It’s Time for Gamers to Say No to Crowdfunding

As Kickstarter failures continue to pile up, it’s time for gamers to vote with their wallets, and say no to crowdfunding.

I’ve written about my personal choice to stay away from Kickstarter before. It’s a choice that I made a little over a year ago, because I was tired of assuming all the risks inherent in any game development project without getting any of the returns. Since then, we’ve seen numerous Kickstarter failures, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s money that’s been taken from gamers and scattered about, with little to no accounting of how it was spent, and nothing at all to show for it.

Why are we all still okay with that?

There are plenty of examples of poorly managed projects failing to deliver on what was promised. Just last week, the Yogventures Kickstarter fell through, and since that failure was announced, there have been a number of claims and accusations flying about that should serve as cautionary tales for gamers. First, news broke that Winterkewl (the developer behind Yogventures) had paid an artist $35,000 for six months of work that turned out to be two weeks, as the artist exploited a contractual loophole and left for a job at LucasArts, taking the cash with him.

Then, PC Gamer reported that $150,000 of the half-million-dollars-plus that the project raised was supposedly transferred to Yogscast, with the understanding it would be used to create physical rewards and hire a lead programmer. The lead programmer was apparently never hired, and no one seems to know what happened the balance of the cash. When asked about the money, Lewis Brindley of Yogscast said there was, “no value in going into details.”

Bullshit.

What Brindley should have said was that he wasn’t required to go into any details, and as such, he wouldn’t. That’s because Kickstarter provides precisely zero consumer protections for backers. Kickstarter’s interest in a project ends the day the project closes, because that’s when the crowdfunding platform (they call themselves a “platform” as a way to try and disclaim liability when something fails) gets its 5 percent cut. It’s possible that you could file a civil suit against the developer, but with the news that Winterkewl is closing down, that’s out the window as well. The Yogscast folks are promising to “make it right” for their backers, and have said they plan to give all their backers a copy of a similar game called TUG. That’s great, but that’s not what the backers signed up for. There’s been precious little mention of refunds, with Yogscast telling Eurogamer that, “Refund requests should go to Winterkewl Games.” Unfortunately, the company is closing its doors, as mentioned above.

In a similar but different situation, last week also saw the Kickstarter campaign for Areal suspended. While Kickstarter doesn’t share the reasons behind project suspensions and Areal developer West Games claims to have no idea why it was suspended, there have been a number of articles written concerning the somewhat shady details of the so-called “spiritual successor to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” West Games isn’t giving up, though. It has begun crowdfunding through its own website.

It shouldn’t be necessary to warn people off at this point. But here I am, doing it anyway. There are precious few consumer protections on sites like Kickstarter, but if you pledge money to a company through their company website, it’s gone. While Areal may turn out to be an amazing game, the smart thing to do is to let them develop it without your money.

There have been some games made through Kickstarter that are quite good. Unfortunately, they’ve been overshadowed by the colossal failures that have come since. It’s time for gamers to consider the nuclear option: giving up on crowdfunding.

I know what you’re thinking. “There are of lots of games that won’t get made without crowdfunding.” That’s probably true. It’s unfortunate, but that’s not our problem as gamers. There is a lot of risk inherent in the making of new games, no matter who’s financing them. In the Kickstarter failures mentioned above, as well as others that have come before, we’ve seen what happens when that risk is placed on gamers — they get screwed.

Despite Kickstarter’s terms telling project creators that they must fulfill the rewards they promise or offer refunds, you don’t see it happening. Kickstarter and the creators who exploit it are banking on the fact that most people are willing to write off small amounts of money if a project fails. In a recent development, the Washington attorney general brought lawsuit against a creator who failed to deliver on a Kickstarter campaign. While there’s no word yet on how that suit is proceeding, it will be interesting to see if this results in any more powerful protections for crowdfunding backers.

Regardless, it’s time for gamers to exercise the only real tool at their disposal — their wallets — to send a clear message to the crowdfunders of the world. Keep your wallet closed until there’s a major improvement in crowdfunding terms that supplies stronger guarantees for your money, or until the game is available at launch. If you keep buying into a shitty system, it’s never going to improve.


