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Why Harmonix Brought Amplitude to Kickstarter

A bunch of you have been asking questions along the lines of, “Hey, why does Harmonix need to do a Kickstarter? Isn’t Harmonix rich from all of that Rock Band / Dance Central money? Can’t you fund this yourselves?”

The short answer is: nope

How do you fund a game?

About three and a half years ago, Harmonix spun back out of Viacom as a newly formed independent company. While we’re known for AAA console titles released via major publishers, at this point we’re really just an independently owned and operated studio. When it comes to big games, we’re working contract to contract and hoping to get to make the next thing that fans will love.

Sometimes, our ideas for projects are small enough that we can tackle them on our own and self-fund – we’re fortunate to be able to take those small risks without a third party. But other times a project comes along that’s too ambitious in scale, scope, or cost for us to be able to responsibly make it completely out of pocket. In those cases, like any other group that wants to make an ambitious project, we have to find ways to pay for the development of the games we want to make.

We have to find ways to pay for the development of the games we want to make.

We’re lucky enough to be able to do this “the old fashioned way” depending on the project —by appealing to video game publishers to fund a title. (The upcoming Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is an example of this.) But sometimes the publishers we approach won’t fund a game that we’re excited about and that we think fans would be excited about – maybe they don’t think it fits with their portfolio strategy, maybe they don’t think it would be commercially viable and worth their investment. In a different era, this would mean the game idea would be dead in the water – we’d simply have to walk away because publishing executives at a few companies don’t share our vision.

So what happens if that funding isn’t there?

Amplitude is a game that our team is so excited about and that has such dedicated and vocal fans, that we just KNOW it needs to be realized. In a situation like this – a project that’s too expensive for us to fund on our own with our limited resources, a game that people want us to make, and a game where a publisher isn’t willing to provide development funding – this is the scenario where we need the help of the fans to fund a game. This is a passion project that needs support and backing to take flight.

This is a passion project that needs support and backing to take flight.

The Amplitude Kickstarter is about the difference between a team of developers at Harmonix working on a game we’re passionate about and developers being assigned to whatever other funded project we can come by next. Our team will work hard either way and will make the best games they can, but make no mistake – 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.

We’ve sought other options out before coming to Kickstarter: there aren’t publishing funds waiting in the wings or some third party who’s eager to offset our costs – either we fund the game here, or the game goes back on the shelf.

Why do you need so much money?

Making games of any size is risky and takes tremendous time, resources, and creative efforts. It’s also far more expensive than you might think. The number we’ve asked for in this Kickstarter will provide us with the minimum amount of funding we need to be able to self-fund the rest of the project. We’re hoping to walk through the budget and where it goes in greater clarity with you, but in short – the $775,000 of this Kickstarter is less than half of the project budget for the game.

The $775,000 budget of this Kickstarter is *less than half* of the project cost 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. Harmonix had successes in the past that let us keep the studio going and make small games, but at this point our coffers as a company aren’t full enough to fund the entirety of Amplitude by ourselves. There isn’t a secret vault of Rock Band money that we’ve forgotten about.

This Kickstarter isn’t a ploy to get crowd-funding in order to see a bigger profit – it’s a desire to see a horizon where the game we have in our heads has a chance to break even. We’re hoping you join us in the enthusiasm for the game and help us ensure we can take a shot at it, even with the serious risk to our bottom line that’s involved at our base level of funding.

But you’re too big for Kickstarter…

We’ve seen a lot of folks saying that they think “Kickstarter isn’t for games like this, it’s for THIS instead!” about our project. Whether that’s “games from established studios” vs “true indies,” "games from companies that had success in the past” vs “an unknown with a risky idea”, or “games from big teams” vs “games from small crews.” Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion on what they look for in a project to back – we certainly back a lot of games ourselves as individuals that are both small (5 people or less) to relatively big (a handful of high-profile projects).

The one thing we think an acceptable “game on Kickstarter” needs to share is that the project is, at its heart, a dream that can’t become a reality without fan funding. And we think that Kickstarter has room for dreams of all sizes, including ours. As long as that dream can’t happen without the funding in question, then it’s a sincere request to the audience for support to make it possible. And, at its heart, that’s what our Kickstarter has always been about. It’s okay that some folks out there disagree – we just hope enough of you believe in Amplitude to help us make it.

We think that Kickstarter has room for dreams of all sizes, including ours.

So to those of you out there that believe it’s possible that a business might be earnest enough to want to make a really cool thing, even if it isn’t a huge payday – consider backing. To those of you who loved the original FreQuency and Amplitude and have begged for the sequels that no one is willing to fund – consider backing. And to those of you who think that a game that’s too small to be a crazy-AAA profit project but too big to be a tiny-startup pipe dream might still have a place in this bizarre community of fun – consider backing.

Please consider backing Amplitude—we’re dying to make this game for you all, but we need your support!

PS. A sideshow in all of this that sometimes gets linked into the conversation: You may have read news headlines in years’ past about huge sums of money being paid out by Viacom (our former corporate parent) to “Harmonix” following Rock Band’s commercial success. In fact, Viacom paid that money as part of its purchase of Harmonix back in 2006 to the company’s original shareholders, which mostly consisted of the investors who kindly kept Harmonix afloat for the 10 years that we struggled in obscurity before hitting big with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Those original investors 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!