This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and far too much talking about Kickstarter. I’ve made my general view on its benefits abundantly clear elsewhere in the past. I stand by these views entirely. I believe, in general, Kickstarter is a good thing to have around. Were that not the case I would not be on record as saying this to Edge…
“The upshot of a successful Kickstarter may in fact not just mean retaining independence but also not having to run up massive amounts of debt by borrowing from friends, family and every credit card you can lay your hands on. These are often the routes of buying freedom: Kickstarter mitigates the potential of life-ruining disaster scenarios occurring whilst making a game.”
Did I not believe that, I wouldn’t have supplied my work to assist other folks reward tiers in the (distant and recent) past, y’know?
But it seems that these are things I need to state outright because in the great Kickstarter War of 2012, you must choose a side. There can be no room for nuance or subtlety, you are either with the big projects or you are against them. Or at least when you’re discussing things in 140 characters, anyway. I’m sure it’d be different in a pub or whatever but y’know, when you’re not…
Whose side are you on, boy? Whose side are you on?
Which is all a bit messy, really. I don’t want to pick a side. So I’ve been trying to wrap my head around some of the discussions I’ve found myself either party to or reading.
This is the week where I discovered that pointing out a person who has lots of money and who has a Kickstarter actually really has lots of money is a controversial statement and one that should be eyed with doubt and suspicion. I read one comment that suggested that maybe said person doesn’t despite all evidence to the contrary because hey, we just don’t know and we can’t go getting bank statements and stuff because that’s an invasion of privacy! Which is, of course, true. We don’t, we can’t and it certainly would be. It’s all a bit ignoring what’s in plain sight though, really.
I read more than one comment that suggested that investing any of your own money into a project is a ridiculous thing. Especially when you can take money from other people. Why would you put your own money in when there’s all this money there for you?
I’m told that asking for someone to cover an amount they can well afford out of their personal fortune is a slippery slope of where will it all end, how much will they have to front, this is a madness, they will be bankrupt in no time.
No matter how many times I run it through my head, no matter how many angles I look at it from, I can’t see how the two things are the same. I can’t see how replacing crowdfunding with money from your own personal fortune is necessarily a slippery slope if you have the money to cover the crowdfunded portion comfortably.
I can see why you might not want to invest that money, I can see reasons why perhaps you can’t invest that money and I can see reasons why you don’t because you, perhaps, are matching that funding or more. But I do not see how that equates to a slippery slope of madness scenario at all.
Most projects aim to be sold at the end of the production period so money will be made at the end of the line also, and although Kickstarter for games drifts into a preorder machine at times, one would hope that a large scale project would have more of an audience than the few thousand backers the project garners on Kickstarter ready to throw down some money. If not, that would certainly explain why crowd funding was a necessity and you’d never got greenlit by a publisher but for most games, I doubt there’s an audience *that* small. Remember, these games, these projects are invariably being brought to market and being sold. For money. Most games that aren’t by one bloke on the internet sell to more people than there are Kickstarter backers for projects in one day alone. With this in mind, the slippery slope argument comes across as bizarre for larger projects.
I also found it odd that someone raised the spectre of 38 Studios in a discussion over the recent spate of I’m A Celebrity, Kickstart Me Out Of Here projects as a reason why you cannot run a game studio out of your own money therefor Kickstarter is super important. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t simply the act of running a game studio out of a personal fortune that brought 38 to its knees. I’m fairly certain that many people manage to run game studios out of their own personal fortunes without falling down the way 38 did. Otherwise fuck knows what’s going on out there in the world really and Rhode Island is really in shit.
But this is the internet where opinions are often stretched to their extremes and I should be prepared for these things yet still, I never am and I guess that’s why I’m working stuff out out loud. I’m not the only person still wrestling with what I feel about Kickstarter and all manner of things will get kicked around whilst we work out what Kickstarter is. Extremes of opinion are a given on the internet under normal circumstances, extremes of opinion on something so fundamentally different from what’s come before? Hello, internet.
I’m certainly never prepared for anyone who suggests that, no matter how much of a good thing something may be, that there are things that you don’t question or that you accept blindly on faith just because though.
And that’s the stuff that’s weirded me out the most this week. It’s all stuff that’s been running through my head whilst contemplating Kickstarter and made me realise that I’m pretty fine with Kickstarter, I’m fine with big names using Kickstarter too but it’s really something else that bothers me. “If you don’t like it, don’t back it”. Just shut up. Be quiet. Move along. Don’t ask questions. Or if you do, expect to be closed down with something entirely absurd to shut you up. Not out of malice, not with intent, it’s just y’know, humans and internet. Not the best combination.
But there’s so many questions to be asked.
