Free Radical Co-Founder Cautions Against Kickstarter

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Free Radical Co-Founder Cautions Against Kickstarter

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Steve Ellis says the fact that a game needs funding on Kickstarter should be a red flag to potential backers.

Kickstarter is awesome. Kickstarter gives us the games we really want. Kickstarter lets game makers speak to their audience directly, without having to put up with suit-wearing jerks in boardrooms. Kickstarter will revolutionze the videogame industry!

This is what we've been told, and in some ways it's true. Crowdfunding opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for everyone in the chain, from the indie guys struggling to get their first game out the door to gamers struggling not to gag at the mere mention of monetized sequelization. But the excitement over new, vaguely-formed ideas often leaves important questions unasked, including why these wonderful projects needed to go to Kickstarter in the first place.

"While I'm happy to see some interesting projects raise funding that they wouldn't have been able to raise through other methods, the fact that they couldn't raise funding through other methods ought to be a red flag to anyone who contributes," Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis told NotEnoughShaders. "Essentially, Kickstarter is asking people who don't understand the risks and challenges of the industry to fund it. I'm sure that there will be some high-profile successes as a result but I expect a fair amount of disappointment too."

Disappointment over things like, say, what if it sucks? Or what happens if the money runs out and the game isn't done? There's a natural tendency to assume that guys like Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo won't put the screws to their fans, but there's also no guarantee that things won't go completely wrong. Yet the idea of "buyer beware" seems lost on a lot of people who back Kickstarter projects.

He also dismissed the idea of resurrecting Free Radical's most famous IP, TimeSplitters, through a Kickstarter venture. "FPSes are much more expensive to develop than point-and-click adventure games," he said. "To put this in context, Double Fine Adventure raised about as much money (before fees) as it cost to develop GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 in 1997. A modern FPS would require several times as much funding, and I don't think that that is currently achievable using Kickstarter."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Don't put any more money into a Kickstarter project than you can afford to throw out the window of a moving vehicle. Excitement is fun, but perspective will do you a lot more good in the long run.

Source: NotEnoughShaders.com

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This guy sounds like someone who doesn't like the idea of developers not needing "traditional" ways to get a game made. People know there are risks but those suits who know nothing of games make all the decisions and they look at numbers only. This means that niche games they think wont sell never even get a chance unless they incorporate something that already works. Kickstarter isn't the solution for everything but at least for those niche markets like the point and click adventure it is perfect for.

That's a very narrow point of view. For one, I know games funded via Kickstarter can be of high quality. I'm currently enjoying FTL and the beta of Guns of Icarus, both games crowdfunded on the site. Is there crap on Kickstarter? Certainly. But people can decide for themselves what is worth the small risk of backing a project. And there also is no guarantee when I purchase any game, crowdfunded or published, that I will actually enjoy it. Be informed and cautious with your money, sure. But how is that any different from business as usual? I just don't get the backlash against Kickstarter.

I feel like there are levels to this thing. Sure there's a definite thing about people asking for money who can't get money from the people whose liveliehood it is to assess the risk, but then you don't hear about many $3 million games that get funded, unless we're talking about Flower and the like, so it's probably true that there aren't many people at all who have experience funding these things.

Still lots of people are really loving FTL at the moment and that was kickstartered wasn't it?

I'm really hopeful for Wasteland and Project Eternity, but I do wish they talked a bit more about how they're going to use the money and what sort of game they can produce with it though, given the sort of money we're talking about for a normal game, it can be hard to imagine they can make it for a decent game nowadays for that money even if the style is old fashioned.

Still they made the games before and these guys should know exactly how much they cost to make. I do worry about the more fresh developers though

Yep, I made sure to consider my backing of the double-fine adventure as a donation with possible benefits. I think kickstarter will work best with really small first efforts or larger ones backed by known quantities. Projects past a certain size are indeed unworkable.

Who said you had to make the next Timesplitters look like Modern Warfare 3, Free Radical? If we gave you the same budget that Tim Schafer got, does that mean you could make a new Timesplitters with N64 graphics?

Nothing you say matters until you make Time Splitters 4! Or just a pc port of Future Perfect...

In all seriousness, he's not saying anything new. Kickstarters are a risk, but at the same time, just because it's not something a major publisher would choose to fund doesn't make it a bad investment. It just means it isn't a shooter with deathmatch.

I said it before, I'll say it again: It's investment.

