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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!