Surfing the Internet I just discovered, that Thorvalla had cancelled its Kickstarter campaign. This kind of struck me. It was in my opinion never a question of the "if" that would happen, but more of the "when". However, I didn't expect it THAT soon.
So what is this Kickstarter thing anyway?
According to this XKCD comic:
even common knowledge is new to about 10.000 people a day, so let me explain:
Kickstarter is an Internet platform, where people with an idea for something like a game, movie, gadget, younameit can create a project, that features their idea. This project can than be "backed" by people who assure the person behind the project a certain amount of money. In exchange, they get certain goodies or whatever, based on how much they spent on backing. THese rewards, however, are also part of the creator to clarify.
Founded originally in 2008 it gained popularity in video game circles in late 2011/early 2012, when Double Fine announced, they would start a Kickstarter campaign for an old school Point'n'Click Adventure.
"Double Fine?" you might ask. "Those jolly fine gentlemen who brought us Bruetal Legend, Trenched and other fine stuff? The studio that's run by Tim Schafer and employs a certain Ron Gilbert?" Yes, you are right. Those guys.
"But they are a major developing studio. Did they really need to do this?" It seems so. Tim Schafer really wanted to make another Adventure game and though games like "Day of the tentacle", "Full Throttle" or "Grim Fandango" are classics and received not only critical acclaims but were also commercialy succesful, Schafer found himself unable to find a publisher for this kind of game. Seems that some people were still reminiscent of Psychonauts...you know: the game EVERYONE loves but nobody bought?
So he took to Kickstarter, to tell fans about his idea and maybe get the people, who care to support him. And BOY did they. "Double Fine Adventure" gained more than eight times the money, Double Fine requested and is by now the fifth succesful Kickstarter project, with nearly three and a half million dollars.
This success did not go unnoticed and soon, more and more people from the Industry started their own projects. Several of these projects would surely have never been realised without that. We're going to see Wasteland 2 (the spiritual predecessor to Fallout, from Brian Fargo), a Final Fantasy VI Remix Album by OCRemix, a Shadowrun RPG like the SNES classic and many, many more. And let's not forget "Project Eternity" by Obsidian Studios (Fallout New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2) which broke several records and wants to bring us an oldschool RPG-experience in the likes of Baldur's Gate.
"HA!" You may shout now. "I know ye so called artists. A bunch of scallywagging slackers, too lazy to work. Just raise money and do nothing"
A complaint, that certainly raised in the mind of anyone, who backed a project, but well...
Thorvalla was set to be an RPG and like Project Eternity was targeting the "oldschool-fraction". For a deeper look, I suppose you take a look at the still existent Kickstarter page Said in short: if Skyrim was to be released about 12 years ago: it would have looked exactly that way.
So what's so stunning about it being cancelled?
Well, I'm pretty sure it's not the first project, that got cancelled. But it's the first big one.
I mean: the assets look all in place. The art is certainly something purely subjective, but at least, it's there. You can even see some in game art, which suggests, there was already work in progress. Then the story seems to have been pretty far in progress and the world map was complete.
But the most important thing: it's programmed by Guido Henkel and Neal Hallford. Two guys, who brought us games like Planescape Torment, Fallout 2, Shadow over Riva, Realms of Arcania, Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege or Might and Magic 3.
...not that bad a resumee, hm?
Ok, given they wanted a million dollars for their campaign, which is (to put it in relationship) more than three times the money, that Double Fine claimed to need.
But then again: DF ended up, with more than three million dollars, so did Obsidian. Wasteland 2 missed that mark by not even 70.000 Dollars and Shadowrun Returns scratched the 2 million mark. Obsidian also wanted 1 million dollars and we know how that turned out.
Did every backer of Thorvalla just grant them 1 Buck? Nope...Backers were even to be found up to the 2500 Dollar category with still souble digits in the 125$.
So now you might be "...then WHAT EXACTLY WENT WRONG?" like me. Well, the game ended up with not even 50.000 Dollars of its one million goal in two weeks. "Not enough public response" was the official reason for cancellation.
This lead me to some thinking:
Maybe we will see this more and more over the next few months.
Kickstarter was a phenomenal success, nobody can deny that. The problem is, that it has been TOO succesful. Games and related projects were crowdfunded by the dozens.
I think the question, a lot of people asked themselves "Well, this looks interesting, but am I ready to back another project in addition to the five I already have backed with results coming in...whenever?"
The idea behind Kickstarter is really nice for artists, but consumers have to have a lot of patience and trust, that their money is in good hands. The crisis from late 2008/early 2009 showed people, that even seemingly trustworthy people can fuck up big-time. So a lot of people found themselves being increasingly protective of their assets.
..and be honest for a moment: would you spend money now, to get something in two years that you have absolutely no idea about, how it will turn out?
Even if the answer is yes (and the support of Kickstarter shows that) I bet you have an "...if it's not too much" in small print behind that. And rightfully so...it's human nature.
Kickstarter pokes the curiosity center in our minds but recent developments led people to be more careful. So even if the first Kickstarter projects made it to live. There are still too few, to have people saying "yup, that's a trustworthy platform", so they wait and see.
This "wait and see", however, is what killed Thorvalla in my opinion and what will kill several projects in the near future.
People were willing to invest in something new but now they want to see, how this turns out. Have the abovementioned Double Fine Adventure, Project Eternity and Wasteland 2 release to critical praise and I guarantee, Kickstarter will again be more succesful, but for now, the business model has outlasted it's "initial curiosity" longevity for a more "now let's see what we can reap".
I can't blame them, but of course for people like Guido Henkel, it's difficult. They decided to start at the worst moment: the growing pains of a promising new platform, that could be starting point for Innovation and greatness (videogame wise) in the future, but has to prove itself right now.