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Kickstarter Adventure: Gearing into Overdrive, Threatening to Stall

Kickstarter editorial
Kickstarter editorial

Tim Schafer has created a monster.

No, not Glottis, Ripburger, or Meat Circus (though he created those too).  I'm speaking, of course, of the Kickstarter phenomenon.  Since Schafer announced his plans to create a new adventure game for a measly $300,000 (and another $100,000 to document the process on film) only to be overwhelmed with a staggering $3 million more than that, the bandwagon has quickly filled up with fellow design legends hopping aboard: Jane Jensen, Al Lowe, Tex Murphy's Chris Jones and Aaron Conners, and Space Quest's Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy have all emerged from publisher purgatory to launch their own fundraising campaigns.  Surely this is the best thing to happen to the genre since the Golden Era of adventures, right?

Well, yes and no.  Or at least yes and maybe.  The jury is still out on the latter, both for developers and for gamers.

The "yes" needs no explanation.  It is indeed a glorious triumph for the likes of Moebius, SpaceVenture, Project Fedora, and of course Tim's own Double Fine Adventure.  With Leisure Suit Larry also set for a spiffy new HD remake, 2012 (or 2013, by the time any of these are finished) is shaping up to be the Year of Revival for the genre's brightest stars from years gone by.  Plus the trickle-down effect has already benefited smaller indie projects like the promising Lilly Looking Through and Quest for Infamy with exposure they likely wouldn't have garnered before.  On those merits alone, there is no downside.  None.  Kickstarter has already proven to be a miracle come true. Or at least, it's promised to be.

But this new crowd-sourcing reality is not without its challenges, pitfalls, and troubling uncertainty.  For starters, in just a few short months it's become increasingly difficult to achieve even the baseline monetary goal.  Developers saw Schafer's success and figured they could easily do the same.  They were wrong, usually asking for more and always getting much less.  In some cases, it was touch-and-go to the very final day.  (And remember, with Kickstarter it's all-or-nothing.  You meet your target or get bupkis.)  Already there are obvious signs of fundraising fatigue.  There's a reason gamers haven't been the primary source of pre-production income until now: we aren't rich.  Now one campaign after another is asking us to push our support to the limit, as the very existence of each project may very well depend on it.  So far, it's been enough.  But many wallets are tapped out at this point, and future campaigns will find it even tougher to succeed.  Some have already failed.

Image #1And while Schafer cruised by without even an idea in mind (the promise to document the entire procedure from concept to completion was a prescient masterstroke), other developers have had to work furiously to feed and fuel their pledge drives.  Live chats, proof-of-concept demos, endless video updates, celebrity testimonials, the works.  With game journalists having already approached a saturation point on fundraising news, campaigns are now fighting hard for every scrap of coverage (as indeed they should; worthy as the causes may be, the media is not a promotional marketing vehicle for cash-starved companies).  I suspect the designers who have succeeded so far are not only grateful for the support they received, but relieved to be out of the life-sucking fundraising morass and into the "easy" task of simply making great games. 

Why did it work so well for Schafer and not for any other adventure game legend?  The most obvious answer is that he's Tim freaking Schafer.  While Schafer's games haven't always been commercial successes, they've consistently been lauded for their creativity and bold visions in an industry largely reliant on the same old risk-averse formulas over and over again.  And when it comes to adventure games, Schafer is virtually without peer, with a flawless record of masterpieces from Day of the Tentacle to Full Throttle to Grim Fandango.  When Schafer announces he's going to make a new adventure, it's the closest thing there is to a sure bet, and the result reflected the public's confidence in his abilities. It didn't hurt that he's got Ron Gilbert pitching in, or that Schafer himself is a funny, charismatic guy who's clearly comfortable in the spotlight. That's all well and good for Double Fine, but it represents the first cautionary tale for every other developer, especially those considering a Kickstarter campaign: You are not Tim Schafer.

He was also the first.  That simply can't be overstated.  Oh sure, Kickstarter was around long before this, even successfully funding some adventures, but as the first high-profile adventure game developer to launch a campaign of his own, there was no way to predict the public euphoria that followed Schafer's announcement.  Or duplicate it.  Undoubtedly even Schafer himself couldn't repeat his initial success with a new campaign now.  His immense cross-genre popularity and devout social media following combined to send immediate shockwaves through the gaming community.  Media outlets ran with the completely unexpected story, and players everywhere quickly learned of the new venture and were suddenly confronted by an unprecedented opportunity: A new Tim Schafer adventure?  That I can make happen with a donation?  Where do I sign?! 

Image #2But then the hoopla died down, as hoopla invariably does.  Real money exchanged hands, and reality began to set in.  Not that anyone regretted their support in hindsight necessarily, but surely many came to the realization that they couldn't afford to do that very often.  And then the next handout was asked... and only partially answered.  Then another, and that one refused.  Then still another, and another, with no end in sight.  Some have suggested a kind of coordination between developers to avoid overlap, but the very nature of independent operation makes this a practical impossibility.  So how do backers decide now?  By being selective.  It's no longer enough to simply announce a game.  Now you need to convince us.  Reputation alone won't suffice.  Vague plot details and concept sketches won't cut it.  Personal video appeals aren't enough.  Like Star Trek's Borg instantly adapting to the latest attack, what worked on Kickstarter before will no longer work ever again. 

That's the next major hurdle for developers: As a financier, EA and UbiSoft ain't got nothin' on the picky Joe Q Public.  There may be no one more supportive, but also no one more demanding than a fan.  And it isn't just the money.  Already we've seen public outcries about DRM, downloadable content, pitch video quality, lack of concrete design information, poor pledge rewards, and so on.  Not without cause, either.  Some developers have come to the table unprepared, clearly underestimating the suddenly-discriminating nature of a fickle target audience.  If anyone thinks they can get away with LESS preparation than they'd need for formal publisher presentations, they're about to learn their lesson the hard way. Especially since this isn't an investment for players, but a donation – albeit a contribution that comes with predetermined perks, including a "free" copy of the game once released.

