Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kickstarter games

This graph really caught my eye at Rock, Paper, Shotgun a few weeks ago. It shows the amount of money pledged to computer games projects on Kickstarter the past few years. And that amount for 2012 is just the first six months of the year, apparently!

I believe it. Kickstarter is just too easy, just too convenient, and, frankly, just too neat to resist. At least for me. :)

If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a crowd-funding website for all sorts of creative projects - art, music, books, video, even food. Fans can pledge to support a project at various levels of funding, to help that project get off the ground. As I say, it's not just games, not at all. But that's what I want to talk about here.

I suppose it's like buying a game before it's been made, although, as I say, there are always different levels of support. But this gives a game developer cold, hard cash, instead of requiring him to create the game entirely on his own resources and try to sell it later.

This means that even a niche project can get funding, if enough people want to see it happen. (And most of these are niche projects, I think.) There's always a project goal and a deadline. If that goal isn't met, your pledge is just cancelled. And the funding happens through, which makes it almost too easy.

In fact, it's very definitely too easy for me, I suspect. Frankly, back in the days of shareware, I'd sometimes buy a computer game just to support the game developer. Other times, I'd really plan to play it, but... well, even today, I buy more games than I actually play.

I've always done this with books, as well. I love books, and I love to read. But I've long had the very bad habit of buying more books than I can get read. Heck, sometimes I knew I wouldn't read them, at least when it came to used books. (I can't resist a good buy, either.)

I do the same thing with computer games. I've bought games I haven't even installed. I usually plan to play them, but not until I finish with my current game. Of course, by then, new games have been released. :)

And yes, I like to support independent game developers. Heck, the most expensive game I've ever played is one released as a free download. I've given more in voluntary donations to support Dwarf Fortress than any other game has ever cost me - not even close. Of course, I've actually played that one quite a bit, too.

Anyway, I got sucked into Kickstarter in April with Wasteland 2. Well, how could I resist? I loved the original Wasteland, although that was 24 years ago - pretty much the Stone Age in computer terms. And I guess I wasn't the only one enthused about a remake, since pledges totaled almost $3 million (the goal was just $900,000).

Of course, I pledged $50, when I could have received the game for just $15. Yeah, I was a bit too enthusiastic, I suppose. That wasn't the only $50 pledge I made, either. But eventually, I realized that I'd bankrupt myself if I kept being so generous.

Well, I might bankrupt myself anyway, since I can't seem to leave Kickstarter alone. Heh, heh. But at least I've been pledging at lower levels recently. That's something, isn't it?

The thing is, if you love games - and other projects are the same way, I'm sure - you have a chance to support the development of the kinds of games you want to see. Otherwise, you let marketing people decide what will sell the best, so you end up with a million first-person shooters.

Now, I think that indie game developers have been doing quite well on the Internet these days, since it's relatively easy, and cheap, to attract fans and sell a game that's download-only. And every so often, one of them hits it big. But the developer still has to spend years, in many cases, creating his game while also, you know, surviving.

With Kickstarter, a game developer can get the money to live on, and even to hire help, while finishing his game. That makes it far more likely the game will actually be finished. Of course, there's plenty of competition on Kickstarter, but there's plenty of competition in the game industry, anyway. There are no guarantees.

And there are no guarantees when you pledge your money, either (another good reason why I should keep my pledges small). Despite your purchase, the game might never be completed. Kickstarter is not responsible for that. It's just a risk you take.

A much bigger risk, in my estimation, is that you won't like the finished game. This isn't like buying a game which has already been released, a game where you can easily find reviews and other comments online. You're taking a risk in order to support the kinds of projects (not just games) you want to see.

Anyway, what kinds of games have I been supporting? Just this month, I've pledged a small amount to four games (well, five, actually, but I knew the fifth one wouldn't make its pledge goal - I was just trying to be encouraging, I guess).

Expeditions: Conquistador has already been funded, beating its $70,000 goal by 10%. I wasn't sure about this one, but I liked the emphasis on the storyline, I liked the combat, I liked the character management (and the fact that it's party-based, which is almost always my preference), and I liked the hints of exploration and resource management.

Note that Wasteland 2 had a goal of $900,000, and raised almost $3 million. Expeditions: Conquistador is only going to be spending $77,000 - and there are projects which ask for much less than that. You can't expect the same level of graphics, the same level of detail, the same... polish in all of them. Hopefully, though, we can expect a good game in each case. That's all I ask.

I pledged to Project Eternity, too. This game still has 16 days to go, but it's already doubled its $1.1 million goal. Well, this is another big-budget project by very well-respected game developers (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, Fallout, Fallout 2, Arcanum, etc.). It's no wonder this game has attracted so much support.

In fact, this is the kind of game which almost certainly didn't need Kickstarter to get made. But by using Kickstarter, they can make the kind of game they want, without worrying about back-office management-types dictating what to include (and what not).

Then, just today, I pledged to a couple of games with much, much smaller goals. M.O.R.E. promises an "old school turn-based 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) space strategy game" with the "one more turn" appeal of Master of Orion 2. To tell the truth, I wasn't a big fan of MOO2, though I loved the original Master of Orion. And I can't say I like the alien art they show us there.

On the other hand, the game looks like it will include a huge, beautiful, realistic galaxy full of everything a space explorer could want. That part, I love. And I like old-fashioned kinds of games - especially turn-based games - that remind me of past games I loved, while also bringing them at least somewhat into the modern era.

This project still has 28 days to go, but it's raised four-fifths of its goal of $50,000. So I expect that this one will succeed. I'm not so sure about Arakion, the second game I decided to support today. That project has only six days left, and it's raised just $23,000 so far. But since its goal is just $25,000, it still has a good chance of making it.

Arakion seems to be the pet project of a single game developer, someone who has his own vision for a game and is working to create it. I just like that kind of thing, so it's very easy for me to give a few bucks in support. It's impressive, too, that one person could create all that. In many ways, it seems to be a lovely game.

I'm not so certain, though, that it will be a game I want to play. That's really hard to tell. I'm not sure I really like the character-development system, though it is unique, I have to give him that. And I don't know anything about the combat system, though he says that it can be played real-time, turn-based, or "a unique blend of both."

Well, as I said, Kickstarter just makes all this too easy, I suppose. And Rock, Paper, Shotgun makes it all too appealing, with their weekly articles on Kickstarter games. What can I say? I've always liked to support indie game developers. That's really where you see imagination, dedication, and the eagerness to try something new.

To close, here's a funny little video from Kickstarter - apparently, a combination of different video pitches from a variety of Kickstarter game projects. Enjoy! :)

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