Can We Stop Freaking Out About Kickstarter?
Over the past couple of weeks, two high profile Kickstarter campaigns have hit the proverbial rocks. The first was Haunts, a lovely top-down haunted house strategy game, funded in August, which hit numerous development snags. The other was Shaker, to be developed by Tom Hall and Brenda Braithwaite, an old-school, first person RPG, whose campaign was closed despite having raised a quarter of a million dollars.
Internet commentary on the topic has been doom and gloom. “A Kickstarter failed! Holy crap! The bubble’s burst!”
Up front: I backed both of these projects. Haunts combined my appreciate of horror and tactical games, and Shaker delighted me once they announced the game’s weird premise (and Tom Hall made Anachronox, one of my favorites). I’ve followed both of them. And I agree with how Shaker’s gone down: while it convinced me, it wasn’t the world’s best pitch. They could have presented it with more pizzazz.
But does the developers giving up, to launch again, mean Kickstarter failed? No! They gauged interest, and they’ll come back another day, with a better pitch. It’s the reaction to Haunts that is more interesting. Because the reaction in some corners to Haunts seems to be that the game will never release, so Kickstarter has failed.
Having followed their development emails (brief aside: Kickstarter starters, stop sending out updates every five minutes. I don’t need to know you just bought a Choco Taco so productivity will soon increase. I really don’t), I always got the sense Haunts was in the weeds. It carried with it the problem of a lot of smaller, more adventurous Kickstarters. Look, we know Obsidian’s going to make a good game with four million dollars: this isn’t because they’re Obsidian, but instead because they’re making a game they’ve made before. Double Fine will succeed for likely the same reasons.
Haunts developer Mob Rule Games aren’t exactly talent-poor: Rick Dakan designed City of Heroes. That’s not a bush league accomplishment, right there. The difference is that Haunts isn’t the same game again: it’s taking the competitive turn based strategy concept and transitioning it into a more narrative, suspenseful thing. I could compare it to popular board game Mansions of Madness, but not to much in the video game world.
What I’m saying is, success isn’t guaranteed. Kickstarter isn’t a preorder platform, not entirely. It’s a platform to say, “I want this game to be made,” and taking a risk on that. I’ve backed over a dozen games, myself, and while there are some where I’d be upset if the finished project never happened—Project Eternity, I’m looking your way—there are others like the brilliantly weird Moon Intern and the delightful Sealark that I may never, ever see.
And inherent to Kickstarter is the idea that you have to be okay with that. There’s a place next to the big name nostalgia trips for new ideas, for developers without significant experience looking for cash to make novel contributions to video games. Project Giana, which is currently releasing, is a good example; so is next week’s Phantasmaburbia (shameless plug: watch for a review in this space next week from yours truly). These are games that might not exist without Kickstarter, which are undeniably enriched by the experience.
So you know what? Maybe Haunts will never exist in a form I can play—I’m not counting on it—but that’s fine. We spent our money, and we gave some cool dudes the opportunity to try to make a unique video game. Success or no, it was an idea worth backing, worth exploring.