Electron Dance
9Jul/13Off

Oversight

This is a revised version of a comment published on the Tap-Repeatedly article "Age of Broken Promises".

oversight-double-fine

Double Fine’s Broken Age, the original Kickstarter sin, won’t be finished on time. And it will need more cash to see it through to completion. Cue gnashing of teeth. Even Rock Paper Shotgun got in on the action with Nathan Grayson writing:

...these actions do set a somewhat unsavory precedent. Here’s hoping this is an isolated incident and not the birth of a trend.

Ya know, most days videogame culture feels like an episode of Adam West’s Batman, with BIFF! BAM! POW! filling our Twitter screens.   

It has been argued on Twitter that figuring out budgets and schedules for games is difficult. Like "solving the biological origins of consciousness" difficult. There’s a broader version of this theory that applies to all software development: technically, everything you do has never been done before – if it had been done before, you wouldn’t need to make it – which means the project is an unknown, and its scale will only become apparent once you’re deep in the trenches. This is why many projects inflate schedules in advance, although you'd be surprised how often software projects rip through any buffer.

$3,336,371

Then there’s the issue that Tim Schafer was planning a $300,000 game but when the funding went through the roof, he was forced to scale up. But complexity is exponential not additive; it’s not like just painting a few more luscious backdrops for the game.

Few games ever make their original launch date and AAA publishers see missed deadlines all the time. Many studios go begging to their publishers for financial lifelines mid-project. So after reviewing all the chatter I am inclined to give Schafer the benefit of the doubt. I don't see him as the kind of person to squander the cash having been through tough times in the past.

However, whether this is “understandable” or not is a completely moot point. Kickstarter should be perceived as a funding mechanism with investors who don’t really get any proper returns for their money but these are not “savvy investors” we're talking about. They don't know the business inside and out and, on the whole, your average backer thinks of Kickstarter as an alternative pay-what-you-want pre-order system.

$5,702,153

That means changing goalposts (we’re going to make a bigger game), missing deadlines (it’s really big) and raising more money (no, I said it’s really big) all feed into the headlines of DOUBLE FINE TAKES DOUBLE TIME. The jaded were out in force, feeling like they’d been deceived or, perhaps, Double Fine just pissed the cash away. At which point I want to say that if you were a real investor you’d have some actual sway with Double Fine. But all you can do is go bitch on Twitter or a blog and that’s pretty much your right to reply. On Kickstarter, no one can hear you scream.

This kind of thing was going to happen sooner or later because it simply beggars belief that a free money system, with no strings attached to the cash aside from reputation, was going to magically avoid any sort of funding fuck-up or even abuse. But it would be supremely ironic for the Kickstarter bubble to be punctured by the team who created it in the first place.

$4,188,927

It's also a little misguided to worry about the potential impact on the Kickstarter phenomenon. This is precisely the kind of lesson everyone needs and better-informed, battle-scarred, more sceptical backers are better for all parties. I don’t think Kickstarter funding will be scuppered by such failed projects but, eventually, I would guess we'd see some funding contraction as backers harden their scepticism. If there's one thing missing from the donor/developer relationship, it is an element of oversight and perhaps we’ll see some teams advertising project tracking with targets and milestones as part of the package. Obviously, another way to “fix” this is to do away with the donation aspect and make it a proper investment. That, of course, makes things legally complicated and is a far less attractive model for developers as it damages their autonomy.

Yet none of this talk comforts me.

$2,933,252

Kickstarter and its brethren are meant to have created simple funding channels for small, adventurous projects that would have otherwise struggled out of the creative womb. But this mesmerising vision of an artistic utopia is smoke and mirrors. Kickstarter is responsible for millions of dollars being donated to established names that offer no more legal guarantees than small-i indie projects. Big names command all the attention, depriving more modest projects of funding either through the money grab itself or saturating the airwaves. Survivorship bias means we only talk about the funded videogame culture that we end up with; we're unable to speculate on the stories and ideas we've missed out on. That's the real oversight in all this mess.

Has the crowdfunding phenomenon enriched us? I do not have an answer to that question.

Appendix (Added 10 July)

Doug Wilson did a Twitter drive-by last night and blasted a Kickstarter blog link in my face. Last year, Kickstarter wrote about "blockbuster effects", attempting to address the questions:

  • Do more projects mean greater competition for the same dollars?
  • Are [big] projects stealing backers from other worthy projects?

Specifically, they take two examples and one of them is Double Fine. They show that big projects bring more fresh meat to Kickstarter who then go on to fund other projects. They argue "each project is not only promoting itself, but the Kickstarter ecosystem as a whole". From where I'm sitting, the ugly cynic in the corner, that's what their post is measuring - the growth of the Kickstarter ecosystem.