The fact that Kickstarter campaigns are ultimately glorified pre-order offers should also raise the red flag of caution.  For crowd-sourcing to be anything other than a cyclical pattern of charity requests, these games will have to ultimately generate some sales.  But to whom, when you've already pre-sold your game to your most devoted fanbase?  The upside is, without publishers and retailers taking their huge cut of the finished pie, they won't need to sell nearly as many copies to turn a tidy profit.  They will need to sell some, however, and it remains to be seen if the Kickstarter model adequately compensates for that.  Then again, maybe a cyclical pattern is a viable new reality.  It puts the pressure squarely on the developer to deliver a standout game on time and budget, but there's no better advertisement for your next campaign than the successful completion of your current one.  Still, it's in everyone's best interest for developers to become self-sustaining through sales.  It remains to be seen if that's possible.

Image #3There's probably hope in adventure circles that Kickstarter will cause an epiphany among neglectful publishers as well, awakening them to the abundant genre demand they never knew existed.  I appreciate such optimism, but outside of Schafer's extraordinary total, I can't envision crowd-sourcing results having much effect.  The campaign dollar figures are somewhat impressive by niche genre standards, but half a million is pocket change for big-budget productions.  Besides, funds raised aren't the important figure anyway.  A few $10,000 pledges do wonders for Kickstarter, but are meaningless to a publisher.  The bottom line for them is sales, and the total combined number of backers for Moebius, Project Fedora, and SpaceVenture is less than 25,000.  From a retail perspective, that's peanuts.  Yes, there will be additional sales when the games are complete, but that is then and this is now.  And for now, if I'm a publisher, I'm entirely unimpressed with how adventure games might pad my bottom line. 

Having said that, I've learned never to underestimate a publisher's willingness to chase trends, however fleeting and short-sighted, so we may yet see a marginal influx of corporate interest in the genre.  And we could certainly use the support, having had virtually no North American retail presence for many years now (a fact that's played a large if indirect part in the demise of previously stable European publishers in recent months).  Activision is now acutely aware that its classic adventure properties have some ongoing value (which is still no assurance they'll do the right thing with them, as Sierra has already proved), and LucasArts already knew, but if other publishers are watching, they're no doubt far more impressed with Telltale's announcement of a million Walking Dead episodes sold than a few thousand vocal, self-sacrificing adventure diehards supporting their favourite franchises. 

Perhaps it's enough to simply ride this initial wave of incoming adventure games and enjoy it while it lasts.  But the developers themselves are already looking ahead.  SpaceVenture's Crowe and Murphy have given up their previous jobs, throwing themselves full-time into the new project with an eye to ongoing game development.  Tex Murphy's Jones and Conners have similarly announced their eagerness to continue the series beyond the next installment.  Jensen sought support for her new Pinkerton Road studio itself, raising funds for multiple games to be developed during a one year period. Clearly to them this return to the genre is no one-off experiment, but merely the start of a long-term plan.  To us that's just the icing on the cake at this point, but to those involved it's a big gamble; their very livelihoods depend on it.  Has Kickstarter created an illusion of sustainable success that will cost them down the line? 

But hey, that's their problem, right?  As fans and gamers we can simply sit back and bask in the glory of new adventure games from our favourite designers.  If it's just one game apiece, at least we'll have enjoyed a mini-renaissance we once never thought possible... At least, if we get the games, and if they're any good, of course.  Therein lies the rub, and it's crucial to remember: Kickstarter comes with no guarantees.   Blinded by nostalgia, it's easy to believe that these genre greats will once again deliver without skipping a beat.  But it's a leap of faith to assume that what was true 15-20 years ago will still be true today.  Times have changed, technology has changed, expectations have changed, we have changed.  So now the challenge for developers, as Aaron Conners so eloquently stated, is not to "give them just the experience they had... we need to give them the experience they remember."

Image #4That's a tall order in the best of circumstances, and only Schafer will be creating a new adventure game under the best of circumstances.  It cost four million dollars to make Pandora Directive in 1996, and the relatively small Kickstarter budgets are exceedingly tight in comparison.  Half a million may have stretched a long way once, but it no longer does so today – although technology is an obvious exception to that rule, with improved tools and vastly cheaper equipment now than in the genre's heyday, when image scanners cost as much as cars.  But those tools still need to be learned, and with artists, actors, musicians, film crews, and programmers to pay, that once-juicy fundraising total can start to dwindle fast.  Not that they'll ever have that amount to spend in the first place.  After Kickstarter takes its 5%, Amazon scoops another 3-5%, and the government swoops in for its income tax grab, each game's finances are sorely depleted from the start.  And someone needs to pay for all those fancy upper tier rewards, from boxed games to buckazoids; from t-shirts to fedoras, plus shipping on top of that.  Ca-ching! 

As the saying goes, time is money – especially when it's someone else's money.  You'd think that being freed from publisher-driven deadline tyranny would be a liberating thing for indie developers.  Certainly the developers think so.  Mark Crowe commented on the SpaceVenture timeline by saying, "Ultimately we want to deliver the best game we can, and that’s the beauty of the fan-funded thing; we don’t feel the pressure of publisher deadlines."  He's right, of course, except for one thing: there's no more irritable a group than gamers angry about missed release dates.  And that's for games they have no claim to, being merely passive bystanders anxious to play!  Imagine the hue and cry when the games they've actually helped fund are pushed back and delayed.  Because we all know they will; games always do, particularly for small-team indies that can't absorb any setbacks without seriously infringing on the production cycle. 

The true diehards will patiently wait as long as it takes, but the more mercenary backers will soon begin demanding frequent, informative updates and iron-clad target dates.  And as development progresses, they'll invariably become more vocal about feedback being responded to and accepted, arguing ever more vigorously for their own personal agendas.  (This isn't a guess; it happens already.) Publishers may be greedy, money-grubbing corporate entities, but at least their goals are single-minded in purpose.  Kickstarter developers will soon find themselves accountable to thousands of people, many of which feel they're owed direct input into the production process, even if only to complain. Crowd-sourcing may start to feel like mob-sourcing, and an aura of negativity could well threaten to consume any project that lags behind. 

Image #5No one knows this better than Jane Jensen, whose latest full-scale adventure took a staggering seven years to complete.  Due entirely to circumstances beyond her control, "Project Jane J" went through multiple publishers and developers before Gray Matter finally reached players long since disillusioned by the wait, or simply disappointed that the game failed to live up to so many years of anticipation (as any game inevitably would).  Given her casual game experience and close working ties with her outsourced Euro developer, the same thing is unlikely to happen to Moebius, but woe betide the project if it starts to take too long.  Whoever coined the phrase "patience is its own reward" clearly isn't an adventure gamer. 

