Hello, I’m Gary.
I’ve been writing for Cliqist for several months, covering a diverse range of crowdfunding campaigns and bringing them to a wider audience.
I have a confession to make.
As you’ve probably already gathered from the title of this article: I’ve never backed a crowdfunding campaign in my life. Here’s why…
Okay, before you get the wrong end of the stick, let me clarify something: I fully support and believe in the power of crowdfunding. I think platforms like Kickstarter are incredible, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of titles that have had their origins there.
That said, I’ve also seen far too many examples of where such platforms can go wrong. In my short time at Cliqist, I’ve covered my fair share of drama. Projects that have gone off-radar and kept their backers in the dark. Developers that have misspent backers’ money. Others that have gone against their word, or started multiple campaigns without ever finishing one. Then there are the disputes and the in-fighting, the disagreements about rights and trademarks, the shut-downs. No doubt you’ve heard such horror stories, too. Yet, in spite of these demonstrations of how crowdfunding can go awry, I still believe in crowdfunding, overall. At least, I say I do, and yet I’ve never actually backed a project. If you were to label me a hyprocrite, you’d have fairly decent grounds, I’ll concede.
However, there’s more to it than that. I would actually call my reasons less logical and more personal. Prior to covering the crowdfunded games scene, I had a layman’s understanding of this particular circle of the games industry, which I’ve since grown much more familiar with through constant exposure and coverage. Prior to writing for Cliqist, I saw platforms like Kickstarter as a place where developers went to get their passion projects made, projects that would never get funded or published otherwise. A place where fans helped cult classics get sequels or remakes, a place where the troublesome middle-man was removed from the equation altogether, and significant games could enter the contemporary gaming landscape that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
If that sounds too good to be true, well, you’d be wrong, because sometimes that is the case. Look at the recently-released Amplitude, or the recently-funded Psychonauts 2. These titles have their place in the mainstream industry. Niche as they might seem in the grand scheme of things, they do in fact appeal to a wide audience, and this audience does their part to help these games get the attention they deserve, bleeding them over into the general conversation of the industry.
However, it’s not always the case, and it certainly doesn’t capture what Kickstarter and platforms like it really are, all things considered. What I’ve found is, more often than not, crowdfunding platforms are less the place of gigantic passion projects, and more the place of niche genres. Card-collecting games, visual novels, dating simulators. The vast majority of titles I see fit into such categories, and frankly, my tastes are more mainstream than that. The layman’s understanding of Kickstarter as a place where all these amazing passion projects are constantly being funded might lead one to expect a writer covering this particular beat would be discovering all of these insanely compelling projects every day, and naturally that would lead to said writer funding lots of them, right? Yeah, no dice.
One of the reasons I’ve never backed anything is simply that most of the projects on Kickstarter don’t appeal to me. My personal tastes don’t really enter into the niche categories, aside from the odd artsy game or so, and I mostly find myself occupied with traditional big-budget titles and popular indie games that have managed to garner mainstream attention.
There’s a lot of risk associated with crowdfunded projects. It’s no secret, and this has also factored into my hesitance. Indeed, I’ve come across projects that have appealed to me, only I’ve been too conscious of where such projects could go wrong, not in terms of the teams behind them, but purely in terms of how the game design could be poorly executed. Some things sound good on paper, but don’t necessarily work in practice. Backing any project is a gamble, of course. Backers are always taking a risk that things won’t work out well. This risk, however, is necessary, as somebody has to fund these projects if they’re ever going to get made. Likewise, on paper, I understand that. In practice, however, I’ve always hesitated to make that leap.
Douglas Adams famously popularized a psychological concept known as ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’. The idea that, if you ignore a problem, somebody else will solve it. Things will work out, and you don’t need to undertake any labor yourself. If a Kickstarter project seems promising, it’ll get funded by others, and I don’t need to participate. I’ll admit that’s a thought process I’ve been seduced by in the past, even though I’m well aware of the inherent ignorance of it. This is the point demonstrated by the concept: other people are just like you. If you’re willing to ignore something in the hopes that other people will fix it, they’ll be willing to do the same, and nothing will get done. If you want a game to get funded, you shouldn’t leave it to other people. You should lead by example, and hope others will follow. Unfortunately, I’ve been rather wilfully ignorant in the past as a means of justifying my hesitation.
Moreover, I find there’s something inherently similar between backing a game and pre-ordering a game. Backing involves a whole lot more, of course. In funding a project, backers are attempting to get something made that otherwise won’t. Often a discounted copy of the game is offered as a backer reward. Help a game get funded and you’ll get it when it comes out. You might even get it earlier than the general population. The reason I draw parallels between backing and pre-ordering is because in both instances, you’re paying for something before it’s out. Moreover, before it’s finished. Sometimes, before development has even begun!
I don’t believe in pre-orders in the digital age. It’s not like copies are going to run out. Verify the quality, then purchase. That’s how I operate, and so you can see why I might be hesitant about backing a project. Backing shouldn’t necessarily be about the rewards, of course. Backers should fund a game to help it get made, primarily, and shouldn’t really consider it a pre-order or down-payment. That’s just a bonus, in some cases. However, in terms of the way I make my purchases, you can see why I might be dubious about funding a game that might not work out well. Like pre-ordering, I don’t like the idea of paying for something before getting a sense of whether the final product is worth paying for in the first place.
There’s something else that factors into all of this, something altogether more primal, and very much nonsensical: I’ve made it into a thing. I’ve created a complex, a stigma, about the fact that I’ve never backed a project. Subconsciously, I’m now convinced that the project to break this trend needs to be out-of-this-world amazing in order to justify its place as the first project I back. It needs to outshine the seeming excellence I’ve refused previously.
I’ve come close many times before, believe you me. Amplitude, Home Free, Friday the 13th, Haque, Essence, Hello, Neighbor!, Doko Roko. I’d like to give an honorable mention to all of these projects. The ones that got away. For whatever reason, I hesitated with each of them. Amplitude is the only one of these projects that has so far made it to retail. I bought it day one, and regret not backing it. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about the others, regardless of their final quality.
At this point, I probably sound insane, and I’m aware of that, which is why I’m making a resolution of sorts. This year, I’m going to back my first project, and hopefully more, in order to put my money where my mouth is and support the crowdfunding scene I’ve always claimed to support. Sure, I can somewhat justify myself in lieu of the fact that I’ve helped bring positive attention to plenty of promising projects, but the fact that I’ve never backed anything comes down primarily to a breed of hesitation that has snowballed into something I’m now determined to overcome. And hey, whatever project happens to break this trend, I’m sure it’ll benefit greatly from the unique prestige I’ll be bestowing upon it.
Ultimately, my aim in writing this article wasn’t just to share my story. Rather, I wrote it in hopes of convincing others in the same boat to make the same vow: to overcome hesitation, and take a leap of faith. It might sound obvious, but if you want to support the crowdfunded games scene, you should support it. Not every project will work out, but at least every time one does, you’ll be able to look at it and know that, without your support, it might never have existed in the first place.