Kickstarter-Funded Games: Are We Asking for Too Little?

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Matt Barton's picture

As someone who has been to bat for several Kickstarter projects lately, I'm becoming concerned with what's going to happen on the other end. After all this community support, will it be back to business as usual when the products hit the shelves? Will all this "fan outreach" end when they start worrying about maximizing their sales?

How will I feel when the games that I've not only helped fund, but--like many of you, have also promoted heavily with every social media tool at my disposal--how will I feel if those games end up on the shelf with the same kind of closed-source, DRM-encrusted, shrinkwrap-licensed bullshit that plagues the rest of the industry?

After some preliminary research, I've found that while most of the big game projects at least promise a DRM free version (at least as a limited option to backers), there are few promises that they will *exclusively* offer DRM free versions.

Let's consider how some of the Kickstarters I've supported are handling these issues:

  • Project Eternity. Raised 3.9 million. Offering DRM-free downloads. Nothing I can find about source code or sharing assets; looks like a traditional copyright model.
  • Double Fine Adventure. Raised 3.3 million. DRM-free; nothing about source code or CC licensing.
  • Wasteland 2. Raised: 2.9 million dollars. They are offering a DRM-free digital download, but I don't see anything about sharing the source code, assets, or alternative licensing.
  • Star Citizen. Raised 2.1 million. I see no promises anywhere about the game being DRM-free or sharing anything, despite a lot of talk about how they're rejecting the "corporate suits."
  • Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Raised 400K. DRM-free; no source code or CC license.

Finally, I did an overall Kickstarter search for "creative commons" and "open source" and came up with zero results in computer games.

The way I see it, if you're reaching out your hand for community support, you need to consider supporting the community in return. That means, in my humble opinion, sharing your source code, using an alternative licensing scheme such as Creative Commons--so other people can BUILD on your work--and, perhaps most importantly, sharing assets to enable faster community development.

In the future, I will not be supporting any Kickstarter project that doesn't at least offer exclusively DRM-free versions and at least some kind of sharing scheme for source code and at least some assets. I don't expect anyone to put their work into the public domain, but they should at least make some of their source code and assets available to give back to the community that funded their work. Ideally, what I'd like to see is full access to the source code, CC-licenses, and a healthy library of shared assets.

I realize some of these folks are using proprietary engines and thus cannot share all of their code, but there's no reason they couldn't share some of it. I'd actually like them to go a step further, and not just share code, but offer some videos or resources to help aspiring game developers (in all areas) learn from the process. This isn't an "us vs. them" situation anymore between developers and gamers. This is a mutually beneficial situation where the community supports you--and you reciprocate by building up that community.

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Matt Barton
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http://games.slashdot.org/sto

http://games.slashdot.org/story/12/11/04/1820209/will-the-star-citizen-p...

The above discussion is what first got me thinking about the possibilities of Kickstarter for doing more for the gaming community. It could really spawn a lot of creative tools as well as games! Imagine, for instance, someone were building a new engine for games like this that would be released for free at the end. Are you telling me there aren't thousands of aspiring developers out there who wouldn't pledge to support a great tool like that? It's basically investing in the infrastructure.

I know I'd be a lot more willing to support a project that I knew was going to have a broader impact than just a good game at the end.

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Shawn Delahunty
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Chiming in where I probably have no business doing so...
Matt Barton wrote:

I don't see anyone here advocating for DRM on these games, so at least we're all agreed on that. Let's try to keep the other two issues separate:
1. Should the dev release the source code?
2. Should the dev share creative assets (models, artwork, music, etc.) produced in-house under a Creative Commons license.
....

For any who may be reading along here, if I didn't make it clear in my earlier reply in this thread, I've been explicit about my feelings elsewhere... I LOATH DRM. (Matt knows this already.) So yes, I think that any game / software project which does't promise ZERO-DRM very explicitly, should be shunned. As for these other good points:

(1) I would be MUCH more likely to sponsor a game Kickstarter, at a significantly higher level of support, if the devs promised to release source-code. I would even be willing to give them a "short closed-source period", to help them get their business up and running. As a hypothetical example, say they make a game, and piggyback on the codebase with a couple of expansion packs or a second-installment. If that lets them secure some level of financial stability as a business entity, I'd be willing to give them 12-24 months from the initial game release before they were obligated to make the source code freely available.

As to licensing, I'd be cool with CC or GPL. I know that a lot of people would want BSD-style or public-domain release, but I'll leave that argument behind where it belongs. I still think that people who create something ought to have "some level" of ownership and control. (I think the original 20-year span on copyright was perfectly reasonable.)

(2) I feel the same for art assets, save for one possible exception---if a game is REALLY successful, like MINECRAFT or ANGRY-BIRDS kind of insane success, I can see the devs wanting to make some of the images into a Trademark or something. I wouldn't begrudge them that. Especially if it helps guarantee freedom from money worries...then they can focus on continuing to make cool, new, original stuff.

Yes, I know a large number of people would consider this "selling out", but the world really does run on it's economy. I have no problems with people making money. And frankly, if it's people like Notch, I'm perfectly OK with them making uncountable GOBS of money. Money hats? HAH! That man can walk around in Money-Shoes and Money-Suits for all I care. He makes cool stuff at a great price and gives way more fun than most.

