News Article

Talking Point: The Blurring Lines of Kickstarter Fundraising Goals

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Pwnee Studios gives its perspective on the publication deal with Ubisoft

If you go back just a few years, the idea of developers raising funds for non-existent games from the consumer marketplace may have seemed to be a wacky proposition. The thinking may have been along the lines of "ask consumers to pay for a game that isn't even in development yet, yeah right!"

Yet that's exactly what's happened in the past couple of years on the Kickstarter fundraising platform, which was initially limited to North America but, in relatively recent times, has become open to interested parties in the UK and elsewhere. We live in a rather extraordinary time where developers with relatively little, and in some cases no track record as developers, are successfully raising money for game projects with budgets varying from less than $1000 all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of these projects are mentioned here in Nintendo Life due to their success or pledges to release on Wii U and/or 3DS, so the conventional, license-based world of Nintendo is becoming involved as well.

As a young concept and idea, however, we've already seen issues emerging from the Kickstarter model. Take for example occasions where projects become delayed or run into trouble. In the early days we heard of examples where projects excitedly asked for modest sums, and then realised that actually delivering on that budget can be problematic; then there are game delays. If a retail or upcoming eShop title is delayed there can be disappointment, but in most cases you've lost nothing apart from anticipated gaming fulfillment. If a Kickstarter project that you backed is delayed or runs into production issues, tough luck, as you've paid your cash and will have to simply wait it out.

That's the crux of the issue with Kickstarter — what's your role when you fund a project? It's necessarily a donation as you're paying — in the vast majority of cases — for a tangible product; it's not a pre-order in the purest sense as it's not being dealt with or guaranteed by a major retail partner. Perhaps your role is that of an investor, but is it really? Some projects offer pricey options where you can passively participate in some design meetings, but generally you're one of hundreds or thousands of investors, and you ultimately have no power. If the project disappears your money potentially goes into the wind, and as its own terms of use make clear, Kickstarter won't ensure completion or act as a moderator.

By backing a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, you as the Backer accept that offer and the contract between Backer and Project Creator is formed. Kickstarter is not a party to that agreement between the Backer and Project Creator. All dealings are solely between Users.

So it's all down to trust, and as Kickstarter's spiel does correctly point out, this method of sale and distribution has been around in long-gone times — book publication would often rely on "subscribers" signing up before a page had been printed in previous centuries. Yet in an online age when opinions and debates can quickly spiral out of control, this model can face some strain. One good example is PC project The Banner Saga; a Gamasutra editor criticised the project for what he felt were false promises, yet the developer responded to state that the source of the controversy — a free multiplayer mode released to the public — was always made clear to backers. Yet clearly people had backed the project without really looking at the details, leading the developer to say this in its rebuttal.

At the end of the day, I think 20,000 emotionally invested backers is just... a lot of people. You’ve now got a monstrous publisher of epic bi-polar proportions, with 20,000 different wants and desires, 20,000 different ideas about what your game is, a huge gulf between those who care and don’t care about what you’re doing, and a lot of wildly different expectations to fill, some of which don’t make any sense at all.

And we're seeing a further twist to the Kickstarter saga that has affected a couple of Wii U projects — post-campaign publishing deals. The 90's Arcade Racer looks like an attractive homage to SEGA's racing arcades of that decade, with a Wii U version teased during the campaign before it was confirmed that, actually, Nicalis had noticed the project and stepped in as publisher, also confirming the Wii U eShop for what was initially a PC project. So, a recognised publisher with — we assume — reasonable resources had come on board; was the £16,000+ Kickstarter investment still required, as this was no longer being self-published on any platforms?

Perhaps considering the modest sum involved, and due to Nicalis being a small to medium sized publisher itself, that's a good-luck story that the investors may be happy with. The example that came to light yesterday is an interesting one, however, with Ubisoft confirming that it's publishing Cloudberry Kingdom. This title squeaked past its target last May, and was initially a PC game with a targeted release of September 2012, though confirmation of a Wii U version certainly got it onto our radar. Updates were posted confirming a new art direction, and the release was pushed back.

On the fundraising page itself there were no updates between late September and late February, and in that most recent post — correct at the time of writing — there were no hints of Ubisoft joining in. Granted, we're not on the backer's email list. Ubisoft is, let's not forget, one of the elite and most powerful publishers in the industry, so while it's undoubtedly exciting for Pwnee Studios, there's a debate to be had about the path of events that sees an indie project crowd-funded, delayed, and then published (with Xbox 360 added as a platform) by a behemoth like Ubisoft. Backers have been playing beta builds on PC and will still receive their code of the full game, of that we're absolutely sure, but has the whole dynamic changed? You receive your goods for your investment, but the $23,582 raised now seems out of place with a publisher like Ubisoft involved; going back to the example of The Banner Saga, this no longer has hundreds of publishers along those lines.

