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.
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.