It is worth questioning the idea that’s developed post Double Fine that funding games is a binary choice between publishers and crowd funding. There are more options in 2012 than ever before, it is not a binary choice no matter what some would have you believe. We should really kind of kill that stone dead because that’s sort of dangerous potential-rich-get-richer (and they’re taking from you) thinking. It is not necessarily funding from a publisher or bust. Games are made out of the pockets of developers. Games are made with VC funding. Games are made with angel funding. Games are made with sponsorship money. Games are made with donations. Games can be alpha funded. The Indie Fund is a thing that exists. There are grants and more.
It’s obvious that not all games are suitable (or even eligible) for all funding models but to assume that it’s publisher or crowd funding and nothing else ever across the board, no, let us not do this. It’s not smart. If someone says it is a binary choice, ask yourself whether any of the other options, the ones that don’t involve asking you personally for money are better options. Ask them why they are not or ask yourself why they are not. Just ask. Maybe the other options have been exhausted. Maybe they’ve all been considered. Maybe they haven’t though and if no-one considers the other options, we’re 1:1 replacements for publishers but now we get nothing but a videogame and some tat in return. That’s probably not a healthy relationship to foster, really and besides, we want to keep all the options we can so there’s loads of routes for projects to thrive, right?
We shouldn’t blindly follow that we should pay for people to run a studio to make a game. This is 2012 and maybe that game could be made in a leaner fashion, maybe that game could be made better in a leaner fashion. Maybe it’s a game that can be made with 4 people and a goat and doesn’t need 30 and a full time tea boy. Maybe it will be made with 4 people and a goat and not 30 people and a teaboy and as backers we’re paying for the 26 people who aren’t needed also with the amounts requested. Maybe we’re not. We’re probably not. It’s highly likely we’re not but we should question all the same just in case because we all want the games to be the best they can be and we want to see them reach the finishing line. More people working on something is not necessarily a better way to reach the finishing line. More people being paid to do something else out of the money you pledged the same.
Would we be paying for the game or to run the studio for the duration? Are the two things absolutely inseparable? Maybe not but still. Question.
We should consider whether it is right to be asked to remove financial risk from people we’ve already made rich once. I’m not even sure why this one even needs pointing out but there we are. When someone comes cap in hand, if you knew the homeless guy outside of the corner store was really a banker with a few million at his side, you would question whether you should give him your money for sure. But when it comes to videogames or business? No sir, put those thoughts aside. I’m not sure I understand that really but I’ve never bought business is business as an ethic to live by.
If after 30 years in the business the best someone has got is a million dollar greatest hits after decades of nothing of note, we should question that person’s ability to deliver the dream they’re selling, we should question these people because they’re asking for large distributed sums of money to indulge themselves with. They’re asking for money from people who in all likelihood have less money than they do. We should ask why this has not been made before. We should question “why now?”. We should question “why us?” and not walk into these things blind. I do not assume bad faith, I urge consideration.
If after 30 years in the business someone has a project so grand in scale after decades of nothing on that scale prior, we should question that person’s ability to deliver the dream they’re selling also. Just because someone is a veteran or made a game we once held dear (or perhaps still hold dear) does not a deliverer make. It does not *not* a deliverer make either but it’s best to be as certain as we can be, y’know, just in case. Again, no assumption of bad faith, consideration.
We should ask the same of a project from someone 1 year in the business, 1 month in the business, 1 day. 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. Are these people the safest custodians of our dreams?
Taking large amounts of money, even a dollar at a time from lots of people, should raise important questions whoever is doing the asking be it a large or small scale developer. I’ve probably dwelt way too much on the larger developers here but this past week has been all about the larger developers and their Kickstarters. This is a future we’re shaping. If we want Kickstarter to be all it can be, if we want Kickstarter to continue to be an important option for game funding, we should never stop questioning projects, we should never make excuses for someone, anyone, no matter how much in love with their project we are, no matter how much we loved what they’ve done before or what we believe they can do in the future.
We should do this because keeping those asking for our money in line can only have a happier ending. The current batch of Kickstarters may all well be done in the grandest of faith, the next batch may not. Or maybe the batch after that won’t. Or whatever. Start as we mean to go on with some accountability and the whole system works far, far better for everyone.
And yes, we should remember that Kickstarter is a place where we throw money at dreams, our dreams and the dreams of the project starter and that sometimes our heart will override our senses and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Arguably, without that, Kickstarter as is would fall apart. We can make amazing things happen this way, we can make games that wouldn’t exist otherwise exist. But that’s not a reason to never question.
We should always question.
And that’s where my I found myself left after the best part of a week thinking about how I felt about Kickstarter. I still believe that Kickstarter is a good thing. I don’t believe in saying “no, you cannot use it” to anyone and I welcome projects large and small. Pretty much where I was at the beginning of the week and the week before that and the week before that. Nothing has changed in that regard.
We should never stop questioning though and we should look at anyone who shouts our questions down or says we should not question; we should look at them with that funny look we reserve for people who say really suspicious things to us.
It’s worth giving them that look because we should question anyone who tells us we should not ask questions.