Think back to a few years ago, when businesses like Kickstarter were at their most visible. What do I mean by visible? I’m referring to when people talked about Kickstarter the most. It was when every new video game project that appeared on the platform got major games media coverage. When projects were being funded and earning well over their initial goals. Remember Broken Age? Yeah, I do too, every time I see it on sale for a couple bucks. Things are different now. Games still get funded, but nobody reports on new campaigns anymore. Kickstarter and platforms like Indiegogo are used entirely differently now. Here’s why.
Simply put, a platform like Kickstarter cannot properly fund a video game development project, unless the team making that project is either appropriately small, has plans to finish the game regardless of funding already, or has other avenues of funding outside of the crowdfunding campaign. This is, generally speaking, unique to video game projects. Other products such as comic books, board games, and other technology doesn’t appear to face the same problems. Yet we see things like Shenmue III and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night needing a bunch of asterisks next to “Kickstarter success.”
Here’s the thing: Kickstarter can’t predict problems. That’s why, at the end of every campaign page, there’s a legal notice stating Kickstarter can’t hold creators to seeing their ideas through to the finishing line and that backers are not guaranteed a single return on their pseudo-investments. This is because projects can and will fail, because with small creators using small budgets, things can go horribly, horribly wrong. As we all know, things can go horribly, horribly wrong with games that cost millions to make, let alone thousands.
Games have this ideas in development called “scope.” The scope of a game development project is essentially a blanket term for its laundry list of features, including things like visuals, sound, art, so on and so forth. The thing about scope in games is, it’s really easy to lose control of. Coding, while like math, isn’t a science necessarily. Solving problems requires finding answers you can’t just calculate. There is creativity involved, and sometimes devs run into giant brick walls. Righting that ship again takes time and money, money that Kickstarter can’t provide more of and time that laughs at your projected shipping dates.
On the other hand, Kickstarter has become a paradise of sorts for board games. Companies like IDW can drop a new board game idea, based on a popular license or something, and get it funded in no time. Sometimes minutes. That’s because these companies know exactly what goes into board game production. It’s mostly physical goods, and writing. Oftentimes, these Kickstarter campaigns are effectively preorder campaigns, or even full sales as some Kickstarter board games don’t ever make it to retail due to costs. These are borderline boutique products, something that can’t always be achieved with video games, especially new ones.
Instead, Kickstarter has become almost a greenlighting process for video games, rather than the sole funding source. A relatively established team, such as the one led by Castlevania alum Koji Igarashi, can take to Kickstarter and raise a portion of what is needed. Then, that number can be taken to publishers and other investors as a sort of proof of interest, and that’s where the real money comes in. We’ve seen it with both games I mentioned earlier, with Shenmue III bringing on Deep Silver, and Bloodstained now being involved with 505 Games and WayForward. Does that sort of betray the purpose of Kickstarter being portrayed as a way to beat the established system? Sure. But does it help ensure these projects actually get finished, even if they have to be delayed for several years? Absolutely. Otherwise, we probably would have seen bigger game ideas leave the platform by now.