Ron Whitaker is the managing editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @ffronw and @gamefrontcom.

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27 Comments on It’s Time for Gamers to Say No to Crowdfunding

Robyn

On July 29, 2014 at 7:34 am

Cool, whilst you do that, I’ll go back to playing Divinity: Original Sin, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Wasteland 2 beta. Not to mention waiting excitedly for Pillars of Eternity, which looks like it’s going to be awesome.

Aedelric

On July 29, 2014 at 9:08 am

Very good point Robyn.

Crowd funding is a risk, if that upsets you Ron, then do not take part in it. Plenty of great projects are either finished or nearing completion.

The problem here is not crowd funding but the idiocy of certain gamer, willing to get carried away and back projects that are obviously doomed to failure. I could say do not back projects from a studio that has no track record, or a project that has nothing more than concept art and a few good ideas, or a project without a dedicated team, but unfortunately you can not save people from stupidity. Yogventures was a bad idea, overly ambitious with no dedicated team with a track record, it was obvious it was going to fail from the very first video released, additionally it was a Yogscast game and those guys are not what one would call professional.

To add to Robyn’s list;

Elite Dangerous, Planetary Annihilation, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar, The Banner Saga and I am sure Robyn and I could go on with more, if we could be bothered.

Ron Whitaker

On July 29, 2014 at 9:49 am

My point is not to say that crowd funding is a risk. Obviously it is, and anyone with a modicum of common sense knows it. My problem with is that it places all the risk on the gamer, who stands to gain NOTHING from it.

In the traditional model, that risk is borne by investors and stockholders. If the game fails, they have some protections under the law, although it is possible for them to lose their investment (if the company were to fold as a result of it). However, their return is monetary, and can be substantial in some cases. Meanwhile, if it succeeds, we, the gamers, get the game. If it fails, we lose nothing.

In the crowdfunding model, it’s us – the gamers – who assume that risk. If it fails, we lose everything. If it succeeds? Well, we still get the game. It’s the assumption of risk that is the problem with crowdfunding.

I’ve backed projects on Kickstarter, including some of those that you named. I quit about a year ago, when I realized that of the roughly 15 projects I had backed, only two had fully delivered. Deadlines get pushed, goals aren’t met, and failure is accepted as commonplace with surprising regularity. If you’re into that, by all means, continue. Just don’t be surprised when it gets much worse before it gets any better.

TimFads

On July 29, 2014 at 10:37 am

I disagree. I understand why you are upset and you have every right to, but I have backed 37 projects on KickStarter and have only been stung once. Every other project has been late but delievered with 10 or so pending but looking very promising. This is a way of getting out from under the show of EA (etc) and letting someone create something great. I’m firmly in camp KickStarter and will continue to back it. If you had a bad experience, that’s fine but from what I’ve seen you are the exception not the rule.

Tim

Aedelric

On July 29, 2014 at 11:50 am

It seems to me it is your personal experience that is running this article. I never backed a dodgy kickstarter so I can not say I am so pessimistic about the process as you are Ron. I see where you are coming from, but I also see the reason as being the fact you foolishly backed high risk projects

I would rather see a unique crowdsource project over yet another bland and forgettable FPS game from a big studio.

Back reliable studios like Obsidian in the future.

Ron Whitaker

On July 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm

@Aedelric – I’ve yet to back a dodgy Kickstarter. Every one I’ve backed has been a reliable, well-known company.

However, many of them have missed goals or simply gone away.

Shadowgate is finally releasing next month (only 8 months late).
Wasteland 2 is in beta, but hasn’t released yet, although it is fun in beta. (10 months late)
Speaking of Obsidian, Project Eternity is 4 months late already.
Double Fine still hasn’t fully delivered on Broken Age, although at this point, I think the first half of the game is all we’re going to get.

You know who delivers on time? Indies. FTL was a great game that released on time. Frogdice’s Dungeon of Elements released on time.

