Friday 19 October 2012

It's the age-old struggle: the roar of the crowd on the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other

So Project Eternity has finished its Kickstarter campaign with $3,986,929 (plus a bit more via PayPal to take it past four million total). A spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale was never going to be a particularly tough sell (the most difficult part was probably not getting buried under an avalanche of cash) (well, that and living up to expectations set by some of the most beloved PC games of all time, but that’s still to come), but hitting the original $1.1m target in just over a day was still pretty impressive.

It’s not just Kickstarter that’s racking up money outside the conventional “buy a finished boxed game for $60” model, Mechwarrior Online has raised $5 million through its Founder’s Program, a sort of pre-sale as it goes into open beta, and Chris “Wing Commander” Roberts is seeking funding through a variety of routes for Star Citizen. Gamasutra had an interview with Funcom’s Craig Morrison, touching on the problem of MMO launches in the current landscape,

And I think we need to get people out of that mindset, so that a game can start at like 100,000, or an indie game could start at 10,000. Because a studio game is going to want to have a decent place to start with, and wherever that level may be. But that a game can start, as long as it’s cost effective, as long as you budgeted your project to be in that ballpark and you know from the beginning, “Okay, we’ve set our budget, we’re aiming for 100,000 at the start.”

And then we need the gamers to not react with, “Oh, well. That’s a worthless game then, because it’s not going to have a million users.” We need the users to be, “Oh cool, this game appeals to me in my niche and my interests, and I want to see this game succeed, so I’m going to support it.”

And then if the game takes off and grows, then you can get that kind of organic growth.

Perhaps a funding model like Star Citizen can help with that, getting people (and their money) involved early, building the player base and game together, rather than hyping the arse out of a game while developing it in the desperate hope of making the money back before everyone buggers off. The traditional model can still work in a lot of areas, but with development times getting longer and costs getting higher the big companies tend to focus on the safe money, ever increasing sequels in a limited number of genres; not exclusively, this week’s UK charts have a new IP in Dishonoured at number two, and XCom at number seven reviving tactical combat, but they’re sitting amongst Just Dance 4, Resident Evil 6, Fifa 13. Sequels aren’t a bad thing per se, Borderlands 2 and The Elder Scrolls V are also in the Top 10, but variety is the spice of life.

Crowdfunding isn’t immune from the problem, though; as John Walker pointed out, the big success stories are rooted in nostalgia, the people and/or IPs behind Planescape: Torment, Wing Commander, Mechwarrior. Not that nostalgia is a magic wand, SHAKER, an old school RPG with impeccable pedigree, doesn’t seem to have caught the imagination like Project Eternity, and doesn’t look like it’s going to hit its million dollar target. Ironically, while crowdfunding may be a way of attaining more organic growth in a game’s player base, you need to get a good start in Kickstarter; the SHAKER project was originally titled “An Old School RPG” and didn’t have a whole lot of detail, perhaps dissipating the initial excitement needed to build up the head of pledge-gathering steam that powers further coverage.

I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen an MMO Kickstarter from big names, along the lines of Wasteland 2 or Double Fine Adventure. I’m sure we’ll see some come along, perhaps on other platforms or with different funding mechanisms, but for now a quick Kickstarter search for “MMO” doesn’t turn up very much. There’s Eric Heimburg’s intriguing Project Gorgon that sadly that isn’t even halfway to its target yet, and a few other (over)ambitious looking projects trying to invoke Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot and the like that have secured even less. Come on, though, people, how can A FITNESS RPG have only hit $11 so far? “Finally, a deep-space survival MMO game to incentify fitness. Level, Earn and Battle.” That’s got to be worth a $10,000 pledge.

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