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Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

Broken Age, Community Corner, Double Fine Adventure, Kickstarter, OZombie

Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

We love our readership, especially when people get stuck into an opinion piece that we've written, or are picking apart reviews and interviews, sharing their thoughts. In fact, ever since we started amassing a few vocal regulars (thanks folks!) we've put out feelers regarding the notion of a semi-regular Community Corner column. If you've had a reaction to a happening in this fair industry of ours, or maybe want to wax lyrical about a recent game, or have been ruminating on an aspect of gaming or gamer culture with a fresh, unique perspective... we want to hear from you!

This week's column comes courtesy of DivideByZero, who delivers an insightful and incisive take on the state of Kickstarter from a gamer's perspective.

Having started to write a review some time ago, of Kickstarter as a mechanism for funding the creation of games… I deleted it when I got up to many thousands of words and realised I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg.

Crowd funding is big… it’s HUGE… it’s very much here now and it could well be The Future.

I personally feel it has a place at the moment due to the lack of Next-gen causing all the middle ground to have collapsed. More and more we are only seeing AAA+ and indie titles with middle ground developers struggling and going under. Enter the Kickstarter, allowing smaller developers to fill that middle ground.

It’s such a simple idea. Someone wants to make a thing but a publisher doesn’t have the balls to back it… if there is enough demand from the public (and they are willing to pay for it), then it can happen anyway.

And that is where the simplicity ends and all the rules change.

Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

So let’s look at what Kickstarter really is for gaming. In its most basic form, it is a means for a developer to get money. However, if anyone thinks that is all it is however, they would be very much mistaken.

Firstly, when a Kickstarter campaign is running, there is a huge amount of buzz about the item being funded. People talk to each other about it. If it’s something people want to see happen they take it upon themselves to help promote the thing. You just don’t get that with games on the shelf… Unless the game had been played and was amazing, or had a huge marketing budget before the games release. But what does this new form of advertising cost the developer? Just 5% of other people’s money (Kickstarter’s cut)!

This is where the passion starts to kick in. With Kickstarter you are not just buying a game, you really are helping create it - either financially or by being active on the games forums. You see the game’s development, you talk with the developers and other enthusiasts and can even offer your own advice. In the case of Double Fine Adventure you watch the game grow from literally nothing which builds a bond between the game, the gamer and the devs. This is great… the free marketing machine keeps rolling. People keep talking about their game, the internet is alive with information on the game because it was very publicly announced by doing the Kickstarter and that’s great for everyone. This is what changes a game from casual acquaintance to close family member.

If a casual acquaintance is being a bit of an idiot towards you it’s annoying, but so what? If a close family member is being an idiot to you then it really hurts you and it’s not like you can even get away from it. It’s a whole lot more personal.

Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

Now we start to see the other side of the coin. It becomes a double-edged sword, if you will.

We the people have now not only become closer to the game and the developers, but we have also effectively taken on the role of publisher. It’s our money the developers are playing with. If deadlines are being missed it’s us they should apologise to and not a publisher. If things are going wrong, it’s us - the end user, the fans, who they have to let know.

Previously, we would never hear any of this bad noise. Delays, money problems, internal disagreements and failure to deliver, it would all be private between the publisher and the developer. Sure, we would get an announcement that the game would be delayed, but generally it would be received with “that’s a shame, but oh well” and life would move on. But now we very much see it, warts and all - and we are so much closer to this unfinished game than we would be to other games that we just buy off the shelf. As a result of this closeness, I believe the developers need to be extra careful with the way they manage the development of their promised product and how they handle the relationship with their new found family. After all, Kickstarter backers cover a wide demographic; gamers, games reviewers, other developers and even publishers and if you handle this wrong, it’s those people, your core audience, that you are going to upset – not just your silent publisher who basically writes the cheque and doesn’t really care what happens as long as the game gets done and they profit from your work.

Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

Obviously this article draws strongly from the recent events of Double Fine. I have really tried not to get in to any specifics about them, because I feel that this double edged sword will apply to any developer opening themselves up to a Kickstarter.

If we need another example of poor management of a Kickstarter, take OZombie by American McGee. It has just had its Kickstarter cancelled. In my opinion, it was a great idea and would have made a great game, but the whole Kickstarter was handled so badly it was never going to succeed.

Right from day one, you could feel the project falling down and lashing out, reaching for any lifeline it could. Now I fully supported OZombie, I thought it was great idea and I backed it on day one… but I didn’t think it was being handled right when I very first saw it.

