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

Kickstarting inequality

I’m not a huge fan of kickstarter. There, I said it. I know that makes me unpopular. I’m not a fan for a number of reasons, but ultimately, if people are happy to fund games that way, then good luck to them. And of course, anything that serves as a kick in the vulnerables to big evil publishers will always get my vote. There are lots of reasons to like kickstarter, but those are commonly discussed. So let me lay out briefly, my reservations, and then expand on one I find never mentioned.

Kickstarter is selling dreams

Do you want to play Gratuitous Space Battles 2.0? It will be awesome. the ships will have AI the same level of intelligence as humans, and will have forty trillion polys each. They will be in 3D this time, and physics will model every atom in the universe. There will be 500 races, 10,000 ships and a trillion different modules, all of which will be balanced perfectly. it will run on a ZX81 at 60 FPS.

Yeah, I doubt that’s possible either, but when you are typing up your dreams at the start of a project, it’s very easy to get carried away. Selling dreams is a very different skill to actually building a final product. We should be rewarding people who can deliver, not who can dream. We can all name developers who can dream but not deliver. We are cynical when politicians do this, why not game developers?

Kickstarter is selling a FIXED dream

I sketched out a great game idea on my chalkboard recently, I got very excited about it, started doing a proper design doc, and half way through the design, I realized it had some fundamental flaws that meant although it *sounded good*, it wasn’t going to work as a game. I had to abandon the idea. I COULD abandon the idea, as I owed nobody anything. Nobody even knew I’d considered it as a game idea. When people fund a game, they fund a game, and although a lot of gamers will be understanding if you explain major changes, some will not. Some gamers get VERY VERY angry. This is a no-win situation, either backers get angry, or the developer sticks with what turns out to be a flawed idea.  No game I’ve ever made bares any relationship to my original design for it.

As a developer, paying me in advance could make me lazy.

When you get builders to work on your house, do you pay them the whole sum up front? I don’t. Nor do most people, because you know you aren’t going to get the job done on time that way. Always hold something back. I am quite a motivated guy, but I can see why

a lot of developers will get an extra hours sleep every morning knowing they’ve already been paid for the next years work.

Great design is not commitee design

When I worked for a certain game designer, I found him to be a single-minded megalomaniacal obsessive dictator who knew he was right. Then I ended up as sole-owner and game designer and programmer and discovered I am exactly the same, which was an interesting lesson :D I truly believe that in many cases good game design does come from single-minded, frankly arrogant people who are obsessed with their ‘vision’ and who think they are right. We’ve all seen Hollywood movie cash-ins designed by a team of scriptwriters. I am wary of the fact that with kickstarter you are basically inviting thousands of gamers to feel like they should have a seat at design meetings. They shouldn’t feel that way, but a percentage of them will. That is not good.

But there is the one which nobody seems concerned by but me:

Kickstarter is the absolute poster-child for inequality amongst gamers, based on income. Now I am definitely not a raging socialist, but I know a lot of gamers are, and I find it a bit weird that it doesn’t bug them that when these kickstarter games ship, not only will gamers with more money that them be swanning around with better outfits and weapons, (This already happens in F2P games), but some of the NPC’s will have the names of the ‘wealthy’ backers. Some will even have their digitized faces in the game. Elite is actually naming PLANETS after people who back the game with a lot of money.

Gamers say they hate in-game product placement and advertising. It compromises the game design for the sake of money. I agree. So why are we deciding that the best way to name our planets or design the appearance of our NPC’s is to put that part of game design up for auction? Why should gamers who are wealthy get more influence over a game that those who flip burgers for a living? The cold hard economic reality of the real world is bad enough without shoehorning it into games too.

Now you might say that we have always had this, recently in F2P games, but also with ‘collectors editions’ and DLC. I sell DLC myself. But I argue there is a VAST difference. To buy ALL the DLC for GSB at full price, with no bundle or discount or anything, is still easily affordable for almost any PC gamer, if you really like the game. Not so with all the top tiers of kickstarter projects. Some of them are asking for THOUSANDS of dollars. Who do you know who has a spare thousand of five thousand dollars to spend backing a game?