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David Nielsen (not verified)
Open Source and Kickstarter

First you'd have to ask if there is any value attached to having the code and the assets available in the commons, I believe this is the case. We already have multiple cases of code being released have gaining new life, being used for other projects and being used in education to teach new minds how video game technology works. Without assets engine code e.g. is fairly useless and requires that you recreate your own, the Open Source community is not exactly overrun by eager volunteers who do this kind of work so assets especially would prove valuable in terms of having a working game.

A couple of million USD is not a ton of money to create a game like Wasteland 2 or Project Eternity. Asking people to give up their assets and code might be asking to much at least if asking for it right away or with little delay from release. A lot of the value a company gets out of making a game is the ownership over the IP to ensure that they control the world and can profit from things like sequels and meatspace items like clothing, books and movies. You see this asserted in multiple of the big kickstarter project videos such as Project Eternity. Assets are clearly going to be something they will not easily be convinced to share whereas code tends to be easier as it naturally obsoletes itself over time and ends up holding little value after a few years.

However I believe one could set up an Open Code and/or Assets promise in the same vein as Kicking it Forward for sharing profits with future projects.

It could work akin to what ID Software does when their engine code after it has ceased its commercial life. That code has proved very valuable for a number of projects and has been granted new life. If as part of a video game kickstarter you pledge to abide by this promise you would after a number of years see the code and possibly the assets become available under suitable OSI approved licenses (and CC licences for the assets).

I think that is the only sane way this could work, let the company exploit the IP for a sufficient amount of time and then let at least the code become part of our commons. I can see why they might want to hang on to some or all of the assets e.g. for claiming ownership of the world, having IP to sell or produce sequels from or use to enter into things like movie or book deals. Hence I would prefer that to be a separate pledge to make, to give companies the freedom to opt in to doing this.

Having a standard pledge would also be easy to understand for companies and something that is easily identifiable for pledgers. Such as:

"If I pledge towards this game I know that I will get everything on the pledge tier plus after X years (some) code and/or assets required by the game will be released without any support to the commons under reasonable terms for everyone to enjoy."

However I think the best way to get an idea of how reasonable such an approach would be, would be asking someone like Brian Fargo about his feelings on the subject as he has more insight into what the pitfalls would be. E.g. a lot of the games are using Unity and buying assets from the Unity Store, these are certainly not going to be able to be shared regardless of the feelings of the developer. Requiring that kickstarters be able to share all assets and code is very likely to hit such roadblocks and doing so strictly would severely limit the developers options, and thus drive his costs up. If he can't use off the shelf items from the Unity store e.g. that is stuff he will have to develop on his own, costing time and money.

Personally even though I am a big believer in Open Source (in fact I am on the board of a foundation that does Open Source evangelism), I think it is asking much of a developer to have him commit to this kind of thing. I'd like to be able to sell the idea but I can't say there is a strong case to be made for it currently. I doubt they will get significantly more pledges from promising such a thing and it only devalorizes what they are going to put a significant amount of effort into for a fairly small amount of money.

clok1966
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Well I have made it clear i

Well I have made it clear i think Kickstarter should be for the people who cant get funds.. not those who could (Penny Arcade) but don't want to do the time.. And I agree 100% with Matt on Kickstarter should be "more" then the standard game.. and boxes and maps.. while in truth are "more". they really are just what used to be.. and inst.. its not MORE in any way except compared to the current games.. A dev who gets funded on kickstarter (in my eyes) is the guy who couldn't get funded normally so they should be prepared to go beyond, that extra effort to repay the unwashed masses who support them. And I again say this is one of the problem with Kickstarter.. its popularity contest wrapped in a helping hand with zero rules.. I'm going to use Lesure Suit Larry again.. not a game series I really liked.. but the original was well loved.. and Al was unique.. the series has been pounded into thte grave by people who are not Al.. and ye even some by Al.. but his new stuff could be quite good, or quite bad.. its hard to tell.. (was it 100% funded?) this game is more in the "gray" area.. there is love.. but not like Wasteland.. and consider wasteland has LOVE from the original players.. and many who just 'hear" it was great.. they don't know.. and in some cases this is good.. i really doubt a newer gamer would even say "like" if they played it now days.. These gameas are about Love or like.. not "what am i getting" its just about how much I hope it will be Wasteland .. which in most case will not be what they expect.. Sorry but Fallout is wasteland II (even if you count wasteland II by another name), and fallout 3 is the continuation of it.. The original WASTELAND has its successors.. I'm not sure why it needed a kickstarter.. for the NAME? (yes i am in on it for a copy).. But the game sthat do succeed.. why shouldn't they give something really tangible back? I dont see a kickstarter game as a "normal " game.. But i think the dev's do.. its just different funding... and I dont see it that way.. its a totally new way of creating a game and getting it financed.. Maybe Matt's onto something.. Kickstarter cant sustain the drive its got going now (IMHO).. it may need some "bling" besides t-shirts and maps to get the 2nd big round going.. something like dev tools, assets, code has been HUGE (in a way that keeps the games fresh for years) for TF, Quake, Unreal engine.. etc.. why not? it takes more then a code to make a game engine.. code makes it.. but great thinkers make it great.. The best coded engine in the world is no good without great game play or ideas.

