Friday, 1 June 2012

The Perils of Kickstarter

Kickstarter funded game development is happening more and more. After the “Double Fine Adventure” project received over three million dollars of a relatively modest $400,000 goal, a great many people have been trying to get in on that sweet croudsourced funding. Projects that might never otherwise have seen the light of day, like Wasteland 2, are suddenly becoming viable by reaching out to the gaming community for support. Great, right? Yes, obviously. But I’m a little wary of this trend- what are the consequences of doing without publisher support?
Kickstarter- is it all really free funding and creative freedom?

Game development is a pain in the ass. It’s a complicated, challenging and costly process, and always has been. It’s not at all uncommon for games to be delayed, undergo radical changes or to be cancelled outright during development. Big projects from big developers aren’t immune- where is Rockstar’s Agent, for example? Even if a game does manage to come out on schedule and within budget, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that it’ll actually be any good. This isn’t really a problem; it’s merely the nature of the beast.

Nominally, the job of the publisher is to tame that same beast. They’re supposed to bankroll multiple projects from multiple developers, providing support and resources as required, and using business know-how to turn raw creative output from the developers into a marketable product, thus making money for everyone involved. Ideally, the developer-publisher relationship is one of mutual service and benefit, and while today’s publishers may be primarily concerned with shoving DLC down our throats, they have to at least try to do it right to stay afloat.

Making a good pitch for a game is easy; making a good game is hard. Imagine that instead of an angry unemployed asshole, I’m a new studio with a vision for a game of massively multiplayer vehicle combat and racing in a persistent online wasteland, with high emphasis on loot, customisation and the unique specification of your personal ride. Sounds great, right? Trouble is, I don’t know how the hell to actually put such a thing together- I’m an ideas guy.  Ordinarily, this is where a publisher comes in. They look at my pitch, ask me some questions, and, if they think I can deliver the goods, they give me resources and a schedule to bring my vision to reality. However! If I decide instead to fund myself with a Kickstarter, I’m losing out on the publisher assistance, which (should) go beyond the financial.

While it is by no means impossible to find success in independent game development, it does place the burden of financial and business stuff necessary to make a game not on the guys in grey suits at a publishing company, but on the creative types actually making the game, who could easily be woefully ill-equipped to deal with such things. Like I said, making games is hard, and there are often complications. What if a key designer falls ill? What if there’s a fire or an earthquake or a Godzilla attack and vital code is lost? What if the project runs over budget, and the Kickstarter cash is all gone? These are the sort of things the publisher is supposed to handle.

When a conventionally-published project goes down the pipe, it’s only really the publisher that loses out. When one funded by a Kickstarter does the same, it’s you and me- the real life gamers who put up the cash for its development, who are taking the hit.

Don’t get me wrong- I do like the Kickstarter funding thing, and I wouldn’t dream of suggesting it stopped. What I will suggest is that when you look at a Kickstarter page, you bear in mind the unique perils of this approach to development.

This article was originally posted on www.invalidopinions.com - check it out, it's totally awesome. 

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