I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to crowdfunding. I believe that the heart of the movement is a group of people doing a little to help someone a lot. Showing someone in need that there are people out there that have enough faith in them to hand over some hard earned money so they can do their thing. An important element of this, though, is to approach the entire process altruistically. Don’t back the latest Brian Fargo or Tim Schafer project because you want a new game and some goodies, back it because you simply want to support someone that has contributed positive moments to your life. Don’t back a game from some unknown developers because they have awesome reward tiers, back it because you want to help give them a shot at making their dream come true.
Along with the explosion of crowdfunding has come more money, which is great! However, with that additional money comes a Home Shopping Network vibe, where people search for projects with the same mentality they have when they pre-order something. This leads to a strange dichotomy that both supports, and contradicts the point that I’m trying to make. On one hand people are throwing large amounts of money at projects out of excitement, rather than rationally thinking about whether the person can deliver. On the other they’re putting no money towards projects that they don’t feel is guaranteed to be a success. This leads to fewer new ideas being funded, and the biggest promises becoming over funded.
The shopping mentality leads to disappointment when things don’t turn out the way the developers intended, or more commonly, the way the backer hoped. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, it’s been experienced by anyone that’s ever read an interview with Chris Roberts, Peter Molyneux, or (insert game designer name here) where they’ve described their next game. What was once an open ended campaign on the pages of Next Generation becomes a branching campaign with 4 possible outcomes. The next generation character growth promised in PC Gamer is now just gray hair and weight gain. Does a developers’ inability to deliver everything they dreamed mean their games are horrible? Certainly not, it just means its different. Unfortunately, backers have reached the point where they feel entitled to the games they back containing every dream feature mentioned by the designers; and anything less is fraud. What was once a bummer, is now cause for calling a lawyer.
In writing my recent article on the first five videogames to launch on Kickstarter I found that things weren’t always so cynical. Of those five projects, three were successfully funded and two failed to meet their goals. The two failed projects featured someone with a great idea for a game but nothing to show for it yet, while the other was either a scam or incompetence. The three successful projects feature one game that’s been released, and two that are nearing completion. The truly interesting part came in the backer remarks; as time went by and communication from the developers faltered the backers didn’t turn to talk of scams and legal action like they do today. The reason is that none of the projects were dramatically over funded; so there weren’t hordes of backers worried about losing thousands of dollars.
So how do we get through this crowdfunding bubble? By funding more projects, with less money. By doing so we’ll be less likely to have projects like Blackmore show up asking for $200,000 with only vague concepts to share in exchange. Instead maybe it will launch with a more realistic $50,000 target to develop a proof of concept, then launch again for completion funds (we’ll address the concept of multiple campaigns for the same project another time).
By changing the way we approach backing campaigns there will be more money for projects like the recently launched Kickstarter for Two Steps Back, a visual novel that features a campaign in dire need of a makeover, but also a creator that comes across as passionate and wanting to share a story. In Two Steps Back players assume the role of a woman who meets a man that seems to know her and tells her that they’re both trapped in a dream. Cool sounding story and all, but visual novels aren’t really my thing. However, during her fantastically casual seven minute funding video, developer Kristen Cheely closes it out with this quote :
“I’ve put my all into this, and this is something that means a lot to me.”
A young developer learning to do everything themselves seeking help from strangers to help them along. Does this mean I back Two Steps Back with a $300 pledge? No, that’s a lot of money for me. But there are plenty of people for whom $300 is the drink bill for last night’s dinner (hello, friend!). But I’ll throw in something, not because I’m dying to play the game, or because I really expect an autographed poster no later than September 2014 (or else!); but because I want Kristen to have a chance at doing something she seems passionate about.
Should you run out and back Two Steps Back? Only if you want to; but you should consider taking some of the funds you would normally give some big name projects and dilute them down to spread the wealth to lower level projects. In doing so you’ll help announce to everyone that crowdfunding isn’t about getting as much money as you can, it’s about getting what you need in order to do what you want.