What Underwear reveals about kickstarter.

Here is a great article on Business Insider.  Anyone considering a kickstarter campaign should give it a read.  It’s about underwear.  Also the problems that success brings.  But it also highlights one reason why game development works better on crowd funding than other products.  

In the case of Flint and Tinder, they have to produce 23,000 pairs of underwear, when they intended to make 3000.  In the case of Scrumble Ship Dirkson has to produce a single game (which gets copied many times).  Software is extremely easy to copy.  Physical goods are not.  Granted the manufacturing process makes it easier for fewer people to do more work, but even the most advanced manufacturing techniques can’t beat Ctrl C, Ctrl V.

Kickstarter can be a dangerous thing whether the project succeeds or fails.  Failing to plan for success can be as detrimental as failing to plan for failure. But know that as long as your swag is digital you have it better then Flint and Tinder.

Which Crowd Funding site should I use for my game?

Well if you’re anything like Simon Roth, you use all of them.  Steam Greenlight, Kickstarter, and Indeigogo.  Why use just one?  Each game crowd funding site has strengths.  This is a pretty smart strategy.  Of course all projects should link to all others.

Greenlight Concepts
You can put anything up at any stage and use the site to gauge peoples interest in your idea.  Using the Greenlight concept page traffic can be driven from steam to your primary crowd funding site.

The all or nothing popularity of Kickstarter has a good number of projects going here for initial funding.  Arguably more popular for game design at the moment, but unfortunately only one funding option.

Different funding options (Fixed Funding and Flexible Funding) allow for more options when setting up a project’s funding.

Simon also did something smart with the Indiegogo project.  Being from Manchester U.K. the kickstarter is denominated in pounds.  The Indiegogo however is in U.S. dollars.  Running one project in each currency means that he gets both U.K. and international (we U.S. folks) support.  Noticed the dollar amount on the Indiegogo campaign is set very low.  That’s some good crowd funding strategy right there.

Is Kickstarter bad for games?

Not everyone likes kickstarter.  I do…  But then my day job is in financial services, so the complaints about kickstarter are peanuts in comparison.  Rab Florence’s great blog THIS FUCKING AMUESMENT ARCADE makes a few points about why kickstarter is bad.  We’ve taken a look at the good stuff.  Let’s look at the bad.

Most of this post was written in the voice of Mike Rugnetta… [insert link to future PBS Idea Channel episode].  There may or may not be a little man crush involved.

1.) Established industry veterans are using kickstarter to fund projects because of greed.

Not every Angel investor on the planet is willing to back every project. For venture capitalists, you have to demonstrate success before they will meet with you.  Even for proven industry vets like Peter Molyneux not every idea gets backed.  If you can’t draw a straight line between yourself, your ideas, and profit you aren’t likely to get backed by anybody.  Angel investors are not pushovers either.  They have to see some pretty compelling evidence that you’ll succeed, or they take a BIG chunk of your ownership.

And let’s face it.  Up till crowd funding sites were created it was really hard to accurately gauge community interest in something.  Even with the sites it’s still difficult to gauge if there isn’t interest, or if you just didn’t pitch it well.  You wonder why most games were Madden NFL 20XX?  Big companies cannot risk money on things that might not work.  So you get game franchises.

There could be some greed behind the scenes of crowd funding…  But I seriously doubt that many kickstarters, famous or otherwise, are taking the funds provided and using them for purposes other than stated.  That doesn’t mean that every kickstarter will succeed, and that every passion project will spend our money wisely…  It just means that I don’t see a lot of fraud going on.  At least not yet.

2.) “But these capitalist animals, Molyneux and Braben to name but two, are transforming Kickstarter into a shopping website for products that don’t yet exist.”

Actually that’s a pretty big criticism of kickstarter in general.  Like, all of it.  As this complaint is true the entire site over, it is unfair to heap the blame for this one on Molyneux and Braben.  Eventually having a ‘shopping center for things that don’t exist yet’ is a real possibility.  But not necessarily a bad one.

3.) “We are being exploited”.

This is an interesting point of view and not an uncommon one.  Lot’s of people feel that targeted advertising, and mass market products exploit the general populace.  Oddly enough everyone running the companies that produce the advertising and the goods bought by consumers are chasing ‘what the consumer wants’.  Like uroboros this cycle goes round and round.  Trust a business major when they say that consumers drive the market.  It took a business degree to get that straight in my head, but that’s the way the world works.  Educated consumers are in control even if the companies don’t want many of those to exist.

There is definitely a bit of mad rush of money because kickstarter is allowing a new way to express demand.  That will die down.  At some point it will become obvious again who’s in control.  Like a new game you’re obsessed about for exactly 38 hours (cough) X-com: Enemy Unknown (cough) then stop playing.

