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Splendy Games:一个独立工作室的失败警示故事

发布时间:2019-08-16 09:00:56 Tags:

Splendy Games:一个独立工作室的失败警示故事

原作者:James Batchelor 译者:Willow Wu

英国开发商Splendy Games雄心勃勃的处女作《地堡》(The Bunker)吸引了多方关注——这是一部真人互动电影,故事会因玩家的不同行为出现不同进展。这一游戏概念并不算空前绝后,但是围绕《地堡》所展开的媒体宣传是Splendy是未曾奢想过的。

众多杂志都杂志都提到了这款游戏,BBC的科技节目Click试玩了这款游戏,它还出现在戛纳电影节的宣传短片中。人们甚至将它视为一部真正的剧情电影。

然而,《地堡》制作人Simon Sparks告诉我们这一切导致了两个问题的发生:“我们相信了媒体的夸张宣传,高估了销量。”

年初的时候,我们和Sparks谈到了《黑镜:潘达斯奈基》这部影片,Netflix对互动产品的尝试。那时,他告诉我《地堡》在发行前两年只卖出了10万份,随后我们了解到了这件事对Splendy工作室产生的严重影响。

在游戏发行不久之后,《地堡》投资者因为其它项目失利而从Splendy撤资。与此同时,还有三个发行合同进展不太顺利——“如果我现在有机会再次协商条款,这三个游戏会大有不同,”Sparks说。

裂痕开始显现,Splendy团队很快意识到他们的业务并不具有投资可行性。2017年五月,他们考虑建立一个新的工作室,与Splendy合并,利用新的品牌吸引投资者。曾有多个投资者都表现出了兴趣,但是要维持这种吸引力是很难的。

Arc The Lad(from page.auction)

Arc The Lad(from page.auction)

“不幸的是,我们很快就陷入了资金不足的困境,没办法把手头的事情完成,”Sparks说。“我们没有办公室或其它重要的固定开销,所以在很长一段时间里,我们都处于等待、观望的状态,时不时想象着‘等它成为大热门,我们可以……’。之前我们一直靠《地堡》的授权使用费运营,但是很快也不够用了。”

Sparks仍然很有决心,他和同事们尝试了他们能接触到的每一个天使投资人,试图筹集资金或达成其它发行合作协议——甚至考虑了电影融资。但最终他们还是失败了。公司停止运营,目前处于自愿清算阶段。

“虽然很痛苦,但你还是得认清现实,做好打算,”Sparks说。

更糟糕的是,去年Splendy Games失去了Telltale Games抛出的救生圈。

Sparks和他的团队在2017年圣诞节时被引介给CEO Pete Hawley,在此之前又有一批天使投资者打消了给Splendy Games投资的念头。

“Pete知道《地堡》,并告诉我们Telltale有很多人都喜欢这款游戏,”Sparks解释说。“我们在二月初开始交谈,发现我们的愿景是相似的——把游戏或互动内容搬上Netflix平台。他提出带我们一起参加GDC大会,一切都进展得相当快。早餐期间我们和他谈了几个想法,核心思路就是让电影、游戏和电视剧处于同一宇宙中。我们一直都在回避商业模式的问题,同意不要过早深入电影部分,但是游戏发行是既定的部分。

“我想让Telltale直接投资,但我知道我们必须先证明Splendy的潜力。所以我努力为原型争取资金,因为这是最快的变现途径。我们挑选了一个创想,预算大概在100万~300万美元之间,他们了解了我们的计划,而且我们拥有可用的资源,成为战略伙伴是一个双赢的决定。”

吸取《地堡》的经验教训,Sparks这次做过了充分的考虑,添加内容的时候很谨慎。他们减少了冒险游戏元素,专注于讲故事和选项设置。

“即使是早期原型也发展得很顺利,而且我们能清楚地识别哪些是没有益处、不符合需求的想法,把它们剔除,”Sparks说。“我们觉得这就是最后的机会了,如果要在全世界选择一个想可以联手的公司,那必定就是Telltale Games。”

