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Dragged Kickstarting and Screaming

April 20, 2012
Kickstarter - Where Stuff Happens

As I grow older, I find myself giving less and less of a crap about other people’s shortcomings in general. So long as they don’t immediately affect me or anybody else for whom I’m responsible in any practical sense, I’m perfectly at ease to let people make, and own, their own mistakes – even if it means letting them fall flat on their asses in all kinds of painful ways. I’m thinking that maybe this has something to with the fact that as time marches on, more and more of my own failures are added to a pile that, while quite hefty, isn’t growing quite as quickly as it used to. Indeed, learning from mistakes has time and time again proven more useful than being told a bunch of best practices and theories up-front, but not really understanding what they were designed to prevent. So as long as the cost of doing so isn’t astronomical, I’m perfectly content to let the odd fuckup just slide – the benefit to the people actually making the mistake is too great not to.

That said there are certain things that I haven’t quite figured out how to rationalize and that still manage to get me absolutely furious. One is arrogance, especially arrogance based on ignorance of one’s own inability. Another is intellectual dishonesty; knowing better, but still doing or saying stupid shit. Yet another is wilful ignorance; not wanting to know the truth of a matter. And to be honest, I often feel like I’ve chosen the absolutely worst possible career path for someone who doesn’t want to be driven insane by those three issues in particular.

I’d be surprised if there was any other industry where the failings of intellect and character I’ve listed above are quite as apparent as in the games industry. And, sadly, the closer one gets to the consumer side of things, the more obvious these and similar issues become – and the more likely they are to be seen combined together in various ways.

Gamers are absolutely infatuated with the myths and legends of the games industry, to the point of not knowing absolutely anything – anything – about games development. They live in such a state of ignorance where if one were to tell them that games development does not, in fact, mean that you get to play games all day, most of them would only be moderately more likely to believe you than someone who doesn’t even play games. They really believe in crap such as the idea that Shigeru Miyamoto is the sole reason Nintendo’s games are as good as they are, or that optimizing performance is analogous to squeezing more fruit from an orange than the next guy can. Hell, for the longest time, the “bits” value of a processor was how we defined hardware capability. Does anyone talk about bits anymore? Of course not, but this doesn’t mean that people are getting smarter or less gullible; it just means that the agenda has been reset by those who hold the power to do so.

The specialist press – games magazines, web sites and the like – are of course complicit in all of this. Hell, they’d be stupid not to be; if you’ve got a fan base that’s this gullible, ignorant and proud of it, you’re going to cater to it, not educate it to your own detriment. Games press is more often than not at the mercy of publishers and the second you start fiddling too much with your user base the sooner they start asking difficult questions, and requiring you to do the same. You know, engaging in actual journalism and stuff. I mean, journalism is hard, at least compared to falling in line with the narrative-of-least-resistance that keeps publishers happy and doesn’t bar you from press meetings and overseas trips at the others’ expense.

Not an accurate representation of game development

It’s not just about laziness or “letting stuff slide” either; some articles are intentionally written in an intellectually dishonest manner. I remember a relatively recent article written on Nintendo’s ex-boss Hiroshi Yamauchi and his domineering management style that was printed in the only Swedish games magazine worth mentioning that made me absolutely cringe at the torturing of facts and intellectual dishonesty taking place. The writer made conclusions towards a narrative that in at least one place was blatantly opposite to what a more honest person would have written, because there was, as there always is, a preconceived thesis to pound into people’s heads. And what thesis was this? That the games industry is all fun and laughter and cool ideas and gut feeling and that anybody can do it. It’s not hard, and it’s definitely not technical, and really there’s no need to delve deeper into the subject – the digest version that the media provides is all you need. And so, a feedback loop is created, where people believe a bunch of stupid shit and the media is more than happy to let them continue believing as they do. And since the supply-side, the media, has money riding on the status quo, it’s quite obvious that if this state of affairs is to ever change, it needs to happen on the demand-side of things.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, because oversimplification goes hand in hand with much of the human experience. Whether they believe in conspiracy theories, ESP or religions, people have an instinctive desire to fill in as many of their mental blanks as possible – even if it is with things they have no real evidence for. And the more complicated ideas are, the harder they are to get people to accept – even when the truth of the matter is undeniable. Building anything on such a foundation isn’t easy, and there’s no explanation of how games development is done that can trump the appealing naïveté that is “get cool ideas – > give to some programmer-y guys who do magic – > launch”. Even when I’ve tried to inform grown men and women enrolled in university-level training programs, I’ve found myself making very simplified causal links like the one below:

  • Conception – A core idea is hatched at a publisher or development studio.
  • Matchmaking – The party that thought up the idea tries to think of a development studio or publisher that, for whatever reason, might make a good partner.
  • Initial Pitch – First discussions are initiated, sometimes over dinner or in some other sort of informal meeting; both parties testing the waters with no real investment. An initial budget proposal often appears around here, with a preliminary timeline and preliminary milestone dates (to clarify the term: these bullet points could all be seen as key milestones, and each milestone would have a partial payment attached to it).
  • High Concept Mandate – Regardless of where the core idea initiated, the developer is usually asked to put together one or more high concept documents that provide a bird’s eye view of the entire game, and let the high-ranking suits and marketers weigh it against the rest of their portfolio, figure out where it would fit in their general release schedule and so on.
  • Prototype Phase – If all the high-level materials are in order, publishers may ask developers to quickly make a rough prototype of the game, just to give a quick taste of the look-and-feel and/or to prove the feasibility of functionality that people might not be able to otherwise get a sense of.
  • Pre-Production Phase – This is where all the tools are prepped, information is gathered, assumptions about the game’s selling points are tested and the development team sets out to prove to the publisher that the game can be made at the required level of quality, on time, with the initially proposed staff.
  • Production Phase – The project has got the green light; all the risky stuff has been proven, all the tools and development methods have been tested, and the game starts being built in earnest.
  • The Alpha Milestone – The game is now at a state that is considered “feature complete”; all the graphics and audio aren’t in, but you can play through the entire game in a purely functional sense.
  • The Beta Milestone – Everything in the game is “final”, and the game is considered done, except for bug fixing.
  • Release Candidate – A Beta version of the game that doesn’t have any known major bugs and is put through all kinds of torturous, focused testing procedures, and if it gets through all of them it gets submitted for release.

Now, again, I’ve run this by people who’ve been in the classroom specifically to learn about making games, and still had to deal with eyes glazing over, or the odd non-sequitur question that made me wonder if they had even been listening, or whether I just suck as a teacher. And that was before I told them about how overly simplified this model was, how many other ways of doing it there was, or how much I personally hated working in the above manner and wanted to change it. I finally got through to the students, of course, but the point had hit home with me; if someone didn’t already have any interest in figuring out how these things worked, then something big would have to happen that directly involved them for there to be a paradigm shift in their thought process, making them finally care to know how games are actually funded and made.

This made a lot of money

Enter Kickstarter, the service that lets individuals pledge to donate money to worthwhile causes or products that they would like to see on the market. It’s an awesome idea in general and for games in particular because it lets players fund the game concepts they would like to see in advance – rather than pick the lesser evil from what the big-name publishers choose to put on the market. I think Kickstarter is just the beginning of opt-in, crowd-sourced funding, personally. Before you know it, you’ll see everything from “Donate!” buttons on AAA games’ websites to development backlogs where players are allowed to overrule the priorities of development studios by putting their money where their mouths are; paying the difference between cheaper and more expensive feature to have the latter kind developed quicker. Most importantly, however, is that it’s going to drag gamers – and the entire consumer side of the industry – out of their naïve, juvenile, clueless dream world, once and for all.

You see, in games development there are different kinds of stakeholders. Depending on the structure of the game(s) being developed, the people involved might differ a bit. Obviously you’ll have the development team, and sometimes a surrounding corporate structure that has some lesser degree of involvement and interest in the project – maybe other teams share the same technology or something, and might benefit from the achievements of the project in question. Next, at least for high-budget AAA games, you’ll most often have a publisher involved. Sometimes the publisher has an internal development team that, for all intents and purposes, “are” the same company. But even with the internal teams there’s generally a divide between development and publishing, and the developers feel a certain degree of disdain for “the suits”. Naturally, this is multiplied many times over when the developer is an external company. In these situations, the publisher is almost always seen as “the bad guy” (with certain publishers actually intentionally cultivating that perception), both by the developers and the general public. After all, the publisher is always the one who makes feature cuts and only thinks about their precious money, and so on. Finally, you’ll have more or less silent partners and other types of stakeholders that often aren’t even gaming-orientated in the true sense of the word. We may be talking about investors, governments, banks and other hands-off financier types, and they will generally only care about dates being hit and cursory quality goals being met. And that used to be pretty much the end of it.

These days, thanks to Kickstarter, there’s a new type of stakeholder, and that’s the prospective buyers/fans of the game – at least the ones who choose to donate to the development of the game through the Kickstarter service (or, I suppose, other similar services). This is indeed a pretty big development and change in the power structure of the games industry. Sadly, there’s not much to be happy about just yet, because everything goes through growing pains. And if you have donated to a Kickstarter-funded project, you’ve just put yourself in the worst possible position as a stakeholder. Because, after all, you are at the very bottom rung of the financier ladder, with no leverage, no creative control, no operational control, and win, lose or draw, you have absolutely no way of ensuring any form of return-on-investment. You can’t even sue for your money back, something publishers have done successfully more than once. And no matter which Kickstarter game you’ve contributed to, you have plenty of reason to worry – whether you know it or not. Let’s look at a few of these projects and I’ll elaborate.

First up we have the Star Command project, and it’s probably the best place to start because of how far they’ve gotten in administrating their costs and how open they’ve been with their financing situation. Looking at their numbers, things start out pretty nicely; they had hoped for 20 000 USD, but ended up with a sum total of 36,967 in pledges – so far so great, that’s almost twice what they had hoped for. Sadly, it all goes downhill from there. They lost almost 2000 bucks from people who’d pledged but didn’t come through. Amazon and Kickstarter payments brought them down to 32 000, and then there was the “prize fulfilment” bit which took another 10 grand out of their coffers. Quite quickly, they’d lost almost all of their surplus funding and were down to their original goal. But, of course, the bad news didn’t stop there, and on their blog I’m reading that they have less than 4000 USD left from the pledges. Read that again – it means that if they would have only gotten to their initial goal of 20 000, and the expenses would have been the same (edit: they would’ve had to have had a higher reward per pledge for that to be true), they would have been in the red already, at least as far as this source of income is concerned (luckily, there are other sources, and so it seems like the game is still happening). All of these more-or-less unforeseen expenses should be more than enough to make most Kickstarter-financiers nervous, with the smarter ones probably thinking “gee, maybe I should assume there will be overhead costs and ask about them in advance before donating to that cool-sounding MMO project”. Sure, these expenses don’t all scale upwards infinitely, but if you’ve pledged money to any of the other projects, some of them with much bigger budgets than that of Star Command, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether the estimating and budgeting power of the developers you’ve chosen to get behind are any better.

Not that you’d have any way of knowing, either way. Just like the games press has done for many years now, all of the Kickstarter projects I’ve seen so far have leveraged the ignorance of their target audience to their own benefit. There’s plenty of lofty conceptual goals, but precious few details on milestone dates, development methodologies, staffing or scheduling. We’re just supposed to take these people completely on faith, and sure, in some cases we might well be justified to do this. The first game to get this whole thing started in earnest was, after all, a Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert production that was in a genre with a relatively low level of conceptual and technical risk. But the point is that the general audience has no way of knowing this, and even if they were the sceptical, inquisitive type, most of them wouldn’t even know what kind of information to ask the developers for. They don’t know that crucial information is missing.

This long-awaited sequel has finally been kicked off – but will it disappoint?

Looking at another game that’s been phenomenally successful in acquiring funding, Wasteland 2, also helps to hammer home this point. As I’m scouring their initial concept pitch on the Kickstarter page, I find their low-level, nitty-gritty information; the “nuts and bolts” as the developers themselves call the section on their web page. I was expecting a good, detailed read, but, well… here’s a sample of how nuts-and-boltsy they get:

“No first person shooter, we’re going top down so you get a tactical feel for the situation.”

Top-down, tactical feel huh? That’s cool, I can picture it already. Wait, no, I can’t. How about some mockups? At least one faked screenshot, maybe? Is it supposed to inspire confidence that your lead artist, or concept guy or whatever, can’t whip one of those out in a few hours?

We’re planning on an initial 6 months of pre-production. We’ll nail down every important element that you, our creative partners, want.  Once we have all that figured out, we buckle down for 12 month development cycle. “

That’s amazing. How many people were there again? And are you really right to be committing to this scheduling at this juncture? I mean, you’re pretending that “every important element” means that every high-level idea is going to be equally difficult to implement – what if the most popular one isn’t doable in 12 months? Also, what if you get more money and… nevermind, I’ll keep reading.

“…Brian Fargo has offered to fund the last $100,000 if need be. That’s a lot of money needed, but not when compared with the budgets of most full scale RPGs made today.”

That’s certainly true, and interesting. Why is this, again? Am I supposed to infer something about the quality of the game from the budget? Or did you guys find some magical way of making more for less? Are you doing outsourcing, 2D graphics, what?

“At $1.25 million, the money will go primarily into making the world bigger, adding more maps, more divergent stories and even more music.”

“At $1.5 million, the world gets even bigger. You’ll have more adventures to play, more challenges to deal with, and a greater level of complexity to the entire storyline.  We’ll add more environments, story elements, and characters to make the rich world come alive even more.”

Cool, that implies that there’s reducible complexity built into the design of the game. Very new-school stuff, that. Pardon me if I’m sceptical though; is there even a cursory design document yet? Or even a high-level technical design document of how you’ll put together the content? Also, shouldn’t we be seeing substantially increased returns per-dollar? I mean, the more mature the tech becomes the quicker it is to whip out additional instances of the same type of content, while programming workloads become increasingly light as the game reaches release. How is the project staffed up/down to cater to the shifting needs?

Anyway, that’s… pretty much it.  That’s the extent of their nuts-and-bolts section. It’s possible that there are answers to all of these questions of mine, and more, somewhere, but honestly; the quality level of this pitch is absolutely mind-boggling. Most publishers wouldn’t want to be caught dead financing something so iffy. Again, it’s only because the average gamer is so pie-in-the-sky that this even has the slightest chance of working. And people are quick to capitalize on it; new projects are cropping up every day, and even though I find it very hard not to be excited at the prospect of a new Shadowrun or similar, I have no choice but to gawk at how sloppy some of these pitches and “project plans” are.

The new Shadowrun game’s feature roadmap – almost an actual production document

Finally, the budgets – the crazy-ass budgets! A role-playing game for 400 000 USD, a “realistic, squad-based tactical shooter” for half that, my goodness, how can they print this stuff with a straight face? Many developers would struggle to even make a convincing prototype for that kind of money, depending on where the quality bar is set. From the pledges that these games are getting, however, it seems like the bait-and-switch is working, and that’s ultimately what matters.

Wait, am I saying that the people seeking the funding don’t believe in their own budgets and ability to deliver? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Not all of these estimates and ambitious promises are intellectually honest mistakes; some of them are lies from people who know better. Now, even if they really intend to make the games, they are acting just as dishonestly towards their layman financiers as they would towards a big publisher. The plan is this: get people invested, fail to deliver but show progress to whet people’s appetites. Then do a new fundraising drive to finish the game, and ultimately end up with up to twice the original budget, if not even more. After all, what are the backers going to do, pull out and be guaranteed to lose all their money? No – of course they, you, will pay. And then for the next project, the developer will pretend like they’ve learned their lesson and start the whole thing all over again.

I predict that this will happen with at least one of the projects. I also predict that at least one of them will get picked up by a big-name publisher (please, let this happen to Wasteland 2, so we get to hear Brian Fargo suddenly love working with a big-name publisher that’s not like the rest of them), with little or no compensation paid to the Kickstarter backers that effectively funded a startup company. Furthermore, at least one of the projects will fall totally flat on its face and one or more “legendary” games designers will be revealed to be a complete fraud. Most, if not all of them, will probably look, sound and play worse, pound-for-pound (or dollar-for-dollar rather), than fans would have expected.

Will the trend last? Or will players bail once they’ve been burned once or twice?

The results will include public outrage, scandals, legal conflicts and probably a newfound respect for the kind of stuff the average publisher has to put up with when dealing with arrogant, primadonna  game developers. The corollary is that people will also be forced to stop deifying some of their developer idols, as their understanding of the nuances of the developer-financier relationship improves. Most important, however, is that the average person’s knowledge of how games development works, and their desire to look behind the scenes in the future, will likely increase many times over once they’ve lost a good chunk of their own hard-earned money to some glorified hack with a cool-sounding idea and a bit of stolen concept art. I can hardly wait for the first instance of someone who’d pledged 10 000 USD to one of these projects to painfully realize that he should learn the meaning of words like “milestone”, “risk matrix”, “contingency” and “feature creep”. Because ultimately, the only way to make people grow up that is better than to be allowed to own your failures, is to also be forced to own somebody else’s.

