Posts tagged Kickstarter
Kickstarter is like “Baby’s First Investment Strategy”. The concept is that someone pitches an idea, and people filter by like a future liberal arts major scanning tables at his high-school college fair. When something grabs your attention, you stop, peruse the brochure, and decide whether or not to fill out an application. Unlike college, however, funding a KS campaign does a bit of a mental teabag on you (although maybe by the time you reach your junior year in college and are staring down the double-barrels of having to find a job and paying off student loans, you’d prefer the teabagging).
KS is turning out to be a good idea on paper, but because of the way people are using it — the way everyone is using it — it’s running amok. People looking for money are turning to the system for various reasons: it brings the pitch directly to the fans; it circumvents traditional avenues and cuts out middlemen; it ensures creative freedom; I couldn’t get funded any other way. All of those are valid from an empirical point of view , but never having started a KS, I can’t say whether any or all of them are good reasons. The system has worked for some, but not for others, and there are a variety of factors there, but most importantly, it’s due to the people who are browsing the site and looking for somewhere to put their money.
The concept of KS is that it’s a kind of incubator, or an investment scaffold that brings ideas to people with money, where the producers get to dictate the return instead of the investors. Most KS projects that I have seen (or more accurately, contributed to) have promised some level at which they’ll provide you with an instance of their outcome. If you fund a game development project, you can get a copy of the game, for example. I usually fund at this minimum level because I’d like to get something out of it, and that’s kind of the rub: many people who throw money at projects aren’t professional investors. They are, however, professional consumers, and look at KS the same way they look at buying something off a shelf.
That means that sometimes, people throw money at a project, and find themselves less than satisfied with the results, or the progress of the project itself. I know some people don’t like stretch goals (myself included). They fund projects based on the initial promise, and the term “Stretch goal” is synonymous with “feature creep”. Other times, weird things happen during the development process that make you question the validity of the project, or whether it’ll ever see the light of day. Sadly, once you’ve committed the funds, and the KS campaign is successful, you’re on the hook. You can’t get a refund, so you’re locked into the fate of the project, for good or for not-so-good.
But “buyer’s remorse” in terms of a KS project is a misplaced emotion, based solely on the spirit of the service. I’ve seen people lament their investment in a project, and others tsk tsking folks who have sponsored a project. When we buy physical goods, often times we can return the product if we’re not satisfied, but with an investment, there’s no way to know if the investment will pay off. We can’t read tea leaves or say with any kind of certainty that a project will make it to completion, or will even be any good if it does. We’re asked to provide money based on what appeals to us. Maybe their video pitch was funny or moving; maybe their reward photos are inspiring; maybe they are projects headed by people who have pleased us in the past. But none of that is a guarantee. Some guy can come out of the woodwork with nothing but a washboard and a can a of beans, and manage to create a cold fusion reactor, or he could end up blowing up half the county in the attempt. We don’t know how it’ll turn out, and that’s the point of KS investing: making someone’s dream a reality based on our perception of what we hope to get out of it. Sadly, there’s the possibility that they’re not up to the task, and/or that we’ve misjudged, but so long as we understand that willfully putting on money into a project is the same as deciding to throw it into the wind in a bet on which way it’ll fly, we can’t give into buyer’s remorse if we’re going to continue to be investors.
Jebus. I’ve never seen any project spew forth so many Kickstarter updates as the folks over at Greed Monger have been doing. Make no mistake, the constant communication is certainly welcome. KS has always been a place where people tend to question the involvement of the project owners: whether backers will be kept in the loop, or whether the project will go to ground with very few milestones announced, so it’s nice to see the GM team keeping the channels open.
So what’s in these updates? Most of them I haven’t been keeping up with, which is in-line with my M.O. in regards to unreleased products. I do most of my learning once the game is available to me, but I’ve been checking out some of the highlights this time, and have listed them here:
- They’re putting up screenshots. 99% are certainly a “work in progress”, but it’s proof that there’s something tangible there. They have screens of weather, day and night, some building placeholders, and most recently, early UI designs. I like the UI, despite some calling it “MMO derivative”.
- The parcel sizes were originally 20×20, but they’ve since updated them to 40×40. For some folks who have funded enough to get two parcels, that’s 80×40. They posted an image of what the original parcel sizes looked like for comparison purposes.
- There was a lot of updates regarding upper-tier pledges. At $2000, you could get a castle! I suppose that’s great for the “monocle and top-hat” set, but for us regular folks…meh.
