Why I’m Not Backing Project Eternity

We can all agree that Kickstarter has done some pretty amazing things for videogames. It’s given small developers whose projects would normally get eaten alive by EA or Activision the chance to circumvent the Machine and acquire resources they otherwise wouldn’t normally have to make and sell their game, oftentimes directly involving their supporters with things like access to developer forums or a spot in the credits. Congratulations, you’ve helped defeat videogame capitalism and won the day!

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for major publishers to realize the insane money making potential of Kickstarter and come along and remind us why we can’t have nice things.

The bubble started really inflating with Double Fine Adventure, the point-and-click adventure from Double Fine that asked backers for $400,000 and made over $3 million. While the prospect of major developers using grassroots distribution seemed like a Brave New World for videogames, we quickly hit Kickstarter Saturation, with everybody from the smallest devs with no track records to Wasteland Fucking 2 appealing to our wallets and our communitarian spirits.

The newest high profile Start waiting to be Kicked comes from Obsidian, with their ominously-named Project Eternity. This was, predictably, met with much fanboy furor and has at the time of this writing pulled in over $2 million.  While I’m a fan of classic cRPGs, my reaction was less wide-eyed and more eye-roll.

Eye-Roll #1: Does Obsidian really need to be “kickstarted?”
If you’ve heard of Obsidian before, it’s because they’re responsible for almost all of the smash-hit cRPGs from the 90′s. These guys practically invented the videogame RPG. With all their success and pedigree (and, you know, money), it’s a legitimate question to ask if Obsidian really needs our money. It looks an awful lot like they’re trying to take advantage of a system so they can make a game risk-free without having to wager their own money. I mean just look at this Kickstarter trailer. Look at it, and tell me that a company that can afford that kind of production value on a Kickstarter trailer needs our help to pay for a game.

Eye-Roll #2: Kickstarter is just a blind preorder system.
Take a look at that snazzy Project Eternity trailer. Watch all 6 minutes of its highly produced shininess and then tell me what the hell that game actually is. Apart from “a cRPG-style game reminiscent of the Infinity Engine games,” we know almost nothing about it, and yet we’re expected to readily shell out $20 EARLY, just for a digital copy. Not only that, but the project’s “stretch goals” include things like “a player house” or a “DRM-free option” – things that will get added in only if increasing increments of $200,000 are met. There is a huge difference between using extra money to help improve your game and literally holding things over the players’ heads (really? making us pay extra for the option to have the game DRM-free?) in an attempt to get more people to fork over more dollars on something that we’ve to-date seen exactly nothing on.

Eye-Roll #3: They’re ruining it for everyone else.
Did you really think for a second that Obsidian wouldn’t meet their Kickstarter goal? They have a ravenous fanbase who hungrily gulps up everything they produce just because it has their name on it. Unfortunately, while Obsidian can sell a gajillion units of a game that’s barely even conceptualized yet solely on their name alone, their efforts take attention away from smaller projects that actually need the publicity and the attention (and the money). They seem to have forgotten, or just don’t care, that Kickstarter is a platform for people to level their playing fields, not just a nifty new digital distribution platform for them to exploit, and in so doing they’re trampling underfoot the very purpose of what Kickstarter is supposed to help represent: shining the spotlight on cool projects that deserve attention even though they don’t have a top-tier gaming pedigree behind them.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that Project Eternity will be a bad game. In fact I’m sure it will be great. Just look at the team they’ve got working on it! But its greatness is kind of a foregone conclusion, at least in the eyes of many fans. As such, it’s hard to see their recent foray into crowdsourced funding as anything other than a gimmick to generate hype, produce a game risk-free, and make obscene amounts of money.

  • sesobebo

    when You’re done with this fiction, try some actual reading :D http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/blockbuster-effects

  • hoverdog

    such bullshit.

    >Eye-Roll #1: Does Obsidian really need to be “kickstarted?”

    yes, because no publisher is or in the foreseeable future will be willing to support and release an ‘old-school’, pc-exclusive cRPG. Have been living the last ten years under a rock or something?

    Eye-Roll #2: Kickstarter is just a blind preorder system.

    since when is drm-free a stretch goal? also, those goals do *not* cost 200k each, there are merely points of interest to keep the kickstarting going after breaking the primary goal. FYI, even indie games like Eisenwald or Expeditions with 50k or so goals had their own stretch goals.

    Eye-Roll #3: They’re ruining it for everyone else.

    the same was said for double fine, and then for wasteland 2 and even Shadowrun. Yet several games proved it wrong: banner saga, xenonauts, legends of eisenwald, FTL, and many others. Contrary to that statement: many of those would not be funded (or even put on kickstarter) were it not for the blockbusters that made the public aware.

    tl;dr: hipster butthurt detected.

  • Grimlorn

    Wow you’re a retard. Publishers won’t fund this game. That’s why they can’t make it. Keep running your mouth dumbfuck.

  • Hobz

    “All their money” ? can you give us a source for that statement ? Do you really think they have the founds to publish a 2-3 millions game without some sort of financial support ? Plus DRM-free was never a stretch goal.

    How can you write an article we you are so clueless, do you plan to write something on why quantic physics is bad next time ?

    • Patrick Lindsey

      Hi there!

      Thanks for reading. Citing the Kickstarter page, a DRM-free option was in fact a stretch goal – as it’s listed in the “Stretch goals met” portion of the page, along with things like a Mac/Linux port and extra content.

      As for the “money” portion – it’s not entirely speculation. New Vegas alone pulled in $300 Million of revenue (read: profit), and that’s just for one game, not counting the fact that both Neverwinter Nights II and KOTOR II were both also “bestsellers” (KOTOR II going platinum, or 1 million units just in Xbox sales). So it’s not a stretch to think that the company has achieved financial success with their recent games.