In the end kickstarter is just different.  Neither good nor bad, simply a new tool.  Some people will use it well, and some people will use it terribly.  Kickstarter will ultimate change the way that producers, be they game publishers or watchmakers, view risk.  They will see that there are passions out there they can’t account for with metrics.  The public is willing to pay for things that customer surveys simply cannot reveal.  Games can be viable even though, and maybe even because, they don’t target wide demographics.

The three points, being railed against, are the very things about kickstarter which will ultimately change the marketplace.  Niche marketplaces, like game design, stand to benefit the most by demonstrating that even niche’s can have wide appeal.  And some great games will get made along the way…  Some crappy one’s too…  But also some great ones.  What’s wrong with that?

UK Kickstarter

Kickstarter launched in the UK last week.  There are some amazing looking games starting to filter into the categories. Games like Maia, and Elite: Dangerous.  For Maia in particular, the influences include some of my favorite games.  However other than a few mentions now and then, I’ll pretty much be leaving the UK projects alone.  There is too much stuff out there already to be covering projects outside the U.S.

Gambitious, crowd funding games.

Have you heard of Gambitious yet?  After taking a look, it may be worth checking in with every now and again.  It has the look and feel of a kickstarter account, but offers both entrepreneur and ‘perks’ offerings.  They refer to it as a hybrid model.  Although only EU investors can be equity investors…  At the moment.

If the JOBS ACT opens equity crowd funding up the general public then perhaps they will open up the equity portion to the US…  There are, however, only about 7 games seeking funding on the site.  Not exactly gangbusters.  They have some amazing partnerships though.

Final verdict is a wait and see.  Maybe they will be huge, maybe not.  Good idea though.

Why do so many games go to Kickstarter?

The real brilliance of Kickstarter for game designers is the reversal of quality assurance.  Instead of paying people to debug a game, through kickstarter you can offer ‘exclusive’ access to Tester Only sections of the forum, and charge more for it.

It sounds snarky to say the really great thing about kickstarter is profiting from QA….  But I seriously considered paying Timber and Stone $50 to get that tier of reward.  For tiny indie game developers this is actually a really great QA solution.  However, if the AAA companies start doing it, that might not be so good.

What is a kickstarter that is not a kickstarter? Successful, apparently.

There are a couple big name game titles, from big players in the industry, who are using the Kickstarter idea.  But without using the Kickstarter website itself.  This is an interesting concept and although successful in a couple big cases is a terribly risky proposition.  The internet is all about removing the middleman.  But where does this trend lead?  Will this be the end of Kickstarter and Indiegogo as everyone does their own thing?

Notch recently tweeted about Star Citizen, which was announced at GDC.  The game looks very promising.    There are some extremely impressive tech demos, and the game graphically looks very good.  The videos are short on game play information, but it definitely looks like a great game in its early stages.  That’s all well and good, I’m sure there will be tons of discussion on all that, but the game is not really what I want to discuss yet.  They have a page set up which looks very much like a kickstarter campaign, but yet not through kickstarter.

What Cloud Imperium Games is doing for backing is far more interesting.  They are attempting to copy crowd funding sites without going through the gatekeepers.  The website layout looks exactly like a kickstarter.  There are goals exactly like a kickstarter.  There is a pledge button exactly like a kickstarter.  But behind the pledge button is a shopping cart…

They are trying to run a project that is too big, and requires too much money to be posted on Kickstarter.  They are attempting to sell you a game which has not been made yet.  Once the dollar amounts start to get up there it begins to make a lot of sense for a company to keep the percentage of money that would have otherwise gone to the middleman.  This seems like a bad idea because it obfuscates the process, or at least opens the possibility of obfuscation.

On Oct 18th, bowing to pressure from the community (as rumored by Reddit) they also put up a Kickstarter Campaign.  So how does this work now?  They have divided the community between two projects, one of which is fund or die.  This seems like a bad diversification.  As a former investments salesmen, I never thought I’d say that.

A quick note: the day this post is being published both the Kickstarter and the independent fund raising have passed their goals.  Roberts Space Industries is at 130%, and the Kickstarter has raised over 800,000 or the requested $500,000 dollars.  So maybe it’s a brilliant idea, that I just couldn’t say.  Either way I’m leaving my own opinion in there.  I’ve said before maybe I don’t know everything.  But in this case we don’t have to worry about a failure state.

Going independent for your crowd funding does away with a lot of the established values inherently understood by the community on Crowdfunding sites.  With an independent project like this the backers have  no way of knowing if they they are being charged now, later, or at all.  What if they don’t make their goal?  Do they still keep the money?  This throws out the established vocabulary of kickstarter.  And now with this new twist…  What happens if the kickstarter is successful?  What happens if both fail?  The ultimate answer is ‘Buyer Beware’.

Mechwarrior Online is another title using an alternative funding strategy.  They are crowd funding a free to play game.  Free to play, of course, does not mean ‘free to build’.  It shifted the crowd funding rewards a bit.  Instead of copies of the game, the rewards tended to be in game currency.

