Selling Your Game on Kickstarter

If the last big trend in MMOs was the hybrid F2P model (headliners: Turbine), the potential next big thing is Kickstarter. Double Fine had a rather prominent, $3 million success on that. From the developer’s perspective, Kickstarter must be the best thing ever: get people to buy your game before you have even started making it. You know the game will be profitable because you don’t get started until you have already sold enough copies, plus some bonus cash from people who will pay $1,000 to have a weapon named after them or such. I’m interested in seeing where this will go. Or maybe it will be another fad that disappears in three weeks, but let’s look around.

Ravaged is Kickstarting a game just before release. They are asking you to pay for their marketing. 90% of their supporters are basically buying the game, a conventional pre-sale with the money coming before the marketing. This is a rather different approach, but I don’t imagine that Kickstarter seemed like a meaningful option when Ravaged started. So that’s adding a funding stream at the end of production. Deepworld has a similar approach at a slightly earlier step.

Trying something more like what I said, The Ant Experiment ended at 1.6% of its funding goal. This suggests that there is not a huge market for a SimAnt MMO, although the creators’ minimal track record may be a contributing factor. They have a team photo, and they look very, very young. Taking a more established product and team, a remake of Leisure Suit Larry 1 is at 94% as I type this.

One nice thing on the developer’s side is that you can toss out a dream project and see if it goes anywhere. You can add “it might be nice” bits and see if people will pay for them. I think of how contract bids arrive from companies that don’t feel the need for more work this year: they bid high, and if they win, great, and if they lose, they didn’t really want it anyway. On the fantasy side, here is Steve Jackson making Ogre the way he always wanted. It’s a ridiculously huge, uneconomical box with little apparent prospect outside a niche market, but if they sold 200 copies, they figured they could break even. As I type this, they have had 1,693 pledges of $100 or more to receive the game (plus whatever). On a normal retail project, those would be bonus sales, but since this is the designer’s dream project, he got to keep making up new goals and things that could be included as the funding went past 1300% of the initial goal. The latest update mentions that nothing else will fit in the box, they are out of immediate ideas, so here’s a poll, and they’re committing to funding development of the product line into next year. Apparently enough people also dreamed of the definitive edition of Ogre. The developers note that they have no pre-order system, so Kickstarter lets them do that. (The enthusiasm on this project is infectious.) In a completely different direction, PC Gaming Wiki is someone else’s dream with no product to sell. If I’m reading this correctly, you would be funding having someone update a wiki with PC game fixes for a year. I’d never thought of trying to crowdsource funding for a dream job. Roll20 is at 376% of someone’s dream project to make an online pen-and-paper RPG system. How about funding a photographer for cosplay pics at a con?

A great many bands seem so have adopted Kickstarter as a method of funding their next albums. Let’s see what game developers can come up with. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how game developers game the system. If you can’t do that, why should I think you can design a game?

: Zubon

Added note: “great for the developers” does not in any way suggest “great for the players/customers.” The company is free to take your pre-purchase money, do whatever they want, ship late/buggy/not at all, and your recourse is … good luck!

11 thoughts on “Selling Your Game on Kickstarter”

  1. I keep wondering about the “entitlement” mentality. The whole “we don’t actually have a game finished yet, but give us money” aspect seems like it could be a problem at some point for some less-than-scrupulous folk, and gamers sure seem to be grumpy when they don’t get what they want.

    I’m waiting to see what happens when some games start getting finished and published.

    …and then there’s this, tangentially relevant:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sma/send-captain-picard-to-space

    1. True, although who are you going to complain to? Kickstarter has no responsibility, and the company can merrily go out of business, taking your money with it. Promised game is months/years late? Oh well, you’ve already paid.

      Take the story of the development of Horizons and burn the pre-order money rather than venture capital money. And still get Horizons.

  2. There is certainly a heavy nostalgia aspect to this. I had the OGRE and G.E.V. zip-lock bag editions from the late 70s, so seeing the SJG OGRE designer’s edition made me drool a little. I seriously had to fight the temptation to go in for $100 “just because it would be cool.”

    But that is all it would be. I doubt I would play it. The people I played the originals with some 30+ years ago are all scattered to the wind, and frankly I fell in love with computer versions of games because they did all the housekeeping chores for me.

    And it was the same with Wasteland. That was the last game I bought for my Apple II, so I have some nostalgia for it. But how do you even approach re-creating something that worked in a primitive, 8-bit environment in today’s world?

    Still, it is interesting, and I am glad people get to run with the nostalgia vibe.

  3. It looks like the guy who wants to make Wasteland 2 is trying to come up with a way to “game the system”.

    He’s trying to piggy-back a campaign, a pay-it-forward kind of charity/event/drive that would be a way for Kickstarted game-projects to help each other and the “non-industry”.

  4. I’m glad some people are getting funding to do what they want to do, but it won’t be long before these products start getting NOT delivered. Funding may make making games possible but it doesn’t make it easy, and having a good idea doesn’t mean you can execute on it. There are a lot of variables.

    Also, Kickstarter is a treasure trove of good ideas waiting to be implemented. I guarantee you, right now, there are companies out there who are at the very least scanning Kickstarter for good ideas, and perhaps more fiendishly for patent opportunities.

    Given both these pitfalls, I’m reluctant to participate as either contributor or creator.

  5. Wasteland 2 is another example of one that kept making up new goals and things that could be included as the pledges went up. In the end they got $2,900,000 pledged, rather than the $900,000 they were seeking, which led to Mac and Linux versions being added to the plan, a bunch more language translations, extra designers and artists being hired, etc. etc.

  6. Nice article. For some companies this would be a great opportunity, but can they handle the freedom? I think this won’t work for AAA games, but for some indies I can’t see a reason why not. So as long as they proved they could provide gamers with awesome games, then it’s alright.

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