Transport Us Home Interview – KeokeN Discusses Studio Job Cuts, Crowdfunding Effort, and Experience as a Minor Independent Developer

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KeokeN Interactive, an autonomous Dutch developer venture guided by siblings Koen Deetman and Paul Deetman, is seeking support on Kickstarter for their new project, Deliver Us Residence. Following recent layoffs that reduced the workforce to just the two brothers and a couple of collaborators, crowdfunding has become a crucial avenue for the studio’s survival.

In an in-depth discussion with Koen Deetman, we delved into the impact of these changes on the third installment of the sci-fi series, the challenges faced by the small independent team, and much more. The Kickstarter campaign remains active for a limited period, with KeokeN striving to secure an additional €12K to propel the project forward.

At our previous meeting prior to the launch of Deliver Us Mars, our review hailed the sequel as an advancement over the original installment. However, your studio encountered difficulties and had to downsize its staff. What were the underlying reasons for this decision? Was it a consequence of low sales or other factors?

Our progress with Deliver Us Mars was commendable, marking a significant step forward. This phase of crafting Deliver Us Mars aligned with our studio’s ambitions. Besides aiming to replicate the success of Deliver Us the Moon, we sought to innovate and showcase the direction of our aspirations. The launch in February 2023, amidst a flurry of game releases, may have impacted its performance. Nevertheless, the sales figures were nearly five times higher than its predecessor, ruling out sales as the issue.

The evolving landscape of game publishing, with deals hinging on publishers recouping investments, posed challenges. Shifting dynamics made securing a deal for a subsequent project exceedingly difficult. Despite numerous efforts, sustaining our core team proved unattainable, leading to the downsizing.

The prevalent challenge in the industry appears to be the heightened difficulty in obtaining funding. Is this a sentiment you resonate with?

Indeed, the current scenario reflects a reluctance to undertake risks in the same vein. Escalating interest rates have severed the bond between publishers and investors, limiting allocated resources. This risk-averse stance compels publishers to opt for safer, more predictable ventures, intensifying competition for mid-tier indie developers.

Essentially, niches are now dominated by either micro indie teams or major AAA developers.

That encapsulates the prevailing landscape, where substantial entities fortify their positions while a chasm prevails, offering stability solely to smaller indie teams of three to five members.

For Deliver Us Home, you have returned to Kickstarter, the platform that kickstarted your journey with the first game. Crowdfunding witnessed a decline in popularity for a while, but amidst industry challenges, developers seem to be revisiting this avenue for project financing.

Your perspective is intriguing and timely. Paul and I deliberated on the opportune moment to pitch a new project, around 2020/2021. Despite engaging discussions with numerous partners and approximately fifty publishers, securing a deal proved elusive. The risk associated with a new or original IP deterred potential collaborations, underscoring the disparity in evaluating IP potential versus commercial viability.

After relentless pitching attempts and ensuing setbacks, we revisited our foundation principles that steered our initial success. Recognizing the evolved crowdfunding landscape, we perceived an untapped potential in leveraging it, given the positive reception to a prototype project showcased in a video snippet. This realization inspired renewed confidence in enhancing the sequel from a fresh outlook.

If a developer intends to materialize a game that fails to attract traditional funding sources, Kickstarter or crowdfunding emerges as a viable alternative. Will you be collaborating with the community on specific aspects of the game? How receptive are you to feedback?

The transition from overseeing a robust team of 45 individuals during Deliver Us Mars’ peak to the current lean setup comprising only the two of us, alongside two invaluable collaborators, presented unique challenges. Streamlining operations to a minimal setup necessitated resolute decisions. Crafting an engaging demo and trailer for the Kickstarter campaign within a compressed timeline demanded meticulous planning and execution.

Despite the intense endeavor, the process offered valuable insights. Assuming dual roles as project lead and involved creator underscored our adaptability and creative reservoir. The demo’s reception indicated a harmonious alignment with audience expectations, fostering an element of intrigue pivotal to the series’ appeal.

Would you consider releasing a demo of Deliver Us Home on Steam at a future juncture?

Backers of the game are privy to the demo, currently under development in sync with community input. The feedback received has been instrumental in refining the demo’s elements. Although abstaining from featuring the demo in Steam Next Fest initially, we are evaluating the possibility of a subsequent showcase to gauge interest and solicit feedback as the demo evolves into a polished iteration.

You touched upon the studio’s downsizing from the Mars project. How does this impact the development scope for the new game? Can enthusiasts anticipate a more compact gaming experience concerning content and scale in Deliver Us Home?

Deliver Us The Moon established the series’ foundation, setting the tone for subsequent installments. The sequel, Deliver Us Mars, epitomized our studio’s ambitious pursuit of quality benchmarks. Transitioning back to a lean indie unit necessitated revisiting the core essence of the series, with an emphasis on augmenting player agency. Unlike the confined gameplay dynamics of Mars, Deliver Us Home will empower players with enhanced control and autonomy.

The narrative architecture eschews an open-world paradigm in favor of expansive linearity, fostering an immersive environment that stimulates sensory engagement and exploration. Customizable elements, such as astronaut suit enhancements, impart a dynamic progression curve, complemented by collectibles and tailored suit modifications, reflective of our creative endeavor amidst resource constraints.

What gameplay modifications will prominently differentiate Deliver Us Home from its predecessors?