150 Comments
  1. David Holmin permalink

    Wait, what? Stakeholders? I’m just giving money to a proven, competent team that promises to deliver a Wasteland sequel true to its RPG roots. When Brian Fargo with a team consisting largely of old Wasteland and Fallout people say they’re going to make an RPG that’s not FPS, and with turn-based combat, why would I demand a design document? I don’t care about specifics. I want them to give me their vision.

    Bookmarked this page for when Wasteland 2 becomes a raging success among the old school RPG niche crowd, to look back at for a good laugh.

    • Just out of interest, how much did you put down? I’d wager people become a lot more pragmatic the more they contribute.

      You don’t seem to care about any specifics, at all, because none are provided – regarding the design of the game or otherwise.

      This is, of course, your prerogative, but if and when it falls flat on its ass, I wonder if you’ll change your tune.

      What benefits are there to taking this stuff on faith? I can understand not wanting to know the story line or whatever, but you seem to be arguing the merits of wilful ignorance.

      • David Holmin permalink

        Sorry for the mocking tone in the last paragraph of my first message. Got a bit excited. I also may have to eat those words, obviously, but I don’t think so.

        To answer your question, I put down $140 in total. Not a lot of money, sure, and someone giving more has more to lose, but I think people are (or should be) aware Kickstarter projects may never click.

        Most importantly, what benefits are there to taking it on faith, you ask? In the case of Wasteland 2: They are experienced developers. They have past Wasteland and Fallout designers. They’ve got Mark Morgan, musician of Fallout 1/2. Brian Fargo has overseen countless games in his days. He knows the economy and the process. It’s worth it because you respect a lot of the people involved, and you’re interested in seeing what they can do with your money without the demands of a publisher. It’s faith, but it’s not blind faith. It’s not someone saying “I’ll mak an awesum gaem!” (But some other KS projects are.) Simply put, it’s the best chance of getting a proper RPG.

        Wilful ignorance? I can’t see that. It’s about giving a well-known creator with a vision free hands with a previously (almost) dead genre. What is it you would have liked to see to feel the “pitch” is serious enough?

      • Developer talent doesn’t = ability to deliver within budget and within deadline. The situation with video games is almost identical to that with Film where the consumer base thinks they know what making a movie entails but they haven’t an inkling about the logistics of it and the real costs in time and money for even the smallest of things.

        Personally I hope they do make wasteland 2 and that it turns out to be like fallout 2, but the project as presented on kickstarter sounds exactly like any of the many projects on MODDB where it never really pans out.

      • Developer talent doesn’t = ability to deliver within budget and within deadline.

        It does when I’m doing the assessments and interviews. :)

        I jest, but it’s definitely a quality that at least some people in the team should have. And many in the industry do, with the projects gaining much from it.

        “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”
        – Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD; one would’ve hoped it would’ve sunk in by now.)

      • Hah, I was in no way saying that you shouldn’t have talented developers, but rather there’s a reason that a lot of development companies work with publishers/don’t self publish (you talking about publishers developing the bad guy persona for example ties in with this). The best developers are the ones that combine that raw talent and positive goal oriented ego w/ the ability to self-edit to meet deadlines and budgets.

        I myself have been burned on kickstarter through unbridled enthusiasm for a project. (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1171791306/city-of-epic-an-exercise-rpg). It got funded and they did release a beta (really more of an alpha). But all development stopped after that. They had the money and they delivered the minimum to reach what they said they would do and that was it. I didn’t think to really look into things because at the time there wasn’t really any other browser based exercise/chore games and I really wanted one for some extra external motivation.

      • The best developers are the ones that combine that raw talent and positive goal oriented ego w/ the ability to self-edit to meet deadlines and budgets.

        Hear here. “Kill your darlings” applies to game development as much as anywhere else.

        Duke Nukem Forever, anyone?

      • Duke Nukem was in my mind the whole time reading your opinion piece. Also the stereotype of the dot com bomb companies for the 90s having wild success and caviar lunches and imploding in from their own extravagance.

        I really want to work at a company that does SCRUM (I’m in grad school for IS right now) and has that sort of accountability built into every stage of the process.

      • Yeah, I’m really big on SCRUM too – especially the one-to-two week long iterations, the definitions of “done”, the test cases built into everything.

        If the Kickstarter folks showed me a nice product backlog with reasonable estimates and a nice subdivision of tasks for each user story, it’d go a long way towards winning me over.

      • Zachary Bart permalink

        I don’t get why you think you’re entitled to act as project overseer. I appreciate that the ‘nets are chock full of people with grandiose feelings of entitlement, but you seem to come off as someone who has some organizational chops. So why don’t you know better?

        If you plop down $15, then you are entitled to what they say they will deliver to you for $15. That’s all. I recommend that you keep your $15 in your pocket.

      • I’m sorry, I fail to see how any of this relates to the article, really. It’s the first I’ve heard of it – you sure you’re reading the same text as everyone else?

        As for entitlement, neither myself nor anyone else is legally entitled to anything. Morally, however, that’s for everyone to decide.

        Do you, also, mean to suggest that there’s a donation threshold where you start being entitled to a bit of transparency?

      • _Pax_ permalink

        Myself, I put down $100.

        Brian Fargo’s track record speaks for itself. Add the original Wasteland team into the mix, and I am 100% confident that I’ll get my money’s worth out of the project.

        Wasteland was the first big CRPG I ever played – on my old Commodore C64; I was seventeen when the game was released. And you know what? Just the nostalgia of revisiting that world, with a modern computer and more up-to-date gameplay and graphics, will be completely worth my $100.

        The only way I’ll be disappointed, is if somehow, the entire project is just a scam of some sort. And given that more than a couple of the developers’ future earnings are based on the value of their “good names” in the industry, I seriously doubt that’s even a possibility.

      • Zachary Bart permalink

        re:

        “Odious Repeater permalink

        I’m sorry, I fail to see how any of this relates to the article, really. It’s the first I’ve heard of it – you sure you’re reading the same text as everyone else?

        As for entitlement, neither myself nor anyone else is legally entitled to anything. Morally, however, that’s for everyone to decide.

        Do you, also, mean to suggest that there’s a donation threshold where you start being entitled to a bit of transparency?”

        I fail to see what you fail to see. A good deal of your piece was detailing what you *should* know about the projects but do not because the ones doing them are failing at their task of providing that info to you. There is a difference between an investor and a donor. Even investors are not entitled to detailed project status (I know, I have played the market for decades. Have you ever attended a stockholders meeting?)

        And frankly, if you are serious about wanting to know something, there are several avenues for you to pursue. They seem quite willing to answer questions both in private messages, in forums, in videos and updates, and in their ever expanding list of faqs.

      • A good deal of your piece was detailing what you *should* know about the projects but do not because the ones doing them are failing at their task of providing that info to you.

        Yes, what I think I should be allowed to see, what is standard practice for the people who’ve “bought” your project to see, at least in the games industry. My opinion on this subject obviously doesn’t obligate them in any way, but it’s one of my reasons for not contributing. And if other people knew what they were missing, they might do the same.

        There is a difference between an investor and a donor.

        Yes, I’ve made this concession more than once. The reactions to the future failings of some of these projects will show how many of the contributors see themselves as one or the other. But even donors have certain expectations, if not rights, in this regard. In the country I’m from, we even have seals-of-approval that charity organizations earn after people in the know have done the background check on the behalf of the prospective donors. Obviously an opt-in thing, but one that all serious charities go for.

        Even investors are not entitled to detailed project status

        Not automatically, no. I don’t think I’ve ever contested this.

        And frankly, if you are serious about wanting to know something, there are several avenues for you to pursue. They seem quite willing to answer questions both in private messages, in forums, in videos and updates, and in their ever expanding list of faqs.

        I’m more interested in what they choose to volunteer; that in itself says a lot about a lot. In the future, you might agree with me. Unless, of course, you’re the kind of person who is totally fine with black-boxing all his investments, and doesn’t feel the need to avoid making the same bad investment twice by knowing what went wrong the first time.

        Sure, they have a right to not tell people anything. I just think that if people knew what they were missing, it would bother them a lot more that they were letting themselves be wooed by catchphrases and past achievements.

      • Oh, and one more thing: investors generally invest in businesses, right? Entire product portfolios, strategies, so on. CEOs, board members… a top-down, strategic view.

        If investing was done on a per-project basis, I’m pretty sure things would look different with regards to investor insight. The market would reward projects that were transparent and accessible – insofar as it didn’t cause too much overhead or spill crucial secrets. Don’t you think so?

        With Kickstarter people aren’t (intentionally) funding companies that will then be allowed to go on their merry way – they are funding specific games that they would like to see. That changes things from a practical, as well as from an emotional, point of view. I think that may be why my thesis has resonated so much with some people. They would like their financial contributions, as well as their emotional investment, to be taken seriously.

        Others are perfectly fine with blind faith. Meh, what can you do?

    • I’ve backed a game called “No Time to Explain”. They had released a demo and everything, so we knew very well what the game would be like. However, after some thought, I realized that their budget was far too low. They required $7k, but got $26k (Around €20k).

      Now to put that into perspective, one of the 2 developers was Dutch. The Dutch minimum wage per month is currently €1,446. With 2 people, that would be around €3k per month. So if they had no other costs, they could develop the game for 6 months IF they both worked for minimum wage. They outsourced the music, I have no statistics on that cost, but it should be quite a lot. They went to E3, there go another couple of thousands.
      After some deal from a Russian publisher went wrong, I doubt they had any money at all.

      In the end, they took from late May to August and the game was just a piece of shit. You had the same bugs that were also in the demo and everything after was even worse. In fact, you could literally not finish the game. It was badly designed and not fun to play at all.

      • I am… sorry for your loss. :(

        May I ask how much you contributed?

      • I spent $35 on an old school RPG that has taken a year, but you know? The guy is still updating and still working on it.

  2. No problem, my skin is pretty tough. And to clarify, it’s quite possible that Wasteland 2 specifically isn’t going to bomb, or have even the slightest setback. I absolutely concede that having faith may end up being justified in some of these cases. But I don’t know, and you don’t either. Tell you what – if WL2 does end up being a raging success like you say, please don’t be smug about it. And I promise that I won’t say “I told you so”, as if I would’ve known the exact specifics of why it bombed, if it does end up bombing, or being delayed, or whatever. Also, if the game you backed ends up fine, but another one falls to crap for reasons that could’ve been seen a mile away with a bit of proper transparency in place, please take the lesson from there: you were just lucky to get behind the right people.

    Now, pretty much all of the people whom you or others have chosen to fund on faith have worked professionally, with external stakeholders like publishers, in the past. They know the kind of information people would want to have to be comfortable investing money into a project. They could choose to be inclusive and transparent if they wanted to, but they don’t. By looking at the material that’s been put together for the Kickstarter pitches of various startups/individuals, it seems quite obvious that they are specifically targeting people who wouldn’t know how to challenge the statements and promises. In other words, they are putting together a pitch that no publisher would ever accept just because they can get away with it with in this instance. Obviously, you don’t find this disrespectful, but I do. So I wouldn’t contribute.

    “It’s worth it because you respect a lot of the people involved, and you’re interested in seeing what they can do with your money without the demands of a publisher.”

    That’s all fine and well – it’s your money and you can set your standards wherever you want. But how would it hurt you, or the project, if these guys took the time to actually provide the information that someone like myself would want? If you’re personally not interested, then just… don’t read that bit in the pitch.

    Also, you may be surprised to learn just how much undeserved crap has been thrown at publishers in general. Half the content of my original point was that the “truth” of games development that is presented to and accepted by players has little to nothing to do with the real facts on the ground. If you’ve never been in the pipeline for real, you wouldn’t know, you can’t know. Yes, there are actual recorded instances where publishers saved the project from failing. Sometimes they’ve even saved developers from themselves by stonewalling stuff that the devs themselves only later realized would’ve been a bad idea.

    Also, ask Fredrik Wester about how he wants developers to be thought of as rock stars by players, even at his own expense. Quite enlightening.

    “What is it you would have liked to see to feel the “pitch” is serious enough?”

    Again, it’s about serious-enough-for-whom. For me to make more than a nominal (say $100+) contribution, I’d like to see first drafts of:

    * A High-Concept Document
    * Scheduling Documents with preliminary milestone dates
    * A Staffing strategy/timeline
    * A Preliminary budget breakdown
    * Risk Assessments, Mitigation Strategies, Contingency plans
    * Content rollout timeline (the Shadowrun one isn’t terrible, though it’s obviously very consumer-focused)

    I’d even allow for it all to be high-level, even guesstimated stuff, with a healthy helping of “we don’t know yet” where it’s obvious that they can’t know. But at least they should try to be just as professional as if they were talking to people who understood to cut through bullshit and a purple haze of fanboyism. This stuff can be put together in one week by just one (1) sufficiently competent person.

    You’re fine to not need it for yourself. But I’ve yet to hear why I shouldn’t want to have it.

    • David Holmin permalink

      You’re making valid points when it comes to many of the projects that have popped up recently. But focusing so much on Wasteland 2 – one of the most credible projects – seemed a bit unfair. It’s also one of the biggest, so I can see why.

      I’m not advocating *not* including the kind of info you list. I never said anything like that, as far as I know. I wouldn’t mind bugdet plans and stuff like that. I’m sure it’ll come, though, now that they know how much money they’ve got. As for now, I’m trusting Brian Fargo didn’t get the minimum requirement of $1M out of thin air. And I’m also trusting him when he says Jason Anderson has already put together a design document outlining story, characters and locations, that they will base the game on. As for staffing, they’ve already said quite a lot about their plans in interviews and other places. I can see why you’d want all this info more clearly on the Kickstarter page, though.

      As for publishers bouncing non-feasible projects, thus saving developers, I suppose that’s true. However, you shouldn’t forget that this game specifically would *never* have happened *with* a publisher, because of its narrow target audience. That’s why the Kickstarter was concieved in the first place. So either it will work out, or we still won’t get Wasteland 2 (as a hardcore RPG), as has been the case so far.

      • David Holmin permalink

        For the record, I’m more skeptical about the Shadowrun project, because the company has no track record of similar games to the one they’re proposing, and of no games I like. I know nothing of the competence of the developers, and they’ve been even more vague in what the game will become. I still pledged, though, simply because I love the Shadowrun setting. It’s money I can afford to throw away (in the worst case).

      • Actually, I don’t take anything on staff experience and track record if I can avoid it. It’s often about team constellation, technology base, corporate structure, publisher support (!) and lots of other things. In a sense, I like to think of myself as more open-minded, rather than less. If someone puts together a complete project plan with a sensible feature roll-out plan and believable time-boxing for feature and asset creation, I could care less if he were fresh out of uni. Also, it’d imply he respected his audience enough to offer them transparency. That to me is worth more than what people have done in the past.

      • Well, I for one don’t put much stock in the staff behind Wasteland 2. I don’t dislike or positively distrust them either; I’m more on the neutral side of things. So from that perspective, and from the perspective of someone who’s used to seeing people create much better pitches for much smaller projects, Wasteland 2 needed a kick in the ass. As you say – it’s a pretty big project that takes a lot upon itself.

        And if all you’re doing is rationalizing your own lack of desire for transparency, that’s perfectly fine – I just got from the tone in your original message and tweets that the joke was somehow going to be on me for not having unquestioning faith in someone who wouldn’t even bother to present even a glimpse of a design document. Hey, I don’t even need to see the details, if they are precious about them, just show me the structure of it, or something. If it looks like something that one of my former students would’ve put together in their 1st year, I’m opting out. Maybe that’s why they’re not showing it.

        The way I see it, either they have this information and aren’t showing it (which is wilful obfuscation, which is at best disrespectful, at worst hiding something they know people won’t like), or, even worse, they don’t actually have it yet. They’re still at the brainstorming phase. That’s a scary thought.

        There’s plenty of frauds in the games industry. Big-name ones, who’ve ridden on other people’s shoulders for far too long, and whose biggest hits were made in spite of, not thanks to, them. I’m not sure if Brian Fargo is one of them, but I’d rather be better safe than sorry, as I’ve had some of these douchebags on my team and found it a very… disillusioning experience.

        And if you accept that, you should also accept that maybe, just maybe, the reason that no publisher would sign this one is because they weren’t impressed with the pitch. Plenty of games with narrow target audiences get big-name funding, after all. Atlus produces risky games for narrow audiences all the time, to just mention one. And Fallout, while probably more accessible than Wasteland, should have taken some fear out of most publishers. If anything, I can totally see a publisher wanting a bit of Fallout’s market for themselves.

        “So either it will work out, or we still won’t get Wasteland 2 (as a hardcore RPG), as has been the case so far.”

        Now _that_ mindset I can totally get behind. The way you see it, all you can do from this position is win. I just… wouldn’t do it myself. I might have to fund my own projects some day, after all.

      • David Holmin permalink

        Well, you can only fit so much meaning in a tweet. Initially I reacted against what I interpreted as your dismissal of the Wasteland 2 project due to the team not disclosing every detail about their design. I said “we” – starving old school RPG fans – are happy with Brian having free hands within the constraints turn-based battle and top-down, open world RPG. Then I argued that WL2 is credible because the team has lots of experience. I’ve already admitted that my mockery in the message was an overreaction. I’m coming from a place where I’ve mostly lost interest in big games, because publishers are killing genre after genre that I like (in favor of $$$ mass audience stuff). When you started to bash what for me is an attempt to revive such a genre (as a full bodied game, as opposed to tiny indie project) by circumventing publishers, it hit a nerve.

