When the Kickstarter project for Wasteland 2 was announced, I was ecstatic. Like many old school game fans I thought that this could bring about a revolution of games that are made without ties to publishers, a world where games are made to satisfy the whims of an artist, not to line the pockets of huge publishers. It did not take me long to see many other projects sprout up in its wake, all with varying degrees of professionalism. It’s here where my thoughts turned sour. With the way naive projects represented themselves, it seemed as if they might not be able to follow through. Many people see publishers as evil, but they provide something that Kickstarter does not: accountability. Sometimes developers don’t get investments because investors don’t think the project is profitable, or other times it might be that they don’t think the team behind the project is competent enough to make a quality product.
If we look back upon a previous crowd funded game, the situation looks bleak. While the camp that was disappointed in Minecraft may be smaller than the ones that loved it, that does not make their complaints less legitimate. Minecraft was released without many of the promised features, with the developers frequently taking long breaks off of work. As much as I hate to admit it, some developers just need publishers. You may not be one of the people that was disappointed by Minecraft, but will you be among those who are disappointed by Double Fine Adventure or Wasteland 2? No matter how good a game is, it can’t please everyone.
Many people preorder games, and quite a few end up being disappointed with the product, but funding a game in development gives you something more. Watching a game grow from start to finish, playing through each iteration of the beta, and giving suggestions to the developers creates an emotional attachment, something you would not have to a game you just bought at launch. While there are a lot of great people working on these games, the outcomes of their projects determine if the genres they are reviving come back, or if they are buried even deeper.
It can be tough to ask a consumer to help decide what games are to be made. An over saturation of Kickstarter games would likely lead to most of them being underfunded with the consumer base being spread too thin, and the only games that get funded are the most high profile ones. It is a worst case scenario, but if prefunding games gets too popular, it could lead to the opposite of what Kickstarter is meant for; a forum where well-known developers receive the most attention, with no one looking at smaller projects. Should this happen, developers would be losing the best part of Kickstarter: the ability for innovative ideas to get the recognition that they can’t get from a publisher. The flood of games will make it harder for smaller projects to be acknowledgment, and people will just fund the projects that have big name developers and popular genres.
People like to believe that they could never be scammed by anything, and it is that kind of hubris that will let people be scammed in the first place. I find it sad to imagine that Kickstarter could be used as a forum for such activity, but its policies seem conducive for it. The Kickstarter FAQs state that “Kickstarter does not investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project.” and that “[T]here are powerful social forces that keep creators accountable.“. It appears that Kickstarter is just going with a “Don’t Be a Dick” policy to stop scams. Even with such stern systems in place to keep projects in line, somehow there is already a high profile project failing. Eyez was once one of the top funded Kickstarter projects, but now people are feeling ripped off. The intent was to make a HD camera embedded in a pair of glasses, but despite receiving funding, it seems to have never come into fruition. This hurts both the project’s reputation, and Kickstarter’s reputation as a whole. Even if they are not a scam (I’m not saying they are) you can see the effect of the delay their project has on their comment page.
It is unfortunate how unstructured Kickstarter is, because it makes the community extremely fragile. I want to see all of the projects there be successful, and some groups may be able to make all their backers happy, but the ones that can’t please their backers would be much better off with a traditional investor. That said, they most likely came to Kickstarter because they could not get an investor. If that is because they are not capable of making a quality project in a timely matter, I would much rather hold onto my wallet until after the product is out.