What happens when indie game fans stop being polite and start getting real?

Title What happens when indie game fans stop being polite and start getting real?
Author Nick Diamon
Posted in Games
When July 29, 2014

I gave your studio $20 to Kickstart this game and now you're telling us that you're making another game at the same time? And you need to Kickstart that one too? You suck! Stop working on other projects! You have an obligation to finish the game you started! Oh, and why

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So long as there exists an internet, well, there will be people complaining on it. Not to trivialize your point here but caterwauling from certain quarters is to be expected. If no one moaned about one aspect of game development or another I'd have to wonder if comments were being heavily moderated.

From what I've seen, the loudest complainers are often those that have clearly not been following the updates or read the details of what they backed.
For instance, InXile said from the start that Torment would only ever be in pre-production until Wasteland 2 was finished.

A KS that does deserve complaints is the Confederate Express / Knuckle Club scam. As a backer of Confederate Express, I'm now convinced it was a scam from the start, and the 2nd campaign was just an attempt to repeat the con.

So reading Qt3's coverage on the pitfalls of early access got me thinking - in the world outside of gaming when people deal in this sort of speculation in futures, you have to be an accredited investor or the product has to be regulated. Seems to be one of the problems here is that people don't know what they are getting into and then they get pissed despite all the hefty disclaimers (that or they understand and just need to complain). So then I was thinking, this whole Kickstarter and early access trend really does have a lot in common with investing, I wonder what the SEC thinks. So I googled "kickstarter and SEC", and low and behold the feds are already at work proposing rules for crowdfunding regulations. I haven't read the proposed rules or the commentary, but all the whiners might be on their way to having Uncle Sam hold their hands through the process to keep the evil indie developers from cheating them out of their hard earned leisure money. Lets just hope they don't regulate it out of existence.

But maybe there does need to be either consumer protection in some form or another. Kickstarter itself would not want to be abused (or perhaps rather be seen to abuse donors) or its brand will diminish and it will not be as successful as it could be. The devil is in the detail and it will depend on how these laws are written as to if it actually benefits the many or the few.

Oh, and does the USA even have the right to put laws on Kickstarter if the people kickstarting things live outside the USA? Would there actually be any demand on the Kickstarter company, which may exist inside the USA, to provide security for people kickstarting games outside of the USA through their service?

I see a lot of people who manifestly have unrealistic expectations and or haven't been paying attention to how stuff works. ETAs are estimates. Guesses. They aren't a binding contract, and as long as work is being done on the project and the people running it are being open and communicative about what's going on, getting one's shorts in a knot over being behind a theoretical schedule is unproductive at best. Hell, a big part of the appeal of crowdfunding is that devs shouldn't have to ship based on the arbitrary needs of a third party rather than what's best for the game. And it's certainly not unusual for games to be delayed (or even cancelled) in the industry at large.

Similarly, getting upset at companies like Double Fine or inXile for needing to juggle multiple projects at once to keep everyone employed and income coming in is just plain unrealistic. Maybe even selfish. I'd maybe look askance at a first time indie dev (like the Confederate Express guy(s), no?) coming back to the well again before delivering their first project, since they don't have a track record of delivering at all and frankly probably should keep their operation small and nimble until they've established themselves. But veterans like Double Fine and inXile aren't about to take the money and run.

And you're buying the right to see some of the process that's going on by crowdfunding or buying into EA, for sure, and you have the right to have your say about it, I suppose, but you're not buying any degree of actual control. You're an interested onlooker. You aren't going to get final say. That's just not part of the deal.

That said, every now and then projects do legitimately flame out in spectacular and unfortunate ways. Yogsventure looks like one of those from here.

Broken Age funders have been SURPRISINGLY nice. Double Fine made several times more money than they asked for and, after missing more than one deadline, revealed they ran out of money about 25% into the project.

If someone had pissed away MY money like that, I'd be LIVID...

Gary Newman made chart showing how the funding for Rust and the rest of the company has worked which is equal parts smackdown to idiots and fascinating look at studio funding for the rest of us:


"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." - H.L. Mencken

Kickstarter is just the Democracy of the video games industry.

Hordes of people were convinced that all these [scoff!] "AAA publishers" were just creatively devoid assholes getting in the way of the proper artists making us great games. Milestones? Budget cuts? Release schedules? Pffft. Business bullshit that has no business mucking up great games.

So now, we take the publisher funding out and let the fans fund things directly! Paradise on Earth? No. Fans just start learning what it was like to be a publisher. "Three month delay! But I gave you money! Where's my game?!"

And they learn that "give an artist no deadline and a stream of money" may not be the world's most efficient scheme for producing great art.

"InXile said from the start that Torment would only ever be in pre-production until Wasteland 2 was finished."

I'm curious what the source for this is. I just read the Torment Kickstarter page and don't see that: https://www.kickstarter.com/pr...

I'm not sure backers are being that unreasonable. How many Kickstarters/Early-Access games have turned out very well? I don't know all of them, but most I've seen/played turned out "meh": average or better, but almost always missing important features, left with important bugs, or shorter than other games in the same genre (sometimes all three!). I guess backer games share the hit-and-miss nature of other "indie" games, except you pay first, play later. Also, maybe a real contract with a real publisher, with bonuses and penalties, is better at motivating the developers.

