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Can I Borrow a Dollar: Another Kickstarter Think Piece

/ Sep 23rd, 2013 No Comments

Massive Chalice

Huzzah, it is another Kickstarter think piece! You can almost feel the zeitgeist getting ground up into fine powder to do rails off an iPhone 5S while bemoaning the violence of Grand Theft Auto V and Miley Cyrus’ twerking. Kickstarter has been around for a while, but only in the last year or so has it gained a huge amount of visibility. While the service has existed since 2009 as a means for creative projects to become material, outside of traditional financing methods. It perhaps needed the social media sea change to occur before it became a powerful tool to make ideas reality (theoretically, as funded projects have no compulsion to deliver an actual product). All of the site’s top ten most funded projects achieved their phenomenal success in the last year and change. Of those top ten projects, 5 of them are video games (or video game related) with only one of them being an actual product that everyone can purchase. The other 4 are in various states of development with ship date in the ether (because video games, man).

The most high profile and highly criticized of these hugely funded Kickstarter projects is the Ouya. What started as a compelling story of some scrappy upstarts wanting to make a console promising some interesting concepts ended up as a piece of hardware that under delivered with a controller that missed its Super Car target. There was the whole weird additional funding outside of Kickstarter to bring the console to retail (a terrible idea) that kind of betrayed the spirit of what the crowd funding  aimed to accomplish. Raising questions of what use the service has, outside of showing consumer interest (and ostensibly free funding for inferior to the retail goods).  Not only was the visualized dream, sort of a nightmare, but every bit of publicity around the console has been extremely off putting. From the Ouya Bus outside this years E3 to their half baked (and possibly corrupt) Free the Games Fund project; nothing has gone quite right for the system.

Ouya

Ouya

The problem from its inception was that devoid of the nice story and intention, the console never quite seemed to have a clarity of purpose or customer base. It seemingly appealed to those who wanted to be part of something (chasing that zeitgeist high) and people who wanted to collect outsider tech (put that Ouya in that closet next to the Jaguar, N-Gage and 3DO).  It had plenty of potential for Indie developers. Yet Sony and Nintendo, who offered better platforms and more aggressive tactics to attract smart and innovative creators to their consoles, stole the Ouya’s Indie focus thunder (rendering its main appeal null). Credit where credit due though, they delivered to their backers and brought their product to market (even if no one particularly cared). The Ouya is a particular example of where the allure and dangers of Kickstarter can be plainly seen. A cool story can compensate for a product that perhaps should not exist (but it is fun to be a part of history even if it is investing in the Hindenburg).

Video games are not an exact science. Develop can go horribly wrong (and many times it does), but that usually is kept from the public (or not with highly publicized failures like Aliens: Colonial Marines) or covered up by huge publishers absorbing the financial burden or scraping the project. With Kickstarter there is a bit more transparency or scrutiny because there is the reasonable expectation on the part of backers for the game to ship (without issue, like, say needing more funding because the developer hit a snag in development). That is not how it works though, unfortunately. It is no one’s fault or a horrible mismanagement of resources (typically), but **** can hit the fan.

Broken Age

Broken Age

Double Fine Adventure famously raised 734% more funds than it projected allowing the team to make a bigger game than expected. During its development, the game has gotten larger in scope prompting various additional means of funding. In the Double Fine Humble Bundle, people who contributed $35 or more, in addition to the humble bundle games offered, got a second chance to get a copy of Broken Age (nee Double Fine Adventure) and backer access to the project. While not an outright second kickstarter, it did allow the developers to receive some additional funds off a game still in development. Recently, Double Fine announced that Broken Age would miss its expected ship date due to the expanding size of the game. Not only that, it would be split into two parts. The first part will now ship in Jan 2014 as an Early Access game to allow Double Fine to raise additional funds to complete the full scope of the project (with the second part shipping sometime later in 2014). The benefit of Double Fine is they have been transparent about all of these snags. The developer has openly communicated the issues to backers and those anticipating the game. However Broken Age turns out, quality wise, remains to be seen, but it serves as a check for zealous would-be backers for video games that they should always be aware of the vagaries of video game development. **** is tough, so make sure you trust those you back to deliver a product (eventually).

Most of the other big games from Kickstarter are at various states of shipping to backers (and being retail). Project Eternity from Obsidian Entertainment still has a good bit of time before its Q2/Apr 2014 expected ship date. Wasteland 2 from inExile Entertainment might not quite make its estimated Oct 2013 ship date, but there is still active communication to backers, so it likely is not smoldering (they have released video demos to backers/the public). InExile’s other project, Torment: Tides of Numenera is likely a bit further away. The benefit of these high profile games is that they seem to be doing right by backers and communicating openly. So, hopefully, games materialize sometime down the road. That is not to say all these over-funded games are way off, Shadowrun Returns exists and can be purchased now (go on Steam, it is there for your hard earned American dollars). And Godus from the boy king, Peter Molyneux is currently available for Early Access on Steam.

Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter

Kickstarter is a great service. It gives creative types a way to create without having to compromise their vision. Without a corporate entity funding the endeavor, they can deal directly with their fans/customers. It also gives consumers the ability to vote with their dollars in a meaningful way. It gives video game fans the opportunity to tell creators exactly what they want because they are kicking them a couple of shekels to help make it. It gives exceedingly cool games like A Hat in Time, Brad Muir’s MASSIVE CHALICE and Hyper Light Drifter a chance to exist where they otherwise might not. It has given Keiji Inafune an opportunity to give fans the Mega Man they deserve and that he wants to make (CAPCOM be damned). There are the odd instances of Sony advertising games for their consoles on their official blog that have upcoming kickstarters (Sony should probably fund these games directly). Yet people should have a healthy skepticism when backing something. It is easy to get caught up in a compelling story or an interesting concept making it possible to avoid the reality/capability of the people behind the story/concept to deliver fully on the product. Or to forget that when funding a video game that video game development is actually a hugely difficult and complex undertaking that typically can go haywire at any time. Then there is the whole when can people start talking about a proposed game as fact? It is going to be an interesting future. Now if only I can get someone to kickstart my reality show where I am there not to make friends.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Associate Editor/Editorial Lead at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. Currently, he lives in Tustin, California. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs

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