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Has skepticism killed the crowd funding dream for new indies?
by Mark Sheppard on 06/18/12 10:00:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Start here
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.

Wrapping up
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.

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Benjamin Quintero
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I think that anything new has a certain level of skepticism. Money find scandal, right? And so people will always look at something like games on Kickstarter as borderline gambling.

Many technical projects on Kickstarter are more like, "we already made this ugly version in our shop, but we need $10k to meet the minimum order (of the pretty machine made ones) from the manufacturer."

With crowd-funding games it's more like, "I'm not exactly sure if this is going to work out, but I need $50k - $500k to test my theory..." =) You can see where people who just see the dollar signs are going to try and skim some of that success for themselves. I feel this is strong argument for press to only cover anyone that they have worked with in the past (ie: the Double Fine Adventures, and Wastelands of the world).

As an indie, I'd love to get some coverage if I ever tried Kickstarter for a game, but I'd understand if they looked the other way. Even if I have the best of intentions, it doesn't mean they have to care =(.

Mark Sheppard
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Hi Ben,

Yes, that's pretty much where I'm at too—it's a disappointing situation to be in, but the reticence of the media is understandable in this space; I just worry about the ramifications of it for teams like ours.


TC Weidner
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Kickstarter and the like just have to worry about "the producers" like mindset. When someone finds out its more profitable to make promises the moon, raise the cash, and not deliver, than to actually produce a real product. I can point to a few on there right now that has my spidey senses tingling.

a few bad apples could kick over the whole cart and spoil it for everyone.

Kenneth Blaney
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So basically Kickstarting my "Springtime for Hitler" game is a bad idea?

Currently, the internet's fact checking ability has kept us pretty safe from these scams. I recall hearing about a few fake projects on kickstarter using concept art culled from other games and the like. However, you are absolutely right that, sooner or later, someone is going to slip one by and release a freeware flash game after taking in $10k from backers.

Judy Tyrer
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I could be naive, but doesn't the decision of what to cover still come down to "will this make news and bring in readers". Just another zombie hunting indie game by some unknown person with no chops in the industry? Not news. An innovative game by someone who broke off from a major studio and who has some serious credit? Might be news. A game that gets 3 times the requested funding and earns over $3M? Definitely news.

Mark Sheppard
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Hi Judy,

To be honest, I really _want_ to believe you're correct—I worry, though, that the skepticism of crowd funding I mentioned will trump any evidence presented that the game is Awesome. :)

Just regarding this:

"by someone who broke off from a major studio and who has some serious credit"

I take your point, but that person would fall outside the scope of my post, which was about _new_ indies and the challenge faced of getting "a fair shake of the sauce bottle" in the current media environment. Someone with major credit is not a new indie to my way of thinking. :)


Evan Combs
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I completely agree with your post, but like you I might be a little biased.

exhibit A:

Rasmus Gunnarsson
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Yeah. For small games that are not very sensational. Kickstarter might not be the best. But I doubt you could label that consumer skepticism. I'd agree with the article if a game was announced that carried the same magnitude as double-fine's or wasteland flopping then yeah. Or just that people becoem weary that they have invested and not seen any results yet.

Ron Dippold
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So far Kickstarter seems to be perfectly following the Hype Cycle curve: . After a couple of wildly successful fundings, people are going HMMMMMM. IndieGogo's a little behind there, but we can crassly lump them all in as general crowdfunding.

The important bit is the plateau. As long as you have a decent vision, have a good track record and/or some proof that you're not all hand waving, and have a good explanation for what you're doing with the money, I don't see crowdfunding going away any more than internet petitions. People will support what they like, and there's far more emotional reward in paying $15 up front to get something made instead of $5 later on a sale.

My Kickstarter support certainly hasn't slowed down, though I'm not a money firehose. I haven't looked at your page yet, but will do so.