D20: Kickstarter Theory and the Return of the RPG Superstar

Torment: Tides of Numenera

By on March 11, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Something that has become readily apparent over the last six or so month is that crowdfunding has become both the salvation and the refuge of “risky” gaming ventures. I use the term risky advisedly, hence the inverted commas. I don’t mean risky in terms of hard to achieve or of dubious legality, but rather those projects that are deemed too risky for major publishers to want to touch.

Games that aren’t either the first part in a leveragable franchise, or belong to a long standing and popular series, games that can’t be advertised in the most basic, brotastic terms with wonderful hyperbole and flashy screenshots boasting all of the pixels. These “risky” projects are the ones that get a handful of fans frothing at the mouth and get some games journos waxing lyrical about how they are the future of gaming.

Whilst I’m not quite ready to go that far, the resurgence of smaller, more personal and for me at least, far more interesting RPG projects rarely fails to put a smile on my face.

In the last week and a bit, two new projects have made their way to Kickstarter, and both have a hell of a lineage. I’m speaking, of course, of Torment: Tides of Numenera and  Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. At the time of this writing, Torment has just surpassed 2.39 million dollars in pledges with 25 days to go, eclipsing their $900,000 goal by more than double, and Shroud of the Avatar has raised just shy of $700,000 of its $1 million with 27 days to go before the project closes.

When you add these games to already funded projects like Wasteland 2, Project Eternity and Grim Dawn, it becomes apparent that there is a definite, if limited market for this style of interesting, innovative or old-school style games.

Taking the most recent two, Torment and Shroud of the Avatar, you can see some interesting trends when it comes to pledging. Both games definitely have star power to draw upon when calling for money — Torment has Brian Fargo, Chris Avellone and the almost holy name of Planescape: Torment to draw upon, and Shroud of the Avatar has the legendary name of Lord British himself, Richard Garriott, the man who is pretty much responsible for the rise and shape of the computer RPG — and whilst a great deal of the hype for these games comes from the star power behind them, I think there’s slightly more to the story.

Richard Garriott is a legend when it comes to game design, but that legend stems from his ability to innovate within his chosen genre, and to do interesting, if not always successful things with the structure and content. He’s a rockstar in his field and an icon to other developers. Perhaps this is why some of the first pledges to be snapped up on Shroud of the Avatar have been the $10,000, $5000, $3500 and $3000 tiers.

As of this writing there are only two slots each left for the $10000 and $5000 categories and none left for $3500 and $3000. Torment, a fan favourite, by comparison, has far more backers at the lower, sub $100 rungs and fewer at the top end. Whilst this could mean little in the grand scheme of things, I have a theory — and it goes a little something like this.

Richard Garriott, the man who gave computer RPGs their shape and who can be argued has done more for the genre than pretty much anyone else, is all but venerated by other developers and has been absent from the development scene for a long while. This could account for why so many of the high end pledges were the first to be snapped up (these are often taken by other developers, studios or industry professionals looking for alternate avenues of investment) and why there are relatively few lower tiered pledges.

I think some other RPG developers may be curious enough to see what has drawn Garriott back to the table and what innovations he’ll bring to his beloved genre to make them willing to drop the big bucks. Torment, on the other hand is a sequel to a fan favourite game talked about in reverential tones. It’s no wonder then that almost 44,000 people have pledges smaller amounts of money to the cause.

Of course, I could be wrong — it could just be that Richard Garriott has a bunch of fans with far too much money to throw around. Without a real breakdown of contributors I’ll never really know, but I like my theory, and until someone proves otherwise, I’m sticking with it.

7 comments (Leave your own)

I stopped being a fan of Garriott after Tabula Rasa.


The Big name guys behind these certainly have a lot to do with the sheer popularity of the projects of Shadowrun, Project Eternity etc.

However the likes of ROAM, Sui Generis, Forsaken Fortress, Dead State, Banner Saga, Hero-U with lesser or completely unknown people behind them all have a substantial amount of pledgers which obtained the goal and then some. Even the unfortunately cancelled – yet interesting sounding SHAKER had quite a following there.

Theres clearly a demand from us old schoolers (or perhaps not just us, don’t mean to generalize) for these classic turn based and/or isometric ‘ROLE PLAYING’ games, as opposed to the watered down action/adventure titles ‘with a skill tree system’ that triple A’s give us year after year. (I still cringe when I hear someone refer to Skyrim as “one of the best rpg’s eva!!”)

I’m surprised no big name Publishers (EA) have looked at these figures and thought to themselves – “Hold the phone, Brian got 2 of his projects funded to the tune of millions, his second one literally within 6 hours… and look at the amount of people passionate about this, imagine what we could do if we gave Bioware free reign over a proper, classic RPG in tune of what they were originally famous for..”

Meh, All I know is that it’s going to be an interesting, nostalgic and great time over the 2013-2014 period (and beyond as this will clearly keep up) for us connoisseurs of the “old school” 90′s era of great Crpg’s. =)

Damn you Kickstarter for literally making me spend more money then I do on my AAA’s as of these last several years.


Spends 30 Million on going into space, then uses kickstarter for his obscure ultima based game for 1 million… Where the hell did UO2 go? Garriot wtf?

Backed, boh.


I’m surprised no big name Publishers (EA) have looked at these figures and thought to themselves – “Hold the phone, Brian got 2 of his projects funded to the tune of millions, his second one literally within 6 hours… and look at the amount of people passionate about this, imagine what we could do if we gave Bioware free reign over a proper, classic RPG in tune of what they were originally famous for..”

Well two reasons I can think of;
1) There is certainly no decline in sales of the same shit the pump out each year. Skyrim, ME3, DA2 etc.
2) None of the KS games have launched yet, a good round of funding does not make a successful game.

I’d love to see more freedom given to game Devs in general though.


A simpler explanation would be that Torment is a more recent game than the games Garriot made. Therefore, the fans are almost certainly younger, and therefore poorer (Torment is also a cult classic, and is also being played by people who where too young when it came out, Ultima, not so much). This is also I guess one reason why games made by old hands in genres that have fallen out of favor does so well, since the fans are now in their thirties, they have more money to risk on funding kick starter. Maybe I’m wrong, but I have yet to see a successful kickstarter targeted at teenagers.


Give me real investment and I will henceforth invest my money…


I think for me, its about feeling like a part of the game making process. i have pledged 2 things on kickstarter. Planetary Annihilation and The Veronica Mars Movie.

There is something good in knowing that you are helping out with the making of the game, but at the same, its like an investment because once made, i’ll get a copy of the game or a copy of the movie etc. Its like pre-ordering. I think anywayz

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