Catching up: Kickstarters

I don’t know about any of you but I’m getting to a place with gaming kickstarters which is much closer to how I buy regular published games. I read the kickstarter, think “Sounds cool” and then “I’ll wait till it’s released and then pick up a copy if it’s any good.”

To get me to contribute these days, I’d need more emotional attachment to the project than just “Oh neat.” It would either have to sound like something I really want to play, involve a creator of whom I am a fan, or support a cause I care about. Maybe the sheen has just gone. Creators are finding new ways to use kickstarters – sometimes to raise awareness or for publicity more than for the kickstarter cash itself. This wasn’t really the original idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible.

It’s just that in the grim dark future, instead of applying for a beta or preordering (or prepaying) to get your beta spot, it’ll only be open to people who paid more than $X in the kickstarter.  But the equating of “how much cash are you willing to put up” as a measure of your dedication as a fan is a trend that is only going to increase. It is also inherent in the F2P mindset. That’s more of a topic for a future post. For now, lets just say that fan enthusiasm is a commodity to be monetised. Fun times.

Anyhow, there have been a few large gaming kickstarters in the mix lately. Terra Silverspar sees this as a sign that kickstarter is going to be a bad thing for gaming in the longterm.

Many of big name developers using Kickstarter are furthest from strapped for cash to be able to produce the titles they are looking to produce, but they threw out these rather large figures at what they feel would need to be to create these games, some of them with not even a demo or name of the product to be seen, and even threw out shameless incentives to get people to pay more.


All they have to say is remember my one good game and they know their fans will jump on it, especially if said big name makes large promises that claim their in development product you’ve never seen will be like one of their famous games of the past.

This isn’t fundamentally different from the way hype works anyway. “New game X will be like old game Y that you really liked” is a fairly basic argument, especially if it’s backed up by having some of the same team involved. You pays your money and takes your chances.

However, phrases like “harkening back to his innovative early work,” “the team will revisit X’s design roots”, “this game is counter-revolutionary” et al lean towards a current view of kickstarter where it is getting used to support revolutionary (or not)  little indie games and old school (ie. not revolutionary) larger games. Except that the indie games struggle more with publicity than a big name celeb game designer.

Anyhow, I’m going to scan over some of the projects that I have either backed or been following.

Shroud of the Avatar (Lord British)

I know Arb is fond of this one, for sentimental reasons. This successful kickstarter has been controversial because Lord British (yeah I know, his real name is Richard Garriot) is wealthy enough in his own right that punters wonder why he can’t pitch a game to publishers without needing $1m of funding from the public first. Also controversial as the man is a dab hand at giving controversial interviews. Or in other words, he gives good media.

On the other hand, he is proposing making an open world RPG of the type he became famous for with the Ultima series. Shroud of the Avatar is a direct callback to Ultima, as your character was called “the avatar” in many of those games, although for legal reasons it won’t be using any of the Ultima IP (last seen being cast onto iOS via Ultima Forever). It is going to be a PC game. He is calling it a multiplayer game rather than an MMO so there is going to be some overlap with solo play and group play.

So if you liked that sort of game – which Arb and I did very much – it will be one to keep an eye on. I like open world RPGs, and that is what I expect this to be. The kickstarter almost doubled its $1m goal, so let’s see how it goes.

Jane Jensen (Moebius)

This is one of the first kickstarters that I backed, and I liked it because I admire Jane very much as a game writer and have fond memories of the Gabriel Knight games. Her studio has already put out an extra mini graphic adventure aimed at 5-9 year olds – which wasn’t anything I was interested in, but free perks are always nice and if I knew anyone with a kid and an iPad I’d happily give it to them. But the main attraction is Moebius, an adventure game which does not stray far from its Gabriel Knight roots.

RPG didn’t think much of the trailer but as a backer I’m happy, it looks pretty much to be what I would have expected. I look forwards to playing it on release and am happy I was able to support it.

Also she’s been great about monthly updates, free wallpapers, and generally being in touch and available.