As far as being shorter: one of the key things that a lot of people seem to have blinders about are game budgets. The most successful videogame kickstarters to date have made perhaps a tenth of what is routinely spent on today's AAA videogames, and those were for genres that are more complicated and expensive on a content level, if not a technological level, than most of said AAA games. Most haven't come even close to that mark. People freak out when videogame projects ask for even a few hundred thousand dollars, yet that isn't actually enough money to make most games, certainly not with full time production by more than a couple of people who are actually being paid a living wage. So yeah, a lot of them end up being on the short side, because the sort of game they are is expensive and the will to fund that deeply isn't there. People complain about Broken Age, but the fact is, adventure games are very very expensive because there can be little reuse of assets. The originally pitched project would not have been nearly as elaborate as what we're getting due to overfunding, and that fairly brief game will still end up costing more than that entire Kickstarter brought in.

Aside from that, though, I've found the hit rate for the things I've backed to be quite high (assuming they've come out), with only one genuinely bad game (Starlight Inception) and one mediocre (Moebius - it's gotten a pretty bad rap but I find a lot of the objections to be overblown), the rest being pretty darn compelling so far. And definitely things I don't see happening through either the traditional publisher model or self-funding indies. Hit or miss, for sure, but I'm happier with Kickstarter's track record than say, EA.

This stuff isn't unique to early access or Kickstarted games at all, all developers and publishers deal with it.
Just recently people were complaining that Destiny is too short and too small and some people have even said they aren't going to buy it now, all based on some comments by a community manager.
I really don't think these challenges are unique to one type of funding method for games. In fact if anything I think the communities behind Kickstarted games tends to be more positive overall because of the buy-in by the backers. They feel invested in the projects and want them to succeed. Most of the community seems to be feeling very positive on Wasteland 2 right now.

I don't know about your last point, as we have already seen some amazing things out of Kickstarted games. Divinity: Original Sin launched and is an amazing game. Double Fine Adventure I haven't played but it reviewed well. FTL is another amazing game I have put a lot of hours into. Kickstarter funded The Banner Saga, Shadowrun Returns, Grim Dawn is still in Early Access but is looking great. Elite Dangerous is in beta, and Shovel Knight recently released. These are just the games I know of off the top of my head, I know many more have seen actual releases.
Kickstarter has been something of a revolution for getting interesting games released made by smaller teams. Also, the games that are successful will hopefully help fund these developers and allow them to pursue other projects of their choosing in the future, with or without crowd funding. Personally I find the impact of crowd funding in gaming the last several years to be very exciting.

Eh, I think a lot of games that come out of the traditional publishing methods are just as "meh" or average in quality. Making a great game is hard, and most people who attempt it will probably fall short. I don't think the average quality of crowd funded releases has been below that of traditionally funded games.
If someone would run the Metacritic numbers that would be very interesting.

Why I applaud your confident conflation of two things which you admit to having little knowledge about, it rather muddies the waters. The SEC is looking at crowd-funded investment, however Kickstarters aren't investments and the sooner people stop talking about "investing" in a KS, the better.

Yeah, anytime money crosses state lines and the word "investment" is used the SEC HAS to get involved. Due to the fact the Kickstarting (as stated below) is not investment, we see its current state. I understand this means of raising capital has its uses, but Kickstarter has an amazing potential for abuse.

It's because the Double Fine folks are so gosh-darn loveable.

Well thanks for the applause, or snark rather, but I do know enough to see the similarities. That's why I said they had a lot in common with investing, but I didn't say it's investing per se. The crowd doesn't get an equity stake in what they are funding so it's not traditional investing, but the SEC wouldn't need new rules to deal with crowd-funded investment, that activity would be squarely covered by the existing rules.

Don't take my word for it though, go check out the SEC's paper on the subject, where they mention Kickstarter by name as an example of what they seek to regulate. https://www.sec.gov/rules/prop...

Oh perhaps I came across too harsh. I am definitely not trying to say that "all Kickstarter games suck" or anything of the kind. I backed Shadowrun Returns and considering Dragonfall I'm thrilled with the outcome.

What I *am* saying is that for more than twenty years now, we've had professional publishers getting games made by commissioning developers, giving them goals and structure, some freedom but some responsibilities. Working together to produce great games. Think back across the last 20 years to the games that you think are amazing and wonderful classics. How many of them were made truly without a publisher?

But some people saw cases of "brilliant gems, screwed over by their publisher" like say VtMB, or they saw old genres they loved being abandoned by modern day publishers - like space sims and adventure games. These people said to themselves "Those stupid publishers, they don't know what they're doing. This is what we really want, and I'm sure it only costs $500k or so, let's just give the money to the devs! They know what they're doing, they've just been sabotaged by greedy publishers!"

And yet every single one of these projects was beset by the complications that publishers deal with as their job all the time. You mention Banner Saga? The fans *raged* that they dared to release multiplayer before the real commissioned single player project. Shadowrun Returns, also a great success story, unless you ask, you know, the backers around the time it was due. "I was promised no DRM! Now you're on Steam you traitors! WTF?! I can't save the game wherever I want?! The real campaign won't be out for SIX MORE MONTHS?!"

All of these are the sorts of reasonable limitations, tradeoffs, and compromises that publishers deal with everyday, because that's the real world of major projects like game development. Hordes of people were convinced that was all some sort of greedy corporate lies, that if they could just work with the artists directly all those nasty difficulties would melt away, and those hordes were furious when they found the laws of physics still apply to them.

That is absolutely not to say that there's no value in Kickstarter, or that there aren't devs out there who need a little support to make something unconventional. There definitely is, and there definitely are. But they have to make the same difficult choices and tradeoffs and struggle with the same unexpected delays as the rest of the human beings who have been making games for decades.