Kickstarter, and other crowdfunding platforms like it are powerful forces in our community. For a time, the middle- and low-end was being crowded out as the AAA beast consumed everything in its path. Some classic game genres fell by the wayside as they weren't deemed marketable enough, despite legions of players who would pay good money for more product. Crowdfunding flipped the entire model on its head, letting developers bring their ideas directly to fans.
Crowdfunding isn't perfect mind you. Kickstarter and other platforms are quick to point out that you are not an investor and you are not legally owed anything. Some successful Kickstarter drives have gone on to flame out, due to poor estimates, unfocused developers, or simple mismanagement of funds. Just because a Kickstarter drive is funded does not mean backers will receive a working game.
There are success stories though. Games that promised and delivered. Excellent titles that would not exist if it wasn't for Kickstarter. Here are a few games that you can buy on Steam right now that fit within that category. I'll probably miss a few of your favorites, because there are so many. (Kickstarter and Steam have even made helpful lists for you.) Shovel Knight would've been on this list, but it just had a great review yesterday. There are other games like Valdis Story, Risk of Rain, and Volgarr the Viking, but if I wrote about all of them, I'd be writing all day. I also didn't write about any games that are on Steam Early Access, like Divinity: Original Sin or Wasteland 2.
As an added bonus, many of these games are discounted during the Steam Summer Sale, making it a great time to take a look. I'll list the sale price first, and then the normal price.
Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse
Buy It Here ($14.99/$24.99)
The last game in the Broken Sword series, Angel of Death, came to PC in 2006, when the adventure game genre had been dead for quite a while. Telltale Games' Sam & Max: Season One had launched earlier in the year, but the series hadn't finished and had yet to show that there was still life in adventure games.
Broken Sword was completely dead until crowdfunding came along. When its Kickstarter drive ended, the game had pulled in $771,560, far above its $400,000 goal. Revolution Software turned that money around and delivered a great revival to the classic franchise with a new animated aesthetic. Pete reviewed the first part of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse and called it "a solid return to form for a long-running series with a proud heritage."
Buy It Here ($16.74/$24.99)
The second adventure game on our list began life as the indeterminately named Double Fine Adventure. No real name, no concrete ideas, just a massive amount of trust in former Lucasarts developer Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine Productions. That trust must've been enough because it went on to be one of the biggest Kickstarter drives ever with a total of $3.3 million pledged, way over a goal of $400,000.
What we got for $3 million is an adventure game that reminds us why we loved the genre in the first place. The story of a girl named Vella and a boy named Shay as they begin to question their separate worlds. They each interact with a colorful cast of weird characters, just like the classic LucasArts SCUMM games. Like Pete with Broken Sword, I found Broken Age to be a fresh start for a genre I had given up for dead.
FTL: Advanced Edition
Buy It Here ($6.99/$9.99)
FTL is one of Kickstarter's earlier success stories, a quirky little game that its two-man team never expected to take off. They just wanted to build something that married roguelike gameplay to the feeling of controlling starships from shows like Firefly and Star Trek. They asked for a mere $10,000 and they got $200,542.
And FTL more than delivered. It's a brilliant, but occasionally frustrating title that has you taking your ship and ragtag crew across the galaxy to warn your people of an alien armada. Winning is based on a mix of random chance, planning, and quick thinking. Reroute power, fight off other ships, vent the atmosphere to quell fires and kill pirates; FTL gives you a ton of options while keep the game rather simple. With Advanced Edition, the game has also jumped over to iPad, but Android users are still waiting for some FTL action.
Buy It Here ($3.74/$14.99)
When you say "Shadowrun," what pops into most fans' minds after the classic pen-and-paper RPG is the excellent Super Nintendo game by Beam Software. Instead, Microsoft and FASA decided that a first-person multiplayer arena shooter was a better use of the property when Shadowrun released in 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PC. It was okay at best.
Developer Harebrained Schemes pitched Shadowrun fans exactly what they wanted: the same great gameplay from the Super Nintendo game, updated for a new generation of platforms. They delivered a 12-hour single-player campaign with a complex plot worthy of the series' name and great tactical combat. They've since updated Shadowrun Returns with a DLC campaign, Dragonfall, refining to the game's core gameplay and providing an even better story.
The Banner Saga
Buy It Here ($16.74/$24.99)
The Banner Saga started out as one of those pitches I was skeptical about. The team at Stoic wanted to build a hand-drawn epic Viking adventure wrapped around a turn-based strategy game. The "hand-drawn" part seemed like it would an uphill battle, but after their Kickstarter ended at $723,886 (seven times their initial goal), Stoic went to work.
The game released in January of this year and I'll be damned if it wasn't a fully-animated hand-drawn masterpiece with a great story and a solid strategy game behind it. When we reviewed it, Cassandra said the game's plot was full of "claustrophobic desperation" and called The Banner Saga's first chapter "a work of art." I felt it was more of an animated storybook with a tactics game in the background, but I still loved it. The game is coming to iOS, Android, and Windows tablets this summer, but you can pick it up on Steam right now.
Buy It Here ($24.99)
Firaxis did an amazing job bringing back the X-Com brand with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but some fans wanted something a little more like the PC classic. The developers at Goldhawk Interactive wondered if they'd be willing to pay for it and the answer was a resounding "yes." The drive ended with $154,715, three times the goal of $50,000.
While Firaxis' update was a bit more player-friendly, Xenonauts is aimed directly at a hardcore audience. It has all the squad-based tactical combat, strategic resource management, aerial combat, persistent death, and random events that old X-Com fans wanted. Your best squad members will die in Xenonauts; that's a feature, not a problem. Unlike the rest of the games on this list, Xenonauts is not on sale; if this is what you want, you're hardcore enough to buy it at full-price.
Kentucky Route Zero
Buy It Here ($17.49/$24.99)
The final game on this list is the one with the lowest final total. Developer Jake Elliott asked for $6,500 to create Kentucky Route Zero, and 205 backers gave him $8,583. He promised an adventure in five acts and so far the team at Cardboard Computer has delivered three, with the rest to be released later this year.
Kentucky Route Zero is structured like a point-and-click adventure game, but it's more of an interactive story. Like Telltale's The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, you can play each of the acts in a relatively short amount of time. The story is amazing so far, and the entire game is presented in a calming, minimalist style. KRZ is a game that knows what it can accomplish with the little it has. This is one of the best games of last year and it wouldn't have existed without a few hundred backers who saw some potential.
If that doesn't make you love crowdfunding, nothing will.