Just ask Heather Logas, a former Telltale employee who raised funds for her own experimental adventure called Before You Close Your Eyes back in 2010.  Legitimate life issues pushed her timetable back significantly, and though Logas maintains that the game is still ongoing, her lack of firm deadline has caused some to begin doubting the project's viability overall. Vince Twelve's Resonance was partly funded through another early fundraising campaign (albeit for a laughably small amount), and not only did backers have to twiddle their thumbs for several years, but even the lowest pledge tier ended up being more than the price of the finished game.  This isn't a criticism of either developer, merely a fact of life: If you're contributing money for an adventure game, be prepared to wait, wait, and wait some more – all the while hoping for the best, as hope is all you can do. 

I'm certainly not suggesting that any adventure game developers will take the money and run.  But they could take the money and see it run out before the game is done (especially if they didn't adequately plan for the incidental campaign expenses beforehand).  If that happens, we might be out of luck.  There's really no recourse for lost Kickstarter donations, even if the project never comes to fruition – or at least, it's presently unclear how such restitution would occur.  That's the gamble we are taking each time we pledge.  Or perhaps we'll simply get a scaled-down, lesser-quality product instead of the highly-polished, content-rich adventure we're currently being promised.  When budgets run out, games get fast-tracked to release – missing features, cut corners, and rampant bugs be damned.  That prospect isn't nearly as unlikely, and really isn't any different than the original publisher scenario we all hoped to avoid. 

Image #6Assuming all goes well (remembering what they say about assumptions), it's money well spent.  For the lower tier amounts, anyway.  But I must say, I've witnessed a somewhat alarming tendency among the most devout followers to up, re-up, and re-re-up their pledge totals every time a new reward is offered, or simply in an effort to further support the cause.  I love this passion and energy (as I'm sure the developers do).  Yet I worry.  With no cash actually being paid until the end of each campaign, there's an element of unreality to it all, as if we're playing with Monopoly money.  And that's hardly a stretch.  There's a reason so many people are maxed out on their credit cards: it's "free" money until it's time to pay the piper.  There's a reason casinos make you buy tokens; it's no longer your own money you're throwing away, but a game you're playing with plastic chips.  I wonder if pledging to Kickstarter can be a bit like auction bidding, where the competition and adrenaline win out over common sense and discretion.  Far be it from me to advise anyone how to spend their hard-earned money.  But I'd be remiss not to issue a warning against getting caught up in the heat of the spend-more moment. 

If all this sounds overly negative, I really don't mean to be a killjoy.  Like I said, in some ways Kickstarter appears to be a dream come true.  I've personally pledged to most new adventure campaigns, so I'm not merely criticizing from the sidelines.  Rather, because I'm in the crowd that's "sourcing" these games, I can feel the excitement, the temptation, even the danger myself, and simply want to make sure that the latter isn't swept under the rug of unbridled optimism.  Similarly, it's because I know quite a few developers that I want them all to look before they leap, and not merely rush headlong towards a runaway bandwagon for fear of being left behind.  If everyone keeps their heads, these next couple of years could indeed be a remarkable stretch, the likes of which the genre hasn't seen for more than a decade.  But let's do this thing with eyes wide open.

Ideally, Kickstarter will prove to be the one-time-only launch pad for our favourite developers (and promising newcomers with modest goals) to return to the genre they love, creating games that meet all of our wildest expectations and sell enough for self-sufficiency beyond that.  But developers must be prepared for the possibility of campaign failure, unforeseen production limitations, and the presence of demanding public "investors" dogging their output every step of the way. Gamers, meanwhile, should temper their enthusiasm with the understanding that our contributions offer us no assurances whatsoever, pledges really do cost money at campaign's end, and this may just be the start of a perpetual cycle of fundraising. Oh, and it isn't 1992 anymore.  It's 2012, and though it's certainly an exciting time, let's all treat this like the real-life adventure it is – none of us having any idea exactly where it will lead.


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Community Comments

Latest comments (47 total)

This was a superb article. The only thing missing was a discussion of the difference between backers and investors. Which, anyone reading this post knows I have a very strong opinion.

In all likelyhood I have lost the friendship of a very longtime friend because I refused to make a $5000 Kickstarter contribution. That, as opposed to a $5000 “investment” into any game he wished to deveolp by himself.

Jun 27, 2012

Not worry about, teme, merely think about.  It’s not like we’ve seen the end of Kickstarter, so these are issues that continue to be relevant for upcoming campaigns, not just the ones already completed.

p1r473, that is indeed what I meant.  Three monsters of a very different nature.  Just like Kickstarter. Grin

Jun 26, 2012

Neither Ripburger nor Meat Circus were monsters… At least not in the traditional sense of the word

Though ripbuger was monstrously mean and meat circus monstrously hard, if thats what you were going for

Jun 26, 2012

I think it’s somewhat weird that something so optional and voluntary as Kickstarter is causing so much criticism and negativity. Suddenly people are worried about all sorts of things, for example how other people are spending their money or how developers are going to handle the new situation.

Why can’t we just sit back and see how it goes, instead of painting dark pictures of how it might end if all the risks come true and everything goes wrong.

Jun 26, 2012

Great article - very interesting read. I’ve missed opinionated articles like this on AG, even if I don’t fully agree with everything :-)

Jun 25, 2012

The Dave Gilbert article makes that same weird assumption about developers going back to Kickstarter, year after year. He also calls it good for consumers, which it’s not.

I think it’s good that Tim Schafer’s pitch said (however tongue-in-cheek) that they game might be good or it might be bad, and that we’d be taking a gamble of sorts. That sort of set the tone for the whole thing. All of these are a gamble and as long as we’re comfortable with that, well… what’s the worst that can happen?

Jun 25, 2012

My my, hasn’t this article generated a bit of response….it’s almost like in the forums :-)
I’ll refrain from any specific comments, having already been chewed out on the forums for being overly critical, negative or skeptical (depending on what todays term is….)
Anyhow, I do find this article very balanced and on the spot….very nice piece of work Jackal!

Jun 25, 2012

Since Dave Gilbert is a developer and publisher, it’d be bad business to ruffle feathers.  I feel no need to be politically correct just so it doesn’t bruise any overly sensitive feelings.  And since Dave didn’t even touch on the issue you’re complaining about here, the comparison is entirely moot. 

