Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Could Kickstarter Mean for Video Games?

Kickstarter” appears to be a buzz word of 2012 in gaming right now. Over the last two months, I’ve heard this term at least once a week, but I only had a vague idea of what it entails through context. I decided to look into it and was so impressed with the idea that I wanted to contribute to perpetuating the buzz. Kickstarter has been around since 2008, but its recent success in the video game department has perhaps put it more prominently on my radar. In March 2012, “Double Fine Adventure” took the #1 spot of highest amount of funds raised by amassing $3,336,371 with an original goal of only $400,000. This has made it quite a success story and word of it has gotten around fast.

Kickstarter is an online fundraiser, or “crowd funding,” website which utilizes fan interest and support to create new projects. Those projects include all forms of literature and art, not just video games. Crowd funding itself has been developing online as early as 2001. This system is mostly used to help fund indie projects that otherwise may not get off the ground without relying on bigger publishers who not only take their share of the profit, but also often influence design decisions and steer projects away from perceived risks that might negatively impact sales. The system instead turns fans of the project or project owner into a form of investor. Although the donators do not actually own any part of the projects made, the developer often promises perks depending on how much money is donated in the form of goods or services. For example, many indie games I looked at offer you a copy of the game when it is released for a small donation, and lead up to meeting the developers or invitations to gaming expo for some of the large donations.

The idea this picture represents is worth $3.3 million!
When the Kickstarter project for “Double Fine Adventure” ended in March, it proved that customer loyalty can be tapped in an all new and direct way. This allows smaller game developers to work independently without the influence of big-time producers and publishers. It has shown that the system can work when the conditions are right.  Double Fine intentionally chose to make an “adventure game” to provide a type of game that current publishers refuse to touch and classify as a dead genre that appeals to only a limited, and unprofitable, crowd. The response on Kickstarter is certainly an eye-opener then. This project has shown that fan interest in supposedly “dead genres” can certainly surprise you, and that game publishers are perhaps not in touch with what consumers actually want anymore. They are attempting to mitigate financial risks by eliminating risky ideas or game projects, but as a result the entire industry is flooded with game regurgitation and stifles growth in creativity and innovation. – This is something I’ve felt personally throughout the last decade and am happy to see that there is a developing alternative to signing over your projects to the big label publishers.

The recent success of “Double Fine Adventure” has certainly encouraged more developers to seek fan support in their projects, some of which include Wasteland 2, The Banner Saga, and Shadowrun Returns. These games are still running their fundraising on Kickstarter as of today and are already slated to take their spots in the Top 10 highest grossing projects as soon as they close. Wasteland 2 in particular will be sitting right next to “Double Fine Adventure” in 2nd place if it closed today, and still has 6 days left to collect donations. As I mentioned, Kickstarter has been running since 2008, but in just a three short months video game projects have risen to take the 5 of the 10 top grossing spots in the last 4 years. Though its doubtful that bigger publishers will see this as a threat, I’m sure gets the attention of many aspiring developers with limited budgets out there. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just glad to see that quality games that are true to their developers’ visions will still have a means by which they can be made without any outside influence or interference.

Wasteland/Fallout fans everywhere fainted at this announcement...
then woke up and got out their wallets to donate $2.2 million as of April 10th.
Anyone who read my article about Downloadable Content knows that I sometimes see publishers as money-grubbing liege lords of the gaming industry, sacrificing the quality and integrity of video game making in order to milk their customers for money by nickel and diming them for content and upgrades that could have (and should have) been released in the game itself. It also comes as no surprise that they continue to put a hold on projects such as Wasteland 2 which they see as financially risky, but fans see as the best thing to happen to post-apocalyptic genre since Fallout 2. I had heralded content released by Steam as a way to combat the over-pricing of video games put out by big developers, and now happily add Kickstarter to the list of potential ways to contribute to the quality of the gaming industry by investing in projects YOU want made, and allowing game developers insight into games we actually want to play rather than be spoon-fed games by the big names of the industry.

I’m momentarily filled with hope that video games will continue to grow and flourish as art and literature rather than remain stagnant and mass produced to maintain a market status quo as I’ve felt it’s been over the last decade or so.


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