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Kickstarting Trust: Fixing Crowdfunding

/ Sep 20th, 2016 No Comments

Mighty No 9 Kickstarter

Crowdfunding has become a regular method in the way games are developed and published. It has enabled game developers to bypass the constraints and limitations imposed on them by a largely bloated, bureaucratic and greedy industry that mainly views making games as a business rather than an art form.

Without crowdfunding, a plethora of amazing games would have never been made. Independent hits like Shovel Knight, FTL: Faster than Light and Fran Bow were all made with the help of funds obtained through crowdfunding efforts.

Crowdfunding has even helped make revitalized versions of and long-awaited sequels to classic games. The most notable of these is undoubtedly Shenmue 3, a project which Sega has adamantly refused to make for years and whose crowdfunding campaign broke Kickstarter records.

Despite such successes, a recent report by Kickstarter has revealed that the overall money given toward funding video game projects on the site has declined while simultaneously the number of people using it to fund said projects has increased.

This isn’t a new trend but one that has continued since 2013.

There’s been great speculation on why this trend is occurring. The most common reason attributed to this decline is how unreliable crowdfunding is, especially where video games are concerned.

This is a valid point, but there’s a deeper reason: accountability is almost non-existent in crowdfunding.

Double Fine Productions raised backlash during its internal development cycle and final release. The project is notable for bringing up the numerous issues of crowdfunding games, especially where accountability is concerned.

Double Fine raised backlash during its internal development cycle and final release.

Controversies behind crowdfunded games like Broken Age, Godus and Mighty No. 9 are evidence of this. Besides having final products that failed to live up to their promises even despite reaching funding goals on Kickstarter, developers of these games displayed unethical behavior.

The lesson such controversies teach is irrefutable: removing the influence of big name game companies in favor of enabling direct financial participation of the public doesn’t guarantee better games, let alone better ethics.

Yet, such behavior remains a common facet of crowdfunding, with rarely any form of retribution delivered to backers by crowdfunding moderators. Backers to campaigns have little to no ability to hold creators accountable or exercise some form of penalization for having their goodwill taken advantage of.

The reason for this is the policies crowdfunding sites employ. These flawed rules grant crowdfunding projects a near virtual exemption from being held responsible by both moderators and backers should they fail to fulfill their promises.

To illustrate this, take the Occulus Rift: one of the most groundbreaking video game accessories created due to crowdfunding.

The total amount that the Occulus Rift earned thanks to the good will of Kickstarter patrons was $2,437,429. The amount earned by big companies due to its sudden acquisition by Facebook however makes that look like chump change.

The total the Occulus Rift campaign earned was more than $2.4 million.

After the groundbreaking success of its Kickstarter campaign, Occulus Rift creators were then approached by Facebook. The social media giant promptly offered to buy the rights to the Occulus Rift along with the company creating it for an astoninishing $2 billion. The offer was quickly accepted.

Furhtermore, Spark and Matrix Partners, both major companies who invested roughly $19 million towards the acquisition, cashed in on their investment 20-fold, taking in about $380 million.

The approximately 9,500 people who had invested into the Kickstarter project would not see any of that money and were never asked to provide their input into a potential change in ownership.

Many users who had backed the project on Kickstarter were naturally angry, as any investor would be at such behavior. A notable number tried to withdraw their pledges in protest. This attempt was prohibited due to Kickstarter’s refund policy that, once funded, there can be no refunds unless a project fails to reach completion.

Then, there’s Indiegogo, a separate crowdfunding service. Its policies on accountability are just as bad, and are made worse by how money is awarded to projects. Even if a project does not obtain the minimum amount of money it requires to go forward by its deadline, the money is still given to creators. Unethical behavior on the platform is practically rewarded as a result of this.

Despite earning $567,665 Kickstarter, Yogsventure, an ambitious adventure game, was cancelled in 2014. Despite Kickstarter's terms of use which require projects be completed and money refunded to backers should they fail, that money has yet to be completely given back to its backers.

Despite earning $567,665 Kickstarter, Yogsventure was canceled in 2014.

The honest truth of crowdfunding, considering all this, amounts to this: despite its fancy name, crowdfunding is charity. Nothing more. The term “backer” is ultimately just a politically correct way of saying “donor.” There’s no way for those donating to exercise powers to ensure accountability from those they donate to.

Allowing people to directly aid in the financing of games is arguably a step in the right direction toward breaking the monopoly the mainstream game industry has on video game development. So what can be done to fix both crowdfunding and its popularity where video games are concerned?

Well, the answer is a very straightforward one: crowdfunding platforms must take actual steps forward in enabling people greater ways to ensure accountability in the projects they invest in.

Doing this, even to a moderate degree, better ensures higher quality video games and accessories, and actually justifies the title of “backer” to those who aid in the crowdfunding campaign. It’s a invaluable improvement that doesn’t require a crowdfunding campaign to be possible.


Jonathan Anson

Jonathan Anson

Jonathan has been a lover of video games since his father brought home a Windows 95 computer. When he's not doing that he indulges in his other passion: writing. Jonathan holds an AA degree in Journalism from Saddleback College in Southern California.
Jonathan Anson
Jonathan Anson

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