Faith-Based Game Development

Late last week, the high profile Kickstarter project République concluded, and just made its goal of $500,000 in the final hours. With Metal Gear veterans David Hayter and Ryan Payton on board, it had the makings of something cool, but struggled to cross their funding goal unlike so many other high profile projects. Camouflaj, the primary development house, asked for half of what they felt it would take to make the game and will be relying on prospective investors for the rest.

… we believe that we can raise the necessary additional funds to complete République from potential outside investors, but there is some risk that our efforts will be unsuccessful.

In their own words, there’s no guarantee that République will be made, or at least, will be made the way they’d like it to be. Camouflaj is dead set on keeping their IP, so ‘actual’ investors will need take a leap of faith based off of this Kickstarter funding. Even with the funding, the results of this Kickstarter could also be looked at as a negative. They limped across the finish line with only 6 hours left where other exciting gaming projects were overfunded within days of launching. This could be due to Republique being a new IP, or Kickstarter burnout in general.

So, this whole thing is based on faith. In fact, that’s what most of Kickstarter is: Faith.

Thanks primarily to Double Fine’s Adventure Game (we’ve written about it previously), Kickstarter for use with game development has become a ridiculous phenomenon, bringing tons of projects out of the woodwork to get their funding. Instead of relying on their own pockets or investors like most have done since the beginning of time, developers and creators don’t have to worry about anything but production as long as enough people are interested in taking that leap of faith.

This faith-based model has been used to successfully fund games that may have never been made in the first place. Games like Brian Fargo’s Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns are both exciting prospects, but no one knows if these are even viable today. It has also been used to goose funding on already in-progress projects like the Leisure Suit Larry remake, Grim Dawn (a project in development for 2 years and has already seen plenty of donation support from fans outside of Kickstarter) and most recently Carmageddon Returns, which was announced last year. What are people “kickstarting” on those? At least with the ones in-progress, there has already been some significant investment by the creators. But for many who use Kickstarter for funding? No risk.

With a Kickstarter model though, the risk lands almost solely on the backer of the game project.In business, managing risk is paramount. If you’re a health organization, bank, or pretty much any large institution, you must do system audits to assure that there’s nothing going on to increase your risk. If there is, you need to fix it. A risk is that the data will become compromised and you’ll be out of business after all the terrible stories break that you didn’t protect yourself. In video games, money is used to create a product you hope will sell well. If it doesn’t, you lose investment money and sometimes go out of business.

With a Kickstarter model though, the risk lands almost solely on the backer of the game project. The developer doesn’t have to necessarily put up their own money at all. They put out their idea, maybe some concept artwork and a catchy video, then wait a month. If it gets funded, rad, they can make something. If not they can just go back to sleep and dream up their next big idea. Little was actually ventured, and nothing was gained or lost.

Backers are pre-ordering before there’s even anything to pre-order.Eschewing typical monetary return on investment (ROI) for taking this risk, Kickstarter backers are given ‘rewards’. These boil down to some tchotchkes and a copy of whatever game for most modest donations. Backers are pre-ordering before there’s even anything to pre-order.

We have yet to see real gaming-fruits-of-labor funded by Kickstarter money and until then, we don’t know exactly what kind will come of the high-risk investment backers have made. Some of these game may never even come out, or take forever to do so, but there’s no recourse if that happens. Your money, after a successful Kickstarter, is gone much earlier than a simple pre-order. I’d rather give Steve Jackson $100 for a copy of Ogre.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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