Anyway, I’ve spent enough time addressing this.  I’ve got to hand it to you though, A.A.  You’ve clearly made my case for some people’s insistence on griping about even the most innocuous details. 

NT, that is indeed a good point about marketing.  That is certainly another factor that will come into play down the line. 

Jun 25, 2012

Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Games made many of the same points (two weeks ago), but did it without the overdose of cynic- excuse me, I mean, “skepticism”. No telling us off for how we consumers spend our money, either.


Much less infuriating read, I have to say. A bit more balanced, anyway.

Jun 25, 2012

^ Necro, that’s a good point about marketing. I’m guessing these developers will look to Steam, GOG, maybe EA Origin to distribute their games. But you’re right that without a publisher marketing is a challenge. We’ll see how it goes. Reaching out beyond the dedicated adventure game fanbase will be interesting, but websites like Eurogamer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun have been talking a lot about Kickstarter projects. That helps to reach broader audiences, I suppose, and when the games are ready hopefully those bigger game sites will cover them in addition to places like AdventureGamers.

Regarding system requirements, I suppose that depends on each game. It’s a bit early, but maybe going to the forums for each developer/project might yield some advice.

Jun 24, 2012

In the case of games like Wasteland 2 and Double Fine Adventure, the Kickstarter campaign itself is proof that they have access to better marketing than money can buy. Good PR and good media contacts are worth more than all the ads money can buy.

Marketing will be a challenge for some of the smaller ones though. Tex Murphy has always struggled with marketing itself in a way that isn’t misunderstood, which is why so many always wrote them off as FMV games. I hope they can get over that this time around. The reputation of that series has grown a lot among adventure fans in recent years, so hopefully that will help.

Jun 24, 2012

I’m wondering how the developers of these games intend to market these games once they are developed.  That’s an important and costly service usually handled by a publisher, and the requested Kickstarter amounts don’t seem to take that into account.  Word of mouth will only get them so far, and they need to rope in some gamers that normally don’t play adventure games.  Personally, I don’t have a single acquaintance that would have any interest in any of these games, but I’m probably in a very small minority in that respect.

And a completely personal concern of mine is not knowing if my machine will even be able to play the 3 games I’ve given money to (representing a total of $400).  The recent games “The Journey Down” and “The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav” are already beyond my PC’s capabilities.  Well, that’s my problem to deal with.

Jun 24, 2012

Guys (and gals), lively exhanges of opinion is fine, but take it outside if you’re going to make it personal. 

For myself, most of the criticism I’ve seen of Kickstarter campaigns so far has been largely justified, if rather over-reactionary.  But this is just the honeymoon phase, where we’re all in love with each other and the idea of crowd-sourcing games.  The knives in any relationship don’t come out until later. 

And for the record, I don’t know where this impression came from that I said anything was “okay” for Schafer.  I specifically said even HE couldn’t get away with the same campaign for the same results if he were to try again.  There’s no need to justify anything on his behalf.  The results speak for themselves: he made five times as much as other adventure game developers.  That’s a fact.  I merely tried to explain why. 

Jun 24, 2012

There is very little certainty in the game development industry at all, no matter how you go about it. Certainly any veteran of the adventure genre knows this all too well. Starting a new company is always a gamble, but at least crowdsourcing mitigates the risk somewhat. It’s really a pretty good deal for developers.

For fans, well… It’s true it’s a risk that we don’t normally take when we buy a game, but by putting it on backers, the amounts are kept relatively small, and so we’re willing to gamble because the potential reward is worth it.

Think of it this way. I backed the five big adventure kickstarters. Let’s say, pessimistically, only 3 out of 5 of them come out in a way that lives up to our expectations. That still pretty much means we had the best year for adventure games in a decade, which is well worth what I spent. Sometimes you just have to hedge your bets.

That said, people who put hundreds or even thousands of dollars behind a single one of these games may not roll with the punches as lightly. But an individual consumer can risk $50 in a way that a publisher won’t risk a million, and that’s kind of what makes Kickstarter work. Hopefully people understand those risks and are ok with them. I know I am.

Jun 24, 2012

True, Frogacuda, most of the KS risk is now on backers, not the developers.  That’s why we need to be careful.  But if developers are (literally) banking on one game leading to many, that’s far from secure.  And while there’s always risk involved in any game, it isn’t always so tangible and immediate.  I forget where it’s documented, but I’ve read that Sierra used to expect losses for the start of each new series, but they absorbed it for the long-term good.  That’s something wealthy publisher backing allows.  There’s no such wiggle room with crowd-sourcing on tight budgets.  (Not that “losses” are an issue this time, but underperforming results may very well be.)

If it doesn’t work, you’re right, c’est la vie.  I didn’t suggest otherwise.  All I said was that developers need to consider that reality ahead of time.  (Not to mention the increasing possibility of their campaigns failing in the first place). 

Fien, I most certainly did not take it easy on the developers. I’m cutting them way, way less slack than most of the people who unquestioningly believe this is a bona fide return to the glory days.  Some if not all of them have already misjudged, made mistakes, and probably over-promised, and the article makes that abundantly clear.  But ultimately the jury is out on whether they can deliver, and that’s all that really matters. 

As for the adventure community (as whole; certainly not everyone), the reputation for whinging has been earned entirely on merit, time and time again.  I don’t believe for a second it’s just about communication.  People bitch about what they don’t get, period.  When it’s communication, they complain about that.  When it’s not communication, it’s the next thing in line.  Some people simply aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy, and those people will now in be the developers’ ears from start to finish.  It’s all fine when the weather is fair, but if things start to turn, they’ll be there with a vengeance, claiming far more entitlement than ever before.  To a developer, that’s probably an easy tradeoff for the benefits of crowd-sourcing.  But they’d better be prepared for it, particularly those that aren’t used to a lot of social interaction with fans.

A.A, for some reason you’ve decided to take the money matter personally, but I offered a one sentence recommendation to use common sense.  Calling that a lecture is utterly ridiculous.  Believe it or not, I am concerned for my fellow gamers.  Maybe it’s not “my business”.  Jacob Marley says differently. 

