Lessons from failed Kickstarters

You may have noticed a number of kickstarters showcased here recently.  Mostly just mentions of successful and failed projects, and some notes that they would be discussed later.  Now is the time to take a look at an old idea in a new light.  The success of a kickstarter does not mean a game will be made.

A little more then a year ago Scott Macmillan said that the design of any particular game lays somewhere on a spectrum between Art and Business.  Games which are closer to art should be considered hobbies because they succeed better that way.  Don’t quit your day job and work on them because you love the project.  Games which lay closer to commercial endeavors need to be run more like a business.  This means funding and full time work.

To that statement I added some wisdom from my Project Management and Senior Project Professor.  He made it very clear that a project is not a business.  Projects are a one time process with specific goals and a specific time frame.  A company is a legal entity that expects to make a profit.  Far too often game designers confuse the business for the current project.

The case in point is Haunts: The Manse Macabre.  I am a backer, which means I get a bit more information about this particular project then most others.  The kickstarter was successfully funded.  However their coders have left them for paying gigs.  I know how that goes!  I also know what the other side of a first failed project is like.  It’s the next project!

Given the new information from Haunts, it seems very much like they confused a game project with a game company.  They confused the 4 stages to go through between an idea, and a game.  The kickstarter was being used to fund paychecks, meaning they had employees.  This is something to be avoided for anyone using a kickstarter.  Kickstarters are great at funding projects, but not at paying employees.  Contractors work best when working on a first project.  Why?  Because contractors are cheaper.  There is no legal expectation of continued employment, and no legal requirement to offer healthcare.  These are things that a business needs to do, but a project doesn’t.

Right now I’m using a contract company called Electric Coffee Games, who I met at The State of Play.  They are going to do some rapid prototyping for me at low cost.  There are bound to be some issues with using contractors, but as I am not a coder, and not an artist I need to hire folks who are.

The other side of the coin is that larger company’s looking to fund a project, should avoid attempting to use kickstarter to fund their company while they develop a game.

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