USgamer Answers: Do You Still Trust KickStarter?

The USgamer team ponders Kickstarter and its trustworthiness in the face of certain major failures.

Analysis by USgamer Team, .

Kickstarter has provided a valuable service for the game industry. Crowd-funding as an idea has brought a number of lost game genres back from the dead. Kickstarter allows developers with creative ideas to reach directly out to fans for help in making their games. So far, crowdfunding successes have brought us Shovel Knight, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun Returns, and Wasteland 2. Upcoming Kickstarter titles include Mighty No. 9, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. That's before you get to Star Citizen, Chris Robert's crowdfunding monster.

The problem is Kickstarter can go very wrong. Developers are under no obligation to actually deliver what they've promised backed, only to have made a good faith try at it. Kickstarter games are delayed all the time, because game development isn't an exact science. Shovel Knight's estimated delivery date was September 2013, with the game finally launching in June 2014. Godus' estimated launch was September 2013 as well, but that's just when the game released on Steam Early Access; Godus has yet to deliver everything it promised. Double Fine's Broken Age is finally delivering its second half this year.

And those are the projects near completion. Many Kickstarted games simply disappear completely, as only a third of Kickstarter titles successfully deliver on promises. One high-profile failure is Yogventures, a game tied to the popular Yogscast. The funding drive made over $500,000, but the game's development eventually fizzled out and died.

Today, the team at USgamer ponder about their personal trust in Kickstarter as a platform. Here's the questions before them: Have you lost trust in Kickstarter? What do you feel is the future of Kickstarted gaming?

Bob Mackey Senior Writer

Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough to avoid being burned by Kickstarter—and I should probably add that me and a few others raised close to $60,000 for a personal project (Retronauts) via this service, so I really can't complain. Even so, I'm not that vigilant about the things I donate to; I consider Kickstarter a way to give directly to creators who provided me with so much joy in the past, and if I get something out of it in the end, all the better. To be honest, after the initial excitement wears off, I typically forget what campaigns received my money until emails start showing up in my inbox, telling me the thing I funded is finally complete. (I'd actually have to log into my account to remember everything I'm waiting for.)

And, honestly, I think that's the best way to handle Kickstarter. Donate what you want, put it out of your mind, and in a year or two, you'll be surprised with a cool thing out of nowhere. You're taking a gamble regardless, though, so maybe don't contribute to that hundred-dollar tier if the person or entity receiving your donations hasn't proved their worth in the past. We've seen a few high profile misfires, like the Yogcast's game, but, for the most part, Kickstarter has given us plenty of great stuff that couldn't be funded via traditional routes. If we need to suffer the occasional misguided project to get a Shovel Knight every now and then, I'd say it's worth it.

Jeremy Parish Editor-in-Chief

I've never trusted Kickstarter, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. No, wait, that was Klingons, not Kickstarter.

Do I trust Kickstarter? Sure. I've backed a couple dozen projects for anywhere from $5 to $200, and I haven't seen many games as a result of those campaigns yet… but I have faith. I've gotten my hands on some nice books from friends, a copy of Donald Duck signed by Carl Barks (!), Republique, and a few other nice results. I've helped support a few worthy projects that I don't find personally interesting but whose creators I wanted to support. And then there are delayed game creations like Hyper Light Drifter, Chasm, A.N.N.E., Cosmic Star Heroine, and more — they're delayed, yes, but I have every confidence that I'll see them sooner or later. I've played most of them in some form. Shantae and Mighty No. 9 are from studios who know what they're doing and how to manage a budget. I'm not worried about my choices.

But I can understand why the average game enthusiast might take a more cynical view. I have the advantage of years in the press, of seeing development cycles up close, of having run my own Kickstarter campaign. So I understand the logistical difficulties of such things. There are a lot of moving parts for what usually amounts to small teams to juggle, and the physical rewards that inevitably factor in are a real killer — our Retronauts Kickstarter delivered more "core product" (read: episodes) than we promised, but we're still struggling to find the time to churn out some of the more involved bonus goods for backers. It's rough!

I think the trick has always been to support projects you believe in, from people you believe in. Be wary of ventures that over-promise. Be wary of creators who get caught up in a successful campaign and allow the scope of their project to creep up. During the Retronauts campaign, we had self-professed experts encouraging us to go big with promises to drum up more support, which struck me as a terrible idea then and has proven to be a terrible idea now.

