Tapping my foot here.


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Kickstarter: Good or Bad

Indie development is on the rise. The Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, 3DS and Wii U are suddenly finding an unbelievably uncanny amount of indie games heading to their growing libraries of games. Microsoft has recently opted to completely (and suspiciously) 180 its decision on "no self-publishing" for developers on their new Xbox One platform. And yet indie devs are still easily overwhelmed by the difficulties of the industry. Some of what goes wrong with indie game development can be seen in the film "Indie Game: The Movie," which outright begins with a member of Team Meat expressing great frustration at how Microsoft handled the release of their then new game Super Meat Boy on Xbox Live Arcade. Issues like these are why indies have been long searching for a new alternative to publishing in game development.

One such magical bullet is the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a funny little thing. It's an online process of giving, receiving and possibility. It has also been seen as a website of lies and deception; of stupidity and naivety. It's seen as many successes as failures and has just as many enthusiastic people as there are skeptics.

I'll be honest, the whole idea of Kickstarter seemed obscure for gaming. Simply giving your money away and expecting a game in return? It seemed so odd. I was far too used to the way things were; publishers paying money and then receiving it from us, the general audience.

I've been a fan of Tim Schafer's studio Double Fine since I first heard of Psychonauts. I played the game at friend's house and eventually wound up buying it digitally on the Xbox 360 years later. I also eagerly picked up Brutal Legend as early as I could, regrettably missing the launch date. I've loved Double Fine's work, but was saddened to see their efforts dwarfed into the sort of small time digital games they started developing.

Suddenly Tim Schafer tried something new... a Kickstarter campaign. This spawned a trend of possibility. Schafer put his new game, a point and click adventure akin to Double Fine's earlier works, and not only met the goal but exceeded it by a colossal amount. This sparked the hope for an indie revolution. Suddenly it seemed incredibly possible to make your game look appealing to hundreds or even thousands of people who were willing to help make those games a reality. I myself have donated to the Kickstarters of A Hat In Time, Soul Saga and Shadow of the Eternals (the second campaign specifically). Truly it must seem like Kickstarter is the answer to any indie dev's financial trouble and any gamer's aching heart for the types of games that AAA publishers refuse to back.

Unfortunately, meeting those goals does not guarantee success. Particularly in the case of Tim Schafer, developers need a stronger grasp on the good financial fortune that their fans give to them. To give this some context, Double Fine was forced into a bad predicament with their new game. They were able to do more with production thanks to the budget they received from Kickstarter, having beaten their goal by much more than necessary. However they underestimated their budget and wound up creating more game without enough cash. The end result and apparently the only solution was to split the game in two; give the first half to the backers when it was ready and the second half would be provided for free later on.

In my eyes, this is the vest solution for a bad situation. The game can't simply not be made and the backers do deserve compensation for making the game even remotely possible. This result was nothing short, but the misfortunes do not stop there.

Take the time to watch this video from Rich of ReviewTechUSA, addressing a failed Kickstarter project that actually managed to beat its goal by a lot. http://www.youtube.com/watc...

To summarize, Rich talks about how despite financially getting backed, this particular Kickstarter (created to make a new board game if I'm not mistaken) was ultimately a failure and as of the upload of the video, none of the backers are getting refunds for the ordeal. Rich goes on to complain that it is because of people like this that people who use Kickstarter wind up unfairly being ostracized for the mere act of using it. But the sad truth of the matter is that people are not wrong for feeling skeptical. Perhaps the outward backlash is unfair on the Kickstarter projects, but not necessarily unexpected.

So after all of this nonsense, why have I decided to continue backing projects on Kickstarter? The answer is simple; no two projects are the same and no two developers will behave the same way. There is always an exception to every rule, and in this case a few bad eggs do not convince me that all Kickstarter campaigns are pointless. The Ouya already proves this point despite its issues upon release. It was delayed often and its reception in the general market has been otherwise average, but it succeeded its Kickstarter, was produced and finally distributed. It wasn't perfect, but it made it. Now think of a video game meeting that kind of success.

A Hat In Time is probably one of the most appealing games of the year and it belongs to no one publisher, console or operating system. It, like many other indie games like it, is like a baby trying desperately to hatch from its egg; without the proper help it needs, it will develop poorly or not at all. The only chance they have is for these developers to intelligently develop their games and the only way for that to occur is for them to either find a publisher (which in this day and age is a one in a million shot) or get alternative funding.