Matt Barton
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I had a thought this morning

I had a thought this morning on this. What if Linus was just coming out with Linux today? Would he try to use Kickstarter to fund the development? I imagine a lot of people then (and now) would be happy to pour money into this if they had a reasonable certainty that he'd be able to deliver. What I wonder, though, is if Linux would be a better product if it had been built that way?

Would you be willing to pledge to some kind of big FOSS project, like a massive update to Linux or some such, knowing that you'd be able to get the product at the end for free regardless?

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Shawn Delahunty
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For H/W support, YES!

If Linus entertained something like this:

- We raise $xyz
- This is enough to convince a major H/W manufacturer to release full H/W specs to us so that our devs can write proper, OPEN drivers for the thing, which will be extensible through future chip revisions. (Even if the actual H/W specs/schematics have to remain 'private'.)
- This GPL'd code goes into the mainline kernel from here on out.

If it were for oh, say, NVidia GPU chipsets... I'd be on this in a nano-second. Even if it excluded "current gen" Hardware / chips, and only worked with last-gen and prior. It would very much depend on the piece of H/W being supported.

As far as getting the primary kernel devs to do this, I know they'd write the code FOR FREE. Greg Koah-Hartman has had for some time an open pledge to H/W companies that he would gladly write Linux kernel drivers for their new widget, provided they allow him to GPL them into the main kernel, and provide the support he requests. His angle is this: It would allow the company to brag about complete 100% Linux support, for any distribution, without having to do any software dev work.

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Cody (not verified)
LSL was funded, it just went

LSL was funded, it just went over the line in the last few days of the campaign. I also funded it. It was a funny one because right after they got their funding they dropped the development/design company that they had based the entire campaign on using - and refused to detail exactly why other than, "It was the right thing to do." They then hired another company to do it (N-Gage?)

I don't care which company does it, though I felt odd that these details weren't investigated more thoroughly before starting the campaign. What irritated me beyond belief is that despite it being something 100% funded by community support, as soon as something critical happens and the community deserves a response as to WHY, we get blank stares and no straight answer.

While I still like Lowe, I feel like the rest of the business surrounding that game must be corrupt to treat us with such contempt and disdain.

David Nielsen (not verified)
I funded that campaign itself

I funded that campaign itself and it has felt sleazy (and not the right kind of sleazy mind you) all the way through to be honest. Afterwards they have missed deadlines, changed developments and by their own admission they are currently only at the point of having done backgrounds, no puzzles have seen work. There is very little communication and as you say no explanation as to the whole dumping of the original team. It is by far the project that gives me the most doubt about the Kickstarter model I have backed. It just feels like they are hustlers compared to teams that do a great job communicating such as DFA and Wasteland 2.

I will admit I mostly backed it for nostalgic reasons, I learned English playing the original game with a dictionary next to me - yes playing LSL at 6 might not have included me getting all the jokes but it was a great learning experience, the sex was kinda indifferent to me at that point. I loved the Sierra games through my childhood and since I played a copy that was in all likelihood.. acquired without Sierra getting a dime, I felt I owed it to Al and the guys to at least help make a new version.

Bill Loguidice
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Wow, amazing stuff that I

Wow, amazing stuff that I didn't know about the LSL Kickstarter. That was back when I was more liberal with backing software Kickstarters, but I still didn't support that one since I felt that simply recreating the original game with few new twists was not a good use of resources. What's funny is that in terms of ambition, that should have been a slam dunk in terms of getting it done and released the way they had specified. Most of the hard work was already done, after all. This is in stark contrast to many of the other software Kickstarters. Crazy.

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Cody (not verified)
Yes, I think the source code

Yes, I think the source code and assets should absolutely be included in the final product. I would most prefer Kickstarter act as a kind of investment portal where everyone owns a part of the end business, but I can understand that government regulations would make that difficult if not impossible.

The way I see it if you're funding the research and development of a product then you're entitled to more than just the final product - it could not have happened without you, and you've taken on a burden of risk with missed deadlines, and you might not even see the final product at all. If this was just about buying and owning products alone that can be done WITHOUT Kickstarter.

Unfortunately it seems most Kickstarter people just want the money to churn out a product and to keep everything else for themselves. After investment is complete the investors are pretty much treated with disdain, nothing more than a mailing list to spam with "Hey support this other cool Kickstarter!" posts and not much about the product itself, no matter how much community interaction was promised beforehand.

Barring a change in Kickstarter policy though it's impossible to stop closed source because until a critical mass of people refuse to find closed source projects and make it clear it's because of a lack of software freedom, the money will keep rolling in and there is little incentive aside from goodwill to change the status quo :-/

With that said Kickstarter could be amazing and some people still do amazing things (Global Village Construction Set anyone?) but on the whole it's a cesspit that goes against the ideals of social crowdfunding.

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