Why Kickstarter Is Best For Old Games & Dead Genres

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.


Comments

    I like old school tac shooters but I don't miss them especially. I would happily stump up proper money for a serious space flight sim right now.

    "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"

    If you actually bothered to do your job, you would know that he doesn't want to make another, what activision calls 'tactical shooter'.
    He wants to make literal meaning of the word.

    A quote from another article on Kotaku: "Allen wants to make a shooter. An old-school tactical shooter (first person or third) like he used to develop at Red Storm. A game like the old Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon. (Here’s his Kickstarter entry for it: Crowdsourced Hardcore Tactical Shooter.)

    The other Kotaku article: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/03/christian-allen-wants-to-make-an-old-school-shooter-that-publishers-dont-think-you-want/

    I don't know how stable this model is in the long term, people have signed up with the expectation of a point and click but as soon as it's announced that it's set in the old west or space there will be a massive uproar from some of community.
    Also since the developers are being funded up front, they don't have to answer to anyone and can treat the whole thing as an experiment. I mean they know what they are doing but if they required this game to make a profit in the end then every decision would come down to "is this decision in the best interests of the player/customer?" not "why don't we try sticking in that game mechanic I always thought was cool but frustated testers"

      You say this like the variety is going to be a bad thing. Just like before massive publishing houses, some things will work, some things won't. Industries don't develop by cycling through the same stuff all the time. Someone has to branch out and find things that work. This is a way to do it without fear of bankruptcy on the developer's part.

    Problem with the model is entitlement. Gamers already feel entitled to have a say in how games are developed, now they are helping developers start up games so they're going to feel like they should have some say in how their money is used.

      Well to be fair on them, that was exactly what was pitched to them with the double fine adventure

    The reason why I'll be waiting for the finished products instead of contributing upfront is the uncertainty on my part of whether the game will be good or not. What if the game has some game breaking bugs or it's not what I thought I wanted (I've enjoyed most Tim Schafer games but not all of them).
    I'll do my part in promoting the kickstarter efforts but I prefer to wait until the game is out before I can support the developers.

    I think Christian Allen just needs to sell his concept better, he calls his Kickstarter a Hardcore Tactical Shooter and that sounds pretty generic, like every other game that is out there.

    But when you read deeper into his kickstarter it sounds like he wants to make a game like the original Rainbow 6, which if anyone played would know is definitely not like the shooters on the market at the moment. It involved planning and patience, it was a thinking man's shooter where one bullet could kill you.

    If Christian presented his game design not as 'Hardcore Tactical Shooter' and more like 'Rainbow 6 spiritual successor', or 'Realtime Frozen Synapse FPS' (bad examples, I know) I think people would understand the game he is trying to make right away and misunderstand it as just another game that we are already getting.

      *and NOT misunderstand it as just another game that we are already getting.

    Allen's game didn't interest me for the reasons Luke gave. I'd rather resurrect something I actually miss.. a new Planescape, a Vampire Bloodlines or a new Freelancer.

      If Troika's game devs did a kickstarter for Vampire, I'd donate $5,000.

        There's already 2 vampire the masqerade games, we need a Werewolf, Mage or Wraith game

        Shame they'd probably need a million just to get the licence

    I really like the idea of space flight simulators making a comeback (Star Wars/TIE Fighter/ ) not so much for more shooters. Point and Click is great.

    MOAR combat space sims! I've got a Descent/Freespace itch that needs scratching!

    Good on you Luke liked the article!! =)

    I'd seriously put up $1k for a new ecco game

      Hell yeah!
      But I'd prefer a new Alex Kidd or Streets of Rage. :D

    I chipped in for Wasteland 2 since I knew the kind of thing I'd be getting but the last Schafer game I bought on his name alone was ruined by taking a fantastic metal themed game and turning it into a console rts halfway through. Realistically speaking I have no doubt that I'll buy it as soon as it comes out but the lack of specific information was just enough to stall me from funding it.

    I'd happily fork over a fair chunk of cash for a Holland space sim or Freespace 3

      Yeah the fact that Schafer thinks Brutal Legend wasn't a shitty game is a little disturbing. Everybody I knew was expecting Heavy Metal Zelda they got a mechanically horrible RTS with subpar action elements.
      That said still donated for Adventure Game. Pretty sure that it's impossible to mess up point and click.

        Personally I thought that brutal legend was a fantastic game until it turned, the demo was good enough for me to overcome my deeply rooted hatred of jack black and buy the game but of course the demo didn't feature the rts parts...

    Look, I'm just going to put this out here: I would do things for a new TIE Fighter game. *Things*. Horrible, unspeakable things that would keep me awake in a pool of my own tears for years to come.

    A Kickstarter for that, or Freespace 3 in a pinch, would keep me from living with oh-so-worth-it guilt for the rest of my life.

    i want someone to bring back the Street rod game!

    The last two paragraphs highlights the major concerns I have with Kickstarter.

    1) You are more likely to invest if it is a big name developer doing more of something they already do.
    2) You aren't as likely to invest in someone relatively untested.
    3) You aren't likely to invest in something that is attempting to try new things with mainstream genres.
    4) You aren't as likely to invest in new ideas unless someone famous says "It's fully sick". (Like Thorpey!)

    What this results in is Kickstarter being just a playground for famous names who want to make more of the games they are already famous for without the stigma of publishers.

    Although that's a pessimistic look at it, given that lately it's all about Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo doing great guns and a relatively unknown Christian Allen doing poorly and absolutely no mention of the Average Joes succeeding, it's not hard to see why one would draw such a conclusion.

    The whole tiered reward scheme is a little counter-productive as well. It's a lot harder for someone starting out to offer enticing rewards than a person with a long history of games, assets and fame by association to provide motivation for people to fund them.

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