- But we get horses!
- Since the GM team benefits from land sales, and since abandoned land returns to their control after a time, they posted an initial explanation about how that works. This is important, because someone will invariably pay for land, lose interest (and therefor, their land), and will return some day expecting to find it as they left it. QQing ensues.
- As their haul increased, they hired two new folks to help out with development duties.
- They put up an update about potentially renaming the game. I’m not a fan of the name “Greed Monger”, partly because I feel that it sounds redundant, and more importantly because I feel that it gives the impression that the entire point of the game is to OWN ALL THE THINGS! Sandbox games, to me, are about the player experience within the game, not about phat lewt hoarding.
- And last but certainly not least, this morning’s update mentions building…building. Some games offer housing, but they’re really restrictive, limiting you to “hooks” that serve as pedestals that you can build on. Apparently, GM will have an in-game blueprint tool that allows players to design their buildings using parts like walls, stairs, etc., based on skill and available resources.
This isn’t a comprehensive retread of their updates, which are available on their KS page, but again, it’s nice to see so many updates, with notable progress showing.
My interest in this project has grown accordingly. Other projects that I’ve backed that have had fewer updates have more or less fallen off my radar. I’m sure I’ll be surprised when I get either A) an update, or B) the project delivered, but I really don’t know where those projects stand. GM’s stream of consciousness updates are helping to maintain my interest, even though I’m not really diving deep into each and every one.
Thanks to MoxieDoodle, a new Kickstarter campaign was brought to my attention. It’s called Greed Monger, and it’s a game in which you apparently monger greed. I don’t know what that is, but according to the KS page, it sounds like an MMO for those of us tired of the incessant focus on hotbar-centric combat combat combat. The short list description includes an empty world – no shit, really empty, except for trees and animals and monsters – where you build all the things, including armor, weapons, and most importantly, housing. For $20, you get a plot of land (up to 4 plots!) and you decide what to do with it. Leave it open and charge players to hunt or harvest, or you can add a house and live life to the fullest, making furniture and decorations to sell through your NPC vendor.
The citied influence comes from Ultima Online, which was Sandboxious Maximus in it’s heyday, allowing many of the same perks as are listed above. I also detected a whiff of Star Wars Galaxies in there, but also an overpowering scent of Wurm Online. That’s kind of where I put the breaks on, so to speak.
WO is really one of a kind. It, too, is an empty world which allows players to buy land with real money, and to harvest the land to build houses, raise crops, domesticate animals, and so on. Each parcel is locked to the owner, so if you have a lot of trees on your land, you can prevent folks from taking them.
The idea is that sandbox fans will be so overcome with joy that they’ll link arms and skip down the rainbow road, buying up land and forming in-game towns where each person will bend to a particular task, and will share the fruits of his/her labors with the other players who make up the fair town. There will be hundreds of these player-created bergs, and inter-village commerce will flourish, and everyone will enjoy one another’s company, and learn the true meaning of cooperation.
In reality, there’ll be a land rush where those who get in early and pay the most set up camp in the most desirable locations, bringing along their friends to circle the wagons around the best resources. Anyone coming in later, or without a support group, will be limited to the dregs of the land, locked out of opportunities controlled by the land barons who are more interested in extortion than in creating a greater community. At some point, someone(s) will come along and find a way to specifically grief others through land ownership, and your plans to get your friends together to form a little hamlet end in frustration because you can’t find a contiguous area that allows you all to build nearby one another.
This is not just a Worst Case Scenario. It happened in UO – remember castles, which took up so much goddamn room? I’m sure SWG had similar issues. And don’t get started on my blood-boiling foray into Wurm Online. In each case, the plans look good on paper, when there’s no actual boots on the ground. There’s a lot of assumptions that people are going to both work together, and end up in conflict, but I think the grand plan is that it’ll be on a settlement-by-settlement basis, not a first-in-by-newcomer basis. Sure, there’ll be a lot of people who span the spectrum from kind and inclusionary, to total and utter douchenozzles, but this is the kind of design that’s has a built in allowance for a certain percentage of frustration. I can almost hear the shrugging going on – what do you want US to do?
OK, so it sounds whiney. It is, I admit. This game appeals to me. I like the idea of a game built around self-sufficiency, where you start with nothing and then achieve anything only through your own power. Working with others is additive, and beneficial for each and every one of you. But we’re not new to this. We know how “people” are. The prognostications above will happen, because they’ve happened before. It’s only a question of magnitude, and that depends on the opportunities offered by the game itself.