This seems like a silly point to make but Double Fine were the ones that demonstrated videogame funding on Kickstarter was a viable thing. Players began to spend time in Kickstarter and new projects were being started every week. Games are now the largest funding category on Kickstarter, accounting for around 20% of all successful funding since the site was launched.

Double Fine is like Patient Zero. Whether the blockbuster effect is persistent after a few years is debatable, because maybe you've reached everyone you're going to reach. Four months after Double Fine, Kickstarter reported "Ouya's big day" the fastest project to reach ONE MILLION DOLLARS, which just demonstrates that Kickstarter - as a cultural force - was still growing. Projects seeking crowdfunding is now a "thing" on various gaming sites and reported alongside any other preview. The blockbuster effect will eventually plateau otherwise you're living in a strange land where chain letters and ponzi schemes work.

However, the post proved the situation is not as straightforward as I liked to think. Right now, Kickstarter behaves like an infinite pool of cash and your project fails not because of a shortage of money, but because your message is wrong or you didn't get it out to the right people.

In the early days, Kickstarter videogame projects were news because so few were doing it. It's like being the first on Steam or the App Store - it's a PR coup. As of this moment, Kickstarter Stats tells me there are 328 live game projects. Now I'm wondering whether I should fear big projects edging out small projects at all; I think it's more likely the big projects have an automatic platform and the rest of the projects fight it out on the small stage that's left. Crowdfunding is over-crowded. PR wars, as always.

Many new projects continue to use rewards to mask the donation aspect, pushing this idea of pay-what-you-want pre-order. I took a look at Amanda Palmer' Kickstarter which made her the first musician to raise ONE MILLION DOLLARS and I noticed the first reward tier is $1 which earns you a digital download of the album. The smallest amount you can donate gets you the product. More obviously, the first line on the project page:

"Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra are putting out an album. Pre-order it / get more info on the art book & gallery tour, here!"

If the project fails and there's no end product, there's no refund for the backers. Can you call that a pre-order?

Notes

  • In another comment on the Tap article, Eric Swain makes the point that donors are throwing money at the screen without reading the small print, the medium print or even the big fucking type print: "No one pays attention to the kickstarter. Learned from The Banner Saga. A few months ago their backers were bitching and moaning when they released a free-to-play multiplayer component for their game. They said there would be a free-to-play multiplayer component on the front page of their kickstarter page and in their pitch video and in their updates. They checked their metrics and found next to no one read their kickstarter page, or even watched their video. They simply handed out their money for a copy of the game, without ever looking to see what they would get."
  • I would like to see self-imposed funding ceilings being introduced because too much money is probably a bad thing: donors expect that money to translate into something tangible with the sinister necessity for stretch goals. Stretch goals are unlikely to have been scoped out in as much detail as the core project, particularly ones added while the Kickstarter is in flight. Double Fine would have limited their ambitions if the funding had been capped at $500,000. Sure, it would still have overshot, but not by such a wide margin.
  • Gamasutra have a nice article this week which already covered some of the points I tried making above and contains lovely gems like "plenty of backers presume their contribution is a pre-order, but what if the project they funded becomes a free-to-play game?"
  • Also, this is a great statistical analysis on how crowdfunding is working which I'm going to definitely staple into the next Marginalia: "The Dynamics of Crowdfunding: Determinants of Success and Failure". From the abstract: "...personal networks and underlying project quality are associated with the success of crowdfunding efforts, and that geography is related to both the type of projects proposed and successful fundraising. Finally, I find that the vast majority of founders seem to fulfill their obligations to funders, but that over 75% deliver products later than expected, with the degree of delay predicted by the level and amount of funding a project receives. These results offer insight into the emerging phenomenon of crowdfunding, and also shed light more generally on the ways that the actions of founders may affect their ability to receive entrepreneurial financing."
  • Double Fine $3,336,371
  • Veronica Mars $5,702,153
  • Torment: Tides of Numenera $4,188,927
  • Wasteland 2 $2,933,252
  • Homestuck $2,485,506
  • Project Eternity $3,986,929

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  1. “Has the crowdfunding phenomenon enriched us? I do not have an answer to that question.”

    FTL! Over 20 times above budget and they still released just a month late. And all its awards and many satisfied players have shown that they really delivered on their pitch. It’s perhaps the biggest success story of Kickstarter.

    Of course they didn’t make the mistake of ramping up their project scope, and they had the game at an advanced stage before ever asking for money. Both lessons others should learn from… Too many projects are blindly backed because of cool ideas or playing on nostalgia, instead of looking at the team and the viability of the project.

  2. Hi Darren, it’s the first comment from the Proteus poet if I’m correct? I did have FTL in mind; I thought about getting into an even-handed paragraph or two about the good that’s come from Kickstarter but, you know, you’ve got the rest of the internet for that and I decided to keep things lean. I had a short piece on Sportsfriends KS last year. I even deleted out a line at the end with “In comparison, FTL: $200K”.