Years ago, it was common for bands to have ‘fan clubs’ where you could enter competitions to ‘meet the band’. Now bands sell ‘premium passes’ to wealthier fans to meet their idols backstage and have their photo taken. Anyone can get will shatner’s autograph, you just need to hand over hard cash for the ‘honor’. I don’t like this. I can imagine wanting to meet with, and shake hands with, maybe even (eek) have a beer with the people who are the biggest fans of your work. But kickstarter doesn’t do that. It hands those ‘lunch with the devs’ opportunities not to the most enthusiastic fans, but to the wealthiest.

Are you sure you agree with that?

Don’t flame me, I’m just asking the question :D If you still want to support kickstarter, I suggest backing ‘sir you are being hunted’, which looks awesome.


63 thoughts on Kickstarting inequality

  1. It’s definitely an interesting problem, and I do find it a bit.. strange, in some senses. I think in the end it doesn’t bother me that much if it’s done right, though. I think of it like this:

    How does it actually affect me if somebody with way too much money wants to cough up thousands for some high-tier pledge?

    For example, J. Wealthy Backer goes to meet the developers, has lunch, names a planet/NPC, and so forth. Does it affect me that he got to meet them? Not in the slightest.
    Will it affect me that something in the game is named after him, or has his input on aesthetic design, or whatever? Well, yes, in the sense that I’ll encounter it and read the name, but will it be detrimental? Probably not. Things need a name and design, and he doesn’t have total freedom, so I’m not going to find something that doesn’t fit in. Will it be any worse than something a developer came up with in a list of however-many-hundred planets they need names/designs for? I don’t think there’s any reason to expect that. It’s a bit different from product placement or other advertisements, which must necessarily be designed so that they are noticeable so they actually have an effect on the players. (I’m not necessarily against all advertisements in games either, for that matter, as long as they fit the game world and don’t feel forced. I just think it’s much harder to do that with an advertising client.)
    Meanwhile, their large contribution is more money for the developer to build an awesome game with, so I benefit in that sense. I think I would like to see a randomly- or developer-selected group of lower-tier fans getting some of the high-tier meet-and-greet stuff as well, though. Doesn’t need to be many, but an effort to be a bit more inclusive for the big fans who can’t afford the hilariously expensive tiers.

    If anything, mid-level tiers with people buying fancy ships or whatnot in a multiplayer game bothers me more, since it actually makes a difference to the game experience. As long as it’s not a major advantage, though, I don’t think it’s a big issue; as long as it’s no more a disadvantage than starting playing a couple of days later or whatever.

  2. It’s a really good idea to give some top level stuff to the lower tier pledgers. A decent kickstarter should effectively raffle one of the top tiers to everyone below it, at the very least.

    I think naming planets etc WILL be worse, and I’ll give you an example. I’m doing a new race for GSB, and all races have their own list of crew names which get used in comms-signals. it’s perfect kickstarter-fodder to let people add their names.
    The names are NOT random. I try to make them consistent within a race, and to actually be representative of something. For example, all the names for the new race are characters from the war anti-novel ‘catch22’ or famous light-hearted WW2 movies like ‘kelly’s heroes’. Hopefully a handful of players will realise that and it will make them smile.

    It’s a tiny bit of game design, which could easily have been just auctioned off, but I’m certain not for the better.

  3. I’d love to see someone replace that typical lunch/design date tier with a random draw that everyone who backs the project is entered into exactly once.

  4. Sure, I’m not arguing that player-named things are appropriate for every situation, or that every name in a game should come from players. There’s no reason you couldn’t name one faction/race/whatnot’s characters with references to something, and have players come up with names for another group’s characters, for example. Or you could convert players’ names to the phonetics of an alien language, or have players come up with names for things which maybe aren’t linked to their real names at all, etc. Some games it might not fit the tone to make references in character naming.

    None of this should be a one-size-fits-all solution – the wonderful thing about Kickstarter is that it provides the opportunity for the developers to be creative in the rewards they offer. If it works in one game to have players name a few things, then go for it, and if it doesn’t in another, or the devs have better ideas for names, then don’t. (For example, Limit Theory is a one-man space sim project that’s procedurally generating everything, and he’s said he’s not offering naming rights because he don’t think it’ll fit, and the name generation uses particular regional/factional patterns. That’s fine!)

    (This isn’t to say I think current Kickstarters are necessarily doing very well at this – most games have pretty much the same base game/beta access/soundtrack/art book/in-game goodies/name something/meet the devs set of rewards, and it’d be good to see that being changed up.)

