Editorial: The Failure of Kickstarter

Ho ho ho, Lusi-readers! In the past, I have been known to defend Kickstarter as a means of funding games for developers who otherwise cannot get the funding. And while I still believe Kickstarter is a great idea in theory, the news about Kickstarter is almost never good. It seems that almost every week, a story breaks about a failed Kickstarter project, or a project that was a scam, or a project that ran out of money despite reaching its goals. But why, exactly, does Kickstarter fail so frequently and spectacularly? The problem seems to be in the way Kickstarter is run.

It just looks so...generic.
In all honesty, I can’t say I’m terribly upset about the failure of Alpha Colony.

Recently, a company called DreamQuest turned to Kickstarter in an attempt to fund their game, Alpha Colony. The game came a mere twenty-eight dollars short of its $50,000 goal, but due to Kickstarter policy, DreamQuest will not be seeing a cent. A project only receives its money if its goal is reached; if the goal is not met, the backers are not charged and the company does not see a cent of the revenue. While this is presumably a measure taken to ensure that only the projects with significant backing get funded, it is a major blow to DreamQuest, a company that has already spent a great deal of time and money on Alpha Colony. While it is very easy to argue that DreamQuest’s owners could have simply made up the difference, it is still a shame to see that Kickstarter will not yield a cent to a project that came so close.

There are other projects that have yielded poor results; a game called Code Hero apparently ran out of money after raising nearly $170,000 through Kickstarter in February. While the developers of Code Hero swear their game is still coming, the fact that the backers have yet to receive their incentives and the fact that the developer admits the game is out of money are bad signs for Code Hero. The man behind it, Alex Peake, asserts that the game will be released, but so far it does not look good. It seems that Code Hero is likely to meet the same fate as Haunts: The Manse Macabre, which received its funding and then proceeded to run out of money.

There is, of course, the issue of companies what have no business seeking crowd-funding using Kickstarter to fund their games. Is Obsidian really doing so poorly that the cannot get funding for a game? Would Tim Schafer and Double Fine not have been able to get the money from any other place? Even Peter Molyneux of Fable fame has turned to Kickstarter; Molyneux recently used Kickstarter to raise money for Project GODUS, an attempted reinvention of Populous. The Kickstarter more than reached its lofty goal, so the world will soon be “blessed” with another Molyneux-tastic creation.

I wish I could forget Fable.
For some reason, people keep giving this man money.

Kickstarter, it seems, is a much better idea in theory than in practice. The fact that there seems to be no liability for project creators has left the door wide open for people to take the money and run, and even those creators who are honest are not really bound to a deadline for when the donation incentives must go out. Projects that should not need crowd-funding get funded by Kickstarter, worthy projects get swept under the rug, and some meet the unlucky fate of Alpha Colony. I do like the fundamental idea behind Kickstarter as a means of funding worthy projects that cannot otherwise raise enough money, but even I must admit that Kickstarter is causing more harm than good.

Not every Kickstarter project ends badly, or is run by dishonest people. FTL: Faster Than Light was Kickstarter-funded and is apparently a good game, though I personally have never played it. The Cthulhu Saves the World PC port had a Kickstarter project that raised over twice its original $3,000 goal, and as a result the game is readily and cheaply available on PCs, where it runs perfectly. For all that I do not like that Double Fine turned to Kickstarter for its funding, giving the game away as the first-tier reward is the way I feel all games should do it. People are essentially investing in the game, so they should at least be able to get the game itself as a low-tier donation incentive.

Well, readers, I admit that I was wrong about Kickstarter. While there have good things yielded by Kickstarter’s funding methods, it seems that crowd-funding is a much better idea in theory than it is in implementation, or at the very least Kickstarter’s implementation of the crowd-funding model is extremely poor.

7 comments

  1. I don’t know that crowd-funding is terribly solid in theory either.

    At any rate, ALL professional studios should be precluded from participating in Kickstarter. Hell, I’d bet that outfits like Obsidian and Double Fine are even publicly traded, replete with their own legit stable of shareholders – or backers, if you will…

  2. Yeah, the two ends are what have no business there. The reason why I never for a split-second considered using Kickstarter for LFoPD despite how wildly I need the money is because I’m a first-time completely unproven developer. I need my game to speak to my ability to make a game. I have no place starting up a Kickstarter. The other side that you point out is also correct: Peter Molyneux and Obsidian have no place there.

    The point made in the Double Fine video makes me wonder if Tim Shafer wasn’t correct about having trouble finding funding for that sort of game. It was pretty clear that that didn’t need that game to survive or that the studio was going under if they couldn’t make this game. Moreso that this was the game they WANTED to make and Tim’s experience in the industry gave him enough knowledge to know a point-and-click wouldn’t fly with investors.

    Then again, the Homestar and Sam & Max and Back to the Future games are point-and-click, so it’s also possible he’s full of shit. Either way, that particular project didn’t bother me. A number of them don’t, but it’s like Wii software. There’s so much shit to shovel through to get to the gems, you start to wonder if it’s worth it.

  3. Couldn’t Schaffer have made a point and click adventure game as part of those ‘amnesia fortnight’ projects which resulted in Costume Quest and Stacking? I’m pretty sure that they were self-funded, and I’m pretty sure that an old-school adventure could be produced on the same budget, or quite possibly even less.

  4. The whole premise of Kickstarter seems like Molyneux’s wetdream: getting money for promising things that might never happen.

    @Ethos: Have you considered Punchbeginning© LFoPD?

  5. @Matt Dance: YOU OWE ME MONEY FOR THE USE OF THAT TERM, MISTER.

    The worst thing about kickstarter is that it will get *worse* from here. It was always a naively optimistic idea to have crowd-funding with no accountability for the providers; but the evil reverse of that coin is that now, big companies are using kickstarter to produce things which they have the money well in hand for and, STILL WORSE, even to start companies themselves! (Fake Black Isle, you cunts, I’m thinking of you.)

    The world is full of many things that sound good in principle, but which are terrible in practise once human beings get involved. The trick to discerning which good things will be bad and which ones will be good is to assume the participants are as cynical, greedy, nefarious, and self-serving as possible, and that those they are *using* are as willingly naive and simple-minded as possible. In this way, you can predict, with almost perfect accuracy, how systems will turn out. I’m no genius for calling Kickstarter on day one, I’m just a student of the good old school of Hobbes, whose philosophy accounts for almost every system I’ve ever encountered.

  6. Kickstarter need to take some fucking responsibility and winnow out the the deserving projects from the greedy opportunists, rather than leaving it to the consumers themselves to run quality control [seeing as we’ve already established that these people are not exactly gifted with mental acuity].

  7. @SN Agreed. This is a huge problem with Kickstarter. Pretty much anyone can get funding for anything.

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