News Article

Talking Point: The Increasing Relevance of Kickstarter

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

We speak to successful crowdfunders

Kickstarter, as regular readers of Nintendo Life have no doubt noticed, is becoming increasingly visible in the gaming media. It's not just here that the crowdfunding site is gaining a lot of web space, as increasing numbers of fundraisers begin to emerge, gain significant support and, of interest to us here, often add 3DS or Wii U targets to their campaigns. In fact, the number of crowdfunded upcoming games on the Wii U eShop, for one example, is becoming as substantial as conventionally published titles.

The increasing prevalence of Kickstarter isn't sitting well with all gamers, as is always the case with something new, and we've already tackled the "blurring lines" of fundraising goals, as we considered the case of Cloudberry Kingdom evolving from a plucky crowdfunded project to being published by games industry behemoth Ubisoft. TJ Lutz, Vice President of Pwnee Studios, kindly gave us his thoughts and said that a "number of small to medium sized publishers" use Kickstarter for "window shopping", while insisting that even with the support of a powerful publisher, his team knew that their start was from hundreds of original backers. "We know where we came from, and we’re going to remain loyal to our backers no matter what," Lutz made clear. "Without them Cloudberry Kingdom wouldn’t exist."

So Kickstarter, like any relatively new idea, is full of grey areas, great positives and worrying flaws. The scope for abuse is evident, whether publishers simply wait for the public to fund a project and then swoop at the end for a smaller investment, or there may be funded projects that aren't delivered, with the site itself making clear it won't be liable for broken promises — "All dealings are solely between Users". There can be question marks over stretch goals, too, with recent example Buddy and Me adding an additional Wii U target, enjoying a late boost — admitting Nintendo fans were "one of the biggest reasons" for that success — and hitting its original target; the Wii U threshold wasn't reached, however. For Nintendo gamers that did indulge in the risk, there's no guarantee they'll get the game on their platform of choice — not the fault of the developer, necessarily, but a pitfall of the format.

Yet there are positives, as developers can simply throw their idea and dream to a worldwide audience and, if people like it, can earn the means to develop a game that otherwise wouldn't have happened. It puts the power in the hands of development studios of all sizes and, most notably, gamers. If a project doesn't look interesting, it'll likely fail. But if the idea and early indications of solid execution are there, the game can be made without a reliance on capital investment or third-party publishers.

Whether you like the concept behind Kickstarter or not, it's not going anywhere in the near future and, if recent months are an indication, could be the source of valuable content for the 3DS and Wii U eShop stores. While we have the perspective of outsiders looking in on the workings of the crowdfunding platform — though some of our staff have dabbled and backed the occasional project — we decided to speak to those at the coal-face, to learn more about the website that's becoming an increasingly visible part of our daily content here on Nintendo Life. To do this we spoke to David Byers, the one man studio behind upcoming Wii U eShop release Another Castle, and Rob Maher, one of two men behind Rex Rocket, which has hit its funding target but only lists Wii U and 3DS as aspirations at this stage.

When it comes to the initial motivation to go the Kickstarter route, both Byers and Maher cited finances, with the latter explaining that up to now he and his partner have been working and studying while trying to develop their game, but that the funding received means they'll be "able to buckle down and focus on Rex Rocket like never before". Byers is experienced in releasing small mobile games, but producing a project on the scale of Another Castle needed money that he just didn't have. That said, he highlights the way that Kickstarter served as a big reveal, earning attention that'd otherwise be hard to achieve.

The other huge reason was to create awareness for my game. I essentially announced Another Castle with my Kickstarter campaign, and even though the game is about a year from being released a fair amount of people already know it exists. That’s half the battle when you’re an unknown indie dev.

While Kickstarter initially gained a lot of credibility — in gaming circles — with the incredible success of Double Fine Adventure in March 2012, it's taken on a whole new scale of participation. No longer an alternative for relatively established developers, its become a kind of indie marketplace. Maher leaves no doubt about his enthusiasm for the possibilities that the platform is presenting to smaller studios.

