• 25 November 2012 17:07:10

    BLOG PIECE: Kickstarter and the mini-revolution

    posted by Dark0ne Site News
    If you keep up with gaming news at all you’re more than likely to have seen quite a lot of buzz over the past year in regards to Kickstarter and other crowd-funded projects.

    These sites are platforms for people from all walks of life that allow creative people to come to us, ordinary people, and treat us like mini-investors. They pitch their ideas, (hopefully) showcase some of their work and talk about their current and past experience, explain what they aim to do and ask for you to “pledge” money in order to see the pitched product become a reality. You might be asking what the point is, and why this is relevant to modding sites. I’ll try and explain.

    Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of the publishers involved in publishing triple A titles (EA, Ubisoft, Activision and so on) becoming extremely closed in regards to the PC platform. Because of the prominence of the console market over the PC market in terms of game sales, and perhaps the ease of PC game piracy over console game piracy, a lot of publishers have stopped paying attention to the PC market and concentrated either completely on the console market (Halo, Gears of War, Killzone, etc.) or developed for the console first and then done some pretty terrible and obvious ports over to the PC platform later. Publisher or developer supported modding was starting to become something of a rarity reserved for those “gems” within the gaming community like Bethesda and Valve. It’s not that it was dying so much as most developers and publishers were phasing the idea of providing for a modding community out completely (hello EA/Bioware).

    From my point of view, I think the PC gaming community was starting to feel a little forgotten about and the general consensus for a while has been that we think publishers like EA are run by corporate bigwigs who have absolutely no understanding of what a modding community is and the value of fostering, nurturing and promoting your modding community to the world. The inherent issue being you can easily put on to an accountant’s spreadsheet the cost of providing for your modding community with tools, support and knowledge bases in terms of how many man-hours the endeavour has taken up, but you can’t put on to an accountant’s spreadsheet the actual monetary worth of your modding community in terms of sales obtained from your modding community, the ongoing press received from the work your modding community produces (I’m still seeing plenty of articles about Skyrim on PC news websites even now, and it’s always to do with mods) and the goodwill produced for both the developer and publisher who are actively supporting their modding community. I do wonder how many people have bought Skyrim for the PC either because Bethesda came out early and said they’d be releasing modding tools, or because they’ve seen what awesome things people have been doing to their game either here at the Nexus, on the Workshop or out in the media. I bet it’s a lot, but there’s no way we can find a realistic figure. And herein lies the issue; when companies are run by accountants and investors who need to produce higher profits year-on-year they’re more concerned with dinging out as many games as possible than they are about their community or quality of service. If you tell these investors and accountants you can make your games modder friendly and release modding tools for your game, but it’s going to cost you X thousand dollars to do and delay the release of the game by one or two months is it likely they’re going to want to do this?

    So how does this relate to crowd-funded games through Kickstarter and other pledge platforms? By crowdfunding their game, Indie developers who use Kickstarter are able to cut out the middleman, the publisher. This means that they become far more answerable to you, the gamer, and a lot less answerable to “the man”. In an effort to win your support and get you to pledge they’re going to do everything they can to make YOU happy, rather than doing everything they can to make their big-wig investors and corporate publishers happy. They don’t need to be told by the accountants and investors that they can’t make their games modder friendly because it’ll take too much time or too much money. Instead, they’re aware that you, the gamer, wants the game to be moddable and it’s possible that in doing this, more people are likely to pledge to support the game. And that’s what they want; enough money to make the game they’ve dreamed about doing.

    This ability to cut out the middleman bigwig investors and publishers is causing a mini-revolution within the PC gaming community. Originally if you were a developer looking to make a game you would have had to have gone to big investors or publishing houses where they dictate the terms of the deal and what can and cannot be done. For example; you may not know this but Obsidian received absolutely no royalties on Fallout: New Vegas, such was their deal with Bethesda. It was a straight cash transaction. So the fact New Vegas continues to sell well is irrelevant; Obsidian don’t see a piece of any money you pay for New Vegas now, only the original straight transaction Bethesda paid Obsidian. And that’s not uncommon at all, because when you’re a developer with no money but a great idea, the company investing the money not only controls what happens to that idea, but they also own the idea too, irrespective of the work you’ve put into it. That’s the business world, and that’s how it’s been for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean that can’t change.

    Kickstarter et al aren’t just opening up the possibilities for modding, but also for the games themselves. When was the last time you saw a big space combat or space sim game get released? I can’t really think of one since Freelancer was released over 9 years ago in 2003. That’s ridiculous. Space sims are awesome. Why haven’t any more been made? The reason is the bigwig investors and publishers don’t think there’s a big enough market for them. Funny, then, that huge space sim project Star Citizen just finished their crowdfunding process where they raised $6.7million from players like you or me. Clearly these bigwigs don’t really have a clue about what gamers really want at all. I highly doubt most are gamers at all.