It stands to reason that even A Hat In Time can meet this kind of failure, but because of its appeal, I want to take that chance. Not everyone can be so risky, and I definitely understand that. But there are Kickstarter campaigns out there that make me want to keep hoping that the process can work, or perhaps can develop into something less risky. Perhaps something that is more regulated will come along, or perhaps Kickstarter itself or perhaps IndieGoGo will make necessary changes to assure the prevention of scams or distribution failure.

My overall stance on crowdfunding is similar to my view of Steam Greenlight; it's an amazing tool that, if effectively utilized, can lead to some amazing possibilities for the industry. Unfortunately, the process is broken right now and can definitely be improved upon. But thankfully right now some developers are still being given that chance. It's up to us to choose which ones have the most promise and which developers deserve our time and money.

What are your thoughts on Kickstarter, crowdfunding and indie development as a whole?

zerocrossing3706d ago (Edited 3706d ago )

Great blog.

"Crowd funding" and most notably "Kikstarter" are a godsend to many indie developers who are looking to create a game with a decent budget, but lack the help of a publisher or the necessary funding.

Unfortunately given the popularity of Kickstater, there have been many false projects come about and a lot of money has been lost due to this. But like you said, the proof that crowd funding for indie games works is evident just by tacking a look at the projects that have already succeeded because of it.

Sure Kickstarter has a ways to go before it's ideal, but even Valve's Steam had a rough road ahead of it before it got where it is today.

Pisque3706d ago

Kickstarter and all the fundraisers aren't good enough for developers to make a good game.

There may have some exceptions but it costs so much money just to have the engine to make the game, after this you have to pay the employees (which are qualified by the way), artists, etc.

The concept has to be really original to turn an indie game into profit, and sometimes you have to cut some of your ideas because of the lack of money.

dedicatedtogamers3706d ago (Edited 3706d ago )

EDIT: Dangit I ended up writing a blog-sized post just to reply. Sorry about that, man.

I love the concept of Kickstarter. So far I've KS'd Faster than Light, Shadowrun Returns, Wasteland 2, Banner Saga, Project Eternity, Star Citizen, and Torment. Only a few of these games are already out.

The way I view it, it's like a pre-order but with that (ultimately empty, but still fun) feeling of comraderie. Seeing those numbers go up makes you go "yeah! Go team! I can't believe we already passed $x.xx milestone with xx days to go!" Plus, the developers are pretty much up-front with what you're getting. They have to sell YOU the concept, so even though there might be delays or bugs, at least I know what KIND of game is being made and what features are and are not going to be in the final version. Wasteland 2, Torment, and Project Eternity are three great examples of this. I know I'm getting three very old-school PC RPGs that aim to honor Wasteland/Fallout, Torment, and Baldur's Gate. That is their purpose. Wasteland 2 is a true Wasteland game instead of a modern bastardization of a beloved franchise (a la Syndicate or The Bureau: XCOM Declassified). It will have flaws. It will lack certain modern pleasantries (for example, not every single line of dialog will be voiced like a modern Bioware game). But I know what I'm getting with no b.s. or big-publisher spin.

I think what will happen (well, it's already happening) is eventually the well of old-school developers with old-school franchises will run dry one way or another. Either the franchises that aren't already owned by major publishers will run out (already occuring) and/or major publishers like EA will get wise and say "hey, Bioshock is a pretty profitable franchise, eh? Maybe we should do something with this System Shock license we own". Or Microsoft will realize "hey, we can take our Mechwarrior/Age of Empires licenses and made two mid-budget games that appeals to the old-school fans" (oh goodness that would be amazing). Heck, that's already happened/happening to so many old-school franchises (Deus Ex, Thief, XCOM, etc). Look how games like Demon's Souls rose to popularity simply because it gained the reputation of having "old-school difficulty"

Of course, a person can abuse Kickstarter by making empty promises, but that's nothing new. Peter Molyneux, anyone? I think the best advice is to go with people that have a proven track-record of making great games.

s45gr323706d ago

I like your reply very true but I don't know sometimes if rarely developers with a good track record might mess up. I say go not only with a developer with a proven track record but also help out the developer that is giving something new and innovative gaming experience

s45gr323706d ago

Well written blog, I look it this way kickstarter, green light, and indie gogo while flawed and sometimes broken it gives gamers the empowerment to publish games that a major publisher like EA, Activision, Capcom or even Sony may pass up on say game due to being too niche, odd or out there not a run of the mill game. That's just awesome to have a game being published by say gamer.

caseh3705d ago

Sounds about right.

i never figured i would never see another Shadowrun game that resembled the SNES release.