The idea of crowd funding is one of the best concepts to emerge in the past few years. The idea that an individual can present an idea to the world and have the world back them is profound — it can literally change the world. In the scope of the gaming industry, what is happening right now is the beginning of a much larger indie-dev scene for gaming.

From the perspective of Byers, his sentiments are similar, while he feels the structure of Kickstarter means that he doesn't envisage the extensive take-up of the platform to diminish in the near future. For him it's all about the limited funding period not only being a viable source of vital capital, but the continually evolving content also giving "a ton of breathing room for new projects to be discovered".

Yet with so many projects flooding the site, there's a certain inevitability that negative press and opinions will follow any projects that fall short. We've seen it within the Nintendo Life community, and there's an undeniable hesitancy for some about the crowdfunding "backer" idea and the prospect for delivery going south. Maher concedes that it'd be preferable to "somehow keep people accountable for delivering on goals", which Kickstarter does not do, while Byers fears that the minority of failures or scams will taint what has been, otherwise, an honest endeavour from many projects.

I think as long as the risks are properly communicated, which I think Kickstarter has done a good job of doing, then the criticisms of the platform as a whole are a bit overblown.

That being said I think the criticisms of certain individual projects have a lot of merit. Kickstarter seems to be fairly hands off with the projects it allows, instead letting backers decide if a project is reputable. I do worry that a few bad apples will cause some people to completely write off the platform, when it does a lot of good 99% of the time.

In the interests of balance it's worth highlighting that, though Kickstarter will have its problems, the conventional publishing model isn't a paragon of virtue in the modern era, either. While Nintendo gamers have encountered less of some of the worst modern trends — which may change with the more connected, capable Wii U — we've seen the evolution of DRM (digital rights management) that can cripple games when online connections fail, the emergence of smartphone-style micro-transactions (which seems far less appropriate when a game costs $60 in the first place) and the continuing question marks of day-one paid DLC (downloadable content) against the core content on the disc. We've also seen small developers find life hard working with publishers and closed platforms — Nintendo for its part is becoming a lot more accommodating — which explains why so many are happy to put their fate in their own crowdfunded hands.

So Kickstarter is on the scene as a counter to some of these rather "typical" practices that we know only too well. The question over its role is still open-ended, meanwhile, due to its infancy in the games industry. Byers feels that the service is only suitable for certain kinds of projects, expressing doubts that examples such as free-to-play casual games or true “AAA” titles will ever be prominent. For projects in-between, however, he argues that Kickstarter represents a valuable alternative and gives greater power to the smaller companies out there, even if it'll be unlikely to make traditional publishing practices out-of-date.

What Kickstarter does do, however, is give a ton of leverage to small teams of talented people. With the advent of digital media, publishers are becoming less and less relevant. You don’t need a publisher to get your game in the hands of customers any longer, and now Kickstarter has proven to be a viable method of raising funding to develop a game in the first place. So going forward the role of “Publisher” is in a lot of respects an outdated term for “Marketing and PR Partner”.

Does this mean publishers are going to go away and stop funding games? No. Nor should they. It just means the balance of power has shifted far more favorably to developers, and there’s no reason to take a terrible deal.

Much like its projects, Kickstarter is in its relatively early days, which has successfully popularised the not-so-new concept of crowdfunding and invaded the games industry in the process. It's not just gaming that's affected, of course, with the well-known site supporting a wide range of arts projects. In closing Maher re-iterated his belief that, in key areas, the fundraising site could be a game changer. Time will tell, but it's clear that crowdfunding is going nowhere, and we may be playing quite a few 3DS and Wii U eShop games in the future that share the same humble origins.

Kickstarter is still a new thing - a platform where someone can present their idea to the world and if it's good enough, get funded. I think it's a huge game changer when it comes to the traditional funding and publication routes, just how huge it will end up being is the question. I can definitely see this not only changing the game for games, but for many other industries as well.

We'd like to thank David Byers and Rob Maher for their time.

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User Comments (34)

Gioku

#2

Gioku said:

I really love the idea of kickstarter. I'll probably end up using it in the future, to, uh, "kickstart" my game projects!

