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Opinion: Never Mind The Bollocks - here's crowdfunding

Kickstarter and Gambitious shift balance of power

Opinion: Never Mind The Bollocks - here's crowdfunding
If 1977 was music's defining year of punk, then 2012 is gaming's equivalent watershed moment when the creative status quo was given a welcome kick in the bollocks.

The crowdfunding movement that was sparked into life by Double Fine's extraordinarily successful campaign back in February suddenly shifted the balance of power between publisher and developer - possibly forever.

By raising over $3.3 million in just one month, it showed what could be achieved in no time at all, and just how much pent-up demand exists for games that exist outside of the safe, predictable, me-too mainstream.

From the sidelines, it also allowed those of an independent spirit to flick the Vs at anyone that had ever doubted the commercial viability of 'quirky' ideas. When it comes to the discerning gamer, we trust certain developers - far more, it seems, than many publishers ever seem able to.

Return of the veterans

And so it was hardly a great surprise to see other frustrated creative veterans go down the same path.

24 years on from the 1988 Game Of The Year, we saw iXile's Wasteland sequel project generate nearly $3 million, while RTS Planetary Annihilation scooped over $2.2 million and Shadowrun Returns managed $1.83 million.

Most recently, Obsidian raised $2 million for its isometric RPG, Project Eternity within the first 10 days, while Britain's Revolution Software managed to double its target by raising over $800,000 for the next Broken Sword title.

If it wasn't obvious that gamers are hungry for independent creativity from its favourite developers, then it certainly is now.

But without getting too carried away, crowdfunding is not a model without its flaws. For one thing, the dominant Kickstarter system required that the companies were US-registered firms, making it a fiddly business to qualify.

Country-specific Kickstarters are on their way (including the UK), but in the meantime it's a challenge that will take time to overcome - time that some developers don't necessarily have in these disruptive times.

And with almost prescient timing, a Euro-centric crowdfunding initiative by the name of Gambitious aims to provide those outside of the US with a viable alternative.

Get on board

While there's more than a whiff of bandwagon jumping about more crowdfunding schemes entering the fray, Gambitious' combination of flat-rate donations with an equity-funded model provides a key point of difference.

It's one that might prove attractive to those who want to support a game as a potential investment, rather than because they really want a new game in a cruelly overlooked series that publishers forgot.

For while it's undoubtedly cool for cash-rich gamers to be suitably rewarded with extremely rare extras for really splashing the cash, there comes a point when you might think "hang on a minute - I'm not putting in serious investment just to get my name in the credits and bag some fancy art prints."

Where Gambitious could win out is essentially giving fans and plain old fashioned investors the chance to share in the game's success - should it really catch fire and capture everyone's imagination.

Like any crowdfunding system, the success of the model comes down to the quality of the project - and the reputation of the people behind it.

Few people probably even realised (including myself, admittedly), for example, that Kickstarter was around for almost three years before Double Fine opted to test the water, but as soon as Tim Schafer's winning face appeared - tens of thousands of us said: "Take my money - I don't care what it is. We love you, man!"

The democracy of quality

Whether Gambitious will inspire such unfettered manlove is down to the pure democracy of quality.

If it can attract the kind of star names that have inspired such impressive funding on Kickstarter, then success is all but assured, but it's much easier said than done.

Gambitious needs at least one high profile project to sign up before others will do the same.

It's early days, but it's a pretty modest line-up so far, so it clearly has some convincing to do in the development community - and I hope it succeeds - but as we've seen on Kickstarter many times over the past six months, not everything's exciting to the public.

One of the interesting points of difference already is the amount of time the developers are giving investors to put their money down.

Rather than opt for the traditional 31 day period, Gambitious projects can be funded for months, which they hope, presumably, will give developers and publishers more time to PR projects, and more time for consumers and investors to commit - never a bad thing when it comes to splashing the cash.

Endless promotion

Then again, as anyone involved with promoting their own crowdfunded project will attest, it's a full-time job to continually bang the drum - not just in terms of endless self-promotion, but community engagement and being adaptive to what your investors and consumers actually want from it.

If you've got any time left for making the game, you're probably doing it wrong!

Whether the crowdfunding model is here to stay only time will tell. Early indications suggest that the hunger is most definitely still there - the instant response to Obsidian's Project Eternity is certainly testament to that.

The fear is, though, is that people already have crowdfunding fatigue, and will have already learned to pick and choose, and will, in the main, back projects from proven talent, rather than back relative unknowns with potentially better ideas.

There's also a curious disparity between US-developed projects and those that originate outside of North America - witness the cash generating power of Brian Fargo and Tim Schafer, versus, say, the UK's Charles Cecil.

I'm sure Charles wouldn't thank me for saying it, but had Revolution originated in Silicon Valley rather than sleepy old York, England, there's a lingering suspicion it would have more than doubled the $819k generated.

Regardless, there's no question that crowdfunding has captured the imagination of disillusioned gamers, all keen to back the kinds of projects that publishers have collectively neglected to fund for far too long.

But while it's easy to portray publishers as The Great Evil, it's important not to overlook that the best ones can play a pivotal role in bringing a product to market - and, yes, even ones that have been crowdfunded.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.

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