I pledged my money, enough for two parcels of land. I figure that one parcel was fine, but two is more breathing room. The chances of me expanding to three or four is pretty much nil, since three and four will certainly end up having to be claimed away from wherever I set down plots one and two, because someone else will abut my own property. Will there be enough people I know who buy into it, so we can make a go at starting a village? Perhaps. Will we all be able to find enough local property to not have to build around someone else’s planned settlement? It remains to be seen, I guess.
For those not “in the know” (read: under a rock), Kickstarter is the insanely popular crowd-funding website. Traditionally, people who wanted to “do stuff” of a certain magnitude had to suck up to people in suits. Now they can register on Kickstarter and suck up to people at home. Probably sitting around in their underwear. Progress!
Being a gamer, and writing this on a game-centric website, a lot of my dealings with KS have been centered on short films. Just kidding. I’ve only backed a handful of games like StarDrive, The Banner Saga, and naturally Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns. I felt that I was really picking up what they were putting down for the most part, and although the last two didn’t really need my paltry donation, having broken records in the amount that they scraped into trashbags before jumping over the fence and high-tailing it to the Caymen Islands, I felt good helping these folks with their projects. They have to eat too, you know!
Recently, we’ve been talking about the subject of Kickstarter “stretch goals” over on the ole’ G+. Stretch goals seem to be the new thing for some games over on KS. The first time I saw them was on Project Eternity, an isometric RPG from Obsidian, makers of such fine products as Fallout: New Vegas and Neverwinter Nights 2. I also noticed them on the high profile RPG SHAKER, from industry luminaries Brenda Brathwaite and Tom Hall. Now, a stretch goal is a wacky thermometer graph of features that will get baked into the final product once the base funding amount has been secured. The more post-goal cash they raise, the more features they’ll layer on. The idea is that you’re no longer wagering on a hum-drum product, but are doubling-down on an insanely sweet payout. Eventually.
I backed Project Eternity initially, but ended up cancelling my pledge because I can’t get behind this concept of stretch goals. I was practically suffocated by an avalanche of emails from Obsidian pimping what I’d get if only I tossed another $15 or $50 onto their bonfire. That’s over and above my “what I’m comfortable paying for” pledge. I don’t normally skimp on paying for promising projects, throwing down about what I’d throw down for a retail release, so stretch goals put me in the “collectors edition” territory for traditional retail products. Those I only buy if I’m really psyched about the product or franchise.
Part of the issue I had with PE’s campaign is that it wasn’t only this growing list of features that we’d get, but that they started selling goods from the back of a van as part of their pledge drive. This isn’t upping your pledge; you maintain your original pledge level (and get nothing more than your original pledge perks), but if you act now and add $15, you get a digital download atlas! For $7, you can get a digital strategy guide.
Yeah, it’s DLC for a game that hasn’t been created yet.
Now, I understand that the more money in their hands, the more people they can pay to cram content in, the longer they can leave the lights on, and the more Nerf guns and Red Bull they can buy to keep that oh-so-important game developer stereotype rolling, but here’s the thing: I offered my pledge for the game they advertised. I did my part, and a lot of other people did too, to the tune of $1.1 million. But still we were getting a hard sell. Like when you travel to the Caribbean and have to dodge the locals who aren’t shy about getting all up in your face to buy local goods every five feet, at some point it felt like Obsidian was looking for anything not nailed down and inviting you to make them an offer.
All I wanted was for the damn game to get done. If these stretch goals are going to hamper that in any way, then fuck em.
If that sounds “entitled”, tough shit, but I liked the initial project enough to pledge. So did other people. We handed them our I.O.U. for the base game, and that was enough for us. Somewhere, something snapped, and the $1.1 million became not-enough for Obsidian. It’s like they saw the numbers on the tally-board flipping by at breakneck speed, and didn’t want it to stop, so they had to come up with something – anything — to keep that euphoria flowing. It eventually felt that the promised game got lost underneath a mad dash for as much money as possible.
I personally don’t want to see other projects going down this road. So far, I have only received one product that I’ve backed. If stretch goals are going to make more work for these developers, then the potential for vaporware grows. If that happens, it’ll be high profile: Project Eternity is now the highest grossing game development project on Kickstarter. They must make good on everything the promised, hopefully before the sun burns itself out, or else there will be a $3.7 million worth of angry gamers chasing them from one corner of creation to another.