  5. I posted a link to this on the Rock Paper Shotgun Kickstarter Katchup, hope you don’t mind!

    I’ve backed quite a few projects now, some larger and a lot of smaller ones. I guess there is always a problem between dream and reality, and the recent Molyneux kickstarter has certainly brought a lot of those memories back as people have been discussing the hype that surrounds his games.

    I guess you always have to try and manage your expectations, and know that the final product won’t always be exactly what was initially offered. So long as things aren’t too drastically different, I wouldn’t be offended.

    I do like your idea of a raffle of prizes for backers. You could even have different options for those that would prefer digital rewards (soundtracks, wallpapers or whatever) to physical ones (t-shirts and the like).

    I’ve already pledged enough to get my name into one kickstarter, and while I’ve not got the money to do it more often, I think in certain circumstances it’s perfectly fine, while in others it would be potentially immersion-breaking or otherwise affect the game experience.

    It’s always up to the developer what sort of bonuses or trinkets they are willing to sell to get their game funded though, and there are plenty of projects that don’t allow backers any say in the actual game development.

  6. Also, to address some of the other points briefly – again, I think discretion needs to be applied on the pitch and the amount of input players get. Be honest about how much things may change, what might not be possible, and so forth. In general I think players will be reasonable if you explain, openly and honestly, when there are problems or changes. They’re invested in the game too, and if something breaks the game or simply can’t reasonably be done, then that’s fine. Of course, as you say, there’ll always be malcontents, but I think they’re a small enough minority that, perhaps with a small pool of money kept back for refunds of pledges, they won’t be a problem.

    Similarly with design input. There’ll be things where player input does help. There’s a lot to be said for the vision of a designer, but at the same time you need to know your audience or potential audience. That Kickstarters for space games and olde-fashioned top-down RPGs are currently being so successful after being largely written off by the mainstream industry is a lesson in that. Again, balance and discretion.

    The point about funds is an interesting one, but with the traditional model people would have been paid by the publisher while writing the game, and if anything being directly beholden to the fans – the people who really care about the game – rather than a faceless publisher will be more of a motivator.

    With all this said, I think one thing that does get forgotten entirely often is that this is all a speculative endeavour. Some projects will fail completely, and others may deliver a crappy game. This has, of course, always happened, but the dynamic is a bit different in the case of a Kickstarter project, and I suspect it’s going to take a disastrous big project and a lot of upset people to remind everyone of this!

  7. In some cases, I’ve been fine kickstarting something, if I’ve seen a work in progress- I’ve only used kickstarter twice: Divekick- where the kickstarter got cancelled when they picked up a publisher, and Kick-Heart, which isn’t a game but was from a known studio in an industry where funding has largely dried up.

    I do feel Kickstarter is basically a pre-order system.

    Everything you mentioned is a valid criticism, and that is why I am super-careful with kickstarters.

  8. Cliff, for someone who I think of as being capitalist, you are sometimes surprisingly socialist (and even then, I’m not sure I make sense of your arguments?

    – Everyone should pay the same? Why? Paying the same is a construct of 20th Century mass-manufacturing, leading to mass media trying to make us all want the same thing. It’s come to an end as the web enables cost-effective personalisation, so we will all pay variable prices for most things, based on how valuable it is to us. This is a good thing.

    – Some people paying more than others because they can is bad? Again why? Tim Schafer raised just over half of the money he raised from backers spending over $100 (including some pay $10,000 for lunch). If they hadn’t, everyone would have had to pay $30 to raise the same amount of money. Why is that better for cash-strapped fans?

    – Who says meeting your biggest fans and your richest fans are mutually exclusive. Some people would rather pay than enter a raffle, or prove the fandom, or whatever. Others would rather tweet, or queue for 7 days in the rain, or whatever. Why not let both happen?

    The other issues (some people will over-promise and under-deliver, particularly) I accept. The idea that is somehow wrong to allow people to spend real money on things they value and hence subsidising the enjoyment of people with more time than money seems barking to me.

  9. @Michel.

    Someone might do that. But it would generate less money, mean that everyone else would have to pay a bit more and not allow those people who value that lunch at $10,000 to pay for it. Why is that better?

  10. @Nicolas – I sat here and started writing my post, and looked up, and realized it was almost exactly the same as yours. Well said, and I totally agree on all points.

