The great crowdfunding scam (?)

Psychochild is slightly pissed off (which only means he's not dead, granted), and he's not alone, today.
Go read this and come back after the break, please : I'll wait here.


Alright, I see where these guys are coming from, and respectfully, I think they're wrong on the parts that really matter, like does Molyneux acting like a bit of a greedy prick change anything for the worse, for you, and who is you ?

If you're a budding or career indie gamemaker, I don't reckon it seriously hurts your odds of getting crowdfunded, even if you happen to hunt on what could seem like Kickstarter "big name" reserved grounds. 

Molyneux' high profile and overpromising will, more likely than not, get a lot of people excited about the very possibility of more good god games, which some came to believe was something of a lost art, and thanks to the unrealistic expectations that come with overhype, this project is likely to disappoint people way before it hits beta and gets ready to under-deliver for realsies.

If you're in the same line of design, this could actually be good news for you, assuming a) your project doesn't suck, and b) you're aware of that dynamic being in play, and factor that in fundraising and project management.

There are good reasons why you have same-kind-wares-themed alleys in most commercial spaces : people who don't find the shoes they're looking for in a given shop are more likely to enter the shoe shop next door because, hey, they came here to buy some effin' shoes.
So think of the greedy big name opportunists on Kickstarter as your personal, pro bono, unwilling hecklers. There.


Moving on, and killing a strawman at one fell swoop : it won't hurt Kickstarter good name's, and indirectly your odds of crowdfunding there, if/when Molyneux next big thing turns out to be a dud. Kickstarter is big enough by now that it has its own momentum, and too many smart and endearing projects find their way through it for the occasional trainwreck to discourage pledgers. It's a rule that anything visible enough will draw criticism, if only because that's a way to differentiate when tackling an obligatory topic — and Kickstarter deserves criticism a-plenty for some reasons, but that's not one of them.


On the the really meaty part of the discussion : poor, deserving indies vs greedy fat cat exploiters of gamer naivete… yeah, that is bullshit, too.
The line is not drawn here, because many indie devs' life ambition is to make it big, while it is entirely conceivable for big name devs to make big games, with big teams, from the heart (it's just a freakishly daring endeavour and comes with a whole different problem set than that facing the budding indie dev).

If a line must be drawn to set apart what is ethically OK crowdfunding and what starts to look like a con job, or at least a tiny bit scammy, it should happen on the grounds of business ethics, and overall business model.

If your primary goal is to make games and incidentally a living out of it, because that's what you love and believe you can be good at, and certainly could commit more of your time and talent to it, didn't you have to keep a dayjob besides to pay the bills, then crowdfunding sounds fair : you're basically striving to make the sort of pro grade fan art kindred spirits might deem worth sponsoring and encouraging. This type of practice harks back to the time-honored subscription model, which has played a critical role in the development of many other art forms, and first among those, genre litterature (through magazines), and arguably some early pay-per-month MMORPGs.

If your main goal is to make a lot of dough by shearing a faceless herd of sheeples, the fact you happen to be a dishevelled nerd working from your three-jobs girlfriend's garage, or this week's flavour of rebellious trust fund hipster doesn't make you different from the most predatory corporate drones EA, Zinga or SONY has on staff.

Banging the Gavel of Obviousness +5, once again : it's all about why you're in the game of making games, or art, or tablecloth, and how you go about it — it has nothing to do with how big or how small a dog you are, and everything to do with your personal politics, ethics, and aesthetic preferences.

Also I'm really not sure I like Kickstarter that much, as it is now, but I'll get back to that sometime.


On to some constructive thoughts, because it's sunday… tune in tomorrow to check episode 1 of my new The Fair Game series.


Psychochild said...

I wouldn't say I'm pissed off as much as I'm disappointed that this is what Kickstarter has become. I've followed it for a while now, even before I backed my first project. Originally Kickstarter was a way for game ideas to get made that couldn't be done in traditional ways. Double Fine is a good example, where adventure games were dead and buried as far as the mainstream game publishers are concerned. But, there's always been an undercurrent of people who pine for the old games, and along comes someone who was at the helm of those old games to make a new one.

Molyneux's project doesn't fit here. He's about as well-known a game developer as you can get. He's got plenty of contacts. Tablet games are a hot area. God games aren't the most popular games, but they're still around. (I have an updated version of Populous on my Nintendo DS!) There is no way that Molyneux would have any problems pitching this game to a company and having them fund it. He would certainly get a better publishing deal than anyone else that the publishers would even bother to talk to.

I'm also perplexed where this confidence that there's an infinite amount of funds from Kickstarter backers, or that a massive failure won't harm Kickstarter. I contacted people who stopped backing the KS campaign I ran, and almost all of them said it was because of budget; they couldn't support everything. I've talked to friends who are starting to become wary of KS campaigns. One said he wouldn't support any more games that will take longer than 6 months to minimize risk. Another said she was setting a budget because she wildly overspent a few months on KS campaigns that sounded cool.

And, Kickstarter fatigue is a real thing, and people are starting to get worried about failure. This has gotten pretty major coverage: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/10/19/money-troubles-what-happens-when-kickstarters-fail/ Now imagine the press feeding frenzy that will happen if/when Molyneux fails. I doubt the people who collectively spent nearly a million dollars are going to laugh and shrug. There will be calls for blood, and given how much gamers are herd animals, it's going to cast a long pall over KS.

Where's the equivalent demonstration that KS can "survive" a high profile failure? Where's the examples to show that people will dig deeper to support Joe Indie's cool project when a super high-profile developer is launching their own KS at the same time?

In the end, as I said in the comments to my Google+ post, there's not much that can be done besides complaining. It's the nature of things where anything successful gets co-opted by larger interests. So, in the end, I'm more disappointed than pissed off.

Armchair Designer said...

I see your point here, and if we look at Kickstarter alone, I have to mostly agree with you — with the caveat that Kickstarter is not a goodwill organization, and in my view falls somewhere between a symbiote and a straight on parasite, all of which it is by design, not devolution — as you may feel.

My take is different from yours because I merely used Kickstarter as an example of one among many (and more to come) crowdfunding platforms, and while Kickstarter itself may indeed prove less resilient and more prone to cascade failure compared to my guesstimates, it doesn't jeopardize the crowdfunding ecology as whole.

If anything, Kickstarter crashing will prove an object lesson for other crowdfunding platforms, and hasten the maturation of this funding model, which I believe is here to stay and become the de-facto standard for the industry, at least for small-to-biggish budget projects.

If you feel like it, check out my ongoing series about Fair Game, where I talk out of my ass to expand on these very issues of crowdfunding, self-publishing indies and business ethics (it's linked from the topbar).

FWIW: You helping me figure the various ways in which I make a fool of myself is always welcome, so don't hesitate to chime in. :)

Psychochild said...

The problem is that no other crowdfunding platform has been able to match Kickstarter. I think the big problem is not so much that KS fails because someone like Molyneux fails to deliver, but rather that people become hesitant to crowdfund games at all because, "Hey, remember when Molyneux raised a few million dollars and all we got was a crappy CGI trailer?" People are herd animals, and there's a real risk of someone crapping where others are trying to eat.

Anyway, I do appreciate a good discussion. You said in the Google+ post you were being contrarian, so I took i ti nthat spirit. :) I'll check out that other series of posts as well.

Have fun!