Kickstarter Turns 5 – The First 5 Kickstarter Games
By Greg Micek
Did you know that it’s been exactly 5 years since Kickstarter launched? That’s 5 years of video game projects spanning every genre, platform, and quality level. We thought it appropriate to take a look back at some of the projects that were there in the beginning; the brave souls that took to an unknown platform to ask some strangers for money. The selection was narrowed to the first 5 projects that completed their campaign, successful or not. This means we did not include the couple projects that had campaigns launched then cancelled soon after; nor did we include projects that were in the Video Game category but were not actual games.
Game : High Strangeness
Launch Date : May 20th, 2009
Funding Raised : $1,559 – Successful
What was it : A “12 bit action adventure” game. That’s really all the Kickstarter campaign says. Sure, there are some “Deep Thoughts” like narration to the abstract funding video, and the Kickstarter description talks about how dedicated the team is; but that’s it. There’s no information on how the game will play or look. However, a 2010 release date is mentioned, something that’s worth noting because…
Status : High Strangeness is still in development. Kickstarter updates stopped in December 2010, but they’ve continued on the official developer blog, with the most recent being posted in January of 2014. There’s some gameplay footage available, the team has been showing the game at conventions, and it was greenlit on Steam some time ago; so at least we can see what those 36 brave backers were supporting. No word on a release date yet, but the developers certainly haven’t skipped town.
Launch Date : June 4th, 2009
Funding : $35 – Unsuccessful
What was it : This campaign features one of the most 90’s Kickstarter videos I’ve seen, from the grungy soundtrack right down to the 90’s gameplay footage. Super Ghosts N’ Ghosts was advertised as game inspired by some comedic web videos made by the developers; add a heavy dose of Metal Slug, Contra, Castlevania, and TMNT: Turtles In Time and you’ve got Super Ghosts N’ Ghosts. In fact, dig into the campaign deep enough and you’ll find that the “gameplay test” video is just a Metal Slug character running around plain environments killing Metal Slug zombies.
Status : Although the initial funding campaign was unsuccessful the team came right back with a more successful campaign that asked for only $200, instead of the original’s $2,499. A complete lack of updates after the successful campaign didn’t seem to bother many people given the lack of backer remarks. Curiously, the team never spoke of Super Ghosts N’ Ghosts again on their website, but there was plenty written about another Kickstarter campaign for a point and click adventure game they were developing. That particular game, titled Zoop to the Future, takes place in the same world as Super Ghosts N’ Ghosts and went through three unsuccessful campaigns, as well as two IndieGoGo campaigns that raised $0.00.
Game : Saturated Dreamers
Launch Date : September 7th, 2009
Funding : $1,500 – Successful
What was it : The first significant Kickstarter success. The Zelda inspired action rpg Saturated Dreamers launched on Kickstarter with a humble $195 funding target but by the time the campaign ended 55 days later the team had raised $1,500. The funding video is a bit on the long side, but it features nearly 8 nonstop minutes of colorful gameplay footage and beautiful music. Combine that with the fact that the developers behind the project have been doing indie games since the mid 90’s and it would seem like a pretty safe project to back.
Status : No updates from the developers have ever been posted to Kickstarter, in fact the only interaction the developers had with backers was during the campaign in order to answer a few questions. The official Saturated Dreamers website is similarly devoid of updates. If you head over to developers’ official website you’ll see an update from January of this year indicating that Saturated Dreamers is almost done. Take that with a grain of salt though, the update before that is from March 2013 and is titled “Saturated Dreamers Nearing Completion.”
Game : Freeq
Launch Date : September 11th, 2009
Funding : $12,401 – Successful
What was it : An “interactive radio drama” for your iPhone. It was advertised as an adventure game of sorts, but without the graphics you would normally expect. Instead players use their phones to control an on-screen radio grid to listen to conversations, communicate with others, and solve a mystery. Although plenty of in-game footage is shown in the funding video the gameplay itself was pretty confusing. However, it must have struck some sort of chord with the 35 backers that pledged a total of $12,401 to help make it a reality.
Status : Freeq was released on April 22nd 2013 to the Good Play and iOS App stores. The version of Freeq that was eventually released doesn’t look like the prototype shown in the Kickstarter campaign, but it received positive reviews all around so maybe that’s a good thing. The bad thing about the Freeq campaign is that it’s the first to feature a backer revolt due to a lack of communication from the developers. After the Kickstarter funding period ended on November 16th 2009 the next update came on December 15th 2009; not an excessive amount of time. However, the next update was in February 2010, then April 2010, and then a very apologetic May 2011 update apologizing for the lack of information for the past year. This particular update was undoubtedly triggered by a backer doing some detective work to track down members of the development team. Having promised to do better in the future the team sent out another update the next month with some gameplay information; all seemed good. The next update? It came in November… of 2012. 17 months later. From there the updates came pretty regularly in order to announce the beta, the release, and to announce the games’ inclusion in Indiecade 2013. This campaign seems to answer the question “What came first, the MIA developer, or the crazy backer?”
Game : The Unconcerned (or Video Game Set in Iran During the Post-Election Riots)
Launch Date : September 11th, 2009
Funding : $2,925 – Unsuccessful
What was it : The Unconcerned features the most intriguing concept out of all the games we’ve featured in this article. It’s a puzzle adventure game that takes place after the Iranian election of June 2009, a period of widespread rioting in the countries capital Tehran. The 3/4 viewed game would put players in alternating control of a mother and father trying to find their daughter in the rapidly changing environment.
Status : Unfortunately the developer, Borut Pfeifer, was only able to raise a fraction of the $15,000 he was looking for. What happened? If the campaign was launched today the answer would be easy: no game footage or screenshots, minimal gameplay info, a poorly structured campaign, bad rewards, and on and on. However, back in 2009 the campaign was par for the course except for the high funding goal. The fact that The Unconcerned never came back is disappointing, but at least Borut went on to bring us the very enjoyable Skulls of the Shogun.
The first five Kickstarter video game projects represent an interesting cross section of projects and behaviors that we continue to see even today. Some campaigns were well planned and featured developers that were engaged throughout, while others seemed liked half hearted attempts at getting a little cash. Some developers followed through on their promises, some seem to still be trying, and others seemed to have just taken the money and ran.
Happy Birthday Kickstarter. While not everyone uses your services as well, or honestly, as we’d like, yours is a great platform that’s changing the gaming landscape for the better.