How Game Devs are Hurting Kickstarter

There was a time when Kickstarter was fresh and new and exciting. It was the Old West: a little bit dangerous and a lot bit uncharted territory. Folks wanted to get their obscure out-of-print camera parts made or a super-powerful bike lock produced. That made sense. They’d more than meet their goals, and with it, a concept known as “super-funded” came about. It’s when people ask for, say, $20,000 and make $20 million.

That’s a hypothetical.

And then, invisibly, that’s when Kickstarter began to mutate from a crowd-funding DIY love-fest to what it’s slowly becoming for some more disingenuous entities: a marketing platform. That is, people (or companies, mainly) started using Kickstarter not really caring whether they met their goal. What they were striving for was attention in the gaming media that they’ve reunited and are interested in making something new — a sequel to a game that was originally released in 1994.

That’s a little less hypothetical.

Earlier this month, Revolution Software announced it wanted to make a new adventure game, Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse. They were asking for $400,000, which it handily exceeded. And that’s when another controversial Kickstarter practice came into play: stretch goals. It’s to help further motivate people to keep investing after the initial goal has been met, with extra carrots being dangled in front of the consumer. In this case, Revolution Software said that if its Kickstarter hit a million bucks, it would help them write Beneath A Steel Sky 2, a sequel to its 1994 hit: “But, to be clear, all money raised through this Stretch Goal will be spent doing even more amazing things in Broken Sword – the Serpent’s Curse.”

Revolution didn’t hit that million-dollar mark, but it announced that it’s working on the sequel anyway.

Would Revolution have gotten the same amount of attention had it just announced it’s working on a sequel anyway without getting some (read: a lot) of its fans money? Maybe. It’s just interesting to watch Kickstarter starting to be used in this way by developers.

And it isn’t just indie developers who are using Kickstarter. Platinum Games, the folks behind the very excellent Vanquish, told The Verge that “it would be great if we could do a Kickstarter and gather enough money for a [PC] game to be released on Steam.”

Something here is broken, and it’s easy to point fingers at the developers. But when you have big-name studios and little guys alike on Kickstarter, it means whoever is holding the purse strings to these companies isn’t letting the money fly where maybe it should. But who’s to say where it should go? Everyone has a different opinion and bias depending on where in the industry they are.

If you’re an indie, you’re likely irritated to see Platinum crying poverty with an up-turned hat for people’s scraps. If you’re a major company, you likely feel a little funny about asking for money from your public when you’re used to a publisher fronting the bill.

But a single post won’t and can’t solve this sort of issue. The short of it is: If you’re on Kickstarter and have plans to make your product regardless of the outcome, it’s skeezy and dishonest. The platform implies that you can’t do something without everyone’s help, and that everyone’s help will benefit the greater good. That’s why it’s called kickstarter and not wedontreallyneedthemoneybutitdbenicestarter. Unless your name is Penny Arcade, in which case, nobody seems to mind for some reason.