Kickstarter: the future for small developers?
The website Kickstarter received a ton more attention since Double Fine got funding for a new adventure game using its system and with Wasteland 2 now following on Double Fine’s success, it does raise some questions.
The main question is: how many more bigger developers are about to follow suit? With two companies already running off with far more than what they asked for, it’s only a matter of time before several if not dozens of other developers decide to fund their AA or AAA title using Kickstarter money. PC gaming history is filled with classics that are begging for (more) sequels – from Ascendancy to Ultima Underworld to System Shock. I fully expect some old Sierra classics to reappear as well – Leisure Suit Larry’s expected comeback with a remake of the first game might well be followed with a brand new adventure for which Kickstarter seems ideal.
But like with all mediums, there are always limits to how far you can push a premise. Kickstarter relies on funds of gamers to start a project – basically ‘loaning’ money to developers in return for betas and/or the finished project. The very crucial weakness which the gaming press seems to completely miss … is the risk factor. What if the game never gets released due to legal issues (EA still own the rights to Wasteland after all)? What if they run out of funds? What if the company goes bankrupt or key members decide to leave? If you look at the history of even the best developers, you’ll find many such problems in their past. The difference here, is that it’s our money, the gamers’ money that is being used and not that of a publisher. We take the risk, we carry the burden of failure and while I’m sure that many will claim this is not a problem, there’s such a thing as a domino effect. Or what, god forbid, the game turns out to be a huge dud, being really terrible? That seems more likely than anything else! It takes only one or two large projects to fail for people to worry about whether they are throwing away their money.
I would love it if Kickstarter turned out to be the Messiah of bedroom coders and the revival of great classics – but I fear that people jumping on-board Kickstarter projects may be too optimistic for their own good. They see the press’s hype machine in overdrive and seem to believe the end result can’t be anything but brilliant even though many games from great developers with far bigger budgets turned out to be mediocre – even the best companies can make mistakes. A more realistic view would surely help here but looking on forums, it seems most are just too convinced that nothing can go wrong … which is exactly what might prove to be Kickstarter’s downfall: the short-sightedness of people.