        So, no, I didn’t mean to argue against transparency.

        Anyway, I now see better where you’re coming from, and you have a point. I just seriously doubt Fargo would throw away his reputation and career for some quick buck like that. Possibly he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but I’ve gotten the impression he has a solid plan. And as pointed out, for me it’s only win. All I lose is – in a bigger perspective – a tiny sum of money.

        As for publishers, again, yes, Atlus publishes niche games. There’s also Rising Star Games publishing things like Cave shooters. Much appreciated. I think it’s very different with Wasteland 2, however. It’s part of a mostly dead genre, as opposed to some small genre thriving in Japan, with a known fan base. It’s a PC only game. The Fallout connection would only be valuable if they were making an console FPS, and the whole point is that they’re not doing that. I think there’s something to the fact that Van Buren (original Fallout 3) was cancelled in favor of an FPS remake. I think it’s reasonable to assume even a good pitch of Wasteland 2 in this form would get bounced by most publishers.

        Finally, a question. What would be so horrible about InXile being in the brainstorming phase? They have some of the world, story and characters, the basics for travel and combat, etc, but I would assume there’s a lot of brainstorming to do for certain aspects of the game systems, for example. That’s part of development, too, isn’t it?

      • Thanks for clarifying.

        “I think there’s something to the fact that Van Buren (original Fallout 3) was cancelled in favor of an FPS remake.”

        Maybe. Or maybe _that_ game specifically was, actually, not very good. Or way over budget. I don’t really know the story on that one, but from what I’ve seen I don’t really feel like assuming that the publisher’s always being to trend-orientated or whatever. Some things are just much more complicated than that.

        I guess you could even make the argument that Bethesda, by making the game a first-person one, made it more accessible, thus bringing more players in than would otherwise had played the game. I’m not sure I’d dislike them for this.

        “Finally, a question. What would be so horrible about InXile being in the brainstorming phase?”

        Nothing. Nothing at all. But then they wouldn’t have a budget proposal already. You said yourself that you assumed that their $1 000 000 figure was probably well-informed. Maybe it is, AND the game is in the brainstorming phase. Which would make me think that “hey, maybe this amount of money is what these guys would need to pay themselves salaries for the 18 month period they mentioned. That’s… almost cynical, I think. Letting the time of “free employment” lead the way.

        “However, a clever fraud could probably look transparent and still run with the money, so there are no guarantees ever.”

        No guarantees, bur there is more or less likelihood of stuff happening a certain way. Between personal/professional credibility, good specs and continuous transparency, one will get quite far. Soon enough, we’ll start doing segmented Kickstarter funding. Like 1 drive for all the documentation (for those of us who want it, of course). Next up, we want to see an initial prototype with placeholder assets. After that, a functioning combat system. And before you know it, the everyman who was so happy to be part of the removal of the evil, evil publishers, will be requiring the same controls himself.

        It’ll be beautiful.

      • _Pax_ permalink

        >> “I think there’s something to the fact that Van Buren (original Fallout 3) was cancelled in favor of an FPS remake.”

        Just to clarify: Interplay was not captained by Brian Fargo.

        Furthermore, Interplay went bankrupt before “Van Buren” got past the design document phase, due to mismanagement by it’s CEO. The “FPS remake”, Fallout 3, happened because the IP was still worth enough for Bethesda to first license it, and then buy it outright.

      • David Holmin permalink

        Forgot to add, you’re right that transparency could help people in deciding which projects have credibility. I guess that’s the point you wanted to make. However, a clever fraud could probably look transparent and still run with the money, so there are no guarantees ever.

  3. Scott Truax permalink

    I enjoyed reading your article. I do think that it’s an issue that’s sort of just coming to light now that the excitement of people getting to finally invest in games they’ve wanted is dying down, and the realities are now setting in. I have some of my own thoughts.

    Big publishers for the last several years at least have been doing the same thing with preorders. They announce preorders for a sequel to a game that was a hit and people loved. You put down $60 or more for what you think will be a quality game, and get a $5 quality game (it ‘bombs’) – that’s always a risk. Some recent examples I can think of are Stronghold 3 and Duke Nukem Forever. Sure, the actual worth is subjective, but there’s no protection from them releasing a terrible game without a chance for a refund. You can wait for the game to be released before buying it, but the same goes with Kickstarter projects.

    As for people being naive and not caring about the game, investing blindly. It’s true, people are naive, especially when it comes to things they already have a craving for. At the same time, if you were a marketing person in the games industry, would you promote a Kickstarter campaign page which details the technical aspects of the creation of the game, or would you promote what the majority of people are interested in? It’s a real question – I don’t know the answer. For myself, it depends on the project. I trust the Double Fine and Wasteland projects enough that I don’t need to know there’s a working prototype of the game already. For the Banner Saga, they do have a working prototype, videos, etc, so that plus their experience within other companies gained my trust. For other projects from more unknown designers, I evaluate it based on what they can provide, and what they need the money for.

    Even though this is a break away from traditional funding of projects, marketing will still play a huge part in getting the game completed. Some developers are missing that point and they are of the mindset that if they don’t need publishers, and they have a quality game, they won’t need to market it. For instance, check out the Tortured Hearts project on Kickstarter. They have a prototype. They have much of the game completed, most of the what’s left being graphics work. They have demo videos, what’s done, what’s left, background on the game, background on the team making it… all things that people like yourself would like to see. They are at about 3% of their funding goal with 9 days left to go, so there’s not much hope for them. My guess is that if they would have posted their demo videos across gaming sites & forums and spit out some more graphics to post on the page, their funding would have at least been at a much higher level.

    In the end, I believe the market will take it where it needs to go. It will take years before that happens due to the long game development lifecycle. But, development houses will learn what works best if they want their project to take off. I think The Banner Saga is a great example of this so far, being a fairly small team, having something to show, and making the most of it.

    • At the same time, if you were a marketing person in the games industry, would you promote a Kickstarter campaign page which details the technical aspects of the creation of the game, or would you promote what the majority of people are interested in?

      I believe it’s best to be inclusive, different people want different things for different reasons, but there’s nothing to lose from having the real nuts-and-bolts, nitty-gritty details somewhere; even if not front-and-center.

      Some developers are missing that point and they are of the mindset that if they don’t need publishers, and they have a quality game, they won’t need to market it.

      Oh, no joke. Sometimes the marketing budget is almost as big as the development budget. Sometimes even bigger, I’ve heard. And yes, with Kickstarter, marketing is no longer just about the actual game – it’s about creating the same kind of buzz over a promise. That’s some heavy stuff right there.

      It will take years before that happens due to the long game development lifecycle

      Aye, though watch this space, some of the “crashes” will happen sooner rather than later.

      You are, of course, correct – the market will straighten stuff out beautifully. And, I believe, the entire games industry will mature ever so slightly because of it.

      I’ll look into both Tortured Hearts and The Banner Saga, thanks for the tips. And, of course, for your excellent post.

      • Alex permalink

        I think Tortured Hearts illustrates the great counter-argument to this article: most gamers don’t want publisher level pitches, they want glitz and glamour and to be swept off their feet. They don’t care about concept documents, scheduling docs, milestones, staffing strategies, or rick assessment. They want pretty graphics to get excited over. They want to feel like they’re doing something special, like they’re bringing back a lost genre and sticking to the man at the same time.

        Compare the marketing for Wasteland 2, The Banner Saga, and Tortured Hearts.

        WL2’s can be summed up as “I’m the guy who brought you Wasteland and Fallout. Publishers are stupid, they just don’t get it! But you get it, you’re awesome! We don’t want to make a game for publishers, we want to make a game for you, the awesome gamers! Only you can help make this game!” It’s all exciting, bombastic, lighthearted, and making the viewer feel good about themselves, like they’re smarter than the stupid publishers.

        The Banner Saga can be summed up with “We worked at Bioware, and want to make a mature game. Oh, and look at our art! Is it not beautiful? It is beautiful, isn’t it. Here, look at some more art we’ve made for other stuff.” There’s very little substance, but a lot of pretty art.

        Tortured Hearts “You’ve never heard of us, but we’ve been working on this huge game. We have created the areas, the story, the characters, the writing, everything is scripted and working, we have a demo prototype, we have some concept graphics, and we have a schedule, but we need to fund artists to make all the art / music / sound assets and combine it with the existing writing and scripting to make the game.” It’s very dry, factual, realistic, very much like a pitch you would make to a publisher. But it’s not very exciting (in the glitzy, showy, “wow look at this” sense). It also only raised $11k with 5 days left to go.

        CRPG gamers say that they care about story, writing, characters, etc, and don’t care about shiny graphics, but that’s a lie. We all want shiny pretty things, because shiny pretty things get instantly excited, while a wall of text just puts us to sleep. The first WL2 related things we got was concept art. Art is really all Banner Saga has. And art is what Tortured Hearts was really missing. I feel that if TH had lead with their concept art, had plastered the outdoor environment over their kickstarter page, they would have a lot more funding.

      • These projects are, absolutely, selling a fantasy – and why wouldn’t they? Those are always more interesting than cold facts, to fans that simply don’t care about the back-end of things.

        I just wish the cold facts were there, for those of us who want them. It’s kind of like I’m being punished for knowing enough about games to be able to peer-review the dream I’m being sold.

        Anyway, I can totally see why some people would want to remain blissfully ignorant. But it comes at a price.

        When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed.

  4. Ian permalink

    Your statement that Star Command would be in the red if they only hit the 20000 goal is false. Yes they spent 10000 on posters and stuff but that amount is based on the total pledge, so they would only have spend around 5000 on that portion if they only received 20000 in pledges.

    • “Read that again – it means that if they would have only gotten to their initial goal of 20 000, and the expenses would have been the same…”

      I obviously meant that in the absolute sense – which wouldn’t have happened, as you say, since fewer backers would have meant a lower rate of compensation. I’ll update the text to clarify.

  5. You make some good points, for a traditional investment. But at the level each individual contributes, I view it not as an investment, but as a ‘punt’ – one where the odds are better than random if the developer has a track record (and they’re looking for a half-decent amount – some of the projects are clearly unviable and I ignore those), but a gamble nonetheless.

    I actually don’t want to see the design documents or project plans up-front. I’ve seen enough of those during my professional life, and at this level of personal investment I don’t really want to pore over them in my free time too. Part of the appeal to me is to be caught up in the enthusiasm and to be able to say: “That sounds awesome, I respect what you guys are trying to do, go for it.” – with absolutely no illusions that this is a guaranteed success. Sure, if I was one of the $10,000 backers of Double Fine perhaps I might feel differently, although I suspect that the people who have paid that much are probably wealthy enough that they consider that amount an acceptable ‘punt’ too.

    I dunno, maybe there are other Kickstarter backers who think of this as a regular investment / purchase and pore over it in as much detail as you do. But I’m willing to bet that most aren’t like that, and aren’t looking for detailed ROI plans, because the risk factors are small when you take the average impact level into account – and that’s the power of Kickstarter: the aggregation of small personal risks into a larger overall effect.

    I also doubt that the majority of people involved are deliberately misleading anyone – unlike a traditional game project, they’re putting their faces very conspicuously on this and communicating so much more directly with their audience that deliberate deception will reflect extremely badly on them, and I’m sure they’re well aware of that.

    • I can’t really speak for everyone, but the casual punt-y attitude you’re displaying is probably much more admirable than that of the average backer. Remember, this is the industry where players of free-to-play browser games feel justified in complaining about everything imaginable, in spite of their not having invested a single dime into the game. Sometimes you’ll even hear statements like “someone else is obviously paying, so I know you have money… now give me premium support” – totally non-ironically too.

      The psychological effects of this kind of stuff have been well-researched, and I’m pretty sure that there’s going to be absolute outrage over the first failed, or even substantially delayed, Kickstarter project. People are going to feel just as invested as they would if they had been robbed of an actual copy of the game. It’s… going to be really ugly, I think.

      We’ll just have to see about this one, of course. But I think that people’s eyes will be opened substantially to the truths of games development once the first publisher-free, Kickstarter-funded development team has to publicly beg forgiveness for squandering other people’s money on stuff that people would’ve never have accepted their money be spent on, had they known in advance.

      • Scott Truax permalink

        In an ideal world, the Kickstarter funds would be released on the release of the game. Of course that’s impossible because there would be no money available to pay for the game to be created in the first place, and people would still complain that the game doesn’t meet the standards that were set out. And they would want their money back. You’re right, it’s inevitable that a project will crash and burn, and it will likely happen to one that’s being funded today. My hope is that it won’t tarnish the idea of using Kickstarter for games, but instead encourage both devs and backers to be wiser.

        I am sick of seeing games like CoD be released with minor adjustments year after year because the masses of gamers follow suit and publishers make tons of money off of it. I don’t see that changing any time soon, but even just 1% of those gamers finding out about a Kickstarter game they’re interested should be enough for that game to be made, and those developers to continue. It’s not often any more that I see a game released and think “wow, that’s a really cool idea”.

      • I’m optimistic that the kind of people who are supporting projects like this are not the same over-entitled jerks who expect everything for free, simply because they don’t have to. After all, with projects like this you can really just sit back and let other people fund it if you want – there’s really no-one saying you have to, you can buy it later if it eventually turns up and is reviewed well. I’d expect that most of the people who are willing to put their money up-front like this are by nature optimists themselves, and are doing it because they respect the creators in a way that the whiners never do. But, maybe I’m just an optimist ;)

      • Optimists are welcome too. :)

  6. metzger permalink

    we need to realize that in the position of a backer, there is always some level of risk involved, and no matter how much of initial input is given, there is no guarantee that the final product will live up to the expectations, which is really applicable to so many things in life. also, assuming that the backer isn’t well aware of this is just arrogant.

    as for your comments on behalf of inxile and double fine, their pitch was backed up by their reputation as leaders in their respective game genres, which, for the fans, has the same weight as an early alpha version would have for you. again, in both cases, you can’t possibly predict how the final product will look and feel like.

    as for the development cycle of wasteland 2 in particular, there is some level of transparency. as i understand, there are going to be milestones involved, starting with the vision document outlining the basic design concepts, all the way up to beta testing before the final product hits the shelves, so it’s not like the devs will grab your cash and work their magic behind closed curtains, leaving you in the dark.

    • Yeah, absolutely, risk and probability and stuff is at the very essence of the human experience. That said, the more involved I am the more I feel like I get to take a risk than I understand and can challenge to a certain extent. If there’s total black-box development (or magic behind closed curtains as you say), I am not only the owner of the de facto risks, but also a multiplier on top, which is the (intellectual) honesty of the person asking for funding.

      again, in both cases, you can’t possibly predict how the final product will look and feel like.

      No, not with absolute certainty. But trend lines and data go a long way, and lets me predict with a great deal of certainty whether quality goals and dates will be hit. It’s better than nothing at all, and though you may be right that the reputation of these studios is enough to make the pitch analogous to an early alpha… it’s not strictly speaking true. And it’s not so much thanks to Inxile and Double Fine, it’s more that most players don’t know that they are missing out on information. Indeed, I actually think that many of them, if they knew more about making games, might actually ask for the very things I have come to expect.

      as for the development cycle of wasteland 2 in particular, there is some level of transparency. as i understand, there are going to be milestones involved, starting with the vision document outlining the basic design concepts, all the way up to beta testing before the final product hits the shelves

      That’s great! I think that maybe, if they would’ve made more of an effort to present these facts, I might even have backed it myself.

      Thanks for the info, and your post in general.

  7. Still, there has got to be a way to fund projects which do not cater to mass market… Presently, Kickstarter is risky, chaotic, but it IS there. I’d rather risk my 30$ for turn-based RPG (details, in fact, matter less than one would think; turn-based is my key word), than wait, probably infinitely, for some publisher to decide to risk theirs.

    That being said, I agree that there will be some crashes and bad outcomes down the road. They will also probably lead to Kickstarter (or some new site) becoming a little less risky, with a requirement for a design document maybe, or something else. There never would be a risk-less development, of course, and even less so for odd, non-mainstream and experimantal games, but there will be a bit more safeguards. But this safeguards cannot be added without a disaster or two: it goes against Kickstarter profits to demand much guarantees for participants for now!

    I hope WL2 WOULD NOT get hitched to a big publisher. That would probably mean VOICE ACTING.

    • Sure, I can totally see how people prefer Kickstarter over nothing, absolutely.

      I really think that we’ll start seeing Kickstarter projects where funding is done in increments.

      Thanks for your post!

      • Scott Truax permalink

        I thought of this too, and had some comments typed out but ended up backspacing. I could only see the whole funding in increments method as being more dangerous to the ‘all up front’ process they’re using now. I could see game devs pushing it along to a point where they figure they’re stuck or not close enough to finishing, then giving up on the project and the money raised just being gone. They’d feel less accountable for not providing a full game when they only promised a milestone.

        I could see it being a different way than it is now, I just haven’t figured out what that way is yet.