    No one is able to measure the inadvertent harm that big Kickstarters are causing. I can’t remember who said it on Twitter in the last few days, but someone tweeted that the gaming public was acting just like the publishers we complain about: backing projects that are (effectively) known quantities, then complaining when they cost too much and/or arrive late.

    I’m more poking around at whether crowdfunding is a net positive or has crushed more projects underfoot that struggle to get attention in the face of all the big projects buzzing around.

  3. Is crowdfunding a net positive? Well, there’s two ways to look at it.

    Short-term: are more games being made? I think the answer to that is yes.

    Long-term: is crowdfunding developing into a damaging culture or a beneficial culture? I don’t think we’ll be able to determine that for at least a few years.

    My opinion is that Kickstarter is primarily used by average people as a way to pre-order games and by game developers as an alternative to publishers. For developers, Kickstarters allows for all the benefits of publishers without any of the drawbacks. It’s your mom leaving you 20 bucks for pizza when your parents go away for the weekend versus leaving you homecooked tripe.

    It’s such a gift to developers (if it’s funded of course) that I am highly skeptical of it for that reason. I don’t like one-sided financial transactions–we have enough of that in society already.

    Also: http://www.thekickbackmachine.com/browse/unsuccessful/Games/Video%20Games/

  4. I don’t know how I’d feel if I were a backer, but Broken Age looks kind of neat as it is.

    So far I’m comfortable with all the things I’ve backed with crowdfunding. I backed Sportsfriends under no expectation that I would get anything out of it. I don’t really see any Kickstarter pledge as a guarantee but that’s because I know how this can be. I think overall crowdfunding has been very educational for the backers and audience, but kind of a rude awakening, too, that this is never an exact science.

  5. As someone who’s written a blog post about this on the internet as a backer (screaming into the void is an apt description), I’d feel a lot better if a.) Double Fine didn’t have a long and storied history of this (Brutal Legend got dropped and then had lawsuits filed over this very type of behavior, and most of Double Fine’s games are pretty unfinished), and b.) Double Fine hadn’t just completed a Kickstarter for another game a week and a half before announcing this.

    Really, I’m more bothered by the second. I like the leaving money behind for pizza analogy Eric used, so I’m going to take it to the limit: I just left Double Fine another $20 for pizza last month, and now they’re saying they didn’t have enough last year. It begs two questions: would Massive Chalice have made its goal if they’d announced this when its campaign started (I seriously doubt it) and would Massive Chalice having made three million have fixed this problem? It’s impossible to say it wouldn’t have, and that’s the part that has me feeling gross about the whole process.

  6. The only other way I could imagine Kickstarter-style funds happening would be the current AAA model falling through. Is sooner better than later, then?

  7. I full stop do not support Kickstarter or Indiegogo or anything like that. I have some genuine moral and philosophical issues with crowdfunding. I am finding that there is such a thing as “too big” for begging for money. It is one thing for a small developer who has no other ways of getting resources to put up a cardboard sign; it is quite another for Tim Schafer to wear a barrel.

    Now, I cannot make a delineated determination between what is too big and what is too small; I find ignoring Kickstarters in general is the best way I’m able to deal with this particular issue. I’m not even comfortable making exceptions for friends; I will certainly pay for or offer testing/proofing help or pimp as much as I can, but this edges against conflict of interest.

    I’m also woed at the confusion of kickstarter campaigns with game previews. Sites which cover “X game has a Kickstarter” and start using that as a description of an upcoming game’s features–talk about conflict of interest. Previews are sites doing a game’s advertising for them; Kickstarter coverage reminds me of those ads put out by prescription drug companies which pretend to be detailing the results of a study.

    The big lie of the internet is this: It levels the playing field. Be very, very, very wary of anything which implies that it’s going to transcend hierarchies. Everything is hierarchical. The ones pretending that they’re not are abusing their power in more insidious ways than the ones that admit it. The theory is this: Anyone can use the power of the internet to create a blog and be a star; anyone can post a project to Kickstarter and get it funded.

    That the projects and people who have risen to the top seem to have marketing as their primary talent is not a coincidence. We value whoring more than talent.

    There’s a whole American Dream aspect to Indie Gaming Culture that, as a former student of early 20th centure literature, shocks me with its naivete. At Indiecade, nearly every developer I talked to had visions of dollar signs in their eyes when I talked to them about their projects. “No one’s going to get filthy rich from making an indie game,” I said at one point. “That money’s just not there.”

