A lot of talk has circulated about the excitement over the crazy success of Double Fine’s Kickstarter project. It’s not even over yet and has already drummed up (as of today) over $1.9m in funding. That was far beyond what Schaefer and company had expected to make, but it clearly shows the love that fans everywhere have for his remarkable vision and gameplay ideas.
I’ll admit it: I loved Brutal Legend. The homage to crazy 80s glam rock and the adventure that followed with the ultimate roadie in Riggs brought lighter fluid tears to my eyes. The only thing I hated about it were the lame RTS sequences. Other than that, it was a fun game.
inXile’s Brian Fargo, the guy who originally founded Interplay in the early 80s and the grandaddy of CRPG icons the Bard’s Tale and Wasteland, is thinking about doing the same thing for Wasteland 2. As in, a real sequel. Not the abortion that Fountain of Dreams had turned out to be. Wasteland has long been regarded as the progenitor of the Fallout series, though its world was much more analogous to ours than to Boyarsky’s wonderfully stylized 50’s aesthetics.
These moves have been seen by many as the means by which devs can finally break the shackles of the publishers, or at least give them the occasional black eye, by truly liberating themselves from the old systems that still govern much of what is considered AAA development.
It’s great idealism. But as with any idea, not something that will work for everyone. Even Schaefer admits on his project page that it can take millions more just to build the kind of titles that are found on retail shelves today. But for the scope of what he and his company are looking at, something like this is more than appropriate. He puts it best here with this excerpt from their project page:
“Keeping the scale of the project this small accomplishes two things. First and foremost, Double Fine gets to make the game they want to make, promote it in whatever manner they deem appropriate, and release the finished product on their own terms. Secondly, since they’re only accountable to themselves, there’s an unprecedented opportunity to show the public what game development of this caliber looks like from the inside. Not the sanitized commercials-posing-as-interviews that marketing teams only value for their ability to boost sales, but an honest, in-depth insight into a modern art form that will both entertain and educate gamers and non-gamers alike.”
On the point of access to the development process, he’s not wrong. I’ve skipped watching most of the interviews and video snippets online on certain games because they tend either to regurgitate the same facts that were read to everyone a month before in a press release or say so very little as to waste everyone’s time. Everyone has seen this happen. Watch certain interviews with gameplay playing in the backdrop or being used to intercut certain points and you’ll start seeing the same footage looped over and over again while someone talks over it. This happens a lot more often than I thought it did.
And on the point on scale, I wouldn’t expect to see the next Skyrim or Final Fantasy 19XX come out of a Kickstarter project – though it would be amazing if that ever happened – but I can expect to see relatively smaller games emerge from obscurity thanks to the generosity of a project’s backers.
And also, let’s admit it – Schaefer and Double Fine would never have gotten anywhere as much money if they were a relatively unknown team. Other game projects have tried to do the same thing on Kickstarter and either due to putting in a very ambiguous set of ground rules for the their project (their pitch was terrible) to simply being unknown, have utterly failed. But that’s not true for others that have also succeeded, who did put together solid plans on their project pages, and have drummed up enough attention to earn the public’s trust.
That said, crowd sourcing can still get things moving for indies. As Schaefer and company have said, it democratizes the process by allowing people to directly contribute to the success of a given game or project. For many, that’s enough to know that they have helped to bring something to fruition that could bring joy to many others.
One could almost say that Kickstarter has allowed countless, anonymous patrons to support projects like this in the same way artists such as Leonardo da Vinci did through the patrons that supported his work. Collectively, the contributors have chosen to support Double Fine as a mega-patron of many pockets and good will. Publishers with specific needs and narrow minded purse strings can’t really compete with that kind of outpouring.
Kickstarting a project might not be the last word to every indie out there looking to fund their dream project, but as more interest is made over successes such as Double Fine’s efforts and that of the occasional indie, it can certainly continue to be a viable option.