然而2018年5月,Telltale给Splendy发邮件说他们没有资金继续支援项目了。

“感觉整个世界崩塌了,”Sparks说。“我完全不明白,这怎么可能发生呢?到底怎么回事?我知道Pete想要寻求融资,所以我们只能尽量维持现状,等他们得到资金。不久之后我们得到了消息,Telltale试图通过只谈营销而不谈投资的方式来努力挽救这份发行交易,但我们没有得到任何想要的具体营销承诺。这就变成了一份毫无价值的合同,因为对Telltale来说几乎没有风险存在。而现在我们知道了原因。

“我们一直都很喜欢Pete和他的团队,和他们打交道是一件很愉快的事,我想说清楚这点。我们平时很难联系上Pete,但就如我之前说的,我们了解这其中的原因。”

Sparks开始寻找其它的选项,很快他就被引荐给了Skybound Games CEO Ian Howe。这家英国工作室想让游戏、电影和电视共享同一个虚拟世界的愿景与Skybound的战略一致。

但随着Telltale倒闭,Skybound不得不把他们的全部精力转移到挽救最后一部《行尸走肉》游戏上,Sparks表示他完全可以理解。但这就意味着Splendy又一次遭遇了发行合作失败。

“在这期间,团队解散了,大家不得不另找工作,因为Skybound是我们最后的机会了,”Sparks说。“我们之前有非常棒的融资经历,但是英国人的风险选择跟美国人不一样。我们不能一直被动地等待资金以维持运营,有一位长久以来支持我的投资者问说‘你打算拖到什么时候?你真的想让家人继续过这样的生活?

“当你有好点子,有一群能干的人在被后支撑,要承认失败就像是吞下一片极苦的药。没有人说我们做不到,只是对方总是在最后一刻退出,或者给出了一份风险较小的合作协议。”

衰落的不只是Splendy,还有Sparks的精神健康。拯救公司的压力和实现愿景的向往就像一块越来越重的大石。2018年2月,Sparks受到沉重打击,陷入低谷。

“我的思维与现实严重脱节,以至于我确信我的腿能够向另一个方向折叠,”他回忆说。“我无法照顾孩子,什么事也干不了。帮不上忙的时候我总是很内疚。我可以了结自己的生命,这种想法总是萦绕在我的脑中——每次我站在火车站,每次洗碗。但我不想这样做。我总是在想象着如何伤害自己或者别人。我想摆脱这些想法。我的大脑总是浮现出我不想看到、不相信、跟我感受相反的情景,挥之不去。

“我儿子有天晚上不吃饭,我的反应是走上楼,躲进床底。因为我想要尖叫、大喊或者其它什么的,但是我不能。我只是躺在那里,大脑一片空白。我给撒马利亚会打电话(英国慈善团体,为严重抑郁和想自杀的人提供热线电话谈心服务),在能说话之前我哭了大概四分钟。我说我真的对生活感到很迷茫,也搞不懂我的大脑。隔天,我去看医生了。接下来的一周,我的妻子发现我躲在房子的不同角落,我不太确定这么做是因为我不知道要如何控制双腿还是仅仅想躲起来。”

药物治疗和认知行为疗法的结合帮助Sparks从深渊中走出来,当然还有朋友和业内同行的支持。他选择公开谈论自己所经历,当他看到有同样(甚至更糟)挣扎经历的人回应时,他感到很惊讶。

“英国游戏行业也有用Slack(一款为企业团队工作设计的软件),其中有一个心理健康频道,你能从这里得到很多帮助,同时也能帮助他人,”他说。“对于那些不离不弃的投资者我也很感谢他们。”

Telltale倒闭令Splendy的梦想破碎,Sparks撑过了最困难的时期,他真心希望其他人没有像他这样痛苦。

“游戏行业的人都懂得互相支持,但我们可以做得更多,”他说。“跟我面对面或者在频道交谈过的,有不少人都觉得公司中没有可以理解他们的人。因此我们还可以做更多来帮助那些无法下床的人。

他继续说:“在我看来,游戏行业一直是一个包容性很强的行业。但因为我自己是中产阶级白人男性,人们会下意识对我产生偏见。我认为我们正在逐渐消除这种无意识的负面标签,对我来说,精神健康应该和身体健康一样受到重视。设定个远大的目标,然后每天迈一小步。CBT(认知行为治疗/cognitive behavioral therapy)应该成为每个人都了解的东西,这是一个好起点。

Sparks现在是云游戏初创公司Polystream的人才主管,他渴望享受人生的新篇章。他再次强调,他愿意跟任何有类似经历的人谈心,并乐于分享他的故事,希望独立开发者——不管他们能够为梦想投入多少——不要为了工作牺牲精神健康。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

It’s easy to see why UK developer Splendy Games believed it was onto something special.