  11. It’s fine as long as people don’t get a competitive advantage based on backing more than others.

    People who spend more money on kickstarter games, also take More Risks, because the game might not ship or be disappointing.

    You normally get what you pay for Cliffy. You’re nitpicking.

  12. Cliffski,
    First you are upset about some supposed $10 barrier for indie games, now you are upset about kickstarter.

    I’m starting to detect a hint of jealousy. Look, go ahead and kickstart a game if you want in on it. If its worth more than $10 I’ll back it. So far though, since that $10 statement, I haven’t seen much new stuff from positech that interested me at above a $10 price point.

    Now to address your points.
    it doesn’t help much to use a photoshopped pledge screenshot from KS if you are trying to make a point about it.

    the majority of this kinda thing is cosmetic. Who cares? Kickstarter aside, some AAA level games run contests to get someone’s face in a game as an NPC or whatever. I haven’t seen complaints about that. If someone has the money, why would it matter if they named a planet or got their face in it.

    yes some of it is pay 2 win. Such as star citizen. I’m not a fan of it in star citizen either. I really hope chris roberts can overcome the obvious strings from the private funding (thats significantly more than the crowdsourced) thats pushing it towards MMO and P2W features. But there’s stuff on the internet thats pay 2 win as well, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it ends up kickstarter too. Backers are free to pass on such projects if they don’t wish to back them. The pricing is entirely up to the kickstarter. Some of the thousand dollar+ packages are because it takes significantly more resources to make. For instance, designing someone’s face into the game as an NPC. Its hardly fair to compare that to $10 DLC packages. If they priced lunch with devs pledge level at something like $100, they’d get so many responses they’d be having lunch with fans for the next 100 years. They could just offer 5 spots at $100, but then its going to be the 5 fastest clickers, which is hardly fair either. Since they need to reduce the demand on a package like that, it only makes logical sense to increase the price. And of course it makes business sense. The goal of a KS is to get money to start a project. If they don’t offer higher tiers, they are leaving money on the table. If no one wants those higher tiers (as I’ve seen happen before) then no harm done.

    yes, its selling a dream. Thats the entire point of kickstarter. Backers are also supposed to use their heads and not give tons of money they can’t afford to lose to projects that aren’t likely to deliver. Thats part of why KS has the model of not funding anything that doesn’t hit its goal, to filter out crap projects. Its not KS’s fault if some people don’t bother to do that, just like its not the governments fault if someone dumps all savings into a stock they got a spam email about, then lost it. Its simple common sense, if a person cant afford to lose the money, they shouldn’t be putting it into a KS project. Similar to venture capital funding. Its high risk. But just because its risky, should the option to fund a KS or VC be prevented to those who CAN afford to risk it?

    you say kickstarter could make devs lazy. Yeah maybe. But here’s the thing, many of these projects (wasteland 2 for instance) have been dreams of developers for DECADES. They’ve been repeatedly going to publishers and getting turned down. Why the FRACK would they screw up their own lifelong dream like that? Also, the kickstarter should be just the first chunk of “pre-sales”. If they make it successfully they are looking at possibly far more income. So there’s monetary reasons not to be lazy.

    The devs always have the ultimate say over fan input. It would be silly to design a game entirely by committee. However, it wouldn’t hurt to take feedback into account when making decisions either. Since these fans are what’s making the game possible, its probably a good idea to pay at least some attention. And it can’t be worse than a publisher dictating all sorts of weird inclusions just because they want a marketing point. Like games with tacked on multiplayer or whatever just so they can say they have it have often had focus taken away from single player. At least with fan input, a dev can say no. With publisher input, they don’t have that option. So its actually better this way (unless the dev really is lazy and isn’t self disciplined enough to finish projects on his own).

    The game does NOT have to be fixed. I’ve backed KS projects that changed from what they promised. The best ones offered refunds or additional options to make up for it. Just recently a game (I think it was shadowrun) said they weren’t going to be able to include the social option of adding friends characters to a party. They changed from what they promised on KS. They explained how they’ve made a schedule and budgeted out from the KS time from the team on each feature, and ended up needing to cut something, so that was cut. And who knows, if the game is a success after its released, maybe they can add it back in.

