Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Kickstarter: Proceed with Caution

Shamus Young | 4 May 2012 21:00
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Which brings us to this Kickstarter craze. Kickstarter is giving us fans of niche games a chance to directly bankroll some of these projects. Case in point is Wasteland 2, where designer Brian Fargo raised just short of $3 million - which puts his project neatly in this mid-range part of the spectrum. (For you younglings, the original Wasteland was a 1988 game that served as a precursor to Fallout.) And of course everyone is talking about how Tim Schafer secured $3 million for developing an adventure game, even though nobody knows anything about what the game will be like. The upshot is that Kickstarter is finally giving us a way to get our hands on some new mid-budget games.

As nice as all of this is, I'm going to predict that we'll be seeing the downside soon enough. For one thing, the fact that people have been able to show up on Kickstarter and raise millions of dollars is inevitably going to attract vultures. Other people will see the easy money, set up bogus projects, and try to see how much cash they can grab before running off. This has already happened once. Those guys were dumb and got caught. Will the same thing be tried again by a smarter brand of idiot? I wouldn't bet against it.

But aside from dishonest people looking to cash in on the goodwill and excitement, there's the wider problem that some projects just plain fail, even when the developer has good intentions. Projects have run out of money in the past, and I'm sure it will happen to a Kickstarter project sooner or later. Then we will find out how many donors understood what they were getting into, and how many were just using donations as if they were pre-ordering a game.

In business, when you invest in something you can lose money. Sometimes you can lose everything you put in. Investors take the risk because they will get a cut of the profits if the project is a success. But Kickstarter donors don't get a cut of the profits. They just get a copy of the game, if it survives to release. Sooner or later a Kickstarted game will fail, and the backers will get nothing. There will be outrage and bad press and other projects will need to work even harder to assure potential backers they can bring a game to market.

So enjoy the honeymoon while it lasts. I have high hopes for Kickstarter, but I suspect there will be a bit of a shake-out period as everyone figures out how this new funding model is going to work.

One final note is that now publishers like EA are trying to pass off low-budget, big-publisher stuff as "indie". (It's not, for the same reason that Tiger Woods isn't an "Amateur Golfer" just because he's using clubs he bought at Wal-Mart.) If they decide there's money to be made in this mid-budget market, they could make things very interesting for these Kickstarter projects.

Shamus Young is currently setting up a Kickstarter page to get the funds for a large Coke and a pizza. Pledge now and you can have the greasy box.

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