Hi again, my fellow Gamasutrians. In my last post, I mentioned the famous post penned by Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade Report about the conundrum faced by games journalists when dealing with crowd-funded projects—whether or not to cover such campaigns.
The influence of Penny Arcade in this space cannot be understated—I have personally had that article waved at me in about 50 per cent of the forum threads in which I am active. In one thread I even had denizens wave that article as some kind of license to troll and demand that I hand over the company's books for them to audit (yes...I'm serious).
Taking a journalist's perspective, you can recognise it's a difficult predicament. Yes, crowd funding campaigns are usually, or at least often, for games products that do not yet exist in any state and, yes, that simple fact presents a variety of issues; however, I am writing today to present an opposing argument as to why the gaming media should, in my opinion, give indie crowd funding campaigns the benefit of the doubt and write about them.
Full disclosure: Membraine Studios is currently running a crowd funding campaign, so I obviously very much have both a vested interest and a HUGE bias. Please take that into consideration when weighing my arguments, but I think most will agree with much of what I write here regardless.
The importance of word-of-mouth
Indie game developers rely on word-of-mouth for their crowd funding campaigns. We usually cannot afford advertising (if we could, we probably wouldn't need to run a crowd funding campaign). But traditional word-of-mouth, even in the era of the Internet, takes time. For example, in our own crowd funding campaign, we ran a soft-launch phase that allowed a week for word-of-mouth to spread through the wargaming community, and it turns out that was insufficient. Almost a week since launch, and we're still seeing comments of "Wow! Where did THIS come from?".
Our expectation was that between Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and so on, the word would have reached all interested eyes inside a week, surely? (We were so young then...)
The greater importance of the games media and word-of-mouth
What we've found is that the most effective tool in the indie's arsenal is the humble press release. It is a carpet-bombing approach that enables you to quickly reach key influencers—the Rock Paper Shotguns and Kotakus of the world—and present them with information about what you're doing.
Not so long ago, such influencers would see a press release like ours and get excited by the possibilities. They might write about it, sharing their excitement, and so the word-of-mouth aspect would gain from a fantastic boost, right from the outset.
The reticence of the games media to cover indie crowd funding campaigns today, however, means that this initial boost is either muted or, worse, non-existent. For an indie campaign, this last could well be The Kiss of Death.
In our case, we've been lucky enough to score some key coverage by stalwarts like Cinema Blend and Indie Game Magazine, up-coming magazines like PlaySF, and respected wargaming blogs like The Shell Case. More, we remain hopeful that our project is both interesting enough and, importantly, progressed enough (we're about 40 per cent complete with the minimum feature-set game, and—crucially—we can show it) that major influencer sites like Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun will give us some love. Fingers crossed on that front.
As mentioned at the start of this post and previously, I really do understand the uncomfortable position games journos find themselves in right now with crowd funding. It’s disappointing for teams like ours and other new indies who don’t have a big name on board or a long track record in delivery, but it is understandable.
I just hope that the reticence of the gaming media to write about crowd-funded games doesn't kill the crowd funding dream for new indies completely—because, personally, I believe it could achieve exactly that.