I’ve only backed two things on Kickstarter and both times I wound up being disappointed in the end product. One was for The Comedy Button, which promised sketch “comedy” based videos and shorts with a “comedy” podcast element, of which only the podcast came to be. The other was a local pizza place that was reopening in my city. I knew the guy running it and felt that I should contribute to his dream of owning a business for about 12 months before he inevitably closed the doors again.
It was mostly my experience with The Comedy Button that lead me to never back anything on Kickstarter again. The sketch comedy videos and shorts never happened, and the hosts apparently spent most of the money on food and drink. The brazen disregard for backers was off-putting. I’ve avoided backing games because of developer behavior as well. The disappointment factor seems to be just baked into crowdfunding.
A Brief History Of Broken Dreams
Kickstarters have to over-promise in order to get you to back them. Gamers should be conditioned by now to not buy into any hype surrounding any game no matter how big or small the developer is pitching. Yet here we are, time and again reading about how Kickstarter backed games are underwhelming or not what was promised in the initial pitch to backers. Gamers are so cynical now that a Japanese game developer with a proven track record like Koji Igarashi is getting flack for trying his hand at the crowdfunding game.
Even game development’s lovable scamps Peter Molyneux and Tim Schafer got caught up in Kickstarter shenanigans and wound up delivering, or in Molyneux’s case just walked away from, underwhelming products that failed to meet the expectations of its backers.
The problem, as the games press would lead you to believe, is that mere mortals like you and I just don’t know how much game development costs. Which is all well and good, but it would be nice if there were people out there, who could possibly do some… what’s the word I’m looking for… journalism… and find these things out! In the process, these people—let’s call them “journalists”—could illuminate their respective audiences as to just how much a game costs to make these days. Right now, gamers are not “allowed” to complain about maybe being hoodwinked because they don’t readily know how game development works.
But it’s more problematic when you look at the math of it all. If a game developer asks for a certain amount of money—for example, $4,000—but then go on to receive say $4 to $5 million, why are they still delivering late, broken or mucked up games?
Doing Crowdfunding Right
This is all a lengthy preamble to Japanese developers like Kenji Inafune and Koji Igarashi entering the Kickstarter arena and doing it right. This is especially true in Igarashi’s case, since he seems to already have the bulk of his game’s funding and was using Kickstarter mainly as a hype machine for his game Bloodstained.
This lead to more hand-wringing amongst the vaunted games press about abusing the “spirit” of something like crowdfunding. Problem is, was the spirit of crowdfunding ever really established in the first place? When things like Patreon are really stretching the definition of “creator” and “artist” as people pull in thousands of dollars a month based solely on name recognition to produce almost nothing, you have to question if the “spirit” of things is more subjective.
The great thing about Inafune and Igarashi using Kickstarter is that they’re not going to mysteriously go over-budget, split their game up in two underwhelming parts, go on a “mea culpa” laden press tour, fail to meet plainly stated development goals, or release a shitty game. Both of them are very upfront about what the type of game they’re developing and how much time and money they need to create them. Their track record has shown what they’re capable of, and that they’re hopefully not prone to fall in to the same tired traps as other crowdfunding based developers.
In the case of Igarashi, using crowdfunding as a metric to gauge interest in a title like Bloodstained is genius. Whatever extra money that is raised over the initial funding goal is to make the game even better, which is how you would think it’s supposed to work.
It is my sincere hope that more Japanese developers try their hands at crowdfunding, based off what Igarashi and Inafune are doing alone. There seems to be a great nostalgia for Japanese games of yore, and both men are gladly pandering to that for their funding. Am I putting a lot of faith in their games being great? Probably, but based on what we’ve seen come out of crowdfunding video game-wise, that’s a pretty low bar to cross.