Kickstarter Drama: Why Are the Fans Paying for It?

Kickstarter Campaigns for Veronica Mars and Richard Garriott?

So yeah, as you’ve surely heard, Kickstarter and other social fundraising vehicles are now part of the movie- and videogame-making landscape. How about a little review of where two of those big-name campaigns are now?

I’m talking about the Veronica Mars movie and Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar game. Both of them are fully funded with room to spare: Mars asked for $2M and landed an authoritative $5.7M, and Garriott got $1.9M from a $1M goal.

Did These Kickstarter Campaigns Cheat Us?

kickstarter-drama

As always, it’s an eye of the beholder kind of deal, but Mars is showing a tidy 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not The Godfather or anything, but certainly respectable.

The game is a little harder to judge. It’s clearly a work-in-progress kind of project, with the official site talking about a novel and episodes. TIME Magazine has an insightful column about Garriott’s inflated claims and deflated relevance to modern RPGs, but it’s not a review. And PC Gamer has a vaguely positive “first impressions” preview from November 2014, while the Steam page for the game has the gamer consensus as “very positive.”

Honestly, I find PC Gamer’s article ridiculously generous. This is a product that costs $45 yet still has questionable gameplay elements and a sluggish framerate. It is indeed an alpha game that costs full retail — and my hat’s off to Garriott for pulling this off. However, I’m also cognizant of the fact that the game delivers some things that gamers can’t get elsewhere, like a supportive community, weekly events, and most of all, the ability to comment on the game during a meaningful stage in its evolution. As a developer, I’m not particularly enamored of that opportunity, or the possibility of it all coming to naught, but I do wish Garriott the best (and I enjoyed attending the barbeque he holds in the Austin area for the game developer community). It is indeed possible that the game could become something completely unique, a dynamic world that continues to evolve as new ideas and new technology are introduced. It’s a longshot bet, but the best-case scenario is that this could be a new paradigm: an evergreen title that self-heals and evolves to become what its funders want — and discover what they want — in real time.

And Why Did Garriott Ask Us for Money?

Author Paige Ewing also has some insider insight into the logic and motivations of Garriott’s Kickstarter, which she’s allowed me to share here. Initially she’s commenting on some of the raised eyebrows among our friends who questioned the appropriateness of a millionaire asking fans for cash:

Personally, I don’t think Richard’s kickstarter is much about money. 1 million doesn’t even put a dent in the budget necessary to make a new multiplayer online game nowadays.

However, Richard’s last attempt to make a great game took 7 years of his life, and the lives of lots of other talented people, and a fair chunk of his fortune, and bombed.

Part of the reason for that was a lack of participation, input, and buy-in from the folks who buy his games, the players. Being an intelligent man, that’s a mistake he is trying to rectify.

In doing things this way, he’s getting buy-in ahead of time, and he’s also encouraging the people who are enthusiastic about gaming to give him their input on key aspects of the game before it launches.

Richard has already invested a fair amount of his own money and time in this game. It may not be mentioned in the kickstarter, but this game has already been in the works for some time. He wants to expand his art team, work on the complex decisions like how will player vs player work in this world to make as many people happy as possible, and for that, he wants some assurance that he’s going in directions people will enjoy.

He is particularly shooting for the older gamer market, and he needs to know that’s enough of a market to justify the expense and time.

Kickstarter isn’t just a way to make money, it’s a way to test response to an idea, and to get a market excited about a new project, among other things.

This is all just my opinion, of course, from an outside perspective. I haven’t spoken to Richard for more than ten minutes in years.

So there you have it. I don’t think Kickstarter movie and videogame campaigns are going away anytime soon, and I believe it’s a valuable way for creatives to take the temperature of the fan base. As long as that thermometer isn’t forced into any of my body orifices, I’ll keep from crying foul.

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