This admission probably won’t come as much of a shock to anyone, but I’ve actually never backed a project on Kickstarter, Pozible or IndieGoGo.
The recent democratisation of indie game funding has taken almost everyone by surprise. The level of hype, both in the press and within the general community, has exploded following the successful attempts by Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo to raise dead genres from the grave. The sheer power of nostalgia, coupled with the release of some pent-up frustration relating to a lack of control over the industry, has fueled the money train that has made KS, amongst others, quite rich.
But in the rush to develop a user-funded system of games development, many people have decided to forgo the traditional elements of security in investment, and push on entirely around a factor of faith. Many have gladly contributed amounts upwards of $10,000, securing nothing more then a meet and greet with the developers, or maybe some minor input into a level or some kind of mission.
This kind of impulse monetary support can be very dangerous, particularly when there is little to no onus on the recipient to legally provide anything at all.
Unlike other critics of the system, I have a lot of confidence in the abilities of both teams in this instance to follow through and produce some kind of product. Both developers have a history of creating games from the ground up with very little support, whether funding or technical, and producing incredible results. But that said, it can’t be ignored that the amounts provided are unbelievably low, in this day and age, to produce a title that would stand up to the demands of such a wide backer-base.
Additionally, there is an argument to be had about the future success of a particular property and whether the benefactors should be entitled to a portion of the spoils. Sure, it would be especially difficult to split profits across thousands of backers, but at the same time, if a company fails to provide a product, there is no recourse for those who have provided support. Many of these projects that have taken anywhere from $10,000 to $1,000,000 are made up of newly formed, loose coalitions of ex-industry stalwarts and complete unknowns.
There are already many stories of the inevitable, of products that just haven’t delivered. The prime issue? That the raw realities of mass producing anything, from games to gadgets, is just bloody hard work. There are staffing costs, travel costs, design and fabricating costs plus about a hundred other fees that you never factor into your proposals before they hit Kickstarter. Many of those who tout incredible ideas, rough prototypes of code or whatnot withstanding, drastically under (or over) estimate the time and money investment that is required to get things going.
On the other side of the fence, the consumer is simply left to wonder what will happen by the due date. Will it get extended? Will I receive anything? If I do receive something, what if the quality is lower than I expected? Unlike many retail stores, the ACCC isn’t likely to get involved, so the onus is on the manufacturer to make things right. Are you willing to drop $100 on a mystery product, in advance, without knowing what will turn up at the very end? Critics of the traditional publisher system might lament their focus on risk management, but there’s a reason for that – losing tens or even hundreds of millions on properties that don’t sell hits hard.
Additionally, what happens if your investment is based on ideological grounds, like local creation or support for an old, unpopular or dying format, and the creator decides to change their mind due to money or time issues? People who run crowdsourcing campaigns are not bound or required to stick to a script, nor refund any money if they change their mind. Once that campaign is funded, your money is gone, so when that awesome indie game for Windows Phone 7 ends up on iOS or Android because the developer gets skittish, you’re left wanting.
The whole arrangement, as it currently stands, is almost entirely in the hands of the project owners. Not only do they get risk free finance, but they can bank that money and earn interest on it, while the donator gets very little in return other than vague updates and token videos until something pops out the other end.
There is intrinsic risk here, in a way that has not been fully explored or explained as things move so swiftly. There is nothing stopping project owners from crying poor and milking more funds out of their backers down the track, especially since they are usually financially and emotionally invested enough to drop cash into what is effectively a black hole.
Crowd-sourcing appeals to one of the strongest forms of consumerism – impulse buying. The whole system around reward tiers, limited spaces and time limits work to push funds out of participants by highlighting that need to own or want something immediately. As gamers, we’ve been almost primed to preorder games for years, and while many will snicker at the idea of giving EB money before a game is out, those same people will be more than willing to give a random person they’ve never met and know nothing about $50 to possibly realise their dream in some shape or form.
I’m sure by now that many of you reading this will just accuse me of being negative, but I don’t even have to try hard to find projects that scam, fail or disappoint after funding. A lot of the heavily funded projects, including the extraordinarily popular and impressive sounding Android console OUYA, won’t be available until next year at the earliest, meaning that we won’t know the overall success of this new wave of niche funding until 2013 at the earliest. So I emplore you, dear reader, to at least sit and take stock before you throw money at your monitor.
I’m well aware that the whole idea behind Kickstarter is to encourage ideas and innovation with your money. But what many project owners are doing goes well beyond this, as is demonstrated by their reward tiers that guarantee an end result. But I assure you, in the end, that if a product, idea or concept is as impressive, popular and marketable as promised, it will be available for everyone when it releases.