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.