Of course, as Pete from Dragonchasers said, we can all win: Obsidian got more than they asked for, so those stretch goals will hopefully pay off. Meanwhile, those of us who canceled out pledge can wait until the game shows up on Steam’s holiday deep discount sale and pick it up for a fraction of what we had initially pledged.
Back when I was working on Universe, I had found Kickstarter. Not to beat a trope, but I knew about the service before it was cool, and briefly considered it for getting the game off the ground. But I balked because I’d have to come up with perks to hand out, and if successfully funded, I’d be on the hook to actually produce it. Not that I’m against having a wind at my back for something I just can’t seem to muster my own steam for, but it was kind of scary. Now I’ve come to realization as to why.
My own fears aren’t going to stop other indie devs from flocking to Kickstarter to get their game funded, especially now that the service has become almost a household name among gamers thanks to Double Fine (Unannounced), inXile (Wasteland 2), Stoic (Banner Saga), Hairbrained Schemes (Shadowrun Returns) and, more recently, Replay Games, who are working with creator Al Lowe to bring back Leisure Suit Larry. These industry heavy hitters are scoring big with fans, earning millions of dollars in backing to get projects made that gamers want.
So where does that leave indies, amidst this high-octane funding frenzy? There’s obviously money to be had, and apparently enough to go around, right? Let’s put it this way: Indies are so far from “having a shot” that it would take millions of years for the light from “having a shot” to reach them.
People aren’t going to Kickstarter to “find games”. We as gamers have more games than we can realistically deal with now. Instead, gamers believe that they’re going to Kickstarter to find the games that “they want”, not the games that “publishers want to give them”. We fund the Brian Fargos and the Tim Schaeffers and the Al Lowes because we know their names – more importantly, we know their track records. They parade their projects in front of us and tell us that if they waited around for publishers, this game would never get made (and our lives would be lessened for it, so the subtext goes). We believe that. We’re tired of the same old, same old, so we pat ourselves on the back for supporting “indies”, and bro-fist one another because we’re sticking it to The Man.
So if you’re a guy who is making a game out of your house by night after you puts in an 8 hour day in cubicle hell and who only gets close to the game industry when you pass by a Gamestop? You’re pretty much screwed unless you can come up with a darling presentation, have nothing short of a working prototype, and maybe even some sweet perks. Eagle-eyed veterans will shrug and say that this is how the industry actually works; no one throws money at promises. Anyone can have an idea, but if you want to get serious, you need to know you’re competing against peers for only so many coveted dollars. Except in Kickstarter-land, you’re not: you’re competing with the Industry Itself. Although the million dollar games take the developers out of the industry, you can’t take the industry out of the developer, so indies need to not only approach a Kickstarter campaign like they were already an industry insider, but they’ll have to go above and beyond other indies and, yes, even toe-to-toe with the next round of Double Fines, inXiles, and Stoics. Alone. Without industry insiders to give them recognition, without the ability to drop names of past developers that they’ve worked for, or who they know, or what they’ve worked on. Anything less, and it’s the bottom of the slush pile for you.
Kickstarter might have been a pancea for the real indie developer before several industry folks decided that they were going to take over the venue for their varsity pool party. I’m just as guilty of allowing this junta to take over; I’m on board with inXile, Hairbrained, and Stoic, and I realize that I’ve been negligent of supporting the people who can’t rely on past glories to convince me to give them a shot, because they have no past glories. In short, Kickstarter has gone from homegrown talent incubator to an up-and-coming proto-publisher supporting people who are really just doing this for kicks.
Folks who are normally within range of my voice are probably sick to death of hearing about this, but it looks like Wasteland 2, a proper sequel to one of the early touchstones of computer RPGs, is on it’s way.
Wasteland was created by Interplay, same folks who brought us the probably-more-well-known The Bard’s Tale. Sadly, Wasteland is rarely mentioned when most people talk about RPGs that defined the genre, but it’s just as relevant because it made games like Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Fallout 3 possible.
In fact, it’s specifically because of Wasteland that we have Fallout 3. Fallout and Fallout 2 were made by Interplay as well, and according to Brian Fargo, were spiritual successors to Wasteland and not direct sequels because Interplay didn’t own the rights to the Wasteland name (Notice the little “EOA” at the bottom of the box cover art? That’s Electronic Arts when they were known as Electronic Arts, which should say a lot about why the Wasteland name was sealed away).