“Maybe a healthy dose of cynicism is good for everyone, just to stay grounded and reasonably skeptical as we see how things unfold.”
Bingo, inm8#2!  That’s entirely the point of this article.  I’ve seen countless examples of reactionary fans flying off the rails in one extreme or another (not just about Kickstarter).  I’m just reminding people to chill, realize there’s a whole lot of uncertainty in this, and acknowledge that if it’s actually going to succeed, it needs proper understanding from all parties involved.  I favour “skepticism” over “cynicism”, however.  I’m not by any means predicting the sky will fall.  I’m just saying it looks like rain, better bring an umbrella just in case.  Grin

Jun 24, 2012

I never said DFA backers weren’t negative toward Double Fine. I said they were negative toward other projects. If you’re going to continue to try and attack my English and reading comprehension, it’d be appropriate for me to reciprocate those suggestions based on your contentions.

I used your complaints about the DFA video to exhibit your general tendency to complain and be negative in this process, in addition to your negativity towards various projects and pitch videos. I’ve clarified that with an edit to the above comment.

Jun 24, 2012

Resorting to personal attacks tells me you have no argument. You haven’t addressed most of my points about the hypocrisy, inconsistency, and negativity in positions you’ve advocated.

Yup. I’ll just let what I wrote and linked earlier stand on its own. Smile

Oh, and last time I checked campaigning hard for something doesn’t entail posting multiple times how bad their pitch is. Someone who’s campaigning would place emphasis on what they think are the main takeaways from the pitch video, focusing on positives rather than negatives.

I’ve also noticed that you apologize for publishers in your posts. You’ve said publishers aren’t the bad guys, they’re just afraid of gambling. While that’s technically true, you’re missing the point that these publishers decided to focus on certain areas of development to boost their sales. I’d describe them more as interested in profits over products rather than being tentative to take risks.

And I never said you “hate” projects. Silly simplification of what I demonstrated by linking your posts and quoting you. More misinformation and ad hominem to avoid addressing that.

Jun 24, 2012

Accuses people of negativity yet says he doesn’t think the major games will be as good as people would like.

Dude, I said I DIDN’T think people were that negative and that I disagreed with YOU calling everyone negative. I never accused anyone of negativity.

I think most backers care a lot about the projects, wait patiently, and are overwhelmingly positive, and what negativity there is seems to be a minority.

YOU also said that Double Fine Backers were never negative toward Double Fine, and then labeled me a Double Fine backer and accused me of being negative toward Double Fine.

None of this makes any sense. I think you should probably stay out of English-language arguments for a while.

Jun 24, 2012

And another incorrect opinion touted as fact by Frogacuda - that backers are not concerned with creative decisions. Go read the Wasteland 2 forums at inXile or the Pinkerton Road forums. Hell, look at the Double Fine forums. I’d say people are also interested in the game development itself.

First of all, “incorrect opinion?” Seriously? I recognize that English is probably not your first language, but still…

Second, people are very interested in seeing the development process and discussing it. But most of them are not so interested in actually interfering with or influencing the development process. Those are two different things.

Jun 24, 2012

First of all, I backed SpaceVenture and Tex Murphy for way more than I backed Double Fine, so I’m not sure how that makes me a Double Fine fanboy, but ok, I’ll bite.

I criticized SpaceVenture’s pitch video, like many did, but never the project itself, which I backed, campaigned for, and have been very enthusiastic about. If you can’t understand the distinction between trying to suggest ways to reach more people and being “negative” then I think I can see why you’re so confused.

It’s incredibly naive and asinine to say that the Tex Murphy backers solely rejected the DLC idea because they “believed in the integrity of the product”. You could argue this is true for people who had pledged enough to be eligible for the hypothetical DLC, but it’s fallacious to apply this to the backers of lower pledge amounts.[/quote[
Well then what about the Shadowrun example, where it WAS people of any tier who would get it and they still didn’t want it to be exclusive? Same for Wasteland 2 when they suggested it on their forums. I think it’s pretty clear that the issue is that people see DLC as taking something away rather than giving something extra.

- DLC has become a negative tactic of the gaming industry, releasing incomplete games and branding DLC as “expansion” content when it should have been included in the first place.

Isn’t that what I just said? They care about the product being the best it can be and want everything included for everyone.

This is an incredibly misleading, untrue, irrational statement that has no place in this discussion.

I think your reading comprehension needs a little work. I was paraphrasing Toefur there and saying I don’t agree with what he said.

Jun 24, 2012

It’s incredibly naive and asinine to say that the Tex Murphy backers solely rejected the DLC idea because they “believed in the integrity of the product”. You could argue this is true for people who had pledged enough to be eligible for the hypothetical DLC, but it’s fallacious to apply this to the backers of lower pledge amounts.

People spurned the DLC aspect because:

- DLC has become a negative tactic of the gaming industry, releasing incomplete games and branding DLC as “expansion” content when it should have been included in the first place.
- They didn’t want to have to pledge certain amounts just to get the full game experience

And another incorrect opinion touted as fact by Frogacuda - that backers are not concerned with creative decisions. Go read the Wasteland 2 forums at inXile or the Pinkerton Road forums. Hell, look at the Double Fine forums. I’d say people are also interested in the game development itself.

“...negative attitude toward a developer’s generosity.” ???? This is an incredibly misleading, untrue, irrational statement that has no place in this discussion. First you criticize other kickstarters for not having as good videos as DFA, then you criticize other people for being negative toward developers’ generosity? What kind of position are you even trying to take? Frogacuda is wildly inconsistent and all over the place. Accuses people of negativity yet says he doesn’t think the major games will be as good as people would like.

Jun 24, 2012

Toefur, you’re not thinking like Frogacuda, therefore you’re wrong. Wink

Frogacuda complains about my “rant” yet offers nothing to counter it. Or maybe because his posts are indicative of the negativity against non-DFA kickstarters? Calling videos awful?

Or just your general tendency to complain, regardless of the project. E.g. saying that the documentary video delay is “out of hand”?

Here’s a gem: “I realize very few pitch videos live up to Double Fine’s but they didn’t even try.”


And here’s Frogacuda’s thread where he advocates not supporting more kickstarter projects for awhile.