The Bunker, its debut title, garnered attention from beyond the games industry for its ambition: a live-action interactive film where players would be able to change the course of the story. It wasn’t the first to explore the concept, nor will it be the last, but something about The Bunker spoke to the media in a way that generated more hype than Splendy could ever have hoped for.

The game was covered in countless magazines, featured on BBC tech show Click, and was cut into a short film for the Cannes Film Festival。 It even got optioned as a full feature film。

However, producer Simon Sparks tells us this led to two major problems: “We overestimated sales and we believed in the hype.”

We spoke to Sparks earlier this year about the buzz around Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Netflix’s own take on the interactive film concept. At the time, he told us The Bunker only managed 100,000 sales in its first two years, and we’ve since learned the full impact this had on Splendy.

Shortly after launch, the investor behind The Bunker lost money on other projects and took a step back from its support of Splendy. Meanwhile, the three separate publishing deals for the game were not ideal — “[They] would look very different now if I had the chance to negotiate terms again”, says Sparks.

The cracks started to show, and the Splendy team soon realised their business “wasn’t an investable vehicle”. In May 2017, they considered starting a new studio with a new brand that would absorb Splendy and allow new investors to come on board. They even had investors lined up, but maintaining momentum became a struggle.

“Unfortunately too soon we got trapped by the investment not coming in early enough and us not having enough money to execute — we lost the ability to get stuff done,” says Sparks。 “We had no office or other major fixed costs, so for too long we operated under ‘wait and see’ and ‘when it hits we can…’。 The Bunker royalties were keeping us going, but they soon dried up。”

Sparks remained determined, with he and his colleagues trying every angel investor they could reach, trying to raise capital or secure other publishing deals — even looking into movie financing. But eventually Splendy admitted defeat. The company ceased trading and is currently in voluntary insolvency.

“It’s really painful, but at some point you have to wake up and smell the coffee”
“It’s really painful, but at some point you have to wake up and smell the coffee,” says Sparks.

Worse still, Splendy Games was very nearly thrown a lifeline last year by none other than Telltale Games。

Sparks and his team were introduced to CEO Pete Hawley around Christmas 2017 after yet another set of angels had pulled their interest in funding Splendy Games.

“Pete was aware of The Bunker and it turned out a lot of the guys at Telltale loved it,” Sparks explains. “We started talking early February, and discovered that we both had a similar vision for bringing ‘games or interactive stuff’ to Netflix. He offered to fly us out to GDC and it all moved fairly quickly. We pitched him a few ideas over breakfast. The focus was on one big idea: that movies, games and TV can all be in the same universe. The business model was something we danced around, and kind of agreed not to go into detail too early with the movie bit, but games publishing was a standard deal that was fair.

“In my mind I wanted TT to invest directly in us, but I knew we had to prove ourselves first. So I pushed for prototype funding, as it was the fastest route to cash. We’d narrowed down to one idea, which had reasonable budget of $1 million to $3 million. Once they truly saw what we were about and we had the resources at our disposal, being a strategic partner would make sense for both of us.”

Splendy drew on learnings from its experiences with The Bunker, with Sparks adding that things were “very considered” this time around. They scaled back on the ‘adventure game’ elements and focused on storytelling and the psychology of choices.

The Bunker turned the heads of everyone from the BBC to the Cannes Film Festival, but failed to sell enough for Splendy Games to follow it up
The Bunker turned the heads of everyone from the BBC to the Cannes Film Festival, but failed to sell enough for Splendy Games to follow it up
“Even the early prototypes were shaping up nicely and the processes we put in place to drive out bad and unwanted ideas were working,” says Sparks. “We felt like this was the last chance and if we had to pick one company in the whole world to join forces with at that time, it was Telltale Games.”