Deliver Us The Moon exhibited minimal platforming dynamics, a facet amplified in Deliver Us Mars. While certain gameplay elements resonated positively, such as the climbing mechanic, refinements were necessary to achieve balanced gameplay. Innovations include suit upgrades, like a jetpack component enabling double jumps for traversing diverse terrains and unlocking hidden pathways.

The demo introduces diverse environmental threats, such as encounters with aggressive fauna, adding suspense and mystery to the gameplay narrative. Puzzles, like a Morse code decryption challenge, enrich the gameplay experience, demanding players’ active engagement and problem-solving skills.

Could you offer a tantalizing hint on the narrative interconnectivity between Deliver Us Home and its predecessors, relating to recurring motifs or protagonists?

Conceived as a series from the onset, Deliver Us The Moon and Deliver Us Mars are standalone narratives, intertwined by thematic nuances. Deliver Us Home ventures into uncharted territory, centered around an astronaut’s quest to secure humanity’s survival. Evident traces of previous narratives and unresolved story arcs will feature prominently, ensuring continuity and bridging narrative threads across the series.

Are you leveraging Unreal Engine 5 for Deliver Us Home, or are you continuing with UE4?

Functionally, we opted for UE4 due to our team’s size constraints and to expedite development with familiar tools. Transitioning to UE5 is contemplated for its enhanced capabilities, particularly relevant for smaller teams. While accommodating ray tracing and advanced features is desirable, committing to an immediate upgrade remains contingent upon resource optimization and project timeline alignment.

With the imminent launch of Deliver Us The Moon on Nintendo Switch, are you contemplating extending the franchise to other Nintendo platforms, including the upcoming console slated for 2025?

The tumultuous shift from a sizable team to a lean setup necessitates a pragmatic approach to platform expansions. While harboring aspirations for broader accessibility and outreach, definitive commitments to future porting endeavors remain contingent upon operational exigencies. Leveraging past experiences, such as the successful Stadia release of Deliver Us The Moon, underscores the strategic value of platform diversification to augment audience reach.

As you embark on gauging the Nintendo fanbase’s reception to the franchise, the expansive Nintendo user base presents enthralling prospects.

Reflecting on the resilient trajectory of Deliver Us The Moon’s staggered releases underscores the strategic importance of platform diversification for sustained engagement and visibility. The upcoming Nintendo Switch launch signifies a pivotal milestone, emblematic of the studio’s adaptability and commitment to expanding the franchise’s reach within evolving market dynamics.

On the subject of emerging technologies, how do you view the integration of generative AI in gaming, particularly NPC interactions?

The deployment of generative AI in gaming heralds a paradigm shift, offering novel avenues for enriching gameplay dynamics and evolving player interactions. Balancing technological innovation with empathetic consideration for creative stakeholders forms a critical discourse within the industry, fostering collaborative engagement and adaptive workflows.

Undoubtedly, rising production costs in the AAA segment necessitate innovative solutions to streamline development processes.

Resource optimization and operational agility are imperatives amid escalating development overheads, underscoring the imperative to leverage emerging technologies judiciously to resonate with evolving player expectations while maintaining operational efficiency.

Considering the potential integration of your games into subscription services like Game Pass, do you perceive this as a viable risk mitigation strategy in your current predicament?

Prior instances of Deliver Us The Moon’s inclusion in Game Pass underscore the strategic benefits of collaborative ventures with subscription services. The strategic potential of subscription models as a revenue diversification avenue merits consideration, contingent upon alignment with the studio’s operational imperatives and revenue sustainability. While advocating for a balanced revenue model aligned with commercial viability, the visibility afforded by subscription platforms can significantly enhance discoverability and audience outreach.

The ponderance of veering towards subscription services underscores the nuanced dynamics of revenue diversification in the contemporary gaming landscape.

The intrinsic value of subscription platforms as a targeted discovery tool for independent developers underscores the strategic opportunities afforded by evolving distribution models. Striking a judicious balance between visibility and revenue sustainability forms the crux of informed decision-making, ensuring optimal positioning within a dynamically evolving industry landscape.

Have you explored the possibility of adapting your games for the mobile platform, akin to recent trends among prominent developers?

The ubiquity and accessibility of mobile platforms underscore their transformative potential for expanding audience reach and engagement. Despite reservations stemming from traditional gaming preferences, recognizing the shifting consumer landscape and diversification trends is pivotal in strategic adaptation. While concrete plans for mobile adaptations remain nascent, compelling feasibility propositions make this avenue intriguing for future exploration.

Given the trajectory of mobile gaming, capitalizing on this platform could yield substantial dividends for the franchise.

The dynamic landscape of mobile gaming presents a fertile ground for future exploration, fostering inclusive accessibility and audience reach. Acknowledging the evolving gaming paradigms and shifting consumption patterns positions the franchise strategically to embrace technological frontiers and reader engagement seamlessly.

Is there any final insight or aspect of Deliver Us Home that you would like to highlight, perhaps unexplored in our discussion?

The evolving course of Deliver Us Home epitomizes a return to our foundational ethos, imbued with community engagement and spirited advocacy. Scarcity engenders innovation, channeling creative potential towards a more refined and distinctive gameplay experience. Navigating unforeseen creative territories, the series is poised to deliver an enriching and immersive gaming narrative, resilient to resource constraints, and poised for sustained community engagement.

Thank you for sharing your insights.

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