    The look in his eyes was damning. “Look at Bastion,” he said. “Look at Braid.” He says, to the musician who was around when Radiohead released In Rainbows and every single music critic spilled ink all over themselves in their excitement at the band, whose single “Creep” was played on heavy rotation on MTV when it was released, had proven that anyone could release an album on the internet and release it for any price and get a ton of money. Look at Amanda Palmer, young musician. That success is in your grasp too.

    Kickstarter is not a way of sidestepping the traditional publisher model. It is not a way of allowing Joe Average to becoming a millionaire. Its initial aims might have been pure; at this point, it’s simply a way for the same old entrenched hierarchies to be established in a way which sidesteps the responsibility that a company has towards in its investors and to shunt the risk onto its devoted fans who are giving money simply because Timmy is one of Our Guys.

    Owing to the fact that Schafer’s games paint him as a writer who designs games, rather than a designer who writes, I’ve never really liked a Double Fine game. I don’t make much of a secret of that. Psychonauts was a lot of great ideas that didn’t quite hang together well enough to make it one of the great 3d platformers, and its cutscenes aren’t quite as funny the second time and Jesus is this a videogame or a movie. Brutal Legend had some great atmosphere–as a story it’s a lot better–but it was extremely unfocused. Rather than being an open world brawler, which it did decently, it featured one too many “stage battles”, the RTS stages which went on forever and were so poorly explained that Shafer himself had to write a post on his blog, essentially saying, “No, no, no, you’re playing my game ALL WRONG and the reason you’re not liking my game is because YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT and here’s some actual instructions,” which made the game more beatable but no less fun.

    In both cases and in the case of The Cave, however, the greatest issue was the games wearing out their welcome by the halfway point. You know what I mean–when the team has created a series of levels which twist the engine in different and interesting ways, which take the physics through its paces, and have provided an altogether satisfactory experience–but there’s still a lot more Plot so, shit, we’ve got to do SOMETHING, okay, let’s have the LA detective go through a dozen dungeons shooting dudes. If there is one thing a Double Fine game does not need to be, it’s bigger.

    Look, we remember Lucasarts and Sierra more for the quality of their storytelling and worldbuilding than we do for their mechanics. Full Throttle would be a masterpiece if not for those fucking motorcycle scenes. Grim Fandango quite genuinely sports some elegant writing and looks like no other game out there; it features probably the worst adventure game engine of all time; it is so bad and cripples the game so much that I’m convinced that the only reason people put it on their top-ten lists is because the trauma it caused led them to forget it entirely.

    Here’s the thing: The adventure game genre hasn’t so much stagnated as it’s become naturally solidified. Sure, there’ve been many innovations and evolutions over the years, , but it’s very recognizable. Cognition and pretty much anything Wadjet Eye has published (Resonance and Primordia especially) play almost exactly the same as, say, King’s Quest 5, and they’re some of the finest adventure games published in recent memory. Going with a bog-standard engine allows the designers to go with their strengths–storytelling–and as a result both games are relatively free of bullshit.

    Give Schafer SCUMM and 500 grand and I think you’ll get something pretty amazing. Give him three million and enough features will creep in that he still won’t be able to afford to make the game.

    But you know, Broken Funding Model and Massive Feature Creep will be successes, because you know what? Schafer is one of Our Guys. And not only have people already essentially bought the game, but they’ve Invested in it. They were instrumental in its creation. They didn’t simply go to a store and lazily pick something off the shelf; they HELPED FUND IT.

    Now, I’ve bought a couple of alphas this year. I played the early demo of 7 Grand Steps and immediately bought it; mousechief’s plan was something like a reduced price which increased monthly towards the regular retail price as it got closer to release. For this you received the alpha version, which in my time with it was fairly bug-free but not proofread and missing a couple of features like the help version; once the game was released on Steam, you received a key. Under the Ocean is another; that’s in a much more unfinished state at the moment, but they send new versions and updates roughly monthly and it’s pretty neat since I’ve never followed a game’s development particularly closely before.

    I guess I feel that this sort of model is a bit more genuine than Kickstarter’s. The terms are a lot clearer; in a way, it’s an explicit pre-order that gives you access to an exclusive demo. As a cheapass, I cannot pass up the opportunity for a sale, as well. There isn’t any of this bullshit with backer levels or anything or rewards; by the way, am I the only one who’s creeped out by the “give us a lot of money and you get to hang out with us!” rewards?

    Yo I’m sorry I rambled on for so long and I just ran out of Steam and I don’t have a conclusion. I’m going to write about non-Euclidian mazes in Wizardry 6 now.

  8. @Richard:
    You can get the software used to edit Oscar-winning films for free. You can write, record, and produce an entire album entirely with free software. You can write a bestselling novel with any basic word processing program, plenty of which can be had at no cost.

