Opinion: My Crowd Funding Fears

Crowd funding of video games has been one of the year’s hot topics. On Kickstarter, 2012 has seen more money pledged to game projects (including board games) than any other of the site’s categories. Even as I write this I am watching the live stream of the final hours of the crowd funding for Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen game.

In the last couple of days Star Citizen has become the video game project that has attracted the most crowd funding ever, blowing past the previous record of 4.2m on its way to 6.2m; not bad considering it had a 2m target. And this for a game that if it is completed on time will not be fully available for another two years.

Think about that for a moment. Around 90,000 people have pledged, and paid, an average of about $70 each for a game that they will not be able to play properly until the end of 2014. It’s worth noting though the community have already been watching, reading and engaging with the game’s creation during the time the crowd funding drive has been running and some of the pledges come with access to the alpha and/or beta versions of the game.

[drop]One thing that troubles me with crowd funded games is what will happen if some of those who have pledged do not like the finished product when they finally get to play it.

We all saw what happened earlier this year when a vocal minority disliked the ending to Mass Effect 3 when they did not get the happy ending they wanted. Some gamers could not believe how ‘their’ game had been ruined by BioWare’s writers.

What will happen if Star Citizen disappoints? What if David Braben’s Elite: Dangerous is funded, delivered and fails to live up to its illustrious and fondly-remembered forebear?

How much will the anger that was directed towards BioWare by ‘entitled’ gamers be multiplied when the offended individuals have invested not only time playing a game but, effectively, money in its development?

Gamers are being asked to essentially buy games months or even years in advance.

They will feel, rightly or wrongly, that they already ‘own’ their copy of the game.

You will be familiar with the disappointment when a few months of marketing and PR have built excitement for a game that ultimately disappoints. Imagine the potential disappointment from a game that you helped crowd fund two years ago. I can almost feel the class-action lawyers sharpening their knives and readying their wallets.

Mere disappointment is not the only potential problem. What if a crowd funded video game fails so completely during development that it does not deliver at all?

The first funded failure to garner much attention was Haunts: The Manse Macabre which failed to complete the game before the raised funds ran out and it subsequently lost its programmers. It is now trying to continue as an open source project.

Given the time that video game creation takes we are yet to see any of the particularly high profile titles suffer from an equally high profile failure yet that day will almost certainly come.

Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure, which was perhaps the first of the really high profile Kickstarter video games, was due to be completed in October but has yet to deliver. I am not a backer so have not seen what has been said about that in the development updates.

Planetary Annihilation is not due until July next year with Wasteland 2 following a few months later in October. Obsidian’s Project Eternity RPG is planned for April 2014 and as I have already mentioned Star Citizen itself is not due until November of that year.

Now do not get me wrong I think there is a lot to like about crowd funding. It gives teams and individuals the chance to find the funding they might struggle to find elsewhere.

Over the past year or so I have personally backed nine projects on Kickstarter so far, ranging from clocks and torches to board games and a certain video games console.

Three of those nine projects have delivered, two on time, one four months late. Of the six yet to deliver, while they have yet to exceed their dates, five have admitted to running behind schedule due to design and production issues.

[drop2]With getting on for twenty years of experience of software development in various market sectors I am all too well aware of how often software projects overrun or are simply cancelled despite the money already invested in them. Software, whatever its ultimate purpose, is much more intangible than a book, clock, boardgame or torch and can be many orders of magnitude more complex, though it does have the advantage of being able to be delivered digitally rather than relying on the vagaries of your local parcel delivery company.

Haunts showed how even relatively small software projects involving a small team can grow beyond expectations and get out of control. Multiply its troubles by a couple of years of development and several dozen more developers and we can start to get a sense of how badly development can go wrong.

I am, of course, not suggesting that any of the projects named will go wrong. As far as Star Citizen is concerned I am such a big fan of Chris Roberts’ previous titles and space combat and exploration games in general (please Sony can I have a PS4 Colony Wars game?) that I have backed it to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars. I expect the team behind Star Citizen will deliver the game, though I also would not be surprised if it is delivered behind schedule and that leads me to my final fear.

In two or more years time how much will I want to play the game? Will I still be as interested in video games as I am now? Will my priorities have changed? Will I have the time to play it?

If I had bought, rather than funded, the game now I would be looking forward to spending the next few months playing it before moving onto the next game to catch my eye. In two years time I will not be able to get a refund if I no longer want it.

No wonder publishers like EA and Activision so often seem reluctant to commit millions of dollars of funding to new IPs years in advance. Betting my own money that Star Citizen will be a game I want to play in two years’ time has at least given me a modicum of insight into the things the publishers must consider.



