Kickstopper: How Kickstarter Made the Video Games Industry Greedy

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Published by Jim Sterling 6 years ago , last updated 1 month ago

(This is another edition of , 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.

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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