For those of you completely out of the loop Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website designed to give producers of independent material, like books, games, or music, a new avenue of funding, particularly allowing normal consumers to give money directly to the projects they want to see. This is a really novel idea, since it allows the makers to bypass the publishers, investors, publishing houses, and other bureaucracies.
This was a neat thing, but for the most part it remained more or less off the radar for video game crowds. Generally speaking gamers mostly ignored the site, and projects struggled to get off the ground. Then something unexpected happened; Tim Schafer showed up.
For those of you who don’t keep up with gaming news Tim Schafer is kinda the Radiohead or David Lynch of the video game world. He’s made a lot of crazy creative games that are well received critically, but usually have a mild financial success. Over his career he’s made games about a tentacle that wants to take over the world, a wannabe pirate who fights with insults instead of swords, a travel agent for the dead, a circus boy who runs away from the circus to join a psychic summer camp and battles a brain-stealing dentist, and Jack Black as Jack Black in the Jack Black Experience.
He decided to try to fund his latest game (Double Fine Adventure) on Kickstarter. He hoped to get $400,000. He got that… plus $3,000,000 and change. The game raised over a million in the first day alone. It’s mind-boggling how quickly this not only hit its goal, but changed how video games are funded.
Literally overnight a new funding option has appeared for games. Until recently if a game wanted to be made it either had to be paid for out of pocked, which most people can’t afford to do, go through a publisher, which means the developers have to bend to the will of the publisher and sign over the creative rights, or go through investors, who are notoriously skittish and are less focusing on making good games and more on making good companies. But now we have another option. Now we, the consumers have a say on what gets made.
Kickstarter allows developers to go straight to the people and ask for money to make a good game. Not to make a marketable game, or a profitable game, just a good one. Suddenly niche markets are viable. Things that have been shoved into the margins for years and considered dead suddenly have a way to get funded. Niche fantasy like The Banner Saga, tactical space sims like FTL, a steampunk airship MMO like Guns of Icarus, a game where you control an octopus in a business suit. Things that a publisher would be mad to greenlight suddenly have money to be made.
Now making games no longer needs to be about selling copies, or building a companies reputation. This is big. Now there’s a good chance what we’re seeing now is a bubble, and it’s going to burst, and when it does it’s going to hurt. But so long as even half these games pan out niche developers will have a outlet, and we’ll see in move crazy stuff, even if it’s not from Japan.