by Benjamin Fitzgerald
Kickstarter has slowly begun to demand my attention. It started off small: a game here and a game there; an offhand comment in a casual conversation; a brief visit to the website half a year ago. Lately, however, I’ve been paying the highly successful crowd-funding company serious consideration. After reading Marshall Garvey’s excellent review of World 1-1 and his subsequent interview with its creators, I decided to follow up with some observations of my own (and a $10 pledge to support Trial by Viking).
I purchased my first games (Planescape: Torment and The Last Express) on Gog one year ago today. I have since spent countless hours perusing Gog’s enviable catalog, dropping $243.33 on 110 different titles in the process. Over the course of this year, I have noted a steady increase in the number of Kickstarter games being released on Gog. With a crowdfunded library of nearly 80 games, Steam sells an even greater number of titles than Gog does. This peaked my attention.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story, so I browsed briefly through Steam’s hefty catalog. What really stands out to me is that most of these games present a polished, refined experience, labors of love with admirable results. Many of them stand as spiritual successors to beloved games of the past; others are outright sequels. Still more present bold new ideas wrought out of pure imagination and creativity.
The amount of money that went into making many of these projects a reality is almost staggering. (If you don’t believe me, I crunch the seven biggest numbers three paragraphs from now.) Even more amazing is the fact that, by and large, all of that money came straight out of the pockets of the people who plan to play them. Avid gamers like you and me have willingly donated tens of millions of dollars to help these projects come to life.
Wasteland 2 was the first critically and commercially successful game to be funded by Kickstarter. It raised nearly $3,000,000 from over 60,000 backers and received extremely high praise from critics and gamers alike, earning a Game of the Year award from PC World. This is impressive for several reasons. First, while $3,000,000 may seem like a lot of money, that figure pales in comparison to most AAA games; in 1996, Wing Commander IV was made for a then-unheard-of cost of $12,000,000. That number is a median price for blockbuster games today. In other words, inXile produced a top-of-the-line game for far less than name-brand companies.
The other reason why that figure is so impressive is the source of the funding. Wasteland 2 isn’t made by a mega-corporation like Activision, whose Call of Duty series has sold over 175 million copies, making billions of dollars in the process. Rather, it was created by a relatively small team of developers, whose biggest prior success was the 2004 RPG parody The Bard’s Tale.
Crowd-funded games have continued to raise enormous amounts of money. In 2012, Wasteland 2 raised an impressive $2,933,252. Since then, however, seven video game Kickstarters have broken that record: Steve Myles, the lead artist for Banjo-Kazooie and Donky Kong Country, successfully raised $3,226,181 for Yooka-Laylee. Broken Age, helmed by the renowned developer Tim Schafer, raised $3,336,371. Might No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s new Japanese side-scroller, was able to raise $3,845,170. Obsidian Entertainment received $3,986,929 in pledges for the well-received and critically-acclaimed Pillars of Eternity. inXile Entertainment returned to Kickstarter in 2013 to crowd-fund Torment: Tides of Numenera for $4,188,927. Koji Igarashi, most famous for his involvement in the highly regarded Castlevania series, recently succeeded in raising an incredible $5,545,991 for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, only to be outdone a month later by the monolithic success of Shenmue 3, which garnered a staggering $6,333,295. All totaled, these contributions amount to $33,396,656! That figure doesn’t include money donated to support the games after the conclusion of the original campaigns, and it doesn’t even begin to cover the 18 other Kickstarter-funded video games that raised over $1,000,000.
Only a couple of years ago, there was a lot of reservation about supporting games on Kickstarter. After all, millions of dollars had been donated, and the only real success that had emerged was the Wasteland sequel 25 years in the waiting. Those reservations have largely been quieted, as dozens of games have now been released, many to critical acclaim. It seems that the Kickstarter experiment has proved a valid method of funding new titles.
There is a growing population of people who expect more out of their gaming experience that what Call of Duty has to offer. It isn’t that the Call of Duty series doesn’t have its place; it isn’t that they are bad games. But let’s not kid ourselves: nobody bought Call of Duty: Black Ops for its six-hour campaign. 12-year-old noobs bought it so they could play Nuketown online twenty times in a row (don’t get me started), and I bought it so that Marshall Garvey and I could kill Nazi zombies while playing as Presidents Kennedy and Nixon. Fun, but it’s just not worth $60.
What Kickstarter will mean for the future of video games remains uncertain, but it seems to me that we are standing in the midst of a gaming revolution. Games funded on Kickstarter tend to take longer than AAA games. Smaller studios produce them; they employ a smaller staff and work on a smaller budget. Most of these games missed their estimated deadlines, sometimes by a year or more, which means that consumers have to endure long, impatient waiting periods. At the same time, these smaller companies are filling the demand for games that larger companies seem unwilling to. That is the power of community.