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.

Comments

Matt Barton
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This is very well stated,

This is very well stated, Cody.

The thing that bothers me the most about this is that instead of entering into a true collaboration with the community, many developers are choosing to maintain the simplistic producer/consumer model. I like the idea of a crowd-publishing model rather than a crowd-funding model, since the first implies some kind of shared responsibility and decision-making, whereas the latter is just about money.

No publisher I know just gives developers money with no expectation other than a finished product at some indefinite point in the future. At least, none that last very long.

I'm really surprised (unpleasantly) to read about the LSL debacle above. That's a painfully clear sign to me that there's still a huge patronizing attitude from these devs towards gamers--oh, trust us, WE know what we're talking about, kiddo--it was the RIGHT thing to do. No, the right thing to do would be go to the community that funded you and get their input. Treat them with some actual goddamn respect.

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Shawn Delahunty
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Good distinction Matt

I'm glad you make the distinction between a 'publishing model' and a 'funding model', because I think that's at the heart of our debate here. I'm far less comfortable than you seem to be with the idea of 'crowd publishing'; mostly for reasons others have already pointed out:

- How on Earth do you weigh each person's ideas, concepts, and input? Donate $25, get a 0.1% vote? Donate $500 and get a full 1% vote?
- How do you break down the voting? By game feature? By gameplay mechanic? By color of the cleric's hat? How deeply do you delve into the details?
- How much of the pledged money do you allocate to the activities of: "soliciting backer inputs", "allowing sufficient/adequate time for backers to respond to a voting opportunity on a feature", "iterating on concepts suggested by backers" (but not clearly defined).... versus actually making the game?

I'm sure you can see where I'm headed with this. As the saying goes: "There are 2 things in life, where you don't ever want to know how they're made--one is sausages, the other is the law." Given all the fine details that would have to be argued (just like in Law or Government), I think that a Kickstarter game offering shared responsibility and decision-making to the backers, would yield a whole truckload of Jimmy Dean's Breakfast links.

I freely admit I could be wrong here. It would be an interesting experiment, to set up a Kickstarter project as you propose, and see what came of it.

But as a developer, I personally will never participate in any game or software project which is structured like that. If I'm setting up a project that I love, trying to get a business off the ground, putting in all the sweat and labor, it's going to follow the vision I have. "Too many cooks, spoil the broth..." and all that. What you're proposing sounds completely un-fun to me. I fight more than enough "software by committee" at my day-job.

And even if I agreed to chip in some dough for a project organized like that, purely out of intellectual curiosity to see if it could be done, it would be with the honest expectation that the thing will never yield anything playable, much less fun.

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Matt Barton
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Good points, Shawn, here and

Good points, Shawn, here and the other posts. That also goes for several of the posters here; I'm glad that people feel comfortable disagreeing with me on this stuff. Just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean I think less of you.

I think that the idea of a "crowd-publishing" model isn't as chaotic as all this. Indeed, I think that legitimate criticism and ideas coming from your target demographic would be far more valuable in the long run than their money! Imagine, for instance, if you were trying to open up a new restaurant in your hometown. As soon you mention the idea, you start getting inundated with requests, comments, suggestions, etc., and get a crystal clear picture of the type of place your market wants and would be willing to support. Question: What kind of nitwit would choose to ignore all that, and instead, out of arrogance and pride, open up a completely different type of place? Answer: A bankrupt one.

If there's one thing I've learned from watching so much Gordon Ramsey--you've got to keep the ego down and actually listen, and respond, to all negative criticism. Just shrugging something off immediately as illegitimate or mean-spirited is childish. Granted, there are the occasional trolls who will lie--or just be so far off base that they don't warrant attention. But my guess is that most of us are much, much to quick to rush to judgment on the critic and ignore his or her comments just because they injure our pride. This injury can range from simple insults (i.e., someone calling me an asshat), or something more profound, such as someone telling me I'd have a better show if I cut my hair and abandoned the drinking horn segment. These last two are probably true, but I feel (foolishly, perhaps) that doing so would alter who I am. Would I still care about the show if I felt like it was no longer mine, really, but I was just somebody's puppet? If the answer is "no," then it's obvious why my show still languishes in the "unknown" category compared to more hipper ones. Entirely my fault. I cannot legitimately complain about being a lack of views while at the same time refusing to do the obvious things to rectify that.

I don't see much difference with these Kickstarters. There's definitely a point where the fanbase might ask for changes that you feel compromise your whole project, or take it in a direction you don't want to go. If I were doing one on a turn-based CRPG and somebody asked me to make it a shooter-style game like Skyrim, for example, I'd just say no way; let somebody else do that. But, if I went down the line and assumed that all of my decisions were Right and I shouldn't listen to anyone, then I'd be headed for failure. What I should do is welcome all suggestions and really and truly consider them, keeping an open mind and being willing to change despite my pride if, in my heart of hearts, I knew they were right. On Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares you see time and time again; the owners or chefs are too attached to a bad idea. They need (as Sandy Petersen put it) to kill their babies. I think a big difference between a failure and a successful novelist, chef, game designer, or whatever, is that the best ones are able to do that, whereas the worst just won't let go until it's too late, blaming everything from pirates to poor timing to whatever--they just can't accept responsibility for not listening.

Too many cooks do spoil the broth. But a cook who won't listen to his customers' complaints spoils the restaurant.

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Tom S. (not verified)
I just wanted to weigh in on

I just wanted to weigh in on the great conversation. so here are my 2 cents.

I view contributing to a Kickstarter project as a donation. I am not an shareholder or an investor. It is the same (in my mind) as chipping in money to the Red Cross, PBS, etc. receiving a copy of the finished product when it is completed is just a "thank-you gift / tote bag" for donating. I truly don't understand the view that we are investors or shareholders and entitled to make demands about the creative process. Just look to the Wasteland 2 development forums to see proof of this entitlement and the tumult it is creating. Let the artist create their art.

