Kickstarter Videogames Dying? Not So Fast, a Chat With Thomas Bidaux
with Greg Micek
A couple weeks ago a blog post on the ICO Partners website started making the crowdfunding rounds, and then proceeded to pop up on nearly every gaming site around. The innocently titled “Kickstarter and Video Games – 1st Half of 2014” written by Thomas Bidaux and is a recap of a talk he gave at the Ludicious Game Festival last month. The high level take-away from the piece is that videogame Kickstarters are collecting far less money in 2014 than they did in 2012 and 2013, and more of them are going unfunded. While many sites took this as a funeral march for videogame Kickstarters, the actual story is a bit more complicated than that. We were fortunate enough to speak with Thomas recently, and he was kind enough to share some more thoughts on the matter.
Cliqist : Can you start us off by telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you, what do you do?
Thomas Bidaux : In the context of that discussion, I probably should describe myself as a crowd funding enthusiast that happens to be a consultant in the video game industry.
My first contact with crowd funding was with the campaign to fund the Metagame after it got popular at a GDC in San Francisco… I kept an eye on Kickstarter specifically for a while, helped organize the IGDA summit on the topic at one of the Seattle Casual Connect conference as well, and when it reached critical mass (with Double Fine Adventure), I started to look closer at it, gather data and crunch numbers.
Cliqist : Obviously this could be an overly broad question, but how would you summarize your talk at the recent Ludicious Festival for those that haven’t read it?
Thomas Bidaux : The Ludicious Festival talk was organized around two parts. The first one was very much a look into the state of the crowd funding scene and look at it from a numbers perspective. Too often the attention is drawn to the big hits and the shiny successes – I try to give some reality to those headlights by giving some hard facts. The second part was much around the best practices and to give tools for the audience to understand what they need to do in order to have a successful campaign.
Cliqist : What prompted you to give such a talk?
Thomas Bidaux : As I mentioned earlier, I have been looking at the crowd funding space for games specifically for a while. I have shared the findings on our blog quite regularly. It means I now get regularly invited at events to share the results of those researches – at game events but not only.
Cliqist : When I read your talk I saw much of it as being painful positive; the market right-sizing. However, it seems a lot of the discussion on the story has been focused on the negative, the drop in projects and funding since last year and such. Are people missing the point and making things sound more dire than they are, or am I too much of an optimist?
Thomas Bidaux : The coverage the blog post got was definitely focused on the negative – I take the blame for it.
I could have presented the same set of data but in a different order to draw a more positive picture. The fact that there is much less money going to games but a less drastic drop in the number of projects getting funded is actually great – it means that lots of projects still get funded.
The focus on the negative is also due of the headline it creates – it is much more attractive to write a “Doom is upon us” title than a more thoughtful and balanced one.
Then, a LOT of the articles that were generated by that blog post didn’t read the source. It is painfully obvious when they quote the wrong dataset or miss a point that was addressed in the original piece. The catalyst was definitely the Gamesindustry.biz article, that I found very well balanced and on point, but from there, you can see the Chinese Whispers at work and a very shallow look into the topic.
This said, the topic was really massively covered and I saw some really interesting comments in some of the articles.
Back to your question, I don’t think you are an optimist and I share your view on the fact it is all in all a normal evolution of the ecosystem, one that will bring us to a better, more stable environment for crowd funding games.
Cliqist : What are some of the most common mistakes you see developers make when starting a crowdfunding campaign?
Thomas Bidaux : Number 1 mistake is to think that Kickstarter on its own is a discovery tool. It is a catalyst, a multiplier. If you don’t bring your own fan base/audience to your page, you will fail.
I got back to why I started looking at the numbers and it was because of the media attention the large projects were getting. I was asking myself “Great, but what about everybody else? Do they succeed too? If so, how much are they making? How difficult is it?”. Very few people were talking about the success ratio. Right now, in 2014, 4 projects out 5 that launch on Kickstarter don’t get funded.
Cliqist : How about backers. Do you see any problems with how people approach the projects they back, and what they expect?
Thomas Bidaux : Yes and no.
