It has been five years since first batches of games were funded through the explosive pledges of Kickstarter. Of the million dollar projects, less than a third of them have been released and 20% are expected to fail. This year, total dollars are up, but growth is down, as fewer additional dollars have been invested. Most importantly, there has not been a million dollar game project funded in 2014.
There are several theories as to why. For one, the novelty has worn off. Everyone has already made their first pledge and no longer feels the urge to participate in a global phenomenon. Two, there are many more game projects, drawing money in more directions. In 2011, there were 27 086 launched projects, of which only 11836 were funded. 2014, with one month this to go, there have been 191 419 launched projects with 74269 successfully funded. Three, projects fail and backers know that. It is entirely possible that savvy people are withholding money from projects that would have previously been funded and failed. Four, competitors like Steam and Indiegogo are offering alternate platforms for crowdfunding. Some industrious developers are even hosting their own crowdfunding, such as RSI’s Star Citizen, which broke the mould and raised a couple million dollars on Kickstarter, only to build a website which would receive over 55 million dollars in pledges (thus avoiding Kickstarter’s 10% cut). And yet all of this still amounts to a pittance of dollars.
As it stands in 2014, 250 million dollars have been raised for game development through Kickstarter (roughly 20% of all pledges). To compare, Activision Blizzard launched its record breaking Destiny announcing that its investment will approach 500 million dollars over the coming years. Once more for comparison, are talking about roughly 4 500 games versus half of 1. But while dollars to games is radically different, this is the reason kickstarter remains so important. Kickstarter, as a platform, allows for alternative business models, which actually means alternative games. Allow me to expound upon this last point. Whereas AAA games are trapped in an arms race of polygon and pixel counts, increased through dollar spending on graphic artists, engineers and most of all marketing campaigns, smaller titles are forced to battle on a shoestring budget in the arena of gameplay innovation and community management. I spoke with my friend Tanya Short, who’s four-person indie studio Kitfox Games recently succeeded in raising 180 000$ for their upcoming Moon Hunters. She had several interesting tidbits of information and anecdotes to share with me, some of which I can repeat here.
Firstly, despite Kickstarter allowing for a different set of games development, there remain a multitude of possible games which cannot be funded because they cannot attract investment. Short explains that Moon Hunters has beautiful pixel art and a compelling twist which involves creating your own mythology in-game. It has gameplay footage and descriptors that make it clear what kind of gameplay one can expect (in this case it is an Action RPG). This kind of title promises something that people can get excited about and want to drop dollars on. If Kitfox wanted to make a comedic game in a new genre paradigm, the same feat of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars would never happen. This is in large part due to player-investor expectations. Your average player does not know how much it costs to develop a game, what kind of promises make sense or what kinds of hypothetical gameplay will work.
Short and her team asked for 45 000$, but in earnest, 4 500$ go to Kickstarter, 5 000$ go to backer rewards, another large sum will go to taxes, and it still took several thousand dollars in salaried labour to produce the campaign, which Short argues is about as much work as a launch. All in all, this funding would give them an extra month of work on the game. Here is where Short differs from some of the starving indies, “The team can’t afford to go to 0 dollars per month and I think there is a toxic attitude that it is necessary sometimes for indies for some reason. AAA never does that. It doesn’t tell its developers that they should go without a pay check for 6 months.” The project needed something closer to 100 000$ to complement their pre-existing funding structures. But as Short explains: “Other game developers know that you can’t make an RPG for 45 000$ with a team of four. The average Kickstarter backer doesn’t think about it that way. 45 000$ just seems like a lot of money.”
Thankfully, undervaluing the project price is countered by a second hiccup in player-investor mentality: people pledge once the project is fully funded. After a couple days, Moon Hunters was funded and only then did it receive its large investment spike, followed by continuous investment. This should be senseless, given that one invests in a project to see it completed in exchange for taking a risk in spending money ahead of time. With a project fully funded, would-be pledgers should sit back and wait for release to purchase. Instead, people seem to want to back winners, and knowing that a game has been vetted by the community, helps them in deciding where to put their dough. As a result, Short’s advice is clear, get people to spend money early in the campaign because those dollars are multiplied by herd mentality.
In case you haven’t tried a Kickstartered game yet, here are some of my highlights:
FTL: Faster Than Light – You are playing a ship delivering crucial information in this top-down real-time strategy game. You are fleeing from some gigantic organization of enemies while wading through a chaotic mess of unorganized enemies. Survive through sectors of space, improving your ship’s capacities
until you can confidently jump to the next, more dangerous sector.
Kentucky Route Zero – You are a deliveryman named Conway playing through a point and click adventure in the back roads of Kentucky. This game has a beautiful visual aesthetic and a narrative of haunting magical realism.
The Banner Saga – You are some assembly of humans and varl (giant Viking-trolls) in this Scandinavian inspired world of unique mythological standing. Your caravan of followers will require your leadership in this Oregon Trail meets Final Fantasy Tactics.
This article was originally published on Askmen.com