When Double Fine Productions launched a Kickstarter project early this February they had no idea it would be the beginning of what is being called one of the most exciting stories for independent videogame developers (and gamers) in recent years.
Double Fine had an initial goal of $400,000 (300k to produce the game & 100k to film it) so that their crew could build an “old school point-and-click adventure game”. Right now the project has 19 days left and it has already smashed the record for the highest funded project on Kickstarter (currently just over $2 million).
The game raised a staggering $1 million from tens of thousands of eager fans in less than 24 hours of being posted. Forbes contributor, Suw Charman-Anderson says that “[it] seems reasonable to think that it could raise $4 million or more in total.”
What is making this project so successful? Why have over 61,000 people donated at least $15 dollars to this project? If you’re like me and have never heard of Double Fine Productions, perhaps you’ve played one of their games: Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Costume Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade, Once Upon a Monster, and Double Fine Happy Action Theater. If this still isn’t ringing a bell, just understand that one of the best point-and-click game designers, Tim Schafer, is running the ship.
According to Alex Turner of WhatCulture.com, it’s not just Double Fine’s track record that has made this project so unbelievably successful. He explains that backers aren’t just funding an idea; they’re looking at a game they like and preordering a beta version that gives them a say in how the final game is produced. Having the ability to communicate with the game designers through an exclusive backers network is a huge bonus and seems to be driving at least part of their success. Turner’s theory makes sense considering more than half of the backers will receive only the game and access to the exclusive network. Check out what Shafer has to say about it in this video:[iframe src="http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/66710809/double-fine-adventure/widget/video.html" frameborder="0" width="510" height="380"]
Nearly 39,000 people have liked the project on Facebook and 5,400 have commented on it. On the project’s page, Double Fine announces they are “the first major studio to fully finance their next game with a Kickstarter campaign and develop it in the public eye.” Whether it’s Shafer’s success, Double Fine’s brand or offering a system for gamers to pre-order, beta test and collaborate with the developers on, the team at Double Fine has struck gold on Kickstarter. I’m betting it’s actually as Shafer explains: “If you back this Kickstarter project you will be cool and everyone will like you, guaranteed.”
It’s also important to note that about a third of the backers will receive the documentary series with their game. Adding to the thrill of investing, 2 Player Productions is documenting the experience in full HD and as Tim explains: “we’re going to show you how the sausage gets made, we are going to take our sausage and shove it in your face, warts and all.”
Perhaps Double Fine wasn’t the first to strike gold through crowd funding, never the less, they’re drastically raising the bar for what is possible.
As I read through several blog posts about the project I kept coming back to: Why would a company like Double Fine use Kickstarter?
Darius Kazemi, a developer who works on HTML5 games for Bocoup and has been working in the gaming industry since 2005 explains: “This kind of thing is only going to be a game-changer for a specific kind of project for a specific kind of studio”. Kickstarter is a game-changer for established studios that want to work on smaller projects and get away from the publisher/developer cycle. “People don’t realize how broken the traditional developer/publisher model is,” Kazemi said.
Playing the publisher’s games
Traditionally game development studios would pitch ideas to a publisher, who then front’s the money for the development. The publisher earns back the money they invested before developers start getting a cut of the profit. Of course there are variations to this but the publisher takes the risks and in return is able to collect a larger revenue. The problem with this is that even if a company like Double Fine is hugely successful with games like Stacking, it doesn’t make enough profit to fund a another game. This is how they get caught in a cycle that often requires them to work with a greedy publisher for financial backing.
Excitement and experimentation
Double Fine’s project page praises Kickstarter saying they “democratize the process by allowing consumers to support the games they want to see developed and give the developers the freedom to experiment, take risks, and design without anyone else compromising their vision.” Even better yet, the Miami New Times has jokingly proclaimed, “Kickstarter.com is one of the smartest ideas for a website since Al Gore invented the Internet.”
What makes the Double Fine project so interesting is the amount of press it has been getting. Jason Schreier, an author for Kotaku.com and Wired.com explains: “Developers are finding that the combination of free publicity and early engagement with the gaming community can help generate fans for a project while it is still just an idea.”
