The Fault in our Kickstarters
If I'm being completely honest, I'm getting kind of sick of crowdfunding. I know this may seem a bit strange considering that my previous blog was essentially an advertisement for a crowdfunding campaign, but I'll get back to that. There are so many projects being funded through crowdfunding nowadays that I'm honestly feeling overwhelmed. Within the same two-week period I've seen at least 5 games launch campaigns on crowdfunding websites. If you'll excuse the pun, the whole scene is getting extremely crowded. I feel like crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have lost sight of their original intentions.
Let's start with a little history shall we? In early 2012 Double Fine launched their campaign for a new point-and-click adventure game that would later be called Broken Age. Their reasoning was that a publisher would never grant them the funding for antiquated genre like this, so they would ask the public for help instead. The campaign was a massive success and left a lasting impact and inspired many others to try their hand at crowdfunding their own projects. Crowdfunding has only grown more popular since then, but I think that this massive growth has revealed some nasty flaws with the system that threaten the future of the crowdfunding model.
The first point is that of necessity. I've seen a number of crowdfunding campaigns launch where I found myself wondering whether the creator actually needed crowdfunding or not. The most recent example of this is Mighty No. 9, the new spiritual successor to the Megaman games by Keiji Inafune. Megaman has a large and dedicated fanbase, and a game that emulates Megaman would most likely do quite well. I'm frankly surprised that Capcom hasn't realized this, but that's beside the point. It has raised more that twice its asking price, so that should be an indication of how many people would be interested in playing this. So why did they take to Kickstarter? I know that making games, independent or otherwise, is expensive, but are you sure that you couldn't find a publisher for this game? The desire to do your own thing is strong, and completely understandable, but a halfway intelligent publisher should realize how much moneymaking potential there is for a game with such a star-studded development team as this. Despite what people think publishers aren't completely evil. Having a publisher gives you deadlines to hold yourself to and a well-managed budget to work with. While you sometimes lose some manner of independence, a publisher can also keep the development time and load realistic. That way, you avoid situations like Broken Age recently had. But perhaps the most awful example of this was done by Penny Arcade for their podcast. The asking price for their podcast was 10 dollars. No really. Did they really need a crowdfunding campaign if all they needed was 10 dollars? No. No they didn't. And this leads me into my next point.
The second point is the misinterpretation of the purpose of a crowdfunding website. This partially the fault of the public as well, but Penny Arcade are equally guilty of it. Penny Arcade essentially used the website as a preorder service. It emphasized the pledge rewards instead of the actual project. You weren't getting a podcast off the ground, you were buying a product. A lot of people have to realize that contributing to a crowdfunding campaign doesn't guarantee that you'll get what you want. Delays are common, unexpected things happen, and sometimes plans just fail. Independent development is very rewarding and liberating but also extremely risky. The whole point of a crowdfunding campaign is that you aren't buying a product. The thing that you're giving money to doesn't exist yet. The pledge rewards are nothing more than an incentive to donate. It doesn't guarantee that you'll receive it.
One trend I've noticed is the staggering amount of nostalgia-based crowdfunding projects popping up. Just off the top of my head I can think of A Hat In Time, Mighty No. 9, Leisure Suit Larry, River City Ransom, Shovel Knight, Mutant League Football and even James Pond. Those are just the more high-profile ones! There are tons more pixellated platformers floating around out there whose supposed main selling point is the fact that they throw back to the 8 and 16 bit eras of gaming. I'm honestly getting really sick of it. I can understand wanting a game that reminds you of your childhood, but there's so many of them nowadays that games that are genuinely innovative and interesting are getting overshadowed. Look at Imagination Is The Only Escape for an example of this. Setting aside Luc Bernard's unfortunate relationship with the press, you cannot deny that the game is conceptually interesting. But it launched around the same time as Mighty No. 9 and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, which are both undeniably nostalgia-influenced. Imagination got very little press, whereas Shantae and Mighty No. 9 spread like wildfire. The main strength of crowdfunding is that you can gain funding for really daring and experimental projects that a publisher wouldn't dare touch. But for some reason, the most successful projects are still the ones that play it safe.
Another important point to consider is the danger of overfunding. When a project becomes extremely popular and exceed their goals, the developers start promising additional features. There's nothing wrong with that in theory, because it shows that the additional funds are being utilized properly. However the whole concept of stretch goals has led to some unfortunate consequences. Firstly, overfunding can lead to over ambition. We saw this happen with Broken Age and The Banner Saga. They tried to make the game a lot bigger than they had initially planned for and ended up disappointing their backers by creating something different, thereby taking a lot longer than they had promised. The other danger comes down to public perception again. People have become so obsessed with the additional stretch goals that they're actually encouraging overfunding. It's not about being happy that the project is funded anymore. The goal has turned into making sure it meets as many stretch goals as possible. This attitude is dangerous because for some reason a lot of people don't understand that adding content and features takes more time, but then get up in arms when the game doesn't come out on its promised date. Delays are a natural part of game development, and especially when you don't have someone breathing down your neck all the time. There's a study that looked at how many Kickstarters actually met their promised deadline. They found that the vast majority actually don't. The reasons for this can be too numerous to name and often different per case, but I'm willing to bet that being too over ambitious with the projected release date is a large reason.