I think there is a core community that is growing who totally embrace the crowd funding principles and are able to accept some projects will fail, some won’t be as shiny as they imagined and that is part of the process.
But I also think that some backers go into crowd funding with the wrong mindset and just expect it to work like a preorder or a store. Creators are to blame also about this as they get over enthusiastic sometimes and start promising way more than what they know they can deliver. It might benefit them on the short term, but it will make their life hell on the long term and is damaging to that growing ecosystem.
Cliqist : Looking back at projects from the first few years of Kickstarter there were plenty that were funded without so much as a screenshot. Now day’s screenshots, animated gifs, and a demo in many cases are required to make the case to backers. The Honeymoon being over you refer to in your talk. Do you see the level of entry for a developer becoming higher in the future?
Thomas Bidaux : Very much so.
I obviously depends on the amount of money that you are trying to get – it is probably easier to get funded when all you need is $500 – but everything you described is now required IMHO. Crowd funding is very much about getting people to fall in love with your projects. Most people won’t support a project that sounds “cool”, they will support a project that sounds “awesome”.
As more projects got funded, and more ideas are circulated, the seduction is getting more difficult.
It is a good thing though – it means that it requires actual work to be done before you can be successful and it makes it less likely for real scam to get funded…
Cliqist : One topic I didn’t see mentioned in your talk was equity based crowdfunding. Do you see that as having a presence in video game crowdfunding in the future?
Thomas Bidaux : We discussed it a bit in the Q&A at the festival and I think it is a very really interesting topic. I have a strong view on this.
To start with, the reason that I didn’t bring it up in my main talk is because I wasn’t talking about crowd funding for games but Kickstarter for games. It is the one platform I am studying as it represents the crushing majority of the funds raised for video games.
Then, to my knowledge, equity-based funding for video games at the moment is very very anecdotal. Gambitious is the only platform to my knowledge trying this and the volume of project is very small.
As for its potential for the future, I am skeptical. The drive to back a project under a reward-based crowd funding campaign is based on the project itself. Is the game something you want to see happen? The drive to back a project under an equity-based campaign is very different and all about your potential return. The moment you think about your return, you ask different questions, but, more importantly, you kill the magic. You think risk-versus-rewards, you think ROI. You go from a “love-based” relationship to a business relationship, and I don’t think video games are the kind of projects that are suited for this…
Since I started researching crowd funding for games I met with a lot of professional from that space and some of them doing equity-based or loan-based – and I think it offers wonderful opportunities for crowd funding projects. Just very skeptical on that model for video games specifically.
Cliqist : What do IndieGogo and other platforms need to do to unseat Kickstarter as the king of crowdfunding?
Thomas Bidaux : If I knew, I would probably sell the info to them for a lot of money.
I think this is very difficult, specifically for video games and board games. We have a reached a point where Kickstarter is synonymous to crowd funding the way Google is synonymous to search. Recently, someone told me “We are launching a Kickstarter on Ulule next month.”. When you have reached that kind of brand power, you are very difficult to unseat.
I think the other platforms have their own advantages and they should play their strengths. They also have more flexibility – Kickstarter has so much traffic that you can see that making changes to the platform is a long process for them. There is definitely room for multiple platforms – competition is healthy in this kind of ecosystem, it keeps the leader in check and controls the potential for abuse.
Cliqist : What does video game crowd funding look like in 5 years? Should we at Cliqist just close up shop?
Thomas Bidaux : I think crowd funding in 5 years will still be there. The shape it will have is hard to say – I suspect it will be bigger than 2013, that the core audience will be bigger, and backers and creators much more educated about the dos and don’ts. And possibly we will have much more transparency from creators – it feels to me that it is lacking at the moment and holding back the potential of the system.
Thanks to Thomas for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to read the post Thomas made regarding his Ludicious presentation on the ICO Partners Blog, titled Kickstarter and Video Games – 1st Half of 2014; it’s full of valuable insights, analysis, and opinions for developers and backers alike. Head over to the Blog portion of ICO Partners’ website to see more of Thomas’ writing, and even follow him on Twitter.
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