Kickstopper: How Kickstarter Made the Video Games Industry Greedy


(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)

[Update: In the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that Replay has said it can't get funding for the Leisure Suit Larry remakes through venture capital. So, perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh to the company. It simply bought, and then announced, a series that it did not yet know it could afford, and is now hoping to afford it with donations. While I still raise my eyebrow at that, it's not as shady as I implied.

I apologize for insinuating that Replay was being surreptitious with its Leisure Suit Larry Kickstarter.]

A while ago, I wrote about why Double Fine’s Kickstarter success was inspiring news, and something we should all be paying attention to. I knew, when I wrote it, that the video game industry was likely to do what it does best, and make me regret my encouragement. When there’s a new idea, this industry (like many industries) does have a nasty habit of jumping all over it and ruining the entire thing. As usual, Kickstarter’s success did not inspire game developers in the way I hoped it would. Already, the entire thing has jumped the shark.

It was Brian Fargo who sought to be the next high profile Kickstarter success, hot on the heels of Tim Schafer with his pitch for a Wasteland sequel. By all accounts, this was an acceptable and welcome idea, especially with the news that Obsidian was also ready to climb aboard and help the game get made.

Like Double Fine, Fargo’s team is a trusted set of developers working on something that gamers are genuinely excited for. The project is already clear of its monetary goal, and it seems that Kickstarter has come up trumps again.

However, just because something worked for a studio with the perfect storm of pedigree, talent, and a loving audience, that doesn’t mean any old jackass can jump on the service and expect to get a million dollars. We all knew that was the case. We were all sure of it. Still, that didn’t stop people trying.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen “Kickstarter” in the subject heading of an email sent my way. My news tips inbox is crammed with pleading emails from indie devs who want to replicate Double Fine’s success. All this, and we’re yet to see the final results from any of this. Double Fine has not published its adventure game yet. Wasteland 2 is not available for download. In fact, we haven’t even seen the first details of these games that we’ve nonetheless pre-ordered. You’d hope that other studios would at least wait to see some results before hopping on the bandwagon, but no. Not when there’s cash to be made.

I think the final straw came this week with the latest, most exploitative, Kickstarter campaign — the one to get Leisure Suit Larry remade. What makes this Kickstarter so galling is the fact that, unlike Double Fine’s adventure or Wasteland 2, these games were already supposed to be in production. Replay announced remakes of the Leisure Suit Larry games over six months ago, with Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards planned for release this year. With this Kickstarter, Replay seems to be hoping that we’ve forgotten it was already committed to making these games, and is now begging for money that should already have been acquired, for a project that should already be in production. As far as I’m concerned, it’s tasteless to exploit Kickstarter users like that–to announce a game, commit to making it, and then ask for money when an opportunity to do so presents itself. I think it demonstrates and extraordinary lack of class, and it’s a fundraiser that I cannot support.

Unfortunately, I fear Leisure Suit Larry may be but the first of many game-flavored cons on Kickstarter. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that major publishers will start to exploit it, or provide their own private fundraisers, eager to take advantage of an audience’s excitement by demanding money that they, as publishers, should be spending themselves. On the indie side, we’re already seeing a wealth of fundraisers from developers who are unproven and desperate for cash, and I fear that a fair few naive gamers may well be burned before this whole thing plays out.

More than that, however, I see a genuinely good idea spoiled by saturation, as so often happens. Gizmodo already posted an article declaring a boycott on Kickstarter stories which, while mildly cretinous in presentation, hints that the backlash against the service is already beginning. As is the way with anything exploited ad nauseum, the tide of popular opinion will turn against it, and the video game industry — as usual — will have only itself to blame.

While the service is great for bringing back respected old franchises that otherwise would never get made, such opportunities risk becoming drowned in a sea of unworthy glorified charity drives, duplicitous swindling from greedy companies, and developers that believe Kickstarter is now the automatic answer to all their problems.

