One of the hot topics at the moment is Double Fine’s Kickstarter project, with the mere words “a Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert point-and-click adventure” was enough to send some gamers into a donating frenzy – at this point a shade over 47 500 people have donated over US$1.6m towards the project. And there is still 29 days left on the clock, meaning a lot more money could still come in.
Some believe that this marks the start of something completely new, something that completely changes “what we thought we knew about how game design, game making, and game promotion works in the 21st century and points to a far more compelling, dynamic, and democratic model for the years to come”. No, not really. Mainly because there are very few Double Fines out there.
It will probably serve as a klaxon to a number of developers who are looking to fund their indie project somehow, but as indicated by Double Fine that even “simple” titles cost between US$2m and US$3m to develop. In light of that, Double Fine’s initial Kickstarter target of US$400k looks like it was going to mostly be a side project anyway – enough money to devote a few people to it, but not a full scale production.
You So Double Fine, Baby
In a lot of ways, this particular event shows that there are group of people willing to pre-order a long way in advance of a title based on very scant information other than who the developer is. We know that the game will be a point-and-click adventure (a niche genre today) developed by Double Fine and… that’s about it. In six- to eight-months the game may be available. About 47k people are willing to get behind this idea, which isn’t a number that any large publisher is going to lose sleep over.
Double Fine’s success certainly points a way forward for some smaller developers or niche title specialists, but there likely aren’t too many smaller developers who can match Double Fine’s reputation or pledge rewards. After all, how many could offer something that one backer would pay $10k for? Not many. Double Fine have been able to leverage their reputation and community plus a wide range of rewards, which is something at the core of any Kickstarter success.
It could also be a very unforgiving well. Double Fine now have to deliver a game that people feel was worth getting behind and investing in. If they don’t, Double Fine could easily lose crowdsourcing as a way of funding their titles moving forward. This will also be the introduction of a lot of new players to Kickstarter – if they don’t feel they get value from Double Fine, it is pretty unlikely they’ll come back in numbers to support someone they’ve never heard of.
One thought I’ve seen repeatedly come through around this event is that it could remove publishers from the game development equation. I think the answer there is, “Sure, if you’re willing to give up AAA big budget titles,” because Kickstarter isn’t going to be funding eight- and nine-figure development budgets any time soon. And most modern players LOVE their big budget AAA event titles. They certainly won’t be leaving them for quirky point-and-click adventures that takes only a few hours to finish.
If there is anything future game developers looking to use Kickstarter to make their games can learn (other than “be Double Fine”) it is that the pledge price points are important. To whit: a chart.
If you multiply out the number of backers at each pledge price point, you get pretty close to the total current pledge amount reported by Kickstarter – only about 4% difference. Which suggests that the vast majority buy at the pledge price point (which makes sense, but the data backs it up).
Also the above chart suggests that $30 was a better pledge point for Double Fine to go for from a net revenue perspective (at least in the options they provided rewards to people at, anyway). Obviously they were surprised by what happened here – lots of people were – but it could be something they consider for next time.
It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. If Double Fine delivers. If gamers remain willing to put their hand in their pocket now for the promise of a game a long way into the future (and one that may not ever be released). If Kickstarter / crowdfunding really has a future, or if indie game studios are going to be left with their fund targets unmet.
In any case, this is an interesting event, but hardly a game changer for the vast majority of developers in the games industry.