I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to crowdfunding. The heart of the crowdfunging movement is a group of people doing a little to help someone a lot. It shows someone in need that there are people out there with enough faith in them to hand over hard-earned money so they can turn their dream into reality.
An important element crowdfunding is that supporters need to approach it altruistically. Backers shouldn’t back the latest Brian Fargo or Tim Schafer project because they want a new game and some goodies. They should back it simply because they want to support someone that has contributed positive moments to their lives. Unknown developers should be backed out of a desire to give someone a shot at achieving their goal, not because of some promised reward tiers
The crowdfunding of the last few years has brought a lot of money to the space, which is mostly great. That additional money has brought a Home Shopping Network vibe, where backers search for projects with a pre-order mentality. This leads to a strange dichotomy that both supports, and seemingly contradicts the point I’m making.
On one hand backers are throwing large sums of money at projects out of excitement, rather than rationally thinking about whether the developers can deliver. On the other they’re putting no money towards projects that don’t appear to be guaranteed winners. 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 backers hoped. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any means. Read almost any interview where Chris Roberts or Peter Molyneux are in peak salesman mode for evidence of that. What was once a fully open-ended experience becomes a branching campaign with 4 possible outcomes. The promise of next generation character growth and aging turns out to be gray hair and weight gain.
Does a developers’ inability to deliver on everything they dreamed of mean their games are horrible? No, they’re just different. Backers have reached the point where they feel that the games they back need to contain every dream feature mentioned by the designers; with anything less constituting fraud. What was once a bummer, is now cause for calling a lawyer.
While writing about 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. One of the failed projects featured someone with a great idea for a game but nothing to show for it yet. The other was either a scam or incompetence. The three successful projects featured 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. None of the projects were dramatically over-funded, so there weren’t hordes of backers worried about losing thousands of dollars.
Funding More with Less
How do we get through the crowdfunding bubble? By funding more projects, with less money. In 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 a follow-up campaign for completion funds.
By changing the way we approach backing campaigns there will be more money for projects like the recently launched Kickstarter for Two Steps Back. The campaign for this visual novel is in dire need of a makeover, but the creator comes across as someone with a passionate desire to tell 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. Sounds like an interesting concept, even if visual novels aren’t something I typically play. However, developer Kristen Cheely closes out her fantastically casual seven minute funding video 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 expect an autographed poster no later than September 2014 (or else!). I’ll back it 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 big name projects and dilute them to spread the wealth to lower tier 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 to help fund a dream.