    If you dislike KS and crowdsourcing so much, no one is forcing you to back projects, or start projects. There’s also non game projects that deliver physical tangible items if one prefers that. For instance the various arduino ones, or the blink (1), or many many more. I’m personally excited to see what the affordable and easy to use sous vide device will do to for home cooking.

  13. I don’t have a problem with kickstarter myself, as long as people remember that pledging is not pre-ordering. During the hype of the kickstarter campaign with the stretch goals and new tiers being thrown around it’s easy to forget that you’re likely to be waiting 2 years before the product sees the light of day… IF it sees the light of day.

    There’s no guarantees anything will get finished. Like you said, Cliff, they are selling dreams.

    That said, I see it as being useful to two potential markets:

    1) Developers who have established a good reputation for producing games that people love, but can’t convince publishers that their ideas will make money. Eg: Tim Schafer or Chris Roberts.

    2) New developers who genuinely have great ideas but have no track record to point to, and similarly can’t convince publishers that their ideas will make money.

  14. Cliff,
    I too finding the view point not too objective enough even a bit of sacastic, I kind very agree with Jack Smith – well said.

    like being lazy, is really depending on that particular studio, and like earlier poster said some projects are really the dream of the developers but suffer from getting the publisher – why the want to screw up their own dream?

    Also regarding the game design, while i agree a Dev himself must have a clear design vision, everyone of us will have our own blind spot and feedback is so useful not to say it really speed up beta testing.

    Kickstarter is just a preoder model with time and budget in mind. Like it or not I think it is a really refreshing model to get finding in modern age with with piracy and DRM mess.

    Certainly kick starter has its own risk and problem as it is selling a dream, but who know we need have something similar in future due some new situations? I am just guessing, but it is good to have a more open mind to new things…

  15. Regardless if you agree or not, I think the important thing is to keep the discussion going. Kickstarter has become a phenomenon and it is unlikely to go away any time soon. There’s not necessarily a correct answer until more evidence arrives through time – especially from those who are developing the kickstarted projects.

    Yet I also think we’re not seeing a completely new model of investment, as clearly there is a hefty historical basis for “crowdfunding.” That means you face the same risks and rewards found in traditional investments, making the discussion a bit redundant. Whether it is selling dreams or laziness, the concepts and arguments are nothing new.

    Neither is the amount of influence and intervention given to the investors; this has been a point of contention in capitalism for a long time. It would be easier to argue against the open nature that spawned kickstarter in the first place, and that’s a genie that can’t be put back into the bottle. The merger of these two distinct ideologies remains worthy of discussion, but rehashing the discussions of both into some sort of ugly hybrid does no justice to the underlying issues.

  16. >a lot of developers will get an extra hours sleep every morning knowing they’ve already been paid for the next years work.

    Is this an entirely bad thing for the game developer?

  17. Reason why it’s not a problem? It is the ultimate “vote with your pocketbook” system.
    If you don’t like what they’re offering, you don’t have to support them.
    If it’s close, you have the potential to actually affect the outcome of the final game in a way that is entirely impossible in the normal game production model.

    The benefit of Kickstarter is that very connection with devs and from devs with community.
    The traditional publication system means devs are rarely in the position of being able to know their community until after release, long after design decisions are set in the gold master.
    Just my take on it.

  18. Dear Cliffski,

    Start writing more blogs when your game runs on most computers without crashing. Got Gratuitous Space Battles in a Humble Bundle, and I’m sure it is the apex of modern gaming, but it won’t run.

    Yours Truly,


  19. You raise an interesting point about naming planets/ships whatever for $10,000.

    This is chicken feed to a large corporation with an advertising budget. Wait till they catch on to the subtle or not so subtle naming of their products or simply company name in kickstarter.

    For less than the cost of a 30 second TV placement they get perpetual branding in a game.

  20. Hi!

    So I have some fears about this tool called a hammer. You see many people think a hammer is GREAT because you can use it to drive nails into surfaces like wood.

    Sure that’s possible, i’m glad people have the ability to do that.


    Couldn’t you bludgeon your own head in with a hammer? What if you miss the nail and hit your finger! I bet that would hurt…

    Sorry for being a sarcastic asshole, I hope that read with levity I intended. I feel kickstarter is like any tool. You can use it the right way or the wrong way. You point out some spectacularly wrong ways to use it but they are by no means common problems. Are there maybe examples of a few of those, perhaps. i cant list them.