That money was required to fund the game, of course, but this scenario does raise question-marks about a potential way for big publishers to potentially "game" the system with indie projects. Considering the investment nature of Kickstarter, where some perks involve you paying more for something like a line of acknowledgement in the credits, will some be disappointed if they paid $60 for that privilege in Cloudberry Kingdom, only for it to be a line in a Ubisoft-published game that's selling for $15? What began as backing an indie-project is now, in all honestly, nothing of the sort.

From Pwnee's perspective, it would be unlikely to turn down the opportunity to be published by Ubisoft. What we do have, however, are 640 backers now receiving their products wrapped in a Ubisoft bow. A company of considerable size is investing in a project that's already had over $20,000 of private investor's money; ultimately money the European publisher can arguably save in getting its investment to download stores. It's a tough line to say that this is unquestionably wrong, as we've already acknowledged the risky nature of the Kickstarter model, yet it's an odd scenario that demolishes this project's campaign as a self-published effort made possible by backers. Again, it comes back to some perhaps not understanding what Kickstarter really is — a risk-based investment — and potentially not realising that, ultimately, the project isn't beholden to them as the early investors.

And so it's another twist and grey area in the ongoing Kickstarter revolution, and sets potentially iffy precedents. If big publishers simply observe campaigns and pounce to publish after investor money has already gone out of the door, the potential for cynical money-saving on the part of those major companies is obvious. There's arguably little issue with Pwnee Studios taking up Ubisoft publication, but it again highlights another risk for prospective investors. You may pay above the odds for a line in the credits to support a plucky project, but by the time it arrives the gesture could have lost almost all relevance.


We contacted Pwnee Studios earlier in the day regarding this article, and TJ Lutz, Vice President of Pwnee Studios, has kindly given his perspective. He answered a couple of questions and gave a general statement, and as we feel they all contribute to this debate, we include them in full below.

NL: The project was funded for self-publication via Kickstarter, but is now being picked up by one of the biggest publishers in the games industry and appearing on an additional platform. Do you feel there's a clash between the game's funded origins and its new status as a Ubisoft-published title?

TL: We initially began our Kickstarter campaign to improve the art to make Cloudberry Kingdom’s style better match the feel of the gameplay. During that process, we began to grab the attention of a few consoles like the Wii U, and they even got on board with the Kickstarter rewards. Eventually, we started to get questions from backers whether or not we would be able to promise them copies on the PS3 and the 360. We didn’t want to leave people out in the cold who had those consoles, so we started to really push to try and get onto these consoles as well. Over time, we realized that we weren’t going to be able to land every console on our own – so we began looking at other options. One of the things that publishing through Ubisoft allows us to do is make Cloudberry Kingdom available to people who didn’t own a WiiU or use Steam. So to answer your question, no. I don’t really think there is a clash of any sort. Ubisoft has given more people the chance to play Cloudberry Kingdom than we could have on our own.

NL: Is it perhaps an unwritten goal, on Kickstarter, that while looking to fund projects there's actually a hope of a bigger publisher coming along? Do you agree that there's a danger of investors feeling disappointed by retrospective publication deals like that with Ubisoft? (For example, will the game be $15, as per the lowest tier on your Kickstarter campaign?)

I wouldn’t say that there is necessarily an unwritten goal of getting a big publisher’s attention. We didn’t even consider it until we realized that we would be letting a number of people down by not releasing on all systems. The way Kickstarter has exploded as an indie gaming hotspot though, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if some people do have that goal in mind. In terms of investors feeling disappointed by publication deals, I suppose there is always a danger of that. Not everyone is going to support every major decision that you make, but hopefully most people understand that it was the best decision to be made. We can’t really address the price of the game, as we haven’t confirmed what it will be yet. We will just have to see where it ends up, but we certainly wouldn’t do anything to irk our backers. We know where we came from, and we’re going to remain loyal to our backers no matter what. Without them Cloudberry Kingdom wouldn’t exist!

And finally, TJ gives his thoughts on the general debate.

TJ Lutz: I definitely agree that if it becomes common practice for big publishers to use Kickstarter for window shopping, there could be some issues. What a lot of people might not know, is that there are a number of small to medium sized publishers already taking that route. They aren’t necessarily landing every target, but it happens more often than you might be aware of (since the failed recruitments aren’t generally mentioned).

What it really comes down to is how the particular developer thinks. Some people want to be very independent, and accomplish something completely on their own. Others really don’t care about much at all, and just want to make money. There are a number of developers out there who just want to make the best game they possibly can. I think when it comes down to it, 90% of the people placing their games on Kickstarter just want people to like their game, and they really want to do all that they can to make the backers feel like their investment was worth it. I can certainly see how having a game that you backed pick up a publisher could devalue the Kickstarter experience for you, but I can guarantee that 90% of the time, the developer did it because he thought it would give you a better game experience in the long run.