Camelot Unchained

As a fan of DaoC (and Warhammer Online) I am always interested to see any project that Mark Jacobs is behind. He spent a few months building up publicity for this kickstarter before it launched, and is currently almost halfway to his $2m goal. It is a large goal, especially for a fairly niche type of game, so this will be an interesting one to watch.

Mark is doing a lot of publicity for this at the moment via interviews. He also has been quite active in the reddit, and I recall he always seemed to quite enjoy interacting on forums et al during DaoC also.

Although I really liked DaoC I am not backing this one, because all PvP all of the time isn’t for me. I do think it was a good idea to limit the scope of the game – PvE content in MMOs is expensive and there is definitely an audience for a smaller PvP focussed game. If it is your thing, feel free to go pledge them some cash as this kickstarter has just under a month to go.

A friend of mine commented that he thought this kickstarter was very jargon heavy and would be hard to follow for anyone who wasn’t into MMOs. I don’t think they are trying to get new players into the genre, the people who want to back this game will know what the jargon means.  I do wonder a bit about how developing their own game engine is going to impact on things. It isn’t that it is a terrible idea, just that having the core of your game as a new untried and untested piece of code adds some risk to the endeavour.

Double Fine

This is the kickstarter which really kicked off the phenomenon for gaming, raising $3m on an initial goal of $400k. The game now has a name (Broken Age), a website, a trailer, and you can preorder. They have also been releasing regular video updates for backers giving some insight into the development process.

I am looking forwards to seeing the game, and I like the concept a lot. The videos have been fun and it feels like a fun, different way to support a game genre that I like and get a cool game at the end.

Torment (Numenera)

This is the Planescape Torment sequel that isn’t set in Planescape. The concept of that confused me enough that I decided not to back it – I did however back Monte Cook’s Numenera pen and paper game so at least I’ll be able to decide if I like the setting before putting any money down for a computer game. (Oh and also I can wait for the game to be released to see if I want to play it.)

Fortunately, Torment isn’t dependent on my backing as the kickstarter raised a whopping $4m off an original goal of $900k. Planescape really was that popular. They’ve recruited Chris Avellone (original Planescape: Torment designer) onto the design team, among other experienced designers, and have already turned out some cool looking screenshots.

I’ll look forwards to seeing what they can do with the money. But I’m perfectly happy to wait until release before deciding if I want it.

Here’s an interview with Brian Fargo where he talks about his experiences with successfully running kickstarters for Torment and Wasteland.

Project Eternity

Another RPG (I have straightforwards tastes in gaming), this time to be developed by Obsidium Entertainment with the help of just under $4m raised via kickstarter off an initial goal of £1.1m. Chris Avellone is going to be busy with both this and Torment, and they’re likely to be quite similar games.

This one I did support, I liked the idea of knowing a bit about the team going into the project at the start. And I want to see what Obsidian can come up with. They have been sending out regular updates, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

I also like that although they’ve been clear about their influences and what type of game it’s going to be, it doesn’t feel like so much of a namecheck as the Torment game. I will of course play both if they’re any good.

6 thoughts on “Catching up: Kickstarters

  1. I’m a cynic. I’m waiting for all these promised games to materialize and some played reviews to come out before I put down any money. Hype is all very well, and you may very well have a nice long term project management strategy set up, but no plan survives contact with the enemy and a game easily takes 1-2+ years to make – a lot can go wrong in that time. Sequels may also turn out nothing like the originals that one has fond memories of.

    So far, the only two kickstarters I’ve backed are things in progress with shorter term goals of six months or so for the first things to be delivered to backers, ie. there was stuff already in the works and the Kickstarter was just an additional source of funding to help them speed things along.

    • There’s definitely a risk involved, and we’re going to see increasing numbers of stories about kickstarters that use up the funding and don’t produce the goods, or else disappoint backers in some way.

      But when I was looking through my list of games I’d funded (I mean, before I got to the point of cynical), I was pleased by how many of them I was still looking forwards to and felt good about funding. Admittedly that doesn’t include all the games I mentioned here, but it’s not all bad is the point to take away.

  2. I can only see two reasons to pony up for Kickstarter MMO projects:

    1. You intend to play the game when it launches and there are perks in the KS for which you are willing to pay. Effectively you aren’t contributing to the game, you are buying specific perks.