Maybe because the people who DO "understand" the risks and challenges of the industry don't have the balls to take a chance on a new idea? -_^

That's why I refuse to support any kickstarters, I'm not going to give a guy my money just based on the idea of a game. I'll wait till I actually see gameplay and wait for the reviews before I even think of buying any of the games supported by kickstarter.

DustyDrB:
That's a very narrow point of view.

That's exactly what I was going to say.

Yes, Kickstarter is more risky than going into a shop, but it simply isn't true that every game on Kickstarter is there because they were turned down by traditional publishers, many have chosen Kickstarter first.
Equally, it's simply not true that every game that gets rejected by traditional publishers was rejected because they would have gone over-budget or would have been a bad game. Hell, I think we're all quite aware that traditional publishers are quite happy to fund bad games.

No doubt caution needs to be advised, not all projects will go well that is just a law of averages.

But on the other hand he seems to have an almost allergic reaction to this idea, we get it you are old and new concepts are scary, so completely ignore the industry issues of why these projects can't get proper funding and just hang it all on "well if it doesn't fit my mold it's shit"... reminds me of my granddad.

Imagine how less canceled by LucasArts Battlefront 3 would have been if they used something like Kickstarter, though not with the same IP, cause, LucasArts would murder them in their sleep and eat their babies.

Kickstarter is risky. Anyone who wants to believe otherwise and that it's all sunshine and bunnies and rainbows is fooling themselves. The article has valid concerns.

Not everything is going to end in tears, and there are some valid reasons that a game ought to go with Kickstarter such as taking a risk a publishing something that mainstream publishers don't think will sell despite there being a market for it. That said, a lot of what's making its way to Kickstarter should indeed be met with a lot of skepticism. This isn't a magic bullet, for a lot of developers this is probably a last ditch effort to get funding for something that couldn't garner it on the project's own merits.

What of developers who simply don't want to work with typical publishers? I know if I made a game with a small group of maybe 10 people, worked on it for a long time and poured my heart into it, the last thing I'd want to do is give up the IP rights so that a large publisher could pump out uninspired sequels without my input. I think it's unfair to assume the only reason a game would be on Kickstarter is because they couldn't find someone to publish the game. Maybe they simply wanted to keep it in-house.

P.S. Thanks

DVS BSTrD:
Maybe because the people who DO "understand" the risks and challenges of the industry don't have the balls to take a chance on a new idea? -_^

Are you suggesting that the people who have the money are scared to actually do something new?

Why, that's unheard of!

OT: Of course backing something in Kickstarter is risky, and you have to be careful about where you put your money.

That also doesn't mean every game that's being crowd funded on Kickstarter is going to be a turd or great. I'm still not sure how great Kickstarter will be for games and how it will impact the industry, so I think using caution is really wise here.

I would fund timesplitters to the moon and back. And doesn't everything take a certain amount of risk, once we see some Kickstarter success it might change his tone.

I'm so sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of FTL: Faster Than Light and how fucking awesome it is.

I'm always blown away by the people who are willing to put hundreds or even thousands of dollars in to Kickstarter funds. I personally won't contribute to a kickstarter of a game unless My contribution gets me the game at no additional cost and the game is near completion and maybe just needs a little extra push.

Indie games are really little more than higher end translation jobs or rom-hacks.. and how many of those do we see people give up on half-way through.

I'm not condemning the practice, I'm merely reiterating what other people have stated: Be careful and don't bet what you cant afford to lose.

Sylveria:
I'm always blown away by the people who are willing to put hundreds or even thousands of dollars in to Kickstarter funds.

The huge backers are usually other people in the the games industry, or a group of people who put all their money together.

I think Game Banshee got a lot of users to put some money together to be $10,000 dollar backer for some game. Cant remember which though.

Punch You:
Who said you had to make the next Timesplitters look like Modern Warfare 3, Free Radical? If we gave you the same budget that Tim Schafer got, does that mean you could make a new Timesplitters with N64 graphics?

For that you have the Perfect Dark remake on the 360, it plays exactly the same as Timesplitters 2 and has superior visuals then the N64.

OT: For anyone that is attacking him, please pay attention that he isnt saying that ALL games there are bad, infact most games there havent even released so a lot of what he says does apply.

He completely misses the point of Kickstarter. This isn't funding by people who don't understand the risks of the industry, it's being funded by people who know the risks, and know that publishers absolutely HATE to take risks, and thus opt to take that risk themselves, as a group.