And I think people are coming to realize that. If anything, I probably trust Kickstarter (and crowdfunding) more now than I did a few years ago, because we have a better sense of the danger signs of a project bound to collapse under its own gravity. We know what kind of creators to be wary of, how to tell when they've overcommitted, how to steer clear of disappointment. That being said, I've taken a break from crowdfunding in part due to tighter finances… but mostly because I'm still waiting on about a dozen game projects to deliver the final product. That's a lot of "preorders"!

Mike Williams Associate Editor

"Do you still trust Kickstarter" is the wrong question, because I never trusted Kickstarter. My number one rule with Kickstarter from the beginning was "Don't spend money that you're not willing to throw away." I've never spend more than $20 on any Kickstarter and I only tend to purchase the lowest tier that will still give me a copy of the game.

This means if a game delivers on its promises, like Shovel Knight, it's a pleasant surprise. If it falters and fails for whatever reason, like Godus, I'm sad, but not put out. I backed Republique for an Android version that was eventually nixed. I backed the Double Fine Adventure, but Broken Age part 2 is coming out this year, when the game's estimated delivery date was October 2012.

I've talked to enough game developers that I know that the process is hard and Kickstarter makes it harder. Things change during the normal game dev process, but Kickstarter requires you to promise the sky before you've even really made the game. Fulfilling backer rewards is another pitfall that many indies are simply not prepared for. Hell, I talked with Harebrained Schemes about Kickstarter earlier this year, who successfully funded Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Golem Arcana. They're veterans and they still acknowledge that it's hard.

So it's not that I trust Kickstarter less. It's more that my unique position means I Kickstart fewer games, because I'll probably be reviewing them before I'd get any backer reward. It's also that keeping up with new Kickstarter (or Steam Early Access projects) is damned near impossible because they're always coming. The service is simply a smaller part of my life than it was in the beginning.

Jaz Rignall Editor-at-Large

Do I trust Kickstarter? Yes! Do I trust Kickstarter projects? Two words: caveat emptor. Yep. Let the buyer beware is what Kickstarter is all about. Or at least, it should be if you don't want to get burned.

Personally, I love Kickstarter, and I've backed a number of different projects. Most have turned out well, but the most common issue I've come across is people hugely underestimating the time it might take to get a project done. So definitely be prepared to be patient if you're going to invest in a project, and do your research. Check to see the history of the team behind it. Do they have prior experience? Have they delivered something like it before? Do they have project management chops? If not, then be wary, and always understand that you might not always get quite what you paid for - and very often not by the date it was promised by.

The other thing is don't go overboard on what you pledge. Sometimes there are some stellar offerings that are exceptionally tempting - but don't spend any money you can't afford to lose. You never know what might happen, even with the most plausible-sounding project from experienced people. That might sound like a rather depressing piece of advice, but ultimately always keep in mind that you're giving money to strangers for an idea that has yet to come to fruition. There are no guarantees, and we've already seen high-profile projects crash and burn - or get delayed considerable periods of time.

But even having said that, I still love looking at Kickstarter and seeing what's new. It's a great idea, and I think for the most part, projects are created for the best of reasons by people with a genuine interest in delivering something cool. Just… caveat emptor.

Kat Bailey Senior Editor

Sure, I still trust Kickstarter. As with anything else, backing a game means having to make an informed decision about where you're going to put your money. If I trust the developer behind the project and they have a good proof of concept, then I'm willing to think about back their project.

Of course, that approach also has the effect of encouraging developers to focus on so-called nostalgia projects at the expense of new and interesting ventures. The drive for a "sure thing," as in the AAA space, is endemic to Kickstarter. It's hardly a surprise that the first widely publicized game to get crowdfunded was an adventure game by Tim Schafer.

Anyway, there are plenty of good examples of projects funded by Kickstarter — Shovel Knight and Pillars of Eternity come to mind — and plenty of bad. The thing is that you can usually spot the bad ones from a mile away. With all due respect to Yogscast, did anyone seriously believe that Yogventures — an ambitious open-world sandbox adventure game developed by a virtually unknown studio — was going to be anything but a failure?

Crowdfunding has a settled down quite a bit since the initial rush back in 2012, and both developers and backers are taking a more considered approach to Kickstarter. There were undoubtedly be well-publicized failures going forward — lord knows the jury is still out on Star Citizen — but also plenty of successes. And it's for that reason that Kickstarter still merits my attention, especially if it means that I get more games like Shovel Knight.

