Monday, June 11, 2012

Kickstarting a Genre

(UPDATE: The Two Guys from Andromeda (aka Guys from Andromeda LLC) have achieved their funding goal with hours to spare!)

There's something really interesting going on in the adventure game world these days, and it's largely thanks to the innovative Internet funding mechanism pioneered by Kickstarter.  Quite a few new adventure titles are being proposed and funded this way; if you're reading this blog, you've probably heard about the headline-making, as-yet-untitled Double Fine Adventure project from Tim Schafer, which aimed to raise $400K and came up with more than $3 million.  In the wake of that success, other big names have gotten involved -- Sierra On-Line stalwarts Jane Jensen and The Two Guys from Andromeda (Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe) have launched new projects this way as well.  There are also a number of modestly-budgeted independent adventure games like Lilly Looking Through, The Curse of Shadow House and HeXit being pitched and very often fully funded via Kickstarter.

Now, I'm not discounting the financial and creative risks undertaken in recent years by more traditional publishers like Telltale Games and Her Interactive, or indie adventure companies like Wadjet Eye Games; their hard work has kept the genre vital, retaining and expanding the adventure game audience and paving the way for this new wave of titles.  And gaming today benefits across the board from the advent of digital distribution over the Internet, taking a healthy chunk of manufacturing and advertising cost out of the publishing equation and making a number of genres commercially viable again in the process.

What's exciting about Kickstarter is that it takes the next step, going beyond inventory and marketing risk to reduce the financial risk of creating new adventures in the first place.  By appealing directly to fans, publishers are essentially funding new efforts based on committed pre-orders.  But Kickstarter's true genius may lie in its tiered buy-in system -- info-hungry gamers appear to be ready and willing to pay extra for "inside" previews and premium content, like downloadable soundtracks and beta testing access.  And if more money is raised than is requested, so much the better -- more funding often means additional platforms and languages can be supported, gameplay can be expanded, and overall quality can be improved.

This approach truly democratizes the domain of the venture capitalist and angel investor -- anyone willing to pony up the cash can feel like a part of the game development process.  And, judging from the different rates of progress seen in the current crop of Kickstarter projects seeking money, fans and gamers recognize that they are taking a risk too -- after all, if the money goes out but the project fails to materialize anyway, that investment is lost.  There are no guarantees that any of these funded projects will fulfill their early promise, or that the budget targets floated on Kickstarter will prove adequate.

But this isn't a bad thing -- making this whole process more public provides better information for everyone.  After all, if a project can't get its Kickstarter listing funded, perhaps it's time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better idea, instead of investing somebody else's cash in a product that may not find a receptive audience.  (The Two Guys from Andromeda are facing this possibility as I write this, as they have not quite hit their $500K funding goal with less than 24 hours of the standard 30-day window to go; one factor may be that they do not have rights to the Space Quest series they created at Sierra, and so are trying to do something similar called SpaceVenture, starring a new hero character.)

The bottom line is that pre-funding a project adequately, if not extravagantly, allows development to proceed with a measure of safety.  Game development is traditionally funded by big publishers, who have largely abandoned the adventure genre because it's not an easy sell in the 3-D Call of Duty: Modern Warfare era.  But that doesn't mean that there aren't fans out there who are willing to chip in to help a worthy project reach fruition.  It's a gamble, but a rational one -- and even if you don't have any skin in the game, the horse race at Kickstarter is always fun to watch.

Personally, I hope that most of these projects meet their funding goals, and that many of them go on to meet their creative goals.  The Internet's raw power lies in making connections, and I think that hooking talented designers up with a multitude of fans has great potential.  If a team's project gets made with Kickstarter money, turns out well and sells beyond its initial committed fanbase, then another project may very well get funded.  It may even get funded through Kickstarter.

No comments:

Post a Comment