MetalFRO's Blog

Posted on Jun 7th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Crowdfunding, Kickstarter, indie gaming, development cycles

Ah, Shovel Knight. The poster child and gold standard for a successful Kickstarter. Also an excellent game!

In decades past, development studios would plot out a game concept, determine its viability, assign a team, and dedicate funds and resources to make the game concept a reality. Sometimes the funds would come from an outside publisher or other interested party, and other times the development studio was part of a publisher, so it would be funded internally. If a game was fully developed, it would "go gold" and be submitted for approval by the company whose platform on which the game was to appear. Once approval was given, it would go into a queue for manufacturing, and the advertising hype cycle could begin.

That model still exists, of course, and is still used by many companies. But over the last decade, a new paradigm has gone from a novelty to a norm. With the rise of indie gaming, many smaller studios have sought other means of funding their creations. Couple that with developers from the old guard who want to continue to make retro-styled games or smaller adventures that don't warrant big budgets, and the larger publishing houses often see those projects as loss leaders, and they get very little attention next to the big franchises. The new paradigm for self-contained experiences is crowdfunding.

Mighty No. 9, the OTHER poster child for video game Kickstarter campaigns.
Or at least for those that were very successful, but whose results....less so.

If you're reading this article, chances are you're at least familiar with Kickstarter, or other crowdfunding platforms. Chances are also good that you've backed at least one project, be it a video game, music release, or other artistic or technological endeavor. Some lament the Kickstarter model because it sees an early hype cycle for something, particularly a product people are very excited about initially, and then that excitement wanes over time as we all wait for the development cycle to wrap up and for the game to go to manufacturing, only to show up months later (sometimes years!). At times, we almost forget we backed something, and then when it actually materializes, sometimes we're dumbstruck that it actually happened and wasn't just some kind of mass online fever dream we all had 2 years prior.

What has led to the proliferation of crowdfunding for video games? I think it's a combination effect. First, a rise in nostalgia for older games means there's demand for retro-style titles, but not enough to drive big sales, or for larger publishers to take a risk on funding such projects up front. Second, smaller studios trying to get into the business, often making smaller or shorter game experiences, which may have limited appeal as compared to multi-million selling games with lots of DLC, that helps keep larger studios afloat. Third, crowdfunding can give up & coming devs an opportunity to prove themselves with a project. If you get a successful crowdfunding campaign and deliver a game that is well received and sells beyond expectations post-release, it can open doors to partner with larger publishers in the future.

R-Type Final 2. For a game that had 3 (!) successful crowdfunding efforts and retail preorders before release,
it sort of ended up only partially meeting expectations. Some fans were happy, others were less than thrilled.

I myself have now backed a handful of games on Kickstarter, and a couple campaigns on other platforms, like Indiegogo. Of those, 7 have been successfully funded within the time period. Of those 7, 4 have since been released. 2 of those were games that had been previously released in some form. The Warp Coin Catastrophe for Game Boy had already been put out as a ROM, and this was just to fund a physical edition. Tobu Tobu Girl had already seen release as a standard Game Boy title, and this campaign was to update it for Game Boy Color functionality and add some things. Both Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and R-Type Final 2 have been released, and both were pretty high profile. Still in development are Irena: Genesis Metal Fury (Sega Genesis shmup), Ex-Zodiac (Star Fox-like rail shooter), and Orange Island retro action-RPG platformer. I'm not counting the FlipGrip, because it's an accessory rather than a game itself, and aside from the Kickstarter, it already had some support from an outside entity.

There have been horror stories, however, or big disappointments. The aforementioned Mighty No. 9 is a prime example of a game that just couldn't live up to either expectations or hype. Godus, from Peter Molyneaux, had a troubled development cycle, and upon release, didn't get the reception it was expected to receive. Rival Threads: Last Class Heroes had 2 successful campaigns, but the game has still never materialized a decade later. One project I backed, Squadron 51, was to combine classic shmup action with a compelling B-movie style plot with fully acted scenes and dialog. Sadly, it didn't reach funding, though it is still in development and is supposed to be forthcoming. And R-Type Final 2, despite being generally well-received, has been met by some long-time fans and hardcore shmup enthusiasts as more than a little bit of a disappointment.

I'm looking forward to playing Orange Island when it finally releases.
I'm in the developer's Discord and have been following progress for a while.

What's the future for crowdfunding of video games? I don't think it's going anywhere, and while there's some "Kickstarter fatigue" prevalent online, this model of funding smaller projects seems to be a viable option. For those who want a "finished" product versus a constantly changing freemium experience, or a "season pass" kind of game that continually adds new content, it appears to be the way to go for many studios who can't self-fund their own developments. I could see another shift toward a subscription model of some type, be it through Patreon or other platform, to provide an income stream for a development studio, and for those who contribute at a certain level or a specific time frame that could similarly unlock different reward tiers. Beyond that, I'm not sure what's next, but I'll be curious to see if some other means of bringing gaming dreams to reality comes along. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my eye on Kickstarter and other platforms, waiting to see what else small teams can bring us to enjoy.

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Thanks for the thoughts and it's an interesting topic.  One thing all of the Kickstarters need is proper project management. They never deliver on time. I'm not sure if the reason is that these are new teams that need to learn how to make a game or if the teams are headed up by some big name who has a giant ego who promises way too much.

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