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Meet Malta’s Kickstarter kings

Game developers Mighty Box have struck gold. Originally aiming for a $27,000 crowdfunding drive on Kickstarter for their dystopian board game Posthuman, the small team eventually garnered over $325,000. TEODOR RELJIC attempts to coax the company’s secret ingredient out of Mighty Box CEO Marvin Zammit

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
29 April 2015, 7:34am
Mighty Box, left to right: Fabrizio Cali, Mark Casha, David Chircop and Thom Cuschieri. Top: Marvin Zammit (Photo: Ray Attard)
Mighty Box, left to right: Fabrizio Cali, Mark Casha, David Chircop and Thom Cuschieri. Top: Marvin Zammit (Photo: Ray Attard)
Maltese game developers Mighty Box once had a dream: to fund a humble 1,000-copy run of their dystopian board game Posthuman through the popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. They teamed up with American game publisher Mr B. Games to help get the ball rolling, and set a $27,000 funding target over a one-month period. 

But at the time of writing, that dream has not only been fulfilled, it has surpassed the small team’s wildest expectations, raking in over 5,000 backers who collectively contributed over $325,000 to the Kickstarter campaign – which was launched on March 25 and officially ended last Friday. 

A table-top board game, Posthuman’s interface challenges players to navigate through a post-apocalyptic landscape, where they would have to keep an eye out for food and medical supplies while warding off attacks from their ‘evolved’ counterparts – genetically modified humans who have mushroomed during this precarious period for planet earth. As players progress through the game – which operates on a system of cards and dice – they will most likely have to choose whether or not to persist with their brittle human form or become one of the ‘evolved’. 

Naturally elated, Mighty Box CEO Marvin Zammit said that the team’s most optimistic prediction for the campaign was hitting the $40K mark, but that “within the first few hours numbers shot up so rapidly that we couldn’t make heads or tails of where it would go”. 

So what was the secret to Mighty Box’s success? As ever, pinpointing this can’t ever be an exact science, but Zammit offers some compelling reasons as to why the game enjoyed some healthy traction early on. First and foremost though, Zammit assures me that their confidence in the product was never in question – surely an important starting point for any project hoping to get funded, be it on Kickstarter or anywhere else. 

“Gordon Calleja’s game design is excellent, and the game’s graphic design by Mark Casha, our studio’s art director, is very appealing and functional,” Zammit said, also praising the group of visual artists who have contributed to the game: Nel Pace, Chris DeSouza Jensen, Jake Mifsud and Arjuna Susini.

And though the crowdfunding success of Posthuman should be seen for what it truly is – a culmination of bona fide hard work by a grassroots business – Zammit emphasised that collaborating with an international (albeit also ‘indie’) game publisher like Mr B. Games helped to give Posthuman a crucial push towards the global scene. 

“Our publisher also brought a considerable number of backers who have bought other products he has published. Their confidence in him gave our campaign a solid start,” he added. 

Further help came in the form of online video game critics with a healthy online following – among them ‘Undead Viking’ and ‘Rahdo Runs Through’ – who helped to sustain the buzz for the Kickstarter and lend it further legitimacy. 

(It’s also worth noting that Mighty Box aren’t exactly an unknown quantity to the global independent gaming scene, with their 2013 digital game Will Love Tear Us Apart attracting the kind of international attention that no other artistic product in Malta arguably ever did. Taking its cue from the Joy Division song Love Will Tear Us Apart, the high-concept, notoriously ‘not fun’ game attracted both praise and ire from both gaming and Joy Division fans; some of whom praised its avant garde structure, while others bemoaned the ‘blasphemous’ notion of adapting a beloved cult song into a digital game.) 

Another crucial piece of the puzzle for the Posthuman Kickstarter campaign was the promotional video on the Kickstarter page itself – an atmospheric animated short film that puts the viewer straight into the action of the dystopian board game.

“[The video’s] planning was a team effort, with the script written by Gordon Calleja, voiced over by David, soundtracked by Thom Cuschieri (our audio guy) – and ultimately brought to life by Fabrizio Cali’ (our animator). Fabrizio did an amazing job, using meticulously crafted 3D visualisations and animations. It’s quite clear from the comments we’ve received on the video that it played a major role in reassuring potential backers that this was a project worth pledging to.”

But apart from critical confidence and slick presentation, Zammit explained that interaction with backers and prospective backers was also crucial to keep momentum alive and cement the idea that the project was not only on a sound footing, but that it would also be accepting and incorporating constructive criticism. To this end, the team took on board David Chircop to see to this aspect of the crowdfunding process on a practically “full time” basis. 

“David is doing an amazing job coordinating between the publisher, manufacturer and designers. Together with our publisher they make sure that any queries our backers have are answered, and also that any request or suggestion is considered and followed up. This made a lot of the backers extremely happy because they felt actively involved in the campaign, not just giving money,” Zammit said, adding that at the time of writing, “there have been almost 4,000 comments on Kickstarter, which shows that the engagement level is very high indeed.”

Mighty Box team will use the surplus funds from the Kickstarter to increase the projected print run for the game, while also strengthening future projects. 

But Zammit added that the financial boost is also bound to have a ripple effect on the (small) company’s infrastructure, since the viral success of the Kickstarter campaign has – on top of everything else – served to expand the company’s fan base, ensuring that any upcoming projects will be easier to market. 

“Games can take considerable time and resources to develop. This makes it a risky endeavour because we invested a lot of our time and money with no guarantee that we would get revenue other than our faith in the product,” Zammit admits.

“We had started development because we all were of the opinion that this game would sell, but only now, after a year of development, do we actually know that we were right!”

Mighty Box form part of TAKEOFF - the University of Malta's business incubator, which has helped them lay the groundwork that led to the success of their Kickstarter campaign. For more information log on to: http://takeoff.org.mt/

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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