  1. Perfectly put

    I’ve only wanted to back two projects so far; the Sensible Software biography & the Ouya console.

    There are many more projects that I’d definitely buy, but I barely have enough money to buy things that exist now without spending money on things that will exist in the future too.

    Shame really, because without backing some of these projects might never get made.

  2. To be honest, I find Chris Robert’s attitude a little elitist. More often that not he has emphasised that consoles won’t run the game, that it is for true PC gamers.

    But what is there to that market in say two years. For a starters he is going completely away from mainstream, which is never a bad thing for developing, but for demographics, marketing, finance strategies etc it is. So I’m really going love having to upgrade my computer just for another game? No not really.

    Something which I can’t make top and tale sense of is how he claims that no console can run it yet it is only using CryEngine3 (modified I know). Hardly rocket science.

    These KickStarter programs are quite good, but I do wonder whether people know what they are doing, as the article says if it goes down badly that can be that. Developers can crumble and no DLC or support.

    I do look forward to another Freelancer style game, I just don’t think it will end up being the rave that Roberts wants it to be. £6.2 mil is a lot of money for something which can provide a years worth perhaps, before the majority audience are focused on another game.

  3. Great article, Greg. I utterly love the notion behind crowd-funded projects (from games to product design to television programmes and beyond). However, as you point out, you can’t help but see the cynical side from failed projects to disgruntled investors – let alone anything truly sinister happening where people might even track down the head of a kickstarted project to get their investment back. I jest but it’s not so far fetched.

    I read, only yesterday, about a British games company shedding two thirds of its staff and concentrating on mobile games. The landscape is changing at a furious pace and the big games seem to be only possible from big studios (makes perfect sense when you think about it in simple terms) but I do hope we see all manner of creation coming from everything else (inc. crowd-funded games).

  4. I’m far too suspicious to part with my money for something on Kickstarter.

    I’ll buy it when it’s out, and actually good too.

  5. Unfortunately, whilst I’d love to be in a position to back some of these projects, especially Elite:Dangerous, I have to concentrate on the here & now. Those bills ain’t going away & only going to increase.

  6. Great read, specially the conclusion!

  7. I’ve only backed two projects so far (Ouya and the Yogscast’s game Yogventures) of which I kind of regret one (the second one). The thing that uneases me slightly is the quiet after the funding period has ended. If I recall correctly the Alpha version of Yogventures should arrive in November and I have yet to hear something about it.
    I really like the idea of crowdfunding great projects. I’ve seen a lot of cool retro RPGs that reminded me of Zelda A Link to the Past but the release dates usually put me off…

    • The better ones keep you all updated with a blog. My mate is following one and he said “succeed or fail. I can’t fault them for not keeping me informed”.

      Communication is everything with ignorance being anything but bliss.

  8. I backed quite a few projects, some of them I regret now, but I guess sometime you have to learn it the hard way. I still back projects, but I’m much more picky and usually go for the cheapest pledge which gives me the product.
    Some of the projects I’m looking forward too, I’m not expecting them to bee GOTY 2013 or GOTY 2014 (though I see some people do and that’s just not healthy), but if the projects can deliver on basic good gameplay, then I’m happy. Because Kickstarter has opened up for some new and “forgotten” game genres, which is great to have back and hopefully can push for a more varied selection of games, not just from Kickstarter, but also from indie and regular game studios.

    Right now, I’m hoping Forced: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/betadwarf/forced will hit their goal, created by a bunch of great guys with an interesting idea.

    • And as someone also pointed out, you do also pay to be part of the process, getting some great insights to how the game is made. Double Fine Adventure, The Banner Saga, Project Eternity, Star Citizen and Forced are some of those, who has done a great job doing this.

      I would like to see more updates from games like Planetary Annihilation, Grim Dawn and specially Wasteland 2, which are a tad to silent.

      Also on a side note, looks like http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zeropointsoftware/interstellar-marines-prologue will not make their goal, which is a shame, looked promising.

      • I know for planetary annihilation you can follow on there Facebook fan page and they post regular updates and images of where they are up too and also there website.

      • Thanks.

  9. I’ll never buy a game not knowing what I’m getting. It’s like putting money on a house I haven’t yet seen the design for, bloody stupid.

  10. “Think about that for a moment. Around 90,000 people have pledged, and paid, an average of about $70 each for a game that they will not be able to play properly until the end of 2014”

    Pretty much the same story for those who bought Skyrim on PS3… ;)

    • Ooooh good call sir

    • *applauds* Haha! Awesome observation. :-)

    • *slow claps*
      Comment of the day. :D

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