  21. *sigh*
    Once again, I am not cliff blesinzski. I am the other guy called cliff in the industry. I do not work for epic, or on ‘gears3’.

    Also, I still think on the whole kickstarter is a good thing and I’m glad it exists. As I said right at the start of the article, there have been many words written on the positive side of kickstarter, I’m just contributing to the debate by drawing attention to what I see as potential negatives.

  22. I don’t agree with your points on KC at all, I do agree with Jack Smith, though.

    Paying to have a say in how a final product ends up have been a part of production well, ever since production began, if some caveman paid to goatlivers to the rocksmith of his camp, he could get a custom-designed axehead, and gain the admiration of his peers.

    Today, the people who generally pay for the thats-how-its-gonna-be pricinciple are the EAs and Ubisofts of the world, and as a gamer, I generally do not agree with their visions of how games should be.

    Enter KC, who makes it possible for gamers, both those who haven’t really got the means to do much, and those that do, to get their custom-designed axehead, and I have absolutely no issues with this being possible because of two reasons, firstly, without them the end product would not exists, and two, they too are gamers, and have an interest in the game being the best possible, so i’m pretty sure they won’t be naming their two-hand sword epic-lazors-pew-pew, but will find something that reflects them in the setting of the game.

    KC is a gift for the gamers who are tired of big-industry mass produced schlock, and I for one welcome our new funding overlords with open arms, hugs and kisses.

  23. I love the idea of crowd-funding rather than publishers. I keep saying this, but people are reading this post as CLIFFSKI HATES KICKSTARTER. I do not.
    I would be happier of kickstarter projects had just 1 tier, or a pay-what you want system.

    It’s the handing out design decisions to the wealthiest backers that bugs me.
    Are we happy with the planet name ‘tatooine’, or would be like it to be called ‘Bob’s planet’, because bob paid $1,000. Worse, are we happy with the name ‘Starbucks World’?

    I want a consistently designed world. Not one which has been designed by a random collection of unusually well-off gamers.

  24. Well I completely agree with your points and in particular concerning the game design process, which shouldn’t be influenced by random people with money.

  25. I think you raise an interesting point about the possibility of wealthy backers getting access to so much more than anyone else can afford. However I don’t believe that these privileges are ever things everyone would want.

    In most kickstarters I’ve seen, the highest tier I’ve been interested in has been around the $100 mark. By this point the game is definitely included, sometimes as a physical copy, and there are other items unique to the drive. Beyond this point we start getting the ‘vanity’ rewards, which interest me (and I suspect many other gamers) far less. I am wealthy enough that I could pledge more than this to a project which I really wanted to support, but the rewards above this level are uninteresting to me, so not being able to afford some of them is irrelevant.

    You make the comparison to bands giving fans the chance to meet them in person for money. The difference here is that (most) games developers are not so famous that meeting them is a major dream for people. I think the same is true of most higher reward tiers: you may scrimp and save for years for the chance to meet a rockstar, but would never do so to name a planet in a game after yourself or to meet that games designer. Unless you are truly super rich, the reason to give a large amount of money to a game remains a desire to support that game. Some people can give more than others, and I see no problem with developers giving them rewards that I have little interest in: I already have the game with special in game perks kickstarter backers get.

  26. I don’t think i’ve seen a single KC with tier rewards that influence the gameworld, where the developers/designers haven’t had a “within reason” clause in the pledge description (or elsewhere), and not a single game has been released where the world has been populated by “Starbucks World” or “sniperFAGxXxXx83 crib-o-destruction”.

    So, while this might be a possibility in some games, it seems more like a worst-case scenario that currently have zero real world evidence of ever happening.

    And, if a developer / studio somewhere doesn’t care about their game more than letting things like this happen, it probably would have ended up exactly the same if EA or other likeminded companies had funded the development.

    I think that you should give your fellow indie-devs outthere a little more credit than you currently do, there’s no reason not to.

  27. I don’t think some of you realize this guy is not the same guy who developed all the great games at Epic. Which you can tell from comments about Gears of War. This Cliff is cashing in on another person’s fame.

  28. how am I cashing in on someone else’s fame?. My real name is cliff harris. Sorry about that. Blame my parents.

  29. It also sucks that I don’t get a Mercedes when I pay for a Yugo.

    What’s up with that?