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Comments 24

  • Avatar for bigbramble #1 bigbramble 2 years ago
    Good article. For me trust in Kickstarter is based on the success of Star Citizen; A game that has prospered greatly from crowd funding but has made outlandish claims that are difficult to believe.
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #2 kidgorilla 2 years ago
    I don't think I placed any trust into crowd funding until well after the Double Fine gold rush. I've only backed three projects, and they've all been relatively recent because I wanted to only fund projects from people that I felt I believed in and to give the mania a little bit of time to die down so people could be a little smarter with their milestones/ rewards. I honestly feel as though I'm more inclined to contribute money now than ever because there have been enough cautionary tales that developers know what they can and cannot deliver. At least, I think so (I guess I'm an optimist). Still, I'd only back a project from developers I like or a project that speaks directly to me as a player, but I suppose I'm getting more comfortable with it.
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  • Avatar for NinjaMic #3 NinjaMic 2 years ago
    I've played too many great games that came from kickstarter, including stuff I backed, that I can't be against it. There are some convincing fakes out there, but imo, it seems pretty easy to spot what's worth your money or even your attention and regard as opposed to what seems shady, poorly planned or just plain bad. Same discerning eye you use for marketing hype and pre-ordering should be applied here.

    Mike and Jaz are probably right about pledging the minimum, and not going overboard. I understand why those tiers exist for big bumps on getting a project funded at all... but those several thousand dollar tiers for having dinner with someone seem kind of gross.
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  • Avatar for SOUP32 #4 SOUP32 2 years ago
    Any updates on the Retronauts Kickstarter DVDs?
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #5 ShadowTheSecond 2 years ago
    Like the editors said, it's about being okay with the amount you're putting down, being patient, and being pretty selective with the projects that you back.

    I've been quite pleased with the projects I've backed so far on Kickstarter (in terms of games, bags, shoes, etc), but I definitely don't get as into it anymore. It's not a lack of "trust" for me, it's more that many of these products have been making it to market in higher quantities than a pre-Kickstarter world. Additionally, there are so many projects at this point that it's no longer easy to see a site write an article about a specific game that sounds promising to their editors (such as Jeremy Parish writing about Republique back on 1UP).
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  • Avatar for pdubb #6 pdubb 2 years ago
    Yes. I have put down a decent amount of money on some kickstarters, and I go in totally knowing that the money is basically being put on a bonfire.

    I am choosey though. I tend to donate to clusters of games that are in genres I love that need more games. Example: any video game involving spaceships shooting missiles and lasers at each other. Yeah I might get burned, but if enough of the games in these genres get funded and/or high profile attention, then maybe the major players take notice.

    So I end up paying more than I should, but to me it seems the only way to tell developers and publishers that I want different types of games than the annual releases.

    And sometimes, I donate for the dream of getting a series I loved getting restarted. Any time Matsuno has something I can support, I try to because I need a new game in the Ogre Battle universe. In cases such as this, throwing money at kickstarter gives me a faint glimmer of hope. It's not perfect, but it's all the power I really have.
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  • Avatar for dmckean44 #7 dmckean44 2 years ago
    Yeah, probably now more than ever. Too many great games have come out of it already.
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  • Avatar for Dastuun #8 Dastuun 2 years ago
    Yes, I still trust Kickstarter, though I'll be limiting my involvement to "proven" teams. I won't be backing an unknown. Which is sad, because it's the unknowns that need the most help. Alas.

    I was quick to back Pillars, Wasteland 2 and Elite: Dangerous. Those are the types of projects I'll be backing going forward.
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  • Avatar for buckupprincess #9 buckupprincess 2 years ago
    After all four of my Kickstarter safaris, I'm definitely still wary of crowd funding but I'm also very comfortable with what I'm getting into. Like many of the editors said, I tend to research the folks behind the projects and make sure I feel confident with where my dollars have gone. So far I've yet to be burned and I've recieved a stunning book, film and skate video and until reading the article, completely forgot that a Mother record will be arriving somewhere around Christmas. I feel Kickstarter is a great place for development teams to circumvent standard publishers and although delays are imminent, it still allows amazing games to happen that likely wouldn't have otherwise (Shovel Knight and Mighty No. 9 instantly come to mind). Although research is paramount and disappointments will happen, I'm nowhere near burned out on Kickstarter at this point. That said, I'd love to see more teams go the Patreon route where there's a bit more flexibility and projects can be delivered as they're complete. I'd happily send monthly funds toward teams like Inti Creates,WayForward and Yacht Club to keep the lights on and effectively have access to their upcoming catalogs.Edited April 2015 by buckupprincess
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #10 Mikki-Saturn 2 years ago
    I mean sure I trust kickstarter. I pretty much agree with what Bob Mackey. I never thought of kickstarter as some kind of pre-order system, or weird store where you buy things before they're done. To me, on kickstarter, you donate - that is, gift - money to people who are doing (or hope to be doing) good work. It's a way of supporting creators and freeing them from the pressures and restrictions publishers would put on their work.