    2, You intend to play the game when it launches, the KS is close to finishing and it’s touch and go whether it will meet its target. At this point you are paying to ensure the game gets made and your $50 might realistically make a difference to the outcome.

    Other than that, I can’t see any reason not to wait, see if the game ever actually does launch and make the same kind of buying decision in its final pre-launch period that you would for any normally-funded game.

    When I first came across KickStarter I did literally get my credit card out and it was only my unwillingness to do the online paperwork that stopped me funding several projects. None of those, as it happens, even got to 10% of their targets so I would have been wasting my time if not my money. Now I just look at KS as a form of infotainment. I’ll play the games when they come out, or I won’t. There will always be more games than I have time to play anyway, so whether particular ones get made or don’t doesn’t seem to matter very much.

    • The third reason – you get into the kickstarter (I did for Torment) early because the $25 dollars is reasonable for a commitment and you want to make sure the game is made.

      For the money – I was willing to put 25 bucks up – and even if it flops I can live without it – I want the game, and I hope it’s good – but I won’t feel cheated if it flops – it’s a small (to me) commitment with the hopes of getting something similar to Torment – it wasn’t the setting (Planescape) that really made that game what it was to me when I played it – it was the story.

      One of the few games where you could avoid almost any fight if you wanted to play that way – or you could play hack anything that looks at you wrong – and the game didn’t browbeat you over how you wanted to play.

      I also appreciated the depth of choice – it wasn’t the (now standard) Bioware – Good – neutral – Evil tree we get with games like Mass Effect – instead there were a host of options that fell along the D&D alignment axis – which really let you play a honorable bastard or good hearted villan if you so choose.

      The pitch was to create a focused game with the story and options to back it up – if they can pull it off I’ll donate more to the next one.

      Another thing I like about kickstarter – my 25 bucks goes to the game – all of it (minus kickstarter fees I suppose) – but it’s more money than they would get from me if they sold the game at retail (where the developer cut after all is said and done is what… 5 bucks from 60?).

      I like the idea of the developer getting more of my cash – and in this day and age with the internet – really I feel like we are on the way towards a time when (for some goods) the merchant will be irrelevant.

  3. Don’t forget the Divinity:Original Sin Kickstarter (it just got past it’s 400k funding). There are 2 reasons why i backed Divinity.

    1. Nostalgia, i loved Divine Divinity, and this game they are making are going back to their roots (isometric) and it’s a turned based combat system . Last game of this kind i played was probably Temple of Elemental Evil (classic DnD RPG).

    2. Level of Development cycle. They are basically done with the game, the kickstarter seems to be to “enhance” the game further. So unlike the other Kickstarters, this game is actually releasing this year and have alot of gameplay trailers floating around.

    So i effectively pre-ordered this game for $25. I think it’s a good way for the developers to gauge the popularity of their games and get the community involved early.

    Either way, in general i would also not just back a game because it sounds cool. I need to be a fan in some way. I’m still in 2 minds over Camelot Unchained. As interesting as it sounds, i know what MMO development cycles are like, it’s a very long wait for this game and (end of 2015) and alot of development hours needed. I didn’t really play DAOC, so my experience of Mark Jacobs was primarily from Warhammer online, and the game’s design was hugely flawed. So much so that i often wonder why he didn’t see it coming?

  4. Kickstarter appears to becoming more important as part of the game marketing plan as opposed to a funding necessity. Lord British could have gotten a million dollars elsewhere if he wanted it. An Mark Jacobs came right out and said that the Camelot Unchained KS campaign is, in part, a test of the viability of the game. If they cannot raise two million dollars from the core fans, then it probably isn’t worth doing, economically speaking.

    It has become part rallying point for the core fan base and a census of the potential player base. Finding out more than 22K people will give you money for a game that won’t be playable in any form for many, many months, as Lord British did, helps set expectations. No doubt somebody on their marketing team has a calculation that indicates how many customers that will mean at launch when there is a product to sell. And a good chunk of those 22K supports will help get the word out when that day comes.

    And the whole exercise turns a profit while getting you that data.

    It is like a marketing wet dream.

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