During the 1980’s, as video games were first becoming popular and widespread, there was a standard image of game makers: a couple of guys, sitting in their mom’s basement, intensely typing away at a computer screen. Obviously, this is a completely ridiculous notion; plenty of those developers owned their own basement. Either way, though, it was not uncommon that games at the time could be made both cheaply and by relatively few people. However, as game consoles have become more powerful, gamers have demanded more from developers; longer games, more options, better graphics and sound, etc. As a result the amount of effort that goes into making a game, along with its overall cost, goes through the roof. It has gotten to the point that the most popular franchises have to sell millions of copies just to break even. A recent example of this was Tomb Raider, which was considered a disappointment by Square Enix, in spite of moving over 3.4 million units in a single month. Such expectations have caused many publishers to avoid green-lighting risky projects or new IP’s, preferring instead to go with safe bets like Call of Duty, Madden, or Mario.
In order to gain more creative freedom with their games, some publishers and companies have turned to alternative means of distribution and funding. One of the newest and most interesting of these methods is crowdfunding, or basically getting paid up front in order to make a game. By doing this, developers are basically testing the waters, gauging public interest in their ideas. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. From the game maker’s perspective, this provides them with capital up front. Where once a pet project might force months or years worth of work without the promise of success, now creators have the money they need in order to dedicate the time and energy their projects need. From gamer’s perspective, it gives the general public a golden opportunity; a chance to give input into the actual game development process. The more intimate nature of crowdfunding means that forums have an even greater role for discussing ideas, and oftentimes the use of stretch goals allows projects that have a lot of support to become even better. One of the most well-known crowdfunding websites is Kickstarter, which has received a lot of press recently due to a number very high profile projects that have made several times their asking prices.
Of course, that’s not to say that turning to crowdfunding is a sure path to success. There are a number of dangers and problems with the system, and apply just as much to both sides of the equation. For the potential creators, an unexpected issue that arises is actually the money itself. After factoring in the percentage that the website takes and taking into account the cost for making and shipping the rewards that many projects offer, many companies find themselves with less than they expected. The stretch goals, while very exciting on paper, often represent a large amount of work, and without proper management, its easy for promises to get out of hand. Not even the largest, most successful teams are immune to this danger, as we’ll see a bit later. As for the players, its easy to forget this, but a contributing to a Kickstarter is not the same as buying a game. At best, it is more of an investment, as the public is paying simply for the promise of the finished product. If the developer fails to deliver on their promises, there aren’t any legal requirements for them to make it up with their backers. It has not happened yet with any really large projects, but the first time that happens, you can bet there will be serious repercussions on how crowdfunding continues.
With that in mind, here are a few of the games that we’ll be keeping an eye on. These projects have met their funding goals, but haven’t released yet.
Broken Age – Double Fine Productions (834% Funded)
Without question the most well-known Kickstarter game, this brainchild of Tim Schafer and the rest of team at Double Fine is testiment that, despite what major publishers would have you believe, people do, in fact, want to play point and click adventure games. With the talent behind some of the most beloved games in the genre, they certainly have the talent and knowledge to deliver, and everything they’ve shown has been very impressive. However, the project might have bitten off a bit more than it could chew, and Schafer has since announced they will be releasing the game on Steam Early Access in order to get more money before the final due date. Even so, I can’t wait to see the final product, and it can’t come soon enough.
Massive Chalice – Double Fine Productions (169% Funded)
While part of Double Fine is busy working on Broken Age, the rest of the company decided that they wanted to do something completely different. The result is Massive Chalice, an ambitious, squad-based strategy game that takes inspiration from X-COM, Fire Emblem, and Game of Thrones. Players must protect a kingdom by managing their soldiers both on and off the battlefield. The promise of a randomized challenge every game and being in control of your warriors’ families through multiple generations has me very excited to see how this one turns out. Due Fall of 2014, it seems I still have quite a long wait.
Mercenary Kings – Tribute Games (155% Funded)
A precision, Metal Slug-style action platformer by the creators of the Scott Pilgrim game? With amazing sprite artwork by Paul Robertson? Sign me up! Mercenary Kings promises to also include a detailed weapon crafting system, which will allow players to upgrade all parts of their arsenal to craft the biggest badass possible. Due out soon, the game was released on Steam Early Access at the end of July, and I’ve heard nothing but good things.