In May 2018, Telltale emailed Splendy, saying it had no money to continue supporting the project.

“Our whole world fell apart,” says Sparks. “I just couldn’t understand, how is this possible? What is going on? I knew [Pete] was intending on raising money, so it was more about trying to tread water until then. Soon after that we got a call: they had tried to save the deal by agreeing a publishing deal with marketing only and no investment, but never received any commitment to the amount of marketing we wanted. It became a worthless contract as they had no skin in the game — and we now know the reason.

“I want to make it clear that I always liked Pete and his team, we all got on well. Pete was proving difficult to get hold of, but like I said, we know why now.”

Sparks began looking into other options, and was soon introduced to Skybound Games CEO Ian Howe, who also loved Splendy’s ideas and offered even better terms. The UK studio’s vision for games, movies and TV sharing the same fictional universe aligned with Skybound’s own strategy.

But with the collapse of Telltale, Skybound had to plough all its resources into saving The Walking Dead’s final season — a decision Sparks finds completely understandable. Nevertheless, it means his studio had just lost a second publishing deal.

“During this time, the team left and had to get other jobs, as Skybound became the last roll of the dice for us,” Sparks explains。 “We had a great investment story but in the UK the appetite for risk is not the same as in the US。 We just couldn’t raise the money to keep going and it was an investor that had stuck by me through all of this who said, ‘When do you call it? Do you really want to keep putting your family through this?’

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, to admit defeat when you have a great idea and smart people are backing you. No one told us we couldn’t do it — they just pulled out at the last minute or had a less risky offer.”

The fall of Splendy was mirrored by another dramatic decline: Sparks’ mental health。 The pressure of rescuing his company and pursuing their ambitions was taking its toll。 In his own words, he “hit rock bottom” around February 2018。

“My mind was so detached from reality that I was convinced my legs were going to fold the other way,” he recalls. “I couldn’t look at my children and just couldn’t process anything. I felt guilty every time I wasn’t working. The idea that I could take my own life was very real, I didn’t want to do it, but the thought of it was always with me, every time I stood at the train station, every time I did the washing up. I just kept picturing hurting myself or others. I didn’t want to be in my head. In my mind I was consistently presented with an image or vision I didn’t want nor did I believe was true or how I felt. But it was there.

“My son didn’t eat his dinner one night and I went upstairs and hid under my bed。 I wanted to scream and shout and do something but I couldn’t do anything。 I just lay there, emotionless and without any purpose。 I called the Samaritans and just cried for about four minutes before even saying a word。 I spoke to them as I was so confused about life, I was so confused about my own mind。 The next day I saw my doctor and for the next week, my wife would find me hiding around the house as I wasn’t sure how my legs worked or just wanted to hide。”

A combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy — “which I’m a big fan of” — helped bring Sparks out of this darkness, as did support from friends and industry peers. He chose to be open about what he was going through, and was surprised to learn how many people had been through the same struggles, or worse.

“The UK games industry also has a Slack workspace where there is a mental health channel and it’s been an incredible source of help, perspective and somewhere I’ve been able to help others,” he says. “The investors who stuck by me were incredible too.”

By the time Telltale’s collapse pulled the rug from under Splendy, Sparks was through the worst of it but he’s keen to ensure that no one else suffers in the same way.

“The industry is already doing a great job [of supporting each other], but as always, more can be done,” he says. “A lot of people I speak to in person or on the channel don’t feel like they have someone in the workplace who understands. So more can be done for the peeps who sometimes just can’t get out of bed.

He continues, “The games industry, from what I’ve seen, has always been one that’s every inclusive. But I’m a white middle class male, and so society is unconsciously biased to me. I think we’re on the right track to removing any unconscious stigmas and for me your mental wellbeing should be treated like your physical wellbeing. Start with big ideas and do small everyday things to help. CBT should be something everyone understands, it’s a great place to start.”

With Splendy all but gone, Sparks is now head of talent at cloud gaming start-up Polystream, and keen to enjoy this new chapter of his life. He reiterates that he’s open to talking to anyone who has endured the same things he has, and is happy to share his tale in the hopes that other indies — no matter how dedicated they may be to their ambitions — don’t endanger their mental health for the sake of work.

(source: )


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