Opinion: A Skeptical Look at Kickstarter

Over the past few months, a fascinating conversation has taken place about Kickstarter’s potential to reshape how games are funded. There some important reasons why you should care and share your voice. Game developers are collecting millions of dollars on Kickstarter, but shouldn’t we be cautious when sending our money to fund an incredibly ambitious project with a distant delivery date?

Kickstarter is what would happen if you combined a live telethon, a ‘feed the children’ commercial, and a dash of the liberal arts. Folks like filmmakers, artists, engineers, journalists, and musicians create campaigns seeking crowdsourced funding for projects they hope you will want. Once a campaign hits its specified dollar threshold, it gets funding from backers that made a pledge. If not, none of the prospective backers gets their credit cards charged and the campaign wilts away. That’s Kickstarter 101 for you.

Since Kickstarter’s inception in 2009, the warm and fuzzy feeling people got from being backers was this belief they were funding an idea conventional financial backers didn’t have interest in. A couple months ago, the guys from Double Fine tried an experiment to fund a point-n-click adventure game. Aided by the equity from years of making quality console games and slick Kickstarter promotional videos, what started as a goal of raising $400,000 ended up with a jaw-dropping haul of over 3.3 million. Fast forward to today, and an avalanche of game projects have flooded Kickstarter, many for iOS.

Early Republique screenshot

A quick search of ‘iOS’ on Kickstarter will reveal around 100 projects, many of which are games. One project that is drawing some serious interest right now is Camouflaj’s iOS exclusive Republique, described as a 4-6 hour ‘stealth survival’ game promising to be a ‘AAA iOS Experience.’

Ryan Payton, formerly of Kojima Productions and 343 Industries and creative director of Republique, has been very vocal in describing the circumstances and goals of the project. Payton, who quit his job and liquidated his life savings to form Camoflaj, has asserted the iOS space has been lacking real games and Republique can fill that void. We don’t agree much with that opinion, but we’ll get to that later.

The funding goal for Republique is $500,000, and the concept trailer reveals the production values are aiming to hit levels we are used to seeing on traditional consoles. Assuming everything goes to plan with development of the game, the earliest anyone will get their hands on Republique will be June, 2013. With just over $79,000 pledged by backers with only 21 days to go, this ambitious project may not hit its goal. Nonetheless, it is worth sparking a conversation about the implications of this shift in how games are financially backed.

Kickstarter’s pledge system is very clear that putting down money to back a project is at your own risk. Kickstarter does not do investigations on whether someone can actually execute the product being sold to backers. Additionally, there’s no ownership or creative input mandated by Kickstarter. We do not think anyone wants a game essentially designed by a focus group, but if gamers are backing a project, measures should be included in Kickstarter campaigns to ensure the vision being sold is the vision being delivered.

Creatives without accountability is like Charlie Sheen or Mel Gibson at an open bar: Nothing good can come of it. Looking at the nature of game development, delays are as frequent as the sun rising every day. How would you feel about pledging to support a product with a 12 month development cycle, only to see it drift into 18 months, 24 months? Even one of the gaming industry’s most revered icons, Hideo Kojima, has had issues with going from conception to actualization, with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance being stuck in development hell. Another Kickstarter-specific example of good intentions gone bad is the ‘Eyez by ZionEyez HD Video Recording Glasses for Facebook’ Kickstarter campaign. Don’t take our word for it, just look at the comments from these jilted backers.

If Republique delivers on its audacious goals, we can’t wait to experience it. But there are some aspects of Camoflaj’s pitch that don’t sit well with us. Slide To Play has covered iPhone games since 2008, and the pitch trying to sell Republique as the harbinger of AAA gaming experiences isn’t fair to the rest of the iOS gaming development community.

We’re sure Camoflaj is sincere in their view of a gap in the iOS marketplace, but the iOS platform has the most diverse array of titles, connected to the biggest audience in mobile gaming. For every quality snackable game like Angry Birds, you don’t have to look far to find a masterpiece like Sword and Sorcery. As a company yet to ship anything, Camouflaj and their campaign should acknowledge they are not starting the AAA party– if anything, they are late. We believe there’s a middle ground between trying to sell your ambitious game and implying iOS gamers have not been exposed to real AAA titles.

What are your thoughts on Kickstarter? Is it an exciting development or a trend fraught full of pitfalls? Are you backing the high-profile title, Republique? Let’s have the conversation in the comments below.

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