Two Adelaide brothers and indie videogame developers have built a global audience for their new game, Need to Know, months before it is even released.
When Quincy and Tristam Geary of Monomyth Games set up a Kickstarter campaign in February to fund the development of their “mass surveillance thriller” Need to Know, they had few expectations as to what would happen, or whether they would even reach their goal. But now, thanks to media coverage from the likes of PC Gamer and The Washington Post, viral attention through Reddit, social media, plus a tweet from Edward Snowden, the pair has far exceeded their goal. Having set a modest aim of $29 000 to get the game made, more than 4000 contributors chipped in to give them $135 000 in the month long campaign. “It was unexpected to say the least,” says Quincy. Evidently, the Gearys had hit a nerve.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 10, 2016
Need to Know is described as a “surveillance thriller sim that tests your ability and integrity within the shadowy, cutthroat world of a modern intelligence agency.” With mass surveillance having been so prominent in the media in recent years digital communities have flocked to the game. “Part of that success comes through the mediums where we’ve been pushing the game. It touches on themes like privacy and freedom that are very important to those communities,” says Tristram. On that tweet from Edward Snowden, Tristram says the pair were very fortunate to gain his exposure since “there’s noone more relevant to the topic than him.” Part satire, part adventure, part thriller, the game puts a player in the shoes of a lowly operative of the fictional Department of Liberty. In the context of the Edward Snowden revelations, which exposed world governments’ surveillance capacities like never before, and the Panama Papers releases, Need to Know is a game with obvious relevance to the present day. The Gearys are quick to point out that they don’t want to pick sides on the surveillance debate. The game is an exploration of the topic, not an activist’s message on the goods or evils of government. ”We’re not trying to create something that’s one-sided. We’re aware of the positives, and repugnant aspects of mass surveillance,” says Tristram. Indeed, it’s the moral dilemma of how much a government should be able to violate privacy to prevent calamity that makes Need to Know such an interesting concept. Tristram says he had always intended to create a game along the lines of Need to Know, that would be “about moving up through a system like the government, doing some sort of mundane work” and eventually stumbling into top secret situations. Need to Know is “much more streamlined” says Tristram, and crucially, “contentious.” Now that their project is funded the duo are deep in the development stage of the game. Expecting to release in December, the Gearys are hard at work putting everything together, and with that bolstered budget, adding more to the experience than they had initially planned. “Probably the most difficult part of it all is project management,” says Tristram, noting that with so many characters, storylines and different functions, Need to Know will be an expansive experience for the player. While Tristram and Quincy are dealing with immediate technical and story development on the game, two more Adelaide artists are on board to help with other creative aspects. Byron Son is working on the game’s soundtrack and Alison Reinglass is Need to Know’s artist. Developing a game of Need to Know’s scope is an endeavour in itself, so working as a team of four to build it adds an extra edge to the challenge. Tristram concedes it takes “commitment and work after some intelligent planning” to get it all done. As for the challenge of two young brothers working together in a team, Quincy brushes off any worries, saying, “We tend to be hanging out a lot anyway, so it works for us. We never really argue.” The Geary’s are also committed to making sure the game aligns with expectations from their thousands of crowdfunding backers. An ingenious aspect of their fundraising method was to incentivise larger donations by pegging ‘clearance levels’ to the amount donated. The biggest backers will get early access to the game of course, but they also get to contribute to the game’s production through polls and contests created by the Gearys. “We’re very open to being shaped by backer views. It’s one of the great things about crowdfunding that we can keep communicating with everyone that has supported us.” monomyth-games.com