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The Problem of Kickstarter

by William Schwartz

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Gamers hate publishers. Always have and always will. The idea of having “suits”, “bean counters”  and “focus groups” determine the value of a game has infuriated us. It’s likely lead many great game ideas to sputter and die because they aren’t deemed profitable enough. This has always lead to a certain discontent among publishers and gamers, with the publishers thinking they’ve found the “right formula” for a proven success, and gamers wanting to get their hands into development but not having the tools to do so. That is, until Kickstarter proved you could fund “big-budget games” without the need of a publisher. Look no further than Double Fine’s Broken Age that brought in over 3 million dollars, Chris Robert’s Star Citizen that brought in 5.7 million, inXile’s Wasteland 2 receiving 3 million in aide, and Obisdian’s Project Eternity that brought in over 4 million dollars. That, along with Steam Greenlight, Xbox Live Indie and Sony Indie Games, has lead to what some people call an “indie renaissance” and the concept that gamers can be a source for development. So all would seem well and good right? Well…not exactly.

You’d think with all that money they’d be in a great situation

Tim Schafer’s Double Fine and inXile are under a lot of pressure. They are the models of Kickstarter-funded games. The success or failure of Kickstarter and gamer goodwill rests on the laurels of Broken Age and Wasteland 2. And sadly, those two have not been a source of optimism, Double Fine especially.

Double Fine originally asked for 400,000 dollars to fund Broken Age and instead received 3 million. That is roughly 8 times the amount of money they requested. So one would think that Double Fine would be a good situation, right? Well, as it turns out Broken Age found a way to go over-budget and is now asking for more money. In fact, if Double Fine were to release the game, they would’ve had to cut 75% of it. This is despite the Kickstarter and Humble Bundle people ordering the game off of PayPal. Schafer is now hoping to sell Part One of the game through Steam Early Access to receive enough funds to finish Broken Age, with the second part being released as free DLC later on, kind of like Mass Effect: Citadel DLC. Not good.

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Public perception rests on big games like Broken Age and Wasteland 2

The other major success story is inXile with Wasteland 2. inXile originally asked for 900,000 and instead received over 3 million. While it hasn’t gone over budget (yet), it also just recently got delayed. The original October release is now just a “beta” stage and in the latest update, there is no estimated release date.

This has now lead to a new found worry. While publishers have many faults, they also get things done and do their best make sure the game is on-time and on-budget. They are the whip, so to speak. With Kickstarter, there is no whip. And what we’re seeing now are the results of having men full of ideas run unchecked, kind of like Lord of the Flies. Hopefully, Broken Age and Wasteland 2 can prove me wrong and signal that Kickstarter is a viable alternative to producing games, but with what’s been happening currently, my optimism is starting to fade.

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