    You can… technically. But I think the key with democratization of a technology isn’t that anyone can step with the big boys; It’s that worthwhile ideas below big-boy scale can get made. It’s really bizarre that it takes what feels like a ton of money to us to fund something that’s chump change for big publishers. As awful as it may seem, maybe these investments, misguided as they might be, need to pay off in success to get publishers back into pushing lower-budget projects. Maybe that’s what it takes to get the top of the hierarchy off Kickstarter.

    I quite like 7 Grand Steps’ model- I think I first saw it for Mount & Blade. Minecraft also raked it in for Notch by using that method, but people seem less keen to copy that idea from it.

  9. “Grim Fandango […] features probably the worst adventure game engine of all time”

    Oh god, yes. I bounced off it so hard when I tried to play it three years ago (having never played more than the demo back in the day).

    As for Kickstarter, I’m opting to, er, suck it and see. I expect to get burned to some degree, and I know what I’m getting myself in for (the note about backers not remember a widely-spread fact is frankly depressing).

    The projects I’ve backed:

    Bomb the Music Industry: the Documentary (three years overdue, ostensibly still in the works)
    Minecraft: the Story of Mojang Documentary (finished, a fun DVD of no great significance)
    Feminist Playing Cards (finished, a rather cool set of cards I’ll probably not use for actual card games)
    Double Fine Adventure (well…)
    Idle Thumbs Podcast (finished & I’m happy with the end result)
    Wasteland 2 (in development)
    Project Eternity (in development)
    A Brief History of Time Travel (serialised audio drama written by some friends; in development)
    SPORTSFRIENDS (in development)
    Torment: Tides of Numenara (in development)
    Infinite Space 3 (in development)
    GhostControl Inc (in development)
    Satellite Reign (in development)

    I am, however, in the enviable position where I can afford to drop a few dollars on the lower tiers (and I only go for the lower tiers) and ultimately shrug it off if it all goes tits-up. With some of the above I am clearly hopping on a bandwagon and treating it as a pre-ordering system (works for me; as much a risk as most pre-orders in terms of ultimate quality, more of one in terms of project completion). Others I’m pleased to have helped a small project meet its goal.

    I’m in agreement with Richard about aspects of the broader mythology around crowdfunding and the thrust of HM’s point around the occlusion of smaller projects in the rush to celebrate the “success” of Kickstarter. I think what needs to be more broadly recognised is that backing a project of this nature *is* a risk, and you have *no* legal recourse if it goes awry other than being butthurt on reddit, and it’s up to you whether or not you throw your money into what may ultimately be a big hole in the ground with hope, dreams and probably some veiled cynicism at the bottom.

    (A quick aside from Bad Analogy Universe: Kickstarter is a significantly smaller financial risk than the pension fund I’m paying into. There’s a good forty years in which I might die early, or the global economic system might entirely collapse, or a rich old white dude might embezzle the pension funds and they’d never get returned. $10 for a game you may not finish on time or might ultimately be different to your original vision? Fuck it man, I’ve already got all I need from GOG.)

  10. Since we’re listing projects we’ve backed: I’ve only ever backed one, a dance exhibit run by a friend of mine, and I gave it like $20 to help get it over the hump.

    I’ve never backed anything else–I simply don’t believe it’s a wise use of money.

  11. @Richard

    It’s not that people value whoring over talent. It’s that talent+whoring is better than talent minus whoring. The whoring part is how people know that your talent exists.

  12. I’ve added a detailed appendix to the article! And there are two juicy links added to the notes section.

    @Amanda: I think that’s a nice way to think about this. If we expect or want crowdfunding to become the dominant mode of developer support in future, then the public investors are going to have to learn about the development process. This is growing pains… maybe.

    @Tom: From what I recall, Double Fine’s modus operandi is to run concurrent projects to ensure (a) they are not dependent on a single project’s success to keep the lights on and (b) projects running late will not kill the company. This likely means they are going to silo the costs of each project because if Massive Chalice is starved of funding forcing it into the red on the books) to ensure Broken Age is in the black, that is probably going to piss off the Massive Chalice team at the very least =)

    I am still sympathetic here. If you think of Double Fine a publisher with multiple studios, then it makes sense that each studio is going to have its own Kickstarter. (Then again, that needs us to dispense with the idea of Double Fine being some plucky indie upstart.)

    I’m damn sure they delayed the Broken Age announcement until after the Massive Chalice campaign finished though, knowing their fanbase would get pissed off and wonder why the left hand is raising money for a new project when the right hand is running out of cash.

    @BeamSplashX: If AAA model actually fell apart, I’m not sure what would come next; the consequences of that are quite substantial and I certainly couldn’t figure out what would happen — for example, the end of AAA may well be signalling/responding to the fall of consoles. Kickstarter is still a complementary activity and has not shown signs of being a replacement for mainstream funding. I’d dearly love to see Call of Duty 10 on Kickstarter and see exactly how much it raises, because I expect the reward level for getting a copy to be higher than $10…

    @Richard: Dude, that is longer than the article I wrote.