I guess that just about sums up my thoughts. It is certainly something that will be interesting to keep an eye on in the next couple of years, I could definitely see Kickstarter becoming a “game farm” in the future if this sort of thing continues. It seems to happen in every industry, Kickstarter is just new enough that it hasn’t become prevalent yet.

We thank TJ Lutz for his comments. So, what do you think?

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User Comments (63)



Moonhillwat said:

That's why I don't donate to Kickstarter projects. If a game I like winds up coming to Wii U, I'll happily pay for the game.



ACK said:

Love it. Excellent journalism here.

I've been alarmed (and somewhat heartened) by the Kickstarter trend for some time now... Like I'm sure many others have. Actually, just the other day in the Bloom: Memories comments I called for some skepticism of the current (suspicious) boom of campaigns large and small. (As I posted, when the market loses it's carrying capacity, the wolves grow weary, desperate, and vicious...). Ironic, huh?



Toko24 said:

I think its a good idea to look to kickstarter but its become somewhat overused as a indie dev (starting lol) Its really hard to find funding and i kinda understand why everys been running to kickstarter. Now its flooded and its kinda hard to see the ones worth putting money into and others not... Double-sided blade feeling going on



Peach64 said:

I've donated to plenty of Kickstarter projects, but I always think of it like that... a donation. I give my money with the knowledge that it might all go wrong and nothing will come of it, but because of that, I also pick the ones I donate to very carefully. Usually it's to people I know can make great games such as David Braben, Peter Molyneux and Tim Schafer, or even to the Veronica Mars movie. By far the best game I've seen come out of it so far as FTL, something I didn't donate to, and didn't even know about until after it had been released, but it's in my top 5 games from last year.

One thing I will not do is donate to a game because the dev says they were inspired by something I love. I see so many stories on this website about Kickstarter games inspired by Zelda, or Metroid. It's NO indication quality. All it means is the guys doing the programming loved those games. I love watching footballers such as Lionel Messi, but that doesn't mean I can go out and do what he does. From the comments on those news items, it seems like far too many people here get taken in by those lines.



WiiLovePeace said:

@Blizzaga "That's why I don't donate to Kickstarter projects. If a game I like winds up coming to Wii U, I'll happily pay for the game." <- Agreed.

I would also like to know Pwnee Studios thoughts on the matter.



sonicfan1373 said:

I really like Kickstarter because it has allowed some of my favourite developers (many of whom have made good fan games up to now) to create some really excellent titles. I do agree that when publishers jump in and invest the results can be a bit sketchy (though many times it has good effects as well for example the developers will be able to benefit from the resources that the publisher has).

I think that some of the freshest ideas in the video game industry comes from indie developers or companies just entering the entertainment business which is why I think that the industry should work towards making it easier for indie developers to make games.



ACK said:

Even if we view these as donations, there's the troubling question of whether the crowd-funding charity is absolutely needed, or simply a form of (relatively) free investment capital. Cash-money in the bank is always better than a contract which iterates funds/resources.

Is there any doubt when games which are apparently unable to find a publisher rope them in only once funded. You can argue grassroots interest has opened publisher's eyes, but rarely is the amount of backers enough to guarantee profit in the general marketplace.

The question of need should be stressed considering there is apparently no transparency offered to backers regarding the interest of publishers. Do you really want to donate to a project with a publisher in tow, waiting in the shadows for any prospective funding to occur before swooping in to release the product and reap the rewards?

I'm waiting for a project to fail to meet it's goal, only to be published irregardless.



Knux said:

Very good article. This is why I don't fund Kickstarter projects, even if said project looks awesome.



Azikira said:

I've only backed Cryamore and Shovel Knight. They are the only things that have absolutely gripped me and I have full faith (as do thousands of other people) that these projects will be done. :3



nik1470 said:

Got a lot of love for indie devs but would rather spend my money on games I can play.



LavaTwilight said:

Very decent article. You have a really good observation of these issues and potential issues and what it means to consumers. I have been considering donating to a Kickstarter Project. I still might but I want it to be worth the money. Most of them aren't.



EdEN said:

Ok, lets clear something up: having a small, medium or large studio pick up your game for publishing, and having said studio provide funds to DEVELOP AND COMPLETE said game are two different things.

When a studio like Nicalis picks up The 90's Arcade Racer it is probably to get the game in the eshop since they are a licensed Nintendo dev and publisher who has paid for a dev kit and has a history of releasing games for Nintendo's digital service. This way, the developer can focus on finishing the game and not having to worry about requesting a dev kit and going through the approval process, or submitting the game to Lotcheck, or promoting the game before and after the release. This will all be taken care of by the publisher, in exchange for a cut of profits from sales.

