Should More Developers Consider Kickstarting?

By: Adam Ma   (@34thGingerbread)

should-more-developers-consider-kickstartingIf there’s one thing that both gamers and developers love it’s customer loyalty. We all enjoy the idea that developers are creating games with us, not just for us; taking our criticisms and requests seriously as they push towards creating more engaging experiences. Naturally developers need that kind of appreciation to thrive, as we generally show our love in the form of a purchase. The trick has always been finding a happy medium where game companies can extend how long a game can be profitable while at the same time generating content that everyone loves. This generally means changing the business model of a game to something more than just a flat purchase, and content like DLC has come a long way in getting gamers to revisit their favorite titles months later. However, for all its success downloadable content has always been a rocky road with communities. Disputes over what the real value of said content is always up for debate when it comes to most console games and on-disc unlockable content can be as insulting as it is convenient. Subscription based games have seen similar issues generally focused on what the real value of a monthly fee (versus what the perceived value of any particular game experience) and whether or not that price is justified. On the same page subscription games may have also discovered an alternative solution to the DLC ‘problem’.

When consumers are given the ability to define exactly what their purchase is everyone wins. It’s like building your own burger; provided the ingredients are fresh the odds of you being disappointed with the final product are pretty low. Free-to-play games succeed in this manner because the player completely defines the value through their micro-transactions. If you don’t want the extra costumes, the bonus levels, or the accelerated content then you simply do not pay for it. It allows the few players who simply want minimal content with absolutely no extras to play for free, new players to try the game without fear of any sort of commitment, and more importantly it gives the players who do want extras the opportunity to support the parts of a game they will gain the most enjoyment from.

The only real downside to F2P models are the slightly longer update times, but what they represent is the near complete freedom of choice. It’s a system that has saved titles such as SWTOR, Star Trek Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, all games that would have gone under within the year, and has kept developers alive where a more traditional business model would have suggested to liquidate staff and move along. More than just a breath of life for a dying game, it’s a business model that’s provided quite a few lower budget developers to get the feet wet in an industry that can be relatively unforgiving. Either way you look at it Free to Play provides more opportunities for both the developer and the consumer to interact with any given title on their own unique terms. It’s also a business model that falls directly in line with what a system like Kickstarter represents.

Up until now the equation for a gaming Kickstarter project has been fairly straightforward: Smaller developers like Double Fine have been using the system to fund projects after detailing exactly what donations will be going towards as well as some rewards for the various levels of donation. As the fundraising goal is met those who donated know exactly what goes into their project of choice and many indie titles have met with quite a bit of success by pitching a simple concept that requires a bit of aid to get off the ground. But what if it was possible to fund bigger projects on a more regular basis? The primary excuse for a lot of AAA developers when it comes to missing features is cost, particularly for Japanese games that only need translation to become playable overseas.

Imagine a world in which pre-orders made sense because you weren’t putting cash down on a game that will simply give you a poster or Xbox avatar, but rather would incorporate the player deeply into the development process. Crowdfunded games can set up fundraisers that range from building the game in its entirety to adding features to a preexisting franchise. The level of flexibility that’s offered by crowdfunding is immense, and though the future may become riddled with other services that allow for collective donations Kickstarter (for the time) is easy enough to update and edit in the instance that new flex goals should be added. By offering features as a fund-able expense all of the usual excuses that developers bring forth regarding a lack of interest, a lack of financing, a lack of publisher support, all are tossed right out the window. If the public wants it and the goal is within reason the public will fund it; and given the popularity of online petitions for things like international game releases, multiplayer support or additional content, there’s really no doubt that gamers are willing to put their cash into helping develop their own game of choice. Even better is that any program funded in such a way still only communicating with a small group of individuals. A large majority of videogame sales are still based off of hard copies, so it’s not as though the success of any crowdfunded project would not still reap any additional benefits. In fact a game designed with more specific input and better detailed features would likely sell better in the long run as word of mouth would help push sales beyond the fund raising.

This isn’t to say that every game developer should turn to crowdfunding (through Kickstarter or otherwise), but for a lot of publishers that don’t have the reputation, time, or money to spend on trying to attract global attention a little internet petition can go a long way. The success of Penny Arcade’s most recent Kickstarter experiment shows that dedicated fans are willing to support more than just the individual but a company that they can identify with as well, and considering how deeply attached many of us are to these developers it seems silly not to take advantage of this extremely personal relationship. Depending on how the next few years go we could very well see the end of developers apologizing to gamers for not importing a title, or translating a game for any reason. So much more feels within grasp when the money we spend goes directly to the artists, programmers, and other unsung heroes of the gaming industry instead of shipping, handling, and third party retailers.

Source: Gaming Union

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