Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

The kickstarter reality

It’s great to see a game get made that could not be made because a publisher would not fund it, made real because actual real gamers, who are the whole reason for everything, stepped up and pledged the money. It’s great news.

But this is not *the* new publishing model, far from it. RPS noted that the developers ‘don’t have a publisher breathing down their necks’. Really? Maybe they have 10,000 publishers now, impatient, possibly wanting contradictory stuff (almost definitely…in fact), and not restrained by the politeness of scheduled milestone meetings behind closed doors. I hope it goes well, but it could get messy.

Plus the developer is boxed into a corner, they know exactly what they have to do with that money. This is not always a good thing. I ship maybe half the games I start. Gratuitous Tank Battles was not the game I intended to make. I intended to make a life-sim game, then abandoned it to make an RTS, then it morphed into GTB.

What if kickstarter had funded subversion? the game that introversion admit ‘didn’t work’ when they actually got half way through development. Would they have had to plough ahead, and ship a game they fundamentally knew was broken? Not a good position to be in.

Yeah I know… I’m mr doom and gloom.

23 thoughts on The kickstarter reality

  1. I agree, as a model for future games development it lends itself to selling an abstract, not a completed game. Subversion sounds amazing on paper and yet didn’t turn out that way and i’m sure the opposite is also true.

    Fable was a great game, but a one that had received severe backlash from early promises made, how would this have worked out for Lionhead if the pissed off people had invested in the product financially?

  2. Cliff, I’m a little surprised to see you take this attitude. You are a successful indie with a great following — you could *easily* use Kickstarter to raise funds for your next game. Think of Kickstarter as a preorder system. You have the fans already. They *want* to give you money to support your next game. They trust you to make great stuff. Let them help you.

    As for the “10,000 publishers breathing down your neck” problem, I don’t think it’s a problem. You will always have fans with expectations that don’t match reality. Yes, you owe the supporters a copy of the game, but you already have the money, and (unlike with a normal publisher) you are ultimately in charge of what gets made. Plus, you can set expectations in your Kickstarter pitch: “I’m thinking about making a game about X. Of course plans could change if it looks like the game won’t work out. Help me find out if it will work, and I’ll make sure you get a copy of whatever game I do eventually make.”

    The Double Fine event heralds a new age for indies with some success already behind them. You are the perfect person to ride that wave.

    Best of luck,

  3. I think the key is that they don’t want to experiment with genres or anything. This is not going to be one of Double Fine’s innovative genre-bending titles. They’re making an old-school adventure game, and given the fact that it’s Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer, you know it’s going to be funny. It’s a bit of a shame because the old adventure formula needs a kick in the pants, but this game isn’t going to do it.

    I do think there’s a danger with such a large beta though, in the sense that it doesn’t work for story-based games. Adventure games have stories and jokes and puzzles, and once you see the content, there’s nothing more to do with them. This means that your beta participants are going to be sick of the game as soon as it’s released, and they’ll be a source of leaks about game content. So I’m not sure this can work because of that reason. This is also the reason Jeff Vogel can’t do open betas.

  4. That’s *precisely* what I’ve been saying about all these recent ‘early access pre-order’ and Kickstarter projects. It’ll only take one big failure for it to all fall apart. You’re Mr. Doom and Gloom, but you’re not the only one :)

    That said, well done to Double Fine, I’m dead chuffed for them!

  5. Assuming that they actually deliver, I rather doubt that this is the future, for the simple reason of popularity.

    You want to make a remake of a “good old game”, that you know has a large base of fans, but which is not really valuable from the publisher’s point of view? You have industry legends who worked on the original title? You can go to kickstarter and see if it’s really as popular as you thought, and most likely, it will succeed there.

    But for the rest of games? I doubt you can really finance a 20+ team of devs with a kickstarter project on something completely new. A small project, with 1-2 persons? Sure, it will be like the “alpha funding” pattern that we have seen already the last years. Come with an original technical demo, let people play with it if they preorder, finance yourself this way.

    To see the counter example of this Double Fine success, see Nexus 2:
    They wanted to raise 400000 too, they reached 124000, in several months, and the funding counter finished. Because there were some fans of the first game… but it wasn’t a legend, so you get a few curious people from a niche. And it didn’t really have “big names” either to “guarantee” a result.

  6. OK but also look at Notch’s Minecraft, Wolfire’s Overgrowth, Mode 7’s Frozen Synapse, quite a few games are trying to use a pre-order alpha funding approach.

    Kick-starting just lets you launch the concept and see if the game excites peoples interest enough for them to put their hand in their pocket. In a way it’s like market research that funds the project.

    I think it’s great but there have been lots of games put forward on Kickstarter and only a few have funding that really takes off. For instance only 43% of all projects hit their funding targets and there were only 253 successful game related projects in 2011 and only one hit the headlines.