What about the smaller guys asking for more modest goals? Just forget about them because they don’t have a high profile name attached? Did you ever think that maybe people support kickstarters not to send a message to publishers, but simply because they support the developer and like the game concept? And some quotes from Frogacuda:

“I’m done Kickstarting adventure games now for at least a good while, because I really don’t think there will be a lot of them that are better/more important than what we’ve done” (http://www.adventuregamers.com/forums/viewthread/267/P15/#3405)
“Of the five games I mentioned (well, 6 if you count Jane Jensen’s unrevealed game), I kind of don’t think all of them will be as good as we’d like.” (http://www.adventuregamers.com/forums/viewthread/267/P15/#3301)

Who’s negative now?

Jun 24, 2012

Take for example Shadowrun. They said as their final stretch goal they would create a whole new expansion that ties into the old games and is set in a new city, just for the backers. The backers loved the idea of the additional content, but hated the idea that non-backers wouldn’t be able to play that content, so they voted to have it made available to everyone. That was done in the spirit of generosity and belief in the product itself, not because they’re being “fussy.”

Jun 24, 2012

Toefur: You’re looking at the Tex DLC issue wrong, they rejected the DLC thing for largely positive reasons, because they believe in the developers.

They were, in essence, saying that they believe in the integrity of the product over all else, and if there’s something extra that can make it better, that should be included for everyone. They don’t want their enjoyment to come at the expense of others. And that’s fair, sincere, and, ultimately, altruistic. Don’t look at that as a negative attitude toward a developer’s generosity.

What I like is that fans are largely NOT concerned with creative decisions. They’re vocal about things like how the game is sold, but they implicitly trust the developer regarding how it’s made. And to some extent that’s legit.

Take DRM, for example. The developer asks for our trust in making this game, and we ask for their trust in return by asking that it be given to us without copy protection. I really feel like that’s a fair demand.

Backers are not the entitled brats some make them out to be. The overwhelming majority of them seem to be patient, generous individuals who believe in the artist.

Jun 24, 2012

inm8#2’s constant rants about Double Fine fanboys are getting wearing, and just seem flat-out disconnected from reality. I think all of these projects have a mature, supportive fanbase with a small minority of complainers that are largely drowned out.

There was only one guy who complained about the Tex Murphy promo he mentioned, for example, and that guy gave $1000 and stood by it, and cheered them on to the end even though he disagreed with the promo. The Tex fanbase has been remarkably supportive.

Meanwhile the silly sods on the Double Fine forum complaining that they want pixel art or whatever he ignores, because they don’t fit his narrative of “Tim Schafer can do no wrong in the eyes of his fans.” Nonsense.

Jun 24, 2012

I think this article is spot on, and raises some very valid concerns.

First, Double Fine is an anomoly amongst ‘adventure game’ projects on Kickstarter I think not because it was the first but because it was Tim Schafer. It made the amount of money it did for that reason alone. I know at least 5 people in real life that donated to Double Fine Adventure, none of whom play adventure games or have played any of the older classic adventure games (even Schafers). I also know not a single soul in real life who backed any of the other projects that followed.

Like the article says, “Kickstarter developers will soon find themselves accountable to thousands of people, many of which feel they’re owed direct input into the production process, even if only to complain.”

Gamers are pretty much the most picky ungrateful group of people I’ve ever met, and I really think this could cause problems in the future, as the article suggests a lot of gamers are going to feel that the project owes them their direct input, thanks to their 5 dollar contribution.

We’ve already seen it. The Spaceventure guys couldn’t even try to offer their fans prototypes, it turned gamers completely off the project. Tex Murphy couldn’t even offer special DLC content for high tier backers to THANK them for their high level of support (which I think is something fair to offer), because the result was complete outrage from people who supposedly really wanted to support this project.

The Tex Murphy guys offered a competition to encourage new backers to pledge near the end of their campaign, and those that had already pledged felt hard done by.

These things are minor, and the projects aren’t even out yet. But what happens when the games start getting produced? “Oh, I don’t like the way this is going. I want my money back.” Or when it’s finished? “I paid for this, and it’s not what I wanted,” People were already saying they wanted their money back from the Leisure Suit Larry campaign when the owner of that company shot his mouth off at a few things.

I fear that in many gamers eyes, none of these projects will be run ‘right’ or how they want it.

Jun 24, 2012

1) The “not well-balanced” in the first sentence of my response is explained in the second sentence.
2) The dangers of Kickstarter are just as self-evident as the potential positives. All of them have been discussed at the AG forums, at KS and elsewhere.

Jun 24, 2012

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this kickstarter craze, it’s that everyone feels very strongly about crowdfunding, albeit in different ways. I’ve seen people react very positively and also very negatively. Take the news of Wasteland 2 being offered on EA’s Origin. I don’t care for EA, but it was never said that W2 would be Origin exclusive (Wasteland 2 will be DRM free at least for backers). Yet, hordes of angry, negative, and what I’d consider to be irrational comments erupted when some people could have conveyed their displeasure more reasonably.

I think it’s wise for Jack to point out the good and the bad of having this level of fan or consumer involvement in the development process. I really liked the article because it shows an alternate perspective. We’ve all enjoyed seeing this revival of our favorite game designers, but we are only in the early stages of this process. Maybe a healthy dose of cynicism is good for everyone, just to stay grounded and reasonably skeptical as we see how things unfold.

And I didn’t think Jack was taking the “Ok for Tim Schafer, not okay for others” negative attitude that is so prevalent on the Double Fine forums it’s revolting. Jack is simply pointing out that because of Tim’s sheer number of backers compared to a project like Tex (87k vs 7k), he has a lot more wiggle room whereas other projects will really need to overachieve to achieve satisfactory sales numbers.

Basically I agree with the article and what people are saying in the comments. But ultimately I was very disappointed that such a small percentage of the DFA backers supported Jane, Al, Two Guys, and Tex. And those projects will be much more scrutinized than Tim’s because, well, to most people “it’s Tim Schafer” and whatever he does for his project will be accepted by his rabid fanbase.

Just look at how Tim’s pitch just said, “I’d like to make an adventure game,” yet other pitches have been criticized for not being SPECIFIC enough or providing sufficient details. The irony. The truth indeed is that because Tim was first and had so much success, people seem to not question whatever he does. And they don’t question what he does because he’s Tim Schafer. It’s a circular form of reasoning.