The thing about Wasteland is that it’s not high-fantasy. I played a lot of RPGs on the C64 – Phantasie, The Bard’s Tale, SSI’s Gold Box D&D Series, and more – most of which were Tolkien-inspired lands of castles, elves and dragons. Wasteland was about mutants and nuclear holocaust, which in the Cold War 80’s was a very real possibility. If memory serves me, the game also had a sense of humor – the title of this post is taken from a description you’d get when you scored a critical hit on a target, which would explode “like a blood sausage”.
I’ve tried to replay several games that I enjoyed in my youth, but I realize that it’s a mistake to attempt such a thing. Nostalgia isn’t a crystal clear remembrance, and few things hold up down the road in the ways we seem to remember them. Case in point: I recently downloaded The Bard’s Tale for the iPad, which includes the original 1980’s version! I was excited until I loaded it up and was slaughtered outside the guild hall. That game is really fucking difficult – but not really. I just don’t remember it requiring so much prep work, a fact which I blame on today’s RPGs which start you off as a virtual badass, and not an unequipped nobody who gets kicked around by goddamn kobolds like The Bard’s Tale does. That’s why I’m excited that we’re not getting Wasteland, but a real sequel to a game (I think) I really loved back in those days, but updated for modern times. Because it’s Fargo and crew who will be working on it, it’s going to be true to the original…just more updated.
The finishing touch on this is rather amusing. The game is being funded via Kickstarter, which I wrote about yesterday. Tim Schafer’s Double Fine development company raised over $3m USD via Kickstarter, and after 3 days, Fargo has raised a little over $1m USD. If you check out their Kickstarter page and watch the (pretty funny) video pitch, you’ll see that Fargo took the Wasteland pitch to several publishers – all of whom turned it down. I know $1m isn’t a lot to the likes of EA or Activision or other publishers, but I’d assume they turned it down because they didn’t think people would be interested in a sequel to a 20+ year old game. Except the almost 19,000 people who have now dedicated, on average, $60 a piece to get this project going. That’s the 19,000 people who probably would have paid $60 a piece for this game on their platform of choice. That’s 19,000 people who won’t be paying a publisher for any part of this project.
And there’s 32 more days left on the project, which has already exceeded it’s funding requirements. So, thanks, publishers, for passing this one up and for allowing inXile to bring it direct to us, and not languish in your development hell any longer.
Kickstarter is a great service, and a great innovation that funds…innovation. There’s a lot of project concepts out there that may leak into the public consciousness, but which were offered as “pie in the sky” proof-of-concept ramblings that inevitably ended with an implied sigh; “if only we had the cash to make it a reality…” Kickstarter is that cash-pipe, allowing people to funnel money not through a middleman, but directly to the people who are making the product or offering the service. We know that the money is going to be used for it’s stated purpose, and not for sending some executive to Aruba while The Team is forced to work 28 hour days to meet someone else’s promised deadline.
Lately, though, I’m getting the feeling that Kickstarter is inching towards becoming the “Craigslist for Projects” where people throw almost anything against the wall to see if it sticks. See, with Kickstarter, if you contribute money to the project, and they reach their goal, you’re charged for your pledge. If they miss their goal, your pledge is null and void, and you owe nothing – and receive nothing, naturally. This makes it a no-brainer for a lot of wacky projects because if they don’t get the funding, then everyone is off the hook. If they do reach their goal, then they have the the funding to make things happen…no matter how bizarre or insanely niche the project may be. Ideally, the funding target is chosen based on projections of what’s needed to complete the project and make good on the promises listed in the sidebar. I’m not entirely sure what happens if there’s some kind of roadblock between the success of funding and providing the finished product. I’d assume that Kickstarter: The Service is going to only be as good as the honesty of the people who use the service for the projects. If the project creators screw the angels, then Kickstarter will suffer through guilt by association.
Back when I was thinking about Universe, I considered Kickstarter to get some cash to hire someone to handle artwork, but I’m rather skittish about being on “the Kickstarter hook” (although it would be a suitable fire under my ass to get something done). Now that the name of Kickstarter has gotten around the Internet, there are gawd-knows-how-many projects being added to an already massive pile of people looking to get their projects in front of the right faces. Sadly, there’s only so many faces, and those faces can only really contribute so much money to so many worthy (or wacky) projects that I wonder how many projects on Kickstarter end up falling off their site without meeting their goals. Regardless, I’m glad that Kickstarter exists, partly to get the money to the people who actually do the work, and partly because it can be used for some really awesome stuff that might otherwise not ever see the light of day.