  7. I don’t see alpha funding/kickstarted are being good at all for consumers. It will get more projects off the ground, but i have my doubts about many of them actually being finished.

    It also further erodes customer’s rights, and video games already have a horrific track record with this. If the development stops, or takes an unexpected direction, or even just fails to deliver or dies to feature creep, the consumer is, basically, fucked. While I guess this is why the price is, typically, lower for this sort of thing, it is still less than desirable.

    And really, many indie developers already seem to have an attitude that their supporters are entitled scum for actually wanting to see a release or hear something about development. If nothing else, people who fund games need to be treated like they are actually being helpful, rather than a nuisance.

  8. Cliff, I like your games and your blog, but seriously, smile a bit and embrace happy things. Because right now we can always trust that when people like something like this, you will be there to tell us that that thing doesn´t fit you.

  9. And as for your comparison with subversion, Double Fine has already stated that there is a possibility that this will fail. Some will whine if it does, but I think a lot of us are satisfied that someone actually attempts dream projects like this, and enjoys the ride that comes with it.

    It´s just games after all.

  10. It all depends on how the project goes and what gets publicized. Project Zomboid had it’s little episode when they had their apartment burglarized and they had every fan/customer they had turning on them. Granted, they reacted badly too, but still it showed how the customers really think.

    It’s not just a matter of “enjoying the ride” for most people and most would be pretty upset if nothing came of the funding or something other than what they expect came of it. If you read some of the comments from Project Zomboid’s tweets around the time when they were robbed, people were really going on and on about how much they felt they deserved for their $5 (and that’s a crazy cheap price for an RPG). A lot of the commenters seemed to agree that they essentially owned the team’s time and were even going as far as to tell them to get off their blogs and twitter accounts and get back to work, because they didn’t pay them to blog.

    Even Minecraft, for all the positive things you hear about it and all the great support you see from customers, I’ll bet they get hundreds if not thousands of tweets/emails for every feature they add or change complaining about how it’s not what they promised. It was definitely noticable when they were adding their “adventure update.”

    And in those cases, the games are being bought in beta with updates promised, so at least you get SOMETHING up front for your money, even if’s just a half-functioning demo. In this case, we’re talking about throwing your money at a random guy you don’t know (not personally anyways) and crossing your fingers that when he finishes he’ll remember you donated and/or still have the records that you did so he can get you your copy of the finished game. If there even is a finished game. For all you know, with the money they just put together they could pull a Duke Nukem Forever and disappear for the next 2 decades, surfacing once a year to post a screenshot at GDC.

    Though, one thing I find funny is people don’t even flinch about spending, say, $10 on a crappy lunch at McDonalds, which will be completely gone from their body and forgotten 30 minutes after buying it (if that… it is McDonalds), yet when it comes to giving a developer $5 for a potentially great game down the road with a potential failure risk as well, they act like they’re buying their own personal game creating slave who should work 150 hours a week.

    Anyways, just to be clear, I’m not against kickstarter or the idea of it. I just agree that it’s not the wave of the future for game developers.

  11. Let’s look at the reasons Double Fine has a chance and most others don’t with this model:

    * Do you have name recognition that makes geeks go “squeee”?
    * Do you have a property that has a built-in fan base?
    * Is the project in a niche you already are a master of?
    * Is the project well inside the proven technology you already have a pipeline?
    * Are your fans aware of the troubled development history of the original?
    * Can you offer dinner with the developer for over ten thousand dollars?

    If you can answer yes to all of these questions, a kickstarter is a reasonable approach to funding. For everyone else, not so much.

  12. John Lopez:

    “If you can answer yes to all of these questions, a kickstarter is a reasonable approach to funding. For everyone else, not so much.”

    Or it might just be so that other might need more than 8 hours to reach their goal? And/or also need less money then Double Fine?

    Stop being so cynical. :)

  13. As much as publishers have their downsides, they also have their upsides – they enforce discipline on undisciplined teams. Getting people to stay on task on complex projects is hard enough. I’m not a big believer in self-managed development especially when lots of money is involved.

    Publishers are horrible yes but they also enforce discipline and make sure games get done at least. Look at what happened to valve once they got rich, especially now with steam – their game development on major titles have slowed to a crawl. Once you have that nice nest egg you can take your time but it also means your game could end up like duke nukem forever – you’re never satisfied with what you’ve produced and are constantly scrapping it.

  14. They promote it as participatory, but I look at it this way.

    I bought a signed poster from some people who I think are cool and whose products I have regularly purchased and enjoyed in the past.

    Eventually they’ll make a new product, which I no doubt would have purchased anyway, only now they’ll be able to make it a whole lot sooner because they don’t need to shop it around. When they finish, they’ll send me a copy.

    I’m cool with that.

    If for some reason, I don’t like the product, well, then they can consider that money a bonus payment for all of the products that I did like that didn’t see much of a return due to sales not exceeding whatever arbitrary goal the publisher was setting for it.