The third Double Fine video update is a couple weeks late. There’s a small thread at the DFA forums about it, but most people don’t care. Now if one of the other projects had such a delay, I’m willing to bet the outcry would be much larger. Even the Two Guys commented in one of their live chats that Tim’s success had placed an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny on them and other developers. All of a sudden so many DFA backers became expert critics of other kickstarters’ quality and potential because they were part of that group.

See, now I’m sounding negative. So I’ll just summarize that the most important thing is for these projects to meet their goals and not hit too many development issues. Kickstarter is the launch pad, but in the long run everyone will need to enjoy some moderate financial and commercial success so that they can continue to make games without necessarily needing advance crowd funding. That’s what I loved about Jane’s project - she already has those goals in mind for her own studio.

Jun 24, 2012

I’m annoyed because it’s none of your business, really, how much others spend their hard-earned on.

I don’t read adventure gamers to be lectured on money matters.

Jun 24, 2012

Yes there is a risk that a kickstarted game won’t pay for the next. But this is the case for EVERY game release ever, and that risk is actually reduced tremendously by using KS to raise funds.

Ordinarily, a dev would have to give up the majority of their profits just to get the financing to make the game. The game would pay their bills while they were making it, but there would be very little chance that it would pay enough to self-finance another game. But with KS, they get to keep all their profits, which makes it a lot easier to cover costs.

And if they get to keep all their profits and they still can’t make enough to produce another game, well… That’s just called life. We’d like to believe there’s a market for these games, and I’ve seen plenty of evidence to that effect, but if one of these products fails to connect with that audience, then it’s probably time to move on. There is a bit of natural selection that has to take place.

The Tex Murphy guys said a big part of the KS was not just about raising the money it was about making sure there’s still an audience out there. And if they can’t sell 100,000 copies of the new game or whatever, that’s going to tell them that no, the audience isn’t really there anymore, and they should probably go a different route. I think they feel that way too.

Jun 24, 2012

A.A, short answer: Yes, you are being naive in a number of areas, particularly in your assertion that everyone is being fiscally responsible when people (in general) have shown time and time again that they aren’t.  You’re annoyed because I recommend being smart with one’s money?  Mmmkay.

Iznogood, I’m not saying the dangers will all come to pass.  I’m simply stating that they exist, and people on both sides (developers and gamers) should be aware of them instead of deluding themselves with pie-in-the-sky idealism.  Unrealistic expectations on either side is a surefire killer.  By being aware and sensible about the obstacles, hopefully some or all of them can be avoided.  Developers won’t overreach, and gamers won’t over-gripe.  Tongue

Frogacuda, of course every developer’s intention (or at least goal) is to become self-sufficient.  The question is whether that will be feasible, and no one, including the developers, know that yet.  Sure they’ll sell more upon release (if they’re released, and if they’re any good, both of which are still assumptions at this point), but making enough to cover all costs (remember several developers are kicking in their own cash too) AND fund a new game?  That’s anything but a given.

Fien, this isn’t meant to be a “balanced” article.  The potential positives of Kickstarter are self-evident and really don’t need rehashing. The dangers are not.

Jun 23, 2012

Frogacuda, the whole point of Logas’ project was that she would NOT have to do it in her spare time. The funds would be used to support her and her family while she was finishing the game. Don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself. I agree that it is to be expected that some games will not live up to our expectations. Smile

Jun 23, 2012

I think one of the lessons with both Logas’ project and Resonance is that backing someone who is doing this in their spare time means that you might have to wait for them to get enough spare time. It’s same reason a lot of ambitious mods like Black Mesa source take forever. Of course delays happen with pro studios too, but several year long ones won’t happen without continuous cash flow. The more likely scenario is that features get cut like Jack mentioned. Some of these games will inevitably not live up to expectations.

Jun 23, 2012

I don’t find the article well-balanced at all. It has an extremely negative view of backers and gamers in general (picky Joe Q Public; complaining, demanding, mercenary backers, etcetera), but not so much of developers and publishers. I fully agree with A.A.’s and Frogacuda’s comments. Amanita sold half a million copies of Machinarium and Telltale sold a million Walking Dead Episodes but Jane might have a problem selling Moebius outside her fanbase of 5000 backers? Oh, come on!  Two more points of criticism. IMO, the article underestimates the emotional bond backers feel after numerous updates, videos, live chats with developers who have suddenly become more approachable than ever.  That creates loyalty.  Backers will accept, understand and forgive,  as long as they know what’s going on. The problem with the long wait for Gray Matter was that everybody - Jane, publisher , developers – kept us gamers in the dark. That’s one reason I find the gross misrepresentation of the Heather Logas Kickstarter project in the article shocking. She needed $8000 and only *two* months to finish her game. After *sixteen* months she announced that the game was now included in her final thesis and would not be put by the wayside again. After another *eight* months without a single update one or two backers politely requested a status report, which they only got because someone went public with his request. All of her backers have been patient all along and don’t deserve sneers about how the phrase “patience is its own reward”  clearly was not coined by an adventure gamer.

Jun 23, 2012

My hope is just that a few of these game will be successful enough that publishers will wake up to the reality that there is a market for adventure games, and in particular that established writing talent has brand value to that market that is going unused. That is how the adventure renaissance will happen, not just Kickstarting everything until we’re penniless.

Jun 23, 2012

2) The issue of “will these games sell” is an utter non-point. The number people that will back a project is far, far smaller than the number of people who will buy a finished product that looks good. Double Fine Adventure will sell hundreds of thousands of copies after it’s out, practically guaranteed. If you look at how many unique views a KS gets compared to how many people actually back, there are a lot more people who are cautiously interested than willing to back on just a promise.

3) The people that can raise $500,000+ budgets on Kickstarter SHOULD be the exception, not the rule. It’s not our job to kickstart every adventure game, it should be the rare ones that look really good and will open doors for others by their success.

Jun 23, 2012

I think this article misses the mark in a few ways.

1) Anyone looking at KS as a renewable plan is a dirtbag, and I’m frustrated that you would even imply that Big Finish, Two Guys, or Jane would ever do it again. Big Finish in particular made it very clear that they would not, and that future Tex games will depend on the sales of Project Fedora raising enough money, NOT a future Kickstarter.

Asking people for money to get a project going is one thing. But if that project fails and you want money again? Or even worse if it succeeds and you ask for money anyway? That’s predatory and no one should ever even consider pledging to such a person.