      • Another possible idea for large-budgets projects, I think, would be to hire an oversight company to keep watch on developers. Such company wouldn’t act as a publisher, because it doesn’t get a share of profits and have no CREATIVE control over developers, but it should be able to audit development process, funds usage and project status.

        Of course, this should be a voluntary decision by both pledgers and developers. Of course, its work cost money, so a part of pledges would be “wasted” on it. Still, this might work, because it’s a bit like insurance of engineering project: insurer might not tell builders WHAT should they build, but it sure wants to make certain they COMPLETE their work.

        Such company would need to be staffed by people who know about game development, of course, and this is the hard part, because most developers are not suited to a role of auditor of others work (I know I wouldn’t be able to do it). It’s therefore very unlikely that such company would be a stand-alone entity, who’s sole business is “gamedev insurance”. But it may be a good side-business for another development company with good credentials.

        In fact, I know thing are already done this way sometimes. At my first company, Sibilant Interactive, management brought in auditors from then-successfull Akella to check our codebase and practices. Now, they done it voluntary and changed nothing after audit was complete (I really don’t know if there was any results to it, being a mere junior tools programmer then), and company died later on, but still, I believe that this can be done with better outcome :)

        Now that word “insurance” was said (or, rather, written), I think there also may be something to think about. No insurer would insure a standard game development against even early failure, but maybe something could be worked out…

  8. metzger permalink

    yes, i can see how someone would want to hold on to something more tangible.

    as in the example of pebble, i assume that nothing other than an already polished product would have earned them the amount of pledges raised. double fine and inxile, on the other hand, rely on an already established relationship with the fan base, allowing them to get away with raising funds in advance of having anything concrete, really.

    but i think both cases are extreme polar opposites to each other, so i understand your point of view and generaly speaking, i think there’s nothing wrong with carefully evaluating your investment, but those aformentioned game devs are, for me, an exeption to the rule.

    also, i can understand your bewilderment over the length of the proposed 18 month development cycle of w2. it’s no secret that there was about a year worth of initial work on the game (not sure about the specifics though), since fargo was trying to pitch it to several publishers at that time. anyway, i like to think that they know what they’re doing and have added at least some time buffer to the equation. guess only time will tell.

    thanks for your share of thoughts

  9. Vern permalink

    I won’t be as eloquent or long-winded as the other conversations you have here in the comments section; I just want to chip in and say that I funded projects I would like to play with an amount of money equal to treating a couple of friends to pizza and beer.

    If the projects tank, well, no hard feelings.
    If the amount of money I gave away would adversely affect my economy in the short or long term then I would be an idiot. When I reflect upon myself I rarely feel that I am a person of questionable intelligence.

    • No, if you are uninformed about how games development is done and, in part for that very reason, limit your contribution to the equivalent of pizza and beer, then there’s nothing wrong with your intelligence in my book.

  10. WordJ permalink

    Nice post.

    I can relate. I don’t make games, but I am a rocket scientist, and the kickstarter page for the Hermes Spacecraft definitely leaves a lot of questions that I would want to know before I toss a significant contribution their way.

    The two big projects, wasteland 2 and DF, both did have horrible pitch videos. Brian Fargo relied on the strength of the wasteland IP and Interplay’s RPG history to get fan to throw money at him. Tim Schafer and Ron GIlbert relied on their own names. I feel that a lot of people saw this and used their imagination to think of what game they wanted and thats what they think they might get. I trust both of them though, but if it falls through then it will be a lot harder (read: much better pitch) to win my trust back.

    Though in the case of double fine, the online video documentary IMO was worth the price of admission, I will definitely enjoy the behind the scenes look at game development. Brian Fargo has more at stake, with a 18 month dev cycle and probably more expectations. I imagine the point and click fans are easier to please than hardcore RPG fans…I could be wrong though.

    This isn’t the case for all games on kickstarter though. FTL was able to get their game to be demo’d on onlive before the funding cycle was up. As a result, they got considerably more funding than they ask, and the backers have a much better idea of what product they are getting than the DF/Wasteland group.

    • Wow, man, really? You’re a rocket scientist? That’s awesome!

      Hear that, reddit, you morans (sic)!? The rocket scientist’s on my side. :)

    • “Though in the case of double fine, the online video documentary IMO was worth the price of admission”

      I think this is a really important point – I too think I’ll get my money’s worth just by being entertained by Tim Shafer and company, even if it doesn’t end in a good game. Of course, not everyone is as amusing as Tim, and there’s a finite number of times even he will be able to bank on that element.

      • Well, they have a big chance here, I think. They could really, really get through to people, and teach them all the nitty-gritties of games development. That’s what I’m hoping for, really.

  11. dexter11111 permalink

    I don’t quite think you realize that people are not as “idiotic” as you make them out to be… at least not a lot of the ones putting their money towards this, the people you are probably thinking about likely don’t even know what KickStarter is or they wouldn’t wager any of their money on a game that isn’t “done yet”, they would rather buy the newest Call of Duty instead. There are quite a few projects out there that promise the pie in the sky and seem to want to abuse the KickStarter model and they get largely ignored…
    A few examples:

    In fact I’d go so far as to say you composed this article from a lack of information on your side, not the people backing.

    Let’s start with the Double Fine Adventure, they specified in their pitch video that it might fail, but part of the process was that a camera team follows them around for the allotted time of development and records the process on celluloid, in fact that was one of the main reason why they didn’t have any specific project in mind yet, they wanted to document the process of what it takes for them to come up with the idea and make a game out of it and show it to people out there. There’s new ~20 Minute episodes every few weeks.

    There’s also budgetary information available to backers, for instance their total was $3,446,371, this is how much they had to deduct for the physical rewards: http://img856.imageshack.us/img856/541/rewardsa.jpg , 2 Player Productions got $393,964, so the final budget for development is $2,232,465: http://img36.imageshack.us/img36/4158/piecc.jpg
    They actually had a small tablet-based Adventure in mind when they started and wanted $400,000 total, but it grew into a full project.

    They obviously can’t offer an exact budget plan or milestone document without knowing the amount of people working on the project or knowing how much money they’re exactly going to get. Remember that the goals for Double Fine were 400k and Wasteland 2 900k, but they both managed to break 3 Million, what use would a preliminary budget plan have been or a document detailing all features? It might even have turned off a lot of people since they didn’t want a small tablet Adventure made by 3 people but had something bigger in mind.
    People also trust Double Fine especially not only because of the roots of Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango), but because Tim Schafer founded Double Fine and continued to produce games afterwards, most notably Psychonauts and Brütal Legend, but lately they have released several “smaller” format games with budgets around 3 Million: Costume Quest, Stacking and Trenched, so they are certainly experienced in this field.

    The projects that succeed generally either a) show work in concept or a working build of the game e.g. Faster Than Light, The Banner Saga or Ravaged; b) have iconic people behind them that have proven themselves in the past and inspire high degrees of trust e.g. Wasteland 2, Double Fine Adventure, Shadowrun Returns; c) are small enough in scope or monetary requirements that they get funded anyway

    On to Wasteland, I’m not sure if you know this but Brian Fargo was the founder and CEO of Interplay, under his leadership classics like: Wasteland, Stonekeep, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary/Judgement Rites, Sacrifice, MDK2, The Lost Vikings, Kingpin, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Fallout 1+2, The Bard’s Tale series, Descent series, Baldur’s Gate Trilogy, Carmageddon, Earthworm Jim series, Freespace, Icewind Dale etc. were produced, HE is one of the reasons companies like Blizzard, Bioware and Volition got discovered and grew into what they became later. He might even be the reason why Blizzard is so fussy about their quality control, I remember an anecdote where Blizzard wanted to release Lost Vikings and he said that “they aren’t done yet and should keep polishing the game a little more”, it’s because of him that Fallout exists in the first place: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa5IzHhAdi4&hd=1 (it got nearly cancelled by other suits several times but he greenlighted it anyway after he played the prototype). More importantly his new company inXile Entertainment has proven that they can still deliver games, they did “The Bard’s Tale” in 2004 and “Hunted: The Demon’s Forge” for Bethesda in 2011, as well as several iOS and Playstation Network games. He has been in the industry and managing projects like this for over 30 years, if HE doesn’t know how to lead a project like this to success I’d be ready to bet that almost nobody does :P

    Also, some of the staffing on the design team was rather clear from the start and even detailed in the pitch, it includes people like Alan Pavlish, Michael Stackpole (Mr. BattleTech/MechWarrior), Ken St. Andre, Andree Wallin (who also did 2 concept arts for everyone to see already), Mark Morgan for the music and also Chris Avellone for writing and some quest design. Jason Anderson wrote the basic storyline a few years before and did some basic design work because they WERE trying to get publishers to do the game for several years, there’s even News corroborating that: http://www.gamebanshee.com/news/102013-jason-anderson-left-inxile.html (did you watch the video? xD).

    He also made it pretty clear that it will be a mix between Wasteland and Fallout, an isometric, turn-based party RPG with 4 “Ranger” characters players are able to make and 3 NPCs that join the party, there will also be a lot of quests about moral choices and “grey” ways of going about things. A Wasteland 2 vision document should also be coming soon.
    They wouldn’t only damage KickStarters reputation, but more importantly their own and their companies if they don’t deliver.

    You are more on the money with Shadowrun Returns though, I highly suspect that they intended to make a tablet game (it says in the pitch video and test Tablet AND PC), that’s why the initial budget was so low, they haven’t shown or talked about any higher game design concept and they only developed two games before, one of which is this: http://harebrained-schemes.com/crimson/
    I’m sure they’ll be able to deliver SOMETHING, I’m just not sure on what kind of game they are making so I didn’t back that one and there’s likely a lot of people doing the same, which is why it’s not going to get anywhere close to 3 Million.

    You’re also mentioning publishers a lot, but the big publishers nowadays only go for AAA Shooters, Action RPGs or Social games, every now and then maybe a strategy game for the PC. Other than that there’s practically no chance of a old-school turn-based RPG or Adventure, NO CHANCE AT ALL, they’ll likely block the first time someone dares to mention those words…
    There was a great quote from an article about EA a while ago that I can’t get out of my head:
    ” For EA it makes more sense to reach for the sky with every single project. The games that die or get cancelled become tax writeoffs, and the rare hit pays for all the rest. The worst case is the mere modest success, a mediocre return on equity without corresponding tax advantages.”

    I also want the typical MBA economy type of people to stay as FAR AWAY from the creative side of these projects as they possibly can… you might believe that publishers are a great boon to the market and “keeping developers in check”, many people think otherwise.
    Regarding the gaming publications and “hype” or marketing around games nowadays… a lot more people have been catching on to that lately and are demanding better, Forbes of all places has been a breath of fresh air in regards to some of the latest controversies: http://www.forbes.com/games/

    • Spam filter caught that one. I almost let it stay there. Anyway:

      I don’t quite think you realize that people are not as “idiotic” as you make them out to be… at least not a lot of the ones putting their money towards this

      I’m pretty sure they know little to nothing about games development, are wilfully ignorant in that regard, and still manage to feel justified in supporting this stuff. Sometimes with quite large sums of money, believing, in highly fanboyish ways, that of course this is going to work out.

      You’re welcome to disagree if you want, but I smell idolatry and Dunning-Kruger. Peoples’ likelihood of believing in all of this junk is inversely proportional to how much they understand games development.

      they wanted to document the process of what it takes for them to come up with the idea and make a game out of it and show it to people out there.

      It’s going to be fun to see just how in-detail those are. But hey, if it turns out well, great! It does nothing to disprove my theses though.

      but it grew into a full project.

      A bunch of Ipad devs out there are prolly going “FU” right about now. :)

      Remember that the goals for Double Fine were 400k and Wasteland 2 900k, but they both managed to break 3 Million, what use would a preliminary budget plan have been or a document detailing all features?

      You don’t know anything at all about making games, right? You wouldn’t know to appreciate these docs if they were produced, otherwise you’d understand exactly what good they would do.

      At the very least, for those of us who understand this stuff, it would prove that they were legit.

      It might even have turned off a lot of people since they didn’t want a small tablet Adventure made by 3 people but had something bigger in mind.

      There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, rationalizing ignorance and dishonesty-by-omission (leveraging people’s stupidity, like my article says).

      HE doesn’t know how to lead a project like this to success I’d be ready to bet that almost nobody does

      The guy’s products been sliding ever downwards lately, both qualitatively and commercially. Are you sure you’re not investing too much in him? It sounds like the real talent maybe lay elsewhere in his past. Now that he’s not with his Interplay-buddies anymore, he’s… not making very good or profitable games any more. And I suspect his products are generally way over budget too – as is often the case with ideas people. But hey, that’s my speculating, and I might definitely be wrong. But see, I’m just keeping options open – you’re the one taking leaps of faith. Sure, that’s up to you, but don’t act like it’s in any way something to be proud of.

      He also made it pretty clear that it will be a mix between Wasteland and Fallout, an isometric, turn-based party RPG with 4 “Ranger” characters players are able to make and 3 NPCs that join the party, there will also be a lot of quests about moral choices and “grey” ways of going about things. A Wasteland 2 vision document should also be coming soon.

      Yeah, see, that just doesn’t impress me at all. And that you’re holding it up as evidence of your being justified just reminds us that you don’t really know anything about games. All that stuff is the equivalent of hyperbole on the back of a jewel case, I’m sorry to say.

      They wouldn’t only damage KickStarters reputation, but more importantly their own and their companies if they don’t deliver.

      If you think these guys’ back-of-a-napkin visions are awesome, wait til’ you hear their EXCUSES.

      You’re also mentioning publishers a lot, but the big publishers nowadays only go for AAA Shooters, Action RPGs or Social games, every now and then maybe a strategy game for the PC. Other than that there’s practically no chance of a old-school turn-based RPG or Adventure, NO CHANCE AT ALL, they’ll likely block the first time someone dares to mention those words…

      No, wrong. Your pitch just has to make a lick of sense in the current market. You also can’t make it cost-prohibitive; of course nobody wants to risk funding a high-risk game but that still needs AAA funding, that’s totally insane. But they _want_ to do it. Most publisher-side dudes and dudettes are bigger nerds than you can imagine. They talk more about the glory days of RPG’s than most people I’ve met on the development side. Where do you get your prejudice from?

      Oh, wait. Article. Right, I don’t have to repeat myself. :)

      you might believe that publishers are a great boon to the market and “keeping developers in check”, many people think otherwise.

      Publishers, and developers, are what they are. There are no heroes, or monsters, just people and businesses with agendas. I haven’t really spoken in general terms about _all_ publishers, any more than I’ve spoken about _all_ Kickstarter projects.

      What I will say is that, whatever publishers are or aren’t, you don’t know anything about it. You’re just playing a part; falling in with a narrative that’s been fed to you.

      • dexter11111 permalink

        I find this amount of pessimism quite refreshing :P

        I’m not a games developer but work in software and let’s say I’m familiar with things like project/quality/risk management and all things involved, including milestones software development models, budgetary concerns especially near the end and all that.
        Another funny thing about these projects though is that a lot of the high bids seem to actually be from people within the industry, for instance with Wasteland 2 Notch is obviously one of the people that donates to like everything, but Cliff Bleszinski and Mike Capps were apparently among the people digging deep, as well as a guy working on “Swords and Sorcery: Underworld” and the Razer CEO (well it might have been PR in that case). It’s funny that you describe game development as this rigid process that can apparently only be done a certain way that you also seem to be teaching.
        I just said that a full project management plan wouldn’t be too helpful if you can’t even assess the scope of said project and would just need to rethink.

        It’s funny what you say about the “pitch in the current market”, because that’s exactly the problem why KickStarter attracts so many people in the first place. Do you know when the last turn-based RPG was produced? (aside of Jeff Vogel :P) Back in 2003 when Troika was still a company xD
        It’s quite similar with Adventures, although there have been quite a few of questionable quality from Western Europe and especially Germany.
        People that want to get a certain type of game made don’t care about the investment risk or dividends as much as they want another respective quality product.

        It’s funny that you’re saying I’m being “fed” something, since the reason I pledge money in some of these projects is because I don’t like the type of games I’m being fed by the AAA industry increasingly and have lived through the decline of PC gaming for the last 10 or so years with a lot of developers being mismanaged by these MBA type suits and this model seems like a ray of hope a lot of people are willing to grasp fully aware that it might even backfire but enthusiastic.

        Don’t misunderstand me, I get where you are coming from, and if you want a better example of a funded project that will likely lead to nothing you need not look very far, “Takedown” raised §200.000 for an Alpha build of a game to “present to Venture Capitalists” and “seek further investment”, without as much as a mention of the team supposedly working on it and Concept Art that was stolen from Google Image Search and photoshopped over, so I can certainly see the risk. I just think you’re very very wrong in regards to some of these other projects given previous records.

      • Another funny thing about these projects though is that a lot of the high bids seem to actually be from people within the industry

        All tax-deductible, I’m sure. :) Then there’s the PR aspect and a bit of fanboyism too, I suppose – industry folks aren’t immune to that either. Also, in the case of some of these people, they have enough money for their donation to probably equate to what the average fanboy would put down without it really bothering him if he had to lose it.

