Is the Risk of Crowdfunding Worth The Reward?
In the past when a developer wanted to release a game to market, they either had to go through a large developer, or take the risk of releasing a product that people wouldn’t like. Normally, this meant that if a small group of people had an idea they had to take out massive amounts of their own money or take out large investments with the hope that it will pay off. However in 2008,and again in 2009, websites launched that changed the relationship between game creators and the potential buyers of these games.
Indiegogo, a website based around the idea of crowdfunding, became a platform that small and indie developers were able to pitch their ideas to the public in the hopes that people would then choose to donate to the idea if they wanted to see the idea come to fruition. Often times the developers would offer perks and special bonuses to people who contribute over a certain amount to the project. These perks would range from small rewards such as special art books (both digital and physical), a copy of soundtrack in multiple formats, early access to the game, to much more impressive rewards such as having a unique character entered into scenes or backgrounds in the image of the backer or being flown out to meet the developers. This website, though the original, isn’t the current most known crowdfunding site.
Kickstarter, which weas founded a year after Indiegogo, has become synonymous with crowdfunding and has funded some of the largest indie game projects to date. Torment: Tides of Numenera, a successor to Planescape, raised in just over four million dollars, four times their initial goal of $900,000. This massive amount of monetary support allowed them to reach 17 stretch goals, additional goals that act as incentives for people to continue to donate after the project has passed it original goal.
With the first video game funded in 2009, Kickstarter has been able to successfully fund 648 different campaigns listed under its video games section. With campaigns ranging from hundreds of dollars to millions being successfully funded every day, Kickstarter campaigns are an apparent amazing way for consumers to learn and contribute to games they want to see made, with the expectation that whatever money they put in is returned in the way it is promised by the developers.
However, this is not always the case. As pointed out to me while discussing the subject with my friend and fellow gamer Bryan “Nyquil” Garrido pointed out that not all campaigns on Kickstarter go as well as planned for the contributors. He told me of two notable campaigns that even after being successfully funded did not go completely as planned.
The first is the story of Tim Schafer and Double Fine, creators of Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, and their attempt to bring their idea Broken Age to market through a Kickstarter Campaign. Fans of Schafer and the Broken Age idea were able bring in over 3 million dollars, 8 times what Double Fine had estimated would be necessary to bring the game to life. However, after reaching such a large amount in comparison to what they expected, the double fine team has claimed that the game has exceeded the budget for it. Understandably that when they had more money to create a better game, they were going to do just that. Most people assumed that Double Fine would manage the new budget they are given, and not exceed their boundary with it. That wasn’t the case. Now the team is trying to get the game into Steam’s Greenlight program to raise more money and publish the game on multiple platforms.
This still leaves those who helped the Kickstarter campaign waiting for the Double Fine team to produce results, as their only option at this point is to wait. There are no refunds for campaigns that don’t deliver. Kickstarter’s FAQ page states “It’s the project creator’s responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.” Fortunately for backers of the Broken Age project, Schafer has been keeping relatively good updates on the progress of the game, and what they are planning on trying to get it finished. Backers of Primer Labs’ Code Hero have not been as thorough.
Code Hero was meant to be a game that teaches you coding through a video game, and had hopes of being introduced into schools and being a tool in helping young people interested in game development to learn as they play. Such an idea would have been great to introduce into homes and schools, but the creators of Code Hero have seemingly taken the money and ran. Unlike Double Fine, there has been little contact with Alex Peake, CEO of Primer Labs. He last made an announcement saying that the game was still in development, and that backers would either receive their rewards or a refund once they raise some money. However the Primer Labs’ Facebook page has not had anything posted since September of last year, and the website has gone offline. Backers have been using the Kickstarter comments section to discuss possible options of legal action, but their chances are not too good due to how Kickstarter works as noted by its FAQ page under its accountability section which states: “Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. On Kickstarter, backers (you!) ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it. “
There is the possibility of other projects that have had similar results for the backers, losing out on possibly thousands of dollars as was the case for these two projects, but they more than likely pale in comparison to the number of campaigns that were successfully funded, and were actually fulfilled by the developer. So are Kickstarter campaigns good for future game development, or do the risks of a developer skipping out with money for a project too big of a risk for people to put up money that they will have little to no chance of seeing again?