I don’t begrudge any of those companies the money I gave them, but I’m not throwing money down that hole anymore. There is literally no upside to it. Gamer are much, much better served to keep their money and buy the game at launch.

Kaiser

On July 29, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Investors invest tens/hundreds of thousand of dollars if not more.
it’s a completely other story to loose 20$ via Kickstarter.

And yes, many are late in delivering. This is to be expected.

I’d rather have some chaps like you get bitten by it (mostly by your poor decision making) than give up the chance to get highlights like Project Eternity. Currently, you mostly get mindless and casualized action and mmos, moba clones and smartphone/facebook style games.

Kickstarter has the chance to change this downward spiral. And Newsflash, innovative projects like kickstarter always have their risks and bad apples. But if no one took risks, there would be stagnation.

If the butthurt over a neglectable sum of money of you and the likes is the price to pay for a chance for better games, we’ll gladly accept it.

It’s time for gamers to use their brain and act like adults.

MarkEMark

On July 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Yeah more protection/guaruntees/transperancy is needed for the “crowd” in crowdfunding. I can’t understand why y’all aren’t sympathetic to this point.

marc

On July 29, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Sorry but I disagree with the article.If people are stupid enough to give money with 0 , I say 0 guarantee then let them give their money.I’d never back anything on Kickstarter.Why? because there is NO guarantee whatsoever that a project can be fufilled and if it is not I can my money back. If other people want to take risk for nothing, then so be it,let them do that. Smart people dont back anything on Kickstarter.I consider those who do stupid,but they are free to do so,it is their money.

Aedelric

On July 29, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Ron, you do realise fully funded titles from the typical developer/publisher means almost always have delays. You seem to focus of the delay aspect more than anything and unfortunately when it comes to creating games delays are an inevitable part, the vast majority of games receive delays from the typical publisher method and when they do not they are often buggy pieces of rubbish that get torn apart by critics upon release.

Anyway, most of the games mentioned so far have playable betas up and running for their release date, essentially holding to their promise even though release may have been delayed

FTL, another great success and quite fun game, one I also happen to own. Indie games are exceptionally high risk and the most common game to fail, like Yogventures was.

Ron Whitaker

On July 29, 2014 at 8:36 pm

@Aedelric: I do realize that fully funded dev titles almost always have delays. The difference is that gamers aren’t out the money it took to make the game while they’re waiting for those games to launch.

The point of the article, and my main point, is not that Kickstarter is inherently bad. The problem is that there’s zero protection for gamers. Crowdfunding can still be good, but right now it is the equivalent of going to GameStop, pre-ordering a game, and then not caring if you ever get it or not. That’s the problem.

Bob

On July 29, 2014 at 10:19 pm

seriously Ron your scaremongering people into crap that is based on misinformation and unproven hearsay
Shame on you and your terrible journalistic skills

Drizzt

On July 30, 2014 at 1:23 am

Shadowgate is finally releasing next month (only 8 months late).
Wasteland 2 is in beta, but hasn’t released yet, although it is fun in beta. (10 months late)
Speaking of Obsidian, Project Eternity is 4 months late already.

Have you ever been involved in a major development project? Ie. a project, that has either to develop its own engine or heavily modify an existing one? A project, that has to create tons of art, text, video, models, etc.? Because a project of substantial size has good chances for many delays. That is how almost every game works out in the end. Even in the traditional model, though those games get sometimes released no matter what state they are in.

The Indie argument is a bit disingenuous as well, since most Indie games use a (virtually) unmodified Unity (or similar) engine, have a very limited amount of art and focus on a narrow game concept. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, because they are. But it’s far easier to stay on time with less moving parts. Also, there are a lot of indie games, that have slipped, just watch “Indie Game: The Movie”.

Now back to the original argument against Kickstarter: as long as I’m aware, that I can loose everything without getting anything from the start, I don’t think it’s as bad as it sound. If the deal is altered along the way, then it gets ugly. But as long as the deal is “I invest in this idea and if it succeeds, get something I want”, then I can decide if I’m willing to throw some money away for the time being (ie. until the project is finished successfully). The second component is choosing which project to back: all projects I’ve supported have been successes and those that are still pending, look well on track. Even though some took a bit longer, than initially projected.