        It’s funny that you describe game development as this rigid process that can apparently only be done a certain way that you also seem to be teaching.

        I think I said the opposite.

        I just said that a full project management plan wouldn’t be too helpful if you can’t even assess the scope of said project and would just need to rethink.

        Loads of games have segmented roadmaps built into their project plans. But then, we’re talking about real old-school devs here, so maybe that’s a new concept to them.

        Do you know when the last turn-based RPG was produced?

        You have to be more specific than that. I think you have a very special kind of game in mind. Hexes are still around. Turn-based combat is still around. Dialogue trees are still around. So what are we talking about here?

        It’s quite similar with Adventures, although there have been quite a few of questionable quality from Western Europe and especially Germany.

        I think some of the most interesting developments in Adventure games have come from Japan in recent years. Sure, they’re kind of different from the western ones in several ways, but at least the genre hasn’t stagnated thanks to them.

        I just think you’re very very wrong in regards to some of these other projects given previous records.

        Well, I’m making predictions here, and those are always iffy. I´d be glad if I were wrong from a perspective of us getting more, probably quite good, non-mainstream games. The problem with being wrong, though, is that people will feel justified in remaining wilfully ignorant about how this stuff works, so long as THEIR Kickstarter-project of choice made it out. Confirmation bias and all that.

      • Infinitron permalink

        You also can’t make it cost-prohibitive; of course nobody wants to risk funding a high-risk game but that still needs AAA funding,

        All right then, what kind of funding would you say is acceptable? Say, 3 million dollars? Hey, wait a minute…

        Most publisher-side dudes and dudettes are bigger nerds than you can imagine. They talk more about the glory days of RPG’s than most people I’ve met on the development side.

        Gotcha. Robert Altman and Bobby Kotick are bigger nerds than Brian Fargo and Chris Avellone.
        Why aren’t they making these games, then? After all, we’ve already established that we don’t need an AAA budget.

        There are no heroes, or monsters, just people and businesses with agendas.

        In that case, what’s your agenda, Odious Repeater?

        Imagine a critic of peer-to-peer file sharing in the mid-90’s saying that it would never catch on, because peer-to-peer file transfer is inherently less reliable, less secure and less trustworthy than downloading from a single trusted server. That’s exactly what you sound like. (it’s a great analogy, since in both cases, masses of people are collaborating to get their hands on something that larger authorities don’t want to give them)

        The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on…

      • All right then, what kind of funding would you say is acceptable? Say, 3 million dollars? Hey, wait a minute…

        What does this mean? Is this meant to be some sort of I-told-you-so to the publisher side of things?

        Also, 3 mil is not AAA, by a long shot. Also, marketing’s going to cost even more than development, in many cases.

        Finally, keep in mind that publishers have to invest, with people voting with their wallets only after the fact. And every player pays the same – give or take. In the Kickstarter scenario, some people pay much more than others do, and the money is up-front. Sure, one could perhaps fault the publishers for not finding something equivalent, but the metrics that they do have often point to not making nearly enough money back to justify the investment. Are they going to disregard something that’d be right 9/10 times for that 1 time that they are wrong? Is that the argument?

        Gotcha. Robert Altman and Bobby Kotick are bigger nerds than Brian Fargo and Chris Avellone.

        That’s… reading a lot into my statement. Stop it.

        After all, we’ve already established that we don’t need an AAA budget.

        No, it’s been asserted and accepted by certain people. I’ll concede that the budget – even the original one, is probably enough to get a project started. Maybe even finished. But note that this just means _a_ project, not necessarily the Wasteland 2 of your dreams.

        Yes, it’s fully possible that whatever game comes out on the other side (if it does) is going to be satisfactory. Maybe any game written by these people, in the interval from, Idunno, half a mil to 20 mil, would make you positively livid. In fact, I’d wager that no matter what the budget asked would’ve been, you would’ve started dreaming the second the Kickstarter fun reached it’s goal. At night, when watching your head-movies, you’d envision a game that was everything you’d ever hoped for.

        Let me ask you a question – if and when the game is delayed… if all the money is spent and they don’t even reach Alpha… how would you react to another $1 mil drive?

        In that case, what’s your agenda, Odious Repeater?

        Also, I don’t like ignorance and idolatry. Defo not in combination. Plus the other stuff I mentioned in the text.

        t’s a great analogy

        It’s a terrible analogy. I’m calling for sober scepticism, you’re talking like someone who’s defending Peter Molydeux’s game ideas (google that if you want).

    • gillsing permalink

      Thanks for linking to that very informative Tim Cain video. Apparently we can thank Brian Fargo for not cancelling Fallout, naming it “Fallout”, and requesting something more to do when levelling up (which ended up being perks, which led to feats in D&D 3rd edition). And thanks to Odious Repeater for not leaving that post in the spam filter.

      I’ve always been sceptic of Wasteland 2, but eventually I figured out that $15 for a sequel with similar gameplay and much better 2D graphics would be worth it. It was only afterwards that I realised that the game is likely to end up a lot cheaper on a Steam sale a year or so after it’s done. Oh well.

      Will it be the Wasteland 2 of anyone’s dreams? Hard to say. Wasteland 1 doesn’t really allow for a lot of what I would call “roleplaying”, so it shouldn’t be very difficult to surpass the original in every aspect. And I had fun replaying that game some years ago. Maybe they’re aiming for Fallout style roleplaying, and perhaps that’s what everyone expects?

  12. AnonBacker#12346 permalink

    Even after all that I would much rather pay 15$ for a game that may or may not come out/be good,
    than pay 50-60$ on a game that turns out to be utter shit and a complete waste of time. In worst case scenario of both cases I am not playing the game ever, but in kickstarter’s case I only paid 15$ for it.

    • That’s fair enough – let’s see if and how your opinion is affected by how this all develops.

      Oh, and with the 50-60 buck game you can do some preliminary research and/or try a demo or something. The $15 investment is much riskier if you ask me. Though, yeah, if the starts align perfectly you’ll have all the more reason to be happy than the guy who knew for sure that he’s be reasonably content – but had to pay 50-60 for it.

      Time will tell.

      • Darksius permalink

        Oh yes, I can’t wait do more research whether I should shoot guys with M4 or M16 or perhaps even shoot aliens with M4X or M16X. And those poor publishers, getting so much flak only because they want to provide people with such original, high-quality entertainment. Those poor, poor publishers, barely scraping by. I heard EA only got over 100$ millions to spare to fund the Battlefield 3 ad campaign, it should be 300$m at least.

        They say sarcasm is the lowest form of the humor, but looking at your text, I figured I couldn’t go lower.

      • It’s always frustrating when one’s own wishes and opinions aren’t reflected by the industry at large; when people do seemingly stupid stuff, and positively beg for the very things you hate, year-in and year-out.

        But if we are to be a bit objective: to dismiss all the qualities that people actually do enjoy and care about and are willing to pay money for, in order to make a genre of games that evidently isn’t nearly as popular as it probably needs to be to justify the cost of making the games, and then hate on publishers for not wanting to gamble just because the risk doesn’t bother you, is solipsistic and immature.

      • AnonBacker#12346 permalink

        Premilinary research is harder and harder to do nowadays though, unless you buy the game 2-3 weeks after the launch. Firstly as you mentioned the big game reviewers hardly give out any useful information other than “game has good looking graphics and nice lightning effects, 10/10″ and waiting for the indies to give out reviews usually takes a while.

        Which brings me to the next point which is that waiting to buy a game after the launch means that you will basicly have to exile yourself from the internet to avoid all the spoilers on story based games that the internet becomes riddled with 24 hours after launch, and getting into multiplayer games is harder post-launch than during because everyone else will already know what you are just beginning to learn making learning even harder most of the time. Not to mention that the games are usually sold cheaper as a pre-order which gives an incentive to buy it then and not after launch.

        Then we have the problem of prelaunch demo versions becoming extinct which means that before the launch of the game we usually have only highlights of a few select features. And if we are lucky enough to actually get our hands on a demo it is usually so cherrypicked part of the game that it tells you absolutely nothing about the whole picture.

        In the case of, for example, Wasteland 2 investing 15 dollars on it is not that much different than buying the next Call of Duty game off the shelf without doing any research on it. In both cases we know exactly the history of the developer behind the game and that way can make an educated guess on what the game is going to be like.

        So I guess my point is that although, probably, all of us would like to know more about a game before buying it, nowadays it is just becoming increasingly difficult to do so due to increased publisher control of gaming media. And even given the potential great risks of Kickstarter, it still seems like the better choice than a thousand years of publisher opression.

  13. Volrath permalink

    [QUOTE]You have to be more specific than that. I think you have a very special kind of game in mind. Hexes are still around. Turn-based combat is still around. Dialogue trees are still around. So what are we talking about here?[/QUOTE]
    How can you be more specific then a turn-based party centric RPG done by a large studio? The last one was Temple of Elemental Evil. Or Knights of the Chalice if you’re counting indies, but those don’t count.

    Fallout 3 turned out to be an abomination that’s universally loathed by it’s ORIGINAL fanbase.

    • How can you be more specific then a turn-based party centric RPG done by a large studio?

      How much of other people’s money money would you invest in a description of that level of detail? If it’s more than $10, then I’m not surprised in the least if you’re happy with the current specs of Kickstarter projects.

      Fallout 3 turned out to be an abomination that’s universally loathed by it’s ORIGINAL fanbase.

      See, that’s striking out as far as I’m concerned. You don’t speak for the entirety of the original fanbase. I know because I’m part of it. Let’s not be hyperbolic.

    • [quote]How can you be more specific then a turn-based party centric RPG done by a large studio? The last one was Temple of Elemental Evil. Or Knights of the Chalice if you’re counting indies, but those don’t count.[/quote]

      I’m guessing that your unmentioned caveats included:

      – on the PC, since I’m pretty sure a number of handheld platforms have had turn-based party centric RPGs released by studios such as Square Enix
      – Western developers only, since Japanese developers have continued to release turn-based squad RPGs

      Plus I’m not sure why in a thread about Kickstarter you’d exclude indie titles. Isn’t helping the indies a huge draw for going with Kickstarter?

      • Plus I’m not sure why in a thread about Kickstarter you’d exclude indie titles. Isn’t helping the indies a huge draw for going with Kickstarter?

        Obviously not – the most common complaint is that people feel justified in their idolatry; if there’s a big enough name involved with the project they’re backing, that’s good enough for them (and should be good enough for everyone else too, I get the impression…).

        In other words, by these people’s standards, get big or get out. Actually gauging the validity of a project without a bias towards the big names would mean having to educate oneself first, and then asking the right questions before deciding to back stuff. And certain people seem absolutely adamant to not walk a single pace in this direction.

      • Agreed. People invested in Double Fine’s Kickstarter purely on the offer of a “Double Fine point-and-click adventure game”.

        And as others have said in these comments, the right combination of key words (e.g. “squad turn-based RPG”) developed by a nostalgia-favoured developer is enough to see them throw money into a project. It will be interesting to see how many will be happy with what they get from buying a game based on so little information… if it actually gets released.

  14. GordonHalfman permalink

    The vast majority of backers wouldn’t be able to evaluate a detailed business plan, that’s obvious and doesn’t make them stupid. Even if you do work in game development that doesn’t mean you know how to estimate the likely cost overruns and overheads associated with production. In any case, a document and a plan is no guarantee of anything. Every dev project that ever tanked had a document and a plan, most of the kids on GameDev.net making an MMO in their basement have a document and a plan. Daikatana had a document and a plan. So what you’re asking for would be meaningless to most of the audience and no real basis for judging the viability of the project in any case.

    The thing most people are judging the viability of the project on is the reputation and industry experience of the guys in charge. And again there’s nothing dumb about this. if anything your position that you’d back someone just out of uni with a decent project plan is harder to understand. You say you don’t like the idea of “rockstar devs”, I agree. But that works both ways, you don’t need rockstars to craft a decent game, so Brian Fargo doesn’t need to convince me he’s a rockstar, he just needs to convince me he’s capable of budgeting and producing a game for which his record is more than sufficient.

    I’m not sure what your personal issue is with Brian Fargo by the way but you should be up front about it. This whole “well we might speculate that he’s a fraud and a failure who rides other people’s coat tails and who will spend the kickstarter loot on child porn, just speculation of course, but worth thinking about and even if I turn out to be wrong I’m not actually wrong” thing is not going to convince anyone.

    As for the lack of gameplay details, again Brian Fargo understood his audience. He had most of us at “turn based RPG, sequel to Wasteland, in the spirit of Fallout.” Just because you don’t get it doesn’t make us stupid. If anything the most worrying thing about Wasteland development is all the chat about fan engagement, listening to the community etc. That to me sounds a recipe for schizophrenic design and feature creep. I don’t need to be consulted about every little feature. I want to play a game based on a coherent vision and I don’t need to agree with every detail.

    If the game turns out to be flawed, then well same goes for every game I’ve ever bought, at least there’s an even chance it won’t be the casual garbage publishers love funding. A western publisher hasn’t backed a turn based RPG since temple of Elemental Evil in 2003. The only games serving that market since then have been made on a shoestring budget. Publishers only have themselves to blame for this, crowd funding wouldn’t be necessary if it wasn’t a response to market failure. Or if not a market failure within mainstream publishing culture then what is the explanation? Bad luck, coincidence, Brian Fargo smells funny?

    • The vast majority of backers wouldn’t be able to evaluate a detailed business plan, that’s obvious and doesn’t make them stupid.

      Nah, just uninformed and in some cases wilfully so.

      Even if you do work in game development that doesn’t mean you know how to estimate the likely cost overruns and overheads associated with production. In any case, a document and a plan is no guarantee of anything.

      No, but they get us closer to the truth than high-level, back-of-the-box catchphrases can.

      So what you’re asking for would be meaningless to most of the audience and no real basis for judging the viability of the project in any case.

      Bull. It’s not the existence of the documents and plans, it’s the contents of the documents and plans. The contents can be evaluated and challenged, even quite successfully if there’s a hive mind of n backers with varying levels of expertise, insight and experience going at it. Peer (or even… layman) review is an awesome thing.

      At the very least, it’ll be a good way of identifying risk.

      if anything your position that you’d back someone just out of uni with a decent project plan is harder to understand.

      That’s a different kind of risk. But I can evaluate plans and estimates on their own merits and at the very least gauge risk. I would, of course, add modifiers into my estimates just to account for lack of experience, but I value ability over experience. And up-front-planning, however faulty, is a window into somebody’s mind.

      I’ve never met or worked with an absolute genius who also couldn’t do a pretty good job of speccing stuff up in advance. And the very best ones make note of where the specs just can’t foresee stuff. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot of black box stuff going on in games development, which is often an R&D project AND a deadline-laden production process all rolled into one. But more information is better than less information. It’s about gauging risk, honesty and ability.

      I’m not sure what your personal issue is with Brian Fargo by the way but you should be up front about it.

      Actually, I’m not assuming anything, I’m just being sceptical. You’re welcome to take leaps of faith if you want, but you shouldn’t think you’re fooling anybody. I’ve had enough true believers acknowledge all my points, but still make a caveat about Wasteland 2 going to be awesome just because, to believe that it’s not just… butthurt.

      Seriously, the amount of comment on Wasteland 2 is based on what was in the pitch, and what Fargo’d said in interviews about the dev/publishers relationship. It’s not singling the project out; had the Shadowrun team had that same material, then I’d have focused on that one more. But believe what you will – I can’t really convince you by denying anything can I?

      “turn based RPG, sequel to Wasteland, in the spirit of Fallout.”

      I don’t mind people filling in the blanks. It’s their money. But the time may yet come when you wish you would’ve made sure that you were all filling in the blanks the same way. Everyone’s got a different game in their heads, I believe you’d also assume this. Here’s hoping it all adds up the way you’d like it to. But hey, worst thing that can happen is that you become more sceptical in the future, right? Nothing wrong with that.

      And yeah, they know their audience, and they are leveraging what they know about them. Cater to the fans, don’t care about the dissenting voices – would that be an accurate description?

      Sounds kind of like… big publishers’ attitude… Y’know: “You had us at FPS”?

      Or if not a market failure within mainstream publishing culture then what is the explanation?

      Crowd funding is necessary only for certain genres, it would seem. I haven’t really seen fundraising for the titles on the top-10 sales chart.

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

      • Alex permalink

        [quote] At night, when watching your head-movies, you’d envision a game that was everything you’d ever hoped for.

        And yeah, they know their audience, and they are leveraging what they know about them.[/quote]
        That’s exactly it, though. Specific design documents appeal to you, who evaluate the proposal based on its merits, and evaluate its risk and reward. But the projects that try to appeal to people like you fail because they’re not as exciting as a magician proclaiming that the new game is going to be everything you’ve ever hoped for.

        They say “turn-based RPG from the guys at Interplay” and suddenly I’m picturing a new Fallout 2, and he’s picturing a new Wasteland 1, and we all get our vision of the dream game that we’d like to see. And then they hint at Chris Avelone joining, and everyone starts picturing a new Planescape: Torment. It appeals to the impulse buy, combined with the limited time offer of getting in on the ground floor and getting a discount + bonuses.