So where does that leave us now? Well, despite a number of slip-ups, crowdfunding is still going strong. There are a lot of great games that wouldn't exist without crowdfunding, so I'm not against it completely. I just think that the crowdfunding model needs to change if it is to be sustainable.
In the case of Mighty No.9, Inafune wanted to prove not only to Capcom, but to the gaming public in general that getting fans of Megaman involved in the creation of a game could work really well (You may recall Capcom canceled ALL of their upcoming Megaman titles, save for a crappy iOS game nobody asked for, due to "lack of interest" from fans.), and could make a really good game.
Now I do not know about most of the other titles you mentioned, but I gave my $120 to the Mighty No.9 Kickstarter because I wanted to play the game, I wanted the artbook, and I trust Keiji Inafune to make the game the best that he possibly can. I am pretty sure this is what crowdfunding is supposed to be about, plain & simple.
Interesting article. I agree that not everything needs to be crowd funded and that the pressure of stretch goals is more likely a negative than a positive. My band actually had the option to kickstart our album - we needed funds for distro and printing - back when it was a new thing in 2012, but we opted against it and for a pre-order campaign as it made more sense to us. No stretch goals and we achieved everything we intended. This brings me to a couple of points I'd like to challenge though. First off, kickstarter isn't only for video games, and I think the saturation of pixel art games is more to do with the saturation of the indie game market since that movement really took off a few years ago than it is to do with kickstarter. Second, and using Mighty No.9 as an example, if a developer can pretty much guarantee to crowd fund a project and maintain more control over the development (for better or worse), even if they probably could find a publisher, why should they if this is a better, perfectly viable option? It bothers me more when I see a developer who just doesn't need that kind of money (e.g. making a game with Jrpg maker) than it does when a developer chooses to crowdfund because they can. The publishing company system is pretty cut throat and frankly is becoming more and more out of date (kind of like record labels), and if say Capcom doesn't think something like Megaman Legends 3 is going to make money, why would other publishers think something in that vein is low risk enough to take on? More than anything I'd say this whole state of affairs is a bit of a reality check for everyone; consumers, devs / artists and publishers. I don't hold any answers, but yeah - that's my two cents >< good article, made me think!
This is precisely why i just ignore every kickstarter people tend to spam my way. Well, that and the fact that i'm flat broke.
I've always wondered if companies pay off their own kickstarters so they don't have to give the money back. I mean if you raised 90,000 of 100,000 could you kick in the last 10k yourself to keep it from being refunded?
I do have to give the counter point that most kickstarters fail because they lack the marketing ability that more professional projects often have. The sad fact is... you really do have to market the campaign as though you're SELLING a product in order to get people to donate. I get that the point of crowdfunding is supposed to be giving people the power to fund what they want to see, but let's face it.... they want STUFF in return. Your assessment just seems a little on the optimistic side of things as though people give money away just for the feel goodness of it when that's just not how it works. Playing up the rewards is the best way to get a crowdsourced project funded. Cynical though it may be, it's a necessary step to achieve your ultimate goal of turning your idea into a reality. You do, however, raise an excellent point regarding stretch goals because it's my opinion that once a project has reached it's goal that should be the end of the campaign and should be limited to selling pre-orders of the product for additional funding ala Minecraft.
The most ironic part about this is I know of a video game industry lecture about how to crowdfund that is going on right now.
So would a retro-styled game be worth it (crowdfund-worthy) if it's clever or unique?
(That John Green reference). In the end, whenever these stuff seems shady, or unnecessary, it ends up being both the consumers and project makers fault, however I'd say that-. *looks at lasts posts* ... well the points have already been made, but: I'd say for example, Mighty No. 9 was good as a Kickstarter, Inafune gave his own reasons, and in any case, I'd doubt any non-Capcom company would take that project under their wings, if only for the obvious similarities with Mega Man (and I hope and trust they will make it a different game, that's what they say they want to do after all).
Also, I don't think I knew about A Hat in Time, that looks really interesting.
article aside, id like to congratulate you on the awesome title DFTBA
I disapprove of this.
You take one instance, what happened at Double Fine and weight it against all the good that has come out of it. We got Shadowrun Returns and Wasteland 2 as two prominent examples of when things go right. We may never find out what happened at Double Fine and to be honest the only people that need to know are the Kickstarter backers.