As for the release of source code, perhaps it should be made available to the community sometime after release of the finished product. Allowing time for sales etc. so that the possibility of source code related piracy will be minimized.

Coyote (not verified)
Dread!

As bad as publishers can be, I would dread seeing them replaced by a committee of 8,000+ fans all demanding their say.

I think Kickstarter has done wonders for changing how games *can* be made and the relationship between a game studio and its audience, but if backers start getting this kind of attitude, it's going to poison things pretty rapidly.

TBH, I'm a little ambivalent about the whole crowdfunding thing in the first place - I get annoyed when I see crappy proposals with smoke & mirrors get more money than finished products, mainly. But I'm also thrilled for any system that provides funding for indies, so they can bypass the gatekeepers and go direct to fans. And I think the studio is obligated to not only provide the promised rewards, but to provide some reasonable level of visibility into the process (basically being accountable for what they are doing with the backer's money). But beyond that, NOTHING. If backers start acting like an army of petty dictators demanding undue attention for their $50 or whatever donation, it's going to destroy the system.

I saw this happen with GarageGames and the Torque engine. They thought they were doing a wonderful thing, providing a full-fledged game engine (in the early 2000s) for a price that almost anybody could afford... mow a few lawns, and any kid could become the proud owner of the same game engine that powered many hit Sierra games of a few years earlier. They thought the community would be pleased and understanding that at this bargain basement price (when similar engines, like Quake 3, were being licensed for hundreds of thousands of dollars PER TITLE), it was going to be scaled down support.

For some professionals, yeah. But for many people diving into the engine, they got pretty demanding of premium support in return for their $100. I don't know how big of a problem this became, but some of those voices could be pretty strident.

Anonymous (not verified)
This is the most ignorent

This is the most ignorent rant I have ever read. if you dont want to support a kickstarter you DONT PLEDGE ASSHAT.

Only a idiot would give away there code, since then anybody could rip them off in a new york second. real programmers need to earn a living to support a family, not support a bunch of pirates and free loaders . as far as drm goes it can be done badly, but you need it to make a living with games. These guys know this better then anybody, they would not to do a kickstarter if everbody didnt pirate there games. why do you think apple store xla, steam is so popular?

The level of ignorence here is apalling.

Shawn Delahunty
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Go away troll
Anonymous wrote:

....*cowardly foul-mouthed garbage snipped*...

The level of ignorence here is apalling.

Not nearly as ignorant and appalling as the provably incorrect drivel found in your childish, cowardly, anonymous post.

  1. Only idiots give away code, hmm? Tell that to Linus Torvalds, RedHat, id software.... I could go on for a while.
  2. You need DRM to make a living in games? BZZZT! Wrong. SpiderwebSoftware, GOG.com, Basilisk Games, Humble Bundles.... the list goes on.
  3. They need Kickstarter to offset piracy? BZZZT! Wrong yet again. They need Kickstarter to fund unusual concepts or what main-line studios are afraid to touch.
  4. Why are various high-profile, heavily advertised, highly integrated, polished, mostly console/dedicated-device portals popular? Oh, gee... let me go out on a limb here. Maybe because they provide an outlet with a decent chance of getting games in front of millions of potential customers? Maybe because they have a level of pre-screening that keeps a lot of garbage competition out? Maybe because they do promotions and tie-ins and integrations with social media? I could continue here as well, but the popularity of those portals (as opposed to Kickstarter, which is a funding method) certainly isn't because they offer "Really whizzy nifty DRM--Now with Extra-Lockdown!"

I find it pathetic that you are the one displaying the blind ignorance. You presume to have standing or authority to lecture someone else:

Anonymous wrote:

...if you dont want to support a kickstarter you DONT PLEDGE ---deleted---.

and feel you must do so in an insulting manner as well. To give you a taste of your own medicine:

If you don't like the discussion here, DON'T READ IT SWEETCHEEKS.

How'd that feel?

If you have something constructive to add, a counter-point to debate, or another supportable viewpoint, we're all up for a good discussion. If all you have is vitriol and unreasoned assertions, go away.

(I know I shouldn't even bother responding to this twit, but I've had a really BAD day, and I'm not about to put up with another twerp.)

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Jake (not verified)
The game is enough for me

Matt,

The primary benefit of funding games via Kickstarter is just being able to see the project itself come to light. We are wrestling control away from publishers in order to be able to play games we would otherwise never get to play.

Those other things are great and I would applaud any developer that decided to release source, assets, tools, etc - but let's not lose sight of the big picture. It's about the games.

David Nielsen (not verified)
An example of crowdfunding with code sharing

Since there is a desire to have code sharing from crowdfunded games I'd like to point out Train Fever which is not on Kickstarter (but uses Gamebitious which is similar). It is an investment, so you will get your money back plus a share of the profits. The game runs on all major desktop platforms (though Linux at the point the question was answered lacked a distribution channel, this should be handled with Steam being on Linux now). Finally the developer is positively inclined towards sharing the code in the same vein as ID Software has done in the past after the game has lived its commercial life. This in fact is mentioned as a specific possibility rising from the fact that crowdfunding lets them retain ownership of all the IP, making them the sole people to decide such things. No mention of sharing of assets though.

http://www.train-fever.com/

It's a really cool looking modern Transport Tycoon Deluxe style game, I highly recommend watching the alpha gameplay video and investing.

Shawn Delahunty
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Very neat

Thanks for bringing this project to our attention David! I've got a friend who will love this... I wasn't personally aware of Gamebitious before this either.

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