressed to Indiegogo, as the transactions take place via their platform. I can introduce you to somebody there who I’m sure would be happy to answer your questions – just let me know. It’s also worth reading this for general background info.

Did you consult with any external developers when putting together this programme?

Yes, quite a lot. The process started almost a year ago at Nordic Game, when I first threw out some “what if?” scenarios during a session there. I had some great feedback from that, and as we put the structure for Collective together we consulted with independent developers (from teams of various shapes and sizes) at every turn. The platform underwent some significant changes of direction as a result; but it’s not the finished article yet. We expect to continue to evolve what Collective is based on ongoing feedback, both from the dev community and from gamers.

I believe that if we can create something that works for developers, and also adds something for the community, it will be good for Square Enix as a result.

Can you give me a rough idea of what the number of users voting on pitches has been so far?

Individual numbers are confidential to the individual teams, but to give you ball park number, we saw over 200,000 unique visitors and over 5000 votes cast during the pilot phase.


Hmmm.

This confirms some of my concerns. If a developer fails to ship a game for any reason, Square-Enix will have no liability whatsoever. It’s true that they aren’t taking a massive cut, but it’s also yet to be seen how significant their contribution to these projects will be. I’m still going to recommend caution for anyone considering contributing money to any games involved. Just because it has the name of a major international publisher promoting it doesn’t mean that it comes with any of the assurances you would usually associate with a game from a major international publisher.

7 Comments Leave yours

  1. HeatPhoenix #

    From the perspective of an indie developer it also seems like quite a bit of work for nearly no returns other than “you’ll be on their site and they’ve talked to you a little bit”.

    • Lewie Procter #

      Well they will also allow you to bypass greenlight, but when the walls around a garden are falling, the value of someone offering you a leg up over it also falls.

      • Babaorum #

        “Well they will also allow you to bypass greenlight”

        From my understanding of your interview, it will only be the case if they accept to be published under Square Enix name, meaning that Square Enix becomes their official publisher instead of just a “supervisor”, and they might take a bigger cut as a publisher.

        The projects supported by Square Enix cannot be worse than those already out there on Kickstarter / IndieGoGo / Whatever which don’t provide many guarantees to begin with.
        There are a lot of indie devs running a crowdfunding campaign even though they don’t really know/realize the amount of work/cost required to actually deliver. In that sense, and if Square Enix actually acts as a mentor like they say they will, it may be less risky to pledge on a project supervised by Square Enix than another one run by an inexperienced team and without guidance.

        That being said, caution must be used whenever participating in a crowdfunding campaign, whether it is supported by a major international publisher or not.
        Crowdfunding is by nature risky, as you’re giving money to unfinished / non-existing products and often to inexperienced teams. If you’re looking for assurances and customer protection, then you should definitely NOT pledge to a crowdfunding campaign and wait for the finished product.

  2. Isaac Kim #

    Lewie, did you actually end up having that meeting Sony back in January? I haven’t seen any articles on the outcome of that meeting so just wanted to know.

    • Lewie Procter #

      We had to postpone it because Shahid is very busy, but it’s still happening at some point.

  3. Zahpeter #

    Call me a cynical asshole, but how about SE minds his own god damned business, that of making games, instead of playing publisher God ? Seriously, when you consider how many IP-s SE has in the works, their track record of pushing things back because they work on too many projects, the fact that they, themselves have admitted that they lost their focus and the fact that small developers already have sources of funding, this whole thing smells like SE overextending again for a quick buck.

  4. masamunemaniac #

    The first stage, being completely free, seems like a good way to get a bit of free exposure, at the very least.

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