the artistry and psychology of gaming


Kickstarter: What is it Good For?

Kickstarter: What is it Good For?

You know we live in a progressive age when the concept of crowd funding exists. It’s a brilliant marketing tool for small and/or independent companies to get the word out for their project and gather the resources necessary to make it. The Kickstarter program was founded in 2008 (formerly Kickstartr) by Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler. Since then, it has been used to fund over 60,000 projects (with a success rate of 44% for goals met): from films and comics, to musical CDs, board games, various new inventions, and of course video games. To date the highest funded product is Pebble Technology’s E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android smartphones with a total of over $10 million USD, followed not too closely by Tim Schaffer and Double Fine’s crowd-sourced adventure game, Double Fine Adventure, earning over $3 million USD.

A classic adventure game from Tim Schaffer? Yes, please.

The double-edged sword about Kickstarter is that it’s entirely hands-off by its administrators. All of the projects are monitored and maintained by its petitioners, and there is no guarantee for success. Likewise, there is no guarantee that the money funded will be used for the proposed purpose. It’s a bit of a gamble on behalf of the supporters, but perhaps the risk is worth the reward.

But where is the line drawn?

The most recent project to catch my attention riding the Kickstarter bandwagon is the creation of a new open-source Android-based game console known as OUYA (that’s oo-ya). The console, which will retail for $99 USD, promises to shake up the industry by providing a fully accessible development kit right in the user’s home. Consumers will be able to easily hack the system through simple rooting, allowing them the type of free and creative liberties that all contemporary consoles vehemently restrict. It will provide a tool for independent designers to create the games they always dreamed of, but never had the ability or finances to do. Everyone is a developer. It’s not just a kit, though, as OUYA will service as a fully-functional game console as well, with the ability to play games like Minecraft, and of course anything you can create for it. All games will be required to have some sort of free element to it, such as trials, with two potential upgrades to the complete edition through either a single purchasable version or via micro-transactions found in games like League of Legends and Team Fortress 2.

Some Kickstarter pledges may also offer incentives for sponsors based on the amount they donate. Take OUYA, again: Donate as little as $10 and you get to reserve your username for the console. Donate $95, however, and you essentially just paid for the console (which you will receive when it launches). Donate upwards of $699 and you’ll get a pre-rooted console, early SDK (software development kit) access, an extra controller, and free promotion of any game you create for a year. But the whopping $10,000 donation? All first production runs of the console will have your username engraved onto it (including the one you’ll receive), and you’ll get a complimentary dinner with the entire production and development crew. As of this writing, there have been 5 backers for the $10,000 donation, with a limit set at 20. The entire pledge has achieved over 4 million dollars in funding (with only a pledged goal of $950,000) from over 30,000 supporters. And there are still 27 days left to donate. This puts it as the second highest funded project since Kickstarter began, surpassing the aforementioned Double Fine Adventure.

It’s from the future, hence the design.

But for as much good the Kickstarter program can do, there is always someone who will try to manipulate it. Enter Penny Arcade. There’s absolutely no denying that the men over at Penny Arcade have done some tremendous work in the industry: they created the Child’s Play foundation, which raises money for games and game consoles to be used at children’s hospitals worldwide, and they launched PAX, an annual gaming convention open to the general public which allows consumers access to all of the future games coming down the pipeline that they’d only be able to see, watch, or read about from events such as E3 or the Tokyo Game Show.  But then they go and start this.

The aptly titled “Penny Arcade Sells Out” is a pledge to raise enough money so that they can afford to remove ads from their website for a full year. Let me reiterate that: they are asking for their website to be funded by you. The idea of donations is not a foreign concept. Plenty of popular websites give their readers the ability to donate a small fund to help facilitate the needs of the site. A friend of mine even equated this to websites offering premium or VIP subscriptions. But to this I say, “How does that make it better?” It doesn’t. Especially when used in this manner, and even more so because there already exist numerous reputable programs (free programs!) that will already remove ads for you.

Contemplating other ways to steal money.

The worst part is that people are okay with this. Even with the knowledge of Firefox extensions like Adblock plus, Penny Arcade’s little experiment has a current pledge of $210,000 with a goal of $250,000, and 34 days to go. They will most certainly achieve that goal, and then some, with further potential renovations of the site depending on how much they receive. Their integrity might take a hit from the skeptics out there like me, but it has endeared itself enough fans over the many years that we outcasts are only a minority. Take EA and Activision, for example: for all of their negative press and backwards business practices, how often do their games break sales records? People love to hate them, but as soon as they turn their backs, they’re picking up another copy of Modern Warfare 3.

So I ask again: where is the line drawn?

The Kickstarter program was created as a way to offer support toward new but one-off ideas. From rock albums to comic books to documentary films, all of these independent projects and more are only some of the ways a Kickstarter fund can help facilitate the creation of something. It’s on this principle that the intent is most noble. The video game industry has seen a tremendous upswing of support toward many forthcoming titles, such as Wasteland 2 and Dead State, as well as the production of the OUYA. But when a Kickstarter starts to feel like begging, I begin to question its merit. How Penny Arcade’s little stint passed the barrier for entry to allow the creation of a Kickstarter in their name eludes me. The only way I can properly interpret this idea is to imagine someone asking for money from random strangers to pay for his rent for a year. So, I’ll ask you: will you pay for my rent? The first 10 backers to pledge $1000 or more receive a random picture of a third grader. Why? Well, why not?

This could be yours for the low, low pledge of $1000.

One Comment

  1. I agree with you. Unfortunately, every democracy has its demerits. You can draw no line because any line may get some of the good stuff censored. But then when you don’t draw a line, someone will come out and say “hey! donate $10 and I will send you my poop!”

    Free market, I guess. If someone wants to fund poop, let him.

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