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My problem with Kickstarter.

This is my first cblog, so thanks for reading my first sentence fragment, but I'll get right to the point. I have a problem with kickstarter. More specifically, I have a problem with the way kickstarter is being used to fund game projects. Don’t get me wrong, I think kickstarter is an great concept that has the potential to provide alternative methods of game creation/publishing. The value of kickstarter is the way it allows game developers to bypass the traditional framework of making a game, which generally requires larger corporations to provide funding and act as publishers. Kickstarter allows game developers to bring an idea or prototype to the masses, who can decide if the idea is they would like to support or not. At its roots kickstarter has the potential to be the closest thing to Athenian Democracy that the gaming industry has ever had (we just have to make sure to keep those pesky Macedonians at bay). Ideally kickstarter should produce games funded by the people for the people, without needing the consent of the Wall Street fat-cats (with their fancy suits and power lunches). When I first heard of a game being funded by kickstarter I thought “Sign me up!” Finally, control over games could be in the hands of the people who care the most. Fuck you Fat Cats! It’s ours now.

How wrong I was...

Give those motherfuckers more Day 1 DLC and micro-transactions.

The more kickstarter pages I read, the more skeptical I become. Many game creators seem more interested in exploiting their fan base and garnering as much money as possible instead of providing a fair set of reward tiers for their fans and supporters.

Scrooge McDuck is going to get him some of that kickstarter money!

A recent kickstarter by Lord British (also known as Richard Garriott) is a pretty good example of this point. For those not in the know, Garriott create the hugely successfully Ultima series, and some other games with varying levels of success, went to space and won a lawsuit to the tune of 32 million dollars. Garriott took to the internet looking for a mere 1 million dollars to produce a new role playing game. The first problem I have with this is that a successful (and I’m assuming wealthy) game designer is not the first candidate that comes to mind when I think of people who need the support of the gaming community to get a project off the ground. I liked the Ultima games I played in my younger days, and I would certainly give a modern RPG released by Garriott a look, but with the success Garriott has had in his career he should be more than capable of finding the money and support for a new RPG. In fact, on the kickstarter page itself it states that Garriott has invested millions in this game, and will invest millions more. I have to ask why a kickstarter for 1 million is needed, if he’s capable of investing millions already, but that is not the aspect that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, it is pretty shameless of him to ask for kickstarter money when he has the funds to do the project on his own, but the reward tiers are more troublesome.

We should probably just give him what he wants. He seems to no longer be vulnerable to fire field

The first few reward tiers make a lot of sense, and if they stopped at the $150 collector’s edition I probably would not have mentioned Garriott’s name in this cblog, but they become more troubling the higher their dollar value climbs. From $200 to $250 you get you name put on something related to the game, at $350 Lord British will descend from his throne and sign your cloth map. At $400 you get access to a forum to voice your opinion to developers, $500 gets you an in game house, and $1500 gets you an in game house and the title of “Lord.” Only an extra $1000 to be “Lord?” Sounds like a bargain! Reach $5000 and you can sit at a table with Lord British a few times, and $1,0000 will get you a tour of his house and a rare copy of Akalabeth.

The super expensive reward tiers are not limited to the manor of Lord British. Obsidian’s kickstarter for Project Eternity has similar reward tiers. At $1000 you can name/design an NPC or a weapon. At $5000 you can create an enemy party for the player to battle. At 10,000 you can go to the launch party and get to play a board game with the developers. Double Fine’s kickstarter also has the high cost tiers, with $1000 getting you an oil painting, $5000 getting you two oil paintings, and $10,000 getting you lunch with the makers.

Enjoy it, because it cost you $10,000.

Reward tiers involving cash values beyond $1000 that provide mostly cosmetic and vanity benefits to the backer are greedy and exploitative of the people who are fans of the developer. A backer receiving a collector’s edition for their $100, or a standard edition for a lesser contribution, is not a greedy or one sided transaction. It provides a reasonable return for the confidence/money of the backer. When a supporter pays $1000 and the major return for the contribution is their name being placed on something in the game the entire transaction feels a little one sided. A $10,000 backing should get the backer a significant return on their investment. Not a dinner, or a tour, but a real stake in the success of the game; specifically in the form of a finical return if the game turns a profit. Someone who supplies $10,000 to a game should not be a backer, they should be an investor. My initial impression of kickstarter that got me exited was the thought that everyone can pitch in $20 in advance to someone with a cool idea or prototype and when the game is done every gets a copy. It is simple, it is fair and everybody wins. When the thoughts of "If I sign the thing I can get an extra $50?" or "What's the most someone will pay to get their name on some shit in the game?"start to creep in the small timers looking for support start to resemble the fat cats trying to nickle and dime gamers.

I understand one of the main counter-arguments to this is going to be “Hey Johney, people should be allowed to spend their money as they please.” That is an absolutely valid point and I don’t think it should be up to anyone to limit what people can do with kickstarter or their disposable income. That doesn’t mean that it is ok for developers to bank on the nostalgia or good will of individual members of the gaming community to the tune of thousands of dollars with minimal returns on that investment. I’m calling for tact and respect from the game developers who use kickstarter, not additional regulation. Just treat the gaming community and their wallets with respect and keep your monetary requests reasonable and fair.

Think I'm an idiot? Feel free to yell at me in the comments!
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About Johneyone of us since 6:11 PM on 08.02.2012

My name is John. I've been gaming since sometime around 1989-1990. I like video games.