Dissecting the Kickstarter craze (GamesBeat 2012)

By Dant Rambo |

When Double Fine presented fans with a Kickstarter to fund a new adventure game, the goal was reached in a matter of hours. It was a beautiful event, but it left many curious as to how this new model would affect the game’s development — along with the industry at large. Such was the topic of conversation at a panel featuring Tim Schafer of Double Fine, Brian Fargo of InXile Entertainment, Paul Trowe of Replay Games, and Jon Kimmich of Software Illuminati.

Fargo, Trowe, and Schafer all launched very similar campaigns: Schafer pined for the classic days of adventure games, Fargo wanted to create a sequel to Wasteland, and Trowe wanted to revive Leisure Suit Larry. In every instance, they were stuck at an impasse with the powers that be.

“You hear from the crowd ‘hey we want this thing’ and the gatekeepers are saying no,” said Schafer. It’s a situation that leaves both ends of the spectrum frustrated, and Kickstarter has made it possible for them to connect and talk turkey. It may not result in an industry-wide shuttering of publishers, but it greatly reduces the hold they have on creative control. That’s huge, and one of the most disruptive things we’ve seen in the industry in a long time.

But we all have someone to answer to, and in the case of Kickstarter-funded games, it’s the people who donated. Before crossing that bridge, though, there’s the issue of finding enough people excited about the project. It wasn’t something anyone on this panel had trouble with, but not everyone has been so lucky.
One of the biggest problems has been the reduction in press coverage.

“The bar is being raised in terms of what is required to get attention,” said Kimmich, author of the Crowd-Funding Bible. Penny Arcade’s quest to bid ads adieu and Ouya’s journey to deliver an open-sourced platform (now the fastest-funded Kickstarter of all time) are two examples of well-publicized campaigns, but there are countless others that fell to the wayside. That’s apropos of the model, though: It works for some, but it isn’t the end-all be-all of getting games funded.

That said, when it works, it really works. Fargo, Schafer, and Trowe all earned well beyond the amount they asked for in their campaigns, and that money enabled them to do things they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

“The only thing that’s the same is the setting and the characters,” said Trowe on what Replay Games intends to do with the excess money earned for Leisure Suit Larry. Schafer and Double Fine are in a similar place: “The scope of the game was very limited… When we got to $3 million, it just changed in our heads what we were working on.” This is interesting, because it presents a correlation between the scope and polish of the finished product, and the amount of people supporting it.

Beyond the financial windfall, well-advertised campaigns also have a tendency to hype up a whole lot of people. “It’s the most anticipated game I have ever worked on in my career,” said Fargo about Wasteland 2. Sure, the stakes are high, but Fargo was quick to note he’s using that to push himself. “I bet I’m 25% more efficient on this game,” he offered.

Near the end of the panel, Kimmich said he felt that “Kickstarter and crowdfunding are still trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up.” The concept has never been as mainstream as it is now, and while it may not have changed the industry overnight, it’s certainly provided it with a much-needed wake up call.

Even if we don’t know the extent of what lies ahead, we can find comfort in the fact that content creators have a new place to turn to when publishers say no.

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