Crowdfunding is an important tool for game developers of all levels these days, but it’s usage definitely comes with caveats. Before a developer pins his hopes to a crowdfunding campaign, there’s some things they should keep in mind.
When Double Fine Adventure (later renamed as Broken Age) was announced on February 8, 2012 it changed the face of video gaming. While crowdfunding had been used before for video games, it was the most successful and prominent video game ever, raising $3.3 million dollars, having at the time the most backers and raising more money than any other Kickstarter project in history. While this made headlines, it’s harder for crowdfunding campaigns to break into the news cycle now.
Crowdfunding isn’t unique anymore
When the first wave of famous Kickstarter were announced, the gaming press was eager to give them all coverage. Games like Wasteland 2, Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure and Star Citizen all made huge waves with their announcements and the success of those campaigns further drove the crowdfunding wave.
While this lead to a new series of crowdfunded titles, it also made crowdfunding completely mundane. Just like how using a publisher or developing a game independently and putting it out through Steam is commonplace and un-newsworthy, so too is using some sort of crowdfunding source. There were many projects that attempted to drum up media coverage of their Kickstarter campaigns in the months and years that followed, knowing that makes a huge difference in whether a crowdfunding project is successfully funded or not, but many reporters met this with increasing apathy as being crowdfunded isn’t nearly enough to draw clicks and attention anymore
The numbers are not encouraging
The numbers are this for Kickstarter (still the number one crowdfunding platform for games, despite the presence of competitors like Indiegogo and Fig): only about a third of all Kickstarter game projects have been successfully funded. On top of that, the total number of successfully funded Kickstarter video game projects has decreased from its peak in 2013.
While games like Shenmue III and Bloodstained receive a lot of attention with their high profile campaigns, they’re also soaking up most of the money as well. While only 16 video game projects were funded over $500,000 U.S. dollars, those projects comprised of roughly 75 percent of all the money raised for video games that year.
Additionally, if you’re a mobile developer, then Kickstarter seems to be a particularly poor choice. In 2015, less than 10 percent of the mobile games projects were successfully funded, and only one of those project received over $50,000 U.S. dollars.
Many gamers have been stung before
When the first wave of Kickstarter games were announced, they were riding high on the good feelings of developers being able to circumvent publishers and go directly to the fans. As time has gone on, the reality of developing games in an imperfect world has set in, and there has been many prominent examples of games not shaping out the way fans would expect.
Mighty No. 9 has been delayed by developer Comcept three times at this point, from April 2015 to September 2015 to early 2016 to (in what it hoped to be the official release date) June 21, 2016. Comcept’s decision to try and Kickstart Red Ash: The Indelible Legend before the release of Mighty No. 9 was heavily criticized.
Peter Molyneaux’s 22cans announced Godus as a successor to Populous, but the title ended up being more focused around its mobile incarnation and had multiple micro-transaction hooks, and backers were not pleased. While work continues on Godus, many users are still unhappy with what they’ve ended up with and others are upset that the promised Linux version has not emerged.
Star Citizen has raised over $110 million U.S. dollars, but it’s original release date has long since passed and questions about accountability for the funds raised have come up. Even Broken Age, which did eventually deliver, came out years after it was initially projected and it was broken into two separate episodes and there was grousing about that. There are multiple other examples (such as the infamous Code Hero) and anyone familiar with development knows that the tribulations are typically to blame.
The Realities of Development
Game development is a creative art, often messy and frequently unpredictable. This can lead to scraped prototypes, months (or years) of wasted time. Under the typical development environment where games are created independently or under the guise of a publisher, these difficulties usually receive little more than a footnote in a news story, but when a crowdfunded campaign has difficulties, it’s much more public.
What also works against these projects is how long game development takes, and that deferred gratifications these games have is an issue compared to many other Kickstarter campaigns. Rather than waiting months for something to be produced, the time is typically at least a couple of years and, as evidenced above, development can be filled with tumult causing extra delays and funding shortfalls. These publicly funded projects has cast a light on the messy business of developing games, enough to put some consumers off from the whole crowdfunding process.
Even when a game is finally deliverable to the consumer, not under-delivering is a fairly common practice. It is estimated that only a little over a third of Kickstarter game projects deliver on all of their crowdfunding promises, and as much as half of all game Kickstarter campaigns have yet to deliver anything at all. If people are disappointed, or if excitement wanes before a project is delivered, it makes people that much less likely to throw money at crowdfunding campaigns in the future.
The silver lining
This is not to say that Kickstarter has not had its successes and satisfied customers. Games like Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity and Elite: Dangerous were generally well received upon their release. Additionally, the number of small projects (seeking less than $10,000 U.S. Dollars) has actually gone up every year, showing that indie developers with a dedicated fanbase are maybe the most viable projects out there on Kickstarter.
Recent events that caused John Romero to suspend the Blackroom Kickstarter until there was a gameplay demo and saw the failure of the Rock Band on PC crowdfunding campaign showed that there are no sure things. Crowdfunding is not magic, it’s like any other part of game development: a tool when used right engages fans and gets funding outside of a publisher or investor. But it’s not a panacea and never will be.
David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.