Most game developers don’t go indie, they start out indie. In recent years some well-established game studios have tried going indie by funding their projects with things like micro-transactions and using direct game downloads to cut out the publishing middleman. These disruptions are an obvious signal the studios are in distress because of their relationship with their publishers. In many ways it was inevitable that these studios would look to crowd funding networks like Kickstarter, especially with the growing success of their less-established competitors on these sites.
In an article on IGN Games, editor Justin Davis says that Kickstarter has been helping budding game developers realize their dreams for nearly three years. In September, 2009, just a few months after the sites launch there were a total of 12 games on Kickstarter seeking anywhere from $200 to $25,000.
Kickstarter is a game changer for game publishing, Fred Hicks wrote in May, 2011: “The new technology changes the playing field.” As Hicks describes the process: you’ll still need to do some up-front work, but you’ve got an opportunity here to test the level of demand there is for your game before you pay to get it printed.
Alternatives to Kickstarter for game funding
Kickstarter isn’t the only crowd funding site out there, but it seems to be the preferred site. Here are a few others:
Appbackr is the first crowd funding marketplace specifically for mobile apps. What I found interesting about Appbackr is that “backrs” help promote apps through social networks and profit 25% to 50% for every app sold.
Indiegogo has helped raise millions of dollars for over 65,000 campaigns, across 211 countries. You can raise funds for just about anything on Indiegogo.
FundaGeek is supposedly the first crowd funding resource designed expressly for technical innovation. Based on this, it seems like the site is best suited for games that aspire to utilize some kind of technical innovation. As far as I can tell though, you can post just about anything.
RocketHub inspires to be a launchpad and community for independent artists and entrepreneurs. Let’s just say it’s a bit unconventional with categories like “spine tingling” and “selfless”.
Unfortunately they use Paypal though, and of course Paypal gets a cut of every transaction.
UPDATE: Appbakr and FundaGeek use PayPal, Rockethun uses credit card merchants, and Indiegogo uses a credit card merchant and PayPal. Every credit card processor (including PayPal) gets a cut of each credit card transaction, and those fees are passed along to the project creator, regardless of the platform used. (Thanks to commenter Jason for setting me straight on this)
Paul Anthony has several more on his site - 9 crowdfunding websites to help you change the world.
Other Kickstarter projects[iframe align="left" src="http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hop/elevation-dock-the-best-dock-for-iphone/widget/card.html" width="250px" height="380px"] [iframe align="right" src="http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/599092525/the-order-of-the-stick-reprint-drive/widget/card.html" width="250px" height="380px"]
Going through dozens of project pages on Kickstarter I began thinking: Double Fine has definitely created a witty ad, but is it really worth $2 million? The only recent projects to go over $1 million are the Elevation iPhone dock and a project to begin reprinting Order of the Stick books. The highest funded game besides Double Fine’s adventure is a D-Day Dice Board Game at $171,000.[iframe align="right" height="380px" src="http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dicehateme/vivajava-the-coffee-game/widget/card.html" width="220px"]VivaJava: The Coffee Game is another project with some exclusive benefits for backers that is currently running on Kickstarter with 5 days to go. It has 540+ backers and has raised $37,000 – more than doubling their goal and guaranteeing that it will be bursting at the seams with caffeinated gaming goodness. The majority of the backers (328) pledged $60 or more in order to receive the game and “Geekspansion”, an exclusive, added bonus only for Kickstarter backers. VivaJava met it’s goal within just 6 days and immediately began discussing additions to their game and future milestones (currently they want to get to $40,000 in order to add an additional punchboard). Offering exclusive benefits seems to be working remarkably well, but I’m not convinced it’s the secret sauce in Double Fine’s success.
It’s all just a game
Finally, as Hicks reminds us, we should keep in mind that the game changer is a game. Will this make it? is Kickstarter’s MMO for visitors to become backers. Projects are campaigns or missions and the amount pledged is the score. Time runs out, but for Kickstarter projects it’s only the beginning.
“Whether it goes well, or it all goes to hell,” estimated delivery for Double Fine’s new adventure game is October, 2012.
Have you used Kickstarter? Have you played games funded by Kickstarter backers? Are you more likely to back a project by a well-known professional or is the amount you would pledge tied directly to the product you will receive if the project is funded? We’ll likely be writing more on this topic and need your feedback.
Here are some additional links to click on:
KickStarter: The Science of Crowdfunding (infographic from January, 2011)