Sure, there might be some cases where the publisher provides SOME funds to finish a game, but it probably will never completely fund the development of these type of indie games. If Kickstarter allows us to get more games on the Wii U and 3DS eshops by having us cover most of the cost, there is no problem. I look forward to The 90's Arcade Racer, Another Castle, Super Ubi Land and Cloudberry Kingdom, and wouldn't mind backing new indie games on Kickstarter.



Mortenb said:

There is nothing wrong. Just a bunch of whiny people "investing" but not thinking it through. Why not have it exactly like kickstarter, but where investors actually gain ownership in the project. That is what reasonable people do who have a great idea, or want to invest in a great idea.



SuperCharlie78 said:

Very interesting article, as usual.
I used to like this Kickstarter thing, after all in our beloved industry there are good ideas, and there are a lot of publishers that won't be interested in that idea, ever.
So this way to start to give form to those ideas is not bad, when we think at Nintendo, Sony, EA or Activision, whom names we are used to read everywhere, we think at major companies with a lot of money, but maybe the guys behind the videogames we love so much are people like us, people that make it possible for us to play the games, but are in no way able to deliver without someone else's cash.
That said, in the case mentioned in Thomas' article, I completely agree, Ubisoft entrance is kind of weird, the whole thing loses its sense, but at the end of the story all the backers will have their digital copy of the game, a game, we must not forget, that exists thanks to Kickstarter.
I'm really sorry for my poor english, but I hope you'll understand what I'm trying to express XD



TingLz said:

EdEN is right. We don't know how much the publisher is investing into the games. Heck, Ubisoft may only be porting the Cloudberry game to other platforms.



ThomasBW84 said:

I'm hoping to have something from Pwnee studios in this article soon, currently discussing that with them. As I hope came across, I'm not criticising Pwnee or '90s Racing in this article, I'm trying to get to grips with what, for me, is a strange grey area in these cases. I understand there's a distinct difference between development cost and publishing costs, but in some cases Kickstarter campaigns explicitly request donations to make both possible. How does the late intervention of a company like Ubisoft change the dynamic of those donations to Cloudberry? Does it even change the dynamic?

I don't think it's black and white, so I think it's worth debate.



EdEN said:

Also, lets not kid ourselves: if Nintendo showed up with a Kickstarter account on Monday telling us they want $5 million to release a limited edition 3DS Box set with a cartridge for Mother 1-3, a soundtrack, 3 small vinyl figures and a big strategy guide (like they did for Earthbound in the SNES) for $150 we would all be praising them for listening to the fans hehehe.



EdEN said:

@ThomasBW84: From my perspective, it doesn't really change the dynamic at all. In the case of Cloudberry, people that backed the project are getting their rewards, just as they would have if Ubi didn't come into the picture. Having Ubi come along for the ride means that the game could potentially sell more units, thus bringing a profit to Pwnee and Ubi, and allowing the indie studie to develop another game (or pay of debt) and Ubi would take a gamble again on publishing another indie game.

That right there, at least for me, is a Win-Win-Win for backers, the indie dev and the publisher.



cornishlee said:

I've never backed anything on Kickstarter and it's not really something that interests me. Of the case in question, I'm not really sure I see the controversy unless the developers entered into a contract with the backers (or otherwise stated) that they would self-publish. Plenty of games are developed by a studio and then picked up and published by someone else. This industry has always worked like that and I don't see why crowd-funding should be expected to change that model in any way, shape or form.



Peach64 said:

@Tech101 It's for all those situations where fans want a game, but the publisher doesn't believe it's worth the money. So many times over the years I've heard people go on about how they'd pay more than the regular asking price for some much-wanted game such as Shenmue 3, those sort of gamers that the majority of gamers seem to love, but will never happen because the previous games didn't make a ton of money. This is a chance to say to all those fans... okay, put your money where your mouth is.

@EdEN Perfect example!

Maybe fans who just play Nintendo games won't get it, as if you hear the name of someone involved in the studios, they're pretty much still at Nintendo, and the games you played 20 years ago are still getting pumped out now. There are so many examples, particularly on PC, of games, or series that haven't been touched in over a decade because their genre is not considered marketable anymore. No publisher would be looking to revive old school point and click franchises, but things like Kickstarter allow the fans of those games to try and make new versions possible.

People don't see it as an investment, they see it as a way to help get them a game they really want, a game they know wouldn't ever see the light of day without it.



cyberman67 said:

The big fish like EA, Ubi, Sony, Nintendo tend to invest more and more in safe projects. The retailers try to "bet" on those games. And, really, sometimes it seems to be like betting. Who had thought that a top game like sim city would struggle so much while a game like "farm simulator" sells so good? The gaming market is really unpredictable nowadays. There are a few games like FiFa, "Call of Duty"- or "Mario"-titles which will sell always in high numbers. But for any AAA-title with high sales numbers comes another which sells inexplicable low numbers.

