Thursday, 19 April 2012

Kickstarter Redux - Opportunity Must be Tempered with Time and Knowledge

It's not so much pessimism as it is reasonable caution.

Right now it really seems like Kickstarter can do no wrong. The thing is easily the golden goose when it comes to smaller development houses both connecting with their fanbases and also funding projects that might not otherwise see the light of day. Certainly there were numerous successful projects before Double Fine Adventure came along, but after the popularity and subsequently the prosperity of that project exploded it seems that Kickstarter has become the place to be in terms of coming up with new projects or revitalizing old franchises.

First of all, let me say that there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, at all. If more developers can put out more ultimately successful games thanks to Kickstarter, then the more power to everyone involved.

However, I think there are some things that have to be taken into account. Kickstarter might be a great tool, and to a lot of people it seems shiny and new (has that new tool smell and everything) but tools also need to be used properly, something which takes knowledge. There's already a bit of a cautionary tale about biting off more than expected coming from a smaller scale project.

War Balloon Games recently revealed to that even though their Kickstarter for Star Command raised almost double the funds they asked for (thirty-seven thousand when they'd asked for twenty thousand) that the cost for various things such as making and giving out the goods for the rewards for backers drained more money than they had expected:

“Our kickstarter earned $36,967 after asking for $20,000 so that was incredible,” read an update on War Balloon's Kickstarter page.

“To begin with, we didn't get all of that. We lost about $2,000 to no-shows; just people that pledged and the funds did not transfer.

“That got us down to $35k, and kickstarter and Amazon Payments take their portions, which got us down to right around $32,000.

“Now, right off the top you had $10,000 for prize fulfilment. That includes printing the posters, the shirts and shipping everything (thanks Australia).”

From the remaining $22,000, the company said it spent $6,000 on music, $4,000 on legal costs, $2,000 on poster art, $1,000 on iPads and $3,000 to exhibit at PAX East.

That left the studio with about $6,000 for development costs, it claimed, which was taxed as income.

The studio says it has taken on $50,000 of debt as part of its plan to finish the project."

They detail as much in an update on the Kickstarter page entitled "What the hell did you do with our money?". And although they do say that the project could not have gotten where it was, or even made, without the help of the Kickstarter, it seems that they've learned a valuable lesson; one that needs to be spread as far as it will reach. That lesson is that it's easy to underestimate and overextend, and that in some rare, strange cases when you generate more interest than you had anticipated that it can almost be as bad as not generating enough.

There's something else as well, but to understand I need to springboard off a comment my friend Rad made to me about Kickstarter in general, basically:

"I can't wait for the first Kickstarter funded game to come out. It's either going to make this whole thing valid or just crush it and make it yet another avenue that won't be explored for future game development."

This actually could be an issue, although how big of one I'm not sure. It is true that I don't see Double Fine Adventure or Wasteland 2 failing to come out -- although no one can speak to how they will be received -- there's the issue that a Kickstarter, even if it's successfully funded, doesn't necessarily mean anything. The absolute worst case scenario is that it was a scam and now people are out of their money with (from what I hear at least) little to no legal recourse in the matter. But sometimes even with the funding, there's no guarantee that a game will be made, or made in the form that people thought it would be. And of course as I mentioned there's no guarantee that even if the final product comes out that it will be good.

I guess that the largest most prominent Kickstarters will have to come to bear before any judgments can be made. I'd hate to think that a couple of bad cases could sour the entire thing, but unfortunately only time will tell if this will stay a viable way to raise funds for games in the future.

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