Midnight3DS

#4

Midnight3DS said:

  • Wii U will have a fat catalog
  • Reasonable to believe it will be filled with as much bad as good. Hopefully not weighted towards bad.
citizenerased

#5

citizenerased said:

If only Nintendo can team up with Kickstarter, so that copies of Wii U games can also be offered as awards. Right now, if you want a game on Wii U, you have to pay for it twice.

ThomasBW84Admin

#7

ThomasBW84 said:

@RupeeClock If you want to, knock yourself out...

We, on the other hand, will cover when relevant to Nintendo and not bury our heads in the sand ;)

DarkCoolEdge

#9

DarkCoolEdge said:

I like kickstarter and what it means to indies. The problem is that most of the WiiU games announced are from kickstarter and most of them old school. I like them and I'm glad that the console will get so many indie retro games BUT, I think is not even close to being enough. You don't buy a 300-350 console for these kind of games. It's great to have them on board but what people wants is stuff like Zelda, GTA V, Lords of Shadow 2, Battlefield 4, Fuse, Tomb Raider and so on.

In fact, all the games that interest me that are coming to WiiU and 3DS are going to end on the later. I want the big guns on the TV and I believe many people feels the same way.

Jayvir

#10

Jayvir said:

@citizenerased Uhh, no? I have no idea what you are talking about. I've backed a few projects (Shovel Knight and C-Wars most notably) and they are offering codes for Wii U download upon project completion. It just depends on whether the developer actually puts the work into getting the option to obtain those codes. It ends up costing them more money so they often don't

belmont

#11

belmont said:

It is great to have indie games. I recently enjoyed Thomas was Alone. However no one spends a lot of money for a Wii U (or/and PS3,Vita,3DS etc) for these kind of games.

Dinosaurs

#12

Dinosaurs said:

Thanks for covering and discussing the kickstarter side of the gaming world, Nintendo Life! I otherwise would not have been aware of most of it.

Indies and kickstarter run the gamut. I'm excited for the well made games that will see the light of day because of it.

SCAR392

#13

SCAR392 said:

What all goes into publishing a title, though? I would imagine it only costs as much as Nintendo charges to put the game on the eShop, which would be $10,000.
Maybe a publisher would try to pick up a project like Cloudberry, but if a game is done, it shouldn't cost more than 10 grand.

SCAR392

#14

SCAR392 said:

Ya, I just checked the site. It's completely unnecessary. It costs $1100 about including tax for a Nintendo devkit, and $10,000 about to publish a title. That totals $11,100 to publidh on the eShop, along with the other requirements.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kickstarter is a ripoff by 1000% if you are only aiming to get the title on Wii U, and it seems that's not happening anyway.

SCAR392

#15

SCAR392 said:

Publishing on other platforms, I have no idea. The idea is to have enough to publish, not fund the entire project, pay for their college, give them a year or more worth of funds.

Gamer83

#16

Gamer83 said:

@DarkCoolEdge

I think it's important to have both. The big games are nice but some of my favorite PS3, Wii and 360 games were the smaller downloadable ones. I will admit that generally speaking I prefer the big budget retail releases but those games take time to make so it's nice to get some great stuff to pass the time between the block busters and that's where the indies come in and sometimes they end up delivering a game that's even better than the one that gets all the marketing hype.

Captain_Balko

#17

Captain_Balko said:

@SCAR392 the aim of the projects isn't only to publish on Wii U - usually, the idea is they need money to publish simply on PC. The Wii U publishing is a reward for going above and beyond the money needed. It's simply an incentive to get Wii U owners to back their projects. The money sometimes also goes to actually making the game and paying the salary of the people working on it (depending on the project, of course).

