Less than a year ago, The Last Door surpassed its humble Kickstarter goal of £3,852. The crowdfunding pitch promised a heavily pixelated horror experience set against an enthralling, orchestral soundtrack. The series would be episodic, with each new entry coming to life only if the community willed and made it happen.
With the third chapter, The Four Witnesses, having just reached its funding target, the community has spoken: we’re not ready to close the door. We talked with The Game Kitchen’s Community and PR Manager Raúl Díez about crowdfunding, crowd support, and the challenges and joys of maintaining an episodic game series that, thankfully, shows no sign of ending any time soon.
A funding update as seen on thelastdoor.com
While a successful indie game campaign is not an uncommon event these days, The Game Kitchen had a unique, elongated approach to crowdfunding from the get-go. Kickstarter was only the (critical) beginning, funding the pilot chapter in what would hopefully become an ongoing web series. Backers on Kickstarter earned early access to this pilot, and backers who pledged 10 pounds or higher became “premium members” for life.
“They are VIP members since they trusted us from the very beginning,” Díez told Gamezebo, “and they tend to be the most active community members…Our premium members (who have pledged any amount over €15 in any of our crowdfunding campaigns for any chapter) get free access to all past and future chapters, forever, in addition to early access to beta versions and other rewards attached.” This makes The Last Door the game that keeps on giving to its backers, so long as new chapters continue to be released.
Those new chapters rely on the community’s support in multiple ways, starting with funding. Since the Kickstarter campaign only covered the pilot chapter, subsequent entries in the series need to be backed directly for a reasonable €10,000. Once this goal is reached, the next chapter’s development is guaranteed and the previous chapter will become free upon its release.
Regarding making the games free, Díez said: “It’s part of our funding model and matches our personal values, too. By making the chapters available for free (except the newest), we allow people to get to know our game and to check it for free beforehand (with no risk of paying for something that you may end up not liking). Thus, if you love it and want to keep on playing, you only have to donate ‘what you want’ to access the current chapter and help us in the development of the following installment.”
The Last Door Trailer
Contributors are also encouraged to provide feedback on chapters and even content, creating a dynamic loop between developers and players. “Keep in mind that we launched The Last Door project in Kickstarter,” Díez said. “So since the beginning, the community is of vital importance. We were crystal clear that we wanted to build a large and involved community. And to get them involved, you have to make them participate—which is easy because people love to take part in creative projects. On top of that, it matches our personal values since we believe in collaboration as a way of creation.”
One of these collaborations is the callout for in-game descriptions written by community members. “The ‘Leave Your Mark’ initiative, this is to say, the player-written descriptions, has been one of the most patent actions of collaboration we have done so far, and we are running it again for this third episode,” Díez said. “I have to say that it’s been highly successful, but it is not the only process we put in the hands of our community members. For instance, we have set up a system that allows community localizations and because of that, currently we already have the first chapter available in 17 different languages.
“In addition, the community helps us test the game; they are really helpful in finding and reporting bugs, in suggesting improvements (not only regarding creative topics but also in relation with gameplay, marketing, funding, etc). Specifically for this next, third episode, we are also asking them to help us improve one of the sequences we didn’t like and we are receiving a lot of fresh ideas. Now the hard thing will be to make the decision and choose one of them.”
A scene from The Last Door: Chapter 1 – The Letter
Future plans for community involvement may even include puzzle designs, but the original game and its direction will still come from The Game Kitchen. The team finds every aspect of this collaboration beneficial: “We have to admit that the best thing about working close with the community is that you get really encouraged when you feel their enthusiasm with the project,” Díez said. “In addition, they come up with really good ideas, and that helps you solve problems or progress in the game concept and/or design. There are participations for every taste. It’s amazing to hear all of them; from people suggesting their cities as locations in the story to people recreating the game in Minecraft or in The Sims.”
This enthusiasm makes it easier to keep working even when funding is not guaranteed, which is an unfortunate side effect of The Last Door‘s business model. “We start a new episode upon finishing the previous one with the same features and quality as the previous one,” Díez said. “Once we start, we don’t worry about adjustments. This is the only way we know to develop games…it’s quite risky to start a new installment without the certainty that it is going to be funded. But we are very optimistic, and we have a real thin financial cushion, too, so in case the episode finally doesn’t get funded, we won’t die of starvation.
“…We will try to keep on innovating in-game elements, but there won’t be big changes regarding features. This is to say, that counting on all the possibilities we have right now, we can experiment multiple options and combinations, but we don’t intend to develop new code or engine features since our plan is to detach some resources from this project. And the big question…if we don’t reach the funding objective (touch wood) we would finish the current chapter in that moment, but that would be the last one, I guess.”
Teaser trailer for The Last Door: Chapter 3 – The Four Witnesses
Thankfully, that knock-on-wood situation hasn’t come up yet. Three full chapters of The Last Door have been successfully funded, and as long as players remain involved, they will continue to be developed. “Many people ask us about how long it is going to take [to finish] the game but to be honest, we don’t really know,” Díez said. “The Last Door is designed to be a web series, so it hasn’t a predetermined number of chapters. As you say, if the community continues supporting us, and provided that the series makes sense from the point of view of the story/narrative, we will keep on producing episodes.”
But is there a set conclusion in mind for Devitt’s tale? Not necessarily: “Regarding the specific ending…again, I guess that it happens as in television series,” Díez told us. “They usually have a storyline with a starting and an ending point, but if the product works out and it’s successful, script writers start to complicate the plot and to supplement it with new appealing ideas…In our case, the possibilities are immense and our creative guys still have much to offer, they hoard many ideas and mysteries to delight our players.”
We’ve certainly been delighted by The Last Door thus far, and cannot wait to lead Devitt to his unknown, and perhaps very far-off, finale. If you’d like to tune in, the pilot chapter is now free to play and chapter two is available for a small contribution. The Last Door: Chapter Three – The Four Witnesses will be available to supporters on October 18.