        Hell, I wanted to throw money at them because I loved Fallout 1+2 and PS:T. But then I started reading further, and realized that it would be party-centric, like Icewind Dale or ToEE, and thus not like the player character driven RPGs that I so enjoy, and not Fallout 4 after all. And then I saw on the forums that fans wanted it to be “old-school” and “hardcore”, and derided games that didn’t kill you repeatedly or that featured quest logs and quest compasses (a godsend for 1st/3rd person 3D RPGs). And then I came to my senses, and realized that it made no sense to pre-order an RPG which I may not like, and may not be very good. Which is probably why they don’t have all that hard info, because the dream and ideal of Kickstarter games is magical and great, while the reality is cold and sobering.

      • You’re… making it sound like we’re in disagreement, but then post something that reinforces what I’m saying. I’m… confused.

        But the projects that try to appeal to people like you fail because they’re not as exciting as a magician proclaiming that the new game is going to be everything you’ve ever hoped for.

        You mean the _pitches_ rather than the actual projects, right? I’ve never been on a project or heard of a project that failed because excessive peer review and challenging of pie-in-the-sky statements, not to mention project plans and budgets with no basis in… anything.

  15. Krystian Galaj permalink

    I believe that a large subset of backers of Kickstarter games should be viewed more as rooters for the studios and the goals – producing these specific games, than as stakeholders.

    I backed Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Leisure Suit Larry, Pinkerton Road, Shadowrun Returns for more than a 100$ each, because of proven track record of people in charge. I also backed Republique, Dark Meridian, Grim Dawn, The Dead Linger and FTL, because of indications of professional approach. I looked at, but didn’t back many more games. In all cases, during Kickstarter phase I could judge team’s interactions with backers, handling of all kinds of inconvenient questions, summaries of approaches. I didn’t base my opinion solely on the developer’s descriptions of their vision, I judged their experience, past games they produced, their commitments to creating the game.

    In most cases, I already received more than my money’s worth.

    In several cases of developer leads or teams that in the past consistently produced games in the style I like I was able to contribute to causing team members to gather in similar group again, and to spend their time on an effort to create more of what I like. If the project succeeds, and turns out to be a good game, that’s a big bonus. If the project fails, I will be satisfied than an effort has been made, and due to realities of the world it was not possible to make it happen, so I will let go of the vision that makes me feel unfulfilled. In fact, I prefer Kickstarter to projects backed by big companies, because I can be fairly sure that the team will not spend half their time on making eye candy demos with lots of faked temporary features solely for the producer to keep funding the game, that PR department representative who never player a game in their lives will not intervene in the game’s logic and mood to alleviate their anxiety, and (at least in some cases, hopefully) that the vision of the game will not be compromised by needs to appease ESRB or some other self-proclaimed morality police.

    In many cases I was able to learn, through all kinds of developer communications with backers, the realities of specific projects. These communications are absent with games sponsored by big companies, because PR departments take it upon themselves to falsify information to entice more people to buy. I consider the pitch made by Tim Schafer, and his talk with Ron Gilbert made available on Youtube quite enough of an entertainment and teaching for my money already.

    I also generally do not like the idea of money I pay for the game reaching developer through financial departments of some big money-squeezing structure, much like I don’t like the idea of taxes I pay reaching people in need through another such structure of the state. Such middlemen have well known past history of corruption and mismanagement of money, are mostly beyond control, I don’t trust them, and I take pains to avoid giving them my business.

    Even if Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Leisure Suit Larry remake, Mobius game by Jane Jensen, and Shadowrun Returns all turn out to be failures in my eyes, I will still consider it worth it to have backed the effort. It’s like supporting your favourite sports team – one does not think of oneself even when they lose a match.

    • Well put.

      I’m confident that whatever happens the current Kickstarter trend will educate a lot of people in and of itself, one way or another.

      This is a good thing for me, not a bad one.

  16. Skitnik permalink

    Seriously, Odious Repeater, with your kind of “philosophy”, we would still live in caves, eating raw meat.
    It is very possible that Lickstarter, as an idea will fail, because of people’s ignorance or some dishonesty. But, not only videogames, but movies, books, our entire culture, is declining, fading in an oblivion of greed and mediocrity, so I think Kickstarter is at least a way to try to change that, a little bit.
    And part of our “nature” as humans is to make decisions without knowing the outcome. In a sense we’re all players, we’re making bets, hoping for the best.

    • Actually, taking things on faith never got us nearly as far as being sceptical and not believing junk that was spoken by authoritative, “experienced” people. Empowering the masses is what’s gotten us to where we are today.

  17. Alex permalink

    I donated to Wasteland 2, but only because Brian Fargo and the team have proven results to me as a gamer in the past. Interplay made all of my favorite games from childhood.
    I wouldn’t touch any of the other “indie” games with a 12 foot pole; for exactly the reasons you described…

  18. Jim permalink

    I am a participant of one of the very first customer funded video game projects. The game is Cliff Johnson’s “A Fool and His Money,” (I don’t fail to see the irony) the sequel to the acclaimed puzzle game “A Fool’s Errand.” I paid for this game around 8 years ago and am still waiting for it. The game has suffered a series of six month delays for about the last 7 years or so. Now, in the case of this project, it wasn’t the budget that expanded (there was never a second round of funding) it was, what should be quite obvious by now, a whole lot of time. I personally don’t mind, as I went into the whole arrangement skeptical that anything would come of it. At worst, I was paying Cliff for the excellent experience I had with his previous title. (that by the time I played it, was Freeware) But, I do predict something like this is going to happen to at least 1 of the 3 “big titles” coming out of Kickstarter recently. (Doublefine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns)

    Tim Schafer – Notorious for running over budget and asking for/demanding more money/time from publishers.
    Brian Fargo – Notorious for having a willingness to release buggy software and
    InExile – No real proven ability to release quality software. (recently)

    So, each project has the potential to run drastically over-budget or release in an unfinished state. But, I predict this will only happen to one of the three projects because:

    I think that Schafer, at the very least, feels a great deal of pressure to make this a positive experience for his investors. Schafer cashed in a huge amount of the good will chips he has been earning over the years for a massive budget for a traditional adventure game. Schafer’s ability to keep making games almost completely hinges on his relationship with hardcore gamers. If they turn on him, due to a bad experience on this game, there is no reason for any publisher or gamer to ever give the guy money ever again. His major projects are lucky to break even. And, his interests ensure that his projects have only niche appeal. And this critique is coming from me, possibly his biggest fan. I’m fairly confident that Tim would go so far as to dip into Doublefine funds in order to finish this game “on budget.”

    As for Wasteland 2, I predict it might do some second round funding for a few features that turn out to be more expensive than expected. (but cause an outcry when they are threatened to end up on the cutting room floor) The game’s release will slip a few times and be buggy on release, but once patched a few times, will be generally reviewed favorably. This is a big idea with a smallish budget. Now, Fargo does have experience making things like this happen. But, there is still a lot more risk here.

    I think that Shadowrun Returns has the greatest potential to be the money pit here. Big idea. Unproven dev team. Very risky.

  19. Jojas permalink

    [quote]“No first person shooter, we’re going top down so you get a tactical feel for the situation.”

    Top-down, tactical feel huh? That’s cool, I can picture it already. Wait, no, I can’t. [/quote]

    Are you seriously saying you cannot imagine a top-down view?

    • Sure I can. It can look in a million different ways, and what I envision is probably not what you envision.

      What’s your camera distance from ground? The angle? What about the FOV? Can you move the camera? Does that mean 2D or 3D assets?

      Would it kill them to make a mockup so we knew exactly what they had in mind?

    • Compare the top-down of:

      Starcraft
      Total Annihilation
      Frozen Synapse
      Project Zomboid
      Fallout
      Pool of Radiance (the original Gold Box one)
      Myth

      and probably lots of others I’m too tired to remember right now. They look and function very differently. How you control the camera, how line of sight works, how the environment plays a role et al all have very big impacts on the game experience.

      “Top down” and “tactical” are two words that provide an indication of what might be, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

      • You’re right. Not to mention 2 other games, Dungeon Keeper and Battlezone 2, that do both first and third person in the same game, and are plenty tactical (well, kind of).

      • I was trying to think of Alien Breed / Gauntlet last night to add to that list as well.

        And then there is the argument around if isometric can be considered top-down, or does it deserve its own category that is separate.

  20. ancienttoaster permalink

    Dear Mr. Odious Repeater,

    You seem like a guy who appreciates honesty. So let me be honest:

    I read the first third of your article, and found it a bit over-written and too condescending by half. Your tone offended me, good sir. A little more respect for your reader wouldn’t go awry.

    I read the rest of it, and you sold me. You crystallized exactly the skepticism I’ve felt towards Kickstarter projects, and added compelling arguments I’d never even thought of. Thank you.

    I read the entire comments thread, and leave deeply impressed. In particular, it’s nice to see someone in the game development community recognize that publishers are not all diabolic game-haters seeking to destroy creativity and fun. By and large, they want to publish games people like, and that then go on to make a return on their investment. If this means that ordinary consumers want CoD as well as Rayman: Origins, then that’s hardly their fault.

    I appreciate your straight-shooting, and hope that this message gets out to more game players.

    Austin

    • Apologies for the offensive tone; I often forget how much the written word adds weight to sarcasm and even the most well-intentioned jabs.

      Thanks for your feedback.

      • A really interesting post and I agree that the Kickstarter bubble for games is being heavily driven by nostalgia and gamer’s dreams, plus some wishful thinking that its publishers that somehow cause all the problems and if only they weren’t there then all would be right with game development.

        What’s key to any of these Kickstarter projects is what is delivered out the other side, and I’m wondering how long before someone gets caught paying for gaming ‘journalist’ attention, or how big the storm will be when a popular Kickstarter project signs on with a big publisher.

        If Kickstarter investors consider their money as a long-term, high risk pre-order of a title they may never get, that’s fine, but I can’t see the bubble being sustained for long under that mindset.

  21. Valczir permalink

    (Sorry for the terrible paragraphs – you’ll have to bear with me. I don’t have time to go back and fix the grammar and all that. The structure is off, but I hope it’s at least readable.)

    Thank you for all of the insight. I, myself, am very excited about the Kickstarter projects, but I’ll get to why in a second. It’s nice to see what a publisher would expect, and it really helped me understand what sort of transparency I should be expecting. I am a software engineer, myself, so I’ve felt nervous about funding many projects – I know how much work is involved. So this article helped me realize what I should be looking for. Because I do want to fund some projects, but I’d like to reduce the risks I’m taking.

    Now, being both a linux user and a software engineer, as well as a gamer, Kickstarter has already offered me much more than any publisher out there (even iD software, who appears to be going the way of Epic). I keep starting and messing around with some small games of my own, but I never really expected to be able to complete and polish anything. Kickstarter gives me the option to get funding if a project of mine ever gets to the point where I might actually complete it and make something that I feel is worth some money. In addition, a large number of projects are pledging to support linux at a certain level – a promise that will finally allow me to run a few more of the games that I buy natively, rather than through Wine. Us linux users generally have a large amount of disposable income (we’re usually in high demand, whether as sys admins or software engineers), and would love to have games to spend money on.

    As an old-school gamer, as well, Kickstarter interests me – Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are the only two console games this entire generation that I have truly enjoyed, and every game on the PC (personal computer, there; I mean any computer running a multitasking operating system, not just Windows computers) outside of Dragon Age Origins that I had fun with was an indie title. Bethesda failed as spectacularly with Skyrim as with Oblivion and Fallout 3 (I truly do not understand why Bethesda’s games are praised so much – I guess there must be something to them, but I simply cannot see it). Rage was mildly disappointing, mainly in the fact that Tim Besset left iD, leaving me with very little chance of a working linux version.

    But, as I said earlier: thank you for the article. Being a proponent of open source software, I definitely like transparency – and I guess I wasn’t sure where to look for that. It’s helpful to know, not only to understand what I should be looking for to fund, but also on the off-chance that I some day come up with a possible project of my own (seriously, it will probably never happen, but I’m good at what I do, so the possibility is there). This article’s going into my reference materials for such things.

    • Thanks a bunch for your thoughts. And hey, if you need any more help if and when your project kicks off, let me know. I might be able to share more insights once I’m older and wiser, and maybe you can teach me something too!

  22. extracrispi permalink

    Hi everybody!

    I just stumbled upon this blog post and found it very intersting to read.
    Although I share the skepticism about kickstarter in general and the latest computer game projects in particular, I spent quite some money on said projects.
    I just wanted to state my perspective on the whole kickstarter thing.

    I am torn between being very excited about all these game projects popping up and being skeptical about their outcome.

    The most attractive thing about kickstarter is that it makes me feel like I am the big executive who can make cool projects happen by supporting them with my money.
    Since I used to do game modding/programming as a hobby I get very enthusiastic about some of these game pitches.
    I think it’s completely viable to get in crowd funding resources at all stages of game development.
    I funded Double Fine although they did not have _any_ information abot the actual game they plan to make, they did not even show a concept, not even a setting.
    Both Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns have very limited information about the gameplay.
    There are also other games where they have a nice alpha version to show (e.g. Legends of Eisenwald) and just need additionl funding to finish the project.
    I also think that kickstarter pitches can and should be different from an actual pitch at a publisher.
    Most backer won’t have any notion about the whole development cycle, the different stages, risk assessment, etc.
    So it’s perfectly ok to sell them just some “vision” of the final game and leave out the confusing details.

    So far my opinion sounds pretty naive, so let me participate in raising some skeptical comments about the whole thing.

    First of all, I share the doubts about a positive outcome of the projects.
    Many if not most games will not meet the expectations or won’t make it to the finish line at all.
    Many projects overburden themselves with a ridiculous amount of backer rewards.
    This leads to a huge overhead in the budget as well as dubious design decisions:
    Some games even promise to feature backer participation in translation, voice-acting or motion capturing.
    I think that this is a very, very bad idea.
    One indie game (Echoes of Eternia, I didn’t back that one) lets you do your own voice acting with your own crappy microphone, that’s just ridiculous.
    Most projects underestimate their budget immensely and/or disregard the huge overhead created by kickstarter/amazon, manufacturing/mailing rewards, legal issues, taxes, etc.
    The best example is Star Command (but honestly, good luck to those guys!).
    I also observe that kickstarter backers, especially the ones backing computer games, get more and more demanding.
    The moment a projects goes over its initial goal they feel like they can make all kinds of ridiculous requests.
    E.g. that the game is ported to Linux (and that it’s _not_ ported to _any_ console of course!), that it should be translated into a gazillion languages, etc.
    After all, I guess the worst thing about kickstarter is that _everybody_ feels like they are the big executive…
    I share the opinion that publishers are not as bad as they are portrayed in the kickstarter scene.
    After all, they take a lot of risk by funding thousands of ambitious projects each year.
    I guess that only a small margin of these are a commercial success and only a few dozen are the big cash cows.
    Bearing that in mind it is quite frightening how cheap games are nowadays.
    Prices for “conventional” PC games have been constantly dropping for years, nowadays have to compete with free-to-play titles and 1$ iOS games.
    You can also read reviews and play demos before you make a purchase.
    With kickstarter games it will be different. I guess you will have to back four or five projects in order to get one smash-hit you’ve been waiting for.
    People also don’t realize that publishers get the prices _down_ by having a huge marketing budget.
    A popular title is purchased by hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of consumers, no kickstarter project has surpassed 100k backers so far.
    Another odd thing I observed is that publishers often get accused of just producing sequels of successful franchises.
    It’s odd because the same applies to all big ($1m+) kickstarter projects (counting Tim Schaefer as a “franchise”, too).

    So why do I still keep on backing projects?

    First of all, the excitement of participating at kickstarter has its own value.
    I honestly enjoy watching the pitches on the page as well as the updates.
    It was a genius idea of Double Fine to do a backers-only documentary.
    They already delivered their first 20-min clip which was quite entertaining.
    I would love to see more projects with fresh ideas on kickstarter, Banner Saga is probably the best example for these kind of projects.
    But I am truly afraid that the current hype will end abruptly when the first big projects fail and many backers realize that they had a wrong notion about how this new funding concept works.
    They are funding high-risk projects!
    Yes, there’s a reason why no publisher wanted to fund these projects.
    It’s probably the same reason why not a single projects publishes a risk assessment.
    Speaking for myself as a backer, I see kickstarter more as a gambling habit than any kind of rational investment.
    And I still hope for the jackpot!

  23. A quick, slightly comical intermission here as you’re all catching your breaths for the next round of insightful commentary:

    The #1 search engine term that leads people to this site, in spite of this specific article being the most popular one by far, remains “pikachu sex”.

    LOL!

  24. apshai permalink

    I donated $250. I’m 40 and have played Interplay games from the beginning. Wasteland 1 had a 100,000 budget and even in today’s dollars he has exceeded that. He has project manager (exec prod) credit in over 50 games. It is highly unlikely given his level of project management experience that he won’t deliver. He has other inXile games already selling and generating revenue so there is cash flow. I donated the money with the realization it was a risk but so is buying shares. I’m fairly confident given his track record that the game will be delivered so IMO very little risk for a big return to my favorite genre. If we hadn’t backed it the certainty of non delivery would have been 100% now likely less than 5. That’s a fair risk.

