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The Almighty Buck Games

Gaming Legends Discuss Using Kickstarter For Their Next Projects 112

Posted by timothy
from the you're-the-crowd-you're-the-fund dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Just as the Internet fundamentally altered the way games are distributed from publishers to players, crowdfunding has upended the traditional models of raising money for gaming development, and some of the most storied people in the industry are taking notice. Chris Roberts, who created the well-known Wing Commander series in 1990, managed to raise millions of dollars on Kickstarter last fall for his upcoming Star Citizen, eventually collecting so much money from individual backers that he could return the budget he'd taken from "formal" investment firms. "Even nice investors, they want a return at some point. They have a slightly diff agenda than I do," Roberts told Slashdot. "My agenda is to build the coolest game possible." He's not the only famed developer getting into the crowdfunding game: Wasteland director Brian Fargo spent years wanting to make a sequel to his popular role-playing game, eventually accomplishing that goal via Kickstarter. And for every famous game creator who uses the power of crowds to produce a new masterwork, dozens of talented amateurs are also financing their first games via Kickstarter and similar services. But that doesn't mean there are occasional high-profile implosions, like CLANG."
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Gaming Legends Discuss Using Kickstarter For Their Next Projects

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  • by sinij (911942) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @10:57AM (#44960961) Journal

    I read TFA (don't judge) and all I could see is feature creep and delays written all over the project. EA's death marches to release should be avoided at all costs, but polar opposite is not any better.

    • by schneidafunk (795759) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @11:01AM (#44961011)

      Yea a quote like this "My agenda is to build the coolest game possible." is nice in theory, but deadlines with budget constraints have an effect of pushing products to market. I'm assuming the Duke Nukem Forever team had similar goals.

      • by westlake (615356)

        Yea a quote like this "My agenda is to build the coolest game possible." is nice in theory, but deadlines with budget constraints have an effect of pushing products to market. I'm assuming the Duke Nukem Forever team had similar goals.

        There is a need for someone who can look at your game objectively ---

        particularly when "coolness" is defined by a character or genre that has been dormant for ten to fifteen years or more.

      • Yea a quote like this "My agenda is to build the coolest game possible." is nice in theory, but deadlines with budget constraints have an effect of pushing products to market. I'm assuming the Duke Nukem Forever team had similar goals.

        Exactly. Back in the early 90s, a bunch of the biggest names in comics decided they were sick of the commercial constraints and lack of creative control they were getting from Marvel and DC, so set out to make a bunch of independent studios all published under a single brand: Image Comics.

        When some of the new titles slowed to publishing once every six months, the creators defended themselves by stating they wanted to create the best comic possible, and weren't going to release an inferior product, just to m

      • by Xest (935314)

        But isn't this just a question of developer competence?

        I agree it seems to be more of a bane in the games industry somewhat because the games industry has been historically lagging in terms of good software engineering practices, but this is a problem that's well understood and exists in pretty much every software project ever conceived and even some non-software projects.

        There's no reason for example that games should be more prone to feature creep and delays than the Pebble Smart Watch at the end of the d

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      IT depends on your point of view.

      If you ignore the kickstarter and only buy the game once it's made, EA's death marches gives you shitty games every time, while the polar opposite gives you failed projects (which you just ignore) and great games (which you can then buy).

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      Plus the games are still going to suck.
  • What I don't like about Kickstarter is the long time before I start wanting something and I get it.

    I like it to exist. It allows many projects that would otherwise be abandoned. I just don't want to know about them until they are ready to ship the product.

    Knowing about the amazing toys I may have in a year's time makes me appreciate less those I've got right now.

    • by firex726 (1188453)

      Same for me, seems people who I know that frequently kickstart, take the stance that they do enough so that it's staggered out.

      One month they'll get a get, then two months later another game, and two months later another game, etc...

  • by Tridus (79566) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @11:01AM (#44961009) Homepage

    At the rate Star Citizen is raising money, it's going to have an AAA budget before it comes out. It happened to hit the sweet spot of a known creator with a proven track record, good timing, and a genre with a lot of fans starved for a game. It's been marketed well, and the early previews have been good to wet the appetite (there's no meat available yet).

    The sheer amount of money they've got (almost $20 million) makes it so unusual that it doesn't make a good example. Even if the game is a resounding success (and I sure hope it is) it's not a good example to follow because so few crowdfunded projects can get even close to that in funding.

    What other projects CAN learn from them is to not stop fundraising just because your Kickstarter is over. Beyond that, it's just too weird to draw any kind of conclusions from.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mighty No. 9... Shantae...

      These are two other success stories along the same lines.

      • by firex726 (1188453)

        In terms of general success, yes they are comparable and there are quite a few. But in terms of money not so much.

