Opinion: Why Kickstarter matters

Indie Games Blog editor Michael Rose has written an op-ed over on Gamasutra explaining why he “won’t be backing Kickstarters anymore.” His reason: he has experienced his first true case of “Kickstarter remorse” over backing The Banner Saga. He writes:

Essentially, what has happened is that the team [Stoic Studio] decided to build this free-to-play game due to the huge influx of extra cash that it received during the Kickstarter, and is now no doubt focusing a good portion of its attention on balancing and building addition content for this game, rather than actually making the game that myself and many others pledged towards.

In simpler terms, I was coerced into funding a game that I have absolutely no interest in, with the promise that the thing I actually do want will be coming at some point. This free-to-play game will also bring extra cash in for the team, meaning that it will no doubt slowly but surely begin to focus on the desires of its Factions players, rather than the people who gave it a voice in the first place.

This is my first solid feeling of Kickstarter remorse, and it works to fuel my reasoning that backing Kickstarters is not as worth it as I had once hoped. I enjoyed backing projects on Kickstarter because it felt like I was helping the developer out and keeping their dream alive. That sentiment has most definitely ebbed away now.

Now, far be it for me to tell someone that their feelings are illegitimate: emotions are emotions, and there’s no such thing as an illegitimate one. However, if we look at the factual basis Mike Rose offers to justify these feelings, it simply does not hold up under scrutiny.

The Scapegoat Saga

Let’s start here:

Essentially, what has happened is that the team decided to build this free-to-play game due to the huge influx of extra cash that it received during the Kickstarter…

Actually, the developers of The Banner Saga said up-front that they would first release a free multiplayer component to the game before developing the single player campaign. I have this fact documented right here on this very site; back in February 2012, the web site for The Banner Saga stated: “free multiplayer combat coming soon.” Their Kickstarter wasn’t launched until March 19, 2012, so it’s not like this notice just suddenly appeared after the campaign was over. Anyone who did even the tiniest bit of research would have seen this. Thus, the assertion that “the team decided to build this free-to-play game due to the huge influx of extra cash that it received during the Kickstarter” is flatly incorrect.

But what about the Kickstarter campaign itself? Does that fail to mention the multiplayer component? Yes, if by “fail to mention” you mean “mention repeatedly.” Here, for instance:

Play online: Though the single-player campaign is our focus, The Banner Saga provides a deep multiplayer game; build a unique party of characters and battle friends and enemies in multiplayer combat. Upgrade your party over time and devise new strategies.

And here:

Additional funding allows us to give you:

  • A bigger, richer world. More characters in combat, more animation, more diverse landscapes, more music, engaging animated cutscenes, and more multiplayer options. We have a huge story we want to tell and this will let us deliver it in the most compelling, meaningful way.

Or here:

The Guild Crest
This is your chance to get in the game. In both single player and multiplayer…

For good measure, multiplayer is also mentioned twice in the rewards sidebar–once for $10 backers and again for $50 backers–and again 4 minutes into the pitch video.

Thus, when Mike Rose claims that he was “coerced” into funding a multiplayer component that he had no interest in, could he perhaps mean that he plunked down money without doing any research whatsoever and is now upset that the developers are doing exactly what they said they would do?

Perhaps that’s being uncharitable. Mr. Rose appears to be upset not merely that Stoic Studio developed a free multiplayer component to the game, but that it spent so long focusing on getting the multiplayer done to the exclusion of single player. After all, the Kickstarter does say that “the single-player campaign is our focus”!

However, again, the developers said that they’d be releasing multiplayer first–and they only just released the multiplayer component last week. In essence, Mike Rose is complaining about delays to the development of the multiplayer component. But Mike Rose says that delays are “fair enough” since those happen to all games, Kickstartered or not. Thus, by Mr. Rose’s own logic, that cannot be a good reason to stop backing Kickstarters.

Further, multiplayer and single player are not mutually exclusive areas of development. By developing multiplayer, Stoic Studio has created a lot of assets, honed a robust combat system, and balanced a wide variety of character classes. Every last one of these things can be used in single player as well. It’s not as though they are now going to scrap their combat engine, character classes, animations, and GUI and start all over again for the single player campaign.

What else? Mr. Rose complains about receiving too many updates from projects he’s backed. However, as he points out, you can easily turn email updates off. That hardly seems like a reason to stop feeling “like I was helping the developer out and keeping their dream alive.”