You make mention along the lines of "there's clearly a demand, why didn't they get a publisher to foot the bill of it" well in this current game climate of FPSs and DLC being the dominant genre and revenue streams it would be a tall order of any Eastern or Western developer to pick it up and run with without making major concessions with it and it's release. It is extremely rare that a publisher is really just that, the means of publishing and distribution. Also it is standard practice that the publisher gets exclusive rights to the IP (intellectual property) unless negotiated otherwise (and that is extremely rare). The last company that tried to do that was Gamecock and they are no more, their intentions were noble but it didn't pan out for them ultimately. Wayforward Games wholly owns the Shantae IP, it is their own in-house product and they want to self-publish it and keep it that way. I have nothing but mad respect for them for doing that. It would seem that Inafune and Comcept want to do the same thing so that he doesn't get separated from his creations again. Sometimes having complete creative control requires private investors, start up companies do it all the time. This is no different. The only thing is there is no proper way to "regulate" it as you propose. This is an industry of "it's not what you've done, it's what you've done lately" and what Inafune had done at Capcom is more than enough to justify my money on backing it, and so is Wayforward on Shantae (Ducktales, A Boy and his Blob, Contra 4, Double Dragon Neon). Conversely people will KNOW when to not back a Kickstarter, look what happened to Shadows of the Eternal. I LOVED Eternal Darkness, but the best days of Precursor Games was back when those guys still worked at Silicon Knights putting the finishing touches on Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. That was their last critically and commercially successful title. Everything after that, was below par to downright tragic. Craig for years has said on SideScrollers "vote with your wallet" and Kickstarters have seriously shown that INFORMED gamers are willing to do just that to make it happen. Yes you spoke to the good of what can happen, but that doesn't make up for the overwhelming negative tone of this article.
Say what you will about Kickstarters, but it is giving games that would otherwise never get developed a chance at coming to market.
kickstarter is being abused because there's no publisher and therefore quality control is not needed. They are not obligated to release a good game or even release a game. Also, lots of double dipping, if you made money from your first kickstarter you should reinvested to your next project and not go back into kickstarter for another funding...
I wouldn't call RCR part of the problem. Its not even half way to its goal yet. I hope it does well considering the game looks awesome.
when we start seeing projects being successful the new games projects are going to start poping out too by the same people who made the remake or spiritual successor saying remember me and the awesome game you just finished well here is my next game !
It would be nice to see some revolution or structure before the thing itself falls apart, but that likely won't happen. I'll probably give my money to Wikipedia then.
I agree with a lot of the points you make. I think right now, Kickstarter has become a bit of a nostalgic circle jerk. Sure there's things like Project Phoenix or Chroma Squad, but mostly the high profile ones are HEY LOOK, WANT THIS OLD FRANCHISE BACK?! WE NEED THIS AMMOUNT OF CASH TO DO IT!
For Mighty No. 9, it comes from Inafune to really work with the community on this project, something that was very much going to happen with Megaman Legends 3 until that got scrapped.A big company probably wouldn't allow such a thing, so in that sense, I get why he's doing it. I just wish he was doing it for a project that wasn't Mega Man in anything but name
I think we still need to feel the big effect of Kickstarter funded games. There was the OUYA, but lets not talk about that, and then there's stuff like FTL or Shadowrun Returns. We're still waiting for big things such as Star Citizen and Broken Age.
Overfunding has killed plenty of games. Just recently there was a story on Polygon about a board game that made almost 3 times its goal, but ended up getting canceled. Reaching a goal usually doesn't guarentee you'll get the product.
I do see lots of potential in crowdfunding. I can't wait for stuff such as Armikrog, A Hat in Time, or the new Broken Sword. But I agree that right now, its become a bit overblown with the rehashes. Hopefully it'll slow down in the future, and we'll see these new games soon
Inafune already explained this. He took to Kickstarter because he was sick of the shady and constrictive ways Japanese publishers do business. He honestly believed crowdfunding was the only way he'd have the freedom to make the game he truly wanted to make. Considering his experience in the market, I'm pretty sure he'd take another option if it was considered an option at all.
You're also blaming Kickstarter for a consumer "problem". People will fund what they want to play, and if no one wants to play Imagination is the Only Escape, they don't pay for it. Simple as that. Look, I've been in your shoes before, and trust me when I say you're banging your head against a brick wall. You don't want to be that guy running out into the streets, screaming at the top of your lungs and desperately trying to convince everyone that this is the best thing ever and other games should be shunned based solely on your own ideals of what's good or not. It's not a fun time, and it just leaves you bitter. Yes, everyone makes games for different reasons, but the flip side of that coin is that everyone PLAYS games for different reasons, too. Not everyone walks into every game they buy expecting a grand, artistic experience that's going to completely change the way they view life from this point on. Some people just want to do something they'd never be able to in real life. That's fine.
I will say this about Mighty No. 9, it's more than a nostalgia throwback (though it is that). It's and industry titan making the game we've been asking to be made for a LONG time.On top of that, it's also going to have a whole documentary about Japanese game development, which should be interesting.
Also, it's a Japanese based company doing a Kickstarter. I know I don't follow crowdfunding projects that closely, but it does seem like that's kind of a big deal.
One Indiegogo campaign that I followed quite heavily was Fran Bow. I think they had the right idea in that they would not offer any stretch goals. They had their product scoped out, they new the story and the gameplay, and just used access money for platforms and languages.