Kickstarter might seem like a way out of that dilemma. On the one hand we see games, which wouldn't stand any chance in finding a publisher. Traditional RPGs like "Torment", "Project Eternity" might have never found a publisher for being so "old school". Small publisher or "one man shows" might never get the money to start, even if they had great ideas. BUT, and that is the great BUT for me: How much of the games will be published on which platforms? I gladly pay on or steam for those mentioned rpgs. I will happily invest my money on the eshop for games like "The 90s Arcade Racer". But i fear that there are a lot of kickstarter projects without a solid business plan, programmers without experience and ideas not really thought through. What worries me most about kickstarter is, that a lot of promising project will just vanish because talented but inexperienced programmers, designers, musicians, writers just couldn't get the project done because they where overwhelmed by creating, self-promoting and self-publishing they're games. I hope that Nintendo will help the relevant kickstarter projects for Wii U and 3DS in whichever ways they could. Having indie game programmers coming up with new and fresh ideas is - imho - a much needed thing for the whole gaming industry. But they must be helped by big publishers, in promoting the games and putting them on the platforms to sale. There is a big big windows of opportunities for Nintendo here, it hope they will open it.



Progniss said:

I think you're really misunderstanding the entire point of kickstarter and a few other things as well.

Firstly, kickstarter "investments," when you put down money no matter the goal doesn't actually quantify you as an investor, meaning: someone who owns part of the company property. It means you're investing in an idea and a dream you also believe in. As a bonus they're giving you things, extras for believing with them and showing your support.

Also, when an indie game company makes a page, then reaches their goal and are picked up by a publish, you're angry, because now they''ve garnered professional insight? You feel you've been robbed? Truth is, you're going to be a better project with the hard work and sweat from the indie team and the professional experience, knowledge and advice from the publisher. So you say, "well wtf!? What about my money, they don't need it now!" Oh so now that they are getting help from a publisher, all of a sudden it doesn't cost money to port to different consoles? LOL! Get real, guy. What a joke. They got picked up because the consoles are already paid for so the publish does t have to pocket the cost. Now they get to work with them on porting to other consoles, get their name on it as well and bring in some extra $$ for the publisher name as well. Honestly this is a win for everyone and your money is still being used how it was intended to be used.

Media at Its finest again. Blowing things out of proportion and jumping to a conclusion for the sake of viewership. I really wish the guy who wrote this article approached it from the POV of maybe both sides instead of a linear conclusion that propogates faulty information. I mean you even admitted to not being a backer and knowing no backstory then jumping into assuming things.

I've supported many ideas on kickstarter and helped those dreams become reality.



Wowfunhappy said:

I don't understand the debate over Cloudberry Kindgom. At the end of the day, all I really care about is that the game I backed is completed, high quality/fun, and delivers on all the developer's promises.

As a backer, I've been playing the Cloudberry Kingdom beta, so I can attest to the fact that it IS a lot of fun.



rjejr said:

If im an indie developoer today im going on Kickstarter just b/c it seems like the thing to do, like having a website. I wouldnt even know about Ouya except for its Kickstarter coverage last year.

And speaking of Ouya - they were promising consoles to those who donated $100. Anybody know the tax implications on that? Or tax issues at all on Kickstarter? Id guess getting $200k donated is better than borrowing it at 3 1/2%. I see Kickstarter as Amazon like in tax avoidance.

Sucks growing old.



Progniss said:

@rjejr you still have to pay taxes on monies received from kickstarter campaigns and kickstarter/amazon also take like a 4% cut.



EdEN said:

@rjejr: Amazon takes a 5% cut from what you earn in Kickstarter, and Kickstarter takes another 5%. After that, all money left is taxable and must be reported to the IRS. If you are registered as a business, you can declare the manufacturing of rewards and the shipping costs as expenses to run said business and would pay taxes on the actual profit left.

Some States also have special rules in place and you could end up paying half the taxes if you're a newly created business, employ X number of people, and so on.



TotalHenshin said:

I don't see the problem with Pwnee Studios. Cloudberry doesn't look appealing to me, but if the game hadn't been backed, it might have never been in development for long enough to be picked up by Ubisoft in the first place. And there's no guarantee that Ubisoft won't drop support of the project, as games have been cancelled or dropped in the past. So even if a game got picked up by a publisher while a kickstarter for it was still on-going, it's no guarantee that the game will still come out. However, even if support gets dropped, if the project is successfully backed, it's more assured that the game will likely come out in some form. I'm not defending negligent kickstarter leads, I still very much endorse consumer wariness and wisdom, but I felt this article was a little one-sided. Yeah, it seems kind of "wrong" to me that for gamers kickstarter has essentially become a place to get their not definite pre-orders in, but we've already seen games like FTL come out to great fanfare. If things go wrong with so many games in development, the bubble will burst, and it'll likely be rare for a game to get $4 million from kickstarter.

For the record, the only games I've backed have been Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera. If I knew about it soon enough, I might have backed Project Eternity as well.