  30. I agree with you Cliff. I would hate to see Alderaan, Hoth, MickeyDs, and Tatooine in the same universe. Bob’s Planet isn’t much better.

    I dislike the ‘pay a lot of money to have lunch with the devs, get a special gun and ship, and have your face on an NPC’ for another reason. These promotions take advantage of and manipulate people who are mentally ill. People who have OCD and strong collector’s bugs; who want to own something unique and special so they can be special too. It’s the same reason I hate Free2Play games. They couldn’t exist without mentally ill people making poor decisions. There’s a reason a lot of gaming companies are hiring behavioral psychologists now. And it’s not a nice reason.

  31. I’m not a game developer, just a gamer. I think the point that you raise is an excellent one and totally true. KickStarter is for crowd sourcing, but I think what you have identified is different from the crowdsourcing function. Basically there is an e-patronage component to many Kick Starters, asking wealthy connoisseurs to produce things that would go unproduced if left to the people who just want to pay for a copy of the game.

    To those who disagree with the original entry, let me explain the distinction. Crowd sourcing is asking people to pay for something upfront so that the thing can be produced. When you back a game in this way, you are a capitalist, you are putting your money into the means of production with the expectation of a return. This is similar to buying stock. When you buy stock you are looking to maximize your return on investment (ROI), the more you invest the more you will get. In the market context every investor will get the same ROI, but some investor’s dividends will be orders of magnitude greater than others (if a $10 investor gets $1, $100 would get $10). When you back a kickstarter you may be buying into somebody’s dream but you are still making economic decision and are still seeking an ROI. If you back at $50 you are buying a game, if you back at $500 you would expect ten times the value. Where does that value come from? Some kick starters offer shirts and posters and are basically selling things. But other Kickstarters offer highly exclusive game experiences (unique items or NPC names) or input into the development and that changes the nature of the investment (regardless of whether developers will listen or the items are cosmetic).

    When you have people donating more than others, and extracting different sorts of value, it’s no longer crowdsourcing. Those latter categories are offering and creating an exclusive and idiosyncratic value that cannot be ascertained in equal proportion by the lower tiers. As long as there are tiers in the thousands you have to wonder what kind of value those people are buying. It seems to me that the lower tier buyers are buying something fundamentally different from higher tier buyers. Higher tier buyers are buying bragging rights and access.

    That’s why I mention patronage. This is nothing new. It’s like backstage tickets to a concert, your name on a plaque of donors, or a 10 minute meeting with a political candidate. Whether you are ok with that is your decision. I’m not trying to make any moral judgment calls, I just think we should be honest about what’s going on.

    The only judgment I will make is my own. I’m ok with this stuff in the kickstarter context because it means I get to play a game I want. For example Hero-U barley made its funding goals by offering tremendous incentives to high-end donors. But, that game will be produced now, and although there won’t be a portrait of me displayed in game I will get to play it. If you havnt seen kickstarters that offer these things you need to look harder, they are around. And non-normatively they are good ideas, apparently you can make 6.99 mill. offering them. There are however, situations where I wouldn’t be ok with it, like our political system is a big one.

  32. I don’t think you get it cliff.

    Kickstarter is about hardcore gamers getting the shaft over the last 10 years because publishers gave up on risky games. Games like Freespace 1 + 2 didnt’ sell gangbusters so they stopped being made. Kickstarter allows games to be made that don’t have to sell impossible numbers in order to be continue to be made.

    Has nothing to do with inequality, has to do with the game industries complete dumbing down and homogenization of modern games and a starving audience who misses games that had depth and complexity.

    Trying to say it’s about inequality is nonsense, it’s about the games. I think you are the one out of touch here, people know what they are signing up for with kickstarter. But they want to see those old games brought back and they are willing to take the risk of it not working out because NOT having even tried is even worse.

  33. I wish people would actually read my post before commenting. I’m not even against kickstarter. please READ my very specific criticism.
    I would be happy with a kickstarter that had pay what you want, or one tier. selling design meetings in a restaurant for $1,000 in what I object to.
    But if people want to throw their money at that, then fine. I’m not stopping you.

  34. The problem I have with kickstarter is that the projects that get funded usually run on nostalgia, and also, even if the bigger projects pick up 1 or 2 million on kickstarter that is sometimes still not enough to actually fund the game development, that is how big some of these projects are :/.