Firstly it felt like a spur of the moment decision - like it was going to be Alice 3 but they couldn’t get the licence for that so they knee-jerked and went off and did something else, anything else. This may have not been the case, but it felt that way. Perhaps not spending the opening 5 minutes of your promo video going on about Alice would have been a good idea? If you are promoting something, make out that it is the best idea ever and that this is going to be your best game yet (and why not actually aim for it to be that?!) and not some 2nd place booby prize.

Next was the name. OZombie is very much like the already released film Osombie… so much so that they had to rename the project during the Kickstarter funding phase. This just shows that it was a rush job with not enough thought.

Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

OZombie in its flailing, had added a stretch goal to try and generate more interest. But it is totally unrelated to the game. An Alice TV series?! Really? If you want people to believe in your game, don’t detract from it. But don’t worry… this mistake was realised a couple of days later and the Alice TV series was being removed… but existing backers had to be consulted first… all this during the Kickstarter phase! It really did look like American didn’t have a clue what he was doing and was just panicking and reacting. While panicking he was also busy being angry at everyone on the internet who dared to say anything remotely negative about the way this project was going.

Now I do really like and respect American McGee… but I feel that he and his team made a real balls-up of their Kickstarter right from the start. I would have loved to play OZombie and I fully supported it, both financially and by way of promotion. But sadly, it was not to be.

So, what advice would I offer anyone looking to do a Kickstarter from the perspective of a gamer and backer?

Remember that you are going to have to be business-like with your fans. You can still be fun and spontaneous if you like, but it’s probably worth looking a bit professional and like you know what you are doing.

Have a plan. Have MANY plans. A plan for if you smash your target, a plan for if you scrape by and a plan for if you don’t make it. Having this all worked out beforehand will save a lot of hassle later and you can let people know what to expect right from the get-go.

It doesn’t need to be an exact plan for the game itself. When Double Fine said they would make an Adventure game, it was enough to make everyone jump on board. But if they had planned what they would do if they got 843% of their funding target, then perhaps they would not be where they are today, short on money, the game split in two and it being much later than anyone had imagined with a lot of unhappy fans out there.

Community Corner | Failure To Kickstart

If you are doing a Kickstarter, then enjoy the close bond you will form with your fans. Enjoy all the benefits this will bring you and enjoy communicating directly with the people who love and support your work. It really is a unique opportunity. You have the potential to make fans even more brand loyal – but you also have the power to destroy their trust and make them hate you.

Kickstarter is built on trust. Once the developer gets the money, Kickstarter basically wash their hands of the project. This trust is between you and your most loyal fans, the people who buy your games, the people who are the reason you exist. If you break their trust, you run the risk of damaging your reputation irreparably.

Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Text, pictures and opinions courtesy of DivideByZero, who has our utmost thanks for the submission. If you've got something you'd like us to consider for Community Corner, let us know at [email protected]!

Add a comment13 comments
majaboll  Jul. 18, 2013 at 16:11

Excellent article. I couldn't agree more.

Quietus  Jul. 18, 2013 at 16:53

I'd add to the above that the developers need to have some flexibility. It's great that you started with an idea, or a bunch of them, but if 90% of your audience are saying that they'd like something done differently, then it needs to be given some serious consideration. When we're paying for your project, the last thing we want is a 'No, it's my toy!' attitude.

DivideByZero  Jul. 18, 2013 at 17:06

Definitely! Though so far, with Broken Sword, Carmageddon and Broken Age there has been a lot of community input, or at least it seems that way.

I wonder how OZombie would have got on? American McGee is clearly a passionate visionary - I wonder how he would have got on working with Joe Public sticking their nose in at every step of the development?

monkey13  Jul. 18, 2013 at 22:58

Yay for blind pre-sales. Really? Yes this is early days and a some minor projects have worked out well but what happens once more and more things aren't finished or people end up with a pig in a poke instead of the ground braking game they were promised?

When some of the developers **** the money against the wall and have nothing to show for it (and this will certainly happen) then go bankrupt and everyone who put their money in is left with a big fat nothing, no chance of getting your money back at all, it will be the end of it as a revolution.

I give this until next year, maybe 2015 when all the gloss will come off this after some big failures. Best case it will then become solely pre-sales for certain studios that have delivered with this model before. Worst case it just dies.