    @ShaunCG:

    Haha, only kidding Richard. I’ll say some more.

    @Richard: I think it’s the “too big” that bothers me as well. I have no problem with people helping to get something off the ground but the perception that it’s pre-order drives me a little crazy. It’s taking the idea of “supporting cool projects” and turned it into a game payment system with no legal recourse– yet one that has potential to wreck sound project planning if too much money arrives. And it makes everyone feel uncomfortable when the old-guard gatekeepers still get the goods in the end: they won’t fund it, but they’re happy to reap the benefits. The Wish I Was Here and Veronica Mars Kickstarters have started to touch some of the more sensitive nerves.

    Something I hadn’t thought of is that having a Kickstarter is a way to get PR (mentioned in the Gamasutra article in the new appendix). It may not be enough PR to get the funding sought but it would be more you would have had without the Kickstarter. As you say, sites are falling over themselves to promote interesting-looking KS projects, just as they do with trailer-of-the-day (like GTA V this week).

    I’m also happy with “alpha funding” which feels more direct and honest. I was on the Kairo alpha because I was desperate to see what the game was about and I’ve got into Paranautical Activity since purchasing from IndieGameStand. (YMMV with Paranautical Activity, it plays like Serious Sam in small boxy rooms and can hurt your hands.)

    But I agree with Eric that we don’t really prize whoring over talent: like you’ve said before, this is all a crisis of marketing and that’s how you win this particular game. Talent is great, but if you write for some back-of-beyond videogame site for three years without spending enough time pimping it out – you end up with just 500 Twitter followers after three years of weekly posts.

    @ShaunCG: You’re right about the financial risk vs pension, but I’m anxious about ordinary people funding projects that, inevitably, end up enriching corporations. But there are some really interesting points made on that Gamasutra article.

  13. @HM:
    Smaller projects might be what saves AAA, so it wouldn’t necessarily replace anything. PS4’s indie push isn’t huge, but it could be the start of that trend.

  14. About funding ceilings: Kickstarter has, literally, zero incentive to do this, as their entire revenue comes from taking a percentage off the top of all funds.

  15. Oh, and I just backed my second-ever Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/896794661/whatever-this-is

    I thought hard about it, but I think this type of project is what Kickstarter *should* be for: labors of love made by people outside of the system who have extremely little chance of getting investment from traditional channels.

  16. About the idea that the bigger boys shut out the smaller ones. For me, the Double Fine announcement was interesting as a way to publicise Kickstarter and when a couple of other movements arose (The Idle Thumbs podcast, GTFO) I then backed them.

    Big successes encourage people to look at the smaller ones. I know I am only going off my own anecdotal evidence but there you go.

    The only other thing I have backed was the new Elite game, I am not even sure why and I have completely lost interest in it as a final project. Do I regret spending the money? No.

    I will admit that I am the person who paid 30 quid to play Ride to Hell: Retribution so that proves pretty much nothing.

  17. Well thanks to David Jaffe, Kickstarter is going to get some more publicity which will undoubtedly lead to some quality games!

  18. @Eric: you’re sadly right about Kickstarter not having an incentive to implement ceilings. Still, I don’t think they expected to become so big. What happens on Kickstarter now seems a world away from the dream of small artistic projects that can’t get money through normal means (or crime). I mean, they get 5% of all the funds. So far, Kickstarter has raised $610M. That means they’ve netted something like $30M which… isn’t bad.

    @badger: But as I mused above, I wonder if we’ve already leveraged the “big success pulls in new money” thing now. Double Fine singlehandedly created the videogame funding craze and it’s a fixture on every gaming website from here to Timbuktu. I’d like to see some followup analysis from Kickstarter because the Double Fine scenario of effectively creating the Kickstarter channel for videogames is not cannot be repeated.

  19. Don’t have time to reply.

    Going to put this here though:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/forkingpath/the-doom-that-came-to-atlantic-city/posts/548030

    The comments are really interesting.

  20. Wow, baying for blood there. Honestly I don’t see how a failed project could ever return the money to the donors because it’s likely spent. Interesting to note the Kickstarter t&cs state the creators must refund if rewards are now t forthcoming. Also loads of backers say outright that it’s a pre order system.

    Also, I wonder if the more Kickstarter creators we see go bankrupt, the more wary future creators will be.

    Lastly: some have complained that the money has been spent on starting up a business when Kickstarter precludes this
    However, I think its probable that most ks projects will incorporate to impose legal structure. You cannot spend Kickstarter funds on that?