Jun 23, 2012

I would hope that most of these developers don’t come back later asking pledges for a second project. Ideally their games should generate enough profits to independently self-fund another project (maybe combined with some traditional investment). This is where I see Kickstarter being of most value - not as a publisher surrogate, but as a type of crowdsourced angel investor.

I can’t imagine Double Fine ever saw much (or indeed any) royalties for its games, as they were never lucky enough to have a real breakout hit. If this helps break their cycle of living off of publisher advances, that could mean more great things from them in the future.

I like that Jane Jensen / Pinkerton Road has a longer-term roadmap and already has a second project signed through a publisher.

Jun 23, 2012

It’s been said before but great article. All very valid points. It’s good to have someone be tthe voice of reason in the crazy ride that is kickstarter.

Jun 23, 2012

Very interesting article. I am also following the various kickstarter campains with great interest (and pledging a project.) I wondered afterwards why i signed up, because the game was allready funded. I think I did it because i wanted to have the feeling of being comitted to something, to be part of something big and new. Ofcourse there are other obvious reasons (i like oldskool adventure games) but this one is a more deeper psychological “drive.”  And i think that’s a universal one (wanting to belong to a group, the need for respect and affirmation, the need to be heard, etc) 

With the forums, etc. the game developer is able to answers to these psychological urges. And that’s a major advantage. But ofcourse it does also have its downsides, as mentioned in the article.  For me the one main concern is: Isn’t all this exposure (documentaries about the game proces, etc.) harmful for the “magical experience” of the game? I mean, when i see a certain character in a game, i don’t want to know who did the voice acting, i don’t want to see the voice actor in my minds eye. That was just the magic of the old adventure games. I didn’t know anything about the developers. I had my own fantasy (just like reading a book.) When i played Larry i didn’t have the face of Al Lowe in my head. And when playing monkey island i had my own ideas about Tim Schaefer and Guybrush. 

Ofcourse the Internet changed all of this. You can lookup almost anything about a game. But I think the game developers must be catious with what the reveal in the forums. But they are in a catch 22 position now.

Jun 23, 2012

Great article—I work in non-profit fundraising and it’s been pretty fascinating to watch the differences and balance between the charity & pre-order aspects of this craze.  I don’t believe this sort of renaissance will last in Kickstarter form, but the idea of long-term pre-orders seems like it could find a way to change things.

[and to the above poster]
There absolutely is a lot of disgruntled fans hidden about in various forums, and it will likely only get louder.  For example:  We’ve paid $400k to Double Fine for what is on track to be a 4-5 hour documentary and Scott Murphy & Mark Crowe just chatted with us for 26 hours during their campaign for free—Try harder Double Fine.

Jun 23, 2012

A good article Jack, but i think you are beeing a bit pessimistic.

There are certainly many dangers here, but it could also turn out to be the greatest thing for AG in a long time.
I guess we will just have to wait and see what will happen.

Jun 23, 2012

I feel you are greatly over-exaggerating the threat of fans “turning” on the developer for delays in the development. Especially in the cases of Jensen/Schafer and these other big names, the fact is people will be kept up-to-date throughout the development process and if things get delayed, I think people are going to be fine with it IF it’s for the betterment of the game. Adventure gamers have waited a decade for these games…why ON EARTH would they get upset by an extra couple of months or even a year? You’re being far too cynical. As long as the pledgers are being kept informed- and it’s my understanding that ALL these projects will be keeping their pledgers informed for the duration of the making of the game- then I see no great problem (there will always be one or two whingers, but that’s no fault of the kickstarter). Maybe I’m being naive here, but I just can’t believe adventure game fans will be that ...irrational.

I also REALLY disliked you telling us what to do with our money. I know you said you weren’t, but that’s EXACTLY what it came across as. People KNOW what they’re giving their money too. They understand the risks. The game may not live up to their expectations. But how much they choose to spend on these potentially awesome projects is, pardon my french, none of your goddamn concern. Your casino analogy is just nonsense.

Really irritating article. Some fair points in there- let’s just hold on and wait and see how this goes before declaring this the adventure renaissance we’ve longed for- but also some really, really cynical ones too, that I don’t think are necessarily fair. 

This article is also another example of the “It’s okay for Tim Schafer, because he’s Tim Schafer” but then having a go at everyone that came after because: 1)  they weren’t first. and 2) they’re not Tim Schafer.. This attitude is quite prevalent in the Double Fine forums too.

Jun 22, 2012

Tim Schafer is the Joss Whedon of the gaming industry. He’s not always successful, but he has more fans than anyone can count.

Jun 22, 2012

ASTONISHING Article more than The usual Mr.Jack, i really can not think of anything to say that can add,.... but,The Right Man with the Right article in the Right (and needed) Time .... i guess someday we will look back maybe after 2-3 years at this one and say “that had said it ALL”

Jun 22, 2012

This is a more realistic look at the Adventure Game Kickstarter Craze of 2012. If all articles were like this, it would be a downer… but this one is meant to balance out the slew of optimism that most other articles contain, and that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s probably a good thing, because when you are prepared for something, you usually handle it better.

One important thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the trolls that we complain about on the Internet may very well be backers in some of these campaigns. Those people will complain and whine and get angry about anything, and are very VERY vocal about it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are patiently waiting for something good to happen, and give comments and compliments of the game along the way.

It’s important to remember that not every voice that is shared is constructive; and there are many that are. And usually, the ones that ARE constructive have input more valuable to consider.

Basically: developers will have to learn to ignore the trolls, and to listen to the reasonable fans, lest they get pulled into development depression.

Jun 22, 2012

Fantastic article, Jack. The best summary and overview of the past few months I’ve seen anywhere.

In all this development what’s saddened me is how the majority of the 87000 Double Fine backers seemingly weren’t interested in the other adventure projects. I’m wondering if those people were adventure game fans from the old days or simply people that came onboard the kickstarter once it was gaining steam.

Regardless, it’s confusing that a community which has been waiting over a decade for this moment (developers to break free from the publisher constraints) now has so many things to complain about. The criticism that has been launched at every campaign post DFA has been mind-boggling. I wouldn’t have expected some of the negativity I’ve seen.

Oh well. I’m excited and hope that these games sell well enough to justify the future in adventure gaming we all envision.

Jun 22, 2012
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