I love how crowd funding is now touted as huge, established and groundbreaking all over the web yet none of the top project have really delivered anything yet. Yes the Ouya may exist and there may a big buzz about Pebble (but when will they ship) but are they doing any better than other standard funded projects of the past?

DivideByZero  Jul. 19, 2013 at 00:17

I would say crowd funding is huge, just have a look at this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_game_crowdfunding_projects

Is it any better than standard funded projects? It will all depend on how each individual project ends up, but there are many advantages to be leveraged from crowd funding aside from just getting money.

I do wondering about crowd funding fizzling out with the incoming next generation. Publishers will probably be throwing money at PS4 and Xbox One titles and so there will probably be less need for it... but there will still be a place for it.

As for developers p***ing all the money up the wall - that problem with that is they would upset their core buyers, making their future very difficult. Sure, they could do it - but that may be the last thing they do.

A lot is going to hinge on how good the big KS games turn out to be... no pressure Double Fine!

DivideByZero  Jul. 19, 2013 at 00:19

American McGee has posted an update about his Alice TV/Film rights, that touches on OZombie, but you can still see how angry he is at everyone who questioned the mistakes being made with OZombie.

The Alice: Otherlands Kickstarter campaign just about to hit 70kUSD on the way towards its 200kUSD goal. At this rate we're going to top 500kUSD before it's over.

They say one of the easiest ways to hear the gods laugh is to state your plans out loud - or boast of success before it's achieved... so I shouldn't do this... but I really want to say to all the a-hole detractors on Kotaku, Eurogamer, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, The Escapist and other "hard core" sites - bite my shiny metal ass!

Call OZombie what it was - a failure that had to be shut down. I embrace that, will learn from it, grow stronger and keep trying. Failure happens when you take risks. If you aren't failing from time to time, then you aren't trying hard enough.

To all of you who continue to support me and provide feedback that leads to a better understanding of life and business - Thank You! It's fun to be in the game with you. :)

Want to help me show the world what comes from perseverance and taking risks? Head over and lend your support to the "Alice: Otherlands" campaign.

Late  Jul. 19, 2013 at 02:21

Great piece, /0 :D

I love the idea of kickstarter, but haven't joined any yet - and I think it unlikely I ever will - for a number of reasons.
The lack of structure, as alluded to in the main article, is a concern. It's understandable in terms of kickstarter itself as an organization. Less rules and restrictions mean more people through the door in the immediate future, and that brings in more cash. In the short term. But that lack of regulation is in real danger of killing the thing it's currently boosting.

If consumer confidence falls people will of course be less inclined to back kickstarter projects, and I believe confidence will fall - partly because of poorly managed projects that perhaps badly manage their funds (e.g. double fine), partly because of a lack of communication with "investors" (donators) (e.g. double fine and ozombie), partly because of damaging delays (I think ouya may have succeeded had it come out around Feb as was originally planned), and partly because of plain greed - look at all the "donations" I got - I'm gonna get me a new Ferrari! (I'll not quote any examples on this one if you don't mind, but I do believe it's something that already happens, and will only increase in the future as things stand.)

Is there any published or compiled data out there showing what proportion of kickstarter-funded projects have actually succeeded (and by succeed I mean produced a viable commercial asset at the end - I don't mean reached their target funding)?
I don't imagine it's very high - but I could well be completely wrong on that front.

Last edited by Late, Jul. 19, 2013 at 02:25
Late  Jul. 19, 2013 at 02:24

Oops @ double post - my bad

Last edited by Late, Jul. 19, 2013 at 02:25
JonLester  Jul. 19, 2013 at 09:51

@Late: Plenty of game Kickstarters fail, but we have had some successes already. Giana Sisters: TD, Ravaged, FTL, Strike Suit Zero, StarDrive etc. Not to mention No Time To Explain, which we highlighted before KS was cool. :P Not all of these games are necessarily great, but they're all playable.

I don't think there's any data on successes vs failures, especially since KS effectively wash their hands of the project once funding has succeeded or failed. There's a neat list over at Giant Bomb though. http://www.giantbomb.com/kickstarter-funded/3015-7378/games/

Last edited by JonLester, Jul. 19, 2013 at 09:52
DivideByZero  Jul. 19, 2013 at 09:51

Thanks Late.

Well, how do you measure a successful Kickstarter beyond reaching funding? Well really, I think, they just need to deliver what they promised.

As to whether the thing is successful beyond that is really a bonus. Just so long as the backers get what they have paid for.