        SC has raised over 40x times it's initial budget request, while MN9 has thus far not even reached 3x. Could change but it's rate has been slowing.

    • The thing I am loving about Star Citizen is that there *is* meat already. The final game is a long way off, but there is already a hangar module where several of the early ships can be seen and interacted with if you have contributed toward the game. By doing this they are keeping backers interested, and also involving us in the development process. We can send feedback, find bugs, etc *way* before any sort of formal open beta would begin.

      They are also doing a really great job of feeding tidbits about the p

      • The thing I am loving about Star Citizen is that there *is* meat already. The final game is a long way off, but there is already a hangar module where several of the early ships can be seen and interacted with if you have contributed toward the game. By doing this they are keeping backers interested, and also involving us in the development process. We can send feedback, find bugs, etc *way* before any sort of formal open beta would begin.

        I have too problems with this.

        1: all the information being given to backers is of even more interest to potential backers. They're still asking people to chip in effectively blind, even though there is material they could be demonstrating.

        2: A few moving models in a bought-in engine?? That sounds like smoke and mirrors, giving the illusion of progress by doing something that looks impressive, but is essentially trivial.

  • by harvestsun (2948641) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @11:02AM (#44961029)

    Although Kickstarter and its ilk have plenty of flaws (for instance, that you probably will never see any returns on your investments), I see crowdfunding as having an important place in the information age. It takes the money and power from the big publishers, and gives it back to the developers and customers, respectively. And it allows the existence of niche projects which most companies would deem as "too risky".

    I see the same kind of thing happening with music as well, with sites like bandcamp. As I recall, Radiohead made much more money selling pay-what-you-want copies of "In Rainbows" than they did with all their previous albums put together. Realistically, I don't see the recording industry dying any time soon, but at least we now have financially viable alternatives. It allows things to exist that simply could not have existed otherwise.

    • It'll be part of it, but not THE future. There is still plenty of room for publishers. There is a demand, a large one, for big, well produced, titles. People like the stuff you can get from a game that has a $20-50 million budget (or even more), that you just don't see from crowd funding. Publishers are very useful for funding titles that have a widespread appeal. They can risk a bunch of money because the chance on return is good since the games have a broad enough appeal.

      Crowd funding is more for titles t

    • by Andy_R (114137)

      Kickstarter for video games is problematic, because it's not a nice easy 'do to this will cost that' system. For board games, it's great - the game is ready to be put into production and kickstarter lets the publisher fund the bit that needs to be paid out to a third party to make 1000 nice duplicates of their rough cardboard prototype. If demand is high, the quality and number of components can go up, if it's too low to make production worthwhile, then investors lose nothing.

      For video games it's not so cle

    • As I recall, Radiohead made much more money selling pay-what-you-want copies of "In Rainbows" than they did with all their previous albums put together.

      Uhhh then you recalled incorrectly. They made more on OK Computer alone than from In Rainbows.

      • Except how much of that money went to the record label and distributors? And it's much worse for more unknown artists, they really get screwed over.
        I'm positive I read the Radiohead thing somewhere, although I can't find the reference any more... Meh.
        • There is one article [techdigest.tv] stating that they made more on the digital downloads of In Rainbows than all of their previous albums' digital downloads combined. Note that this isn't total sales or other merchandise, just digital downloads. Of course, they didn't have their catalog on itunes until 2008, and when they got started in the early 90's, there wasn't much of a digital market, so the comparison isn't a particularly good one. They have also stated that they won't be doing the pay-what-you-want again in th
  • by Fnord666 (889225) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @11:08AM (#44961085) Journal

    Chris Roberts, who created the well-known Wing Commander series in 1990, managed to raise millions of dollars on Kickstarter last fall for his upcoming Star Citizen, eventually collecting so much money from individual backers that he could return the budget he'd taken from "formal" investment firms. "Even nice investors, they want a return at some point. They have a slightly diff agenda than I do," Roberts told Slashdot. "My agenda is to build the coolest game possible."

    Herein lies the difference. Kickstarter backers are not seen as actual investors in the project by the project owners, but rather as a way to informally fund games that the developers want to work on without feeling like there is any real obligation to those who funded it. To paraphrase what Chris Roberts stated, he couldn't care less if it ever makes any money as long as he gets to build the "coolest game possible". Without the incentive/pressure of investors looking for a return however, there will always be "just one or two more things" to finish up and the game will never actually get released.

    • by PhilHibbs (4537)

      It's a risk. I've backed five or six crowdfunded projects, the ones that funded seem to be doing okay. If one of them fails, well, that's the risk that I took. I'll be disappointed, I'll ask questons, but in the end it was my decision to risk the money.