Auditorium 2: Duet – Cipher Prime (118% Funded)
The original Auditorium was a flash game that impressed with its minimalist style, intuitive interface, and very catchy mechanics. The sequel, Duet, promises to bring more of everything, as well as improve the user interface and design. The biggest addition, though, is the promise of cooperative play, with much larger fields that will require partners to solve. A few delays have hit the game, however, so musical puzzle fans will have to wait until the end of the year for their next fix.
Project Eternity – Obsidian Entertainment (362% Funded)
Project Eternity is an old-school, isometric RPG, with inspirations being drawn from Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Having raised almost 4 million dollars, its no exaggeration to say expectations are high for this one. Luckily for all of us, the project seems to be in good hands, since Obsidian Entertainment, you know, made those games. This one’s also a ways off, but the graphical engine its running is already very impressive.
Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey – Red Thread Games (181% Funded)
Further proof that the adventure genre is not dead, Dreamfall Chapters is a continuation of the much beloved series, The Longest Journey. Gathering together the team that worked on the previous games, fans will finally receive a bit of resolution to Zoe Castillo’s story. Promising beautiful visuals, multiple detailed worlds, and a riveting story over several episodes, Red Thread Games looks to give Double Fine a run for their money.
Torment: Tides of Numenera – inXile entertainment (465% Funded)
Speaking of Planescape: Torment, a spiritual successor has also recently made its way through the Kickstarter funding process. This isometric computer RPG will be based in the Numenera setting, which is a tabletop game world by Monte Cook. The game promises a rich, meaningful setting and story in which your choices make a real difference in the world. Players will manipulate the Tides, which are based off of and control desires and motivations, in order to craft their own tale and create a legacy. Very impressive pitch, but we’ll have to see if it lives up to it next year.
Welcome to Boon Hill – Matthew Ritter (259% Funded)
On this list so far I’ve included a lot of well known genres being created by respected and storied developers. However, this one is proof that you don’t need to have released a AAA title to gain support. Matthew Ritter’s idea is not what a lot of people would consider a game at all; it has no win condition, no enemies to beat, and no challenges to overcome. In what I’m fairly sure is the first ever graveyard simulator, players are simply asked to explore. By reading tombstones and talking to visitors, you’ll be able to peer in to hundreds of other stories, learning about how the residents lived and died. Its a strange idea, to be sure, but I have to admit that I find myself interested to see the end result.
Project Phoenix – Creative Intelligence Arts, Inc. (1015% Funded)
The most recently funded project on this list, Project Phoenix is the first gaming Kickstarter campaign based out of Japan. Mixing together designs from both Japanese and western RPG’s, this project is extremely ambitious, promising real-time, strategic combat, interesting and engaging characters, and a beautifully realized fantasy world. This group isn’t messing around, either; they’ve signed up some great talent, including the Director from Valkyria Chronicles, artists from Techu and Final Fantasy XIV, modelers from Crysis and Final Fantasy IX, and (easily the most recognizable addition) Nobuo Uematsu, the composer from Final Fantasy “Almost All of Them” (really, the music samples are worth checking out by themselves).
Wow, that was quite a list, wasn’t it? That went on longer than I meant to. However, it just goes to show how much potential Kickstarter has as an alternate means of funding for game makers. In fact, some time in the near future, I’ll put together an article showing some of the games that have been successfully funded, created, and launched with the help crowdfunding. In the mean time, I would like to call attention to two projects that are currently seeking funding. I feel both of these look really cool, and I would recommend giving them a look.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero – WayForward (Currently 67% Funded)
Fresh off of the release of Ducktales: Remastered and currently putting the finishing touches on Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, the talented folks at WayForward would like to introduce their belly-dancing heroine to a new audience. They’ve already worked up a snazzy new art style, and they seem to be aiming to make an origin story for the franchise. Even better is the fact that, due to their constant partnership with all the current platforms, Half-Genie Hero would be releasing on pretty much everything, freeing up stretch goals for extra modes and additional content. If you’re a fan of charming characters and Metroid-style exploration, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Mighty No. 9 – comcept (Currently 232% Funded)
Recently, the shunning of Megaman by Capcom has been a source of unending speculation and frustration to me. In their wake, series creator Keiji Inafune and his crack team of heroes over at Comcept have picked up the slack with Mighty No. 9. An action-platformer that promises all the running, gunning, and ability stealing you can ask for, this is the next generation of Megaman in everything but name only. The people who are working on this game, designers, musicians, artists and directors alike, are people who know the genre inside and out, and its clear that they are on a labor of love with this game. There is literally nothing about this project that I don’t like, aside from the fact that they can’t send the game back in time so that I can play it now.
Have any thoughts or other cool Kickstarter games you want to point out? Please share them in the comments below.