The Kickstarter Revolution: Could It Be Bad For Games?

In recent months, we have seen an influx of games that have been finding funding for production through something of an unusual way: fans and ordinary folks like you and I donating money to the company through the site Kickstarter. While Kickstarter isn't necessarily new (it's been around since 2008), the capabilities of this hotspot has become the hot topic of news in our world of gaming. Tim Schafer, head of Double Fine, was able to find solace in knowing that he'd get to make a new adventure game through donations. Other projects have been spawning from many different developers and places, and overall, it seems like a really cool idea: allowing people to truly vote with their dollar whether a game should be made.

However, is there a danger to be found in all of this that people just aren't seeing?

Let's take a look at the latest BioWare game and the hornet's nest it has stirred up. Many people are incredibly angered by how the game was handled, but even more than that, a large amount are miffed about the ending of the game. What if this had been a game that had been partially funded through Kickstarter? If the ending turned out to be something that people were pissed about and they expressed that opinion, what does that mean to the person who chipped in some money towards the project's funding? No one can say they don't have a right to bitch at that point - their dollars were put into the project.

It's one of the issues we have to look at: how much push and pull does the person donating some money have, and if there is none, how long will it be before people start screaming to have a say in the game's development process? Logically, no sane person would do that. They would realize that by donating, you are funding the creative juices of the development studio themselves and your "say" is strictly that you get a copy of the game and maybe a credit for it as well.

There's also the idea I presented above: partial funding. Kickstarter works great for those indie studios that are looking for money to fully fund their game, but what kind of problems would this take off the shoulders of a company like Activision or EA who are spending millions on a game? They could potentially fuel a portion of their game budget with Kickstarter money, lowering their own internal costs on the product. However, is it something they should have the right to do, and if so, how far does that go? What if the company makes a game, it sells well, and then that game begins a franchise? What stock do the people who donated money have in helping to create this franchise?

Again, no logical and sane person would think that, but are all gamers sane and logical people? If Activision said "hey, we're looking for funding towards the next Call of Duty game - it's your chance to get your name in the credits", do you honestly believe that there wouldn't be thousands of people donating to that in a heartbeat because of the novelty?

How far does it go?

I love what Kickstarter can do in order to help the development process for independent game developers. However, there are larger implications that we either aren't seeing or just don't want to notice or pay attention to.

Since Tim Schafer raised the money for his adventure game, using Kickstarter has become something of a trend. Christian Allen is seeking funding on what he is calling a "hardcore tactical shooter". Tim Schafer has spoken about the potential of using Kickstarter to help fund Psychonauts 2. Brian Fargo has aspirations to use the service to fund Wasteland 2.

It's a slippery slope that we are on. The idea of people financing games that people want is a great idea, but we also know how gamers can be when a finished product doesn't happen to meet the expectations they have. When you move the gamers from the category of "consumer" to "funding", it becomes a little more dangerous than it should be.

Some food for thought, folks. What do you guys think? Is Kickstarter helping the industry, or is it a tool that will soon be oft too abused?

Until next time, piece.

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