  21. I do wonder if there’s anything in KS’s T&Cs that states anything about how KS’d project funds must be spent. I’d be surprised if there was anything beyond a woolly ‘best practice’ note in there, as how in the hell would KS police or monitor that?

  22. Serious question: what happens to investors in a failed company? Do they get paid? Is it like a bankruptcy where creditors are paid out if there’s any money?

  23. There’s an order of play here. Debts are paid off first, then equity holders. If you have preference shares, you’re at the back of the queue.

  24. I hate that I revel in failure, but this was a lovely thing to wake up to. I especially love the “No, don’t worry about me, don’t give me a refund!” guys. I’m with the one comment, the guy who said something to the effect of, “I’m poor enough that when I spend money on something I kind of need to actually get it.” A major reason I don’t support Kickstarters is because July Richard does not want to pay for something that January Richard may or may not get; that guy’s an asshole and can fend for himself. July Richard wants to use the money for food, rent, and videogames that he gets today. It reminds me of JoKyr’s interview on Dialogue Tree–talking about developers who cavalierly said that the $100 Greenlight fee was the kind of money they threw down during an average night at the bar. It’s lovely that you’re able to chalk a financial loss to a “lesson learned”–but in this case, what were the backers doing that needed a lesson learned?

    They were supporting crowdfunding. Things like these have just told people that crowdfunding is not a good way to invest in a company.

    I think about the line in Chevalier’s update, where he states that he “spent a large amount of time pitching investors, begging banks for loans and seeking other sources of funding to fix this”–well, no shit. “Hi, I raised three times the amount of money in our initial plan and pissed the money away. Please give me more money”–no sane bank is going to deal with him. What I’m curious about is why he didn’t go this traditional route in the first place. Is it just because Crowdfunding is Trendy?

    My understanding is that avoidance of risk is one of the main reasons to start a company in the first place. I know a very little about forming LLCs–I’m talking to a Lawyer Acquaintance of mine to check this out–but, if Chevalier has set things up right, people are not going to be able to sue HIM–they can only sue Forked Path and only its assets are on the table. At the same time, there is such a thing as mismanagement of company assets.

    I don’t picture Chevalier as a Snidely Whiplash, moustache-twirling villain. He seems, like so many in this scene, like a well-meaning idiot. The guys who designed the game seem to be totally blindsided by this; this seems like a case where Chevalier got in over his head, but when he saw the writing on the wall he kept trying to tread water, saying “it’ll be okay, it’ll be okay” and hoping for a last minute miracle. The sixth time the last minute miracle failed to appear, THAT’S when he brought up the bad news.

    Maybe we don’t just think of Kickstarter as money. Someone at IndieCade–I believe it was either Rusty Moyher or Doug Wilson, I don’t remember which, but they were sitting next to each other at the time that it was said–described Kickstarter as “a means to turn social capital into financial capital”, which I thought was a quite excellent description. I think the latter part of that equation gets downplayed. The atmosphere surrounding Kickstarters is one of hoping that Our Guys Get Funded. Money becomes a way to show love–giving a designer you like $25 tells him/her that you believe in the project and their work and that you want to see it come to completion. When a Kickstarter succeeds and even exponentially exceeds expectations, rather than adjusting the project to meet these needs, I think a lot of people tend to get caught up in the “wow, people SUPER love us.”

    We’ve seen enough Failed Kickstarter Projects thing…I would be interested in correlating failures with campaigns whose initial budgets were greatly exceeded. It really feels like a lot of peoples’ eyes get bigger than their stomachs.

  25. So… oh wow, this is totally going to be an “I was worried about Kickstarter before it was all mainstream” post. Deal with it.

    So, mostly because I wouldn’t be preordering the games even if they were guaranteeed, the only Kickstarter I’ve ever backed was an art book project for a friend of mine who had done all the art and only needed money for the production costs. But I’ve had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach about it for a long time. The first I heard of Kickstarter was with Andrew Plotkin’s kickstarter back in 2010, when he beat his goal on the first day and went almost four times over — that is, he got $31,337 (!) of his $8,000 goal. And that game still hasn’t shipped. Which doesn’t seem like a betrayal to me, partly as because for people in the IF community it seemed to be pitched less as “Pre-order zarf’s game” and more as “Help zarf quit his job and work full-time on interactive fiction,” which he did, and he’s been producing a fair number of (often free) IF-related goodies since then. In fact zarf was pretty explicit that the game when it appears will cost a lot less than it cost to back him. But I might feel different if I’d put money in and was hoping to get a game out.