      • Yes, but what exactly are you getting for assuming this risk? If the game fails, you're out the money, but the developer still got his living expenses paid for a number of months. If the game succeeds, he makes a ton of money and you get squat. Kickstarter funders are basically assuming all of the risk and getting none of the oppurtunities.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Besides an early release of the game you mean.

          Honestly they should release even earlier. Lets see alphas being given out to the backers.

        • by Sabriel (134364)

          If the game succeeds, you get a game you would not otherwise have.

          • If the game suceeds, I'll be able to get the game anyways, even though I haven't contributed a dime to the kickstarter.

            • by Sabriel (134364)

              First, if enough potential backers think like you do, the game won't get funded, and you won't get the game.

              Also, backers may get the game cheaper and may get early alpha/beta access and the ability to give feedback that helps improve the game.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm going to take a pot-shot and guess you haven't been closely following what has been happening with Star Citizen?

      So far they have released the update-platform and hanger module on their self-imposed deadline. Updates have come out to these modules a couple of times a week. They contenue to put out updates both technical and in-lore information on (business) daily basis. Chris has been one of the most responsible-to-the-community developers I have ever seen.

      Second, the majority of this is an online game,

      • There are a few other projects that I feel very "involved" with in terms of how the devs communicate with backers.
        These ones have regular progress updates to backers, and - more importantly - the updates give the impression that the devs are quite passionate about their work
        * Mighty #9 is fairly fresh but updates are nearly daily
        * Leadwerks/Linux gets regular updates
        * Planetary Annihilation has good progress and updates, and is steadily moving from Alpha through to Beta
        * Openshot is pretty good at passing u

    • by BergZ (1680594)

      "Without the incentive/pressure of investors looking for a return however, there will always be "just one or two more things" to finish up and the game will never actually get released."

      Sure, but the other side of that coin is that Chris Roberts retains full creative control over the project.
      No focus groups or market testing to ensure that the game will be as profitable as possible (and, as a side effect, water down the game).

      Similarly, with movies, I can't think of an example of a movie where I liked the theatrical release better than the director's cut.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > Without the incentive/pressure of investors looking for a return however, there will always be "just one or two more things" to finish up and the game will never actually get released.

      This isn't necessarily true given modern indy game release patterns, though. There's always "just one or two more things" but you can always add those on in a later patch. Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress are both games that still add "just one or two more things" on a semi-regular basis, despite having first been released

  • It seems a bit unfair to throw CLANG into the mix with these games:
    CLANG was started by the author Neil Stephenson, and people are surprised how, by golly, the guy doesn't know the intricacies of game development (and its costs)?
    I found it incredibly strange to see how succesful that Kickstarter was, since it's the same as a reknown gamedesigner asking money to write a book...

    The other examples are people who have been veterans in the gamedesign industry, and whereas not automatically flawless, they wil
  • What other famous game devs have tried this? I'd love to see what Chris Taylor (Total Annihilation, Dungeon Siege) could do with this.
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @12:28PM (#44962083) Homepage Journal

    I think Kickstarter is having a negative effect on game developers, and it's certainly not doing any favors for gamers.

    When it becomes easier to collect money for promising a game than it does to do the hard work and actually produce and release a good game, you'll see what's happening now: a regression in PC gaming.

    Over the past several years, there has been something of a renaissance in PC gaming. Skyrim, Far Cry 3, Dishonored, etc. Big games that deliver plenty of value to the consumer. Games, like Skyrim and Far Cry 3 that you can easily put 50-100 hours (or more) and still enjoy. Games that fire up a whole community.

    2013 has been an awful year for PC gaming. Look at the list of GOTY candidates from a year ago, and ask yourself if there are any games that have been released this year that are nearly as good, or will provide such good value. I believe, though I don't really have any hard data, that the rise of Kickstarter has convinced a lot of AAA developers to just put out their dream game on Kickstarter and start collecting money. It's a hell of a lot easier than dealing with a big game company and all the hassles, plus when you go that route, the company actually expects you to release something.

    Instead, we have a list of promises. Trailers. Trailers announcing the release of a new trailer. Where are the AAA sim racing games this year? Where is the big blockbuster like GTA V for PC this year. Everything is "later". Has there ever been a Kickstarted game that released on schedule?

    At least when you give your money to a game company, you get a game, not a promise. If the Kickstarter campaign doesn't produce a game, what do you get besides a new item on your credit card?

    If you're going to give somebody money up front, you need to get more than a promise. We have a very well-known system for doing that, it's called "investing". If I'm going to give somebody my money up front so they can make a game, I want a share, however small, of the profits. Besides the novelty, there is absolutely no incentive to donate to a Kickstarted game. Zero. If the game's worth making, then do the work and find backing. But not donations...real backing. You can do it using crowd-funding, but give people real value for the risk they're taking, not just a promise that they'll get a copy of an alpha release when and if the game ever comes out.