Common sense would tell you that a mix of success and disappointment is FAR better than just pure bland mediocrity. It's this massive fear of disappointment that holds gaming back.

Thanks, Captain Obvious.

In other news, if you are shopping for anything on the Internet, the product might not even be real if it's a scam. When you put your money in a bank, they don't keep it in a safe, if everyone asks for their money back at the same time, they might not be able to give it back.

For that matter, your paper money itself isn't worth anything, it's just a printed fabric, the economy might collapse and then it's value is lost as soon as people start to doubt that it was ever there.

There is always a healty amount of scepticism regarding new, untested financial systems, and business models that are depending on trust in the the organization that is using them.

...And then, there is pointless repeating of the fact that "it's not even tangible money/product, so things can theoretically go wrong!" ad nauseam, to the people who already heard it in the first day of hearing about Kickstarter, and spent the past months debating about it.

I don't treat Kickstarter like a store, I treat it like an investment recommendation site.

Some things will go big, some things will fizzle and die. The risk is part of the fun!

And then, of course, we sometimes get amazing games out of it. See: FTL.

Andy Chalk:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Don't put any more money into a Kickstarter project than you can afford to throw out the window of a moving vehicle. Excitement is fun, but perspective will do you a lot more good in the long run.

This is the reason that I haven't backed anything yet on kickstarter, with as many projects that have interested me, I just don't have money to, as you say, throw out of the window of a moving vehicle. I swear though, that one day, there will be a project that I will back.

Andrewtheeviscerator:
That's why I refuse to support any kickstarters, I'm not going to give a guy my money just based on the idea of a game. I'll wait till I actually see gameplay and wait for the reviews before I even think of buying any of the games supported by kickstarter.

If it is any consolation, every thing I've gotten from Kickstarter has been of a quality rivaling anything I've ever purchased.

Zombicide in particular is so damn polished, it is like they made sweet love to a 3D printer or something.

Magic, that is the only way I can explain it.

lacktheknack:
I don't treat Kickstarter like a store, I treat it like an investment recommendation site.

Some things will go big, some things will fizzle and die. The risk is part of the fun!

And then, of course, we sometimes get amazing games out of it. See: FTL.

FTL is another fantastic friggen example.

DVS BSTrD:
Maybe because the people who DO "understand" the risks and challenges of the industry don't have the balls to take a chance on a new idea? -_^

image

"While I'm happy to see some interesting projects raise funding that they wouldn't have been able to raise through other methods, the fact that they couldn't raise funding through other methods ought to be a red flag to anyone who contributes,"

Maybe the other methods had some unreasonable conditions? Like giving up all the IP rights, all the rights to change things, giving all the power to the publisher. Giving your soul and body to EA.

Also, the "disappointments" that he speaks about aren't even disappointments. People give insignificant amounts of money. At least the majority. If the project fails, well, shit happens. If it succeeds, you get a game that you wanted.

The amount if invested money per individual and the amount of invested money in a AAA game are two different worlds.

I wonder who he's talking to. Most people know already that using Kickstarter is high risk.
If people lost too much to Kickstarter they'd naturally stop using it and go back to old publishing methods.
If it's actually working and publishers saw it as a threat they'd send more people out like this to scare people back to them.
Now I don't think he's shrilling to get people to stop using it, I just find it odd that he took the time out to state what everyone already knows.

--After reading the source interview it made a bit more sense

A game that needs crowd funding should raise a red flag?

What about a game that needs funding from EA? I have seen what was intended to be a survival horror game turn into Gear of War from the look of this year's E3.

I have seen Nintendo throw out Super Mario games with hardly any changes form the previous one.

Kickstarter is a risk and most of us know that. The game might suck or not make it to release. There's no guarantee that a game that was developed with the backing of a publisher will be good either. Yes, we shouldn't act like Kickstarter is a store, but we shouldn't be afraid of taking risks either. My steam library is a testament to the risks I have taken with games. A lot of them turned out to be wasted money, some turned out to be awesome.

As several people have already pointed out, FTL is a grand example of how wrong this guy is. SMRPG is also pretty good. On the board game side, Zombicide certainly was popular with my friends too.

College Ruled Universe, Banner Saga, Valdis Story and Anonymous Agony (this is not going to be any kind of technical masterpiece, but the concept is something that no publisher would touch with someone else's 10 foot pole) have all been showing signs of progress, though not release just yet.