SCAR392

#18

SCAR392 said:

@Captain_Balko
I understand if they actually need money to pay for the time they are using as a substitute for having a job, but if the game is already made, then $100,000 is way out of the question.
I see that C-Wars was scaling their funding project on 'what ifs' if they reached a certain ammount of funds, or how much wouldn't end up being DLC. This is more understandable, but I personally wouldn't be asking for money besides the publishing fee if I were to ever make a game.
I understand there are more variables than a publishing fee in some cases, but lots of people who have funded a kickstarter most likely could have bought a Wii U devkit themselves, finished a game, THEN ask for $10,000 for publishing fees.
My point was that there are easier ways to get a product out there besides asking for tons of money. I would consider the kickstarter campaigns a pyramid scheme based on how much product you get, vs. money like the usual pyramid schemes we all know and hate.

ledreppe

#20

ledreppe said:

I'm backing 3 PC adventure games, mainly because that's one of my favourite genre's and there would be no other way of ever seeing new games without Kickstarter. But 3 kickstarter's is where I draw the line.

cfgk24

#21

cfgk24 said:

@RupeeClock
He He - Nintendolife is a business . . . .owned by people who manage Fan websites - Probably the Writing staff are more passionate in regard to Nntendo than the owners of the website. . . . .

Yanchamaru

#22

Yanchamaru said:

How about having an option on Nintendolife that allows us to remove any news story relating to kickstarter? I see kickstarter campaigns all over this site and it has become a real annoyance!

ToxieDogg

#23

ToxieDogg said:

It's a sad sign of the times that there's so little news/screenshots/videos/anything about upcoming games on the Wii U that Nintendolife has to keep putting out articles about kickstarter projects in order to fill up space. People may say that no console has a great first year, but new/upcoming game news was never this thin on the ground when the original Wii was released :(

XCWarrior

#24

XCWarrior said:

I'd like to see a story going over the games released thanks to kickstarter and their review scores. I know each dev team is different, but I want to know if any of the games released from this end up being any good.

Zyph

#25

Zyph said:

It's kinda lame to rely too much on crowd-funding like Kickstarter. For a developer's standpoint it's sorta unprofessional. But still I understand that some independent studios needs the appropriate funds to develop their game.

SCAR392

#26

SCAR392 said:

All in all, Kickstarter is a scam. I would only be willing to donate for publishing fees.
If it's for actual development, I might as well develop some stuff myself.
You can apply this idea to yourself. I'm not gonna help someone out that doesn't need it.

Intrepid

#27

Intrepid said:

I already voiced my concern about the number of kickstarter articles, so I'm not going to say anything further about it.

One thing about Kickstarter that I felt suspicious about was that a company that already had the means to fund a project would make a Kickstarter anyway so that they can get people to pay almost/all of their costs for them. Not that this happens all of the time, but I suspect that this is taken advantage of somewhat.

SCAR392

#28

SCAR392 said:

@Intrepid
Exactly. Most of them are taking advantage of people that actually think it's for a good cause. Anyone that has donated over $20 for anything besides publishing fees has been ripped off. No kickstarter goal should be over $10,000 and have a limited donation of $5 or less.

Intrepid

#29

Intrepid said:

@SCAR392 Very true. I'm also curious what happens when they accumulate a large surplus of money after everything else is paid for. Do they get to sit on it as free money? Seems wrong to me.

I found an interesting passage in the guidelines:

No bath, beauty, and cosmetic products; electronic surveillance equipment; eyewear (sunglasses, prescription glasses, and others); firearms, weapons, knives, weapon accessories, and replicas of weapons; medical, health, safety, and personal care products; or infomercial-type products.

Does this mean that the video game gun that was on Kickstarter (the one that NL covered) is not supposed to be there?

Morph

#30

Morph said:

My only issue with kickstarter is using nintendo consoles for big stretch goals and then not meeting them but then using the money to release on other systems

A1234

#31

A1234 said:

kickstarter never sounded right to me. there will be major problems/issues in the future.

Wilford111

#33

Wilford111 said:

If you're not going to make a kickstarterlife.com, the least you could do would make a kickstarter exclusive page on the site, or on the forums.
Oh wait... no one would visit those pages or forum topics... nevermind then.

Wilford111

#34

Wilford111 said:

In all seriousness though, it's actually pretty nice to see that you're addressing this "kickstarter hate" issue straight-on. Even if the direction this website is going is something I definitely don't agree with.

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