      • Grimlorn

        First of all they don’t publish games. Publishers reap most, if not all, the profits. They also get ownership of the IP.

        Obsidian got a flat fee for New Vegas no royalties. Bethesda got all the profit from the game.

        And the article below sums up their financial situation. You have no idea what’s going on.

      • Hobz

        Hi,

        Regarding the DRM-free even though it’s misplaced in stretch goals met it is was not one actually, but yeah the mistake’s on them.

        As for the money, as others have said, sadly developing successful games dose not translate in financial success.

        In reality, publishers are the one getting the lion’s share, developers often get a flat fee because, more often then not, they’re not really in position to negotiate.

        You may see this somewhat successful and well known studio on kickstarter and wonder”WTF are they doing here, KS is for indies” but it’s more complicated than that.

        1) Bringing attention to KS itself through big projects with lots of fan is good for everybody. As a very week example, I wouldn’t have backed so many projects if I hadn’t registered to back Wasteland 2 in the first place. Without those big hits, there wouldn’t be a weekly article on RPS bringing dedicaded to bring some promising KS projects to the lights : http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/09/22/kickstarter-katchup-21st-september-2012/

        2) What other way than KS is there for a talented, but not financialy independant studio to:
        - Keep the profits of their game for themselves
        - Keep their IP
        - Create the project the way the envision it
        - Develop a game publishers don’t want to finance because it’s not worth their time money-wise.
        The only solution other than kickstarting i see is self-publishing, which might be possible for future games, thanks to the profit of project eternity if it’s successful enough.

        3) Because.

      • http://www.facebook.com/denizsi Cihan Deniz

        You are horribly ignorant and illiterate on this particular subject to write anything about this, I’m afraid. You just needed to have read a few post-release interviews with Obsidian people about their past games to get an idea. But here is a quick list for you:

        - Obsidian is financially dependent on publishers. They need to be doing at least two projects at any given time simply to be able to survive.

        - Their best seller to date is New Vegas which they developed on commission but they don’t get a single cent from the actual sales. Apparently, they had a deal to be paid a bonus IF they scored 85+ on MetaCritic -which they didn’t-. They get absolutely no royalties from all the 5 millions+ units sold.

        - Not much different regarding their past popular and successful titles. They don’t own the IP of a single game they have developed. They have always developed for somebody else’s, paid in commission and get minuscule royalties from past titles, if any at all. At any rate, what they get from royalties is not enough for them survive on their own without publisher funding.

        - It’s pretty much common knowledge now that it’s nigh impossible to get a “old school” game funded by any reliable publisher. What old school means in this context is up for discussion but if have any familiarity with RPGs, you will know.

        - See the point about IP ownership again: even if they found a publisher to fund their game, they would end up losing the IP. The only original IP they have developed is Alpha Protocol which now belongs to SEGA due to the publisher contract and because the game sold abysmally, they can not even develop a sequel under that title unless SEGA wants it too.

        - Likewise with royalties.

        - Yet more significant, publisher model means publisher intervention on development. Publishers almost always impose the changes they want on any project they are funding. It’s in the nature of this type of dynamic. Even if Obsidian were able to find a publisher for their game, they would have to hand over various design decisions to supervisors from their publisher, as has been the case in the past.

        So why does Obsidian need a Kickstarter Project again?
        - Because they don’t have the financial status to do it by themselves without taking huge risk that could sink the whole ship.
        - Because they want full royalties, not a beggar’s share or a measly commission
        - Because they want to be in full control of their own IP without answering to anyone.
        - Because they want to make the kinds of design decisions that would get shot down or bent out of shape by publishers.

        - Because they want to make a game without having to answer to a higher authority.

        As for Obsidian’s Kickstarter project, it has many problems of its own, making it questionable for a lot of people but it’s for entirely different reasons, related to the Obsidian’s Kickstarter strategy.

        I can only hope you aren’t misinforming your readers so in your other blog posts.

  • yargh

    http://www.gamebanshee.com/news/107270-obsidian-entertainment-layoffs-project-cancelled.html

    yeah, they’re so rich they can’t even afford to pay themselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daan.vandoorn.16 Daan van Doorn

    ‘It looks an awful lot like they’re trying to take advantage of a
    system so they can make a game risk-free without having to wager their
    own money’

    What own money? Obsidian is constantly working under contracts for publishers, who take most of the money made from sales. Alpha Protocol didn’t sell well, Dungeon Siege 3 doesn’t seem that much of a success and they didn’t get a bonus from Bethesda because New Vegas’s metacritic score wasn’t high enough. Do you really think they can afford to fund an RPG out of their own pocket?

  • Dualhammers

    “They seem to have forgotten, or just don’t care, that Kickstarter is a platform for people to level their playing fields, not just a nifty new digital distribution platform for them to exploit, and in so doing they’re trampling underfoot the very purpose of what Kickstarter is supposed to help represent: shining the spotlight on cool projects that deserve attention even though they don’t have a top-tier gaming pedigree behind them.”

    My only thought is regarding this line. I agree that Kickstarter is a great way for small games and unknown developers to get noticed, but we must not forget that it also serves the purpose of providing an alternative to publisher funding.

    Even if Obisidion could get funding from someone like EA, shouldn’t we encourage them not to? Isn’t the goal to end the harsh system imposed by publishers on developers? That means that even the big names must find a way to self-finance and self-publish. If we’d like there to be a second Kickstarter just for name brands, fine, but until we find a third option, the choice between funding your project via upfront purchases and funding your project using loans from publishers is going to remain.