I've been waiting many years in hope that the Sega CD version would be translated without any joy.

Then kickstarter comes along and the guys behind the original SNES version come along, hit their target and release a game that pleases its fans for the most part.

I can see Kickstarter has its downsides but for the most part, when the devs are trustworthy the outcome is usually satisfactory.

Kevlar0093706d ago (Edited 3706d ago )

Kickstarter (I will refer to it as KS from now on) is where consumers are the producers and publishers of a game, they put up the money and ultimately vote if the Dev can make a specific type of game. It is an unofficial contract where the Dev gets money as long as they uphold their end of the deal, if they don't then the backers get (or should get) full compensation. I'm not fully into KS so I'm not sure how it works on every level, but if consumers put forth money for a product that is significantly different than what was advertised then there should be a legal and moral duty by the Dev to make up for it.

The thing Devs on KS have to realize is KS exists so they can make whatever they want, knowing there will be an audience for it. If a million people pay into a game it is because it's the exact game they want to buy. It's not some Major business dictating what consumers will play and enjoy, but consumers having direct input on what gets released. Devs get to cut out the middle-man and go straight to the consumer.

KS should be serious business, not a place people throw money around in the hope they get something they want. Consumers put their trust that the funds they put up is going into what is said on the briefing. KS is one of the only places where we can vote on the game to be developed. It's our duty to make sure Devs on KS are staying true to their word, that they realize it only functions if we work together. The freedom to publish our own games is a privilege, it's a positive yet dangerous force for us as it is for them

Donnieboi3706d ago

On a related topic:

One thing that I don't understand is when people give money to companies who already have millions. For example, SMOSH is asking their fans to give them money to make a videogame. Ican't fault Smosh, because if people are stupid enough to give away money to millionaires for a mere game (an untested, new IP at that), then why shouldn't SMOSH make an attempt at siphoning the hard earned money of some foolish individuals. However, my beef is not with the rich beggars, but rather it is with the poor giver. If even rich companies are taking advantage of kickstarters, then i'm afraid of the very real possibility that some game developers/publishers will try to withhold certain game releases unless people pre-order a certain amount (prior to even seeing the game) or if we don't support them via kickstarter type of investments. For example, imagine if Hideo Kojima were to say that since he doesn't believe that Z.O.E. 3 will sell well, that he will need donations in order to have enough incentive to make it? Or if Capcom (who has been crapping on Mega Man as a franchise) were to do the same with the many unreleased Mega Man games that were recently in development? My point is, when is the line drawn when it comes to companies begging for funds? Smaller teams, yes. Indies? Okay. Mega million dollar companies? No freaking way. Just greedy.


PopRocks3593705d ago

That's a very blurry line, I'd say. Big name publishers often neglect cult classics for fear that they won't sell. Capcom has been avoiding Mega Man for quite some time and EA cancelled Brutal Legend 2. Crowdfunding is an excellent way to make a game at little cost and to have the fans be involved with its development as well as make the process easier on the publisher.

Is it essential? Absolutely not. Publishers typically make a ton of money. Can it be helpful? I think so, if the circumstances call for it. But that's pretty damn rare.

Developers on the other hand are more deserving. Publishers are there to fund their projects and if they're too stingy to pay for unique projects that isn't just another damn military shooter, then screw 'em. Double Fine took that step. I really wish other devs would as well.

SweetIvy3705d ago

Yes, I agree it's open to exploitation, but then, this is Planet Earth (and not the one from Star trek), people should always watch out for themselves and when something just wants to exploit, isn't usually too hard to tell (like this Smosh case you mention for example, I don't know what it is but it's clear many people thought it was over the top).

On the other hand, AAA games can hardly fit the scheme, in my opinion. Sure you can raise some millions on KS but doubtfully the kind of money true AAA games need.

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