Ever since the success of the yet-to-be-named or even detailed Double Fine project, crowd funding has turned into this revenue stream for mid-ranged game developers to fund their games, without giving you many details, or even a playable demo. It is baffling really; in what other field would you pay for something without knowing much about it?
A while back, I used to be on a podcast with some friends called “Yet Another Gaming Show.” At one point during our run, we decided one way to improve our show was to upgrade our equipment. Anyone who has done any professional recording knows how expensive mixer boards, microphones and all the bells and whistles can get. Being that none of us are Ricky Gervais or Wil Wheaton, we obviously lacked the resources or financials to achieve our goal. Luckily for us, we were able to fund our studio upgrade using crowd funding via Kickstarter, thanks to some awesome individuals and fans of the show.
But here is the thing, we had an established product. People knew the contents of our show, they knew who we were, and getting new mics and mixers wasn’t going to change the content of the show one iota. It was a way to improve an already established show.
When you pre-order something like the Kindle Fire HD or the iPhone 5, you have at least an idea of the product you are ordering. Assumably, you saw the press conference, saw the speaker demonstrate the new product, have read the specs and have an understanding of what to expect when said product arrives your way. You’ve also probably had experience with previous models of the same product. So, its safe to say, you know what you are getting. However, with crowd funding for projects like the Double Fine project, you only have a few things to go off of: You know who Double Fine is and you know who Tim Schaffer is. Tim Schaffer made a hit game for the PC over 10 years ago. Since then, his company Double Fine has put out a few games, none of them reaching the plateau of success that his smash hit Monkey Island did. Some of the games, in my opinion, were good. Some, not so much.
What really grinds my gears though, was what Obsidian did recently. Obsidian, if you aren’t aware, is the company that gave us games like Neverwinter Nights, Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas and the upcoming South Park game. To put it bluntly, this company has released AAA titles. They have money. They’ve made money. Yet, Obsidian had the audacity to go to Kickstarter to fund their new IP, Project Eternity. Nevermind the fact they even had a countdown on their site to them asking fans for the money. Granted, they reached their goal of $1.1 mil in approx 27 hours. Still, imagine if Apple came to consumers and said “We’re working on something new. Give us money to do it.” To me at least, that seems a bit absurd. Many times for me, I don’t end up pre-ordering anything unless I’ve had some sort of hands on experience. The few times I’ve jumped at something without that, I’ve had mixed results. Me personally, I’m just not much of a gambler.
We’re in a struggling economy. I doubt very much both Tim Schaffer or the people at Obsidian are having issues putting food on the table. Yet for some reason, they seem to think it’s ok to ask the public to fund their projects, without giving us much in details. People constantly complain when a sports team whines for a new stadium and a good chunk of it is to be paid via tax payer money (I live in Minnesota, I’ve been through this twice in the past five years!). So how is it any different for a game dev to do the same?
I understand that companies need to make money, and it’s unrealistic to expect companies to just put out a product, but in what other industry do you just get to make something new behind closed doors, give people no details, but expect their money? When you order a burger or fish n’ chips, you have an expectation of what it’s going to be like. If it’s inedible, you have the option to complain and possibly be reimbursed. Will this be the same for the crowd funded games? Not blooming likely.
I don’t assume this trend is going to stop anytime soon. But at what point will the public get upset? Will it take Bobby Kotick going to Kickstarter for DLC for Black Ops 3? How about EA asking you to crowdfund the next FIFA or Madden?
I’m truly thankful to the people who helped fund our project we had on Kickstarter. I feel like the new equipment helped improve the quality of our shows immensely. I’ll never forget those people. But I don’t truly think we would’ve met that goal, had it not been the established product we had been putting out for years. People weren’t taking a huge risk on us; we were just asking them for help on what we had already been giving them. Our Kickstarter was very similar to the concept of public radio fund drives. We never charged for the podcast and rarely had advertising. But we aren’t a big time company. Most of the money spent on our show was out of our pockets. It was a labor of love and none of us had any illusions anyone would pay us a dime to do what we did. Had we had the money, we would’ve bought everything on our own. So why is it unreasonable to have major companies do the same? Why, instead of going to a Kickstarter, did they come to the public, give no details and ask for a hand out? Just seems silly and a bit arrogant, in my opinion.
I’d love to get your thoughts below on this subject!