    • He has project manager (exec prod) credit in over 50 games

      Brian Fargo has done a lot of cool stuff in his life. But his Executive Producer credits are probably the least impressive, as that job basically only means “green-light the project”. Executive Producers at publishers, and a few other high-level management roles, have the luxury of appearing in all their studios’ games without necessarily lifting a finger in any of them.

      If we hadn’t backed it the certainty of non delivery would have been 100% now likely less than 5.

      You might be right – if your definition of non-delivery means “non-delivery in any sense”. If you start thinking about everything that could go wrong, the number is much, much higher than that.

      We’ll see what happens; maybe the guys will pull through without a hitch. Not all of them will, though, that’s for pretty sure. And at least one big-name idol will lose a boat load of fans, of that I’m certain.

      (Then again, there WERE Duke Nukem Forever fanboys for the longest time…)

  25. Odie,

    As a start up indie dev, and an advocate for both Kickstarter and the rise in people’s knowledge of game dev, I highly enjoyed your article. It saddens me how many people are fine with being ignorant on how games are made, but then get pissed off when you politely tell them that their ideas are wacky (even more so if it is an ACTUAL dev that responds). It is even more frightening when people post that they don’t CARE if their favorite dev makes any money or not.

    I’ve seen some really, really bad Kickstarters, too. “We want to make an MMO for $5k!”. Christian Allen’s Takedown was the biggest example of an actual, AAA dev that had absolutely no f****ing idea that Kickstarter did not equal Free Money (that combined with his attitude of “f*** users that don’t get me” led me to facepalm when it got fully funded).

    As for your idea that Kickstarter will bridge the gap in player ignorance, I honestly don’t think it will do as much good as you are proposing. Already, we have users on the backers only area of the Double Fine forums that are mad as shit because DF is not paying for rewards out of their own pocket. And just yesterday, KOTAKU itself posted an article about how the first screens of the DFA game had came out – even though the campaign ended just last month. People even expect Kickstarter to only be for a certain type of game dev, and only for people that want to do something “different”.

    But who knows. Maybe, after a few months of “OMG Kickstarter is saving GAEMS”, people will actually start to see what is really going down in terms of actual development. I await the next few videos of the DFA Documentary.

    I agree that the WL2 and DFA campaigns were shitty, and that Shadowrun is moderately better but still not there yet. Grim Dawn and The Banner Saga were close to being there. I consult on Gamestarters, and the biggest piece of info that I tell people is to put everything up front, and as much of it as possible. Stretch Goals are complete crap. They are for the people that view Desert Bus for Hope as pure entertainment as oppose to the charity drive that it is (“Please! Someone bid higher! Let’s keep this going! FOR THE CHILDREN!”, “haha let’s have Matt Wiggins go to Twilight for 24 hours straight! In goth makeup!”).

    I hope to see Kickstarter grow, as well as hopefully partake in it some day.

    But for now, yes, it is still in its infancy.

    • It is even more frightening when people post that they don’t CARE if their favorite dev makes any money or not.

      I know, right? It’s like… they think they have a mandate from God to make games with other people’s money.

      As for your idea that Kickstarter will bridge the gap in player ignorance, I honestly don’t think it will do as much good as you are proposing.

      To clarify: I think the impending failures of big-name devs will make many of them lose their aura of infallibility and make people more curious about the back-end of things. That’s all it can do, really – they have to take the actual reasons for the failures on faith (and many of them, sadly, probably will).

      Thanks a bunch for your post and good luck!

  26. Mr Tazos permalink

    I’m sorry, but, Duke Nukem Forever IS A VERY FUNNY PC GAME!
    It has fans, the only mistake was selling it as an AAA game, and let it be reviewed in Xbox and PS3 by Console players.
    It’s a game that really sellls what original fans want, without all the dark heroes crap. A niche game, as all the kickstarter projects must be.

  27. Yachmenev permalink

    Gotta say I love this debate. I have no problems pledging quite large amounts to these projects out of just enthusiam, hope and interest, without any guarentees to get anything back since I can afford it, but we always need to question things for them to improve.

    The breakdown of my kickstarter pledges.

    Double Fine Adventure – $100 – based on enthusiam and interest for the project. The backer forum and the documentary already makes it worth it.

    Wasteland 2 – $100 – based on hope, and really nothing more. Here I can question my own judgement about the size of the pledge, but it was money I can afford to loose. :) It´s fun to have hope.

    Jane Jensens Moebius – $50 – Belief and enthusiam. I trust Jane Jensen to deliver a great adventure and I think that they have been transparent enough about the project plans for me to think that it can be done. I know that “Good riddance to that genre” has been said on this blog, but it´s still one of my favorite genres, with good games coming at a steady pace.

    Larry – $15 – The reason for this pledge was pretty much “oh, what the heck…”. Not sure that I will keep it though. I have my doubts about Replay games.

    So they´re just to a very small percentage based on sound reasoning. But I kinda need to have this naive enthusiasm for the genre to keep an interest for it and keep buying games. If the cold cynical EA games was all I could buy, then I probably would have lost interest for games altogether a long time ago.

    That said though, I do not hate all publishers like Mr. Fargo seem to do, and I´m quite grateful for those that have put faith in projects like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the upcoming XCom game. But there are some decisions publishers make sometimes that makes me question if they´re any smarter than I am when I pledge $100 to Wasteland 2. :)

    I hope that the debate about this continues.

    • With quality posts like these, and plenty of shares to your friends, the debate will go on for a long time I’m sure.

      Thanks for your comment!

  28. I really enjoyed this article. It addressed many of the concerns I hold about the lack of information and unrealistic figures projects post. It’s important to go beyond what is presented and do a little digging. In the end, you take a chance and hope to see something for your money.

    Thank you. (-^_^-)

    • Thank you! Spread the word and maybe we’ll change some attitudes and lower the tolerance bar for people in general.

      There’s no reason Kickstarter contributors should be treated with less respect than big corporations.

  29. Just wanted to say amazing article.
    Kudos

  30. Tom permalink

    The defense of publishers is a bit surprising – sure they make a lot of money, but they do so almost exclusively by making extremely safe decisions in a market they’ve made extremely hungry (through heavy marketing and “conditioning”) for quality entertainment.

    But before you go thinking this means they’re entitled to a free ride divorced from criticism, ask yourself why every movie-based game is abysmally poor, and why nearly every major game studio has rushed an obviously unfinished and broken game out the door only to fail to even recuperate costs, blamed it on the development house based on unrealistic milestones, failed to market or fund bugfixes in order that they could recuperate some of these losses, then liquidated game companies which were profitable for decades, only to lose money hand over fist.

    These people may be tolerably good at business, but by and large they’re terrible at making games, or making a healthy environment for new and novel (or even old and proven) games to be developed. The longest overtime hours for the worst pay (for skilled workers in the western world) are obtained in this industry – that’s not a symptom of competent management.

    I’m not saying Kickstarter’s a magic sword that will slay all horrible management decisions – it’s not, and it’s provably true that incompetently managed projects fail catestrophically. However, the funding straw man you bring up above is symptomatic of utter foolishness if not outright stupidity on the part of the team responsible, not of a structural failure in the crowdfunding model.

    All that being said, who knows whether Fargo will make it – I bet he will, as the man’s been scheming about making this game for 20+ years and he’s setting realistically low goals in the areas which tend to consume game development projects wholesale, plus he’s doing it the old-fashioned way.

    Your article makes it sound like it’s a fait accompli failure from the get-go, just because he hasn’t shared design documents with you – that’s just pettishness. This whole article seems like a plea for attention, and your comments below down here (particularly your glee at the lack of response on their official forums – Fargo’s posted maybe 3 things ever on that forum, so you’ve not really “won” there) back up that assessment pretty powerfully.

    Maybe “as you grow older” (and thus reach adulthood) you might learn that some game projects are funded on a name alone – I doubt if Sid Meier has to put up with this sort of folderol, and I doubt if the Tron movie tie-in games would have lacked for funding if the publishers had realized what incredibly poor design underlies them. People pay for things they recognize, from people they recognize. If this seems foolish, then I encourage you to buy all of your computer hardware from new startup companies.

    • …they do so almost exclusively by making extremely safe decisions in a market they’ve made extremely hungry (through heavy marketing and “conditioning”) for quality entertainment.

      I’m confused.

      1.) Isn’t the corollary, then, that they don’t provide quality entertainment? As I would’ve thought that actually conditioning people to want quality entertainment wasn’t a bad thing. In other words, are you saying that they are “starving” the market of quality entertainment by not providing it? Because that really has no basis in objective reality. Please clarify this one.

      2.) “They” makes it sound like the ol’ conspiracy thing. You know, men twirling their moustaches in some dimly lit, smoky room somewhere. As if publishers are some sort of evil, homogeneous entity. Is that how you see things?

      …ask yourself why every movie-based game is abysmally poor…

      I’d rather ask you – why is this?

      …and why nearly every major game studio has rushed an obviously unfinished and broken game out the door only to fail to even recuperate costs…

      By “studio” I bet you mean publisher. Go on, tell us, why. That goes for your entire example there. I’m dying to find out how you justify blaming that entire tirade on publishers.

      These people may be tolerably good at business, but by and large they’re terrible at making games, or making a healthy environment for new and novel (or even old and proven) games to be developed.

      Yes, and if their business model was predicated on promoting artistry and innovation for their own sake, one could objectively argue that they sucked at it.

      What would you say a healthy environment would be, though? Realistically? See, one of the problems we have is our way of working. Specifically the fact that people aren’t working on a per-project basis like in, say, movies – people want and expect employment. And equally, if you’ve got one of the best programmers in the world, you want to hang on to him/her. Well, how many highly-paid individuals do you want sitting around and idling while someone figures out the next big cool game the team should be making?

      … you think Valve could work the way they do if not for their diverse sources of income, that effectively let them stay in R&D mode constantly?

      However, the funding straw man you bring up above is symptomatic of utter foolishness if not outright stupidity on the part of the team responsible…

      You said it.

      You forgot “intentional dishonesty”, though. Maybe because you don’t really know how this stuff usually plays out, so the thought never crossed your mind.

      “…not of a structural failure in the crowdfunding model.”

      There’s not a structural, objective failure per se. Only risk – and it is very, very high. Much higher than people know. In fact, if they did know, many would be deterred – even some of the more fanboyish ones.

      20+ years and he’s setting realistically low goals in the areas which tend to consume game development projects wholesale, plus he’s doing it the old-fashioned way.

      What do you know about the day-to-day of making games in general?

      What do you know of Mr. Fargo’s day-to-day specifically?

      Your article makes it sound like it’s a fait accompli failure from the get-go, just because he hasn’t shared design documents with you – that’s just pettishness.

      This betrays your angle, and intentions. He, huh?

      (particularly your glee at the lack of response on their official forums – Fargo’s posted maybe 3 things ever on that forum, so you’ve not really “won” there)

      Particularly? You mean “exclusively”, right? Again, the subtext of idolatry – as if only an answer from Brian Fargo himself would suffice. I didn’t claim that, but you sure did.

      Keeping your own angle and agenda in mind, pardon me if I’m not all that bothered to disprove something that you find… powerfully backed-up.

      Maybe “as you grow older” (and thus reach adulthood) you might learn that some game projects are funded on a name alone

      Name and track record matters – even to the evil publishers. That said, you think they’re not demanding full transparency of the devs? You think they’re not challenging design decisions? Just because they’re buddies with the studio head or lead creative or whomever? Or because there’s a big name in there?

      Let me clue you in: that’s not the case.

      Oh, and…

      I doubt if Sid Meier has to put up with this sort of folderol

      Again with this idea of the auteur game designer. Your idea of how games development works is exactly the one I’m talking about in the intro to this text. Furthermore, you’re seemingly wilfully ignorant about… everything, and are also quite arrogant. I mean, you’re obviously not stupid, so how else do I explain your absolute lack of understanding and over-simplified model of the games industry?

      I doubt if the Tron movie tie-in games would have lacked for funding if the publishers had realized what incredibly poor design underlies them

      Wait – are you actually proposing publishers would’ve thrown more money at a game with poor underlying design? It’s more likely they would’ve sent their own people to redesign it or something. But, honestly, you don’t just throw more money at poor underlying design; your bang-for-the-buck is going to be absurd. If the underlying design is poor, the game’s going to suck. Might as well make it cheap.

      People pay for things they recognize, from people they recognize. If this seems foolish, then I encourage you to buy all of your computer hardware from new startup companies.

      If you don’t understand analogies, don’t use them.

      I buy my computer hardware to solve specific problems. Manufacturers don’t really factor into my purchasing decision.

  31. guvnorium permalink

    The lack of dates on comments leads me to have no freaking clue about whether or not this comments section is alive or if it has been dead for a week. Forgive me if I’m being some kind of fool by posting in a dead comments section.

    For me, at least, I’ve already gotten a large benefit from backing Wasteland 2. Kickstarter is helping to keep me skinny, and I’m not going hungry. No, really.

    Here’s how it works:

    I’m a history major, attending college from home. As long as I keep getting good grades, I get to live there for free, and the parents pay for my gas/car insurance/car. I know, cool, right? (And then my brother went and moved on campus and blew threw half of his college fund. Smart guy.)

    I do not have a job during the school year. Theoretically, this gives me more time for school work. Realistically, it means I have more time for the internet, and I can afford to procrastinate.

    I do, however, have a job over the summer. This means that I have a source of leisure income, and a way to pay for books. (I have a nice scholarship for tuition, and a small college fund.)

    This leisure money amounts to $20 every week.

    I spend most of my leisure money on junk food. Most ‘major’ leisure expense (such as, say, videogames) only get purchased around Christmas, my birthday, or right after I get back from my camp job over the summer.

    Therefore, if I wish to back a Kickstarter project, and stay within my self imposed budget, I must make sure that the funding for it will be available during the week that it finishes.

    I enjoy gambling. Ask my brother. He’ll claim that at one point I was addicted. That’s ridiculous. After all, I was only spending $20 a week on lotto tickets. (Pre-austerity budget, of course)

    I backed Wasteland 2 for $15. I have never played an Interplay or inExile game before, and Brian Fargo’s EVIL PUBLISHERS interviews are annoying. However… the idea of a turn based RPG in a post apocalyptic wasteland, where you can acquire new party members as you progress sounds kind of cool. (Fallout: Pokemon, is the closest thing to a head movie I have for it.) I threw in the minimum amount to get the game. I only spent five dollars on junkfood that week. The same thing occurred when I backed one of my old camp co-workers to do a web series with $5, or when I paid some guy $10 to go around the country and take pictures of drive ins. (I like drive ins! And he says he’ll send us post cards.)

    Conclusion: The only way to ensure complete satisfaction with Kickstarter is if it is seen as a weight-control system and possibly an outlet for one’s gambling habits.

    So yeah, this whole post is all thanks to a self imposed, ultimately arbitrary budget.I mean, I don’t have to do things this way, but I like budgets. Hey, you know what would be really cool if these Kickstarter projects included? Budgets. I’d love to see some kind of breakdown of what exactly all that Wasteland 2 pledge money is going towards. (I pick on Wasteland 2 because HOLY CRAP $3 MILLION DOLLARS.) Some kind of financial plan would be nice. Design documents and stuff, I couldn’t read. (Not saying they shouldn’t release them; obviously, people like you want that kind of stuff.) But damn it, I’m a history major, and I can understand budgets.

    Tl,dr: I agree with you on a need for increased transparency, and back projects on a whim and because I think it would be cool if they succeed. Of course ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ is kind of the essence of gambling, so I view these things in much the same light. (Also like gambling though, it’s a game of odds, and I sure as hell am going to take that into account. I give Brian Fargo better odds than that weird fellow who is asking $1,000,000 for an MMO.) For this reason, just like with gambling, I think it’s a good idea to keep one’s investment low, no matter how much you trust a project to succeed. (A ‘limit’ if you will.) After all, even the best laid plans and all that fail, and isn’t one of the great things about crowdsourcing the fact that you can fund a project with a crap ton of small donations? Maybe I have a different interpretation than others do, though.

    • Damn, you’re absolutely right. There’s no dates or anything. I wonder if this theme would let me turn that stuff on.

      Anyway, you’re not late to the party by a long shot.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  32. Aku Ankka permalink

    This whole thing is looked from the wrong perspective here: a worker not an entrepreneur. The devs have all the insentives in the world to deliver a great product and not to resort to publishers any step of the way. After all, they are getting paid (from the pledges) to build their own IPR than may end up being worth millions of dollars in sales later on (of which they will get the majority). Usually, no-one is given a chance like this, the suit who gives the money will take most of the returns. It is just a “once in a lifetime” chance to get serious money.

    • You can always make this statement, regardless of who’s picking up the tab.

      “Surely making the best possible product on time is in the developer’s best interest!”

      Not always.

    • guvnorium permalink

      “. The devs have all the insentives in the world to deliver a great product and not to resort to publishers any step of the way.”

      I think the problem with this idea is that it depends on the developers budgeting properly and not, you know, running out of money. I can see that happening on any of the Kickstarted games. If they run out of money, it doesn’t matter how much it is in their interest to produce the best game possible, because they will have no money to make it. And that’s the optimistic view, versus the pessimistic view that some developers will never really put effort into these projects and will just waste the free money they have been given.