Anyway, I think your criticisms contains valid points, but lays them at the wrong doors. Since you bring up classical investments: that would be another nice option for funding. Give backers the chance to be Angel Investors in the company. Then they can share in the success, if there is one or still loose their investment. Though, in this scenario there wouldn’t be “game rewards” but purely monetary rewards at the end.

Kaiser

On July 30, 2014 at 4:37 am

@Ron Whitaker another reason why Kickstarter is on the rise is because many video game devs are tired of the layoff cycles.

http://kotaku.com/why-game-developers-keep-getting-laid-off-1583192249

So instead of realizing the positive possibilities kickstarter may have on game developers lives, you write a sensationalistic article which lacks any journalistic integrity and spreads insecurity all around.

You truly are a non-essential person.

Ron Whitaker

On July 30, 2014 at 5:37 am

@Drizzt: I think you and several others are missing the point here. The point isn’t that delays don’t happen to games. They do. The point is that gamers are being left holding the bag when projects fail, and Kickstarter is sitting back, disclaiming all responsibility, and raking in their 5%. The reality is that you aren’t deciding if you can throw some money away until it’s finished. You’re deciding if you can throw some money down a hole in the hopes that maybe someday down the road a game will pop out. You can mitigate the chances of failure by picking good companies, but that still doesn’t guarantee success.

Again, I’m not saying Kickstarter shouldn’t exist. What I am saying it that it needs much stronger consumer protections than it now has. At this point in time, Early Access is actually a much safer deal than Kickstarter, because you at least are guaranteed to get a game in a semi-playable form.

Ryan

On July 30, 2014 at 5:49 am

Hold on a second. You state that the Kickstarter failures are piling up, but you only mention ONE game. Where’s the proof that the failures are piling up? Did you mean that Kickstarter projects overall, or just video games?

Also, how could you not see that the Yogscast project was going to be a sham. It was supposed to an adventure game based on YouTube personalities; red flag, anyone? How could you think that people who play games know anything about hiring a lead developer. It’s no wonder a developer was never hired, they have no idea what to look for and $150k was not going to be enough to pay them.

Don’t bash Kickstarter and crowd funding in general for something that was poorly planned on the creator’s part to begin with. As a backer, think about the project that you’re going to put your money into and be sure that the people who are running the project are actually doing the work.

T. Jetfuel

On July 30, 2014 at 6:15 am

It’s curious, people line up to pour money in “crowdfunding” seemingly because they want to be in a special club of Exclusive Access. A useful concept here would be free “playbor” workforce undercutting professional game testing in exchange for the privilege of feeling involved. A seriously meta way of playing a game. I myself prefer video games.

I have backed two games myself, Pillars of Eternity and Satellite Reign, the latter partly because it allowed me to feel I made a difference in helping the devs not have to relocate from their home, somewhere in Australia. But I mostly stay away from their advance materials. There is something to be said for coming fresh to completed works.

SXO

On July 30, 2014 at 7:08 am

I’m sorry Ron, but I disagree. I put money into Kickstarter campaigns knowing full well that I may or may not get anything back from that investment. I’d rather that risk is taken upon me, someone who cares about the medium, and not faceless shareholders who’s only concern is profit at the detriment of everything else.

If you don’t feel the risk is worth it, I totally respect that, but I personally will continue to support any Kickstarter campaign that is both interesting, and has people I believe are capable of delivering on said project.

Aedelric

On July 30, 2014 at 8:03 am

Judging by the replies I think the article should have it’s title changed to “It’s time for me to say no to crowdfunding”

Drizzt

On July 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

@Ron Whitaker: No, I actually don’t think I miss the point. You make two (delays, no refund gurantee if project fails) basically. I addressed both. As I’ve written before: I’m not against some kind of protection against project creators whose sole intent is to rake in the “Big Buck$”. But I do have a problem with you stating, that Kickstarter taking a fee is a problem. If that’s the case for you, then you can read about it in the ToS, in the FAQ and maybe other places, take this as a base for your decision to join Kickstarter and/or back a project. ANd all that before you even give away your e-mail address.