Nardar said:

How ironic Jeremy Soule (Composer of The Elder Scrolls Skyrim) just finished using Kickstarter to raise money for his first Symphony. It is called "The Northerner Soule Symphony No. 1"



DreamOn said:

Yay shovel knight! Can't hate kickstarter when it's brought yacht club games to the world!



ACK said:

The problem is transparency and the risk of snake-oil salesman abusing the system. What is the problem with wanting to know where the money is actually going to prevent abuse and protect the developers who need the funds from being overwhelmed by those who don't?

If you equate this with charitable donations, we should only further demand such information. Who wants to donate money to line the coffers? ...Most importantly, once faith in the system is broken, then where will the genuinely needy gain the support necessary to realize their ideas?



GreenDream said:

I agree with Progniss on this one, or at least as far as the issue of the point of Kickstarter is concerned. Kickstarter is not an investment platform. Backers are not investors, they are donors, community members, and advocates. Kickstarter is not a pre-order site. Kickstarter projects are not to be held to the same standards of accountability as traditional game development. Don't forget that traditional published games also run into unreasonable delays and major troubles, so Kickstarter projects are no more prone to these issues.

Personally, I have backed 16 game projects on Kickstarter. Five of them were not successfully funded; of those, four were educational titles. The only finished one is Faster Than Light. All of the successful projects have been communicating steadily, so they're all coming along nicely. None of them have, thus far, engaged in the same tactics as the companies mentioned in the article. I keep missing all of these projects which people are so skeptical of.

In particular, the teams behind titles such as Wasteland 2 and Project Eternity...these Kickstarter project teams have specifically stated within their respective propositions that one of the main reasons they joined Kickstarter was to avoid the private investment model, if possible... especially that of publishers. It's safe to say many other project teams joined Kickstarter for the same reason: to develop a thriving public investment model.

Some of these titles would have NEVER existed without a venue such as Kickstarter. The people who are jumping ship back into the laps of publishers are not necessarily wrong, however, it's leadership states:

"Kickstarter's CEO said last year the company had no plans to pursue equity crowdfunding. He believes Kickstarter has been disruptive mainly because of the removal of that investment component — basically that monetary investment taints the system."



GreenDream said:

@ACK Transparency is a moot point, there is NO system of transparency existing right now in game development.

Publishers are just as likely to try "snake-oil" tactics, by people who try to abuse the available capital through poorly planned organization; remember how the Rhode Island government funded the Kingdoms of Amalur company's capital investors, based on ridiculous claims of profitability, just because one of the managers was a famous baseball player? We all remember how that turned out for them...

There's no problem with wanting to know what's going on behind the scenes, but only equity crowdfunding investment offers investors any working level of that- and that's not even legal in most places in the world right now, due to all the legal minefields! The whole transparency issue for game development in general is also a legal minefield.

The whole point of Kickstarter is that faith in the private investment model is breaking apart at the seams, from many developers' standpoints. They couldn't stand how traditional publishers work, so they turned to a public funding model. This is not true of all who turn to Kickstarter, just some of them.



ACK said:

The skepticism is based upon the fact that the marketplace is under siege. In the face of pressure and given the opportunity, people will go to great lengths to make a buck and lessen the risks of loss.

Some of those people are hard workers attempting to create a quality project or offer a useful service. Many others have no such ideas and have long relied on abusing the various segments of the entertainment industry.

Donors/Backers deserve the necessary transparency to determine the need and utility of their funds. They also deserve more protection from fraud than this system offers. Plain and simple.

(On the larger point of responsible journalism... What is the point if not to illuminate and inform the public of inherent, indirect, or insulated risks? I, for one, applaud Thomas taking the risk/responsibility upon himself with the intent of asking the necessary questions... It's not easy and there is little benefitting him.)



ThomasBW84 said:

Hey guys,

I'm delighted that TJ Lutz, Vice President of Pwnee Studios, has answered a couple of questions and given his general thoughts on the debate. It also provides useful backdrop to the situation with Cloudberry Kingdom. He tells me he's interested to see the debate from both perspectives, which is absolutely the goal here.

I've included his comments in full as an update at the end of the article.



shimage said:

Kickstarter is just a way to connect entrepreneurs with investors, and like all investments, it is not unheard of for Kickstarter projects to fail to meet expectations. The idea that individual investors have any meaningful amount of control over our investments is a bit silly. I own stock in Costco. Does that mean I have any control over them? In principle, I guess I do, but as a practical matter, the answer is no.



ThomasBW84 said:

@Progniss I don't feel I jumped to conclusions, I commented on the publicly posted updates and, in the interests of being completely upfront, said I wasn't a backer. This article looks at issues around what is absolutely in the public domain, and I made it 100% clear that we were seeking the opinion of Pwnee Studios (now added in detail). If that's not giving fair consideration to multiple sides of the debate, then I'd be amazed.