It certainly wasn’t what I urged when I praised Double Fine’s success. To me, Kickstarter was a sign that there are other ways to get your games made than through the increasingly obsolete developer/publisher dynamic. It should have inspired crafty developers to seek out new opportunities and find clever ways to get attention and funding for their projects. It shouldn’t have made them all intellectually lazy and gone down the same “me too” route that we see from major corporations all the time.

It saddens me that the indie crowd, so beloved for their ability to innovate, often betray themselves as creatively bankrupt as any AAA publisher. Kickstarter is not supposed to be the answer to your prayers — it’s supposed to be a clue that there’s a world of answers out there, if you can find them. Nobody will find them if nobody’s looking.

I fear that Gizmodo’s response will be evocative of the general attitude within the gamer community before too long. Just give it a few months and the population will grow weary of the slew of Kickstarter projects out there. How grimly predictable that, as soon as one patch of potentially fertile land is discovered, the locusts descend to strip it bear and ensure that nothing can grow. How despicably trite that innovation yet again breeds complacency. It would be depressing if it wasn’t so expected.

I am not “done” with Kickstarter. I still think it’s valuable, and I love what it represents. However, thanks to the likes of Replay, I am no longer as excited as once I was, and I’ve given up hope that developers will take Double Fine’s Kickstarter success for the sign it was, and instead get the wrong idea. Kickstarter isn’t a quick and dirty way to extract free money from people, nor is it a way for your barely formed idea to become a video game. Sadly, many people will see it as such, and we, the investors, must be on our guard until the invariable backlash happens and everybody stops caring.

For indeed, that is going to happen.

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12 Comments on Kickstopper: How Kickstarter Made the Video Games Industry Greedy

Andy

On April 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I think it’s normal that you’ll have some douchenozzles utilizing a good thing in a bad way. I just hope it doesn’t poison the well too much, as really good stuff happens on Kickstarter, too. I’m really excited when I see a kickstarter for a project I care about that also seems to have a lot of thought behind it. For an example, see the Shadowrun Returns kickstarter. I backed that out of love for the IP (when not bastardized into a ty FPS) _and_ because they seemed to have an actual vision for what they are going to build.

I hope Kickstarter has some vetting process to prevent someone like EA from trying to extract funding instead of utilizing their own revenue. Their only reason to exist is to do what Kickstarter does with their own money, so they shouldn’t be allowed to piggyback on Kickstarter to crowdsource their risk and keep the rewards.

Treefingers

On April 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Seeing the LSL Kickstarter gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. It just felt wrong. Asking for money to fund a previously-announced remake is absolutely the wrong way to be spending the goodwill developed over the last month. Also, I am REALLY annoyed at the use of Tim Schafer’s name in these pitch videos. It’s like they’re piling on a extra layer of exploitation and making it doubly obvious what their intentions are.

I desperately need the Tex Murphy Kickstarter to be successful. It’s exactly what Kickstarter should be used for – giving fans a chance to get some closure on a beloved franchise that couldn’t be made in today’s publishing climate. It’s obviously being made by some guys that care about the characters and want to tell a story, and they’ve been trying for the better part of 15 years to do so. That is why these recent events are so frustrating. If the Al Lowes and Jane Jensens of the world hurt my chances of getting another Tex Murphy game, I’m going to be pissed.

Sandgolem

On April 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I am in agreement, some of these projects are coming to fast, I just donated to Doublefine, and Wasteland 2 and then this Shadowrun project comes up and fuuuuck I need to donate to that as well. guys I love my childhood but give my wallet a chance to recharge O.o

Jason

On April 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I’m going to say this in the nicest way possible because I want to make sure you read it and take it to heart:

Your facts are wrong.

Right on the FAQ for the Leisure Suit Larry kickstarter it states that they could not secure funding for the game (because of the franchise itself), and all they ever hobbled together was a demo room. This is a far cry from published or already in production. Unless you have credible evidence to dispute this claim, and an excuse for not taking the whole of 2 minutes to look into this issue you have done some incredibly sloppy “reporting” here that could be a potential determent to their Kickstarter campaign. Either way this post needs to be Amended.

Paul Trowe

On April 6, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Hey Jim! Paul Trowe, CEO of Replay Games here. I find your article insulting and quite ignorant. I wish you would actually get your facts straight before spouting so much hate in to the world.

