Not very long after adventure game legend Tim Schafer proposed resurrecting a long-dormant genre, and made a ton of money for doing it, another long-dormant kind of game – this time an 80’s RPG – did something similar.
The amount of money Brian Fargo and his Wasteland team has already made is raising eyebrows. Where did all these people come from? And why are they spending so much money on a game (and franchise) that proper publishers didn’t want to be a part of?
The answer is simple. Because nobody is making, or more importantly, no publisher is funding, the games they want to play. Or the games they want to keep playing.
The mainstream video games industry moves at a breakneck pace. A genre that’s topping the charts one year might be dead in the water only a few short years later. It’s a fate that fans of flight simulators, space combat sims, real-time strategy games and World War Two shooters will only be too well aware of.
Once a booming genre starts to run out of steam, it can be swiftly and suddenly abandoned, publishers sensing that a game which went from five million sales to two million sales is a has-been. Old hat.
What they’re over-looking is that two million people were still buying them. And that there may be millions more out there who were fans of a genre, or franchise, who dropped off along the way as a series progressed and changed in pursuit of relevance and sales.
That can, and obviously is if Schafer and Fargo’s Kickstarter achievements are anything to go by, be a sizeable market. One that’s perfectly suited to the grass-roots kind of development effort the service encourages, that’s able to tap into an established fanbase, one which doesn’t need to be sold on a style of game or the talents of the developers involved.
I bet if Larry Holland, of X-Wing and Tie Fighter fame, opened a Kickstarter project tomorrow for a space combat game, he’d get a similar response. Ditto for Wing Commander’s Chris Roberts, or Ken and Roberta Williams, the driving forces behind many of Sierra’s classic adventure games.
There are still millions of people out there who still want games like that, and there would be tens of thousands of fans willing to kick in money based solely on the chosen genre and talent involved.
Compare that to the Kickstarter project of Christian Allen. This is a guy who has worked on some big, recent shooters, and who wants to make an “old school tactical shooter”. He has made…$48,000 at time of posting. He can call it “old school” all he wants, but the words “tactical shooter” sound like the kind of game that gets released every few months on a current generation console, which in turn – and regardless of the kind of game he has in mind or its chances of success – reduces the effectiveness of his campaign.
It’s sad, and can be brutal, but that’s how Kickstarter is going to work, at least for video games that need any sizeable amount of money (as in, anything more than an indie game that only needs $US10-$20,000). Despite what it actually is – and what it’s pitched as makes it sound cool – Allen’s game sounds like something we’re getting already from publishers.
His other problem is that, while he’s got some great games to his credit, the name “Christian Allen” isn’t one consumers are familiar with. Since the service relies on people putting money down with almost nothing but a pitch and a name to go on, they’re going to go with what they know. And what they know is the people they already know and the games they grew up on.
I contributed to Schafers campaign. And would do so for every single one of the examples I listed above, and many many more. I know the style of game is one I enjoy, and I know the people involved are capable of making the kind of game I enjoy. That’s an easy sell.
But somebody promising the kind of game we’re already getting? No way. We’re already getting those games. And somebody promising something new is as unlikely to get my money, because I have no idea how capable a developer some upstart kid is, and I’ve likely got nothing to convince me that their idea on what would be the best game ever would be better than my idea for the best game ever.
I’m not saying this is a problem. In fact, I hope other people with their eyes on the service agree and ensure that’s how it shakes down. Because if it ends up being a useful and successful means for consumers to get the kind of games they want that they’re not being given by major publishers, then everybody wins.