    A fair number of webcomics I read also have done Kickstarters, often to fund print editions. And though AFAIK the print editions have happened and shipped as scheduled, it still seems like it’s likely to be a burden on an artist who might not be able to deal with it. Rich Burlew was having trouble keeping Order of the Stick updated regularly and then he had to handle a million dollars worth of Kickstarter rewards; it’s not too surprising that the schedule fell way off. (Though now it seems to be back on track.) The mega-Kickstarter monster even managed to push Andrew Hussie into hiatus — the man who used to post that he was busy and might not update quite so often, and then post eighty pages in a week. That was because he was a videogame — but still, the comic was what his fans were fans of.

    So it’s not too surprising to me that videogames, which begin life as vaporware, are never getting past that stage. But it also seems to me that these Kickstarters are different in motivation from the current wave. To read the minds of a bunch of people I haven’t met, ISTM that the comic funders and zarf backers are saying “We like the stuff you’ve done and want to reward you for it! And we realize that if your True Fans don’t put money together this particular project won’t happen.” It’s not so unlike putting a Donate button on your webcomic. And if that’s what’s going on, the kickstartees are perfectly within their rights to do whatever they were going to do with the original floor funding and put the rest into a swimming pool Scrooge McDuck style. Or better yet to bank it to fund their next project.

    Whereas the preorder/funding model, well, the developers are raising a bunch of money from people who have absolutely no idea how it makes sense to fund games. And when an idea gets popular, it looks like the amount of money it’s funded for has absolutely no connection with what it needs. People’s eyes got bigger than their stomachs, as Richard said. It’s like you go for a mortgage and the bank says this is such a great idea we’ll give you three times as much money, but you have to buy a house that’s three times as big. The ideal would be for developers to have a plan, to stick to that plan, and if they raised more money than they needed for that plan, to say “Awesome! We’re humbled by your support! We’ll use this money to fund our next project, and we won’t need to Kickstart it!” Except that might piss off backers who weren’t backing because they loved the developer in general, but because they wanted this game, and who want to see a $1 million game when the game raises $1 million.

    Now from what I can tell Schafer could’ve pulled that off. From what it sounded like people were shoveling money at him to show that they loved his work, and if he had said “Wow! We thought we couldn’t raise enough money from traditional publishers for an old-school game, and we have more than we need for this game! We’ll make this game and then we’ll be able to make some more!” would anyone have complained? But that’s not how he played it, and making a second Kickstarter the way he did seems like an incredible dick move.

    Some tentative (and incredibly uninformed) conclusions: Crowdfunding might be better if it were explicitly a way to show love for the creators and backers weren’t expecting extra return on overflow funding. Especially if it’s love for a sort of thing that couldn’t otherwise get money from traditional sources, like interactive fiction or maybe hard-copy webcomic anthologies. When it’s just a mercenary transaction, well, a successful effort would wind up the same as if the developers took out a loan against sales and then you bought the game. And if no one who knows what they’re doing is willing to lend the developers the money, then maybe the Crowd is going to be disappointed.

    That would be rough medicine for newbie indie developers who can’t get funding through normal channels, but it looks like maybe there’s a reason Tim Schafer had to go to Kickstarter to get his game funded.

  26. Is everyone here determined to write comments longer than the original article?

    Matt, I was thinking recently along the same lines, that funding has conflated two different purposes, which has created a mutant monster that threatens to destroy Tokyo.

    As you say, you’ve got the “provide love” and then you’ve got “preorder”. The provide love is meant to be the standard Kickstarter position but Kickstarter have written it into the T&Cs that (a) a Kickstarter project must have a specific goal in mind, and (b) cannot be used to simply fund a lifestyle or business. To some extent, the rules of Kickstarter have undermined some of the love.

    The “preorder” thing turns it into a business transaction. Whenever a developer gets pre-order funding, if they get more than they need – say, like Minecraft – that just makes them richer. It doesn’t mean they have to build in 200 more features. They get to keep the money and stay on scope.

    But with Kickstarter, the funds are transparent and there’s this crazy requirement for “stretch goals”. Now, these are one way of encouraging donations, but stretch goals are what are destroying/damaging many of these projects. Ill-thought out project changes that cannot be completely accounted for until funding is complete. They don’t get to pocket that money as a preorder in the bank – no they have TO MAKE MORE.

    I get quite upset when I see so much armchair analysis by donors about where money should be spent. The idea that it should be a profitable venture appears to be disgust many (i.e. all profits should come from post-project and not from funding – we’re MAKING YOUR GAME – this is about LOVE).

    So most see a Kickstarter as a preorder – yet the “making money” aspect is jettisoned because it was supposed to be about passion projects. What it does is enable donors to subvert and potentially destroy that passion.

    Too harsh?

  27. Making my new Twine game has been really hard and I’ve put up a GoFundMe to make things easier. I know that’s a little hypocritical but what are you gonna do. http://www.gofundme.com/1nsido Thanks for the support!


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