If these games are successful we’ll increasingly see AAA titles leaving Indiegogo and Kickstarter to run their own crowd-funding campaign.  However unless they nail the ‘prizes’ offered by the social experience of backing projects, they probably won’t succeed.  ‘Prizes’ in this case is more then just different tiers of participation pre launch   It would also include the increase in self worth, feeling of comradeship, and general social participation.

Crowd-funding websites are in no way threatened by AAA companies moving away.  In fact it may even drive more backers and projects to the site.  Any small studio looking to make a first title, or first project looking to prove themselves are going to want to go with a big name crowd funding website.  Any company big enough to need millions of dollars is going to want to retain the percentage that kickstarter and indiegogo take.  If crowd funding is the first revolution, then we’re going to see a second revolution that moves big projects away from ‘middleman’ sites, but that drives small projects and small companies to those same sites.

[Update]  On Nov 19th the independent fundraising efforts have raised $3,691,332 and the kickstarter has raised $1,858,741.  Both campaigns have successfully funded, and have raised $5,550,073 total.  That’s a pretty amazing level of success by anyone’s standards.  It will be interesting to see how the project goes.  This total is not final as there are still 7 hours left…

Space: the New Zombie Game.

Kickstarter has a whole host of games, and right now Space games seem to be extremely popular.  From strategy to tactical, to resource management these projects range from the one man show up to the professional studio looking for fund a sequel.   Here are a few of the space related computer games on kickstarter.  Not counting Scrumbleship, here are five new games up on kickstarter.

Nexus 2: The Gods Awaken
Goal: $650,000
Current: $136,344
Days left: 8

This project is extremely likely to be finished if the campaign is funded.  This is a professional team of developers who have produced a number of titles for a verity of platforms with various levels of success. It was unlikely to finish 8 days ago when I first wrote this post, and even less likely to finish today.

Goal: $350,000
Current: $134,959
Days Left: 0

This project already looks fairly complete.  The video claims that most of the game mechanics are present, and the funds are required to complete the art and add more details and touches.  This game interests me the most and has some press from RPS, Indie Game Mag, and CinemaBlend.  Unfortunately they didn’t make it.

Goal: $50,000
Current: $59,661
Days Left: 9

I’m not a big fan of 4x games.  In fact I don’t even know what that means.  Lazy blogger, look at wikipedia.  Ah, Civilization in Space.  I’ll stick with Civ 5.  MORE power to them though and congratulations on making the cut.  I hope they make the ‘better graphics’ tier of stretch goals.

Goal: $5000
Current: $15,969 Success!
Days Left: 16

I already wrote about this game a bit.  This kickstarter has the perfect goal, and stretch goals for the project. The dollar amount is just right for the size of the team and the project.  Additionally the pledge tiers are at just the right amounts.  Whether the game works or not, the kickstarter is well planned.

The video could be better.  But it’s nowhere near as bad as:

(this is the only image other than a terrible video included with the Kickstarter)

Human Dawn
Goal: $4,000
Current: $191
Days Left: 0

This is a poorly made kickstarter, and a bland looking game as well.  Especially troubling is the far too short video that displays only extremely basic game play.  Unfortunately the way it’s presented is uninteresting and seems very ‘done’.  This is an example of what not to do in game design and kickstarter campaign.  There seems to be no passion here.  It is not surprising that it raised under $200 in pledges.  Remember include images in your kickstarter.  At least game play in a narrative form, which help sell the project.

Two Successful Kickstarters

At some point these two should be analyzed a bit more for what they did well, and what they did badly.  For right now I just want to mention that both Scrumble Ship and Dysis have either reached their goal or completed their kickstarter.

Scrumble Ship ends today at 1:27 pm EDT and is over their goal.  Dirkson requested $8000, but total pledges at just over $12,000.
Dysis has 17 days left.  They started with a $5000 dollar goal, but so far have pledges of over $15,000.

Now that they have succesfully raised money will they go on to be successful projects as well?  I hope so, and I’ll be following them to find out.

2 things we can learn from Dysis

Dysis is an interesting game.  The kickstarter video could use a little more polish, and the project overall doesn’t motivate me to want to contribute.  But I noticed two interesting things.  The Minecraft business model continues to be used by new game development projects.  And small dollar goals.

Christopher Farrell is basically asking for people to pay for software and counting that as a success.  This is a very reasonable request for a professional with a day job trying to create a game in his spare time.  The stretch goals, and all money above the $5000 base are going to flesh out the software and get poured into the game.  This kickstarter is well designed for the creators situation.  Indiegames.com picked up on the story last week.

As of 1:11 today the kickstarter is successfully funded, with 18 more days to go.  They are closing in on 3x the amount asked for.  Things are looking good for games of this type, like Scrumbleship.  Has anyone else noticed many Space games out there lately?  Seems like Space is the new Zombie.