Opinion: Project GODUS proves crowdfunders are the new publishers
Two models aren't so different after all
Earlier this week, Peter Molyneux's experimental start up 22Cans launched a Kickstarter campaign.
The Guildford-based studio is yet to deliver on its last set of grandiose promises – indeed, it's only just got Curiosity up and running reliably – but that didn't stop Molyneux from wheeling out the lofty rhetoric once again.
As such, the studio's Kickstarter page promises that the game in question - Project GODUS - will "reinvent a genre."
Cap in hand
It doesn't stop there, either.
GODUS will offer "a living world", will represent a "new idea", and, according to Molynexu, will be "powerful, unique and rather wonderful."
(For the record, it will also be "immensely deep" and will deliver "exciting global co-operation," too. Whatever that means.)
And the plucky team needs just £450,000 of backer cash to make all this happen.
Predictably, some quarters of the internet have been understandably sceptical. Others have been outright hostile.
The suggestion is, 22Cans could likely find the money for Project GODUS from a publisher. In fact, the studio could probably raise £450,000 itself, particularly if it managed to actually sort out the monetisation in Curiosity.
But instead, Peter Molyneux is asking gamers to foot the bill for his latest creation. David Braben faced similar criticism just a few weeks ago, when he asked Kickstarter for £1.25 million to fund development of Elite: Dangerous.
The argument seems to be that these established names are less worthy of handouts than up-and-coming indies.
These luminaries have the means to secure funding from traditional sources, but they're hogging the crowdfunding attention while more worthy causes drop off the radar.
That may or may not be true. It's irrelevant, though, because Kickstarter doesn't reward worthiness, and crowdfunding is not a charitable act.
After all, Kickstarter backers don't generally 'donate' money – instead, they pre-purchase the games they want to play.
And what type of games does the Kickstarter community want to play? Seemingly, it's new titles from industry veterans rather than independent projects from unproven talent.
Different but the same
In this regard, the crowdfunding community isn't so different from traditional publishers.
Publishers have long been criticised for their conservatism and aversion to risk, but gamers are just as desperate to see a return on their investments.
In this case, the return may be an entertaining game rather than profit, but – whether studios are seeking a publisher or crowdfunding capital – developers are ultimately still pitching to risk-averse moneymen.
The crowdfunding community will not take it on faith that you can make a good game, and a less-than-perfect video pitch is usually all it takes for a prospective backer to lose interest in your labour of love.
Who is most deserving of money – and who would find it hardest to secure capital elsewhere – simply doesn't matter to backers.
Fashion a narrative
Of course, that isn't to say that crowdfunding hasn't changed anything.
Gamers may be risk averse, but they prioritise interesting games over profitability, and that fact was part of the reason that Double Fine was able to raise $3.25 million on Kickstarter.
But another part of the reason – and it's a big part of the reason – was Tim Schafer.
He's a well-known figure, who's synonymous with an adored (but no longer commercially viable) genre. Since leaving adventure games behind, he's encountered serious difficulties with publishers across several of the titles he's worked on.
As a result, backing Double Fine Adventure was an opportunity for the crowdfunding community to liberate a hamstrung genius from the murky world of market realities. It was dramatic narrative, and the gaming press loved it.
And that highlights a problem with crowdfunding. Discovery remains an issue on these platforms, and the gaming press is after stories above all else.
A small studio funding its game through Kickstarter is not a story. When David Braben turns to Kickstarter to revive Elite after 28 years, though, that most certainly is a story.
Holding the pursestrings
So, unless your Kickstarted game has a big name attached, or offers something truly unique, it's unlikely to receive press coverage.
And since gamers won't usually scour Kickstarter for projects to back, it can be difficult for small studios to attract attention to their crowdfunding campaigns – no matter how much they deserve or need the money.
Does that mean those that have money shouldn't use Kickstarter? Crowdfunding can offer a path to market for games that would struggle to win publisher support – that much is clear. But does that mean commercially viable titles shouldn't have a place on the site either?
These are academic questions.
Project GODUS's appearance on Kickstarter is clearly unwelcome to some, and many seem keen to argue that 22Cans doesn't deserve crowdfunded cash. The people handing out that money, however, seem to disagree – and theirs are the only views that matter.
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