This was an article raising debate points, and I don't think it could have been much fairer.



GreenDream said:

@ACK You're right to be wary of abuse and fraud- I've already seen at least one game project on Kickstarter which had a more than shady manager...



ACK said:

To be clear, I adore the opportunities afforded through a system such as kickstarter. Both as a consumer and creator. My goal is to protect the faith and belief required of donors.

I have no expectation of transparency into the creative process. However, I expect full disclosure (or as close as possible) of the need and intent of the funds desired.

For instance, if I donate to a project with the idea of protecting the freedom of expression from boards of investors... I believe it should be communicated whether the project will be fully self-published, or whether there is existing/future plans to utilize an outside publisher. It goes without saying that all those ideas I was sold on the front end become open season once a publishing deal is signed. Do donors receive any guarantees nor insight into the contract's demands or the publisher's aspirations?

The purpose is twofold: to protect against the threat of fraud and to prevent the wider devastation caused by shaking the faith of generous donors.



EdEN said:

@ThomasBW84: Most of the updates for Kickstarter projects that reach their goal are marked "backer-only" and only backers can read them because that is part of the reward. You're giving a dev money to create a game, and you are then given a look at how things are done and how the project is coming along.

That is part of the problem with how some people view your post because if a project has, say, 20 updates after reaching its goal and 18 are "backer-only" updates, you can't get the full picture of what is going on.

Thanks for getting in touch with Pwnee. Always interesting to see things from both perspectives.



AddDavey said:

There have been a few Kickstarters that I've wanted to back but I haven't because it's not certain that it's going to be 100% funded or completed once funded, if a game is completed and released then I'll get it then and not worry about losing money.



ACK said:

@GreenDream: I fully agree that the risks of this system are probably no greater than through traditional investment. Except we all know the risk exists and, in both instances, it is extremely important to protect investor/donor confidence.

In the case of the Rhode Island snafu... Can you imagine another state making that kind of investment in a game company again after this result? Never mind that they do it regularly for the movie industry (and long have, historically). The games industry will be looked at in the future with increased skepticism and developers will have to struggle further for a lifeline.



GreenDream said:

@ACK You're right- the issue of consumer confidence is something which the public relations and service departments throughout the computer game industry have had decades to refine, whereas there is no such network available to Kickstarter start-ups. So, that is at least one issue where publishers have a significant safety net, while Kickstarter ends up being more of a leap of faith based on whatever information is available to the viewer.

The equity crowdfunding option, which could potentially offer an unprecedented amount of mandatory transparency, is still being reviewed for the legal particulars throughout Europe and the USA. In another 5 years, investor networks might be able to provide a closer look into the inner workings of ongoing developer processes... If there is public approval of such a process in the future, then governmental organizations might be more willing to provide their own competitive options.

It would be nice if the managers of these projects chose to give the public a concise chart to show the costs of everything... I've only seen that done for community projects like farmer's markets, not for any game projects.



Klinny said:

I am personally rather fond of Kickstarter. Like anything, you need to be careful and make wise, informed decisions about who you are giving your money to. Most of the projects I've backed have been from developers, (Double Fine, inXile, Lionhead) or writers that I am already very familiar with and who I trust.

The reason I started using Kickstarter to help fund projects is that I've watched my favorite developers unable to work on the projects that they love, and create the kinds of games that I used to love, due to demands of publishers to create safe, sell-able games.



aaronsullivan said:

Big fan of Kickstarter. I think it has grown faster than the number of people that can understand it. If you treat it like a product pre-order or some sort of investment where you expect some extra gain I think you misunderstand it.

There are two great purposes that I see in backing Kickstarter projects:
1. You are often supporting the realization of someone's dream project. That's a great feeling and a great cause.
2. You are promoting out of obscurity something that aligns with your own desires and tastes.

The second one is the more self-serving one, but also something people often overlook. It's like voting in a state where you know your vote is against what the majority are voting. You may think it's a throwaway (similiar to how you may think a failed Kickstarter is throwaway money), but in actuality your voice has been heard by everyone and the great waves of trend shift slightly in your direction. Politicians must moderate, the gaming industry sees your market need more clearly.

My advice is don't back a Kickstarter just to buy something, do it to make a difference of some kind.



XCWarrior said:

"Shut up and take my money." <-- Should be the subhead for the kickstarter website. Because that is what you are doing - giving money to a game before it's even close to completion.

I want inde developers to succeed, but they aren't getting my money until the game is done and been reviewed. You want me to preorder a game - cause that's what you are doing - you have to make yourself a track record.

As for Cloudberry kingdom, I wanted this game. But now it's been tainted by Ubisoft. The same Ubicrap that delayed Rayman Legends. So now I'm not buying it on principle. I'm sure the game will do much better with Ubicrap's backing, but they lost a sale here. I'm just one guy, but I'm sticking to my guns after the Rayman Legends debacle. A boycott is a boycott, and they have done nothing for me to lift it.

