Kickstarter Game Backers: Better or Bust

Fri, May 4, 2012

Casual, Funding, Industry, iPhone, Mobile

In a world where start-up investors outnumber the staffs they fund, it seems we, the people have taken back the power.

Actually, for video games, Kickstarter (and its crowd-sourced funding service brethren) are giving “we the people” the first real power or say-so we’ve ever had, during the development process, before games are too far along for feedback to matter. You hear companies all the time saying they “listen to their customers” and “value your feedback”, but it’s far less often you see companies actually implement any of that feedback into product design.

Why not? WE, after all, are the ones who ultimately purchase, play, use and share the darn things! Before, game development was finished by the time fans found out it was underway. Exceptions are most prevalent in the online gaming space, where developers are responsible for continued content updates post-launch. Plus there are special considerations for monthly subscriptions, microtransactions, and basically every (successful) MMOG revenue model, which make player retention just as important as recruitment. In other words, it’s in every MMO developer’s best interest to listen to fan/player feedback. BUT, they can – and often do – choose not to. Eventually, ignoring fans will decrease revenues and registrations, but nothing prevents established developers from proceeding without regard for players.

Now, with Kickstarter on the other hand, something – a little thing called money – WILL prevent developers from “going on their own way” if their game is crap. If a developer is publicly seeking backers for a new project, but the game has obvious issues like ugly design, unintuitive mechanics or a terrible gameplay concept… That development project probably won’t get funded. To expect otherwise would be along the lines of watching your friend spit out a piece of disgusting food and then answering “yes” when asked if you want a bite.

Oh and okay, just for argument’s sake – let’s say that somehow the terrible gameplay developer’s project DID get enough funding (or petty theft) to find its way to fruition… What then? Well, for one, there will already be information out there from the Kickstarter campaign; the kind that talks about everything from gameplay bugs to business strategy in intricate detail, and enough info for level-headed consumers to see the game sucks (if it sucks, that is). Hopefully the developer took a ton of fan feedback and made the game better, but at least with Kickstarter backing, we can expect transparency and visibility into whether a game is good or bad.

In return for this high-tech vetting, backers are now providing some of the best feedback loops a developer could hope for. Fresh ideas, new perspectives, serious thought-provoking questions about business models and marketing… Get enough backers and a developer can have his own makeshift executive team – all a few clicks away.

You might say that, for game developers, Kickstarter brings user-testing to your browser, finds the absolute most engaged users for your project, and gets them to pay you; not the other way around.

I must stop here. You see, earlier today, Jesse Henning posted something great on the TriplePoint PR blog. Sure, I could’ve recapped what he wrote. I could detail every in and out of the nostalgia-induced, well-researched article, give him credit and be on my way… But that’s silly.

First of all, you can (and should) go read Jesse’s whole Kickstarter story for yourself! When a frisky mongoose writes something great, other ‘geese get fired up. And by fired up, I mean: warm and fuzzy, prone to public response, shouting from rooftops and, well, just downright proud. This is me, fired up.

Secondly, for god’s sake, he worked a “cat-hair-mustache” reference into in-depth analysis of industry pioneers like Tim Schafer, Jane Jensen, David Cage and Robert Boyd! That’s not to mention a little buzzword bingo (like Double Fine and Kickstarter), sprinkled with classic gaming staples (like Leisure Suit Larry and Monkey Island), and a dash of niche humor, because Jesse knows more things than you do relates to nerds of all shapes, sizes, collectible addictions and ridiculous hobbies.

Look, it’s relevant and timely and worth the moments it’ll take. Really, just go.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but forethought is worth a thousand words.


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