    I liked Kickstarter for games at first. Thought it was innovative and could produce games that could never be made otherwise. Because there is no accountability, that hasn't happened.

    • by Dan667 (564390)
      to each his own. I hated most of the titles you highlighted you like as bland derivatives and am really looking forward to many of the Kickstarter games and like the constant stream of info on development. I also like that with Kickstarter you can influence what types of games get made and support freeing Game Designers from companies only interested in the lowest common denominator for a marginal return instead of focusing on making a great game.
      • by PopeRatzo (965947)

        Fair enough. What's the best game that you've ever gotten through donating to Kickstarter?

        What's the best game that was ever created using Kickstarter funding?

        • by Dan667 (564390)
          FTL is pretty fun, but from what I have seen from the development blogs I am really anticipating Wasteland 2 and Project Eternity.
          • by PopeRatzo (965947)

            I hope those two games prove me wrong about Kickstarter. I'm not convinced they could not have been made using normal funding though.

            We'll just have to see.

            One thing Kickstarter definitely lacks is an incentive to deliver a game on time. "It's ready when it's ready" is only a good business model when you've already built up great customer loyalty, like Half-Life 3. If you look at the list of Kickstarter games that were supposed to have been released already that have been pushed back to Q3 and Q4 of 2014

    • You might note that all the games you listed were released later in the year. This is normal. The top flight titles come near Christmas since they sell better. October and November and December are the big release times. Checking my little OS clock, we don't seem to be in October yet.

      There's also the additional issue of the new console releases, which devs will hold games for since that is a big money thing in more ways than one.

      I haven't seen this year as being bad.

    • by Xest (935314)

      "Over the past several years, there has been something of a renaissance in PC gaming. Skyrim, Far Cry 3, Dishonored, etc. Big games that deliver plenty of value to the consumer."

      But here's the problem, those were first and foremost (perhaps with the exception of Skyrim) developed as console titles.

      Gaming in general now seems tied to the consoles, my hardware from 2008 is still capable of playing just about every PC game that comes out to 1920x1200 resolution on my monitor with high or highest detail. Back i

  • I sincerely hope it's successful. Chris Roberts has a reasonably awesome game-CV behind him (Wing Commander, Strike Commander, etc). I believe he can do it.

    However....

    While the ongoing waterfall of funding comes in, one of the things Kickstarter projects to is 'stretch goals' - funding hits a big benchmark, some new thing will be added to the scope of the project.

    That makes it hard right now to discern whether the 'stretch goals' are reasonable, or a sign of nascent project bloat. I'm reminded of many ve

    • I think in the case of Star Citizen at least, the "stretch" goals were all originally planned, he just wasn't sure if there would be money to get to those features. For instance, the current stretch goal is FPS combat in other locations other than boarding ships. Given that the game engine itself is a FPS engine, this isn't feature creep, just something he wasn't sure he could do while making the space combat game, but was something he hoped he could do (I mean, think about it, why should combat only be lim
  • Chris started the Kickstarter for SC to prove to investors that there was still a call for this type of game. EA et al. have refused to invest in this sort of game for years as there was "no interest in space exploration games" but Chris wanted to prove that there was. The initial goal of $2M was seen as HUGE at the time. It made that goal with no problems. Funding was also flowing in via the Star Citizen site and hasn't stopped since! With the crowdfunding that has happened, Chris is now able to make th
  • I will be surprised if there is not soon some quiet legislation enacted in the U.S. and the U.K. to effectively kill crowdfunding (eg Kickstarter).

    Consider that a typical ownership cut demanded by venture capitalists in California (3000 Sand Hill Road types) is 30 to 50 percent. Kickstarter or Kickstarter clones could do very well just by saying if you (the individual) invest in XYZ and it pans out, you'll get your share of the 10 percent equity slice reserved for investors. So it could be easy for know

    • The US already has legislation to stop small investments, which is why KS doesn't offer equity. The US legislation was enacted decades ago not to protect big-money interests, but to close down con artists. The typical scam was to go into a town as a movie maker, get the locals to chip in as "associate producers", then shoot something of such poor quality that it would never see release. The guys at the head of the scam would have paid themselves a salary out of the investment, hired equipment from their own
  • Chris Roberts already had the audience - So many people knew him and respected him for previous achievements that the buzz level was phenomenal. Fans will do anything to raise and throw money at him - even making their own crowdfunders for the 10,000 dollar(!) pledges: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/2014-deloria-space-pirate-calender [indiegogo.com]

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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