A couple of days ago, I saw a tweet from Penny Arcade Report’s Ben Kuchera that reflected upon the current state of Kickstarter and crowdfunded games in general. It said: “Kickstarter’s path has been interesting. Backers are starting to think like investors; they want games they know, from people they trust”. And later, he followed up to someone’s response with “The lesson here is gamers are just as culpable as publishers for the sequel problem”. Both of these points are good ones, and it points to both a potential shift in crowdfunding, the rise of sequels and reboots on Kickstarter, and maybe even paves the way for another option in the future.
Kickstarter and crowdfunding are hot topics, and when it comes to game development, there’s still growth happening as more and more become aware of the option. For gamers, this might mean backing some unknown project that seems to have a lot of potential or it could mean backing something that’s a reboot or a direct inspiration fueled by nostalgia for long Saturday afternoons during your teen years. But the notion that gamers are acting like investors and beginning to play it safe on Kickstarter is indeed an interesting one. It’s not even just looking for games and projects that you trust; it’s also about projects you feel like you want to succeed. I backed my first game project recently, and it is indeed from a developer that I trust, so maybe there’s some truth to it in the end.
One of the key differences when it comes to funding a game through a site like Kickstarter is that if you were a traditional investor, you’d at least make some sort of profit on the deal if the game succeeded. Project backers are essentially putting in a preorder that may or may not pan out. The risk is different, but now it seems that those that might consider backing a project are either becoming more discriminating, more risk averse, or are perhaps only hearing about the games from more known developers. I’ll attest to having received a ton of Kickstarter project emails and press releases, and I’m sure it’s the same for anyone else in games media. After a while, you see them in your inbox and go ‘not again’, but if someone you recognize has a project, it’s easier to pay attention. This is also the case with many players that buy sequels on a regular basis. So even if you do want to support the little guys, sometimes in this age of information overload and rapid digital info, they can get inadvertently lost somewhere while a favorite developer or IP might hook you better due to the familiarity.
If you got in and got funded before these shifts started to take place (making this crowdfunding route almost a victim of its own perceived success – most projects, in fact, fail), then your project is a lucky one. This is good if you’re Castle Story, The Banner Saga, Planetary Annihilation, War for the Overworld, FTL (Faster Than Light), or your name is Tim Schafer. It’s not necessarily good if you’re a small project starting out now. But if you are someone people know or have a sequel on your hands, that could work to your advantage. Phil Hassey, developer of Galcon, was able to fund a sequel recently, one that goes into the free to play direction. A quick search over the weekend of “RTS” in the video games category shows only five successfully funded projects, including Galcon 2, and one tabletop game. Searching “strategy” is a little bit more fruitful. But given the supposed tightening up of the consumer wallets, one wonders if gamers will play it relatively safe from now on. That too might lead developers and publishers interested in crowdfunding games to do the same.
Of course, unknown projects will always come and go. Something like the Ouya, for instance, which was announced and then funded with over 8.5 million dollars, a 904% funding rate. But even projects with lots of passion behind them and known development teams can potentially struggle or see slow going. Gas Powered Games’ Wildman is a gambit for the company itself and the project has until this Friday to be funded.
Does all of this mean that crowdfunding is peaking? Probably not just yet. I think we’ll see projects ebb and flow, but it’s not surprising that gamers have grown cautious. Perhaps we should have our eyes on the horizon because it’s only a matter of time until some alternative pops up. But until then, as gamers, we should find ways to sort the quality games, big and small, and encourage creativity – whether on a nostalgic project or something completely new.