    Over time it's become clear that many people don't think of it that way. Also many people are surprisingly ill informed about how the media they consume gets made. A project goes through the usual ups and downs of development and suddenly people are ranting about mismanagement, or worse, and declaring the whole project a scam. Delays, cut features, shifts in direction as new possibilities emerge- all of these things are normal and even good. But many of the very same people who complain about evil publishers rushing out an unfinished game breathe fire like some publisher from hell as soon a project they put money into hits a bump.

    Unfortunately I think this will ultimately spell bad news for crowd funding. The trend seems to be towards treating crowd funding not as gifts/donations (patronage of the arts, basically) but as some kind of contract. Taken too far this could completely defeat the point of crowd funding at all.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #11 SigurdVolsung 2 years ago
    I have, so far, only supported Cosmic Star Heroine, Torment: Tides of Numeria, and Pillars of Eternity. So I've had no reason to distrust the mechanism yet. I would never back a whole slew of things, or things that I thought had no chance of seeing daylight or meeting expectations. But for certain things, I think it is still a really valuable resource.
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  • Avatar for boxofficepoison #12 boxofficepoison 2 years ago
    I always treat the 20 bucks or so I spend kickstarting a game the same way I'd treat putting 20 dollars on a hand of blackjack, in other words be perfectly ready to accept that $20 might be lost. That said the few games I've back on kickstarter have for the most part delivered some pretty enjoyable games, wasteland 2, shadowrun returns, pillars of eternity and shroud of the avatar have left me pretty satisfied.
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  • Avatar for DoYouHas? #13 DoYouHas? 2 years ago
    I'm not exactly in love with Kickstarter, but in the current industry climate I think of it as something of a necessity.

    My initial impulse was to answer no, as there seems to be no recourse should the project you funded go awry. Upon further contemplation, I came to think about PaRappa. If Parappa was in development today, would there by any channel within the industry through which it could make it to the end user? I doubt it. Maybe Devolver Digital might fund it, but there aren't many Devolver Digitals out there. Unique and niche games (and even more proven ones in this day and age) are now too scary for publishers. Kickstarter seems to be a workable avenue for such thing in this day and age.

    So, despite the buyer beware reputation Kickstarter projects have acquired, I continue to be open to contributing to Kickstarter projects.

    P.S. Retronauts continues to be excellent!
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #14 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    The only thing I've kickstarted was that "Matsuno Game", (as I've sworn a virtual oath of allegiance to Lord Matsuno in perpetuity due to his brilliance), but swiftly afterwards, it came to light in an interview with him that such a level of involvement on his part to make it a Matsuno Game was not in the cards. Little was, really. Even after scrambling to get some of Matsuno's old running buddies to do what it takes to make a game Matsuno, I still cut my backing down to a token ammount. Trust was severed that day...

    ...for that one outfit. KS allows games that could not be made under the superstitious and rapidly crumbling Publisher model even exist, and the crucible of backer scrutiny a better flux than those of shareholders in the product arriving in a form you'd want.

    So it's a great thing, just wait for confirmation till you pull that trigger on your wallet, same as every game purchase.
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  • Avatar for grayholiday #15 grayholiday 2 years ago
    I've given some money away on Kickstarter. A few hundred bucks across multiple projects. But "give" is precisely the correct verb. I gave them money and maybe someday they'll "give" me a game or book or documentary film or whatever I thought was worth my dollars. That's already money I've written off.

    I gave the guys at Twinbeard $25 and then checked the box saying don't tell me when your game comes out because I want to find out on my own.

    I never said I was smart.
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  • Avatar for InsertTokenz #16 InsertTokenz 2 years ago
    I still have no problem contributing every now and then to a kickstarter project I take an interest in. But like many, I take some time to look over said project to see if it's likely to have a good chance of being completed within reason. That said, I understand ultimately that I am "donating" my money to these endeavors, and that complications may arise which may lead to delays and such. If such events happen, I don't feel the immediate need to get upset over them. I understand this is par for the course in video game development, and thankfully, I'm a pretty patient person who has no trouble waiting a bit longer if it means a game I liked to see created is properly finished.Edited April 2015 by InsertTokenz
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  • Avatar for nintendork666 #17 nintendork666 2 years ago
    I'm still waiting for my Retronauts DVD :(
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  • Avatar for apoc_reg #18 apoc_reg 2 years ago
    The big success story for me personally was Divinity Oroginal Sin, the brilliant video updates kept me engaged and built the hype for the eventual release and it delivered massively.