Sure, there have been examples of people partying away their Kickstarter money (Amanda Palmer: http://gawker.com/5944050/amanda-palmers-million+dollar-music-project-and-kickstarters-accountability-problem) BUT, say Double Fine do this... say they release Broken Age as some inferior flash game that would have only cost $100,000 to make... all of the backers, the core fans, would be very hurt. I know if they did this to me I would never buy another Double Fine game again. If you can't sell games because you have offended all your core fans - then you are in trouble.

The other thing that a lot of people are not taking in to account here, is how many games hit the shelves and are total junk. Take anything with a tie-in to Alien for example. Take all the controversy with Mass Effect 3 ending and every other gaming scandal like it. Take games that are unplayable on day one due to bugs and issues. we as gamers are taking a risk when we pre-order any game. It's the same (well, more so) if you back a game from before creation for sure.

I only back projects I really want to see happen. For example, I have loved every Broken Sword game, probably my favorite point and click adventure games, so when I found there was a Kickstarter and I could pay $50 to get not only the game but my name in the credits and some other stuff, I was in! I believe I will love this game as and when it comes out and I have no reservations about it at this time.

The choice seemed as clear as take a risk and get a new Broken Sword game... don't take the risk and maybe another one wont be made.

Last edited by DivideByZero, Jul. 19, 2013 at 09:55
DivideByZero  Jul. 19, 2013 at 11:05

Talking of Ouya, they have launched a new drive to get more games on to their console. Also leveraging Kickstarter, but they will match the money a game makes in Kickstarter.


monkey13  Jul. 19, 2013 at 13:00

Yes you last paragraph is exactly my point. There isn't any because nothing has really delivered yet. I think it is on a knife edge at the moment. A couple of big successes and then it may become something. A couple of big failures and a lot of people left with nothing and that is it. However I am not sure it will ever leave this knife edge as once confidence goes that is it.

Yes but your Broken Sword purchase pack is just a pre-sale with some different jazz. Alright the game may not have been made without this funding but that is all Kickstarter is fancy pre-sales. Suppose this game goes on to make millions and millions of pounds. Yes they might then make another one but you get nothing else. They can make a nice fat profit from your money. On the flip side if it fails (bankruptcy, bad game etc..) you get nothing. People are taking on all the risk whilst the devs take on none, get to do what they like and then reap all the rewards.

I would rather see an actual backing program. Where I might risk some money but then if there is a big payoff I get more than just a game and some trimmings, I get a return on my investment. Now that would be a revolution.

DivideByZero  Jul. 19, 2013 at 13:39

@Monkey13, if you want a return on your investment, then you are missing the point of Kickstarter. It is just a pre-sales mechanism. You put money down and get what you are paying for. Nothing more and hopefully nothing less. This has been made very clear from the start. This is not a business investment. If you want to invest your money, look in to stocks and shares or Bitcoin mining.

For the developers to make a "Nice fat profit" from your game, that would mean there are good sales once the game is released. For this to work, they would have to make a good game - they still have a vested interest to make an amazing game... which you will get as you have effectively pre-ordered.

I hope all the games I helped Kickstart do go on to do great things. They are all games I believe in. They are all things I want to play. I would be very happy to see more squeals in the future which is more likely if they do well after Kickstarter.

There have been a few cases of Kickstarters falling through, but these have generally been handled honestly and carefully by the developers. Take Haunts, that failed despite trying really hard, so the main guy there said he would pay back the backers out of his own pocket (though it would take time). Also, the Zboard skateboard. That was taking a long time so backers were offered their money back if they didnt want to wait, even though Kickstarter still take their 5% cut, so they will make a loss there, despite the product actually being ready and sent out to some, just they got way more demand than expected.

As for your point about it could be a bad game - yeah, it could, but as I said before, that is no different from pre-ordering any game. Take Aliens: Colonial Marines, that was completely mis-sold to us and was just garbage when it released. Many people pre-ordered that and were quite rightly p***ed.

I read that 84% of Kickstarters that beat their target are late. In the case of all of the games I backed, that is very true. But if they are making the games bigger and better, I can wait. It's not like you wait in silence... there are regular private updates from the developers, so we know what is happening at each stage.

But if we wait and wait and they release a lemon, then that would be really bad.

Of all of them though, Double Fine is the one to watch. If that is an awful pile of junk there will be an uproar which will almost certainly effect game funding on Kickstarter, as well as Double Fine's reputation.

Last edited by DivideByZero, Jul. 19, 2013 at 13:48

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