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A Disappointing (Kick)Start?

If I were to describe crowdfunding with one word, that word would be: awesome. Think about it, is it not a brilliantly simple proposition? All it comes down to is having a person or group of persons publicly present their innovative and/or interesting idea and then other persons vote on whether they think the idea is worth doing. Best of all, they vote with their wallets, giving the entrepreneurs the means to perhaps bring those ideas to fruition. Crowdfunding is so wonderfully democratic and capitalistic it should get its own chapter when the complete history of western civilisation is written.

But like all ideas, the awesomeness of crowdfunding is not inherent to the idea itself, but rather in its application. Because as it happens there is another, equally valid word one may yet get to use to describe crowdfunding: disappointment. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

The concept isn’t new, the earliest example being a similar system that was used in the 18th Century by artists and writers who found it difficult to get publishers to produce their books. There are also scattered examples of its use by bands and filmmakers in the 90s and 2000s. But crowdfunding only really gained traction with the advent of and then only achieving widespread renown once the gaming community got involved. Once Tim Schafer's headline-making effort to resurrect the adventure game genre resulted in a $3,3 million crowdfunding triumph (astounding since he only asked for $400,000), the floodgates were open.

Since then we’ve seen some ridiculous amounts of money raised for gaming projects, seemingly for very little effort, from the Android-based Ouya games console ($8.5 million raised) to Obsidian Entertainment's Project Eternity ($3,9 million raised), not to mention all the smaller projects that raised anywhere between $5000 to $500000. All the attention and the all money and all the success that these gaming projects have garnered has obviously attracted a lot more people to kickstart projects; and encouraged many more to fund them.

But here’s where things get sticky. Even though, these projects have succeeded in reaching - and many even exceeding - their funding goals, none of them are actually successful. Why? Because no one has actually played any of these games. And for all we know, no one ever will. The scope for personal disappointment is colossal.

With all the excitement and feel good euphoria that’s been going around with the prospect of getting to play a new Tim Schafer produced adventure game or a classic tactical FPS à la Rainbow Six, we’ve forgotten the fact that these games still actually have to get made. Granted, there have been at least two crowdfunded games released, both to critical acclaim, but Faster Than Light (FTL) and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, for the moment remain the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Here’s what we need to keep in mind. There are hundreds if not thousands of games that get put into production every year by the big publishers, but we don’t see hundreds and thousands of releases every year. Games fail to come out all the time, for a myriad of different reasons; what makes us think that a crowdfunded game will be any different? The only real difference between a crowdfunded game and a more traditionally funded one is where the money is coming from.

We need to rethink our attitudes to crowdfunding as far as gaming is concerned, because I sometimes get the impression that backers for these projects are looking at it as some kind of pre-order service. It isn’t. You aren’t buying anything. You’re investing in something. And the thing about investments is, sometimes they don’t always pan out.

No one would be happier than me if every game project fund via crowdfunding was a raging success; there’s definitely a need for the apple cart to be overturned on the traditional game publishing model. We just need to be a bit more pragmatic about the whole thing and brace ourselves for the inevitable disappointment to come. Accept this fact: Not all of the successfully funded projects are going to to be good.

And some might never even come out.

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