Haven't been involved in any KS that seems to be an outright scam or outright failure to deliver, even if my dice are 6 months late (last update suggested mine are being made in the next two weeks or so, he got a *lot* more orders from KS than expected, and equipment breakages)...

samahain:
I said it before, I'll say it again: It's investment.

I see it more like charity. Most of the things I've funded on Kickstarter I've only given small amounts of money to and I haven't asked for a reward. They were just projects I thought deserved to happen.

Investors own a stake in the company/enterprise/etc. that they help to fund. Funding a project on Kickstarter doesn't make you a shareholder.

Covarr:
What of developers who simply don't want to work with typical publishers? I know if I made a game with a small group of maybe 10 people, worked on it for a long time and poured my heart into it, the last thing I'd want to do is give up the IP rights so that a large publisher could pump out uninspired sequels without my input. I think it's unfair to assume the only reason a game would be on Kickstarter is because they couldn't find someone to publish the game. Maybe they simply wanted to keep it in-house

That may very well be the case. But it's a bit like self-published books on the Amazon Kindle store. Sure some of those books are absolutely fantastic. It's just that they were too "risky" for a traditional publisher, or the writer just didn't want to go through the arduous process to get their book out there in print. But many of them haven't been published by traditional means because they're just crap. :(

I don't think Steve Ellis is in any way insisting that Kickstarter-funded games will necessarily be bad or not finished. He's just warning people not to get too overenthusiastic and spend loads of money on something that may not work out.

One of the reasons Kickstarter is so much fun is that it's all about looking at people's pitches and making an evaluation of a) how good the project idea is and b) how capable of pulling it off the team are.

So far I've funded an interactive coffee table, a card game, and a science kit for kids. :)

theultimateend:

Andrewtheeviscerator:
That's why I refuse to support any kickstarters, I'm not going to give a guy my money just based on the idea of a game. I'll wait till I actually see gameplay and wait for the reviews before I even think of buying any of the games supported by kickstarter.

If it is any consolation, every thing I've gotten from Kickstarter has been of a quality rivaling anything I've ever purchased.

Zombicide in particular is so damn polished, it is like they made sweet love to a 3D printer or something.

Magic, that is the only way I can explain it.

I'm not saying that the kickstarter games are going to be or are bad, I just don't believe in paying for something if all the creator has come up with is a concept, I'm willing to try them once I actually see what the game is like. Also a lot of kickstarters I see are just putting a lot of buzz words in their pitch to drag people in and I don't buy into that BS.

Andrewtheeviscerator:

I'm not saying that the kickstarter games are going to be or are bad, I just don't believe in paying for something if all the creator has come up with is a concept, I'm willing to try them once I actually see what the game is like. Also a lot of kickstarters I see are just putting a lot of buzz words in their pitch to drag people in and I don't buy into that BS.

It's a fair view, I wasn't challenging it. Same reason I try to never preorder real games.

But so far I've had good luck, I spent money on Terraria before it was really a thing, Minecraft, Zombicide, FTL, and others.

So far the worst luck I'm having in the last 5 or so years is with known entities, EA, Activision, etc. Bethesda has done me well and while I loathe them usually Obsidian has made some games that have consumed my life.

Overall I 'get it' I'm just happy to say I haven't lost any money yet.

wow. i feel...enlightened.

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thanks captain obvious.
----
and constantly saying something about a timesplitters that is not going to be developed/not going to happen is as arkward as the guy that always tries to squeeze information out of you with "joking"

like:
that girl over there would not even think about dating me, amiright?
am i? did you hear her say something about me? i guess not because she would not...bla bla bla.

sometimes these "wisecrackers" gets stuck in a loop...

A good majority of games on Kickstarter are there because publishers didn't want to publish those games in the first place, mostly because they know those games can't be turned into money milking cash cows...

Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2 is a good example. He could have either made a game that would have been muddled and muted that wasn't his vision that would have appealed to a "broader market", or get the funds from the people directly who would want a game just as he envisions it, with no publishing "dumbing down" compromise.

Funding a kickstarter into a game with only concept by unknowns; risky as fuck.

Funding a kickstarter into a game with only concepts, but by well known people who have made, developed and released largely successful games; less risky - but still some as an 11th issue could tank the still strong/good development team.

Funding a kickstarter into a game is nearly done but needs that final push for that polish, code tightening and adding extra content, but could still be released and be perfectly playable today; good deal.

So yea, you can't lump all kickstarter games into one group. And even my 3 examples covers just only most of what you'll find on kickstarter.

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