    Now crowd-funded games aren’t without their pitfalls. Just like games that investors and publishers invest in, crowd-funded games are still susceptible to failing at any time. Perhaps the developers didn’t budget properly or thought they could make the game with $100,000 but they actually needed twice that. Perhaps something catastrophic happened at the workplace or they find out what they said they could do wasn’t possible at all. Like any investment there are risks, and if you’re going to use your own hard-earned money to invest in these projects you do need to remind yourself that it’s an investment, not a pre-order. There haven’t been any major failures yet, as far as I know, but when there is one (and there will be one!) I think there’s a potential for the house of cards to come falling down on the crowdfunding new dawn.

    Similarly I’ve been less than impressed with some crowd funding projects that have been announced recently that have been extremely half assed. It makes a mockery of the process and takes for granted the fact that many people want this to work. If you go to some angel investors and pitch your idea to them they’re going to want to see that you’ve committed your own time and resources into working on the idea yourself. Perhaps with a prototype, or at least with some early work on the engine and the mechanics of the game. It annoys me, alot, that I’ve seen Kickstarter projects (some of which have big industry names behind them) who have come to pledgers with an idea and absolutely no work done. “Hi, I’ve got a great idea for a game and you’ll know me from this game, so please pledge to me so I can make it”. No no no no no no no. If you want my money you’ve got to show me you’re going to work for it. I don’t care if you made some of the best games of the 80s or 90s, if you want people to pledge you go to every effort to show people you’ve worked on this project, you’ve stayed up days without sleep and your Kickstarter page shows that you’re putting every effort into making this game work. After I donated to Star Citizen I practically got spammed by them; they’d email every day with project updates, even after they were fully funded, explaining what would be happening, what the money would be used for, showing off new concept art, in-game videos, interviews with the developers and everything in between. That’s classy. “I’m some guy you might have heard of from this popular series of games, here’s a picture I drew in 5 minutes, please pledge to me”. How about no. Don’t take the piss, and don’t get suckered into these projects unless you’re a huge fan boy.

    With that little rant out of the way, I do want to quickly promote two great projects that are currently in the late stages of their crowdfunding that I think are worth your time. Both have had some great work done on them already, so you know they’re serious, and both developers have come out in support of modding for their games:

    Maia is a game by an indie developer and can most easily be described as Dungeon Keeper mixed with Theme Hospital on an alien planet. Popular YouTuber TotalBiscuit has even covered it in one of his videos because he wanted to ensure it got funded, so if you’re interested in finding out more, and why to pledge, then take a look at his video. Maia has actually just reached its funding goal, but more money will mean a better game, and it will mean you’ll probably get the game for cheaper than if you wait for release.

    Secondly, Sui Generis is an extremely ambitious project that it claims is “Grand Theft Auto meets Morrowind in an original open world RPG.” The developers have made their own engine from the ground up and they’re currently struggling with reaching their funding target with 5 days to go. The video for the project won me over, and the engine seems to be extremely deep.

    Both the developers of these projects have come out in support of a modding community for the games, and I think it’s important, as a modding community, to support them back in whatever way I can. This blog piece is one of those ways.

    We are going to be announcing support and rolling out Nexus sites for three video games that have either been funded already on Kickstarter or are about to be funded on Kickstarter. One of them you know is Project Eternity, being developed by Obsidian, which is awesome. While the games aren’t going to be out for months, or even years, I’d like to pledge my support not only financially (that’s personal finance, not Nexus finances by the way!), but by giving them the backing of this community and offering whatever services I can to ensure they make their games as modder friendly as possible. And what’s even cooler is that these guys want that. They want to make use of this community’s various talents, sometimes to help in making their games, and other times to provide consultation on how to make their games as modder friendly as possible. And that’s really, really cool. I’m actively seeking to work with, partner with or just plain help any developers, Kickstarter/crowd-funded or not, who are willing to come to this community and ask for our advice on how they can make their games more modder friendly.

    And that’s why I’m all in favour of the current crowdfunding phenomenon; because stuff like this would never happen when the bigwigs are in charge except in very rare occurrences. The crowd funding approach brings developers closer to the players, rather than alienating them by snuggling them up to the demands of the publishers. My thinking is the closer developers are to the needs and wants of the players then the more we’ll be listened to. And that’s good for us, the players.

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