    I have no interest in sending them comments, suggestions, or criticism. I just want them to go completely nuts ala ice-pick lodge and crank out whatever the hell they feel like making. If it all goes to hell, then we get to watch a sweet documentary watching the carnage unfold after the fact.

  15. “Yeah I know… I’m mr doom and gloom.”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking while reading the rest of your post.

    There’s always something you can come up with to worry about, but I feel you’re really pushing it.

  16. I dont know, sadly Cliff reads as petty and disingenuous. Double Fine are trying something new, and on this occasion they’ve had success with phase 1, raising the coin. Actually building the game and all that entails is their forte and they can lean on Steam for the distribution.

    Value adds, such as posters, dinner dates with devs etc are a definite ‘good thing’ and gives people that reason to buy.

    And if it does go tits up then the documentary will be worth the price of entry alone… and you get to keep the poster and the stains on your shirt from the dinner date.

  17. “RPS noted that the developers ‘don’t have a publisher breathing down their necks’. Really? Maybe they have 10,000 publishers now, impatient, possibly wanting contradictory stuff (almost definitely…in fact), and not restrained by the politeness of scheduled milestone meetings behind closed doors. I hope it goes well, but it could get messy.”

    not really. they don’t have the power of a publisher. a kickstarter investor is guaranteed only those things promised before he shelled out his cash. they have no explicit or implicit input or power. PERIOD.

    the developer just has to deliver what they themselves promised to deliver.

    “Plus the developer is boxed into a corner, they know exactly what they have to do with that money. This is not always a good thing. I ship maybe half the games I start.”

    in this regard, the relationship IS like with a dev and a publisher.

    generally, a publisher is not going to give you money to dick around. you have a business plan (game) outlined to sell. you sell it, you better develop it.

    if you ship half the games you start, you’re not going to get a publisher or if you do, the publisher is going to sue you.

    that may be a “down side”.

    up side? MONEY.

    but if you ship half the stuff you start, you really do have to go the self funding route – with the limitations that imposes.

    so in this, different strokes for different folks.

    “What if kickstarter had funded subversion? the game that introversion admit ‘didn’t work’ when they actually got half way through development. Would they have had to plough ahead, and ship a game they fundamentally knew was broken?”

    intro couldn’t pull that with a regular publisher/backer either.

    at some point, if you want your stuff to get beyond a certain scale (and you’re not independently wealthy), you have to deal with commitments.

    and plans.

    and follow through.

  18. Have to Agree with Cliff on this one,

    Look at the EVO Stylus on Kickstarter, they promised by Xmas, but that date blew by, and then they stopped talking for a bit.

    Now they have 40k, but if they do not make nice the Refunds will roll in, sapping that cash.

    They messed up on any levels,

    The same could happen to a Game maker.
    It has in the past on released games, and I know it will happen on KS.
    Maybe not this one, but it will happen.

    People are fickle, and as a group grows its intelligence drops.
    It is the Theory of Artificial Stupidness
    Just look at Politics and other mass groups, the crowds ability to think plummets,
    KS can cause this to happen as well.

    I like KS to help those who would never make something with out the help it provides, BUT if you have the means to do it another way, one should not be using KS.


    Keep working on great games, If I ever hit a lotto jack pot, then I might rent you away for a game or 2.

    Would gladly buy Beta for Tanks, just say how~!


  19. I agree with you Cliff but let’s see how the production process of their game goes. This will likely be an individual case where it might work but no doubt they’re going to run into problems, and we’ll see how the donators & fans react.

    I just hope this isn’t going to be another jump on the bandwagon because it worked (if it does work) with one company ‘it’s bound to work with all’ kind of attitude.

  20. I think one good point was made by Bluddy about the risk factor of the Kickstarted project being finished by how experimental the proposal is. Double Fine are working on a previous blueprint that has proved to be successful. Because of this, their future kickstarter funded project should do well too.

    I think we have to appreciate that there is no one set path to the completion of a game. Projects may be started with the best intentions, then abandoned because of unseen complications that can happen to the most experienced developers. One way to reduce this risk is to work off of a previously successful model with little radical changes, like Double Fine.
    Another way is to sell pre-alpha access to a long running project like Frozen Synapse. In this model the money from the pre-alpha helps supplement the dev budget (running low by the late point) and help finish the product. I bought into the pre-alpha after watching their project from almost a year earlier. I had seen the progress, and was enormously entranced by the concept. Their low initial price cinched the decision for me.

    I think there is a third model that kickstarter hasn’t experimented prominently with yet, selling expansions or additional features to finished or nearly finished projects. If the developer wants to add a feature to his nearly finished project, he can use kickstarter to contact his fans and solicit money for the expansion.

    I agree with Cliffski that Kickstarter is not the future of game dev. But it may play an important role in a part of game dev, as a supplement to standard channels.

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