  33. Chaosritter permalink

    Well, you must consider that these founding projects are aimed towards people who are likely to don’t know anything about game development to begin with. Given the short attention span of the internet, more detailed explanations could have easily led to a tl;dr situation, especially when the text is overly specific.

    • Oh, absolutely. Pretty much the entire thesis is that these projects are aimed, in a quite cynical way, at people who don’t know anything about game development.

      “More detailed explanations” could be made opt-in. I find the level of information that some people think is at “nuts and bolts” level quite laughable, and indeed a bit disrespectful toward the audience.

      • I’m quite disappointed in the Tex Murphy Kickstarter. Their info page is something a newbie dev would write.

      • O_O

        You’re not kidding. Holy crap.

        I’m actually shocked by this. It’s like the worst one so far.

  34. Wasteland 2 is the first Gamestarter to go on Origin. You sort of predicted this.

  35. Yachmenev permalink

    It really doesn´t effect the game at all (so far), but yeah, how is Brian Fargo going to continue to talk about publisher evils after being used in a EA press release talking about their great relationship?

    I have my $100 pledge for Wasteland 2, but no regrets. I´m in it for the ride, both ups and downs. :)

    • No, you’re right, it hasn’t had any real effect, yet, beyond making Brian say funny stuff and show that he’s not… that… averse to working with these people to any extent.

      The fanboyism continues in the comments threads it’d seem. Some people seem to think that this is EA, dragging Brian and the team Kickstarting and Screaming (s… see what I did there?) into this distribution deal. Makes sense – everything else would have to beg the question of how likely Brian & Friends would be to sell out completely. And I’m not sure I even want to be around for that discussion, ’cause it’s going to get ugly up in this mofo…

      • I have a very bad reaction to the term “sell out”. It’s overused.

      • You’ll have to forgive me for using it, third language and all. Anyway, I think the behaviours that usually prompt people to use the term are overdone, to be honest.

        Idunno, just once I’d like to be wowed by some principled, even stubborn, idealistic ideologues who truly refuse to even be in the same room as the establishment if they can help it. Not that I think that’s a reasonable position necessarily, but on some level I feel like I could respect it, and any rebellious buzzwords or slogans that they’d spout, much more that way.

        They say a cynic is a frustrated optimist, though. I think there’s a lot to that.

  36. TeDeO permalink

    Being on the developer side of the industry for quite a while, I agree with you only in parts. Sure, it is a noble thing to warn players from sending 100 Dollars to a guy in china who made some translations for WoW and now goes as ‘former Blizzard employeee’. Sure, Brian Fargo IS anoying and self-righteous (and annoyingly self-righteous). Sure, succesful game mechanics usally do NOT stem from the long-bearded Creative Supervisor talking to games magazines, but from the whole team, publishers included. And sure, project planning and milestone are underrated by far in the industry.

    Still, I think you overlooked some aspects in your argumentation:

    1. Who decides what a proper return of your investement is? Even in best case, only one third of the donators will get what they expected from their money. If a guy has arachnophobia and Double Fine decides to make their new game a comical spider game where you play baby spiders in quest for their mother, this guy is out. And with him many others who hate family stories, kids, mothers, etc. It is a poor result, if these guys would have pledged and said: ‘Please make a funny adventure, but without spiders and family stories.” But most of them only said: “Make a funny adventure game. I have no ida, how this works, and I do not really know, what I want, but considering your previous work, I have faith in you, that it will be kind of my taste.” And thus they went away. It is not an ‘investment’. They do not expect to get their money back. Most people,I think, do not even expect to get a real copy of the game. They merely pledge.

    They pledge like feudal lords did in the 17th century: Nobles usually did not give money to artists and said: ‘Paint me a picture of the sunset on this church at 5am in the morning and use these colors.Oh, and l´please give me a business plan in advance’ Rather they said: ‘Paint me a nice landscape, you know, like the one you did some years ago.’ And that was it. Then they paid colors and efforts in advance and let the artistd o their work. Few of those got the painting they expected, I bet. And even if they misliked it, they mght have contributed to some great work of art. (Or a bad one. In this case, they helped some guy who dedicated his life to art to live his dream a litte longer. Bad deal?) Of course, there were also lords who wanted exact portraits or pictures of XYZ, but those they could get on any market. We’re talking about patronager here, not contract work.

    2. I think you exaggerate the amount of money players invested and their attachment to it. The majority of people gave 10-50 Dollars, which is not more than you pay for a pre-release order which after release also might turn out to be dull. (Duke Nkem Forever, anyone? Diablo III?) Worst case is, I gave a small sum of money to a guy whose previous work I liked, or to someone whose idea I really enjoyed. (I don not think, pledgers got into debts to finance kickstarter projects.) Best case is, I got an old dream of mine fulfiled and the one one of may others too, with a happy developer benefiting from it.

    3.As you know from articles ond indie funding, indie developers are grateful for for any penny they can get. Is it a bad thing, to open a chanel to give those 5 dollar more for living. As said, in 2. my donation does not harm me, and even if it is a fraud, I still get the warm feeling of having done a good deed. (And maybe, in some countries, I can get a tax relief from it)

    4. I also think, you exaggerate the development costs of games. Best game design stems from designers whok now their budget, that is true. But don’t you think, that professionals (not the indie gamers you cited) know ways to make a project match the budget? I do not think, that (to take your Wasteland example) a guy who was involved in a considerable amout of Triple A productions does not know how to plan (and if necessary cut) a project so that it fits the time frame.

    5. Economically, most developers on Kickstarters (pure fraud attempts not counting) have a reasonable interest to produce the best game possible in time. It would be quite stupid to get a free start-up investment and then run away with the money, rather than put it to work: If the game is done well, it will pay back even more. Also, in the real world, you cannot put a whole company on a project for over half a year and then just blow it. Who would want to work with this company? Which big publisher would could consider this company its next devloper? (Even, if no CEO feels personally offended and challenged) Many of the project heads involved, have a company and reputation to loose – I do not think, they gamble with it on purpose.

    • Thanks for your reply.

      While most of your comments have been addressed to some degree in the comments field already, you’ve written in such a comprehensive and literate manner that I don’t mind summarizing my thoughts once more.

      1.) Yes, I’ve conceded at several times that it’s definitely possible to make an informed Hail Mary pledge, not really expecting anything in return with regards to content, quality or even an actual product. I am claiming, however, that people’s sense of entitlement, their emotional attachment, and the degree to which they overestimate their own understanding of what it is they are funding, is much higher than what you might think.

      I mean, you heard about the whole Origin thing for Wasteland 2, right? Just look at the comments in these threads, don’t they just make your heart sink?

      http://www.shacknews.com/article/73868/origin-offers-free-90-day-distribution-for-crowd-funded-games

      http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2012/05/18/ea-luring-kickstarter-games-to-origin.aspx?PageIndex=3

      Also, I think it is quite telling that I’ve gotten so much criticism where people are pissed at the notion of their being uninformed (which… kind of pushes the point home further), rather than saying “yeah, I’m totally doing this as a semi-educated guess based on assumptions that may be totally and utterly false”.

      Finally, I like your analogy about nobility sponsoring artists. I have this idea of most nobles as reasonably useless, privileged twats, that have been inbred to the point where it’s more likely than not that for them to have more money than sense. The analogy works perfectly fine for me. :)

      2.) Yeah, this category of people I can’t touch. But look at those links up there again. And keep in mind, as I’ve said elsewhere, that we live in a world where non-paying players of free-to-play games throw fits over not having been given pay feature X for free.

      3.) No, that’s perfectly fine. I give money to charity too, and the kind of charity that actually does good for the state of our culture is just as valid as any other.

      When I give to charity, though, I make sure I give to those that are as-trusted-and-transparent-as-can-be. As I’ve written elsewhere, in my country there are organizations that will scrutinize and do due diligence on charitable organizations to make sure they can put a label on them that shows how much less likely it is that they will steal your money.

      Oh, and if these aspiring artists/indies (not to mention bigger-name enterprises like Double Fine and Inxile) are happy for every penny, what’s wrong with offering a bit of transparency? There’s really no excuse to be as disrespectful to your audience as some of these pitches are, with this one being one of the worst:

      4.) Yeah, it’s definitely possible. But the norm of our industry is “delayed and not-quite-to-spec”. I’m not saying it can’t be done – just that it generally isn’t, with feature creep and 11th hour cuts wasting masses of work. And why should I be okay to take this on faith? Are you seriously arguing these people’s right to not spend one day of work putting together some risk mitigation material?

      5.) Yes, but the truth is often counter-intuitive. Some people are honest in their incompetence, some aren’t. Again, it seems to be the accepted norm in the industry to negotiate and accept budgets and schedules that are nowhere near sufficient for the game that’s being planned. And then, when you’re at 70% completion but have spent 100% of the budget and are behind by 6 months, you get more money to finish it. For some people this was the plan from the very beginning.

      Whether budgets and schedules are wrong, and whether it’s for honest or dishonest reasons, can often be gleaned through the projects’ planning materials, which is one reason I’d be happy to see such materials before pledging. I’d even take it upon myself to parse and translate them for the rest of the community. Maybe that’s why such materials aren’t available, if you’ll allow me a bit of cynicism.

  37. foksieloy permalink

    The lack of dates on comments makes me unsure as to whether I am necroing this or not, but what the hell…

    First off, this post and the subsequent replies in the comments have been a first time in a long while that I enjoyed going through walls of text. Good work.

    And it hits right where I was, reading through those pitches when they first showed up.

    The Double Fine one was tempting. It was a vague pitch, but at least some elements had to be present in the final game for it to be considered a “Double Fine Advanture”, namely solid puzzles, interesting characters and a solid storyline. Sadly that is not enough info for me to decide if I would like that game or not.

    The Wasteland 2 one was just horrible. As mentioned above, you do not get more specific than a top down squad based RPG? Well actually, you do not get more vague than that, except by using the expression: “we are making a game”.

    And that actually is the point, isn’t it? Everyone gets to imagine the game of their dreams, and pay for it in advance. It is like a lovecraftian version of marketing. Mention a certain vague description and let the imagination fill out the blanks.

    So far the only computer game I backed on kickstarter is Carmageddon, and it actually took the “get the first one on gog” option for me to do it. I knew exactly what I would be getting from the pitch (first Carmageddon with better graphics and multplayer over steam? Sold!), but I was not confident that the producers would deliver. The “get first one on gog” option reduced the risk enough for me to pitch in.

    On the other hand, I backed numerous board games even though all were as much as 20 times more expensive than a computer game (I am looking at you Alabaster, you wretched thing!), because I knew exactly what I was getting. The games were done, and only thing that was needed was money to make the actual box and fill it with pieces.

    I am slightly sad that computer games manage to raise enough money on kickstarter with such vague pitches… I hope that confidence burn comes soon enough (in the form of a failure to deliver) so that people would start to question things more, and studios get their heads out of their asses, for the betterment of everyones experience.

    • Well put, I couldn’t have – and didn’t – put it better myself. :)

      “Lovecraftian version of marketing” is a brilliant phase, rivalling my own pet “Cargo Cult Game Design”.

      Thanks for your post!

    • Zachary Bart permalink

      Y’all are going to look like idiots when all the great games start cranking out starting in October.

      • Looking forward to it!

      • foksieloy permalink

        “Y’all are going to look like idiots when all the great games start cranking out starting in October.”

        And why would we? If some of those games turns out to be good, we can still buy them. And if they do turn out to be good, that does not invalidate our conclusion that backing them is lottery.

        What you said is the equivalent of: “Ha, I just dangled my privates in front of a lion’s maw, and he didn’t bite them off! You are all idiots for not doing the same!”

        In that case you got lucky, but what you did was still silly.

      • Well put.

        I guess this kind of attitude is inevitable in a world where blind faith is still considered a virtue, or at the very least worthy of respect.

      • Zachary Bart permalink

        No. I took a small risk and I enabled the games to be made. You are quite welcome.

      • I’m a militant agnostic with regards to the risk and also to whether your (or anybody’s) contributions have in fact enabled anything. By that I mean that I don’t know and you don’t either.

        You’ve not really provided any arguments for your position. You’re just asserting that the games will happen (on time, no less), be great, and that it’s thanks to you. That last one is, I suppose, true for anyone who’s even given a penny – so I’ll grant you that one. But the other two you take totally on faith. It’s still possible that you’ll end up being right, but unless every game you’ve backed comes out great and on time and budget, I don’t really see how it makes those less credulous than yourself look like idiots.

        And let’s say it does – I’ll look like an idiot in October, sure, but you look like one right now.

        Now stop trolling.

      • “Y’all are going to look like idiots when all the great games start cranking out starting in October.”

        Thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat really wasn’t the point of the article.

      • I don’t think he read it. :/

      • Zachary Bart permalink

        Note the post that I responded to.

      • It wasn’t really an intelligent reply to that post either.

  38. Just came back from Comic-Con. Went to the Kickstarter: Games panel. Very short, very “this panel was squeezed in last second and nobody wanted to give us time or space because we were not DC”. Some asshole during the QA session tried to goad Avellone into a fight concerning WL2’s Origin deal.

    It was really good panel, and instead of the “publishers suck” fest that I expected (which isn’t a negative, that would have been great), they focused more on how not everyone can try this at home, given the costs of video game development – both mental and financial. It was real informal. I got to talk to Avellone, Weisman, and Jones afterwards. All nice guys with no real delusions that they are going to change the industry.

    I would have rather enjoyed a two hour panel, where they would be able to talk about their projects in detail. I’m assuming that was the main idea, but it just didn’t work.

    • Interesting stuff. I wouldn’t mind getting to chat with these guys either.

      Shame about the douchebag and the fight-picking.

  39. onionman permalink

    I would like to point out that Wasteland 2 is out, “to spec,” and a blast.

    • Not sure whether you’re offering that as some sort of counter-point to the original thesis of the post. But remember that since the article was originally written, we’ve seen second funding drives for games that really shouldn’t have needed them (that Double-Fine game and Mighty no. 9 for instance), the cancellation of numerous high-profile projects, and the purchase of Oculus by Facebook – which seemed to piss a few people off for some reason, can’t imagine why. Also, did you happen to get Wasteland 2 on Origin perchance? You know, the platform operated by EA, the evilest company in the world?

      Point is, just the fact that the one game you were looking forward to ended up being delivered doesn’t really bother me. In fact, I’m glad you like it, sub-80 average score and all. If that’s what you feel you paid for, then gg wp.

      • onionman permalink

        I agree with the basic thrust of your argument, and you’re right that one single data point doesn’t really impact the broader trend line you (quite accurately) describe.

        But there are a few facts of the matter:

        1) Brian Fargo’s arrogance notwithstanding, Wasteland 2 was always a pretty good bet as far as Kickstarter projects go.

        2) Therefore it was a somewhat strange choice to pick on in this post.

        3) I, like most people, paid $15 to back Wasteland 2; meaning that while most things you describe are correct, I don’t think you distinguish adequately between informed and uninformed backers, or among different levels of backer investment. If the choice facing me is either A) potentially lose $15 on vaporware/garbage or B) never even have the possibility of a pet favorite project that for whatever reason has no publisher support (see also the space sim genre), I will choose A) every time.

        In other words, I agree that people who back *anything* for $10,000 are suckers, and I would even go so far as to say the same for people who purchase “alpha access” tiers for $100+… but there is a healthy middle ground.

        4) You of all people should recognize that the Metacritic average is totally useless as a metric of anything meaningful. Is Wasteland 2 a perfect game? No. Is it a great RPG that would never have seen the light of day without people willing to take a chance? Yes.

        5) My copy is on Steam and I bear EA no particular ill will.

      • Thanks for the elaborate reply.

        1.) There were several bets that were better from a risk point of view, including the aforementioned Mighty no. 9 and that Double Fine game I keep forgetting the name of.

        2.) Well no, I mean, it was there, and it was high-profile at the time, and it was sold in what was either a very incompetent or a very cynical way in my opinion.

        3.) I’ve spoken to this point many times. I can only implore you to get through the previous comments. Yes, there are some backings that are completely shrug-of-the-shoulder-y. And if they also come with no sense of entitlement, then there’s no reason whatsoever to feel targeted by this post.

        4.) Why “me of all people”? Also, I do think that Metacritic is pretty crap, but it’s better than your assertion that “it’s a blast” or “a great RPG”. Especially since I’m unlikely to play the game myself.

        5.) Well that’s nice and level-headed. Kudos.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Zwischenfolge: More Kickstarter! | Stay Forever
  2. Path Finding and Kick Starting | Vicarious Existence
  3. 3 Reasons Cool Ideas are Damaging Video Games | Odious Repeater
  4. Kickstander: Only Around A Third of Kickstarted Video Game Projects Fully Deliver To Their Backers | Odious Repeater
  5. Kickstarter: A Question of Experience | GamesBeat | Games | by Reggie Carolipio (Community Writer)
  6. Double-Fined: Selling Overhead to Fans | Odious Repeater
  7. Yogventures – Another failed Kickstarter | Odious Repeater

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