Kickstarter killed the video game star

Kickstarter killed the video game star

Just what is Kickstarter for anyway?

Such is the complexity of the issue in my mind right now, that I could quite easily end this piece with that phrase as well as start with it.

The thing about Kickstarter – and crowdfunding in general, it would appear – is that everyone, all kinds of different developers, seem to think it's for them. Speak to people across the industry, and it's possible to get entirely different descriptions about what Kickstarter does and who it's aimed at.

As a result, if you trace the 'Kickstarter story' back to its early flourishes, its role appears to have evolved somewhat, almost unintentionally.

Originally, it was the platform that was going to herald the death of the publisher, with indies set to take to it en masse. Then it appeared to be the platform that was exclusively for big name veterans who were looking to make a comeback.

More recently it became accepted that, actually, Kickstarter was less about making money, and more about gaining attention – a discovery tool for an invested audience.

Now, however, so crowded is this new found discovery tool that it needs further discovery tools built into it to help people discover the games on it in the first place.

Trade talking

I am, of course, referring to the news that UK trade association TIGA has set up a curated list where it will look to garner attention for what it believes are the best Kickstarter projects emanating from within the United Kingdom.

I have to admit, I wasn't previously aware that Kickstarter provided such functionality. However, this news worries me.

On the one hand, I can see the logic behind TIGA's move. Here's a trade association looking to stand up for the industry it represents, pushing forward UK projects so they can, it hopes, enjoy the successes notable US projects have enjoyed to date.

Nonetheless, it does seem to fly in the face of what Kickstarter was designed to be. As one developer put to me brilliantly on Facebook, surely the projects that fail on Kickstarter are the ones that don't appear to meet a market need.

To put it crudely, those that fail deserve to fail.

The whole idea of Kickstarter - at least to me - is that some projects need to miss their targets for the platform as a whole to have some form of validity. There's little point in using Kickstarter as a method to gauge enthusiasm for game concepts if some are promoted artificially simply because of their country of origin.

Unsettling the balance

No doubt TIGA would point to the fact that this is a "curated" list – one designed to promote the cream of the crop.

But, again, doesn't Kickstarter exist because it's believed that consumers have a best idea about what they want to buy, rather than large bodies such as publishers or, by extension, trade bodies?

Shouldn't the people be the ultimately litmus test as to what's quality and what isn't?

If users take appearing on TIGA's list as a seal of approval and pledge their money as a result, then – firstly – that eradicates the level playing field Kickstarter likes to pitch itself as, and secondly, it changes the way developers looking to crowdfund will have to approach getting support.

And this is the problem. I don't actually want to rip into TIGA for taking the decision – I'm entirely sure it has the best of intentions. Rather, my worry is that it exposes the fragility of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms.

As with everything within digital development, scores of people have been willing to talk Kickstarter up before any of us fully understand what it's for.

Welcome to the den

The industry is entirely polarised about every issue at the moment. Freemium, for example, is either brilliant and perfect for all games ever, or entirely corrupt, evil and the worst thing to ever happen to the industry.

Kickstarter, too, appears to have split the industry into cynics and enthusiasts. The problem is, if it's a platform that needs the support of curated lists – as stated, an additional discovery platform to help support games on what's already a discovery platform – then the latter group could be set to walk into a world of pain.

It all smacks of the rise of Apple's App Store, which was brilliant for around six months. Then it became flooded with scores of developers, and suddenly additional platforms were needed to promote the apps within it.

If Kickstarter turns into a vehicle that requires developers to take to outside platforms in order to get spotted, then its role as a useful tool will – in my view – have become nullified.

While TIGA's list will no doubt be populated with lots of worthy games that deserve to be funded, it is the equivalent of turning up to Dragon's Den with a whole host of celebrity backers on your shoulder to sway their decision.

The industry needs to stop, pause, and figure out what Kickstarter is for. If it's for everyone, then prepare for it to be swamped and for the same discovery issues that have plagued the App Store to set up residence here, too.

If it's where genuinely refreshing ideas, or concepts that publishers don't want to touch are pitched to the gaming public, then outside parties need to leave well alone. Not every project can succeed on Kickstater.

As sad as it is for all involved, for crowdfunding to survive, some game concepts need to take a good kicking.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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John Ozimek director
I do like the randomness of Kickstarter. But I do worry that there has been a disproportionate rush to the platform by games developers who somehow think it's the holy grail for funding new projects, and I see your point Keith about TIGA's well intentioned effort risking skewing the site from it's simple 'sink or swim' ethos.

Maybe it would work better if TIGA was there to help after a game is funded - with development know-how and marketing support. The problem in the games industry is certainly not a lack of new games; it's a lack of high quality, original and commercially viable games.

Some smart developers have used Kickstarter as a marketing tool to get fan and industry support for their games, and I have no problem with that. As Mike says below, it's up to developers to be smart and to do what they can to make their vision into reality. I just have an uneasy feeling that there are going to be a lot more failures than successes, and I hope that doesn't have a knock-on effect on Kickstarter as a whole.
Keith Andrew
Mike - I get your point. Games as a whole is a far bigger business full of many more players than it used to be.

My point was, however, that Kickstarter appeared to be something difference. A way for different kinds of games to make it to market - a nice offshoot from the mainstream flow that enabled weird, wild and unfashionable projects to get going.

That's been lost. Now it seems to be used as a way of funding a game almost by default, which - in my view - both damages its potency and makes it just another platform where scores of developers go to die.
Mike Boxleiter
This is a really ridiculous position, I see you are dubious about the point of Kickstarter, but I can tell you it's purpose was never to shine the spotlight on unknown games.

You talk about the flooding of the App Store, but we're also flooding Steam and flooding XBLA and flooding the internet as a whole with games at this point. This isn't because of a failure of the platform holders to keep out the riffraff, this is the result of the democratization of game development. The tools are easier to use, the bar has been lowered so more and more people are making games, and a lot of them are good! There are just WAY, WAY more games no then there used to be, and getting discovered is a HUGE challenge.

Kickstarter and the App Store and Greenlight didn't create this problem, they are all subject to it. Mindshare is now king, console manufacturers and publishers are no longer capable of waving a magic wand and sending money to developers they deem worthy, the market is now in charge of a free and open video game ecosystem, but the price of that is having to do the legwork as a developer to get attention to your work.

We have exchanged a shadowy system which promoted people who knew the right people through backroom meetings for a free and open system that will chew you up and spit you out publicly if you fail to do your homework. I argue it's better, but it's not any easier.
Nick G.
I am an indie, and I would NEVER use kickstarter. I believe it puts undue pressure to meet expectations of other people, rather than your vision. I want to create what I want to create, and I don't need the complications of invisible financial obligations. I say "invisible" as people pretend that they are staying true to their vision, but now they have this money and people are asking for feature X or feature Y and they feel pressured to do it - even if they don't do it. It's fucking stupid.

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