Our weekly dose of hot takes, occasionally well formed opinions, and fevered outbursts is back. Yup, it’s time for the Question of the Week! This week our question is all about what developers should do when their Kickstarter campaign hits the fan. We’re not referring to a failed campaign in the sense that they didn’t raise enough money, but what happens when they can’t deliver on their promises.
How should game developers handle failed Kickstarters?
Ideally, in a perfect world when a developer failed to deliver on a crowdfunded project they would have to return the funds. Sadly, this isn’t always feasible since running out of money is typically a contributing factor to a project’s demise. I guess at the very least I’d hope for open and honest communication about what went wrong to cause the project to fail; how was the money spent, what did get finished, did any backer rewards get shipped? After that, all the developers can really do is go into damage control mode and look for possible ways to make things right for the backers. There will always be some who won’t be happy unless they get exactly what they pledged money towards, but every effort should be made to provide something of value for their trouble, regardless. Whether that comes in the form of a different game, some development swag, or even the unfinished game code, developers at least owe backers something for their misplaced faith.
While circumstances differ, there should at least be some sort of goodwill effort if the developer ever wants to run a campaign again. Sometimes they should try to scale down the project and work with the funds available, but if not, definitely release the files of what’s created so far and let the fans and modders have at them. The modding scene never fails to amaze me with how much work they’re willing to do out of pure passion. A partially completed project might very well be possible to turn into something fun to lessen the disappointment the backers feel. I’m definitely not advocating that backers should be expected to finish projects, just that if all else fails, don’t take all the half-finished work and run home!
One of the most important things for a developer to do when their Kickstarter fails is to acknowledge the failure. One of the most infuriating (and damaging) things a failed Kickstarter can do is just disappear from all social media channels never to be heard from again. They must also give some sort of explanation as to what happened and why they were unable to fulfill their goals. Once an explanation is in place, they should also find some means of calming any aggrieved ex-fans. This is tough to do, especially if the money is all gone, but there should be some attempt made at the very least. If a developer ever hopes to run another Kickstarter in the future they absolutely cannot avoid these steps on a failed project.
I think that crowdfunding has matured quite a lot in recent years, at least in terms of backers and their mindset. That means that most people are actually willing to accept the possibility of Kickstarters failing after they’ve been funded. If a developer is in such an unfortunate position, then they’d simply have to be as open and transparent as possible. Explain problems, describe events and offer genuine information as to why your Kickstarter failed. More often than not, an honest story can work remarkably well if you want to soften the blow. And if you value your reputation as a developer, remaining silent on the matter is never a good idea
While giving the money back would be nice, it’s not realistic. At the very least, release whatever work you can to the public. Give people who bought into the dream the chance to finish it as a community. Much like a dead MMO, Kickstarters grow a community, but unlike them, KS communities don’t always get to actually experience their game together. The death of a project is a serious, if not terminal, threat to the community. Giving the project a chance to continue with fans gives them the chance to literally make it their own, and that’s the very least you can do for them when you fail.
The moment when a Kickstarter fails during the development process is upsetting for backers and creators alike (disregarding cases where the whole Kickstarter was a scam). In these cases the key thing for developers to do is be professional. Don’t brood in silence – post updates so you the backers know you haven’t just disappeared. Don’t get angry and publicly engage in arguments with your backers. Be honest, explain the situation and don’t be afraid to admit you made mistakes. Give a breakdown of where the money went. And of course attempt to refund backers where possible – in my experience a numbers of backers who have had a good relationship with the development team will actually decline the offers of refunds, but even they appreciate them being offered..
What do you think? Ever backed a campaign that didn’t deliver? What did you expect out of the developer? Chime in below and let us know!