To set the record straight, in October we announced we aquired the rights to the LSL franchise, not that it was actually in production. We in fact only had, and only still have, a one room “proof of concept” that we used to get Codemasters to license the rights to us. We then took that licencing agreement, our business plan showing that we’re profitable after being in business for 3 years and bootstrapping it (with myself investing over $250k of my own money) and our forecast for the sales of the Larry games and other lines of business we have. Since the VC’s think Larry is too controversial to invest in, and seeing that it would take way longer to close a round of funding AND seeing how Al wanted to release LSL 1 in 2012 because it’s Larry’s 25th birthday, we turned to Kickstarter to get it done faster. VC deals typically take 6-9 months to close. So, having the platform to speak your mind, while it’s in your full right, it would be nice if you called the source (us) and got the facts straight, or at the very LEAST a comment from us.

-Paul Trowe
CEO Replay Games

Robert

On April 7, 2012 at 5:51 am

@Paul

Game journalism at its best and Sterling at his finest.

Drem

On April 7, 2012 at 5:56 am

If you this article didn’t mention that HORRIBLE “Yogscast” game

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/winterkewlgames/yogventures

Utter garbage.

Jim Sterling

On April 7, 2012 at 6:13 am

The article was already updated to reflect that Replay was not so much being surreptitious, but had instead bought and announced a series of games that it did not know it could actually make.

Not my real name

On April 7, 2012 at 6:15 am

How is it wrong for consumers to DONATE money to a product they would like to see made? Especially when they receive all sorts of bonuses and the game itself for helping?

I don’t understand your arguments that it’s a “con” or “demanding” money from anyone. It’s a person with an idea for a game that asks an audience to donate money or not. Some of them are industry vets and some are unknown start ups. I’ve seen countless games go unfunded because the developers weren’t known or established. In fact, the amount of projects that go unfunded outweigh the funded greatly. Meanwhile, doublefine and obsidian raise their funding in a matter of days. If the gamers want a certain game then the kickstarter will be funded,

Now the idea AAA publishers will start using kickstarter is a joke. The sheer cost of publishing a AAA game is astronomical and leaps into the millions upon millions of dollars. It’s not feasible to think someone like Activision, would be able to raise the money for their next Call of Duty through kickstarter or even private fundraising. Especially considering the large distaste for the franchise. Let’s say they do though, so? Obviously the consumers for that game wanted another title so they donated money to help create another one. It’s not my business to tell them they’re wrong, but I can explain to them why it’s harmful to the industry and toxic to everyone. It’s the means we go about talking about things that will make or break a topic. If something like that ever does happen, let’s not fall into the ignorant hate machine that fuels game communities.

Speaking of which. It’s hilarious the CEO of Replay set you straight on your hateful ignorant rant about them. People are starting to do kickstarter because doublefine popularized the site and idea.

What would they have done? Not have their game made because it’s “too risky”. A sad reality of the publishing business. The fact it’s a business first.

Elwro

On April 7, 2012 at 10:43 am

“The article was already updated to reflect that Replay was not so much being surreptitious, but had instead bought and announced a series of games that it did not know it could actually make.”

THE HORROR! Oh wait, that’s what usually happens. How many games were announced and then cancelled? All the studios, major and minor, do this. Studios announce games when they HOPE they can make them. What hard data you should have before the announcement is of course debatable, but apart from 100% self-funded projects I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say there are no projects at all whose developers would “know they will be able to actually make them” at the time of announcement.

crummy

On April 7, 2012 at 11:06 am

Most crowd funding sites have always been 90% crap, kickstarter is no different. It’s not like it’s suddenly going down hill. Believe me it has been there for some time.
What’s different here is that a particularly vocal and driven consumer base has finally latched on to crowd funding as a viable alternative to funding projects of interest outside of traditional publishing.
If anything this recent success has raised the quality of what I’ve been seeing in the crowd funding arena, not damaging it.

Paul Trowe

On April 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Ah – just saw the update….thanks Jim!!!!

-Paul