  35. Or you can take it to the next level like the indie buskers or a few other developers that allow people to pay and submit/vote on game ideas with the winning idea being created.

  36. Hey Cliff,

    First, I’d like to say that I enjoy reading your blog. Whenever you write a more provocative article, such as this one, I make sure to read the entire article. For some odd reason, I find that many people tend to read in bits and pieces, and often, they skip and jump through written articles without reading the full thing. This often leads to misunderstandings which follows with people then jumping to conclusions. I don’t know how many people will actually get what I mean by that, but then, it all depends if those people with this problem have actually read this far. ;-)

    I agree with you 100% though. Kickstarter is great, but you’re absolutely right that kickstarter is selling dreams. You’ve approached the subject with intelligence and hopefully it will open up a few more eyes to the negative side of Kickstarter. There are plenty of positives, but like you said, I think it’s important to notice the negatives as well.

  37. This remains my all-time favourite demonstration of whether people read the article before wading into the comments thread guns a-blazing.

  38. J,
    If the 1 or 2 million for a project isn’t enough, then they need to set a higher goal. Thats what the GOAL number is for. Its for the minimum amount that something can be done. And how would you know if a certain project can’t be done for that amount? So far, I’ve not heard of any $1m+ failures. And some KS have been completed and made available for sale, such as FTL (very enjoyable game).

    That 6.9 mil is a photoshopped image as I pointed out a while back. Its easy enough to check, you can goto kickstarter and look at the most funded projects. I think $10m is about the biggest, and for that image to be real would require a project of 9*$6.9m or $62m to be real.

  39. It is a problem.

    So here is another thing that bothers me, which I don’t think you really brought up.

    What happens when one of these Kickstarter funded projects fail spectacularly? Not necessarily that it fails to deliver (though that one will be nasty too), but fails to deliver a good enough product (e.g., Stardock’s Elemental) or a product that fits with the expectations of the fanbase (e.g., Mass Effect 3). If people can get so riled up over products that they do not have actual ownership on, how will that be where they actually do have a reasonable cause to feel ownership. Especially if one of those people is someone who has put a significant amount of money into the project.

    I think developers on Kickstarter are riding a tiger, and sooner or later, someone is going to get eaten. And it won’t be pretty when it happens.

  40. Michael,
    Thats always brought up as a argument against KS. So what if one fails? You have better chances of a KS thats met its goal succeeding than pre-ordering a random game blind and it not being any good since you didn’t wait for reviews. Normal publisher made games fail. It doesn’t stop games from being made.

  41. The first three reasons don’t really apply. The great-sounding games from people with no track record (pretty much) never get funded. The projects that get funded are the ones from superstar developers who have proven again and again that they can deliver.

    Kickstarter, as far as I’ve seen, has not been for funding great games that we want to see, but to fund great developers from the past, whom we want to see again!

    The motivation of these developers is usually not the Kickstarter goal money. They’ve usually made boatloads of money already when they because legends. Their motivation is usually getting back in the game, bringing back the lost gameplay styles from bygone eras, and proving to all the publishers who rejected them that it’s their loss. They won’t get lazy.

    The last reason is true, but compared to “marketing department design” that publishers usually use, committee design is clearly the lesser of the 2 evils.

  42. I did some analysis recently of how many Kickstarted video game projects actually deliver their game / peripheral to their backers. From 2009 to 2011 the result is 1 in 3.

    Only around 5 Kickstarted projects have formally cancelled themselves – there are a lot of of these projects that just stop updating, or announce that they’ve lost key team members but are still going.

    Things might change in 2012 – the explosion of projects on Kickstarter might see more things delivered – and I’ll be looking at things again in March-ish 2013 to see if it has.

  43. Patronage of the arts has a long history. Without wealthy benefactors throughout the ages, we would be missing a lot of our cultural heritage.

    People with money to burn are enabling new games to be made in exchange for lunches and naming planets.
    The Kickstarter player who pays $15 is a bigger winner than the one who pay $1000. They are getting the game they want at the price they are able/prepared to pay.

    It is up to the developer to ensure the purity of their artistic vision. What’s in a name anyway?

  44. Geez, you guys really went full retard on Cliff today.

    Cliff, how dare you be named like someone else!

  45. Wow, look at all the comments!

    I get what you are saying and I agree with you Cliff, but gamers just dont understand how gamedev works.

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