This leaves us with a single complaint: oversaturation. This, I will concede, is a legitimate issue–but it, too, has nothing to do with Mike Rose’s ultimate point, this sense that Kickstarter is no longer helping out developers and keeping their dreams alive.

Why Kickstarter matters

There are always, always setbacks in developing a game. It’s unavoidable. To create a game is to painstakingly construct something monstrously complex, a creature with thousands of working parts that all have to coordinate flawlessly. If you pledge money to games on Kickstarter because you mistakenly believe that game developers can accurately predict how long enormously complex RPGs will take to develop, then yes: maybe Kickstarter isn’t for you. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t helping out developers by funding their dream games.

Crowdfunding has made a big difference to a lot of indie developers. By the end of August last year, Kickstarter reported that more than $50 million had been pledged to independent games. FTL exists because of Kickstarter. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams exists because of Kickstarter. Chivalry exists because of Kickstarter. Sequence exists because of Kickstarter. Thirty Flights of Loving exists because of Kickstarter; so do Capsule and Gun Godz. And thanks to peoples’ willingness to give, innumerable others are on the way as well.

I just want to quote Mike Rose one last time:

I enjoyed backing projects on Kickstarter because it felt like I was helping the developer out and keeping their dream alive.

I keep coming back to that one line because it explains why most of us back Kickstarter projects to begin with; it’s a great summation of the whole purpose of the site. Kickstarter itself says something similar in its FAQ: “Backing a project is more than just giving someone money, it’s supporting their dream to create something that they want to see exist in the world.”

That’s real. I speak from personal experience when I say that, indie or not, you have to have a budget to make a good, commercial quality game. Game development requires competence in nearly every area of creative endeavor: coding, writing, sound, music, art, animation, sometimes even acting and cinematography. If you lack expertise in even one of those areas, then you have to hire someone who does. Hiring people means spending money. Either you spend money on those things, or you release a game that will almost certainly not be taken seriously.

So forget about delays. Forget about the frequent updates (which you can turn off). Forget about the sheer volume of games available to back. When you pitch in to create that budget for a developer, you are making a real difference in that person’s life. You are keeping their dream of making that game alive. That’s something worth doing, and I won’t stand to hear one of the editors of the foremost indie games blog on the net say otherwise.

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  • Marvin Hawkins says:


  • KRD says:

    Well put. Down with lazy journalism.

  • Rob Lockhart says:

    You should x-post this on Gamasutra.

  • Dane says:

    I’m confused. In the first quote it sounds like an addition to the singleplayer game. The second quote seems to imply it as well, by mentioning “multiplayer options”. Maybe my reading comprehension isn’t the best, but that would imply to me a sort of skirmish mode perhaps. Not a fully functional separate game with microtransactions.

    The only place I could find where they mention it being standalone, was in the pitch video. Shame on me for giving them my money without watching the entire thing.


  • ratking says:

    “Giana Sisters” really doesn’t exist because of Kickstarter only. The game was nearly finished when they wanted to crowdfund it – without Kickstarter it would be a bit smaller, that’s all. A lot of people nowadays use Kickstarter just as Marketing instrument, IMHO.
    And Gun Godz was more like the independent part for one of the rewards, not really a crowdfunded project.

  • Great article. I’d like to see your take on the flip side of the argument in terms of what problems currently exist with Kickstarter.

  • Quazi says:

    I think this is an important article. Both yours and the original that you are debunking. Yours is important for obvious reasons, like to make sure that people keep using kickstarter even though some “journalist”-type people may put it down every now and then. I think the other guys article is important because it tells the story of how backer’s can get personally invested into a project, such that if something happens in the development process that they don’t agree with, they feel as though their own personal dreams for the project are not being realized. But this is why kickstarter is great. If Michael Rose was a real publisher, and had real say in the development process, then stoic would not have been able to create their free-to-play prototype which I personally think was a great move (they are essentially earning money to get people to beta-test their combat system, and will undoubtably end up with a very balanced set of playable classes for their single player game). Instead Michael Rose is just some guy who donated some money to them, and while he can hurt their bottom line a little by giving them negative press, he still doesn’t have the power that a real publisher would, so the developer gets to things exactly how they see fit. So really, I would say this shows exactly how kickstarter is a great way to deliver games.


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