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?
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.
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"!
"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.
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.
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.