    But in general I'm not sure I'd back something that wasnt from a developer with a proven track record.

    Project Eternity, Broken Age and Divinity was easy as I trusted the people making them, Kickstarter as a thing I dont think matters, its the people making the XXX project.
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  • Avatar for Voncaster #19 Voncaster 2 years ago
    In general I have not been super plussed with Kickstarter. I'm awaiting Mighty Number 9. While I get somewhat frequent emails about the project I don't have an idea on when the actual game will come out.

    I understand that games take time develop and make great. But if Kickstarter is acting as an absurdly early pre-order, I think I will pass on future projects.

    I'm in the Retronauts DVD group as well.Edited April 2015 by Voncaster
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  • Avatar for docexe #20 docexe 2 years ago
    It seems that people have become more wary of Kickstarter on the whole, although it is understandable. Hopefully it will help the platform to mature on both fronts, with developers and backers becoming smarter about what they promise and donate respectively.

    And I like the overall responses from the staff and the community here. The projects I have backed can be counted on one hand, but I don’t have repented for that at all. The way I see it: You should be smart, inform yourself about the project and the team behind it, only support things you fully believe in and only donate an amount you are willing to part with while being aware you might not receive anything in return.
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  • Avatar for Voncaster #21 Voncaster 2 years ago
    @grayholiday I couldn't disagree more.

    "But "give" is precisely the correct verb. I gave them money and maybe someday they'll "give" me a game or book or documentary film or whatever I thought was worth my dollars. That's already money I've written off."

    When rewards are offered its a quid-pro-quo transaction. I'm giving a project or a creator money and I expect something in return (the reward). If I'm just giving money and getting nothing in return its like donating to a charity.

    If that is the case, I would rather donate to a legit charity than some developer who can treat my money as a quid-pro-quo transaction or a charitable contribution depending on his or her whim.

    I have not donated serious money to KS, but if creators do not have to honor quid-pro-quo transactions (rewards), then at best rewards are dishonest. At worst, they are criminal.

    If KS legal language is setup to state that rewards may or may not be honored, then I'm done with KS period. I may be done with it anyway.
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  • Avatar for grayholiday #22 grayholiday 2 years ago
    @Voncaster I understand your sentiment and frustration but I think you and I are using Kickstarter in different ways.

    The campaigns that I have contributed to aren't just products that I wish to buy, they're things that I want to exist. I think it's worth my meager $30 to see that Shovel Knight, Mighty No. 9, Frog Fractions 2, Outerlands or Retronauts get the funding they need to get made.

    These are people and projects that I'm happy to help or be a part of in whatever small way I can. It doesn't matter to me if I ever get a DVD. I'm pretty sure Frog Fractions 2 is going to be free anyway.
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  • Avatar for Voncaster #23 Voncaster 2 years ago
    @grayholiday I can see that. If you (or anyone else) really wants to support projects you love with nothing expected in return, then from my perspective patreon or a donate button is a more honest way of presenting the transaction.

    To put rewards into the equation, I think brings the expectation of fulfilling the rewards. To not honor the rewards, to me is dishonest. For some people the reward is the impetus for the contribution.

    I've come to the conclusion, that for me personally I don't like Kickstarter. If I want to make a charitable contribution, I will make a charitable contribution. And if I enter in a quid pro quo transaction, I would like it to be honored. Kickstarter for a lot of people gets to operate in some weird zone where fulfillment is desired but not required.
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  • Avatar for Ane-Comop #24 Ane-Comop 2 years ago
    I've only backed three projects, and they've all been relatively recent because I wanted to only fund projects from people that I felt I believed in and to give the mania a little bit of time to como plantar die down so people could be a little smarter with their milestones/ rewards. I honestly feel as though I'm more inclined to contribute money now than ever como plantar because there have been enough cautionary tales that developers know what they can and cannot deliver. There are some convincing fakes out there, but imo, como plantar it seems pretty easy to spot what's worth your money or even your attention and regard as opposed to what seems shady, poorly planned or just plain bad. I've backed como plantar so far on Kickstarter (in terms of games, bags, shoes, etc), but I definitely don't get as into it anymore. It's not a lack of "trust" for me, it's more that many of como plantar these products have been making it to market in higher quantities than a pre-Kickstarter world. I donate for the dream of getting a series I loved getting restarted. Any time Matsuno has something I can support.Edited May 2016 by Ane-Comop
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