For me it always comes down to: do I trust the person who is proposing an idea(!) or don’t I. The Early Access thing is a red herring as well: it’s simply not the same concept and would be more comparable to a classic shareware model, where the project starter “promises” to continue something, as long, as people buy licenses.

Just to make this perfectly clear: I’m not saying you should just throw money at KS projects. And I’m also not saying there shouldn’t be improvements to the KS system. But I do say, your examples are mostely “barking up the wrong tree”. Inherently KS is a system by which you can enable a person to realise an idea. This requires trust from the backer and honesty from the proponent of the project. This is the very reason why I feal established game designers have usually a much better chance of succeeding than unknown people. It’s much easier to trust a Chris Roberts who has a track record of awesome games (even if they were late), than some John Doe proposing the next awesome RPG.

Kaiser

On July 30, 2014 at 11:39 pm

@Drizzt

“It’s much easier to trust a Chris Roberts who has a track record of awesome games (even if they were late), than some John Doe proposing the next awesome RPG.”

This immediately reminded me of this: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/appleton/greed-monger-a-crafting-focused-sandbox-mmorpg

I wouldn’t even be surprised if Ron backed it, lol.

C

On July 31, 2014 at 2:13 am

Just curious, but how many games did you back were from publishers who had delivered on a KS before?

I only back miniature game KS, and from those companies I’ve thoroughly researched, or have run and delivered on previous projects. I don’t back video games because I don’t play them, and don’t back non-miniature boardgames because I can get them at a discount from the OLGS.

Josh

On July 31, 2014 at 9:13 pm

@Ron Whitaker:

If you believe that Crowdfunding needs some sort of “consumer protection,” then I believe you are severely misunderstanding what Crowdfunding is about. You see, Crowdfunding is NOT a consumer enterprise at all. It is much more about Patronage. It allows normal folks without multi-million dollar estates to be patrons of the arts.

As such, I don’t donate money to Kickstarter so that I can get some cool reward, or pre-purchase a game. In fact, I would think that donating for those reasons alone would be idiotic…after all, there is NO guarantee that you will ever get a product because, at the time of donation, the “product” is just a twinkle in the project leader’s eye.

No, I donate to Kickstarter projects so that I, and the world, might have a new really cool piece of art to experience that we would NOT have had otherwise. I gave $100 to Wasteland 2 and I honestly can’t even remember what the rewards were, and I didn’t really care at the time. All I care about is that the game gets made…I’m tired of huge-budget, no-risk games that do the same thing over and over.

I want intelligent RPGs to come back, and I’m more than willing to put some money on the line to help that happen.

And if it doesn’t happen? Oh well, I realized it was risky when I did it, and I never thought I was “buying” something to begin with because I realize that Kickstarter is not a store.

Martín

On August 2, 2014 at 8:16 am

I have 3 words for you: Divinity: Original Sin.

Anonymous

On August 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Always felt Yogventures would never be finished due to the shear size and ambition it was aiming at. Since the day they announced it I knew it was too good to be true, especially with such a new company taking its development.

I have noticed that most successful Kickstarters are the ones created by companies with experience in the field of development (with the exception of Yacht Club Games). Kickstarters created by a group of random individuals tend to fall apart most of the time.

ricksahw

On August 3, 2014 at 7:33 pm

I agree.
I do not see anything great about BEGGING.
Devs or young developers need to work for there fame, produce & finish their work by grafting hard core, & then sell it.
This silly practice of crowd funding is flawed, as a funder you have no come back nor do you get a refund or guarantee, just a pipe dream.

I think we’d all be better off waiting sleeping & dreaming of things we want to happen.
With this thought process in place, it will more than likely work than crowd funding does today.

Einar

On August 7, 2014 at 6:27 am

Ron Whitaker:”You know who delivers on time? Indies. FTL was a great game that released on time. Frogdice’s Dungeon of Elements released on time.”

Uhm… Both FTL and DoE were kickstarted.