Edit: Forgot to say, great job Thomas Whitehead on a very interesting article.



Chunky_Droid said:

Nice to know Ubisoft giving you almost half the game and adding 30 levels to Rayman Legends doesn't appease some.

I'll be getting it, because having spoken to TJ Lutz myself, he's a very genuine person, and a lot of work's been done to create a game that no two people will ever have the same experience playing.



TheAdza said:

I can't say I have backed anything from Kickstarter, and likely never will.



Zodiak13 said:

It's funny how I'm willing to gamble $100's at the casino, but not in investing anymore. The 86k I lost 5 years ago in stock really has made me cautious. Possibly in the future I'll be willing to go back into investing. I personally like this business model for generating new ip.




If you guys haven't watched asalieri's videos of kickstarter nightmares on youtube, I strongly urge you to do so, because he points out the most interesting thing about kickstarter: the majority of lousy projects vastly outnumber the minority of really cool ones. I really dislike kickstarter because like asa says, most of the people there are nothing more than e-begging scumbags that want free money and usually give sh*tty rewards in exchange (I'm not saying all of them are the same). I have other responsibilities too at home to be willing to give free money to all people asking for it at kickstarter (yes, I'm looking at you AVGN).



Andyjm said:

Interesting article and full marks to Lutz for answering a couple of questions and giving his perspective. It would have been easy to say 'no comment' and be done with it.



SanderEvers said:

You are almost all very wrong.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website. And that's what it is, nothing more and nothing less. When you donate to one of these projects you help funding them so they can create the subject of their project (game, album, art, some gadget, etc)

That you'll get a (not so) special reward for helping them is just a way to get more money. But it's not the main goal of the project. It's to raise enough money to actually be able to create the (insert project subject here) they want.



Yanchamaru said:

I wonder how many projects on kickstarter are scams? They could use your money for personal needs (buying groceries, going on vacation, etc.) instead of using ALL the funds to develop the project. I will never invest in a kickstarter campaign unless I receive some of the finished profits.



Schprocket said:

What I find interesting is that for all the Nintendo fans who complain about the Wii U not having "many" games on this site, I don't read of too many who 'join the dots' when it comes to influencing Kick-starter projects.
Quite a number of Kick-starter games are developed with the Unity engine and there is a Unity engine for the Wii U.
I'd love to see some Unity-powered old-school TBS, such as Battle Worlds: Kronos and Mechwarrior Tactics brought to the Wii U but they're not likely to whilst Wii U owners and would-bes sit on their hands and whinge.
If getting a Wii U version becomes a stretch target for projects then even if the Wii U version doesn't eventuate there's usually a PC version to run with.
I'd also like to see Nintendo looking at Unity-engined kick-starter games and dropping these 'free dev-kits' at the front door of a wider range of games as well as the seemingly staple diet of platformers and puzzlers.
This may be ove-simplified but it's certainly a more positive way contributing to a platform's game catalogue by putting your money where you mouth is !



GreenDream said:

@FOURSIDE_BOY I don't know what projects he's talking about, because I've participated in things like this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and even THIS, a nuclear energy documentary in Fukushima:

They all delivered, no scams or screw ups. The documentary is still on-going. That person you mentioned must constantly be looking in all the wrong places, possibly on purpose, to weed out the negative sides of Kickstarter... That does not represent all of the good things people have done through Kickstarter support, though.



GreenDream said:

@Schprocket Exactly, not many people realize that developers go through a lot of crap working solely for publishers, when their projects are entirely publisher funded; so receiving outside funding from avenues such as Kickstarter can potentially provide a positive influence on their work.

The Unity engine, and Nintendo's promise of giving greater support to indies, lends a natural pathway towards avenues of funding such as Kickstarter. Instead of Nintendo needing to do all of the evaluating and "selling the concepts", the fanbase/backers can do that instead. This allows Nintendo to focus more on reviewing the design documents, and the straight marketing and promotion of those games.



Kaze_Memaryu said:

I think Kickstarter really opened the door for many indie dev's who didn't have the funds to get busy, so I'm by no means against it.
Of course the risk of abusing the platform to either collect easy money (on the dev side) or to find a nice game to publish (on the publisher side).
But it also comes with another problem: the indie game scene is growing faster nowadays. Fundraising only supports that growth even further - and might lead to major dev's losing space in the gaming scene.
So eventually, we will have to deal with the problem of too much competition between to many developers and/or IP's.



Platypus101 said:

@Blizzaga yup! My thoughts exactly!
Indie Dev: I have a game...
Major publisher: Not Interested.
Indie Dev: I got 30,000$ on Kickstarter...
Major publisher: I knew you had a winning game from the start! Now let's talk...

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